Thursday, July 28, 2016

Situational Obesity
Friends, I'm gaining weight - but it's not my fault! When we arrived here on the Cape I weighed a “svelte” 210 pounds, fully clothed, now I weigh 215 pounds, scantily clad.

I know, it is always someone else's fault, so the saying goes, but in this case it really is not my fault. I call it “Situational Obesity!” The situation is this: Soon after we arrived, the European Soccer Championship started, which was broadcast here by ESPN. Of course I felt obligated to watch at least the games in which Germany played and the games in which Germany's potential future opponents played. I did not drink beer and eat snacks, but I did spend several afternoons glued to the couch. Then came a series of terrorist attacks in the US and in Europe and two horrendous police killings in the US and an alleged coup attempt in Turkey that again had me riveted to the TV set. Needless to say, no snacks even considered. Then came the Republican National Convention. That resulted in long evenings watching a show whose outcome was already known. Of course it required the watching of the commentators' discussions not only at the nightly gathering of the convention, but also on the following day. Lots of beer and snacks to maintain sanity. While looking forward to a few days of “normal” TV-fare, I was tricked into watching more commentators' comments, because I was looking for some indication to make me believe that America is still the country too which I swore my lifelong allegiance. More beer and snacks. Now the Democratic National Convention has started, its outcome also known. The three days since the convention started have resulted in long evenings with a moderate amount of drinks and snacks - sanity does not seem to be in jeopardy - so far. But who knows what is yet to come. I'm hoping to return to a normal “TV-watching-life” on Friday, which means no daytime TV-watching and selective watching in the evening, but am not betting the farm on it. I'm hoping to see the pounds tumble - or is there something else I should be doing?

Friday, July 22, 2016

The English Corner

Our  local newspaper in Heidelberg, Germany, the “Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung,” features a column called “English Corner” in its Saturday supplement. It contains articles written in English, presumably to let German readers practice their English reading skills. I read the column each week for several weeks and learned that the articles were written by a Canadian, a British, and an Australian author in succession. All three write British English. So, I wrote to the editor of the supplement and asked if it wouldn't be of interest to his readers to read an article written in American English since there is a difference in the spelling of certain words, certain words can be differently interpreted, and different idioms and expressions are used. The reply was that he was quite satisfied with his three authors, but that he would be willing to consider a guest article and that I should send him a sample of my writing. I wrote several articles in a simple conversational tone that I thought might be somewhat educational and interesting to the readers. The articles appear below. So far, two of my articles have been published: The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and USA Presidential Elections, which I wrote during the US primary elections this spring. I recently submitted the article about great white sharks around Cape Cod, but have not heard yet if it will reach print.
Be Shark Smart!

Thus read signs on some of the Cape Cod beaches. Cape Cod is a peninsula that protrudes from the coast of Massachusetts in the northeastern part of the United States. When looking at the “Cape,” as it is referred to locally, from above, it looks like an arm, bent at the elbow and making a fist. The land seems to be signaling defiance toward the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

Because of Cape Cod's geographical position, it has many magnificent beaches that are very popular during the tourist season. People from all over the country and around the world come to sunbathe, swim, and surf here. It is at this time of year, however, that a bit of excitement is introduced into the beach activity in the form of the danger posed by great white sharks, that mainly roam the waters off the beaches above the “elbow” formed by the peninsula. The reason for the sharks' preference for this location is that these beaches face the open Atlantic and are favorite feeding grounds for seals, which in turn are the preferred food of great white sharks. Many times while walking along my favorite beach I have seen the heads of seals pop up in the water only a few yards away from the shore, disappearing and then reappearing some distance away. I have also observed groups of seals high and dry on an offshore sandbank, seemingly sunning themselves. I am told that this is a sure sign that sharks are in the area and the seals are in reality waiting for the danger to pass. At times I have also admired the courage shown by the few surfers who venture out into the not-very-ferocious surf to catch a wave, because when in the water with their neoprene suits on, they look remarkably like a seal swimming on the surface and are often mistaken by a shark for his favorite meal.

Although the periodic presence of sharks off the beaches of Cape Cod has been recorded for years, no shark attack on humans has been reported recently largely due to the heightened awareness, which is a result of tracking the great white sharks with modern techniques. Signs are now posted on affected beaches making people aware of the potential presence of sharks. Airplanes and boats regularly patrol the waters off the coast of Cape Cod, not to hunt the predators, but to record their presence and when possible to place a transmitter on them to enable researchers to track their travels and thereby study their seasonal behavior. Receivers placed strategically off the coast pick up the signals of passing sharks, allowing their locations to be displayed on a map. There even is an app available that displays this map and that allows the users to report any shark sightings, should they be so “lucky.” According to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a non-profit organization that studies the shark population off Cape Cod, the number of great white sharks cataloged as spending time in Cape waters, as of 21 June 2016, is 169. The honor of being the largest documented shark is shared by a shark named Large Marge, Luci, and James (yes, they are given names), each 16 feet long.

For those of us who enjoy walking along the beaches without getting more than our feet wet, the potential presence of sharks in the water near where we are walking is of little consequence. However, whenever I walk on my favorite beach at dawn or near sunset, the shark's favorite times to feed, I hear the soundtrack of the movie “Jaws” playing in my head: “Tumtum, tumtum, tumtum, tumtum...”
USA Presidential Elections

With the United States presidential election in full swing, some of my German friends have asked me to explain the American election process to them, a process which can be quite confusing - not only from a German perspective. Even though having been a voter in United States elections since reaching voting age, I was hard pressed to come up with a short answer to my friends' questions - I had to do some research.

First of all, the process by which political parties in the United States choose their candidates for president is not dictated by the constitution of the United States, but rather has evolved over the years as political parties in the United States evolved. That requires some explaining and involves the description of state primary elections and state caucuses.

State primary elections and caucuses are events where prospective candidates for president are judged, so to speak, by members of their party. That means that in each state of the Union each political party holds its own primary election or caucus. Sometimes these events take place in a particular state at the same time (at different places), sometimes they take place on different dates in a particular state, or some are held in several states on the same date. Primary elections are held at official polling places and involve a secret ballot. Caucuses on the other hand, are events where members of a political party divide themselves into groups according to the candidate they support. Each group gives speeches supporting a candidate and tries to persuade others to join their group. At the end of the caucus the number of voters in each candidate's group are counted. Most states hold primary elections, only a handful hold caucuses, and each state has its own rules governing primary elections and caucuses, as the case may be.

Here is where it gets even more complicated. As mentioned above, since the United States Constitution does not dictate the process to be followed for the selection of a candidate for president, the rules governing the selection process are made by the political parties. To go into the details of the rules each of the political parties in the US follows goes beyond the scope of this brief overview. Let it suffice to say, that based on the outcome of the primary elections and the caucuses, each political party establishes the number of delegates it sends to their national convention which the political parties hold in the summer before the general election. The potential candidates for president who are still in the race present themselves to the delegates of their party who then choose the person who will be their presidential candidate in the general election.

Secondly, Americans do not elect their president directly - but indirectly. Each state has designated intermediaries called “electors.” The number of electors a state can have is equal to the number of representatives and senators the state has in the United States Congress. The number of representatives a state has depends on the state's population, in addition, each state has two senators. Currently there are a total of 538 electors. They are collectively referred to as the Electoral College. The more votes a particular presidential candidate receives in a state, the more electors he gets from that state.

Now there is one more hitch: the difference between the “popular vote” and the “electoral vote.” At the general election, the public's ballots result in the popular vote. However, at this time the intermediaries, the Electoral College, enter the picture again. They never meet as a body, but cast their votes in their respective state capitals for the presidential candidate who received the most popular votes in their state. At least 270 votes from the 538 members of the Electoral College are required for a candidate to win the election. It is possible, that the Electoral College will come up with a different winner of the presidential race than the popular vote indicated. The reason for this is that states with the highest populations, and therefore the most electoral votes, can overturn a close victory based on the nationwide popular vote. This has happened in 1824, 1876, 1888 and again in 2000 when George W. Bush received fewer total popular votes than Albert Gore Jr., but received a majority of electoral votes.

There are many more details that would have to be explained to fully describe this complicated process. One question I always get after trying to explain the American election system is: “Why so complicated?” The only answer I can think of is that this process has evolved over 200-plus years and has become an American tradition.