American Views Abroad

Friday, December 31, 2004
In the 1970s Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned, two memoirs by Nadezhda Mandelstam, the widow of the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, riveted me. It was the utter darkness of the time they lived in. There was the fact that Mandelstam would compose poems in his head and not write them down. No record was left for any nameless authority to decide if one or the other poem caused enough offense to lead to imprisonment. Thus his work was often revised, remembered, recited to friends and passed on by word of mouth.

I suppose it is a sign of the times that I decided to look up his work again. There are so many well worth reading. In Osip Mandelstam Selected Poems translated by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwim, Oxford U. Press 1973, here is number 66 written in 1914.

Let the names of imperial cities
caress the ears with brief meaning
It's not Rome the city that lives on,
it's man's place in the universe.

Emperors try to rule that,
priests find excuses for wars,
but the day that place falls empty
houses and altars are trash.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is accepting donations to help the survivors of the earthquake and tsunamis in Asia. The AFSC is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service.

For information on its work which includes letting the local people determine what response is most needed and providing support for groups that might not be served by larger aid responses, please go to:

Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Via Der Spiegel, a blogger at the front line of relief efforts

Following very detailed reports on the Asian disaster, the news here also highlighted the death of Susan Sontag, novelist, essayist and critic.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004
The news is so grim about the catastrophe. The German ambassador in Sri Lanka expressed it so on last evening's special news report on TV -- it leaves everyone stunned silent. Silence because what happened was beyond most people's imagination. Silence because individuals can't cope with so much horror without warning or anticipation. Silence because that whole area was too poor to have an early warning system. What must it have felt like to see what's coming and not be able to contact anyone to prevent the sheer number of children from being killed?

This and the elections in Ukraine have put happenings in Iraq on the back burner here. There is a column in today's IHT - From the Heartland: Europe Drops out of the Picture by Wayne Merry

'Beyond economics, however, Europe pretty much drops off the radar screen. The European popular obsession with American power and influence has no counterpart in America..... Europe simply stopped being an issue when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded. Europe as a locus of American attention and anxiety during the cold war is entirely a thing of the past...... I suspect most Europeans - with their daily diet of news, views and theories about America - would be surprised how utterly asymmetric is the interest.......Europe is not a problem, not global, and of the past. A nice place to visit, but pricey.'

My gut feeling is that 'European popular obsession' is dwindling. The media isn't necessarily giving a complete picture here. There is a drifting away, a very slow process but, nevertheless noticeable, in how ordinary citizens react to various things American. Take, for example (only one among many), a Polish lady who works in my local supermarket. She thought I was English, but after finding out I'm American, her immediate reaction (before the election) was that Bush had to go. It was her facial expression, more than anything, that showed a bigger picture.

The idea that most Europeans would be surprised at how one sided interest is makes me almost laugh. The entire article deals with the past (from an American point of view). There is absolutely no mention of the European Union or the euro. The Europeans I know don't delude themselves thinking America is interested in or understands present day Europe. A number of years ago it was possible to pick up Meet the Press on Sundays on a cable station. I recall one of the most important weekends in present day Europe, a weekend in May when European leaders made the decision to go for and with the euro. So what did Tim Russet have to say on his show that 'sets the agenda for the week' about this to his viewers? A two minute comment? One minute? 30 seconds? 2 seconds? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No wonder the show is no longer on. Europe was not that engrossed in Paula Jones or US campaign fincance reform, even back then.

Monday, December 27, 2004
Der Spiegel's English Site asks a very important question on the media coverage of the Indian Ocean Tsunami: Are the lives of westerners worth more than those of the people of India, Sri Lanka or Thailand?

The news coming out of that region is so devastating that one German journalist described it as a catastrophe of Biblical proportion yesterday on TV. It's unbearable listening to the hourly news reports ---- the number of dead and missing keep climbing in the thousands, the hardest hit are the poorest of the poor, and now even Somalia in Africa reports hundreds dead in the tidal wave's path.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
The following sermon makes reference to the research on fascism and makes predictions about how the wind will likely blow in the next four years and beyond.

This sermon can now be read in the soon to be published book America, Fascism and God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher. More information on Loehr's work can be found at

A sermon on Fascism by a Unitarian minister in Austin, Texas:
*Living Under Fascism*

Davidson Loehr
7 November 2004
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756

:: PRAYER: This is usually the Veterans Day service. I had planned to
devote the prayer to veterans because, as a Vietnam veteran, veterans
are very dear to me.

Today, let us pray that all who suffer may find some peace. May all
parents, relatives and friends of lost or dead children find light at the
end of their dark and fearful tunnels.

May those who terrify and endanger us and our children be brought
to justice.

And may we once again find or create that necessary but fragile web of
interrelatedness which alone can give us both safety lines and safety
nets as we go - whether bravely or timidly - into our future. Amen.

SERMON: Living Under Fascism

You may wonder why anyone would try to use the word "fascism" in
a serious discussion of where America is today. It sounds like cheap
name-calling, or melodramatic allusion to a slew of old war movies.

But I am serious. I don't mean it as name-calling at all. I mean to
persuade you that the style of governing into which America has slid
is most accurately described as fascism, and that the necessary
implications of this fact are rightly regarded as terrifying. That's what
I am about here. And even if I don't persuade you, I hope to raise the
level of your thinking about who and where we are now, to add some
nuance and perhaps some useful insights.

The word comes from the Latin word "Fasces," denoting a bundle of
sticks tied together. The individual sticks represented citizens, and
the bundle represented the state. The message of this metaphor was
that it was the bundle that was significant, not the individual sticks. If
it sounds un-American, it's worth knowing that the Roman Fasces
appear on the wall behind the Speaker's podium in the chamber of
the US House of Representatives.

Still, it's an unlikely word. When most people hear the word
"fascism" they may think of the racism and anti-Semitism of
Mussolini and Hitler. It is true that the use of force and the
scapegoating of fringe groups are part of every fascism. But there was
also an economic dimension of fascism, known in Europe during the
1920s and '30s as "corporatism," which was an essential ingredient of
Mussolini's and Hitler's tyrannies. So-called corporatism was adopted
in Italy and Germany during the 1930s and was held up as a model by
quite a few intellectuals and policy makers in the United States and

As I mentioned a few weeks ago (in "The Corporation Will Eat Your
Soul"), "Fortune Magazine" ran a cover story on Mussolini in 1934,
praising his fascism for its ability to break worker unions,
disempower workers and transfer huge sums of money to those who
controlled the money rather than those who earned it.

Few Americans are aware of or can recall how so many Americans
and Europeans viewed economic fascism as the wave of the future
during the 1930s. Yet reviewing our past may help shed light on our
present, and point the way to a better future. So I want to begin by
looking back to the last time fascism posed a serious threat to

In Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here," a conservative
southern politician is helped to the presidency by a nationally
syndicated radio talk show host. The politician - Buzz Windrip - runs
his campaign on family values, the flag, and patriotism. Windrip and
the talk show host portray advocates of traditional American
democracy - those concerned with individual rights and freedoms - as
anti-American. That was 69 years ago.

One of the most outspoken American fascists from the 1930s was
economist Lawrence Dennis. In his 1936 book, The Coming American
Fascism - a coming which he anticipated and cheered - Dennis
declared that defenders of "18th-century Americanism" were sure to
become "the laughing stock of their own countrymen." The big
stumbling block to the development of economic fascism, Dennis
bemoaned, was "liberal norms of law or constitutional guarantees of
private rights."

So it is important for us to recognize that, as an economic system,
fascism was widely accepted in the 1920s and '30s, and nearly
worshiped by some powerful American industrialists. And fascism
has always, and explicitly, been opposed to liberalism of all kinds.

Mussolini, who helped create modern fascism, viewed liberal ideas as
the enemy. "The Fascist Conception of life," he wrote, "stresses the
importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as
his interests coincide with the State. It is opposed to classical
liberalism [which] denied the State in the name of the individual;
Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence
of the individual." (In 1932 Mussolini wrote, with the help of
Giovanni Gentile, an entry for the Italian Encyclopedia on the
definition of fascism. You can read the whole entry at

Mussolini thought it was unnatural for a government to protect
individual rights: The essence of fascism, he believed, is that
government should be the master, not the servant, of the people.

Still, fascism is a word that is completely foreign to most of us. We
need to know what it is, and how we can know it when we see it.

In an essay coyly titled "Fascism Anyone?," Dr. Lawrence Britt, a
political scientist, identifies social and political agendas common to
fascist regimes. His comparisons of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco,
Suharto, and Pinochet yielded this list of 14 "identifying
characteristics of fascism." (The following article is from Free Inquiry
magazine, Volume 23, Number 2. Read it at
( See how
familiar they sound.

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism

Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos,
slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen
everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights

Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in
fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in
certain case s because of "need." The people tend to look the other
way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations,
long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause

The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need
to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or
religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military

Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is
given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the
domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are

5. Rampant Sexism

The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively
male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are
made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia
and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

6. Controlled Mass Media

Sometimes the media are directly controlled by the government, but
in other cases, the media are indirectly controlled by government
regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives.
Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security

Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined

Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common
religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion.
Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government
leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically
opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected

The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the
ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a
mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power

10. Labor Power is Suppressed

Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a
fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are
severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts

Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher
education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and
other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in
the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment

Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to
enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses
and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is
often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption

Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and
associates who appoint each other to government positions and use
governmental power and authority to protect their friends from
accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national
resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright
stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections

Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other
times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even
assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control
voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of
the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to
manipulate or control elections.

This list will be familiar to students of political science. But it should
be familiar to students of religion as well, for much of it mirrors the
social and political agenda of religious fundamentalisms worldwide.
It is both accurate and helpful for us to understand fundamentalism
as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. They
both come from very primitive parts of us that have always been the
default setting of our species: amity toward our in-group, enmity
toward out-groups, hierarchical deference to alpha male figures, a
powerful identification with our territory, and so forth. It is that
brutal default setting that all civilizations have tried to raise us above,
but it is always a fragile thing, civilization, and has to be achieved
over and over and over again.

But, again, this is not America's first encounter with fascism.

In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry
Wallace to, as Wallace noted, "write a piece answering the following
questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How
dangerous are they?"

Vice President Wallace's answer to those questions was published in
The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against
the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. See how much you think his
statements apply to our society today.

"The really dangerous American fascist," Wallace wrote, "is the man
who wants to do in the United States in an American way what
Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would
prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of
public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to
present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive
the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more

In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism he saw rising in
America, Wallace added, "They claim to be super-patriots, but they
would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They
demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and
vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is
directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the
state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the
common man in eternal subjection." By these standards, a few of
today's weapons for keeping the common people in eternal
subjection include NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, union-
busting, cutting worker benefits while increasing CEO pay,
elimination of worker benefits, security and pensions, rapacious
credit card interest, and outsourcing of jobs - not to mention the
largest prison system in the world.

The Perfect Storm

Our current descent into fascism came about through a kind of
"Perfect Storm," a confluence of three unrelated but mutually
supportive schools of thought.

1. The first stream of thought was the imperialistic dream of "The
Project for the New American Century". I don't believe anyone can
understand the past four years without reading "The Project for the
New American Century", published in September 2000 and authored
by many who have been prominent players in the Bush
administrations, including Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz,Richard
Perle and Donald Kagan to name only a few. This report saw the fall
of Communism as a call for America to become the military rulers of
the world, to establish a new worldwide empire. They spelled out the
military enhancements we would need, then noted, sadly, that these
wonderful plans would take a long time, unless there could be a
catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor that would
let the leaders turn America into a military and militarist country.
There was no clear interest in religion in this report, and no clear
concern with local economic policies.

2. A second powerful stream must be credited to Pat Robertson and
his Christian Reconstructionists, or Dominionists. Long dismissed by
most of us as a screwball, the Dominionist style of Christianity which
he has been preaching since the early 1980s is now the most powerful
religious voice in the Bush administration.

:: Katherine Yurica, who transcribed over 1300 pages of interviews
from Pat Robertson's "700 Club" shows in the 1980s, has shown how
Robertson and his chosen guests consistently, openly and
passionately argued that America must become a theocracy under the
control of Christian Dominionists. Robertson is on record saying
democracy is a terrible form of government unless it is run by his
kind of Christians. He also rails constantly against taxing the rich,
against public education, social programs and welfare - and prefers
Deuteronomy 28 over the teachings of Jesus. He is clear that women
must remain homebound as obedient servants of men, and that
abortions, like homosexuals, should not be allowed. Robertson has
also been clear that other kinds of Christians, including Episcopalians
and Presbyterians, are enemies of Christ. (The Yurica Report. Search
under this name, or or "Despoiling America" by Katherine Yurica on
the internet.)

3. The third major component of this Perfect Storm has been the
desire of very wealthy Americans and corporate CEOs for a plutocracy
that will favor profits by the very rich and disempowerment of the
vast majority of American workers, the destruction of workers'
unions, and the alliance of government to help achieve these greedy
goals. It is a condition some have called socialism for the rich,
capitalism for the poor, and which others recognize as a reincarnation
of Social Darwinism. This strain of thought has been present
throughout American history. Seventy years ago, they tried to finance
a military coup to replace Franklin Delano Roosevelt and establish
General Smedley Butler as a fascist dictator in 1934.

Fortunately, they picked a general who really was a patriot; he
refused, reported the scheme, and spoke and wrote about it. As
Canadian law professor Joel Bakan wrote in the book and movie
"The Corporation," they have now achieved their coup without
firing a shot.

Our plutocrats have had no particular interest in religion. Their
global interests are with an imperialist empire, and their domestic
goals are in undoing all the New Deal reforms of Franklin Delano
Roosevelt that enabled the rise of America's middle class after WWII.

Another ill wind in this Perfect Storm is more important than its
crudity might suggest: it was President Clinton's sleazy sex with a
young but eager intern in the White House. This incident, and
Clinton's equally sleazy lying about it, focused the certainties of
conservatives on the fact that "liberals" had neither moral compass
nor moral concern, and therefore represented a dangerous threat to
the moral fiber of America. While the effects of this may be hard to
quantify, I think they were profound.

These "storm" components have no necessary connection, and come
from different groups of thinkers, many of whom wouldn't even like
one another. But together, they form a nearly complete web of
command and control, which has finally gained control of America
and, they hope, of the world.

What's coming

When all fascisms exhibit the same social and political agendas (the
14 points listed by Britt), then it is not hard to predict where a new
fascist uprising will lead. And it is not hard. The actions of fascists
and the social and political effects of fascism and fundamentalism are
clear and sobering. Here is some of what's coming, what will be
happening in our country in the next few years:

* The theft of all social security funds, to be transferred to those who
control money, and the increasing destitution of all those dependent
on social security and social welfare programs.

* Rising numbers of uninsured people in this country that already
has the highest percentage of citizens without health insurance in the
developed world.

* Increased loss of funding for public education combined with
increased support for vouchers, urging Americans to entrust their
children's education to Christian schools.

* More restrictions on civil liberties as America is turned into the
police state necessary for fascism to work.

* Withdrawal of virtually all funding for National Public Radio and
the Public Broadcasting System. At their best, these media sometimes
encourage critical questioning, so they are correctly seen as enemies of
the state's official stories.

* The reinstatement of a draft, from which the children of privileged
parents will again be mostly exempt, leaving our poorest children to
fight and die in wars of imperialism and greed that could never
benefit them anyway. (That was my one-sentence Veterans' Day
sermon for this year.)

* More imperialistic invasions: of Iran and others, and the
construction of a huge permanent embassy in Iraq.

* More restrictions on speech, under the flag of national security.

* Control of the internet to remove or cripple it as an instrument of
free communication that is exempt from government control. This
will be presented as a necessary anti-terrorist measure.

* Efforts to remove the tax-exempt status of churches like this one,
and to characterize them as anti-American.

* Tighter control of the editorial bias of almost all media, and
demonization of the few media they are unable to control - the New
York Times, for instance.

* Continued outsourcing of jobs, including more white-collar jobs, to
produce greater profits for those who control the money and direct
the society, while simultaneously reducing America's workers to a
more desperate and powerless status.

* Moves in the banking industry to make it impossible for an
increasing number of Americans to own their homes. As they did in
the 1930s, those who control the money know that it is to their
advantage and profit to keep others renting rather than owning.

* Criminalization of those who protest, as un-American, with arrests,
detentions and harassment increasing. We already have a higher
percentage of our citizens in prison than any other country in the
world. That percentage will increase.

* In the near future, it will be illegal or at least dangerous to say the
things I have said here this morning. In the fascist story, these things
are un-American. In the real history of a democratic America, they
were seen as profoundly patriotic, as the kind of critical questions that
kept the American spirit alive - the kind of questions, incidentally,
that our media were supposed to be pressing.

Can these schemes work? I don't think so. I think they are
murderous, rapacious and insane. But I don't know. Maybe they can.
Similar schemes have worked in countries like Chile, where a
democracy in which over 90% voted has been reduced to one in
which only about 20% vote because they say, as Americans are
learning to say, that it no longer matters who you vote for.


In the meantime, is there any hope, or do we just band together like
lemmings and dive off a cliff? Yes, there is always hope, though at
times it is more hidden, as it is now.

As some critics are now saying, and as I have been preaching and
writing for almost twenty years, America's liberals need to grow
beyond political liberalism, with its often self-absorbed focus on
individual rights to the exclusion of individual responsibilities to the
larger society. Liberals will have to construct a more complete vision
with moral and religious grounding. That does not mean
confessional Christianity. It means the legitimate heir to Christianity.
Such a legitimate heir need not be a religion, though it must have
clear moral power, and be able to attract the minds and hearts of a
voting majority of Americans.

And the new liberal vision must be larger than that of the
conservative religious vision that will be appointing judges, writing
laws and bending the cultural norms toward hatred and exclusion for
the foreseeable future. The conservatives deserve a lot of admiration.
They have spent the last thirty years studying American politics,
forming their vision and learning how to gain control in the political
system. And it worked; they have won.

Even if liberals can develop a bigger vision, they still have all that
time-consuming work to do. It won't be fast. It isn't even clear that
liberals will be willing to do it; they may instead prefer to go down
with the ship they're used to.

One man who has been tireless in his investigations and critiques of
America's slide into fascism is Michael C. Ruppert, whose postings
usually read as though he is wound way too tight. But he offers four
pieces of advice about what we can do now, and they seem reality-
based enough to pass on to you. This is America; they're all about

* First, he says you should get out of debt.

* Second is to spend your money and time on things that give you
energy and provide you with useful information.

* Third is to stop spending a penny with major banks, news media
and corporations that feed you lies and leave you angry and

* And fourth is to learn how money works and use it like a (political)
weapon - as he predicts the rest of the world will be doing against us.
from (

That's advice written this week. Another bit of advice comes from
sixty years ago, from Roosevelt's Vice President, Henry Wallace.
Wallace said, "Democracy, to crush fascism internally, must...develop
the ability to keep people fully employed and at the same time
balance the budget. It must put human beings first and dollars second.
It must appeal to reason and decency and not to violence and deceit.
We must not tolerate oppressive government or industrial oligarchy
in the form of monopolies and cartels."

Still another way to understand fascism is as a kind of colonization. A
simple definition of "colonization" is that it takes people's stories
away, and assigns them supportive roles in stories that empower
others at their expense. When you are taxed to support a government
that uses you as a means to serve the ends of others, you are -
ironically - in a state of taxation without representation. That's where
this country started, and it's where we are now.

I don't know the next step. I'm not a political activist; I'm only a
preacher. But whatever you do, whatever we do, I hope that we can
remember some very basic things that I think of as eternally true.

One is that the vast majority of people are good decent people who
mean and do as well as they know how. Very few people are evil,
though some are. But we all live in families where some of our blood
relatives support things we hate. I believe they mean well, and the
way to rebuild broken bridges is through greater understanding,
compassion, and a reality-based story that is more inclusive and
empowering for the vast majority of us.

Those who want to live in a reality-based story rather than as serfs in
an ideology designed to transfer power, possibility and hope to a
small ruling elite have much long and hard work to do, individually
and collectively. It will not be either easy or quick.

But we will do it. We will go forward in hope and in courage. Let us
seek that better path, and find the courage to take it - step, by step, by

* * * * *

About Our Minister, Davidson Loehr, Ph.D.

His academic credentials include a doctoral degree from the
University of Chicago in theology, philosophy of religion and
philosophy of science, a master's degree from the same university in
methods for studying religions, and a bachelor's degree in music
theory from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Loehr is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman
and represents our church at activities and events sponsored by the
Austin Area Interreligious Ministries.

Before becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister, Dr. Loehr was a
combat photographer in Vietnam and a professional musician,
playing clarinet and saxophone in road bands and combos. His office
is lined with astounding photographs of places he has visited and
people he has known.

To get Gawyn s periodic posts of his writings, or other interesting
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The Politics of the Christmas Story by James Carroll states that the single most important fact about the birth of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels, is one that receives almost no emphasis in the American festival of Christmas. 'The child who was born in Bethlehem represented a drastic political challenge to the imperial power of Rome.'

Further on Carroll explains:

'In modern times, religion and politics began to the understood as occupying separate spheres, and the nativity story became spiritualized and sentimentalized, losing its political edge altogether. 'Peace' replaced resistance as the main motif. The baby Jesus was universalized, removed from his decidedly Jewish context, and the narrative's explicit critiques of imperial dominance and of wealth were blunted. .....A story of Jesus born into a land oppressed by a hated military occupation might prompt an examination of the American occupation of Iraq. A story of Jesus come decidedly to the poor might cast a pall over the festival of consumption. A story of the Jewishness of Jesus might undercut the Christian theology of replacement.'

Patricia in Munich passed on this wonderful way to spread some Christmas spirit. Help support Oxfam's work to create lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. A few long-time Oxfam supporters have pledged $75,000 toward a Matching Gift Fund. Every donation made to this online campaign will be matched dollar for dollar, effectively doubling your gift. If you give $35, the Matching Gift Fund will provide Oxfam with another $35, for a total of $70 -- enough to train two Salvadoran coffee farmers in marketing so they can earn more money to better support their families. A generous $100 gift will mean $200 for Oxfam -- enough to provide two students in Mali with the vocational training and financial support necessary to start their own weaving businesses. is a secure server.

Sunday, December 19, 2004
Liberty Heights, a US film from 1999, was on German TV last night. It portrays Baltimore in 1954 from the point of view of a Jewish family along with the political background of that time -- the McCarthy era, first attempts at integrating schools, not to mention blatantly crude but very open signs of segregation --- in short, a movie about change and 'values'. It is chilling to be confronted with a scene where three teen-age boys cannot enter a country club because the sign outside reads No Jews, Dogs or Coloreds Allowed. They try to figure out why that order and you have to laugh. What struck me was the reciting of a school prayer and how the Jewish boy is enthralled with how the black girl student feels this prayer. She, in turn, wants to know what he feels saying it. What seemed so innocent in the film is loaded with dynamite today. School prayer is not a theme in Europe but the wearing of head scarves or the hanging of crucifixes in the schools is a source of contention. There has been the emotional debate on whether Turkey should be part of the European Union and agonizing, hand-wringing discussions about parallel societies and how much those new on the block have to adapt.

I have a good friend here, an American who is Jewish and grew up in Minnesota in the 50s and early 60s. We have been discussing the debate on multiculturalism. She just had hip replacement surgery and is making the rounds of various rehab centers. Though her German is nearly flawless, she encountered some unpleasant experiences. Someone indicated detecting signs in her German that she might not be one herself and there was quite a scene at a breakfast table about the fact that luckily no Turk sat there. She pointedly refused to sit there again. This provoked her to take a walk down memory lane. She remembered having to recite the Lord's Prayer in front of her class one day which she found odd since she was the only non-Christian there. Actually she found the prayer interesting and lovely in its own way. What she is still outraged about is one boyfriend whom she loved dancing with and how he was forced by his father not to take her to the country club. She dropped him at that point. A few years ago she discussed it with him at a class reunion. He was pretty fed up with himself back then as well.

Living two houses down the road from me is an Iranian family and a few years ago they asked me just how to go about putting up a Christmas tree. They wanted their son to be part of where he lives. Now when talking about things German, Christmas trees are high on the list. Why ask me? Well there is a certain sense of 'shared experience' when you move to some place that doesn't historically focus on other people moving there----rather the opposite. Another is a certain distance. Americans love Christmas trees, but here it is almost an emotional issue. Every family has its rituals. It's put up first on the 24th, perhaps it is brought by the Christ child or the Christmas man, depending on region and religion. It has to be a real tree. Some want nothing artificial on it, just candles and homemade items. Some families stand around singing to it to start off the holiday. I told them to put it up close to Christmas Eve and decorate it whatever way they wanted. It can be taken down after January 1st. They actually invited me in to see a lovely little tree that ended up looking very, well, occidental.

Thursday, December 16, 2004
Whenever I am asked these days what's happening at home in the aftermath of the election, I comment on how a few New Yorkers were out in the streets holding up signs on the most exclusive part of Fifth Avenue asking drivers to Honk for Hawks. Not the type of hawk in the 1000 bomb category, but the feathery type which only drops chewed up, messy, ugly bits and pieces of pigeons and rats. These bits and pieces were obviously irking sensitive citizens and thus a nest in place for over 10 years, which rested on some nails on an apartment building opposite Central Park, were removed along with the nails. The two hawks have been trying to rebuild it to no avail and so the New York papers were filled with heart rending stories of protest actions to get the board to change its mind before the mating season starts in January. Under normal circumstances this story would have been the start of a conversation here, but these days the reaction is stunned silence.

Wild life in New York City is usually cause for talk. Bernard Kerik, of course, managed to one-up the hawks. I have to hand it to my husband who, back in the week when the worst of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was making headlines, flatly stated that now more than ever Bush was going to be re-elected. He never backed down from his theory and in the end he provoked me to start asking myself some serious questions about history and the myths people create about themselves. Well, he did it again with Kerik. Upon listening to a German radio report of Kerik's life in the car driving home from work, he then asked me who this guy was and that he certainly didn't sound kosher. No, I answered, he's just another colorful New Yorker with impeccable 9/11 credentials. Please, don't be so European. Within a week Kerik is out as head of Homeland Security and it's a sign of the times that the New York media hadn't dug up any of his background during the Republican convention and the campaign.

What Kerik had, of course, were friends in high places. What you never want to have are enemies in high places and most of all not in New York. In this month's Harper's magazine, Christopher Ketcham writes in Meet the New Boss --- Man vs. machine politics in Brooklyn (unavailable on the web) about John O'Hara. He is a felon since 1997 and thus stripped of his law license and in lieu of prison given five years probation and fifteen hundred hours of community service, which means cleaning up garbage in parks. His sin is fighting the system. In truth he was charged with illegal voting. In fact, according to the article, he is the only New Yorker to be convicted of illegal voting since 1873, when Susan B. Anthony was tried and convicted. From Ketcham's article:

'From October 1992 to October 1993, O'Hara lived in two apartments in Brooklyn; O'Hara had registered to vote from the second of these two apartments. This second apartment, unfortunately, appeared not to fit the parameters of what the law defines as a 'fixed permanent and principal home.' In the ridiculous language of New York state election law, a 'fixed' home derives its legitimacy by being the place 'to which (the voter) wherever temporarily located always intends to return.' In essence, the law states that a citizen with no fixed location -- say, someone living in a hotel, or a transient in a shelter, or studying in a dormitory, or someone with two homes (since only one of these can be 'principal and permanent') forfeits the right to vote.
....And if voting was the crime, O'Hara was a model recidivist. He had voted in every election for which he was eligible from age eighteen on. ....Thus began a legal odyssey that has lasted eight years.'

And Fred thought he had problems with Ohio.

Monday, December 13, 2004
Obviously it's not just Canada that looks good to those 'fleeing the sinking ship' according to Der Spiegel's English site In The Ex-Pat Hordes Descend, it picks up a LA Times article on Berlin perhaps becoming what Paris was in the 1920s and Prague was in the 90s.

A new high speed train went into service last week that links Hamburg and Berlin in 90 minutes which is faster than driving time.

Sunday, December 12, 2004
The 12 Days of Rummying by Maureen Dowd in today's New York Times might not let that illusive Christmas spirit take hold this year, but it's black humor is at least a starting point.

Saturday, December 11, 2004
Two articles on the effects of the decline of the dollar, an op-ed piece, and a poet drew my attention this morning. In today's IHT Roger Cohen discusses The Almighty Dollar Looks Mighty Vulnerable at On the front page Dollar's Drop is a Boom and a Curse reports on two companies on different sides of the Atlantic and how the decline of the dollar is affecting them at James Carroll's Open Your Eyes, America talks about the paralysis of the American public in relation to the war in Iraq. '...the gravest foreign policy crisis in a generation, source of a crisis of conscience for tens of millions of citizens, is not a subject of political debate.'

A poem in English in an obituary in the Hamburg paper (obits here are rather large compared to US papers and often have an original touch) got me to google for the poet. Though I couldn't find that poet, surfing through, I came across an American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye who was born in 1952 in Missouri to a Palestinian father and an American mother. The five poems reprinted on that site Blood, Making a Fist, San Antonio, Streets and Two Countries are worth reading. In Streets she begins

A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter

With all that's in the news these days, reading a poem is a necessary respite.

Friday, December 10, 2004
An article this morning at the Free Press Website reports increasing doubt about the legitimacy of the voting in Ohio:

A further source of reporting remains the Ohio Vote Suppression blog:

Thursday, December 09, 2004
Before officially joining the 50 something crowd next Tuesday, my sister decided on having a grand adventure and is spending some time down in New Zealand. Here's her report on how it's going.

Hi All --

Checking email on NZ and thought I'd sent out an update on my "adventure". Here's what I've done so far:

- Went snorkeling, loved it once I learned how to use the mouth piece and not swallow half the Pacific Ocean. Definitely want to do this again.

- Went mountain biking and had my heart in my mouth the whole time. Single track riding which means you are on a skinny, bumpy, rocky little rock that drops off a cliff. One member of the group did drop off down the side but was stopped by a tree - she's ok. As God is my witness, I'm never mountain biking again. I walked half the way.

- Road biking excellent.

- Went on the longest swinging bridge in NZ and that was cool to walk across.

- Went into a cave at night to see glo-worms. Glo-worms great but walking on an uneven surface in the dark with only a small light - not much fun. Don't think I'll be doing this again soon.

- Hiked with mud up to my ankles and crossed a river with water up to my waist while linked to 8 other people so the current wouldn't drag us downstream. Loved it as long as I'm with someone who knows what they are doing. Boots very wet for a very long time.

- Went kayaking on a lagoon and loved it. We go kayaking on the sea later this week. I think this is a good activity for me.

- Passed on the hike on the glacier as walking on ice as never appealed to me and it was pouring rain. Also, chose not to do the steep hike on very slippery rocks. I fall walking down the street in NYC for God's sake. However, took less difficult hike in the same area, which was quite nice.

I'm clearly on the wimpy side of this group in that at least half the group is out para-gliding and parachute jumping today and I'm planning to read a book in the botanical gardens of Queenstown! Great group of people (10 of us) and 2 wonderful leaders. NZ is as beautiful as they say and the weather is mostly ok and we don't let rain stop the activities.

That's all for now. It's great being someplace where the sun is out till 9:30 at night though not as warm as I thought it would be. Stay well.

Love, Carol

Monday, December 06, 2004
Sundays in Advent are celebrated here with another candle lit on the wreath and a leisurely stroll through the various Christmas markets downtown. Tens of thousands showed up at the City Hall market yesterday so getting close to the booths with the exquisite goodies was a challenge. The fog was dense and the mood this year seemed somber instead of jovial. Somehow that certain Christmas spirit just wasn't taking hold. Every year the US Consulate situated in the heart of Hamburg has an enormous Christmas Tree on its balcony lit with colored lights (a rarity here). Friday was the lightening ceremony followed by a reception, but this year it was darkened by media reports that morning of the eventual closing down of the Consulate which has been here for over 200 years. A tip was reported from a highly placed unnamed source in Berlin. On Saturday a newspaper then reported that the building (one of the most beautiful owned by the State Department) will stay in US hands but all political functions would soon be transferred to Berlin, leaving Hamburg with just economic ones. Again, the unnamed source said it will eventually be closed. Other consulates are rearranging their rankings and functions because of the European Union and its impact. Still, the timing of this news seemed odd.

Weltspiegel, a foreign affairs journal on German TV, ARD, began its program last evening with pictures of the exclusive toy shop in NYC where dolls can be bought from $300 on and which can be 'cloned' to look like their girl owners. There was a keyboard for over $100,000 that two men were tap dancing on. One item it couldn't show was the $345 remote controlled tank. According to the moderator it was sold out in this the second year of the war in Iraq. It also reported on a young girl in the part of Russia plagued by turmoil who lost both her hands and an eye because the lighter she found on the street while playing was actually a mine. To compound her hardship, such disabled children are not allowed to attend school in Russia and so through donations from readers of a German daily newspaper, she was able to come to Germany and be fitted with two hands. She now can pick up a sandwich and attend school again. However, it was pointed out there are so many more young people there who have lost limbs and whom it is becoming increasing difficult to report about.

In Iraq, the Press and the Election (online at Michael Massing writes''s not clear to what extent the public was aware of just how bad things had gotten in Iraq. For while there was much informative reporting on the war, a number of factors combined to shield Americans from its most brutal realities.' On the same site Chris Hedges' essay/book review On War discusses the role of war reporters: 'These writers can, at times, evoke pity and compassion for some of the people who suffer from the effects of the war, but they do not confront what war does to societies and individuals...... War, after all, is not a natural disaster like earthquakes or typhoons. It is a devastating and violent attempt at large-scale social engineering. It changes the landscape and the lives of the occupiers and the occupied. We face a seismic political and moral upheaval. These books tell stories, often powerful stories, but in the end the writers cannot say what they mean.'

Friday, December 03, 2004
H.D.S. Greenway comments in Europe's Stake in Turkey in today's Boston Globe:

'....Not that Turkey hasn't been turning reform somersaults to suit the Europeans - overhauling its laws, abolishing the death penalty, improving human rights, and asserting civilian control over the military --- all of this by a nominally Islamist government. ....While it may be true that many Turks are tired of jumping over ever-higher bars to please the Europeans, others see the pressure to join Europe as advantageous to bringing badly needed reforms for Turkey's own sake. For them the journey to as important as the arrival.' 'While American hard power is destroying Iraq,' said professor and journalist Sahin Alpay, 'European soft power is transforming Turkey.'
"Europe's Stake in Turkey"

Thursday, December 02, 2004
As the old election day slogan goes, "Vote early and often." Now it's possible. This Website I ran across gives you information about how you are voting each time you spend money:

Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Christstollen has been a feature in Dresden since 1530. According to various legends it was originally called Striezel and eaten during the weeks of fasting before Christmas and was made of only flour, yeast and water. Stollen has far more ingredients including butter, sugar, raisins, almonds, rum, lemon and orange pieces and special spices, but no eggs. Famous bakeries keep their recipes secret. I remember a woman who grew up in Dresden before WW II telling me how families would make an appointment with their neighborhood bakery for their Stollen to be baked in a 'real' bakery oven, properly and according to tradition. Lore has it that Stollen is supposed to represent the Christ child carefully wrapped up in white cloth. Thus, it is covered in a thick layer of confectioners' sugar. This absolute staple of Christmas in Germany (and a source of income for small businesses in the east that export it) made it onto the evening news here last week. The ticker on the bottom signalled that Stollen was now coming under scrutiny in the US because that thick white powdered sugar could be replaced with anthrax.

Of all the stories of the last few weeks why does this one strike me as particularly absurd? It is not because I live far away from any anthrax scare. I grew up in Brooklyn and my sister, who still lives there, was working for Associated Press in Rockerfeller Center when anthrax further added to the immense distress of every New Yorker immediately following 9/11. I remember sitting here feeling almost delirious at the thought of what could happen with that substance on the subways, for example. Yet the mere idea that basically Mom and Pop businesses in the area around Dresden could even conceive of the idea of misusing such a long held tradition is so far-fetched and off-the-wall that it has left me almost laughing at the thought.

I refuse to take part in this game, or so I told myself. I had a package to send out to a close friend in the US and instead of looking up what the new laws are, I decided to take out whatever I thought might look suspicious and so sent only half of what I had intended to. Of course, one could find a reason to take out almost everything. Were it not for the cost of air delivery, I could have sent everything and tested to see just what would pass the test these days. Whatever (I said to myself) along with the thought that this too shall pass.

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