• Sikh drivers are transforming U.S. trucking. Take a ride along the Punjabi American highway - Los Angeles Times

    By Jaweed Kaleem, Jun 27, 2019 -
    It’s 7:20 p.m. when he rolls into Spicy Bite, one of the newest restaurants here in rural northwest New Mexico. Locals in Milan, a town of 3,321, have barely heard of it.

    Punjabi-operated truck stops

    The building is small, single-story, built of corrugated metal sheets. There are seats for 20. The only advertising is spray-painted on concrete roadblocks in English and Punjabi. Next door is a diner and gas station; the county jail is across the road.

    Palwinder Singh orders creamy black lentils, chicken curry and roti, finishing it off with chai and cardamom rice pudding. After 13 hours on and off the road in his semi truck, he leans back in a booth as a Bollywood music video plays on TV.

    “This is like home,” says Pal, the name he uses on the road (said like “Paul”).

    There are 3.5 million truckers in the United States. California has 138,000, the second-most after Texas. Nearly half of those in California are immigrants, most from Mexico or Central America. But as drivers age toward retirement — the average American trucker is 55 — and a shortage grows, Sikh immigrants and their kids are increasingly taking up the job.

    Estimates of the number of Sikh truckers vary. In California alone, tens of thousands of truckers trace their heritage to India. The state is home to half of the Sikhs in the U.S. — members of a monotheistic faith with origins in 15th century India whose followers are best recognized by the uncut hair and turbans many men wear. At Sikh temples in Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield and Riverside, the majority of worshipers are truck drivers and their families.

    Over the last decade, Indian Americans have launched trucking schools, truck companies, truck washes, trucker temples and no-frills Indian restaurants modeled after truck stops back home, where Sikhs from the state of Punjab dominate the industry.

    “You used to see a guy with a turban and you would get excited,” says Pal, who is in his 15th year of trucking. “Today, you go to some stops and can convince yourself you are in India.”

    Three interstates — the I-5, I-80 and I-10 — are dotted with Indian-American-owned businesses catering to truckers. They start to appear as you drive east from Los Angeles, Reno and Phoenix, and often have the words “Bombay,” “Indian” or “Punjabi” on their storefront signs. But many, with names like Jay Bros (in Overton, Neb.) and Antelope Truck Stop Pronghorn (in Burns, Wyo.) are anonymous dots on a map unless you’re one of the many Sikhs who have memorized them as a road map to America.

    The best-known are along Interstate 40, which stretches from Barstow to North Carolina. The road, much of it alongside Historic Route 66, forms the backbone of the Sikh trucking world.

    It’s a route that Pal, 38, knows well. Three times a month, he makes the seven-day round trip between his Fontana home and Indiana, where he drops off loads and picks up new ones. Over his career, he’s driven 2 million miles and transported items as varied as frozen chickens and paper plates. These days, he mostly hauls chocolate, rice and fruits and vegetables from California farms. Today, it’s 103 containers of mixed produce, with mangoes, bell peppers, watermelons, yellow onions and peeled garlic among them. All are bound for a Kroger warehouse outside Indianapolis.

    Across the street from Spicy Bite, dozens of arriving drivers form a temporary village of 18-wheelers in a vast parking lot by the interstate. Most are white. Nearly all are men. More are older than younger.

    But every now and then there are Sikhs like Pal, with long salt-and-pepper beards, colorful turbans and thick Indian accents. They head straight toward Spicy Bite.

    Lines can form out the door at the restaurant, which opened two years ago outside the Petro Stopping Center, a longtime mainstay for truckers headed east.

    Pal makes a point to stop by the restaurant — even just for a “hello” — when he sleeps next door. The Sikh greeting is “Sat sri akaal.” It means “God is truth.” In trucking, where turnover is high, business uncertain and risk of accidents ever present, each day can feel like a leap of faith and an opportunity to give thanks.

    Punjabi Americans first appeared on the U.S. trucking scene in the 1980s after an anti-Sikh massacre in India left thousands dead around New Delhi, prompting many Sikhs to flee. More recently, Sikhs have migrated to Central America and applied for asylum at the Mexico border, citing persecution for their religion in India; some have also become truckers. Estimates of the overall U.S. Sikh population vary, placing the community’s size between 200,000 and 500,000.

    In recent years, corporations have pleaded for new truckers. Walmart kicked up salaries to attract drivers. Last year, the government announced a pilot program to lower the age for driving trucks from 21 to 18 for those with truck-driving training in the military. According to the American Trucking Assn., the trucker shortage could reach 100,000 within years.

    “Punjabis are filling the gap,” says Raman Dhillon, a former driver who last year founded the North American Punjabi Trucking Assn. The Fresno-based group advises drivers on regulations, offers insurance and tire discounts, and runs a magazine: Punjabi Trucking.

    Like trucking itself, where the threat of automation and the long hours away from home have made it hard to recruit drivers, the Punjabi trucking life isn’t always an easy sell. Three years ago, a group of Sikh truckers in California won a settlement from a national shipping company after saying it discriminated against their faith. The drivers, who followed Sikh traditions by wrapping their uncut hair in turbans, said bosses asked them to remove the turbans before providing hair and urine samples for pre-employment drug tests despite being told of the religious observance. The same year, police charged a man with vandalizing a semi truck at a Sikh temple in Buena Park. He’d scribbled the word “ISIS.”

    Still, Hindi- and Punjabi-language newspapers in the Eastern U.S. regularly run ads promising better wages, a more relaxed lifestyle and warm weather as a trucker out West. Talk to any group of Sikh drivers and you’ll find former cabbies, liquor store workers or convenience store cashiers who made the switch.

    How a rural Oklahoma truck stop became a destination for Sikh Punjabis crossing America »

    “Thirty years ago, it was hard to get into trucking because there were so few people like us in the business who could help you,” says Rashpal Dhindsa, a former trucker who runs Fontana-based Dhindsa Group of Companies, one of the oldest Sikh-owned U.S. trucking companies. When Pal first started, Dhindsa — now a close friend but then an acquaintance — gave him a $1,000 loan to cover training classes.

    It’s 6:36 a.m. the next day when the Petro Stopping Center switches from quiet darkness to rumbling engines. Pal flips on the headlights of his truck, a silver ’16 Volvo with a 500-horsepower engine. Inside the rig, he heats aloo gobi — spiced potatoes and cauliflower — that his wife prepared back home. He checks the thermostat to make sure his trailer isn’t too warm. He takes out a book wrapped in a blue cotton cloth that’s tucked by his driver’s seat, sits on a bed-turned-couch and reads a prayer in Punjabi for safety on the journey: There is only one God. Truth is His name…. You always protect us.

    He pulls east onto the highway as the sun rises.

    Truckers either drive in pairs or solo like Pal. Either way, it’s a quiet, lonely world.

    Still, Pal sees more of America in a week than some people will in their lives. Rolling California hills, spiky desert rock formations, the snow-dusted evergreens of northern Arizona, the fuzzy cacti in New Mexico and, in Albuquerque, hot air balloons rising over an orange sky. There’s also the seemingly endless fast food and Tex-Mex of Amarillo and the 19-story cross of Groom, Texas. There’s the traffic in Missouri. After hours of solitude on the road, it excites him.

    Pal’s not strict on dogma or doctrine, and he’s more spiritual than religious. Trucking has shown him that people are more similar than different no matter where you go. The best of all religions, he says, tend to teach the same thing — kindness to others, accepting whatever comes your way and appreciation for what’s in front of you on the road.

    “When I’m driving,” Pal says, “I see God through his creation.”

    His favorite sights are the farms. You spot them in Central California while picking up pallets of potatoes and berries, or in Illinois and Indiana while driving through the corn and soybean fields.

    They remind him of home, the rural outskirts of Patiala, India.

    Nobody in his family drove trucks. Still, to Pal, he’s continuing tradition. His father farmed potatoes, cauliflower, rice and tomatoes. As a child, Pal would ride tractors for fun with Dad. Today, instead of growing food, Pal transports it.

    He wasn’t always a trucker. After immigrating in 2001 with his younger brother, he settled in Canoga Park and worked nights at 7-Eleven. After he was robbed at gunpoint, a friend suggested trucking. Better pay, flexible hours — and less dangerous.

    Three years later, he started driving a rig he didn’t own while getting paid per mile. Today, he has his own company, two trucks between himself and his brother — also a driver — and bids on shipments directly with suppliers. Nationally, the average pay for a trucker is just above $43,000. Pal makes more than twice that.

    He uses the money to pay for the house he shares with his wife, Harjeet Kaur, 4-year-old son, brother and sister-in-law, nieces and parents. Kaur threads eyebrows at a salon and video chats with him during lunch breaks. Every week before he leaves, she packs a duffel bag of his ironed clothes and stacked containers of food for the road.

    “I love it,” Pal says about driving. “But there are always two sides of the coin, head and tail. If you love it, then you have to sacrifice everything. I have to stay away from home. But the thing is, this job pays me good.”

    The truck is fully equipped. From the road, you can see only driver and passenger seats. But behind them is a sleeper cab with a bed that’s 6-foot-7 by 3-foot-2.

    Pal likes to connect the TV sitting atop a mini-fridge to his phone to stream music videos when he’s alone. His favorite songs are by Sharry Maan, an Indian singer who topped charts two years ago with “Transportiye.” It tells the story of a Sikh American trucker who longs for his wife while on the road. At night, the table folds down to become a bed. Pal is just missing a bathroom and his family.

    The life of a Sikh trucker is one of contrasts. On one hand, you see the diversity of America. You encounter new immigrants from around the world working the same job as people who have been truckers for decades. All transport the food, paper and plastic that make the country run. But you also see the relics of the past and the reminders of how you, as a Sikh in 2019, still don’t entirely fit in.

    It’s 9:40 a.m. on Saturday when Pal pulls into Bowlin’s Flying C Ranch rest center in Encino, N.M., an hour past Albuquerque and two from Texas. Here, you can buy a $19,999 stuffed buffalo, Baja jackets and fake Native American moccasins made in China in a vast tourist stop attached to a Dairy Queen and an Exxon. “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood plays in the background.

    It reminds Pal of the time he was paying his bill at another gas station. A man suddenly shouted at customers to “get out, he’s going to blow up this place!” “I will not fight you,” Pal calmly replied. The man left. Those kinds of instances are rare, but Pal always senses their danger. Some of the most violent attacks on Sikhs this century have been at the hands of people who mistook them for Muslims or Arabs, including the case of a turban-wearing Sikh man in Arizona who was shot dead by a gunman four days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

    For Pal, suspicious glances are more common. So are the truckers who think he’s new to the business or doesn’t speak English. None of it fazes him.

    “Everybody relates to us through Osama bin Laden because we look the same,” he says, driving across the plains toward the Texas Panhandle. “Or they think because my English sounds different that I am not smart. I know who I am.”

    Every day, he wears a silver bracelet that symbolizes a handcuff. “Remember, you are handcuffed to God. Remind yourself to not do bad things,” Pal says. It reminds him to be kind in the face of ignorance and hatred.

    At a Subway in Amarillo a few hours later, he grabs his go-to lunch when he’s taking a break from Indian food: a chicken sandwich on white bread with pepper jack, lettuce, tomato and onion. At home, the family is vegetarian. Pal relishes chances on the road to indulge in meat. He used to depend solely on his wife’s cooking. Today, he has other options. It’s a luxury to switch from homemade meals to Punjabi restaurants to fast food.

    Trucking has helped Pal find his faith. When he moved to the U.S., he used to shave, drink beer and not care much about religion. But as he got bored on the road, he started listening to religious sermons. Twelve years ago, he began to again grow his hair and quit alcohol; drinking it is against the faith’s traditions. Today, he schedules shipments around the temple calendar so he can attend Sikh celebrations with his family.

    “I don’t mind questions about my religion. But when people say to me, ‘Why do you not cut your hair?’ they are asking the wrong question,” Pal says. “The real question is, why do they cut their hair? God made us this way.”

    It’s 4:59 p.m. when he arrives in Sayre, Okla., at Truck Stop 40. A yellow Punjabi-language billboard advertises it as the I-40 starts to bend north in a rural region two hours from Oklahoma City.

    Among the oldest Sikh truck stops, it has a 24-hour vegetarian restaurant, convenience store, gas station and a housing trailer that functions as a temple — all spread over several acres.

    Pal has been coming here for more than decade, since it was a mechanic shop run by a Sikh former trucker who settled on the plot for its cheap land. When he has time, Pal lingers for a meal. But he’s in a rush to get to Joplin, Mo., for the night so he can make his drop-off the next day.

    He grabs a chai and heads to the temple. Resting on a small pillow upon the altar is the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. An audiotape plays prayers on a loop. A print of Guru Nanak, the faith’s founder, hangs on the wall.

    Pal prostrates and leaves a few dollar bills on the floor as a donation for upkeep. He prays for God to protect the temple, his family and himself on the 891 miles that remain until he hits the Indianapolis suburbs.

    “This feels like a long drive,” Pal says. “But it’s just a small part of the journey of life.”

    #USA #LKW #Transport #Immigration #Zuwanderung

  • What is it like to Intern at #tesla as Mechanical Engineer?

    And how do you get the internship? A video Interview with Dillon Wells — Mechanical #engineering student at Georgia Techhttps://medium.com/media/9805bc711002e603433914669c7fe206/hrefDillon talked about what he did at his internship at Tesla in 2018.He also talked about what these tech companies are looking for.He encourage those who are intimidating to build some experience and then apply.And lastly some tip in job hunting.If you want more information, please refer to my previous article:What It Takes to Become an Intern at Tesla — Interview with Three InternsWhat is it like to Intern at Tesla as Mechanical Engineer? was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this (...)


  • The Horror of the Check Engine Light and the Joy of Fixing It
    Cette petite hstoire nous met dans la tête d’un utilisateur d’automobiles. On apprend beaucoup sur son addiction et comment il fait pour se procurer sa drogue dans une qualité satisfaisante.

    It was lightly snowing, the kind of snow that doesn’t stick but turns everything into a horrible slush. It was December of 2017. I was picking up my coworker, Raph, double parked outside his old apartment. We were headed out to Long Island. It was two weeks after I bought the car. The check engine light came on.


    You can probably imagine the things going through my head. You’re a moron. You bought this thing and less than a month later it’s crap. It’s going to be expensive. Your mom told you to just take out a loan and buy a Honda. Your wife wanted a Civic, because she had one, and it was always reliable. You didn’t get the Civic. You had to get this thing. You had to get rear-wheel-drive and a straight-six and a wagon and “fun.” Idiot.

    The snow kept coming down.

    Raph got in the car, and immediately I blurted out that the check engine light just came on. We were headed to Tuning Works, about 30 miles away, to take care of a leaky valve cover gasket I knew about when I bought the car. It’s the shop that does a lot of work on the wildest rides at H2Oi every year, and they’ve won a ton of awards.

    The 2002 Lexus IS300 Sportcross I just bought was going to be my baby, I decided. It was only going to get the best of the best, a model of preventive maintenance. So while everyone else was going to the nearest random mechanic they could find, I was going to the place with the awards. I’d be taking better care of this car than anyone. Because there was no way in hell I’d be caught with a check engine light.

    But there it was. Its amber glow was staring right at me. Unblinking, unfeeling. A yellow-orange engine with a lightning bolt going through it, as if to say “the whole beating heart of this machine is dead. You just bought it, too. $10,250 straight down the drain.”

    While I was rapidly filling with self-loathing and shame, Raph did his best to be sympathetic, as much as a man who had previously owned a car that had been rolled multiple times with a rusted floor pan and a shopping cart wheel for a gas pedal could be sympathetic over a CEL.

    “It’s probably fine,” he said.

    It probably was fine. I’m a completely inept mechanic, but I knew that the only major lights you had to worry about in a modern car was the oil warning light and maybe, maybe, the temperature warning light. If those things are blazing or flashing at you, it’s a short time before you get permanent damage, so you better pull over quick. Almost everything else could be fixed eventually. A check engine light is usually nothing too much to worry about, but in that moment, having just bought the thing, it might as well have been dead.

    And even then, a check engine light is woefully inadequate. I had paid for a pre-purchase inspection at a Lexus dealership before I bought the car, and that came back pretty much perfect. So in my hubris, I neglected to put an OBD-II reader in the car that could immediately tell me what was wrong. I started running through worst-case scenarios, most of which involved conjurings from my wildly overactive imagination of the engine exploding or all four wheels simultaneously falling off.

    We were headed to a mechanic anyway, though. If I could nurse the car the 30 miles there, I’d be fine. (“Nursing it” consisted of driving absolutely normally, just being worried the whole time.)

    The guys at Tuning Works replaced my suspension bushing, while I fidgeted in their waiting area. They kindly reassured me that they’d check the CEL, and not to worry. They’d tell me what was wrong after they finished everything else.

    It felt like days, weeks. It was probably only an hour or two.
    Photo: Raphael Orlove/Jalopnik

    But when Rich from Tuning Works finally emerged, he told me it shouldn’t be anything to worry about. The computer was spitting out code “P0440" - the emissions evaporation control system. Essentially, somewhere along the fuel system, gasoline vapors were slowly drifting away. I mean, they shouldn’t be drifting away if everything was operating normally, but this little issue wouldn’t kill anybody.

    My car wasn’t going to explode. The wheels weren’t going to fall off. It was probably just the fuel filler cap. Replace that and the light should go away.

    I was grateful for the advice, much in the same way my rabbi growing up told me I wasn’t going to be immediately smitten by God for occasionally tasting bacon. A small fix and everything should be fine.

    Of course, it was only probably the fuel filler cap. If I wanted to know definitively, that would involve a smoke test, which would cost more money, because of the labor. Rich offered, but I declined. It was a fuel filler cap, who needs more testing?

    Tuning Works cleared the code, my valve cover gasket was fixed anew, and off I went. I bought a new filler cap at Autozone on the way home. The check engine light was dark. My momentary panic was gone. Everything was good.

    Three weeks later, the light turned on again.

    God damn it.

    I went and checked the code. Again, P0440. The evaporation emissions control system. Whatever. It was probably because I got an aftermarket fuel filler cap, not an OEM one. Another trip to the Zone, and I popped the $8 cap off, and slapped on a $22 fuel filler cap, right from the original manufacturer. All problems in the world go away if you throw enough money at them. That’s just a rule of life.

    Three weeks later, again, it turned on again. The check engine light was no longer staring at me, unblinking, unfeeling. Now it was taunting me. I’d clear the code, and it would disappear for a little while. It would always come back though. Sometimes two weeks would go by, sometimes three. But it was there. I would clear it just to get a momentary peace of mind. Maybe, with it temporarily turned off, I could convince myself that my new-to-me car wasn’t broken, that I wasn’t an idiot. But of course, I couldn’t.

    Months would go by, and I could never quite fall entirely in love with the car. A car that, to me, was lovely in every single way except for one. It was torquey and quick and it had a straight six and wonderful hydraulic steering and it was a wagon. And it had a check engine light. It was splendid and great and wrong. It was Zinaida Serebriakova’s At the Dressing Table, if the table had just a little bit of vomit on it.

    I started searching for what could be causing the P0440 code on the internet. The fuel filler cap, the mostly likely cause, I think we could rule out. But if it wasn’t that, it could be anyone of a number of things. One person on a Lexus forum got the code when they parked their car for a while, and mice chewed through a hose. Others had problems with something known as a Vacuum Switching Valve. Leaky fuel tanks. Parts that some other mechanic had worked on but hadn’t installed properly.

    The one I dreaded most was one that also seemed endemic to the first generation of the Lexus IS300. People on the forums consistently lamented a failure in something known as the “charcoal canister,” which is pretty much what it sounds like. A little canister filled with activated charcoal that absorbed any vapors from the fuel system. The other possible problems on the car I could probably fix myself, with a limited set of tools in an apartment building garage. The charcoal canister, on the bottom of the car towards the back, I could not. At the very least, the car probably needed to be on a lift. I don’t have a lift.

    Worse than that, the charcoal canister was pretty much the most expensive part in the entire system. A hose is a hose, but a charcoal vapor canister could cost nearly $500. Most people with the same problem said that they spent nearly $1,000 getting it fixed. I didn’t want to spend $1,000. I have lots of other things I’d like to spend $1,000 on.

    So I just sort of ignored it. I stopped clearing the codes. Every time I’d get in the car, that little light was there, a constant reminder of my own failures. And who among us, in this day and age, doesn’t live with one of those?

    Mine just happened to be on my car.

    I knew I had to get it fixed at some point. The “at some point” was actually pretty definite, too, since I had read that a car couldn’t pass a state emissions inspection in New York with a check engine light such as this one. I had until December 2018, one year from when I bought the car. I kept driving with it. I road-tripped the Lexus to New England, and to Pennsylvania, and to my mom’s and my dad’s and my aunt’s and my uncle’s and to the grocery store and to work and to car shows and everywhere else people drive. I take the subway to get to work, and occasionally drove press cars for work, so I only put on about 7,000 miles on it during the first year that I owned it. For 7,000 miles, I just lived with the light, looking back at me.

    With December and an upcoming state inspection approaching, though, I knew it needed to get fixed sooner rather than later. I’m not sure I even cared about the upcoming state inspection, to be honest. I just wanted that unblinking light gone.

    This time, I didn’t drive all the way out to Tuning Works. I was tired. I went to the shop two blocks from my apartment. The people in there are friendly, and it’s open 24 hours, seven days a week. It was a Sunday morning, 8 AM. I pulled the car into the garage, and told them I needed a smoke test.

    “That’ll be $65,” they replied. I paid it. I didn’t care. I needed to be sure.

    I watched through the glass window of the shop’s waiting room, into the mechanic bay. I saw them put my car on a lift, then poke and prod all around the area where the fuel tank was.

    After about an hour, the mechanic came over to me. He had that look and that walk and that tone that doctors use when they give you bad news. He was blunt but with a tinge of sympathy. It was the charcoal canister. And because I had insisted on a rear-wheel-drive car, it was going to be even pricier. A front-wheel-drive car, he explained, could have the job done in 30 minutes. But a rear-wheel-drive car would be longer, with much of the fuel system in the rear along with a differential and a driveshaft and all that comes with it. Two or three hours of labor.

    The total cost estimate was $750. That’s a good chunk of change less than the $1,000 I thought it would cost, but still, it would hurt my wallet. I picked the car up from the mechanic last night, my wallet $816.56 lighter after taxes.

    But weirdly, I almost didn’t care. Yeah, that was approaching the price of one of those FlightWebsite.biz Cheap-As-Hell European Vacations, but I wasn’t paying for a charcoal canister and three hours of a learned man’s time. I wasn’t even paying for peace of mind. What I was buying was no check engine lights, no constant reminders, no unceasing light getting in between me and rear-wheel drive and a straight six and a wagon and fun, satisfying fun.

    I was paying for the ability to finally, finally, fall fully and deeply in love with my car.

    #littérature #automobilisme

  • The mad, twisted tale of the electric scooter craze

    Dara Kerr/CNET

    For weeks, I’d been seeing trashed electric scooters on the streets of San Francisco. So I asked a group of friends if any of them had seen people vandalizing the dockless vehicles since they were scattered across the city a couple of months ago.

    The answer was an emphatic “yes.”

    One friend saw a guy walking down the street kicking over every scooter he came across. Another saw a rider pull up to a curb as the handlebars and headset became fully detached. My friend figures someone had messed with the screws or cabling so the scooter would come apart on purpose.

    A scroll through Reddit, Instagram and Twitter showed me photos of scooters — owned by Bird, Lime and Spin — smeared in feces, hanging from trees, hefted into trashcans and tossed into the San Francisco Bay.

    It’s no wonder Lime scooters’ alarm isn’t just a loud beep, but a narc-like battle cry that literally says, “Unlock me to ride, or I’ll call the police.”

    San Francisco’s scooter phenomenon has taken on many names: Scootergeddon, Scooterpocalypse and Scooter Wars. It all started when the three companies spread hundreds of their dockless, rentable e-scooters across city the same week at the end of March — without any warning to local residents or lawmakers.

    Almost instantly, first-time riders began zooming down sidewalks at 15 mph, swerving between pedestrians and ringing the small bells attached to the handlebars. And they left the vehicles wherever they felt like it: scooters cluttered walkways and storefronts, jammed up bike lanes, and blocked bike racks and wheelchair accesses.

    The three companies all say they’re solving a “last-mile” transportation problem, giving commuters an easy and convenient way to zip around the city while helping ease road congestion and smog. They call it the latest in a long line of disruptive businesses that aim to change the way we live.

    The scooters have definitely changed how some people live.

    I learned the Wild West looks friendly compared to scooter land. In San Francisco’s world of these motorized vehicles, there’s backstabbing, tweaker chop shops and intent to harm.

    “The angry people, they were angry,” says Michael Ghadieh, who owns electric bicycle shop, SF Wheels, and has repaired hundreds of the scooters. “People cut cables, flatten tires, they were thrown in the Bay. Someone was out there physically damaging these things.”

    Yikes! Clipped brakes

    SF Wheels is located on a quaint street in a quintessential San Francisco neighborhood. Called Cole Valley, the area is lined with Victorian homes, upscale cafes and views of the city’s famous Mount Sutro. SF Wheels sells and rents electric bicycles for $20 per hour, mostly to tourists who want to see Golden Gate Park on two wheels.

    In March, one of the scooter companies called Ghadieh to tell him they were about to launch in the city and were looking for people to help with repairs. Ghadieh said he was game. He wouldn’t disclose the name of the company because of agreements he signed.

    Now he admits he didn’t quite know what he was getting into.

    Days after the scooter startups dropped their vehicles on an unsuspecting San Francisco, SF Wheels became so crammed with broken scooters that it was hard to walk through the small, tidy shop. Scooters lined the sidewalk outside, filled the doorway and crowded the mechanic’s workspace. The backyard had a heap of scooters nearly six-feet tall, Ghadieh told me.

    His bike techs were so busy that Ghadieh had to hire three more mechanics. SF Wheels was fixing 75 to 100 scooters per day. Ghadieh didn’t say how much the shop was making per scooter fix.

    “The repairs were fast and easy on some and longer on others,” Ghadieh said. “It’d depend on whether it was wear-and-tear or whether it was physically damaged by someone out there, some madman.”

    Some of the scooters, which cost around $500 off the shelf, came in completely vandalized — everything from chopped wires for the controller (aka the brain) to detached handlebars to bent forks. Several even showed up with clipped brake cables.

    I asked Ghadieh if the scooters still work without brakes.

    “It will work, yes,” he said. “It will go forward, but you just cannot stop. Whoever is causing that is making the situation dangerous for some riders.”

    Especially in a city with lots of hills.

    Ghadieh said his crew worked diligently for about six weeks, repairing an estimated 1,000 scooters. But then, about three weeks ago, work dried up. Ghadieh had to lay off the mechanics he’d hired and his shop is back to focusing on electric bicycles.

    “Now, there’s literally nothing,” he said. “There’s a change of face with the company. I’m not exactly sure what happened. … They decided to do it differently.”

    The likely change? The electric scooter company probably decided to outsource repairs to gig workers, rather than rely on agreements with shops.

    That’s gig as in freelancers looking to pick up part-time work, like Uber and Lyft drivers. And like Nick Abouzeid. By day, Abouzeid works in marketing for the startup AngelList. A few weeks ago, he got an email from Bird inviting him to be a scooter mechanic. The message told Abouzeid he could earn $20 for each scooter repair, once he’d completed an online training. He signed up, took the classes and is ready to start.

    “These scooters aren’t complicated. They’re cheap scooters from China,” Abouzeid said. “The repairs are anything from adjusting a brake to fixing a flat tire to adding stickers that have fallen off a Bird.”

    Bird declined to comment specifically on its maintenance program, but its spokesman Kenneth Baer did say, “Bird has a network of trained chargers and mechanics who operate as independent contractors.”

    All of Lime’s mechanics, on the other hand, are part of the company’s operations and maintenance team that repairs the scooters and ensures they’re safe for riders. Spin uses a mix of gig workers and contract mechanics, like what Ghadieh was doing.
    Gaming the system

    Electric scooters are, well, electric. That means they need to be plugged into an outlet for four to five hours before they can transport people, who rent them for $1 plus 15 cents for every minute of riding time.

    Bird, Spin and Lime all partially rely on gig workers to keep their fleets juiced up.

    Each company has a different app that shows scooters with low or dead batteries. Anyone with a driver’s license and car can sign up for the app and become a charger. These drivers roam the streets, picking up scooters and taking them home to be charged.

    “It creates this amazing kind of gig economy,” Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden, who is a former Uber and Lyft executive, told me in April. “It’s kind of like a game of Pokemon Go for them, where they go around and try to find and gobble up as many Birds as they can.”

    Theoretically, all scooters are supposed to be off city streets by nightfall when it’s illegal to ride them. That’s when the chargers are unleashed. To get paid, they have to get the vehicles back out on the street in specified locations before 7 a.m. the next day. Bird supplies the charging cables — only three at a time, but those who’ve been in the business longer can get more cables.

    “I don’t know the fascination with all of these companies using gig workers to charge and repair,” said Harry Campbell, who runs a popular gig worker blog called The Rideshare Guy. “But they’re all in, they’re all doing it.”

    One of the reasons some companies use gig workers is to avoid costs like extra labor, gasoline and electricity. Bird, Spin and Lime have managed to convince investors they’re onto something. Between the three of them they’ve raised $255 million in funding. Bird is rumored to be raising another $150 million from one of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firms, Sequoia, which could put the company’s value at $1 billion. That’s a lot for an electric scooter disruptor.

    Lime pays $12 to charge each scooter and Spin pays $5; both companies also deploy their own operations teams for charging. Bird has a somewhat different system. It pays anywhere from $5 to $25 to charge its scooters, depending on the city and the location of the dead scooter. The harder the vehicle is to find and the longer it’s been off the radar, the higher the “bounty.”

    Abouzeid, who’s moonlighted as a Bird charger for the past two months, said he’s only found a $25 scooter once.

    “With the $25 ones, they’re like, ’Hey, we think it’s in this location, it’s got 0 percent battery, good luck,’” he said.

    But some chargers have devised a way to game the system. They call it hoarding.

    “They’ll literally go around picking up Birds and putting them in the back of their car,” Campbell said. “And then they wait until the bounties on them go up and up and up.”

    Bird has gotten wise to these tactics. It sent an email to all chargers last week warning them that if it sniffs out this kind of activity, those hoarders will be barred from the app.

    “We feel like this is a big step forward in fixing some of the most painful issues we’ve been hearing,” Bird wrote in the email, which was seen by CNET.

    Tweaker chop shops

    Hoarding and vandalism aren’t the only problems for electric scooter companies. There’s also theft. While the vehicles have GPS tracking, once the battery fully dies they go off the app’s map.

    “Every homeless person has like three scooters now,” Ghadieh said. “They take the brains out, the logos off and they literally hotwire it.”

    I’ve seen scooters stashed at tent cities around San Francisco. Photos of people extracting the batteries have been posted on Twitter and Reddit. Rumor has it the batteries have a resale price of about $50 on the street, but there doesn’t appear to be a huge market for them on eBay or Craigslist, according to my quick survey.

    Bird, Lime and Spin all said trashed and stolen scooters aren’t as big a problem as you’d think. When the companies launch in a new city, they said they tend to see higher theft and vandalism rates but then that calms down.

    “We have received a few reports of theft and vandalism, but that’s the nature of the business,” said Spin co-founder and President Euwyn Poon. “When you have a product that’s available for public consumption, you account for that.”

    Dockless, rentable scooters are now taking over cities across the US — from Denver to Atlanta to Washington, DC. Bird’s scooters are available in at least 10 cities with Scottsdale, Arizona, being the site of its most recent launch.

    Meanwhile, in San Francisco, regulators have been working to get rules in place to make sure riders drive safely and the companies abide by the law.

    New regulations to limit the number of scooters are set to go into effect in the city on June 4. To comply, scooter companies have to clear the streets of all their vehicles while the authorities process their permits. That’s expected to take about a month.

    And just like that, scooters will go out the way they came in — appearing and disappearing from one day to the next — leaving in their wake the chargers, mechanics, vandals and people hotwiring the things to get a free ride around town.

    #USA #transport #disruption #SDF

  • No food, no water: African migrants recount terrifying Atlantic crossing

    Men rescued off Brazil after 35 days at sea tell of harrowing 3,000km journey on which some drank urine to survive.

    In the days after the food and water had run out, as the catamaran drifted helplessly in the Atlantic with a snapped mast and broken motor, there was nothing left to do but pray, said Muctarr Mansaray, 27.

    “I pray every day. I pray a lot at that particular moment. I don’t sleep at night,” he said.

    Mansaray and 24 other African migrants had set out from the African nation of Cape Verde in April, on what they were told by the two Brazilian crewmen would be a relatively quick and easy voyage to a new country where they hoped to find work.

    This weekend, they were rescued by fishermen 80 miles off the coast of Brazil, after an incredible 3,000km (1,864-mile) journey across the Atlantic.

    The men, from Senegal, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau had been at sea for 35 days – the last few days without food and water.

    Details have now begun to emerge of the men’s terrifying and chaotic voyage in a 12-metre catamaran barely big enough for them to squeeze on. When food and water ran out, some even drank sea water and urine.

    “After 35 days of journey in these conditions it is really lucky that nobody died,” said Luis Almeida, head of the federal police’s immigration department in São Luís, the capital of Maranhão state.

    “There was not a cabin for all of them, so they were exposed to a lot of sun and solar radiation during these 35 days,” he said. The rescued men were disorientated, dehydrated and some had problems seeing after so long exposed to the glare of sun reflected on the waves.

    Almeida said the case was unprecedented: African stowaways have been found on cargo ships in Maranhão ports before, but this was the first time a boatload of migrants had arrived in the state. The two Brazilians also on the boat were arrested for promoting illegal immigrations.

    The journey began in the island nation of Cape Verde, 400 miles west of Senegal.

    Mansaray, a Muslim from Freetown in Sierra Leone, had moved there five years ago to study science and technology with hopes of becoming a teacher. He studied for two years but was struggling to pay his university fees and working as a cellphone repairman.

    “They called me the cellphone doctor,” he told the Guardian by phone from São Luís.

    A friend who is a student in São Paulo told him he could study for free in Brazil’s biggest city and would be able to send money home to his elderly parents and sister in Freetown. “I said, cool, that’s why I got that boat,” he said.

    He said he had been introduced to a Brazilian on the street and then paid $700 (£521) for what he was told would be a 22-day passage.

    He became scared when he saw the size of the vessel he was about to cross the Atlantic on.

    “I am the last to arrive, when I enter on the boat, a lot of guys, oh my God, is this going to be safe all of us?” he said. “How can I do this journey? Because I am already in, I cannot discourage other people, so I find courage and go.”
    ‘The motor broke, and the sail broke’

    Others had paid more on the promise that they would be given food, but within 10 days the food had run out, so the men survived on two biscuits or a few spoonfuls of food each day. One day, one man caught a fish with a rope.

    “We boiled a fish, and everybody eat,” Mansaray said.

    But the mast snapped when one of the boat’s crew was trying to tie it to the other side of the boat, he said, and the motor would not work because the crew had mixed kerosene and diesel. A storm came as a relief because at least there was rainwater to drink.

    Elhadji Mountakha Beye, 36, was hit on the head when the mast broke and has been left with a scar. The mechanic from Dakar in Senegal had previously lived in Cape Verde, and paid €1,000 (£877) for his passage in the hope of finding work in Brazil where he hoped to meet up with a Senegalese friend in São Paulo. “There is better work there than in Senegal,” he said.

    He described a hellish journey.

    “It was tiring, there was no food, the food ran out, the water ran out,” he said. “Just on that sea. The motor broke, and the sail broke. Now just wait for someone to help us.”

    Just as the situation was becoming dire, the men aboard the drifting vessel spotted a fishing boat and signalled that they were in distress. The fishermen, from nearby Ceará state, towed the catamaran to the nearby port of São José de Ribamar.

    “The next day someone would have died,” Moisés dos Santos, one of the fishermen, told reporters when the men landed. “They said they ate two biscuits a day. They even drank urine, that’s what they say, they told us. We felt very honoured to save the lives of a lot of people.”

    The men were met by a medical team from the Maranhão state government’s secretariat of human rights, taken to a health post for checks and then housed in a local gymnasium.

    “All of them said life was precarious in their origin countries and they all have relatives or people they know living in Brazil. They were looking for a better life and to work in Brazil,” said Jonata Galvão, the state’s adjunct secretary for human rights.

    Federal police said they were now evaluating a “migratory solution” for the men to stay in Brazil.

    “We are not criminals. We are hard-working guys. So I believe that the government will help us to do that,” Mantsaray said. “It is my dream, and I believe my dream will come true with the help of God, and I can support my family back home.”

    This story was amended on 23 May 2018 to correct the length of the journey across the Atlantic. It is 3,000km, not 3,000 miles.


    #parcours_migratoires #océan_atlantique #atlantique #Afrique #Afrique_de_l'Ouest #Brésil
    via @isskein

  • Gregory Klimov. The Terror Machine. Chapter 11

    King Atom

    “Siemens in Arnstadt: that’s under your control, isn’t it?”


    “Read this.”

    The head of the Administration for Industry handed me a code telegram struck across diagonally in red to indicate that it was secret. It read: ’Electronic measuring instruments discovered. Object of use unknown. Suspect atom research. Awaiting instructions. Vassiliev.’

    Colonel Vassiliev was the S. M. A. plenipotentiary at the Siemens works in Arnstadt, as well as the director of the scientific research institute for television, which was attached to the works. He was an experienced and reliable man: if he mentioned ’atom research’ he had reason for doing so. I held the telegram in my hand, waiting for Alexandrov to say more.

    “We must send someone there. As the works is under your direction it would be best if you went yourself,” he said.

    “It would be as well to take someone from the Department for Science and Technique with me,” I observed.

    Half an hour later the deputy head of the Department for Science and Technique, Major Popov, and I left Karlshorst for Thuringia. We reached Arnstadt just before midnight, and went straight to Colonel Vassiliev’s house, right opposite the works. He had been phoned that we were coming, and he and his assistant were waiting for us.

    “What have you discovered, Comrade Colonel?” Major Popov asked.

    “Let’s go to the works at once and you’ll see for yourself,” Vassiliev said.

    Accompanied by the commander of the works guard we made our way through the darkness to the far end of the yard, to the warehouse for raw materials and finished production. A guard challenged us outside; and inside, before a sealed door, we found a second armed guard. When the seal was removed we passed into a great warehouse packed with half-assembled electrical equipment: unfinished war production-a scene common to all the German factories immediately after the war.

    Vassiliev halted beside several large, long wooden cases. They contained enormous glass utensils with spherical swellings in their middle; they were packed with great care, and held by special clamps.

    The equipment was similar to the ordinary cathode tubes used in oscillographs, but was much bigger. It was an easy deduction that it was connected with electrical measurement, and the type of insulation used showed that it was intended for high-tension current of enormous voltage, such as is employed in cyclotrons for experiments in atom-splitting. One of the pieces had a special attachment for taking photo of the process. Judging by its construction it was not intended for measuring continuous charge, but a single, sudden, enormous application of current.

    The cases were marked: ’With great care, glass’, but we vainly looked for any indication of where they had come from or whom they were consigned to. They bore only indecipherable rows of numbers and letters.

    “How did they get here?” I asked Vassiliev. “They couldn’t have been produced in this works.”

    He only shrugged his shoulders.

    Next morning we opened an official inquiry. All the people who might be expected to have some knowledge of the mysterious cases were summoned one by one to Vassiliev’s office. The warehouse men knew nothing, for the cases had not been opened on delivery to the warehouse, and had lain until Vassiliev had discovered them. The technical staff said the instruments had not been produced in Arnstadt, but had probably come with other material from the Telefunken and Siemens chief works in Berlin. We felt convinced that they did not even know precisely what instruments they were being asked about.

    We decided to send a wire direct to Karlshorst, asking for the help of experts from the Special Group. The Special Group is the highest Soviet organization for scientific research in Germany, and is attached to the M. V. D. Department for Science and Technique in Potsdam. They have full powers to make direct contact at once, if necessary with all the scientific research organizations in the Soviet Union.

    It did not surprise us to find the mysterious apparatus in the Siemens warehouse at Arnstadt. During the later years of the war all the large German works shifted their industrial plant and established branches and depots in areas less subject to air attack. Moreover, immediately before the capitulation the more valuable installations and stores of raw material were removed and secretly deposited in various remote parts. We often came across most interesting material in the least expected places.

    It was of great importance to find out who had ordered this apparatus to be made, and whom it was intended for. To discover this, we must first ascertain where it had been produced. Only a very few German works could have made it, the most important of these being at Siemensstadt, in the British sector of Berlin. That was beyond the scope of our authority - at least, officially.

    On the other hand, the Telefunken works were at Erfurt, and they were concerned with producing huge transmitter valves for broadcasting stations. Telefunken-Erfurt was perfectly able to handle such a contract. Moreover, the technical directors at Erfurt were in constant business contact with Siemensstadt, and had a pretty good idea of all that went on in other Telefunken works. There we should find the threads linking up with the mysterious apparatus at Arnstadt.

    We decided that Colonel Vassiliev should await the arrival of the Special Group experts, while Major Popov and I visited the Telefunken works at Erfurt.

    We notified the S. M. A. control officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Yevtikov and Lieutenant Novikov, that we were coming to Erfurt, and found them waiting for us in the former directors’ office. When we explained the reason for our visit they breathed a sigh of relief; they had obviously been expecting one of the regular inquiries into their failure to comply with production plans and reparations deliveries.

    We questioned all the engineers working in the department for transmitter valve production, and came upon several essential clues. Shortly before the capitulation they had executed some special orders for gigantic electrodes and other parts for some quite unknown and completely new type of construction. The constructional plans had come from Berlin, and the parts, when manufactured, were to be sent there, presumably for assembly. The work was strictly secret. When we persisted in asking the origin of the commission and the constructional plans, the technical head of the transmitter valve department said uncertainly: “Berlin-Dahlem ... I think...”

    That was good enough. During the war Berlin-Dahlem had been the headquarters of the secret laboratories for atomic physics engaged in atom-splitting experiments.

    At this stage Colonel Vassiliev telephoned from Arnstadt to report that the Special Group experts had arrived. I knew that Lieutenant-Colonel Yevtikov was a sluggish sort of individual, so I asked Lieutenant Novikov to get reliable men to start a thorough search immediately for anything that could have any connection with the mysterious order, and to place anything found under lock and key and post a military guard over it. Lieutenant Novikov was an energetic and able man, an engineer by profession, who later, when the Telefunken-Erfurt was transformed into a Soviet A. G. company, was appointed chief engineer to the works. While he set to work on the inquiries, Major Popov and I drove back to Arnstadt.

    In Vassiliev’s office we found a group of men who were obviously scientists and thoroughly at home in laboratories and research institutions. Together with them there were several taciturn men in civilian dress, which took no part in the discussion of technical points and kept mainly in the background. But one could see that they were the real bosses: they were the M. V. D. shadows.

    The experts had already examined the mysterious apparatus, and without asking them any questions we felt that they confirmed our suppositions. Major Popov reported on our visit to Telefunken-Erfurt. Now we had the unpleasant feeling that our report was acquiring the features of a judicial interrogation; it was as though the M. V. D. shadows suspected that we might be concealing something. Even in dealings with Soviet officers that institution applies its quite distinctive methods.

    A searching examination of the technical employees at Arnstadt continued all that day. Each individual had to pledge himself in writing to the strictest secrecy. Towards evening the apparatus was all taken to Berlin, under reinforced escort and with the greatest of precautions.

    Accompanied by Major Popov and myself, the Special Group experts went on to Erfurt. Yevtikov had already been ordered not to let anybody leave the works who was likely to be required for questioning.

    The inquiry went on all night: the taciturn men with the pale faces seemed to make no difference between night and day. The inquiry was held in Yevtikov’s office, but he, Major Popov, and I, spent the night in an adjacent room, whence one or another of us was summoned to establish some fact or to give information, as we were well acquainted with the activities of the Telefunken works. The Special Group acquired not only a mass of fresh material, but also a list of the German scientists and engineers who had been directly concerned with carrying out the secret commission. Once more the threads linked up with the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute and the secret laboratories for atomic physics in Berlin-Dahlem.

    One of the leading German atomic physicists was Dr. Otto Hahn, a pupil of Max Planck. A number of the German scientists who had been working in his laboratory fell into the hands of the Soviet authorities after the capitulation and were taken to the Soviet Union, where they were afforded every possibility of continuing their research. Such famous German scientists as Professor Herz and Dr. Arden are now working in Soviet Research Institutes connected with atomic research under the general direction of Professor Kapitza, who is also head of the Supreme Administration for the scientific research organizations attached to the Ministry for Special Weapons.

    By the last few months of the war the Germans had cyclotrons for atom splitting at their disposition. But the catastrophic situation at the fronts and the destruction of the German heavy-water plant in Norway by the R. A. F. forced them to suspend attempts to solve the secret of the atom. Before the final capitulation they scattered all the atom laboratory equipment in spots which seemed safe from discovery. The Soviet authorities set up Special Units to search exclusively for the secret weapons on which Hitler had set such great hopes.

    During the month following our finds at Arnstadt all who had had anything to do with it were once more summoned to Potsdam-Babelsberg, to the headquarters of the Special Group. Somehow or other it had got hold of some valuable clues, both from German scientists working in the Soviet Union and from many others living in the German western zones. At times one cannot but feel admiration at the precision and speed with which the M. V. D. works. It is with good reason that this highly responsible field of research has been en-trusted to it.

    While the Special Group was solving the problem of the Arnstadt equipment the S. M. A. made a further important discovery. From Suslov, the Scientific and Technical Department’s representative for Thuringia, the head of the department, Colonel Kondakov, received a telegram announcing that ’The Levkovich Group has come upon a secret store of equipment whose purpose is unknown’.

    Colonel Levkovich was the head of the Dismantling Group operating in Thuringia. Such discoveries were by no means rare; dismantling teams had more than once come across double walls, with special installations or machinery concealed between them. Because of this a circular had been issued, instructing that all the walls of dismantled works were to be sounded. The dismantlers also searched systematically for plant removed from factories and works immediately before the capitulation.

    Kondakov sent two of his officers to Thuringia immediately. In the abandoned galleries of an unfinished underground factory, situated in a forest, they saw carefully packed apparatus which apparently had been intended for use in connection with very high-tension transformers or discharges such as are required in laboratories researching into the problems of high-tension current.

    They were especially struck by the remarkable scale of this apparatus, and especially the insulation. Although the experts from Karlshorst had never had anything to do with cyclotrons, they thought at once of atomic research, and cabled for experts from the Special Group.

    A few hours later the experts arrived from Babelsberg; their car was escorted by a second containing a force of soldiers in green caps: M. V. D. special troops. One glance at the plant convinced the experts of the significance of the find. A cipher cable was sent to General Pashchin, in the Ministry for Special Weapons at Moscow, and the following day a group of M. V. D. experts left Moscow to take over the plant. As soon as they arrived the area, with a circumference of several miles, was sealed off with M. V. D. guards. From that moment neither the men from Karlshorst nor those of the Special Group from Babelsberg were allowed to visit the area until the entire equipment had been removed to the Soviet Union.

    Later, Colonel Kondakov explained that we had not discovered anything new in the sphere of atomic research in Germany. Similar equipment was being made in the U. S. S. R. before the war, under the supervision of Professor Kapitza. Owing to wartime difficulties, Germany had been unable to conduct the research on any large scale. The purely scientific and theoretical aspects of problems associated with the atom have been known to the scientists of many countries for many years past, and Germany failed to find the solution to the problem of splitting the atom chiefly because of technical difficulties -above all, that of constructing the necessary plant and providing the energy for splitting the atom.

    One must remark on the striking difference between the Soviet and the foreign press in its handling of atomic questions. We - officers from Soviet Russia, who stood on the bounds between two worlds, saw the difference more clearly than anybody else did. While in general the Soviet press maintained an excessive silence, the foreign press was vociferous, and reminded one of a woman going into hysterics at the sight of a mouse. The fuss made over the atom bomb is indicative of fear and shows a lack of sense of reality. In the last resort the atom bomb alone cannot decide the destiny of the world. Man has already produced the atom bomb, and he will always be mightier than the atom.

    “It’s amazing how much fuss is being made over the atom bomb,” Colonel Kondakov remarked one day.

    “Yes, and the reports always come from ’reliable sources’,” his assistant. Major Popov smirked. “Sometimes from circles close to Karlshorst, sometimes ’direct from Moscow’.”

    “To tell the truth, the foreign press knows more than we ourselves do,” the colonel sighed. “Their continual quest for the sensational...”

    His remark was typical of the attitude of responsible Soviet officials. Each of us knew exactly so much as he had to know in order to perform his duties. And the majority of us went to great trouble to know as little as possible. While the world was shivering with atom fever our life pursued its normal course. I am reminded of a comparatively unimportant yet significant incident that occurred in my everyday life about that time.

    Shortly after my return from Thuringia the Administration for Reparations sent me a file containing constructional plans, accompanied by a note: ’We send you the prototype plans for a standard house-cottage intended for workers’ colonies in the Soviet Union, in accordance with reparations Order No... We re-quest you to check the electrical installations for the proposed project and confirm them. We also request you to prepare an overall plan of electrical installations for a total of 120, 000 houses, and to notify us which works are in a position to execute such an order. Petrov: Head of the Electro-Industry Department of the Administration for Reparations.’

    The plans included constructional diagrams for an ordinary German one-family house, consisting of three rooms, kitchen, bathroom, and toilet. In the basement there were a coal cellar and washhouse.

    I and several other engineers studied the plans with much interest. “When we go back to Russia we’ll get a little house like that,” one of us remarked.

    The electrical installations were checked, the plans approved, and the Administration for Reparations sent them on to Moscow for final approval.

    A little later I found the file again on my desk, with an accompanying note: ’On the instruction of the U. S. S. R. Ministry for the Building Industry I request you to make certain requisite modifications in the project. Petrov.’

    Curious to see what improvements Moscow had ordered, I unfolded the plans. To begin with, the washhouse had been abolished; the Ministry considered that the washing could be done just as well in the kitchen. Second, the verandah was eliminated. Quite understandable: the tenants weren’t to loll around on verandahs.

    After the modifications had been made accordingly, the project was returned to Moscow for approval. A few weeks later I found it on my desk yet again, this time accompanied by the laconic remark: ’Please make the necessary alterations. Petrov, ’

    This time the changes were pretty drastic. Without a word of explanation the bathroom and the toilet had been abolished. Every workers’ colony has public baths, so why a bathroom to each house? But the toilet? Apparently the Moscow authorities were of the opinion that such things were unnecessary so long as there were bushes around.

    The plans for electrical installations had been provided with a plentiful crop of thick red question marks. For instance, in the bedroom there were question marks against the wall plug, the bedside lamp to be attached to it, and the cord to enable it to be worked from the bed. The 120, 000 workers’ dwellings had been refashioned to meet the Soviet requirements. The cottages had been turned into ordinary huts. As finally ’modernized’, the project was the subject of bitter jest among the engineers of our department, and none of them expressed any desire to live in such a house.

    From one-fourth to one-third of the budget for the current five-year plan for the ’re-establishment of Soviet Economy’, i. e. some 60 milliard rubles, goes directly or indirectly into atom re-search and development. But if a man, the lord of creation and the creator of the atom bomb, needs to perform his natural functions, let him run to the nearest bush. So the State interest requires!

    In the high summer of 1946 a number of commissions from various Soviet ministries arrived in Karlshorst to inquire into the possibilities of allocating reparations orders and of exploiting the finished production lying in the warehouses of German industrial works. Two representatives from the Soviet Ministry for Shipbuilding invited me to travel with them through the Soviet zone to study the situation on the spot.

    Colonel Bykov, Captain Fedorov, and I set out from Karlshorst to go to Weimar. On the road I got to know my companions quite well. They were both extremely pleasant fellows, and ignored military regulations so far as to use the familiar Christian name and patronymic, rather than the prescribed rank and surname. They were not professional officers but engineers. And besides, they were in the navy; anybody who has had anything to do with seamen knows the difference between the navy and the army.

    On our arrival at Erfurt we put up at the Haus Kossenhaschen, which had been turned into the staff headquarters of the dismantling teams working in Thuringia. We sat in the old-fashioned, oak-paneled hall, talking while we waited to be called to lunch. I had been here often before, so the scene was familiar to me. But my companions had left Moscow only a few days previously, and they were keenly interested in all that was happening.

    “Tell me, Gregory Petrovich, what’s going on around here? Are they preparing for an expedition to the North Pole?” Colonel Bykov asked me in an undertone. The strange inquiry was due to the fact that all the dismantling officers bustling to and from were wearing enormous boots of reindeer hide, although it was a very warm summer day. And these men in fur boots carried sporting guns with them wherever they went, even taking them into the dining hall.

    “No,” I answered. “It’s only that the dismantlers have found a store of German airmen’s arctic equipment somewhere or other, and now they’re enjoying the pleasure of trying it out. And they’ve got their guns with them because they’re going off to hunt immediately they’ve had their dinner.”

    “An amusing lot!” The colonel shook his head. “Haven’t they really got anything else to do?”

    “The position’s rather complicated,” I explained. “The main work of dismantling was finished some time ago now, and the majority of them haven’t anything to do. But they aren’t having a bad time here, so their chief activity in life at present is to drag out whatever they’re doing. As they’re directly under Moscow control, the S. M. A. can’t do anything about it.”

    “In Berlin we were told that many of them have accumulated enough to retire for the rest of their lives,” Fedorov remarked.

    “Recently the S. M. A. Department for Precision Tools did take up one case,” I said. “It involved the director of the State Watch and Clock Works No. 2. He had been sent to Germany to dismantle the watch and clock industry. Soon after his return to Moscow the S. M. A. discovered that while here he had acquired many thousand gold watches and several dozen kilograms of gold illegally.”

    “That certainly should provide for the rest of his life,” Fedorov remarked with conviction in his tone. “If only for a lifelong free lodging.”

    “I doubt whether he’ll get that,” I commented.

    “Why do you?” The captain was astonished.

    “Well, the circumstances were reported to the higher authorities, and they hushed it all up.”

    “But why?” Fedorov still failed to understand.

    “Don’t ask me!” I replied. “Apparently they prefer not to bring such people into disrepute. ’Don’t wash dirty linen in public’, says the old saying. His wasn’t the first case of its kind.”

    “And he’s a Soviet director!” the colonel exclaimed indignantly.

    I could not help smiling bitterly. Nodding towards the dismantling officers bustling about, I said: “In the Soviet Union all these people are either high ministerial officials or factory directors. And hardly any of them are very different from that director I’ve just told you of. You can take my word for it. We in the S. M. A. are getting more and more of that sort of case brought to our notice.”

    There was an awkward silence, broken only when the headwaiter summoned us to the dining hall.

    We spent two days visiting factories and works in the Erfurt district. My companions were especially concerned with orders for special electrical installations in warships, and in particular in U-boats. I was struck by the interest they showed in the life going on around us - I had been more than a year in Germany now, and I was not so impressed by the contrasts as I had been at first.

    Among the works we visited was the Telefunken factory; my companions wanted to find out whether it could undertake reparations orders for naval receiving and transmitting apparatus. As we drove along the drive to the offices the colonel exclaimed: “Look at that, Victor Stepanovich! Tennis courts!”

    Captain Fedorov also stared through the window at several courts surrounded with a high wire-mesh wall. Around the courts there were flowerbeds, and a little square where one could rest. The captain gazed with intense curiosity at the tennis courts, the garden, and the nearby factory buildings, as though the very fact that they were all to be found together within the factory walls was noteworthy in itself.

    In the Soviet Union it is continually being proclaimed that the workers need to have opportunities for rest and recreation within the factory area. But as a rule the idea never gets beyond the proclamation stage, and such facilities are to be found only in a few works which serve as showplaces. But now, in Germany, the two Soviet officers were seeing things, which they had been told at home, were the achievement exclusively of the Soviet system.

    Not far from the office building there were several rows of cycle stands all of them empty.

    “But where are the cycles, Gregory Petrovich?” the captain asked me.

    “Now that’s really too simple!” I retorted. “In Russia, of course.”

    “Oh, of course!” he smiled. “But there must have been a lot here at one time. Almost one per worker.”

    After we had discussed our business with the Soviet control officers and the Telefunken directorate’s representatives, Colonel Bykov turned to me with an unexpected request: “Couldn’t you arrange for us to go over the works? So that we can get to know the labor processes and organization?”

    The technical director was quite willing to take us round. We went right through the production departments, from beginning to end of the process. In a great hall where electrodes were being wound and assembled for wireless valves several hundred women and girls were sitting at tables. The director explained the details, but Colonel Bykov did not listen to him. The colonel had fallen a little way behind, and was unobtrusively surveying the hall.

    His eyes passed slowly over the huge windows, over the high walls, the ceiling, and rested for a moment on the glass partitions that separated one sector from another. As a high ministerial official and head of one of the main departments in the Ministry for Shipbuilding he was well acquainted with working conditions in the Soviet Union, and it was obvious that he was quietly comparing them with conditions in this German works.

    As we were leaving the hall Captain Fedorov drew me back. “Gregory Petrovich,” he said, “how do you like this seat?” He perched himself on one of the seats, all of the same pattern, used by the women workers. It was fitted with a padded backrest, and its height was adjustable.

    “What do you find interesting about that seat, Victor Stepanovich?” I asked him.

    "To start with, it’s comfortable. For a worker it’s absolutely luxurious. But quite apart from that, did you notice the seats they had in the factory office?”

    “No, I didn’t.”

    “They’re exactly the same,” he said with a faint smile. “Directors and workers, they all sit on the same seats. And they’re really comfortable, too.”

    As we went on, the technical director began to complain of the difficulties they met with in regard to labor power; workers tended to come and go as they liked, and this had a detrimental effect on output. “It takes four weeks to train a new worker,” he said. “But many of them don’t stay longer than a fortnight. And absenteeism is very common.”

    “But haven’t you any means of stopping it?” the colonel asked in astonishment.

    The director shrugged his shoulders. “A worker can be away three days without good reason,” he explained. “If he’s away any longer he must obtain a doctor’s certificate.”

    “Then how do you stop slacking and shifting from one works to another?” the colonel asked.

    “If the worker comes within the categories I have just referred to we have no powers of dismissal. On the other hand, if he wishes to throw up his job we can’t make him work,” the director replied.

    “I’m not thinking of dismissal, I’m thinking of the necessity to make a man work,” the colonel persisted. The director stared at him blankly. “I beg your pardon?” he said. The colonel repeated his remark.

    “We have no legal means of compelling a worker to work. We can only dismiss a worker who violates the labor code,” the German answered.

    There was an awkward pause. The worst punishment a German worker could suffer was dismissal. In the Soviet Union dismissal was frequently a worker’s one, unachievable, dream. A Soviet director can deal with a worker entirely as he wishes. He can put a man on a poor and badly paid Job, and he can, or rather must, hand a man over to the law for arriving late, even if it were only a few minutes. But the worker has no right whatever to change his place of work without the director’s agreement.

    Arbitrary absenteeism is liable to lead to imprisonment. We Soviet officers were used to such discipline, and so we could not understand the German director’s impotence. And he for his part was highly astonished at what he evidently regarded as our absurd questions. Two worlds: two systems.

    “You were speaking of the labor code, just now,” the colonel went on. “What labor legislation governing relations between employer and employee is in force today? Laws dating from the Hitler regime?”

    “The German labor code dates mainly from the time of Bismarck,” the German answered. “It has suffered only insignificant modifications since then.”

    “The time of Bismarck?” Bykov sounded incredulous. “But that’s something like seventy years ago....”

    “Yes,” the director answered, and for the first times a look of pride showed in his face. “Germany’s social legislation is one of the most progressive in the world... I mean in Western Europe,” he hurriedly corrected himself as he remembered that he was talking to Soviet officers.

    The colonel looked at the captain. The captain, for his part, looked at me. I was used to this kind of mute dialogue; it was the normal reaction of Soviet people to things that made them think, but which could not be discussed.

    I took advantage of the fact that none of our control officers was near to ask the director why there had been a sudden fall in radio valve production during the last few months. When one inspects a factory it is best to talk with both sides separately.

    “The main reason is the shortage of wolfram and molybdenum wire,” he answered.

    “But you were recently allocated a supply securing the production plan for six months,” I retorted. “Haven’t you received it from Berlin yet?”

    “Yes, Herr Major, but don’t you know...” he muttered in his embarrassment. “Hasn’t Herr Novikov reported to you...?”

    “He’s reported nothing. What’s happened?”

    The director hesitated before answering:

    “We needed the wire so urgently that we sent a lorry to Berlin to fetch it.”


    “On the way back the lorry was stopped....”

    “What happened to the wire?”

    “Herr Major, our men couldn’t do anything....”

    “But where’s the wire?”

    “As our lorry was approaching Leipzig at night another lorry blocked its way. Armed men with machine pistols forced our driver and the dispatching clerk to get out, and they took over the lorry and drove off. The wire...”

    “Who were the bandits?”

    “They were wearing Soviet uniforms,” he answered reluctantly.

    As we got into our car after leaving the director, Captain Fedorov asked:

    “But who could have been interested in that lorry and its wire? D’you think it was some diversionists trying to sabotage reparations deliveries?”

    “We’re well aware of that kind of diversionary activity,” I told him. “The lorry will be found abandoned in a forest in a day or two, with the wire still on it, but stripped of its tires and battery. I expect that’s what Novikov is hoping for, too. That’s why he hasn’t reported the matter yet.”

    “But who goes in for that sort of thing?” the captain asked.

    “You live here for any length of time and you’ll find out.” I avoided a direct answer.

    From the Telefunken works we drove to a Thiel works for precision instruments and clocks. It was situated in a small village which we had difficulty in finding on a map. There were several other quite large industrial works engaged in armature production in the same village. It lay in a narrow valley between wooded hills, along the sides of which the Thuringian houses, brightly painted clung in rows. It was difficult to believe that this place was a workers’ settlement.

    “It looks more like a sanatorium,” Fedorov remarked, and his voice expressed envy, or regret. “In this country workers live as if they were staying at a health resort.”

    We called on the S. M. A. control officers, who had taken up their residence in the villa of one of the factory owners. As we came away the colonel laughed and said: “Victor Stepanovich, what do you think these brothers of ours are most afraid of?”

    “Lest they should be transferred somewhere else,” the captain replied without stopping to think. And we all understood what he meant by ’somewhere else’.

    People living in the West would never guess what it is that most astonishes Soviet people, especially engineers, on their first visit to a German factory. It might be thought that the Soviet officers would gaze open-mouthed at the enormous buildings, the innumerable modern machines and other technical achievements. But such things have long since lost any power to surprise us. It is rather the western peoples who would be astonished at the size of Soviet factories and the scope of their technical achievement.

    It is not western technique, not western machinery, that are new to us, but the place which man occupies in society and the State. We have to recognize the fact that men in the western system of free development of social relations enjoy far greater rights and liberties, that, to put it simply, they get much more out of life than do the Soviet people of the corresponding social stratum.

    As we were traveling on to our next point of call that evening, not far from Jena a fault developed in our car’s dynamo, and it stopped charging. To avoid running down the battery completely we switched off our headlamps and drove slowly through the night. On one side of the narrow road a steep cliff overgrown with trees towered above us, on the other side the cliff fell away into bottomless darkness. In the most God-forsaken spot of all, in the middle of a gorge, our auto petered out completely. We got out to stretch our legs while the driver examined the engine by torchlight.

    A dark form pushing a cycle loomed out of the darkness.

    “Can you tell us where we are?” I asked the German.

    “You’re at Goethe’s castle,” he answered. “It’s right above your heads.”

    “But is there a village anywhere near?”

    “Yes. You’ll come to a bridge a little way along the road, and there’s a village on the other side of it.”

    “I can’t do anything to it, Comrade Colonel,” our driver reported a moment or so later. “It’ll have to go to a garage.”

    “Now what shall we do? Spend the night in the car?” my companions fumed.

    “Of course not!” I said. “There’s a village not far off. We’ll go there for the night.”

    “God forbid, Gregory Petrovich!” the two sailors exclaimed in horror. “We can’t find a commandatura or an hotel for Soviet officers there.”

    “And very good, too!” I answered.

    “Cut it out!” they objected. “We’re not tired of life yet.”

    “Why did you say that?” It was my turn to be astonished.

    “Have you forgotten where we are? Not a day passes without a murder being committed. It’s been drummed into our heads that we’ve got to take the utmost care. We’ve been told not to let our driver spend a night in a car alone, for he’s sure to be murdered if we do. You know for yourself what things are like.”

    “And where were you told all this?”

    “In Moscow.”

    I couldn’t help laughing. “Well, if that’s what you were told in Moscow, it must be so. But you get a different view of it when you’re close up to it. We shall sleep better in the village than in any commandatura hotel: I guarantee you that. After all, we’ve all got pistols in any case.”

    After long argument they agreed to take the risk of spending the night in a wild and strange village. They told the driver he was to remain in the car, and we set out to walk.

    “But where shall we sleep there?” The captain was still dubious. “You can’t wake people up in the middle of the night and force your way into their house.”

    “Don’t worry, Victor Stepanovich. The very first house we come to will be a hotel. Would you care to bet on it?”

    “But how can you be so sure that it will be an hotel?” Captain Fedorov asked. “Anyway, if you’re right, we’ll open a bottle of cognac.”

    “It’s quite simple. We’re traveling along a country road, and in Germany the hotels are always found in the main street, at the beginning and end of the village. That’s an easy way to win cognac!”

    “All the same, I don’t like it.” The captain sighed mournfully.

    Some ten minutes later a bridge loomed up ahead of us. Immediately beyond it we saw light streaming through the chinks of window-shutters.

    “And now we’ll see who’s right, Victor Stepanovich,” I said, as I shone my torch on to a signboard, depicting a foaming tankard, fixed above the main door. “Here’s the hotel.”

    A few minutes later we were sitting at a table in the bar-parlor. My companions cast suspicious glances around the room, as though they expected to be attacked at any moment. The room was decorated in the Thuringian manner, and had heavily carved dark oak furniture, and antlers on all the walls. The ceiling- and wall-lights were fashioned from antlers, too. At the back gleamed the chromium-plated taps of the bar, and two girls in white aprons stood smiling behind the counter.

    After we had arranged rooms for the night, we ordered hot coffee. From our cases we took bread, sausage, and a bottle of cognac which the captain had brought with him as a ’remedy against the flu’!

    “Ah, Gregory Petrovich, it’s all right to drink, but we’ll be slaughtered like quails later on,” the captain sighed as he drew the cork. “You’ll have to answer for it all to St. Peter.”

    “Would you like me to betray my little secret to you?” I said. “Then you’ll sleep more quietly. I have to do a lot of traveling about on official business, and I’ve driven through Thuringia and Saxony again and again with a fully loaded lorry. In such cases there is a certain amount of danger, and you have to be on your guard. And when evening comes on and I have to look for quarters for the night... do you know what I do?”

    “You make for a town where there’s a commandatura hotel, of course,” the captain answered with the utmost conviction.

    “I did that once; but only once. After that first experience I’ve always tried to avoid towns where there’s a Soviet commandatura and garrison. I deliberately pull up in the first village I come to and spend the night in an hotel.”

    “But why?” Colonel Bykov asked.

    “Because it’s safer that way. During my twelve months in Germany I’ve had to draw and fire my pistol three times... and in every case I had to fire at men in Soviet uniform... out to commit a robbery,” I explained after a pause.

    “Interesting!” the captain said through his teeth.

    “I spent one night in an officers’ hotel at Glachau,” I went on.

    “To be on the safe side I drove the lorry right under my bedroom window. Hardly had I gone to bed when I heard it being dismantled.”

    “Amusing!” the colonel commented.

    “It wasn’t at all amusing to have to chase through the streets in my underclothes and waving a pistol,” I retorted. “I rounded up two Soviet lieutenants and a sergeant, called out the commandatura patrol, and had them arrested. Next morning the commandant told me: ’I quite believe you, Comrade Major, but all the same I shall have to let the prisoners go. I haven’t time for such petty matters.

    Let me give you some good advice for future occasions. Next time, wait till they’ve robbed your car, and then you’ll have evidence to show. Then shoot them out of hand and call us in when you’ve done it. We shall draw up a statement on the affair and be very grateful to you. It’s a pity you were in such a hurry this time.’”

    At that moment a fashionably dressed young woman and a man entered the bar-parlor. They sat down at a table opposite us and lit cigarettes.

    “All very well!” the captain said. “But there’s one thing about this place I don’t like: the people are too well dressed. Look at that fellow sitting opposite us with that dame. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re former Nazis, who’ve hidden themselves away in this lonely spot. And now we’ve come and stirred them up. And did you notice that group of youngsters a little earlier? They came in, stood whispering to one another, and then slipped out again! It strikes me as highly suspicious.”

    “Well, I think the best thing to do is to go to bed,” I proposed.

    “Bed, maybe! But sleep?” the colonel retorted. “I think our first job is to see which side our window looks out on.”

    As soon as we went to our bedrooms upstairs, the colonel and the captain made a security check. They opened and closed the windows and tested the shutters. “We were told they throw hand-grenades through the window,” the captain explained. He went into the corridor and tried to discover whether the adjacent rooms were occupied by members of the Werewolf organization (The organization planned by Nazis to carry on guerrilla resistance and terrorism after the war. - Tr.).

    Finally he tested the door lock. My companions occupied one room, and I had the one next to it. Now, for the first time since I had arrived in Germany, I felt a little dubious. I bolted the door, thought for a moment, then took out my pistol and slipped it under my pillow. After undressing I put out the light and plunged beneath the enormous feather bed.

    The following morning I knocked at my companions’ door to awaken them. I heard sleepy voices, then the bolt was shot back. They were weary and worn out. I gathered that they had sat up till long past midnight, discussing whether they should get into bed dressed or undressed. Now, in the morning sunlight, all their fears and anxieties were dispelled, and they began to pull each other’s leg.

    “Tell us how you went to the toilet in the middle of the night with your pistol at the ready, Victor Stepanovich!” the colonel said, winking at me.

    “Do you know who that well-dressed couple were yesterday evening?” I asked him. “The village shoemaker and his wife. And he’s an old communist, too. I asked the landlord. And you took them for Nazi leaders!”

    We had asked the landlord the previous evening to arrange for a mechanic to help our driver first thing in the morning. When we returned to the car we found them both hard at work. To pass the time, we climbed the steep path up to Goethe’s castle, and were shown over the place by the caretaker-guide. When we returned the car was in order, and before long we were on our way again.

    We journeyed through the length and breadth of Thuringia and Saxony for several days, controlling, sequestrating, requisitioning current production, and allocating orders on behalf of the Administration for Reparations. It was during this trip that I first began to experience an unusual feeling. It made me realize that the year I had spent outside the Soviet Union had not passed without leaving its effect on me. Somehow, a change had taken place within me. I was conscious of that as I worked and lived together with my two naval companions.

    They provided a kind of standard measure against which I could check the process that was going on inside me. As I talked with them I was disturbed to realize that my thoughts and my outlook had been modified by comparison with those of Soviet people. What I felt was not a simple renunciation of what I had believed in favor of something else. It was an enlargement of my entire horizon.

    Sommaire https://seenthis.net/messages/683905
    #anticommunisme #histoire #Berlin #occupation #guerre_froide

  • Workers of Germany, Unite: The New Siren Call of the Far Right - The New York Times

    BOTTROP, Germany — Guido Reil is a coal miner, like his father and grandfather before him. He joined a trade union at 18 and the center-left Social Democratic Party at 20. Fast-talking and loud, he has been an elected union representative for over a decade.

    But two years ago, after the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Germany, Mr. Reil switched to the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD. Competing in state legislative elections last May, the party won 20 percent of the vote in his home district with his name on its list — and the Social Democrats slipped 16 percentage points from a previous election.

    “Those are my former comrades,” Mr. Reil said, chuckling. “They came with me.”

    How is a far-right party drawing voters from labor, a traditional bastion of the left? The question is not academic, but goes directly to the heart of the emerging threat the AfD presents to Germany’s political establishment, including Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    The AfD shocked Germany in the fall when it became the first far-right party to enter Parliament since World War II. But that breakthrough not only shattered a significant postwar taboo. It has also enormously complicated the task of forming a new governing coalition, leaving Germany and all of Europe in months of limbo.

    Ms. Merkel and her conservative alliance are negotiating a coalition deal with their former governing partners, the left-leaning Social Democrats. If they do, the AfD will be Germany’s primary opposition party, leaving a wide opening for it to pick up even more traditionally left-leaning voters who fear the Social Democrats have been co-opted.
    Continue reading the main story

    Many fear that the AfD, as the leading voice of the opposition, would have a perfect perch to turn the protest vote it received in national elections in September — it finished third with 13 percent of the vote — into a loyal and sustained following.

    “If we go back into government, the AfD will overtake us,” predicted Hilde Mattheis, a Social Democratic lawmaker from Baden-Wurttemberg, where that has already happened.
    Continue reading the main story
    Mr. Reil driving by the Prosper-Haniel mine in Bottrop. He has worked in six mines, five of which have closed. Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times

    The 92 AfD lawmakers, who have been busy moving into their new parliamentary offices in central Berlin, have not been shy about using the spotlight.

    One, Jürgen Pohl, recently addressed Parliament and criticized the labor market changes that former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the Social Democratic Party passed from 2003 to 2005, saying they created a host of poorly regulated, precarious jobs.

    The AfD, Mr. Pohl said, “is a new people’s party that cares about the little people.”

    When some center-left lawmakers guffawed, Mr. Pohl pointed at the television cameras. “Go ahead and laugh,” he said, “your voters are watching.”

    Indeed, they are. The AfD has already overtaken the Social Democrats as the second-biggest party in state elections across much of what was formerly East Germany. In Bavaria, it is not far behind.

    But Mr. Reil believes his party has the greatest potential in places like Bottrop, in the Ruhr area, once the industrial heartland of West Germany and long a bastion of Social Democratic and union power.

    The Ruhr has produced coal since the 16th century, and it shaped modern Germany in the process. It powered the Industrial Revolution, two world wars, the postwar economic miracle and even European integration: The coal and steel community was the seedling of the European Union.

    But today, Bottrop and surrounding cities are in decline.

    Mr. Reil has worked in six mines, five of which have closed. Along with some 2,500 others, he will take early retirement, at 48, after the last mine ceases production in December.

    With the mines, most bars have closed, too, as has a whole social and cultural scene that once kept the area alive.
    Continue reading the main story
    Mr. Reil won 20 percent of votes in a district where the AfD had never fielded a candidate before. Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times

    The AfD’s “pro-worker” platform (“pro-coal, pro-diesel and anti-immigration,” as Mr. Reil puts it) resonates in Bottrop as well as on the factory floors of Germany’s iconic carmakers in the former east and the wealthy south of the country.

    As elections loom nationwide for worker representatives who bargain with management on behalf of their fellow employees, lists of candidates close to the AfD are circulating at several flagship companies, including Daimler and BMW. There are plans to create a new national workers’ movement, Mr. Reil said. The working name is the Alternative Union of Germany.

    “The revolution,” he predicted, “will be in the car industry.”

    Trade union leaders, currently on strike for higher pay and a 28-hour workweek for those wanting to care for children or elderly relatives, publicly dismiss such talk as “marginal.” But privately, some worry.

    One of Mr. Reil’s allies, Oliver Hilburger, a mechanic at a Daimler plant near Stuttgart, founded an alternative union called Zentrum Automobil in 2009, four years before the AfD even existed.

    Mr. Hilburger, who has been at the company for 28 years, is not a member of the AfD but he votes for it. He thinks the party and his union are a natural fit.
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    When it emerged that he had once played for a band associated with neo-Nazis, the news media reported the fact widely. But that did not stop his colleagues from giving his union 10 percent of their votes and electing him as one of their representatives.

    This spring, Mr. Hilburger, who calls his musical past “a sin of youth,” is fielding more than 250 candidates in at least four factories. Several of them, he said, are immigrants who have lived in Germany for years and support the AfD.

    “There is a feeling among workers that the old unions collude with the bosses and the government,” Mr. Hilburger said.
    Continue reading the main story
    Mr. Reil with AfD supporters during an informal meeting at a bar in Essen. Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times

    “The bosses and the media talk about skills shortages and how we need even more immigration,” he said. “We want to talk about a shortage of decent jobs for those who are already in the country. The AfD has understood that.”

    The AfD is ideologically divided, with many senior members staunchly capitalist and suspicious of labor unions.

    The strategic focus on the working class speaks to the challenge of turning protest voters into a loyal base, said Oskar Niedermayer, a professor of political science at the Free University in Berlin.

    “Breaking into the union milieu is key to that strategy,” Mr. Niedermayer said.

    He warned that the reflex to ostracize the AfD could backfire. Some unions are advising members to shun anyone in the AfD. Some soccer clubs are planning to outright bar them. And as Mr. Niedermayer pointed out, lawmakers from other parties have systematically blocked every AfD candidate for senior parliamentary posts.

    “It confirms them in their role as victims of the elites,” he said. “Workers who see themselves as victims of the elites will only identify with them more.”

    As the AfD appeals to Germany’s left-behinds, it is also trying to tie them to other parts of the party’s agenda, like its hard line on immigration.

    For instance, the battle cry of Frank-Christian Hansel, an AfD member of Berlin’s state Parliament, is to save the German welfare state — but for Germans.

    “If you want social justice, you need to manage who is coming into your country,” Mr. Hansel said. “Open borders and welfare state don’t go together.”
    Continue reading the main story
    An advertising board near the Prosper-Haniel mine. Mr. Reil said the AfD was “pro-coal, pro-diesel and anti-immigration.” Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times

    It is the kind of rhetoric that sets the AfD apart from the traditional left, even as it goes fishing for voters in Social Democratic waters.

    For the AfD, it is not just those at the bottom against those at the top, Mr. Niedermayer said. It is insiders against outsiders. Social justice, yes, but only for Germans.

    In Bottrop, this message plays well.

    Residents complain about some refugees being prescribed “therapeutic horseback-riding” and courses in flirtation, courtesy of taxpayers, while public schools are in decline.

    “They get the renovated social housing, while Germans wait for years,” said Linda Emde, the manager of one of the few remaining bars. “But when you speak up against migration, they call you a racist.”

    Ms. Emde had voted for the Social Democrats all her life. But in September, she and her husband switched to the AfD.

    Mr. Reil, who never managed to rise through the Social Democrats’ local party hierarchy, is now a member of the AfD’s national leadership team. At the monthly meetings, he sits at the same table as the aristocrat Beatrix von Storch and Alice Weidel, a professor.

    The two female lawmakers are perhaps best known for a recent social media rant about “barbaric, Muslim, rapist hordes of men.” But for Mr. Reil, the point of his comment was that he had risen socially.

    “What do a miner, a princess and a professor have in common?” he jokes. “They are all in the AfD.”

    Follow Katrin Bennhold on Twitter: @kbennhold.

    Christopher Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

    #Allemagne #extrême_droite #syndicalisme

  • Record Numbers Of Venezuelans Seek Asylum In The U.S. Amid Political Chaos

    Some 8,300 Venezuelans applied for U.S. asylum in the first three months of 2017, which, as the Associated Press points out, puts the country on track to nearly double its record 18,155 requests last year. Around one in every five U.S. applicants this fiscal year is Venezuelan, making Venezuela America’s leading source of asylum claimants for the first time, surpassing countries like China and Mexico.

    #asile #migrations #réfugiés #réfugiés_vénézuéliens #USA #Etats-Unis #Venezuela

    • Colombie : violence et afflux de réfugiés vénézuéliens préoccupent l’UE

      La Colombie est confrontée à deux « situations humanitaires », en raison de l’afflux de réfugiés fuyant « la crise au Venezuela » et d’"un nouveau cycle de violence" de divers groupes armés, a dénoncé le commissaire européen Christos Stylianides.


    • Half a million and counting: Venezuelan exodus puts new strains on Colombian border town

      The sun is burning at the Colombian border town of Cúcuta. Red Cross workers attend to people with dehydration and fatigue as hundreds of Venezuelans line up to have their passports stamped, covering their heads with clothing and cardboard to fashion what shade they can.


    • Venezuelans flee to Colombia to escape economic meltdown

      The Simon Bolivar bridge has become symbolic of the mass exodus of migrants from Venezuela. The crossing is also just one piece in the complex puzzle facing Colombia, as it struggles to absorb the increasing number of migrants prompted by its neighbour’s economic and social meltdown.

      Up to 45,000 migrants cross on foot from Venezuela to Cúcuta every day. The Colombian city has become the last hope for many fleeing Venezuela’s crumbling economy. Already four million people, out of a population of 30 million, have fled Venezuela due to chronic shortages of food and medicine.


    • Venezolanos en Colombia: una situación que se sale de las manos

      La crisis venezolana se transformó en un éxodo masivo sin precedentes, con un impacto hemisférico que apenas comienza. Brasil y Colombia, donde recae el mayor impacto, afrontan un año electoral en medio de la polarización política, que distrae la necesidad de enfrentarla con una visión conjunta, estratégica e integral.


      via @stesummi

    • Hungry, sick and increasingly desperate, thousands of Venezuelans are pouring into Colombia

      For evidence that the Venezuelan migrant crisis is overwhelming this Colombian border city, look no further than its largest hospital.

      The emergency room designed to serve 75 patients is likely to be crammed with 125 or more. Typically, two-thirds are impoverished Venezuelans with broken bones, infections, trauma injuries — and no insurance and little cash.

      “I’m here for medicine I take every three months or I die,” said Cesar Andrade, a 51-year-old retired army sergeant from Caracas. He had come to Cucuta’s Erasmo Meoz University Hospital for anti-malaria medication he can’t get in Venezuela. “I’m starting a new life in Colombia. The crisis back home has forced me to do it.”

      The huge increase in Venezuelan migrants fleeing their country’s economic crisis, failing healthcare system and repressive government is affecting the Cucuta metropolitan area more than any other in Colombia. It’s where 80% of all exiting Venezuelans headed for Colombia enter as foreigners.

      Despite turning away Venezuelans with cancer or chronic diseases, the hospital treated 1,200 migrant emergency patients last month, up from the handful of patients, mostly traffic collision victims, in March 2015, before the Venezuelan exodus started gathering steam.

      The hospital’s red ink is rising along with its caseload. The facility has run up debts of $5 million over the last three years to accommodate Venezuelans because the Colombian government is unable to reimburse it, said Juan Agustin Ramirez, director of the 500-bed hospital.

      “The government has ordered us to attend to Venezuelan patients but is not giving us the resources to pay for them,” Ramirez said. “The truth is, we feel abandoned. The moment could arrive when we will collapse.”

      An average of 35,000 people cross the Simon Bolivar International Bridge linking the two countries every day. About half return to the Venezuelan side after making purchases, conducting business or visiting family. But the rest stay in Cucuta at least temporarily or move on to the Colombian interior or other countries.

      For many Venezuelans, the first stop after crossing is the Divine Providence Cafeteria, an open-air soup kitchen a stone’s throw from the bridge. A Roman Catholic priest, Father Leonardo Mendoza, and volunteer staff serve some 1,500 meals daily. But it’s not enough.

      One recent day, lines stretched halfway around the block with Venezuelans, desperation and hunger etched on their faces. But some didn’t have the tickets that were handed out earlier in the day and were turned away.

      “Children come up to me and say, ’Father, I’m hungry.’ It’s heartbreaking. It’s the children’s testimony that inspires the charitable actions of all of us here,” Mendoza said.

      The precise number of Venezuelan migrants who are staying in Colombia is difficult to calculate because of the porousness of the 1,400-mile border, which has seven formal crossings. But estimates range as high as 800,000 arrivals over the last two years. At least 500,000 have gone on to the U.S., Spain, Brazil and other Latin American countries, officials here say.

      “Every day 40 buses each filled with 40 or more Venezuelans leave Cucuta, cross Colombia and go directly to Ecuador,” said Huber Plaza, a local delegate of the National Disasters Risk Management Agency. “They stay there or go on to Chile, Argentina or Peru, which seems to be the preferred destination these days.”

      Many arrive broke, hungry and in need of immediate medical attention. Over the last two years, North Santander province, where Cucuta is located, has vaccinated 58,000 Venezuelans for measles, diphtheria and other infectious diseases because only half of the arriving children have had the shots, said Nohora Barreto, a nurse with the provincial health department.

      On the day Andrade, the retired army sergeant, sought treatment, gurneys left little space in the crowded ward and hospital corridors, creating an obstacle course for nurses and doctors who shouted orders, handed out forms and began examinations.

      Andrade and many other patients stood amid the gurneys because all the chairs and beds were taken. Nearby, a pregnant woman in the early stages of labor groaned as she walked haltingly among the urgent care patients, supported by a male companion.

      Dionisio Sanchez, a 20-year-old Venezuelan laborer, sat on a gurney awaiting treatment for a severe cut he suffered on his hand at a Cucuta construction site. Amid the bustle, shouting and medical staff squeezing by, he stared ahead quietly, holding his hand wrapped in gauze and resigned to a long wait.

      “I’m lucky this didn’t happen to me back home,” Sanchez said. “Everyone is suffering a lot there. I didn’t want to leave, but hunger and other circumstances forced me to make the decision.”

      Signs of stress caused by the flood of migrants are abundant elsewhere in this city of 650,000. Schools are overcrowded, charitable organizations running kitchens and shelters are overwhelmed and police who chase vagrants and illegal street vendors from public spaces are outmanned.

      “We’ll clear 30 people from the park, but as soon as we leave, 60 more come to replace them,” said a helmeted policeman on night patrol with four comrades at downtown’s Santander Plaza. He expressed sympathy for the migrants and shook his head as he described the multitudes of homeless, saying it was impossible to control the tide.

      Sitting on a park bench nearby was Jesus Mora, a 21-year-old mechanic who arrived from Venezuela in March. He avoids sleeping in the park, he said, and looks for an alleyway or “someplace in the shadows where police won’t bother me.”

      “As long as they don’t think I’m selling drugs, I’m OK,” Mora said. “Tonight, I’m here to wait for a truck that brings around free food at this hour.” Mora said he is hoping to get a work permit. Meanwhile, he is hustling as best he can, recycling bottles, plastic and cardboard he scavenges on the street and in trash cans.

      Metropolitan Cucuta’s school system is bursting at the seams with migrant kids, who are given six-month renewable passes to attend school. Eduardo Berbesi, principal of the 1,400-student Frontera Educational Institute, a public K-12 school in Villa de Rosario that’s located a short distance from the Simon Bolivar International Bridge, says he has funds to give lunches to only 60% of his students. He blames the government for not coming through with money to finance the school’s 40% growth in enrollment since the crisis began in 2015.

      “The government tells us to receive the Venezuelan students but gives us nothing to pay for them,” Berbesi said.

      Having to refuse lunches to hungry students bothers him. “And it’s me the kids and their parents blame, not the state.”


      On a recent afternoon, every street corner in Cucuta seemed occupied with vendors selling bananas, candy, coffee, even rolls of aluminum foil.

      “If I sell 40 little cups of coffee, I earn enough to buy a kilo of rice and a little meat,” said Jesus Torres, 35, a Venezuelan who arrived last month. He was toting a shoulder bag of thermoses he had filled with coffee that morning to sell in plastic cups. “The situation is complicated here but still better than in Venezuela.”

      That evening, Leonardo Albornoz, 33, begged for coins at downtown stoplight as his wife and three children, ages 6 months to 8 years, looked on. He said he had been out of work in his native Merida for months but decided to leave for Colombia in April because his kids “were going to sleep hungry every night.”

      When the light turned red, Albornoz approached cars and buses stopped at the intersection to offer lollipops in exchange for handouts. About half of the drivers responded with a smile and some change. Several bus passengers passed him coins through open windows.

      From the sidewalk, his 8-year-old son, Kleiver, watched despondently. It was 9:30 pm — he had school the next morning and should have been sleeping, but Albornoz and his wife said they had no one to watch him or their other kids at the abandoned building where they were staying.

      “My story is a sad one like many others, but the drop that made my glass overflow was when the [Venezuelan] government confiscated my little plot of land where we could grow things,” Albornoz said.

      The increase in informal Venezuelan workers has pushed Cucuta’s unemployment rate to 16% compared with the 9% rate nationwide, Mayor Cesar Rojas said in an interview at City Hall. Although Colombians generally have welcomed their neighbors, he said, signs of resentment among jobless local residents is growing.

      “The national government isn’t sending us the resources to settle the debts, and now we have this economic crisis,” Rojas said. “With the situation in Venezuela worsening, the exodus can only increase.”

      The Colombian government admits it has been caught off guard by the dimensions — and costs — of the Venezuelan exodus, one of the largest of its kind in recent history, said Felipe Muñoz, who was named Venezuelan border manager by President Juan Manuel Santos in February.

      “This is a critical, complex and massive problem,” Muñoz said. “No country could have been prepared to receive the volume of migrants that we are receiving. In Latin America, it’s unheard of. We’re dealing with 10 times more people than those who left the Middle East for Europe last year.”

      In agreement is Jozef Merkx, Colombia representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is taking an active role in helping Colombia deal with the influx. Central America saw large migrant flows in the 1980s, but they were caused by armed conflicts, he said.

      “Venezuelans are leaving for different reasons, and the mixed nature of the displaced crisis is what makes it a unique exodus,” Merkx said during an interview in his Bogota office.

      Muñoz said Colombia feels a special obligation to help Venezuelans in need. In past decades, when the neighboring country’s oil-fueled economy needed more manpower than the local population could provide, hundreds of thousands of Colombians flooded in to work. Now the tables are turned.

      Colombia’s president has appealed to the international community for help. The U.S. government recently stepped up: The State Department announced Tuesday it was contributing $18.5 million “to support displaced Venezuelans in Colombia who have fled the crisis in their country.”

      Manuel Antolinez, director of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ 240-bed shelter for Venezuelans near the border in Villa de Rosario, said he expects the crisis to get worse before easing.

      “Our reading is that after the May 20 presidential election in Venezuela and the probable victory of President [Nicolas] Maduro, there will be increased dissatisfaction with the regime and more oppression against the opposition,” he said. “Living conditions will worsen.”

      Whatever its duration, the crisis is leading Ramirez, director of the Erasmo Meoz University Hospital, to stretch out payments to his suppliers from an average of 30 days to 90 days after billing. He hopes the government will come through with financial aid.

      “The collapse will happen when we can’t pay our employees,” he said. He fears that could happen soon.


    • The Venezuelan Refugee Crisis : The View from Brazil

      Shadowing the Maduro regime’s widely condemned May 20 presidential election, Venezuela’s man-made humanitarian crisis continues to metastasize, forcing hundreds of thousands of families to flee to neighboring countries. While Colombia is bearing the brunt of the mass exodus of Venezuelans, Brazil is also facing an unprecedented influx. More than 40,000 refugees, including indigenous peoples, have crossed the border into Brazil since early 2017. The majority of these refugees have crossed into and remain in Roraima, Brazil’s poorest and most isolated state. While the Brazilian government is doing what it can to address the influx of refugees and mitigate the humanitarian risks for both the Venezuelans and local residents, much more needs to be done.

      As part of its continuing focus on the Venezuelan crisis, CSIS sent two researchers on a week-long visit to Brasilia and Roraima in early May. The team met with Brazilian federal government officials, international organizations, and civil society, in addition to assessing the situation on-the-ground at the Venezuela-Brazil border.

      #Boa_Vista #camps_de_réfugiés

    • Le Brésil mobilise son #armée à la frontière du Venezuela

      Le président brésilien Michel Temer a ordonné mardi soir par décret l’utilisation des forces armées pour « garantir la sécurité » dans l’Etat septentrional de Roraima, à la frontière avec le Venezuela.

      Depuis des mois, des milliers de réfugiés ont afflué dans cet Etat. « Je décrète l’envoi des forces armées pour garantir la loi et l’ordre dans l’Etat de Roraima du 29 août au 12 septembre », a annoncé le chef de l’Etat.

      Le but de la mesure est de « garantir la sécurité des citoyens mais aussi des immigrants vénézuéliens qui fuient leur pays ».
      Afflux trop important

      Plusieurs dizaines de milliers d’entre eux fuyant les troubles économiques et politiques de leur pays ont afflué ces dernières années dans l’Etat de Roraima, où les services sociaux sont submergés.

      Michel Temer a ajouté que la situation était « tragique ». Et le président brésilien de blâmer son homologue vénézuélien Nicolas Maduro : « La situation au Venezuela n’est plus un problème politique interne. C’est une menace pour l’harmonie de tout le continent », a déclaré le chef d’Etat dans un discours télévisé.


      #frontières #militarisation_des_frontières

    • The Exiles. A Trip to the Border Highlights Venezuela’s Devastating Humanitarian Crisis

      Never have I seen this more clearly than when I witnessed first-hand Venezuelans fleeing the devastating human rights, humanitarian, political, and economic crisis their government has created.

      Last July, I stood on the Simon Bolivar bridge that connects Cúcuta in Colombia with Táchira state in Venezuela and watched hundreds of people walk by in both directions all day long, under the blazing sun. A suitcase or two, the clothes on their back — other than that, many of those pouring over the border had nothing but memories of a life left behind.


    • Crises Colliding: The Mass Influx of Venezuelans into the Dangerous Fragility of Post-Peace Agreement Colombia

      Living under the government of President Nicolás Maduro, Venezuelans face political repression, extreme shortages of food and medicine, lack of social services, and economic collapse. Three million of them – or about 10 percent of the population – have fled the country.[1] The vast majority have sought refuge in the Americas, where host states are struggling with the unprecedented influx.
      Various actors have sought to respond to this rapidly emerging crisis. The UN set up the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, introducing a new model for agency coordination across the region. This Regional Platform, co-led by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has established a network of subsidiary National Platforms in the major host countries to coordinate the response on the ground. At the regional level, the Organization of American States (OAS) established a Working Group to Address the Regional Crisis of Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees. Latin American states have come together through the Quito Process – a series of diplomatic meetings designed to help coordinate the response of countries in the region to the crisis. Donors, including the United States, have provided bilateral assistance.



  • From Leeds to London: portraits of English cities in the 1970s – in pictures

    Peter Mitchell worked as a truck driver in Leeds in the 1970s, photographing the city during his rounds. These fascinating portraits of factories and small shop owners in Yorkshire and London are found on his website Strangely Familiar

    photographs: © Peter Mitchell/RRB Publishing/Neutral Grey

    Keith and Sandra run a cosy pub on Portland Street, Sheffield. It’s closing time on a Sunday in June 1978

    Kingston Racing Motors in Olinda Terrace, spring 1975.Is the man with the wrench a mechanic? Why is the woman with the clapped-out Porsche looking so naughty? Will James C Gallagher, whose business it is, always have his back to the camera? And after painting the wall, why did Barry have to leave Leeds? The council demolished the lot shortly after this snap
    #photographie #ville #gens

  • Russian tanker catches fire in Caspian Sea, 1 crew member reported killed (VIDEO) — RT News


    A Russian tanker has caught fire in the Caspian Sea near the territorial waters of Turkmenistan. The crew has been evacuated while the Russian Emergency Ministry prepares amphibious firefighting aircraft to extinguish the fire on the vessel.
    A source told RIA Novosti that the ignition source is believed to be on the deck of the vessel.

    The Palflot-2 vessel in distress is currently drifting in Turkmenistan’s territorial waters some 800 kilometers from Russia’s nearest port, Astrakhan. Ten crew members have been evacuated from the ship by another Russian vessel, emergency agency sources told Russian media.

    The Southern Regional Center of Russia’s Emergency Ministry has confirmed the fire on Palflot-2 tanker claimed the life of a ship’s mechanic, reportedly a citizen of Kazakhstan.

    (port d’attache : Taganrog au fin fond de la mer d’Azov)

  • On Ukraine’s front lines, U.S.-supplied equipment is falling apart - The Washington Post

    An aging U.S. Humvee with worn out tires near Ukrainian front lines. on Nov. 6.
    Thomas Gibbons-Neff/The Washington Post

    The United States has delivered more than $260 million in non-lethal military equipment to help the government of Ukraine in its fight against a Russian-backed insurgency, but some of the U.S.-supplied gear meant to protect and transport Ukrainian military forces is little more than junk.

    On the outskirts of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, for example, one Ukrainian special forces unit is using U.S.-supplied Humvees dating from the late 1980s and early 1990s, based on serial numbers on the vehicles.

    Three of the Humvees had plastic doors and windows — barely any protection at all. The tires on one of the trucks blew apart after driving only a few hundred kilometers, the result of sitting in a warehouse too long, said one mechanic.

    Another infantry unit of approximately 120 men received from the Pentagon a single bulletproof vest — a type that U.S. troops stopped using in combat during the mid-2000s.

    If the Americans are going to send us equipment, don’t send us secondhand stuff,” said one Ukrainian special forces commander, who like other soldiers spoke on condition of anonymity to criticize the condition of his unit’s gear.

    The obsolete equipment was identified on a tour near the front lines in eastern Ukraine with help from mechanics serving in the Ukrainian army and through interviews with front-line troops. In some cases, serial numbers were used to trace the origins of certain vehicles.

    The decaying state of U.S.-supplied equipment on Ukraine’s front lines has bred distrust and lowered morale among Ukrainian troops, soldiers said. Experts said the low quality of the gear also calls into question the U.S. government’s commitment to a war that is entering its second year, with well-equipped Russian-backed separatists still firmly entrenched in Ukraine’s eastern region.

  • The Cult of the Peacock

    Consider this. Each game (as well as any other work of media) possesses a ‘burden of learning’: All the things a person must understand in order to consume it as its authors intend. This burden of learning falls somewhere on a spectrum with two opposite extremes. One extreme emphasizes the discovery of features by the consumer, which is to say it ‘burdens’ her. Works on this end are often challenging to the audience in the Art sense (not the Super Meat Boy sense); they require time and energy to parse. English poetry, for example, burdens the reader by assuming she is literate and therefore omitting any kind of tutorial explaining what each Roman glyph represents or how verbs work. The other extreme of this spectrum emphasizes the teaching of features by the designer. This work is accessible to the audience, which is the opposite of challenging. It includes things like airport signage, Bolshevik propaganda and of course videogames, all of which tend to deal in clear and elegant ideas because those are the easiest to communicate.

    By pushing the burden of learning further and further towards the designer (and demanding less time and energy from our users) we have managed to create all manner of wonderful games that many people can understand instantaneously without the aid of manuals, previous videogame experience, The Rosetta Stone, et cetera. These games sell really well and a lot of people like them. But each step towards the accessible end of the spectrum carries with it an unseen cost: The designer’s time and energy. A designer is kind of like a Turing machine: Given enough iterations she can figure out how to teach any player any game mechanic without causing boredom or confusion. But those iterations are not free and time is not unlimited, and for this reason there is an opportunity cost to performing them. The time a designer spends discovering how to better explain one mechanic cannot be spent improving the game in any other way. Thus, the more accessible you make a game the more time each feature costs, and the less time is available to do really anything except work on accessibility.

  • Death Toll in #syria #storm Hits 11

    A boy warms himself by a fire at a makeshift outdoor mechanic center on January 9, 2015 at a camp housing #Syrian_refugees in the eastern Lebanese town of Ersal. AFP/Maya Hautefeuille A boy warms himself by a fire at a makeshift outdoor mechanic center on January 9, 2015 at a camp housing Syrian refugees in the eastern Lebanese town of Ersal. AFP/Maya Hautefeuille

    Five more people have died of freezing temperatures in Syria, bringing the country’s death toll to 11 in a week-long storm battering the region, a monitoring group claimed Monday. Seven children, including twin baby girls, were among the dead, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "The snowstorm that hit large swathes of Syria on Sunday caused the (...)

    #cold #Gaza #ISIS #Israel #Lebanon #winter

  • The Mechanic Muse - What Is Distant Reading? - NYTimes.com

    “Ars longa,” the ancient saying goes, “vita brevis.” Art is long, life short, and the problem is intensifying. As the literary ars lurches exponentially more longa — accommodating the printing press, “Gravity’s Rainbow,” Google Books — our collective TBR pile towers ever more vertiginously overhead. Which raises a question: What are we mortal beings supposed to do with all these books?

    #littérature #digital_humanities #lecture