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Archive for April, 2009

A few days ago, J, wife of Prophylactic Paul, forwarded along another German sex story:

Demetrius Soupolos (29) and his wife were very keen to have a child together, but when doctors found that Demetrius is sterile, they began to seek other options to become parents.

The option the couple decided on was to hire their neighbor Frank Maus (34).

Frank, who was already married with two children, agreed to do the job for the fee of 2.000 euros. For three times a week for the next six months, a total of 72 times, Maus tried to impregnate the neighbor’s wife.

After the unsuccessful six-month period Demetrius insisted that Frank take a medical examination. The doctor found that Frank was also sterile, which forced his wife into admitting that their two children did not belong to him.

What interested me was the validity of the agreement–which in essence concerned the exchange of money for sex– seemed not to be in question.  Prostitution is legal in Germany, but often these transactions are still limited depending on the state and city, and I’m sure a lawyer could find some legal distinction between prostitution and this particular arrangement. In the US, for example, prostitution is almost everywhere illegal, but pornography is not. According to this article, the main legal distinction is that prostitution involves payment for sex, while pornography involves payment to watch (but not engage in) sex. I’m sure somebody somewhere finds that a meaningful distinction.

Legal arbitrariness aside, a debate was recently held on the morality of paying for sex. One of the debaters is a favorite economist of mine, Tyler Cowen. Part 1 is embedded below:

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One thing living in Germany taught me was the ease with which one can overestimate how necessary some goods are to a happy life.  Doing without a freezer or oven for 6 months proved but a negligible inconvenience,  for instance, and certainly far less of one than I would have thought beforehand.  This lesson has given me reason to wonder what I therefore consider truly essential and what I could do without.

Here’s what the Pew Research Center says Americans think on the matter:

The large percentage drops are probably explained by the recession, but many of the items seem far more sensitive to location than to financial circumstance.  A car was not a necessity for me in Germany but is in South Carolina. Double ditto for air conditioning. Some things I find inexplicable: is a microwave really so sensitive to income? Why is a phone tethered to a wall considered more necessary than a mobile phone? How great is having a TV without cable?

I lived in three places in Germany with differing amenities, but here’s the minimum of what I had:

  • Car
  • Landline phone
  • clothes dryer
  • home air conditioning
  • TV set
  • Home computer
  • Cell phone
  • Microwave
  • High-speed internet (I did have it free at my office two minutes away)
  • Cable or satellite TV
  • Dishwasher
  • Flatscreen TV
  • iPod

If were answering about South Carolina, I’d add car, AC, and internet and remove iPod. If I were answering about Rwanda–well, ask me again in a few weeks.

HT: Felix Salmon

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  1. My default assumption is stores are closed after dusk.
  2. Perfunctory pleasantries and hyper-attentive American waitstaff  irritate the ever-loving crap out of me.
  3. There’s a compulsion to pay with cash and coin to the exact cent.
  4. I cringe whenever a single small item–a book or travel alarm clock, say–is automatically bagged at the register.
  5. Forever closed windows choking off frische Luft fills a fount of fret.
  6. Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.

Here’s ten reasons why I wouldn’t be blogging if I were German, and here’s some reasons why I would.

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To my dismay, I left my alarm clock in the hotel on a brief trip to Hilton Head this weekend. It was a good travel clock, and had been pretty much everywhere I had in the past half dozen years, imbuing me with some sentimentality for it.

My heavyhearted search for a replacement began online, but with little luck there I decided to lope around the mall. At RadioShack I found pretty much exactly what I was looking for:

At $10, the offering from RadioShack was hard to beat, but my old trusty one had come from Brookstone, so I set off to the other side of the mall where I found an equally great clock:

In fact, the Brookstone and RadioShack clock were identical save in three ways:

  1. The store logo on the front was different,
  2. The two colors were reversed,
  3. The Brookstone clock was $15 more expensive, with a price tag of $25

Amazingly, even with my involved knowledge of price discrimination I dithered for a few seconds, trying to convince myself the Brookstone clock was sturdier and therefore deserved my purchase (such is the power of branding). Nonetheless I soon came to my senses and hurried back to RadioShack, laughing at the Brookstone greeter as I went.

***

In a few days, I will receive a package of Gillette Mach3 razor blades. These will be identical to those I would buy in the store save in three ways:

  1. The packaging will be in Chinese (as I bought them on eBay from a gentleman in Hong Kong),
  2. They will be delivered to my front door,
  3. They will cost nearly 70 percent less, including shipping costs.

The reason I can do this is because others are not so sensitive to the price of these goods as me, just as I am not sensitive to the price of other goods and miss out on deals. When I am not sensitive, I subsidize those who are, and when I am sensitive, I am subsidized.

I have no idea whether I’m a winner on net, but today I feel pretty good.

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Homunculi

A truly astounding series of German condom advertisements are making the rounds this morning—each features a sketch of a sperm made to look like Adolf Hitler, Osama Bin Laden or Mao Zedong. Their not so subtle message being, “Better wrap it up… unless you want to bring evil into the world!”

On one hand, these ads make perfect sense due to their exploiting the potent Schuldgefühl–or guilty feeling–that is such an important part of German culture. On the other hand, Schuldgefühl was borne out of WWII and the Holocaust, and is one reason why joshin’ about that silly vegetarian painter called Hitler just doesn’t play in Germany even now.

Even scooping Hitler out of the pool, however, the ads pronounce an inscrutable message. Are sperm inherently evil, or just the sperm contributing to unplanned pregnancies? If someone is impregnated with these seeds of destruction, is it game over right then, or will some extra hugs in childhood purge the perversity? What is the cost to humanity of sheathing the good sperm? And most importantly, does the fact that sperm can be mustachioed or sport a turban indicate the prescience of Nicolaas Hartsoeker?

HT: Paul, who surprises me with his interest in prophylactics of the world

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I, like undoubtedly millions of others, enjoy greatly the guerrilla-style train station dance routines of the past couple years, and the Antwerp Central Station is indeed a beautiful locale in which to have one:

So chipper and sprightly for a country with one of the world’s highest suicide rates!

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Easter Edition:

Truth is not to be found bellowed loudly on a teeming street corner, but whispered earnestly in a shuttered closet.

If I were to modernize this a bit and make the biblical allusion less clear, I might talk of Facebook status updates rather than street corners.

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