Archives for Germany



Testing the Limits of Google Translate

Google Translate is an amazing thing.  You can take a chunk of text in just about any language, paste it into Google Translate, and it is instantaneously (if imperfectly) translated.

Since I can’t speak anything other than English, I’m not in a great position to say how good or bad the translations are, but my multi-lingual friends generally turn their noses up at Google Translate, saying it doesn’t do that great a job.

My response is that compared to any other alternative I know (like trying to track down someone who speaks Croatian, or going word by word through a Croatian-English dictionary), it seems like a miracle.  I love it.

But even Google Translate has its limits. Read More »



Germany Agrees that Poker Is a Game of Skill

A German court has ruled that poker is a game of skill, as Levitt has argued before (and which a U.S. court has recently confirmed).  The ruling is in response to poker player Eduard Scharf‘s claims that his poker winnings shouldn’t be taxed because poker is a game of chance, and “anyone can win a game of poker.”  The court disagreed, ruling that “[H]e had to pay income tax on his winnings saying they counted as commercial income as they were linked to his personal skills.” (HT: Sven Seuken)



If Greece and Germany Were a Couple….

hilarious depiction of Greece and Germany as a bickering couple: Read More »



How to Learn (Not Just) a Language Quickly

I was never good at languages. Although my first language was Punjabi, I grew up as a monolingual English speaker. In grade school, I took French for many years with grades of mostly Bs and a few Cs. However, I managed to learn fairly fluent German in just a few months. As I look back on it, I realize that I applied methods that help in learning any subject, which is my reason for telling you what I did.

It was 20 years ago in the eight-week language course at the Goethe Institute in Prien am Chiemsee, a beautiful resort town in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps (sadly, that school has since closed its doors). Upon arrival, we took placement tests to determine a suitable class. The instructors offered me the choice of starting in the highest of the three beginning levels or in the lowest of the three intermediate levels. (In college I had studied a year of German, which I estimate as comparable to four weeks of immersion in language school.)

I chose the intermediate class. For the first five weeks, I understood almost nothing that the teacher or the other students said. However, in the sixth week of the course, something amazing happened. Each day in that week I understood more. Read More »



Bonn, Germany Taxes Prostitutes with Nightly “Parking Permits.” A Deadweight Loss?

In Bonn, Germany, brothels and saunas pay taxes. Yet street prostitution is not taxed, so that the government has given streetwalkers a competitive advantage. To ensure fairness, the Bonn government has constructed meters along the main streets where the women solicit, with each woman required to purchase a “parking permit” of €6 each night.

As an economist, I would prefer to see hourly fees charged, but the costs of administering a fixed fee are much lower and probably yield greater net revenue. The only problem is that the fixed fee gives an incentive to shift work time toward fewer nights per week but more hours per night worked. A clear deadweight loss from this tax.

[HT to DJ]



Dogs Can Smell Lung Cancer

A new study by German researchers apparently shows that “sniffer dogs” can reliably smell lung cancer on the breath of patients. The finding could significantly improve early detection methods of the disease, which is the deadliest form of cancer worldwide. The research was published in European Respiratory Journal. Here’s the abstract:

Patient prognosis in lung cancer (LC) largely depends on early diagnosis. Exhaled breath of patients may represent the ideal specimen for future LC screening. However, the clinical applicability of current diagnostic sensor technologies based on signal pattern analysis remains incalculable due to their inability to identify a clear target. To test the robustness of the presence of a so far unknown volatile organic compound in the breath of patients with LC, sniffer dogs were applied.

Exhalation samples of 220 volunteers (healthy individuals, confirmed LC, or COPD) were presented to sniffer dogs following a rigid scientific protocol. Patient history, drug administration and clinicopathological data were analysed to identify potential bias or confounders.

LC was identified with an overall sensitivity of 71% and a specificity of 93%. LC detection was independent from COPD and the presence of tobacco smoke and food odors. Logistic regression identified two drugs as potential confounders.

Read More »



What Happens Next as the World Turns Away From Nuclear Power? A Freakonomics Quorum

A few years ago, we wrote a column (related material here) about the unintended consequences of Jane Fonda — that is, how anti-nuclear-power activism as epitomized by Fonda’s character in the nuclear thriller The China Syndrome helped halt the growth of nuclear power in the U.S. The timing of the film couldn’t have been better: 12 days after its release, an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania spooked the nation into Fonda’s arms — even though, in retrospect, that accident was far less serious than initially thought.

Many other countries, in the meantime, embraced nuclear power. But if you thought the China Syndrome/Three Mile Island combo was devastating to a nuclear future, consider the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. On May 11, Japan announced that it was shelving plans to scale up its nuclear energy capacity. Two weeks later, Germany announced plans to end all nuclear power generation by 2022. The Swiss have vowed to end nuclear power by 2034; and the Italians voted down plans to restart the country’s nuclear power program. Read More »



Why Is the German Economy Cranking?

What’s behind Germany’s economic success? It’s not a wirtschaftswunder; The Economist explains. Read More »