American Views Abroad

Saturday, October 29, 2005
The headlines are dramatic about Cheney's top aid being charged with perjury, making false statements and obstructing justice. All this is extremely important, but, meanwhile, the rest of the world and political twists and turns in Congress are still out there. No time to get lulled into just being a spectator in a long drawn-out trial that might reveal more than we can handle. There are so many layers of lies, false information and turns of events that have wrecked havoc on too many people. Take the argument going on in Washington now on torture. That's right:
torture. John McCain has added an anti-torture amendment that Cheney wants watered down. It is a struggle we should all be up-in-arms about. For complete information go to and scroll down on the right to Write a Letter: Torture Permissions to be Slipped into Law? It's essential to write all your representatives in Congress that the McCain amendment not be altered during conference committee.

We hear almost daily about suicide bombers killing themselves, very many innocent civilians and even worse, children. What do we know about them and their reasons? Der Spiegel brought out The Cyber Cemetery of the Mujahedeen on its English site yesterday Spiegel has taken online obituaries of four suicide bombers in Iraq and translated them into English. It admits that 'not all the details are verifiable and the obituaries were put together with the goal of aggrandizing the terrorists' deeds and encouraging others to follow in their footsteps......Still these records give an unfiltered account of the religious attitudes and personal experiences of the insurgents and provide the outside world a view of the mujahedeen's daily life.' It points out that creating a written record of the lives and deaths of fighters has a tradition that was followed in the war in Afghanistan in the 1980's. Considering the fact the US went into a war of choice in a part of the world it knows next to nothing about, these translations give us a bit of insight.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005
2000 American Deaths in Iraq. Grieving Families Find Little Peace. In today's Boston Globe at

Tuesday, October 25, 2005
The death of Rosa Parks was highlighted on German radio all morning. It has been painful reading her obituary in various US newspapers. Americans at home tend to dance on raw eggs when it comes to race relations and recalling history. In its obit today the LA Times describes the Jim Crow laws so:

'....But black bus passengers had to follow certain rules. The first 10 seats were reserved for whites, even if no whites got on the bus. Blacks had to sit in the back rows or, if those were filled, stand. If the white section filled up, some drivers ordered blacks to give up their seats. Bus drivers determined the rules. Some drivers made black passengers board through the front door to pay their fare, then re-enter through the back door to find a seat. If they were unlucky, the bus would take off before they had a chance to get back on.'

In The New York Times:

'....On Montgomery buses, the first four rows were reserved for whites. The rear was for blacks, who made up more than 75% of the bus system's riders. Blacks could sit in the middle rows until those seats were needed by whites. Then the blacks had to move to seats in the rear, stand or, if there was no room, leave the bus. Even getting on the bus presented hurdles. If whites were already sitting in the front, blacks could board to pay the fare but then they had to disembark and re-enter through the rear door.'

The LA Times informs us that in 1943 when Parks boarded a bus in order to go to register to vote, instead of stepping off to re-enter through the rear door after paying her fare, she walked down the aisle, straight to the back of the bus. The bus driver that day who ordered her off the bus to re-board through the rear door was the same one who had her arrested when she refused to give up her seat in the middle of the bus to a white man in 1955.

My parents were both born in New York City and both from families who had emigrated from Czechoslovakia in the very late 1800s. My father was in the US Navy during WW II and on the day before the Normandy invasion in 1944, the minesweeper he was serving on was blown to bits off the coast of Cherbourg. He was the only one to survive, was picked up by the British, and made it home to marry my mother in August 1944. He was then sent down to the heart of the Deep South for special training for the war in the Pacific. It was my mother's first and only encounter with rural southern living and one day they took a bus somewhere. She was amazed, startled actually as she later recalled, at why the blacks were jammed into the back of the bus. She turned to my father and asked him why they didn't take one of the free seats where they were sitting. At that point the bus driver stopped the bus and threw my parents off. He threw them off in the middle of nowhere complaining vehemently about damned Yanks.

This one family story surely doesn't stand alone. We know from history books that German POWs were treated far better than US blacks, even those in uniform, back in the 1940s. In Freedom From Fear -- The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, David M. Kennedy reports on page 771:

'Northern blacks especially resented their first encounters with formal segregation in the South. All blacks chafed at the gratuitous humiliations that military life inflicted on them -- from lack of access to recreational facilities to segregated blood plasma supplies to the galling spectacle of German prisoners of war seated at southern lunch counters that refused to serve Negro soldiers. Worst of all, the army persisted in ghettoizing Negro recruits in all-black outfits and assigning them almost exclusively to noncombat roles.'

Friday, October 21, 2005
In emails received today, one is from a good friend who keeps an update on the statistics of how many use Google to 'impeach Bush'. As of today 2,290,000 have done so. On September 14th the number was 965,000.

Another email passed along concerns the 100,000 Rings---Bell Ceremony which will take place between the 24th and 28th of this month to usher in the anniversary of The Lancet Study, which was released last October 29th and claimed 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed since the start of this war of choice. Unfortunately, it found little to no interest in mainstream journalism in the US which is particularly distressing since it was only days before the 2004 election. The idea is to get 100 communities to ring a bell 1,000 times, one ring per minute for a total of 100,000 bell rings to grieve and honor the deaths of Iraqis and try to spur interest in The Lancet Study. More detailed information at

Tuesday, October 18, 2005
New American Patriot and his outraged band of elves have done an outstanding job lampooning the present regime in Washington. Take a look at their gallery of homespun subversive art at

My favorites: Tyrant and Warmonger.

Monday, October 17, 2005
The Lions Club in this neighborhood of Hamburg held its 6th Alstertaler Jazz Meeting yesterday and presented a 5,000 euros check to the US Consul General here. The check is to be passed on to one New Orleans family who lost everything in the flooding. The Jazz Meeting is a popular, well-attended event and the diplomat graciously recalled how the same Lions Club contributed $25,000 to the children of the victims of 9/11 in 2001. It is a strange feeling to be an American abroad and realize it's your country being the recipient of other people's generosity. On one hand, the US is an extraordinarily wealthy country who should be able to take care of its own and the hardship of what happened should have been prevented. The earthquake disaster in Pakistan and Kashmir where the misery of the survivors is being compounded by heavy rain and storms which grounded most relief flights and the fact, as presented in German news recently, that the world seems to have ignored the plight of lost villages and towns to flooding in Guatemala forces you to ask some serious questions about who should get what. On the other hand, there is a need in people to want to give back what they have received. Hamburg has a long tradition of jazz clubs; it knows first-hand the tragedy of floods; it remembers the help it received after the war and the 1962 flood.

Yet, something kept nagging at me. Perhaps it was the uncommonly gorgeous weather northern Europe has had for weeks now that makes the suffering of others far away seem surreal. Perhaps it is the grand coalition being put together in Berlin and how the pie is going to be divided --- what's going to come out of it for everyone. The following article in a San Francisco newspaper struck a chord: Making Ends Meet -- Struggling in Middle Class at

The author writes: 'The bigger picture is that the gap between Americans with the highest and lowest incomes is growing. High-wage earners now have so much disposable income that they are pulling up prices for everyone, economists say, and that is stretching middle-income households. Upper income families --- those earning more than 95% of Americans --- went from making $95,737 a year in 1970 to $164,104 in 2001, in constant dollars, a 72% increase. The very wealthiest Americans' income rose even faster. But the median household income rose only 21% in constant dollars between 1970 and 2004.'

What was nagging at me was the feeling that those attendees at the Jazz Meeting instinctively understand this point. There was a long line at the bank here during the worst of the NO flooding and a news channel on the TV there was displaying live scenes of the tragedy. All eyes were glued to it. The lesson learned watching those scenes was crystal clear. This is what happens when you drown the idea of government and what it's really there for --- the people.

Friday, October 14, 2005
There is an interesting article about Hamburg in The New York Times Travel Section: In a Perfectionist City, a Gritty Neighborhood Beckons. It describes the red-light district down near the harbor so: 'St Pauli acts as an exhilarating foil to the beauty and almost sterile perfectionism of Hamburg.' Without a doubt Hamburg has very many gorgeous neighborhoods and you can drive from one end of it to another amazed at the villas, parks and the influence of old money here, but to call it perfectionism is overdoing it. There are a lot of down-to-earth blue collar parts of town, most of which were totally bombed out in WW II and thus no longer have what one could call charm. Hamburg is thoroughly an international town and very liberal in outlook. When I venture down to other parts of Germany as I did recently to Heidelberg, I realize how different Hamburg is from the rest of the country. Old hands here say those who are born in Hamburg hardly ever leave it for some place else in Germany, but prefer to venture out to the rest of the world.

One thing Hamburg is very proud of is that it has almost as many consulates here as New York City has. However, it was devastated by the news this week that the British Consulate is closing down for financial reasons. London has decided the money would be better spent fighting terrorism than in keeping up the grand villa on the Alster Lake it now occupies in the heart of town. The Hamburg -- London connection started up in 1281 when Hamburg opened a trading office in London. The British have been represented here since 1689. The oldest Anglican church on the European continent has been here since 1838 -- the English Church of St. Thomas Becket. If I recall correctly, it belongs to the parish of London. According to the Hamburg newspaper, Hamburger Abendblatt, over 1000 citizens as well as the mayor of Hamburg wrote letters to the Foreign Office in London begging it not to close its consulate. People here take pride in their city being Germany's gateway to the world, as they like to describe it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Some things just can't be brought to attention often enough.

Censored: The Big Stories Hushed Up by US Corporate Media at

Monday, October 10, 2005
'The emotional toll of the American Dream is steep. What we see all over our nation is a situational loneliness of the most extreme kind ... I suspect that most Americans are unaware of how socially isolated they are among the strip malls and the gated apartment complexes....

'We are headed into a social and economic maelstrom so severe, as the people on this earth contest over the remaining oil and gas supplies, that everything about contemporary life in America will have to be rearranged, reorganized, reformed, and re-scaled.'
Big and Blue in the USA
by James Howard Kunstler

These are comments on American life by Kunstler after he returns from a trip to England. One question you get asked a lot when you live abroad is if you want to return home again. It sort of hangs over your head and each time home you take another look around and see the changes. Actually you become highly sensitive to the changes of where you presently live and where you used to live. Today, for example, the news on radio announced that Germany will have its first female Chancellor and be run by a grand coalition of the two main political parties. An outsider in many ways has achieved a first plus a country will be run by compromise and coalition. Too interesting to want to pass up watching on the nightly news.

The US was the center of attention leading up to the November 2004 election, but since then comments here, until Katrina, have been more along the line on how nothing much is new or changing there. The war continues unabated, hurricanes create untold misery, but then so does nature in Central America and now out in Pakistan and India. Gasoline prices are going up which was bound to happen, but society outside the cities is so totally dependent on driving. Several years ago we purposely chose a bed and breakfast up in Maine about a mile from a town known for its restaurants and harbor. We had planned to walk in for dinner but were told upon arrival to forget about it. Europeans, the owner commented while shaking his head, always want to walk it. Unfortunately, his warning proved correct. Walking wasn't an option with fast traffic and no sidewalks or paths. It felt like losing a certain freedom -- not to be able to walk out the door and just move on your two feet whenever you feel like it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005
This October is particularly stunning and golden. A welcome relief after two floods in Europe -- Germany, Austria and Switzerland in summer and France in September -- were overshadowed by New Orleans. Monday was German Unity Day, a national holiday, and the marshlands along the Elbe provide endless dikes to walk along and a pleasant way of clearing the mind of all things political. Very soothing in a year like this one. Living abroad means being confronted with not just one way of doing things and dikes and elections are good examples. They know the destruction floods can bring along the North Sea and in Hamburg and the condition of dikes is a local passion. We stopped and bought apples, pears, potatoes and a type of apple brandy or schnapps from a local farmer and the conversation invariably turned to floods. She recalled how she'll never forget trying to get her grandparents off their farm during a particularly dreadful flood in the sixties and the reason why they decided to move their farm farther inland after that. Nor could she forget the filth as well as the environmental problems afterwards.

German elections are always fascinating to follow as an American. It's really impressive how the founders of the present German Basic Law bent over backwards to make sure every vote gets counted. Truly counted. No winner-take-all philosophy here. They have two votes in each election: one for their direct candidate in Parliament and one for a political party. Citizens can split their votes and are often encouraged to do so which was something I could never quit understand why. This year I got the point. It's called (roughly translated) 'left-over' votes. According to Germans I have asked, the answer has been an explicit: 'Don't even try to understand it. We can't.' To put it in a nutshell (of how I understand it), there are direct candidates who can only get into Parliament with direct votes and candidates who are direct candidates but are going to get into Parliament over their Party's list anyhow and then there is a mathematical equation about how many votes the Parties get compared to the direct candidates alone and those who get in via the Party lists. 'Left over' votes thus change the number of delegates in Parliament. According to an article in last Sunday's FAZ, a leading newspaper here, German election laws need an overhaul because the situation with 'left over' votes is getting out of hand. The people in that one particular district in Dresden, who had to vote two weeks later because of a sudden death of a candidate, very cleverly caste their votes and gave an extra seat to the CDU. At least that is the media's take on it all. What seemed lost in the news was how the new Leftist Party gathered over 19% of that vote.

One point I find remarkable when comparing the German election results to the US elections in 2000 is how, until now, I have not heard anyone say: 'I don't care who becomes Chancellor. Let's just get this over with.' Unfortunately I heard or read this about Bush/Gore too many times for comfort back in 2000. People seem to be watching, almost patiently, all the posturing going on in trying to find a coalition. Actually you can't help but get the impression they rather like seeing politicians being forced to grapple with the unusual situation of having to work with the other side or sides instead of grabbing whatever chance they can to get in the limelight. Probably the ultimate hell for politicians is being forced to work it all out in one grand coalition or another.

Saturday, October 01, 2005
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was opened in Berlin on May 10, 2005. It covers 19,000 square meters in the heart of the city very close to the Brandenburg Gate and just across the street from the US Embassy whose new building is now under construction. The photos here were taken on May 15th, a Sunday. This memorial has drawn a huge number of visitors and it was intriguing to watch how so many various groups of people reacted to this memorial. I distinctly remember groups standing around one stone or another stone talking at length and it reminded me of families gathered at a cemetery, not on the day of the funeral but long afterwards. Actually, I recalled how the Mexicans gather together once a year to remember their departed ones. There were the children who took to the stones, jumping from one to the other and, at times, parents trying to prevent them from doing this. How people react to this memorial has created some controversy in the press here. Should it only be with silence and respect? Is it correct that a stand selling sausages and drinks be opened so close by? The architect has publicly come out in favor of people reacting to this memorial and not having it 'fenced off' in any way.

In the October 6th issue of The New York Review of Books Tony Judt's From the House of the Dead: On Modern European Memory is available to subscribers only online. It is well worth reading in its entirety at

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