Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How to put up a window screen in Germany

Hey, today we are going to talk about something very important.  How to put up a window screen.  A lot of expats think Germans don't have window screens.  This is not true.  But like your bathroom cabinet and sometimes your kitchen, you have to install them yourself.   We live between two huge lakes in Brandenburg so I make sure the screens are up before mosquito season starts.

Where to get them: drugs stores, hardware stores, construction markets and sometimes the grocery store.

How much:  costs anywhere from €2.00 to €10.00.

Installation difficultly level: super easy.

It will keep out: mosquitoes, bees, spiders, flies and most other creepy crawlies.  You can get them in different sizes so measure your window first.  I didn't buy this one, we had it left over from last year.

There are two parts to the screen. A Velcro tape to go around the inside of the window and the screen.   It's important to put the Velcro tape on the inside, just outside the black rubber seal.  Once the tape is applied the outside of the window gently press the screen onto the Velcro.  It's important not to stretch it too tight or leave it too loose. 

If your screen is too big you can cut it to fit.  I usually only cut after it's up because if it's too small the whole thing is wasted.  This is right before I trimmed off the excess netting.

Window screen! 

And that is how Germans keep mosquitoes and other unwanted guests out of their houses during the Summer. 

Sara Rieck

Monday, April 6, 2015

Social constructs survey results

Hey guys!  I did a survey about a month ago for my monster term paper.  Some people expressed curiosity about the results.  I would be proud to share all 5000, boring according to my husband, words of that paper here but I am a little worried about inviting copy write violations so I decided to just publish the most interesting parts.  You wouldn't want to read fifteen pages on poverty anyway, right?  I mean, seriously, sociology is probably the most depressing subject ever.  Sorry if the following doesn't flow, I cherry picked the interesting parts.  It's still hella long though.


One in five of America’s children live in poverty.  When dividing those living below the poverty line into ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ it is hard to comprehend how children can come to represent 40% of the nation’s poor.  By their very nature children cannot be held accountable for their circumstances.  Children are unable to work and therefore cannot financially support themselves.  There are never cases where they are responsible for their own poverty.

The paradox of how America’s most vulnerable and innocent citizens can be found undeserving alongside the rest of the impoverished could be explained by socially constructed attitudes about parenting and children.  Social constructs are defined as the domain of social phenomena, categories, ideas, perceptions, attitudes, and mechanisms that are constructed through cultural or social practice.  Such constructs shape social reality and the policies created to govern America’s poor. 

First it is necessary to define poverty in the USA.  Measures of poverty are always somewhat relative to standards of living.  In the USA the poverty line is calculated by three times the amount of money it would take to feed a family on the ‘emergency temporary low budget diet’ created in 1955 and then adjusted to the current dollar amount.  From this calculated sum families pay for food, housing, utilities, healthcare, childcare, transportation and any other costs.  It is also important to take into consideration that the ‘emergency temporary low budget diet’ is only meant to support families for two months. After that it is no longer nutritionally adequate. Since the poverty line threshold was first calculated necessary expenditures like rent take up much more of a low income family’s monthly pay than it did in 1955.   

There are about 67 million women of reproductive age in the USA, most of whom will spend approximately three decades avoiding pregnancy and only three to five of years of their lives pregnant or trying to become pregnant (Henshaw 2006).  Half of all pregnancies in the United States, more than three million, are unintended.  By the age of 45 half of American women will have had an unintended pregnancy and over 25% will have had an abortion (Zolna 2014).  

For men and women whose contraception has never failed and always been available it may be hard to imagine how unwanted pregnancies could occur.  Perceived controllability of the situation has a large effect on how willing individuals are to offer help to the impoverished (Lane 2001).  The natural conclusion may be that unwanted pregnancies only happen due to negligence and therefore poor parents and their children are not deserving of help.   People who believe that poverty is the fault of the poor are often aroused to angry instead of feeling sympathy (Lane 2001).  This reduces the likelihood individuals will be in favor of redistribution policies that would help needy children and their parents.  

The anger that is aroused when individuals feel those living below the poverty line are responsible for their fate could explain the popularity of punitive welfare policies, especially those aimed at poor children and single mothers. They do not take into account how difficult it may be for poor women to find access to services that would allow them to prevent pregnancies.  These measures do not only punish women, they also punish their children. 

While it is true that children do no labor their value to society rests in potential labor.  Like land and money, labor is a fictitious commodity, meaning that while it can be bought (by employers) and sold (by employees) it is not reproduced on the market (Polanyi 1944).   We know that money is a social construct and land a natural resource, but where then, is labor produced?  The answer is within society, specifically the family unit.  It is estimated by the United States Department of Agriculture that the mean cost of raising a child born to a middle income American family in 2013 from birth to age 18 will be 300,000 US dollars adjusted (USDA 2013).     

The idea that individuals are responsible for themselves also extends to their children.  This hinders efforts to redistribute wealth.  Human circumstance is usually explained through two processes: internal, external or a combination of both.  Those who see poverty as a result of internal circumstance are less likely to offer help to the poor.  

Individuals who believe that the world is a just place are often less willing to be in favor of wealth redistribution policies.  Combining this idea with personal responsibility makes individuals even less likely to be in favor of redistribution (Lane 2001).  These beliefs associated with believing in religion, being conservative and feeling resentment towards those in need (Lerner 1975).  Individuals who fall into this category believe that god is the agent of justice in the world (Lane 2001).  

Socially homogenous societies are far more likely to come together to solve issues that benefit their communities (Sarason 1974). The fragmentation of the American people keeps them from uniting on causes like child poverty.  It has been found that the more heterogeneous a community is the less likely they are to spend money on welfare (Gilens 1992).  It is indisputable that poor economic conditions adversely affect America’s most impoverished children (Cousins 2013), but this is of little consequence if those children are not a part of the collective ‘we’.

By that idea everyone is also paid fairly according to the work they do is strongly associated with conservative thinking in the USA (Verba 1985).  These attitudes can attribute to hierarchical ranking of individuals in society based on their labor producing ‘worth’.  Within this frame of thinking doctors would be considered worth more than garbage collectors because they are paid more, even though both jobs are vital to society.  These attitudes do not assign much worth to the one quarter of American workers who make less than $8 an hour (Allard 2009).  

My research results- looking for constructs in the USA

To analyze the results I filtered the respondents who identified as US citizens and compared their analysis to the other group.  Both groups were similar in education, income, gender, marital status and most had children.  One of the only differences I found between the groups was that the ‘other nationally’ group had much more negative views on children, scoring much higher on questions meant to capture negative or apathetic attitudes.  

The most promising evidence I found that supported my hypothesis was an indication to believe the decision to become a parent is a choice.  None of the American respondents strongly disagreed with this statement on the Likert scale.  Even more respondents believed that individuals have children to enrich their lives and that parenting is a privilege. 

Most of the respondents were very child-positive in their views.  They believed that parenting is an important job and that children are good for society.  The majority supported federal policies to redistribute funds for children living below the poverty line.  However, almost no one felt that impoverished families should be compensated for having children.  Respondents also had mixed views about whether or not individuals living below the poverty line should have children.  

Slightly less people believed that children born to families living below the poverty line would be a burden to society.  I also found evidence that while most people who took the survey believed parenting was a choice they understood the limitations of family planning.   It remains unclear is there was cognitive dissonance on the issue or if these beliefs take into account extenuating circumstances. 

Society does not think of childrearing the same way it did thirty years ago.  Medical advances in contraception increasingly make Americans forget that having children is not an equal choice for all.  Many may feel less responsible towards those in need.  Harsh restrictions on abortion and contraception have overburdened clinics that offer reproductive services to the poor.  Many have closed further reducing access to family planning for those who need it most.  There seems to be no help in sight, either for helping poor women prevent unwanted pregnancies or for offering aid to children who are living below the poverty line.  

They American people remain somewhat dissociated from society.  This is due to several factors: the heterogeneous nature of America, the devaluing of low paid workers and a misconception of who is poor and why.  Better education on the poverty situation is needed to dispel lingering myths about the poor. 

So thanks to everyone who took ten minutes to help me and filled out the survey!  


USDE, F. S. A. o. U. D. o. E. (2015). "For purposes of applying for federal student aid, what’s the difference between a dependent student and an independent student?", from