Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.
I went back and forth to Germany a fair bit on business trips recently and what struck me was how sober a lot of the political posters were - they all seemed to follow a strict model of "picture of candidate, party logo, pithy slogan", to the point where I had to look carefully to work out whose face was being promoted by which party. Seems rather tame (but very civilised) compared to this sort of thing.
This diagram nicely highlights how complicated the whole European thing is. To be honest I doubt most Brits understand half of it.
Sorry, Robinson, but your friend is full of shit.
More likely a case of garbled understanding on my part. For instance, I was the one who threw in the bit about Cameron having a "strongly anti-EU stance" - which obviously was a gross misinterpretation.
David Cameron occasionally makes Eurosceptic noises, but this is mostly a little dance he does to keep the Eurosceptic wing of the Tories off-balance (note that this wing overlaps strongly with the hardline social conservative wing and other Tory factions who think Cameron is too cuddly and soft, which is a goddamn terrifying prospect). But most of his concessions to the Eurosceptics are entirely meaningless. He has agreed to attempt to renegotiate Britain's position in the EU and then call a referendum if the Tories get a full majority after the next election, which basically translates to "I will buy you a yacht, but only if I win the lottery this week" - it's really, really hard for incumbent parties in this country to increase their proportion of the vote in elections, especially incumbents responsible for as many unpopular decisions as the Tories, especially when the major protest party is UKIP which is likely to vampire more votes from the Tories than it is from the Lib Dems or Labour, and especially when the folks who had been voting Lib Dem to protest Labour are likely to say "Well, fuck that" and go back to Labour after the Lib Dem's soft puppety weakness in the coalition. Even if by some miracle Dave does get his majority, it's been made fairly clear that his attention is to lobby for the UK to stay in Europe - as Labour and the Lib Dems are nigh-certain to do - so you'll have a strong "Yes to the membership" campaign where most UK politicians will actually be working to present the benefits of EU membership, which they're extremely slack about doing usually.
People like to gripe about the EU, but there's a long space between that and being willing to vote for an exit, especially when referendum turnout in this country tends to be low and when there'll be months of promotion of staying in and cartoon characters like UKIP representing the "No to the EU" campaign. And it's notable that the bits of the media which really push discontent with the EU tend to be the ones like the Daily Express - the Diana conspiracy-obsessed rag which regularly makes the Daily Mail seem wishy-washy and moderate.
It runs entirely against my grain to be defending Cameron but the idea that he has a "strongly anti-EU stance" is sustainable only if you don't actually pay attention to what he's saying and who he's saying it to and what strong anti-EU stances actually look like.
Sorry, Robinson, but your friend is full of shit.
Currently, the EU is under a coalition government between the center-right Conservative (or Tory) and the center-left Liberal Democratic (or Lib Dem) Parties, which respectively comprise the older and younger siblings in the coalition.
I didn't hear the EU talked about a whole lot while I was in London, but a British friend of mine was on a podcast a couple of months ago with a US journalist where he talked about (among other things) the EU. According to him, at this point more than 50% of Brits want out of the EU, which probably helps explain why the Conservative Prime Minister feels empowered to take a strongly anti-EU stance.
My friend didn't go into exactly why Brits in general or the Tories in particular are against the EU at that point, but elsewhere he brought up a few different issues. For one, he says, Britain tends to be "somewhat misanthropic and distrustful of its counterparts on the continent" (as explanation for why the UK hasn't signed onto the Schengen Treaty). The other issues he identified were sovereignty (not wanting other countries messing about in internal UK affairs, plus the fact that, according to him, the EU is undemocratic because the elected EU parliament is "restricted purely to voting on legislation which they themselves do not write" and therefore they have very little real control); and economy (Britain insisted on retaining the pound as opposed to adopting the euro, and the pound has retained much of its strength over the past five years - it's apparently accepted generally that if Britain hadn't retained the pound, it would now be in a position analogous to that of Cyprus. So basically, many Brits view the EU economically as a sinking ship. and figure they're better off going it alone).
All three issues have some strongly nationalist, inward-looking, "Britain first!" dimensions, which would naturally appeal to a center-right party like the Conservatives.
I must say though, the US two-parties-and-never-the-two-shall-meet system, for all its bombastic campaigns, seems at the same time depressing ... and a bit boring
It gets even more depressing when you consider that even the ~50% of voters (which is significantly less than 50% of the population eligible to vote, even before you factor in the increased fad for purging voter rolls) often have their wishes disregarded by the party in power. As best I can tell, most Americans oppose continued war, austerity measures, and probably domestic spying as well, but none of that has stopped Obama and the Democrats. Really, though, from what I've seen of other countries' electoral systems (especially the UK's), it doesn't seem like our lot is, in the end, all that much worse.
Something I've realized recently is that the two-party system, for all its restrictions on freedom of choice, does prevent situations like the one in the UK with the ruling party getting less than 50% of the votes but still taking power just on the strength of winning a plurality. I'm pretty sure I've heard that was how Thatcher managed to remain Prime Minister for so long, despite being highly unpopular by the end.
As for boring, I dunno, I find the bombast and all the desperate attempts by the two parties and the mainstream media to make out that the essential differences between the two are matters of kind rather than degree make things quite lively (overly so, in election season, for my personal tastes - the US may have ditched the bread by and large, but it's gone to town as far as circuses are concerned).
Then again, the only other system I can really compare it to is Britain, which has exactly one more major party than the US; two of its major parties (Labour and the Lib-Dems, both broadly analogous to the Democrats in the US) are mostly indistinguishable at first glance, and the difference between either one of them and the third (Conservative) party is no more pronounced than between the Democrats and the Republicans in the States. So maybe I'm just missing out on what a proper multi-party political dust-up looks like.
And we do morally owe the world, even if maybe not Greece in particular.
I guess I would go along with this - but not, I would argue, any more than other major powers like the US, Britain, Russia, Belgium, France, etc. all of which also have numerous nasty blots on their records.
With the baby-carrier scenario - I'm hampered by frankly being incapable of truly understanding a dislike of / uninterest in having children (no doubt helped by the fact that biologically speaking, I am exempt from taking on the really hard role), so I'm sure that skews my perceptions to some extent.
But moving away from the scenario where the female-coded baby-carrier desperately wants to have children, I decided for a couple of reasons that I didn't want to go to the opposite extreme of having them actively not want to have children. I like the idea of having them be mostly ambivalent; not strongly wanting children for their own sake, but when somebody else brings up the idea (with the understanding that it doesn't necessarily need to be them) and knowing they'd have at least one other person to help with the bringing up process, happy enough to do that. I think there is a significant difference between that and "highly desires children" which could be neat to explore.
I did think it would be good to have an extra reason, though, especially if I don't end up going the artificial wombs route - as you say, it's a big undertaking for the baby-carrier character. So I threw in the "I want to grow the perfect lab partner" bit as an added incentive, which I imagine eventually overtaking the "I am broadly positive in a low-key way about the idea of having children for their own sake" motivation. I think I could produce a rather tragic scenario of the baby-carrier character loving their kids on some level (though not to the extent that someone who enthusiastically wants to have kids), but having that feeling overshadowed by disappointment by not being able to mold them into the perfect assistants.
Thanks for the info on IVF. I admit I haven't studied artificially induced pregnancy in any sort of detail and essentially put in the first thing that popped into my head. I will, of course, devote more research to the subject when and if I get around to turning the idea into an actual story.
And yes, I'm aware people (including asexuals) have sex outside their orientation for various reasons. Again, I may just be showing my ignorance here, but I figured the non-baby-carrying character would prefer not to do that if it turns out it can be avoided without too much hassle. I guess I'll see where my research and the feel of the story take me on that point.
Alternatively, I could just have them have sex for some reason (which I think would also entail research to make it plausible), the baby-carrier character winds up pregnant, and chooses not to abort. Either way can work, I guess.
Dan: If you select the "I may have killed more people than I actually avenged" option, you get an achievement called "Acknowledged Ludonarrative Dissonance."
Oh, that's cute.
I bought it for £3.99 in a Steam Midweek Sale and I think that's probably about what it's worth. I think if I'd payed full price I'd have resented it.
At the end, your protagonist writes a blog post summarising the events of the game, and they seem to be published to the actual internets. Mine is here.
If you select the "I may have killed more people than I actually avenged" option, you get an achievement called "Acknowledged Ludonarrative Dissonance."
I agree too, that the project to save Euro and EU is not done out of altruism, or at least if that is a reason, it is far from the deciding or most important one. EU is much too good an idea to be let go, especially by the first real crisis it has ever faced.
I heard about the Green affair too, although one might hope that that stays as a tangential affair. Those sorts of ideas were relatively common in the 70s' when the sexual revolution was still looking at its limits and children's sexuality was thought to be repressed by some people. That was checked out in the end, if I recall correctly by people pointing out that sexual freedom is not supposed to end in an end of responsibilities and many feminists pointed out that some of the more wild ideas seemed to just be justifications for men's sexuality to run amok unchecked under the pretext of freedom. But that was some 30-40 years ago. For example, one of the richest men in Finland, the banker Björn Wahlroos used to be a stalinist, but now he is nearly a billionaire and an extreme Randian who thinks that democracy should be limited because it interferes with the markets and freedom of individuals. So, a lot of stuff can happen in a few years.
On the anti-eu stance of brits, there are probably many people here who know better, but as I see it, the current PM Cameron seems to want the best of both worlds. On the one hand he wants to stay in the EU, because it is a big benefit to their economy, on the other hand, he has to handle a large anti-eu faction in the Tory's while the anti-eu party UKIP, seems to be gaining in popularity, I assume at the expense of Torys. Britain does have a long history of looking after it self and trying to somewhat stay away from the messes of the continent, merely trying to uphold the balance there so that no one player gets too strong. But I don't know how relevant that is in today's politics.
Yeah, from what little I understand of the issue, the problem is more that there are people who are poor and unemployed in Germany, and they don't like public funds going abroad instead of using it to raise pension levels here to a point where you wouldn't have some elderly people needing to collect bottles from street wastebins for the return deposit anymore, for example. It's misdirected frustration, because most of the major print publications (especially the tabloids) are owned by big corporations with other arms in heavy industry and banking (the German private banks did get huge bailouts, too). It's the same with the discussion of the "too high" electricity prices for consumers right now - industry trying to distract the public from the fact that they're getting a free lunch right now due to the rapidly falling wholesale prices and the widespread industry exeptions from the surcharge.
I don't think Greece ever had much of an export economy, at least to Germany, except for a few select expensive foodstuffs (olives, wine, cheese etc.) and labourers. From what I can tell, the country's economy is mostly dependent on tourism (85% of their economy is in the service sector), which of course isn't happening as much as long as they are in turmoil. But I believe what we're seeing now is not just the result of irresponsible banking speculation and possibly government corruption, but also the first signs of the economic impact of climate change, which will turn the Mediterranean if not uninhabitable, then certainly not able to produce their own food supplies anymore, never mind for export. (The problem is less the heat, more the ever increasing droughts.) And the country doesn't have much heavy industry or natural resources to exploit. (Unlike for example Morocco, which is hot and dry, but also has most of the world's supply of rock phosphorate, which worldwide agriculture is completely dependent upon. Hence why the country was kept stable throughout the Arab Spring.) Well, Wikipedia tells me Greece owns the world's biggest merchantile shipping fleet. But that source of income will dry up, too, unless the oil price goes down considerably. So I don't think the area will ever return to the level of prosperity that they once had.
However, I think Merkel is mainly trying to help the country not out of the kindness of her heart, but because if Greece, mother of democracy, breaks away from the EU, then others will follow. And Germany needs the EU to survive, not just for economic reasons, but for emotional reasons as well.
And, well, at the end of the day, most Germans are still well enough off that some solidarity doesn't hurt. And we do morally owe the world, even if maybe not Greece in particular.
... And between this and the queer/poly relationship discussion, I am now having Darkover-related flashbacks to my teenage years. "The Forbidden Tower" and "The World Wreckers", in particular.
So that looks promising for the future.
But in my state, the NPD got 5.9% - considerably more than in the adult polls. D:
Also, now I see what you meant about the Greens having problems, Janne. Oh, for fuck's sake. Apparently a couple of days ago some big newspaper published a story about how the current leader of the Greens (whom I personally don't like, because he's been courted by big industry lately, but I don't think he's evil) was "legally responsible" for the publishing of a campaign pamphlet calling for the decriminalisation of some forms of pedophilia during a municipal level election, 32 years ago (when he was 27 years old). Note, he didn't write the thing, he just didn't stop it from being published and he was the one who held the responsibility for the pamphlet according to our publishing law. (The Greens were generally antiauthoritarian at the time, and just incorporated all the demands of a gay activist group into their campaign program without making any changes, because they thought they didn't have any right to censor them. I've had a look at the wording of the West German laws they wanted to reform, and it was probably a "15-year-olds having sex with 13-year-olds shouldn't be treated as sex-offenders, and 17-year-olds should be allowed to have consensual sex with their teacher if they want to" kind of thing. Which ignores the whole problem of emotional coersion, grooming and power-abuse, of course. But I can see why a group of overzealous young activists in the middle of the movement to acknowledge the existence of kids' sexuality would overshoot the mark by a mile, and why their straight allies were overly careful about judging or silencing them.) Not that the press headlines are presenting it that way, of course. The man himself said he regrets letting that slip through and thinks it was very wrong of his party to support that call for reform. This is the guy who was minister of the environment when the nuclear phase-out was first put into law, by the way. The Greens have dropped to 8% in the polls, thus giving the CDU a slight majority over the centre-left block again, even without the FDP.
My God, those big energy assholes are fighting dirty. (Yeah, the original news article was written by the professor who was contracted by the Greens themselves to investigate the handling of this particular issue during their chaotic early years. But you can't tell me they would be so suicidal to make these findings public a few days before the election if they weren't forced to head off their enemies doing the same.)
@Robinson: Sorry for taking my time to answer you - I caught a nasty bug that's going around and wasn't feeling up to being coherent in a foreign language.
I don't know anything about foreign elections either. Well, apart from the US, of course. If the US sneezes, the whole world gets a cold, after all. But I don't even know which side is in power in the UK right now, for example. (I just know they're anti-EU. Why is that, by the way? Is it some kind of "We were an empire, we're not going to play second fiddle from the right in a group now" thing, or because the central European powers (Germany and France) were traditional enemies of Britain, or what?)
I must say though, the US two-parties-and-never-the-two-shall-meet system, for all its bombastic campaigns, seems at the same time depressing (in that almost 50% of the population don't get a say in politics no matter who wins, and that new parties have little chance of getting a foot in the door), and a bit boring. Only two possible outcomes, you know?
About your story:
Yeah, I know what you mean about not having all the ingredients yet. I've had a complex Doctor Who fanfic in the planning stages for a few years now, and not just because of low self-esteem and lacking literary English skills.
The thing is, if the baby-carrier in question (I'm not using the word "woman" here, because she could be genderqueer and transmen have given birth, too, even post-hormones.) doesn't want the kids herself for at least some good reason, I would question why they are doing it. I mean, pregnancy does take a heavy toll on the body and does have serious health risks, even in this day and age (pre-enclampsia, diabetes, etc.) And birth is a painful, disgusting, and highly vulnerable process which involves several strangers touching your genitals and leaves the vagina permanently changed. (You're very lucky if you don't tear / get your taint cut in advance to avoid a more ragged scar.) And a cesarean is even more scarring and dangerous, because all major surgery is. So just "Yeah, I'm okay with it as long as I don't have to raise them" isn't really good enough. It would be, if it was an accidental pregnancy, but personally, I wouldn't intentionally take the pain, risks and indignities just because my best friend wants kids. I'd tell him to adopt instead. It would be on the level of donating a kidney - something you go through to save a life, but not just on a whim.
What I meant was that the woman shouldn't be the only one who wants the kids, and it shouldn't be presented as an inherently feminine trait - i.e. because "all women want babies". A more cynical/practical reason would be fine, though. Wanting to groom a lab assistant / mini-me would be okay from a feminist standpoint, I think, even if it's creepy on the characterisation level. In that case, I'd really be in favour of an artificial womb or other Frankenstein-esque method, though, because someone that selfish wouldn't want to risk her health for the project, I think. Well, unless she's the kind of 'scientist' who tests stuff on herself, like Walter on "Fringe".
If you don't go the sci-fi route, do remember that people have gotten pregnant with the help of sperm donors and turkey basters long before the invention of IVF. Also, IVF is expensive and rather invasive, too. (You've got to have one ore even several doctors get up and personal with your genitals. And putting an instrument through the cervix is probably going to be painful. And I don't even know what they do to extract several eggs from the ovaries at once. Huge needle through the stomach?) Though it does make twins more likely, because they usually implant several fertilised eggs at once. From what I understand, it's mostly done if the sperm cells don't have enough motility to reach the egg the natural way or if the combination rarely results in conception and you have to increase the odds, not as a way to avoid sex.
And besides, gay men have had sex with women for the purpose of having kids as long as human civilisation existed. Unless he's actively gynephobic or she's phallophobic or really sex-repulsed (which even most asexual people aren't), I don't see a problem with conception taking place the conventional way. Maybe with the help of another male partner and a blindfold, if that's what it takes, and the gay man really has to be the genetic father for some reason. (In the Harry Potter scenario I was thinking of the Salamander family as originally from the Ottoman Empire, so Luna would have some trouble finding another wizard among their friends with a suitable skin tone to make the kids look like they could be Salamander's, to satisfy his grandfather's wish for a blood-related heir. Of course, in a sci-fi scenario, he could just insist on a paternity test.) Unlike pregnancy, the sex part actually is on the level of "Yeah, whatever, just get it over with", even for most asexual people in relationships with verisexuals. (Granted, sometimes it's barely endured because of emotional blackmail, social pressuring and the fear of being left alone, and not just something freely given as a gift to the partner or specifically engaged in to make a baby. But as long as you make clear this isn't the case in your story, it would be okay. I know "enthusiastic consent" is a big issue in feminist thought, but people can consent for other legitimate reasons than enthusiasm for sex or physical attraction to the partner. Denying that means infantilising asexuals by default.)
It's great to get this kind of information from the inside, especially as my German reading skills require a dictionary and that's too slow for newspapers. It's great that the neo-liberals are having a downturn, as their rise in contemporary discussion has been a bit of a mystery. Hopefully if their fortunes wane in general, we can avoid the more extreme incarnations here in the perifery.
The Euro issue is interesting, as Germany's economy in general benefits from the stronger euro, it also means that the economies in trouble probably need more help as well because of it, at least in part. So the disgruntledness of some germans(or Europeans) is caused by the crisis, and everybody prefers to blame it on the greeks and others(which of course carries a grain of truth), but as I understand it, the economical troubles of some Germans are not necessarily because of support for Greec, but rather that because of hevay support to the export industry, the domestic market in Germany has dwindled, because the wages are not rising. So the public economy is doing ok and the export industry benefits hugely, which of course is important, but the segments of society which are dependent on domestic markets are actually faring well, as they are supporting the export industry. And because the demand in German domestic markets is weak, countries potential importers to Germany, of which Greece and is one, subsequently have lesser demand for their exports, making recovery slower.
But if German economy keeps on growing, the thing to hope for is that wages start to rise a little and the domestic economy revives as well. But I do agree that Merkel has been doing okay as Europe's unofficial leader and it's good that she will continue doing so. Hopefully we can all start fixing stuff again soon, when the dust settles a little.
Also included was another short essay which sadly does not appear to be available online, but which captured my attention just from the title: Heart of Grimdarkness, by Jared Shurin. Then the first paragraph sold me with this description of the grimdark debate:
Proponents of the genre say it is exploring more realistic emotional territory than traditional fantasy (through rape and torture), all while committing itself to a greater degree of historical accuracy (with rape and torture). Critics say it is prurient and nihilistic - tarnishing the genre of Tolkien (reactionary politics), Howard (racism) and Lovecraft (all around bastardy).
The rest of the article is Shurin plumbing the depths of depravity to which grimdark literature has presently sunk, touching on such themes as "Atheism," "Truancy," and "Books that treat Twilight with respect." All pretty amusing, even though I'm sure I don't get the joke.
Another example Shurin provides is Newsflesh, a series which features "Bloggers as heroes." After deploring the characters' focus on "traffic counting, story re-posting, social media spamming tactics"; he concludes "At least they don't write book reviews."
Aside from the ape-man super soldiers that sounds exactly like every other Matt Reilly book.
Well, 'slim volume' threw me off a bit. Usually his books have to be massive in order to fit in all the exclamation marks. Google suggests it was his novella Hell Island.
Which I now want to read.
"If the FDP fares badly" - Heh, that's not really an "if" anymore. They had 14,6% in the last federal election which is why they are part of the government coalition. In the polls right now, they're at barely 5%. It was the banking crisis that broke them. Well, that and their inherent incompetence and penchance to put their foot in their mouth as publically as possible. (They're not evil/racist/science-denying the way the US Republicans present themselves. They used to be the party of small business owners and the middle class. Their long-time leader until recently even was the highest-profile outed gay politician we have, and their current leader is a Vietnamese-born guy who was adopted as a baby (which makes him by far the most high level POC in the very white German politics). But they've turned into complete corporate shills over the last decade or two, and the younger generation of politicians - who are in positions of power now - mostly studied 'prestige' stuff like business law or management, so they don't really have a clue about economics or social issues or international politics or modern technology. And the last few years have seen these people in high-profile positions where they could make their incompetence abundantly clear - like our current foreign minister, who didn't get the job for his skills or personality (he famously refused to answer press questions posed in English) but because the position always goes to the leader of the junior partner in the government coalition.) I don't think they'll really drop out of parliament entirely. The CDU will send their own party members to vote for the FDP to keep them around, if push comes to shove. Because even if they collectively don't get enough votes to make a majority and keep the current government coalition going, the FDP will vote with the CDU on most issues, so if they get only 4% and don't get any seats at all as a result, that's 4% wasted for the CDU's side.
At the moment, the polls look really close. SPD (labour - at least in theory...) and the Greens together will get about the same amount of seats as the CDU, maybe slightly less (depending on which polling institute you ask). If the FDP makes the cut, the centre-right parties will have about 44-45% total (they have 48,4% now). The centre-left parties (SPD and Greens) will get about 35%, so no chance of an actual switch in who's chancellor. (Well, if the FDP doesn't make it, and the polls didn't catch a lot of the young Green voters, it might happen, but it's unlikely.) BUT there's also the extreme left-wing "The Left" to recon with - they've lost a bit from last time, but they'll still get about 9-10%. Last time, this didn't matter, because the whole left block had only 45,6% taken together. They'll probably get that result again (it's just some vote-reshuffling from the Left to the SPD), but since the right block doesn't get much more than that either, a right-block government might actually not have a majority in parliament. But even if the whole left block gets a slight majority, they won't form a government coalition, because the SPD refuses to form a coalition with the Left, due to old grievances. (The older,most powerful generation of the Left are still partly made up of people who were with the GDR monopoly party. They were the only party who refused to endorse our current non-party-member president, who was a member of the resistance in the GDR and, after the Reunification, head of the agency prosecuting Stasi members for crimes against humanity... And also, a few years back, a whole contingent of leftist hardliners split off from the SPD in disgust at their anti-labour actions while in government, and merged with the East German PDS to form the Left.)
What I want to see is a coalition made up of CDU and the Greens (the former because they are the only ones with a clue about the economy, the latter to keep the former in check about ecological and social issues). But it's probably not going to happen. The Greens may have 'sold out' quite a lot, but their base still sees the CDU as the traditional "big business" enemy. Still, Merkel personally seems to sympathise with some Green issues. (It's really weird. Nobody really knows why she did such a sudden 180° on the issue of nuclear energy in 2011, switching off half the plants in a matter of weeks after wanting to lengthen their allowed running time before the Fukishima disaster. She has a PhD in quantum physics, but that could really go both ways. And even if it was a cynical decisions to follow the public mood, she just had to go back and reestablish the original running times, not switch the plants off completely. So the only explanation I can come up with is that she personally doesn't want nuclear energy, and used the crisis to push her personal opinion through in a hurry against the general opinion of her party.) And the Greens have gone against their base before. (Agreeing to send troops to Afghanistan (or Kosovo - I don't remember right now) the last time they were in the government, which led to a mass exodus of party members, because they were originally founded on a anti-Nazi/anti-nuclear/pacifist hippie-like movement in the late 1960s. Sending troops into battle is connected to anti-Nazi movements in Germany, because using our army to engage in a war in other countries is technically unconstitutional unless it's in self-defense - I always laugh when US politicians complain about the fact that the German government refuses to take part in their wars, because it was US politicians who gave us that constitution in the first place.) So they might swallow their pride and sleep with the enemy, if it means they'll get out of the opposition and into power. I don't see what you mean about the Greens having problems, by the way. Granted, I don't watch the news (to avoid propaganda), so might have missed some personal scandal or smear campaign, but their poll numbers these last few days have been basically the same as during the last federal election. Maybe they'll even get 1% more. But even just keeping their 10-11% would be a success, because last election was the first time ever they made it into the double digits. They used to have a few points more in the polls when the FDP crashed, but that was mainly just people making their displeasure clear in the polls to give a warning to the CDU, same as with the Pirates. (Basically, the poll votes and some local state election seats back in 2011/2012 got redistributed from the FDP to the Greens and the Pirates, but now the actual federal election votes will be distributed more between the CDU and the SPD.) Also, the Greens had a big temporary boost because of Fukushima, but Merkel took the wind from their sails by throwing her own weight behind the anti-nuclear agenda.
But other than black-green, a grand coalition (CDU and SPD) is really the only viable option. Sadly that would mean my percentage-vote will be completely inconsequential. Giving it to the Pirates wouldn't do anything at the moment (they have enough votes to get tax-payed campaign funding for next time, but not nearly enough to make the 5% cut), so I want to give it to the Greens, because the energy transition is one topic I actually understand and can make an informed decision about (as opposed to labour issues, for example). And while no serious party is suicidal enough to actually say out loud that they want to go back on that renewable energy transition (No matter what the international press and the big industry propaganda on the English website of "Der Spiegel" might tell you, the transition is working and the population by and large stands behind it.), the CDU and FDP have been whittling at the edges. (Their decision to exempt 250% more of the industry from the renewables surcharge than was originally planned is what really drove up the electricity prices for private consumers, not the surcharge in itself. (Well, that and rapidly rising fossil fuel prices, so the renewables have actually prevented worse.) Despite that, the CDU minister of environment wanted to lower the surcharge this year and therefore the payments to people who put solar on their roofs. He didn't get that through parliament / past the chancellor - but that he had the nerve to float that idea at all, that the government would be willing to just break those 20-year-contracts, probably discouraged some people.) So, a strong Green party would be good, even in the opposition. If the CDU needs them to vote on their side on other issues in order to get a secure majority, they could bargain for concessions in the environmental area. However, if a grand coalition is formed, they would have an absolute majority (over 60%) and wouldn't need to listen to the Greens or Left at all for the next 4 years. The SPD was the senior partner in the government that introduced the laws the whole renewable transition is based on, but they're not what you'd call hardliners on any ecological issue. And if the SPD decides to shill for big business again like the last time they were in power (they're the ones who cut welfare and unemployment insurance) or send troops to Syria the way they did to Afghanistan, there would be no-one to stop them.
As for the Hartz reforms (which were the idea of an SPD government, not by the CDU), I really can't talk about that in any detail, because I was too young to really pay attention at the time. My mother says they were a bad idea. And yes, we only have such low unemployment numbers right now because a lot of people were forced into undignified part-time jobs (the pay is undignified - as low as 1 Euro per hour - not necessarily the work, though that is often depressingly pointless) and have to be supported by the state anyway, and because companies were allowed to shift more to hiring temp workers and part time workers, thereby lowering the overall money available for social security payments. (And those part time jobs often don't pay a living wage - which is why the more extreme left-wing parties like the Pirates are calling for a guaranteed basic income for everybody, or at least a minimum wage.) Also, the wages here haven't risen in over a decade, so most people have got effectively poorer (because of price inflation) and the wealth-gap is widening. But on the other hand, I've read articles by analysts stating that this painful cut was necessary, and that we're only weathering the current economic crisis comperatively well because we had our crisis back when those changes were made. So I really don't know. I just know that there's no chance of getting a government who would do a major change in direction in this regard anytime soon, because both the big centre parties stand behind these social security cuts.
The Pirates in Germany are chaotic, too. They're majorly young, idealistic people with a lot of big ideas and no real clue how politics work. And group consensus and contributions from the base are what their whole world view is based around, so no decision is ever made quickly. But, you know, the Greens started that way, too, and eventually they got a lot of what they wanted. Every generation needs its party and you've got to start somewhere. The Greens may still be not the party you'd want to make decisions about the economy or pensions or whatever, but they're great to have as a force to recon with in the opposition with just enough seats to tip the scales, so they can force the ruling party to make a deal with them. Similar with the Left - I agree with a lot of their grass-roots base, but I wouldn't vote for the people at the top. The Pirates seem to pool the technocrats, the people who got frustrated with the Greens becoming more conservative as their major players age, the people who want to vote more left than the SPD but refuse to vote for the Left on historic grounds, and the young formerly unpolitical people who now see a chance of getting actual representation. (Some of the Pirates candidates are still in their mid-20s, and as a party, they want things like a mechanism to make it easier for ordinary people to introduce law proposals into parliament.) They started their campaigning on internet issues and copyright law some years ago, and that's still their most public issue because they don't have the funding to do big campaigns and don't get invited to important interviews, but by now they seem to have agreed on an opinion on most basic issues. (I just looked up with which block they would vote on energy issues - with the Greens - and their social issues platform basically looks like "if Tumblr activists were a political party". It's completely idealist and unfeasible, of course, but they clearly mean well and I admire the guts to publically take such an extremely progressive position.) A year or two ago, when they surprisingly went from no seats to 12 seats in the Berlin city state election (even the Pirates themselves hadn't expected that - they didn't actually have more than 12 people to fill those seats), they were criticised on the basis that almost all those representatives were male. Right now, most of their federal MP candidates in Berlin are female, and about 70% of their campaign posters have female faces, too. So they are trying to get their shit together. (Though they're still seriously lacking in racial diversity, so their pro-immigration attitude is just that of well-meaning allies.) They certainly seem to have struck a chord with the youngest generation. In under-18 polls, they get over 10%. So if they can keep that base until the next election, when those teenagers will be allowed to vote, they might really have a chance. Until then, I hope they can keep the internal squabbling down enough to get into a few more local governments, so that they can get some experience under their belt and gain more publicity and funding.
As for the NPD - they are more an embarrassment than anything else on the federal level. But they do occasionally get a seat in local municipal elections, especially in my Eastern state of Brandenburg. I hope that most of that is just a combination of frustration (we still have much higher unemployment levels than the West) and general ignorance. (For example the Euro issue - people see that tax money goes to Greece and get angry, but they don't understand that our whole economy is based on export so we need to prop up our potential markets. Also, if we still had the 'harder' Deutsche Mark, the currency conversion would be way to expensive for most of the world to afford our goods. So, against intuitive reasoning, our economy depends on keeping the comparatively weak Euro.)
But still, even if open racism would scare off those voters, I don't think these kinds of slogans should be displayed in the streets where impressionable kids can read and internalise them. That's the point of propaganda, after all: These things sink in if repeated often enough, even if they are blatant lies. Because a lot of people are too young or ignorant or lazy to check their veracity. (I'm sure many teenagers here don't even know what "Sinti and Roma" means, never mind knowing anyone from those groups personally. And it's been nearly 20 years since the last big wave of hate crimes - burning down asylum's seeker hostels - so young voters wouldn't remember why that sort of thing has to be nipped in the bud.) They just think that "they've got a point" on some issues that piss them off with the major parties, and ignore the more disturbing parts of the party platform. I think that's why the constitutional court still tries to outlaw the Party every other year, even though they never managed to do it. It's probably mostly just to keep them in the newspapers and remind everyone "these guys are basically Nazis, not a respectable option to make your grievances known". I mean, that's how the NSDAP started, too - with undereducated workers frustrated and scared because of the Depression and hyperinflation. (The name means "National-Socialist German Party of Workers", and remember that these guys turned out to be extremely anti-communist, too. So it was about co-opting the anger of the working class.)
@Robinson: I'll answer you later. Gotta make a grocery run before the shops close or it starts raining again.