American Views Abroad

Thursday, December 29, 2005
A couple of days before Christmas we spent 24 hours in Berlin. You could, if you wanted, just spend a day in Berlin since the high speed trains need an hour and 33 minutes from Hamburg, a relief from the over three hours it took when the Wall fell. Berlin used to tug my imagination and has a frontier quality Hamburg never had. I remember being blindly lost in the east side of the city in 1969 not knowing where the exit was for non-Germans nor understanding the Saxon accent of the East German border guard. I remember being there in August 1989 and being forced to wait in a cramped room at Checkpoint Charly and being rudely treated in Brecht's house in what was then a grubby neighborhood. My first time back in Berlin after unification found me back at his house, which overlooks a cemetery where many famous artists and writers including him are buried. On that occasion the guides were polite and friendly. About three years ago I decided to show a friend his house, but I was hard put to recognize the neighborhood, his house had very limited opening times and the cemetery appeared lost with all that was going on around it. The allure Berlin had on me was beginning to wane.

The weather was miserable on December 20 and 21 -- rain, sleet, snow, high winds.
Since it was a business trip, we stayed at a hotel at Gendarmenmarkt which was convenient and offered a rather good price. In short we managed to take in the lovely Christmas market right across the street which is situated between two French churches, a decidedly good meal at a French restaurant, two museums the next day plus getting wind lashed and wetter than usual in Europe. Yet Berlin seemed empty. Little was going on at the market, less in the shops on Friedrichstrasse. The prices for some things were a delightful surprise compared to Hamburg. Returning home the next evening, I was taken aback with the lightness of Hamburg even though driving through rain and fog. A strange turn of events for me.

In Not Heaven, but Not Hell Either: Berlin's KaDeWe, Roger Boyes, a journalist with The Times, goes looking for the true German Christmas at This article first appeared in Die Zeit on December 15th and includes some interesting facts. There are, for example, 560,000 Berliners registered as unemployed or on social welfare programs. A very high number compared to the 9% registered as unemployed here out of 1.7 million. Boyes does a good job explaining what's changed and what hasn't over the years. There is a lot of emphasis on food and rightly so when describing KaDeWe. Irregardless of how fond I am of my hometown, NYC, nothing compares to the top food floor at this Berlin department store. It's a marvel that has to be seen to be believed. Of course, out-of-towners have the option of being unfazed by the prices. He rightly points out how Germans today want real food, nothing frozen or preserved, and information on exactly where the animal lived and how. This trend can be seen at most farmers' markets here and our Christmas dinner was a turkey (organic) which would hardly have been recognized as one in the US. It was rather small but it tasted different than those over 20 lbs with more than double breasts. The bread in the stuffing likewise was organic and hand cubed at home as was most of the vegetables and the obligatory Christmas cookies. He also remarks at how you have to look hard to find a military toy at KaDeWe. Ditto for most toy shops in Germany. I'm trying to recall a child ever pointing fingers at me and saying Bang, Bang, You're Dead. War just isn't played here.

Last, but not least for all the talk of Christmas or Holidays and political correctness, the article ends on the note that there is an understanding in northern central Europe of the pre-Christian roots of Christmas and its creation and celebration of light.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Silent Nights on the Gulf Coast – After Katrina by the author John Grisham is today's IHT.

'There is a fear of being forgotten by the government. Washington is preoccupied with a war and its glut of messy side issues, and attention will soon turn to the midterm elections. There is also the very real fear of being forgotten by the press. The satellite trucks and cameras have long since gone. If the news media forget, then so will the people with the money in Washington. Pollsters are already noting the rapid decline in the disaster's importance on the national radar screen.'

Friday, December 23, 2005
There was a brilliant cartoon by Tom Toles in the IHT yesterday that sums up the underlying reason for a lack of holiday spirit this year. 'I guess I'm still just having trouble getting used to NEW TRADITIONS.'

Indeterminacy sent best wishes for a Merry Christmas along with a link to his holiday story. We seem to be on similar wavelengths this season.

For the first time my tree has no colored lights but white ones and not too many ornaments, just a few selected handmade ones. Actually it seems more attuned to nature this way and eludes a peacefulness that was sorely missed this year. The cards and letters from family and old friends are a welcomed respite from hearing bad news. The messages are longer and more personal, not a ritual hastily done but meant. It is so good to know these people are there, particularly in times so unsettling.

Monday, December 19, 2005
Susanne Osthoff has been released. More details at English Site

Sunday, December 18, 2005
An article about Susanne Osthoff the German archaeologist taken hostage in Iraq three weeks ago is in today's New York Times Week in Review. In A Trip to the Desert With the Raging Angel of the Artificats, the reporter writes:

'Another Westerner might have been in immediate danger. But Ms. Osthoff knew the people, understood the tribal loyalities and knew she could bank on her credibility. It was a striking contrast to the Americans then trying to rebuild Iraq. Most spoke no Arabic, traveled only in convoys, could not tell friend from foe and knew nothing about Mesopotamia.'

Saturday, December 17, 2005
Interesting reading-- Europe - an identity or project? The perceived threat of Turkish EU candidacy drives a wedge between European unity and European identity at

Selling Germany's new light, lively novels at

Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Highlighting the news this week here was the execution that took place in California yesterday, the CIA, its flights to black sites, and its kidnapping of a German citizen. Early this morning one radio program's brief press review quoted papers which pointed out a link between legally sanctioned execution and the many reports of torture these past few years. One report claimed the United States is rather in a world of its own, beyond the rest of the democratic free world. Reading several US papers a day, I was surprised by finding two commentaries this week, one in the Boston Globe calling for the necessity of capital punishment and refuting the Catholic Bishops stand opposing it, and one in the NY Daily News claiming how California had it all ---- warm weather and capital punishment. The last comment was in reference to a second NYC policeman who was killed this week.

One could possibly get the impression crime, heinous, horrid crime, doesn't take place all over. It does and Germany has certainly had its share of, in particular, crimes against children recently. Here in Hamburg a nine year old girl was starved to death in a room where the window was sealed up to prevent any light from entering, with no heat or food, and next to the living room where the family cat was well taken care of. All this in an apartment building and no one was aware of what was going on until she died in a horrible way, trying to eat her own hair, weighing next to nothing. So, have there been calls for capital punishment to help prevent this from ever happening again? No. Are there crimes more hideous than those performed by parents on their own children? Perhaps, but it is difficult imaging which crime is the worst these days.

What would have happened if, instead of executing that man yesterday, he had spent the rest of his life in a cell with no chance of getting out? First, the rest of the world would never have heard about him on this level. Did the rest of the world hear about his victims or know anything about them? Next to nothing, except of the fact there were four of them. Will the victims' families find peace of mind now the 'justice has been served' or has all the high noon drama of the execution in the media just made them numb and re-opened old wounds? Second, it has brought other peoples opinion of the US down another notch, yet again. A little piece here, a great big piece there and sooner or later there isn't all that much left.

In Steve Lopez's Points West in the LA Times from A Barbaric End to a Barbaric Life, he writes:

'And yet, watching Williams put to death Tuesday morning by agents of the government --- his execution sanctioned in a country where godliness and virtue are synonymous, even as torture and execution are defended --- made me all the more certain that capital punishment is barbaric. .....Is life in a cage not enough to satisfy our puritanical beliefs or lust for blood? Apparently not. Modern as we are, we still live by the law of an eye for an eye --- as long as it doesn't get too messy.',0,6640967.column?coll=la-home-headlines.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Cindy Sheehan, mother of US fallen soldier, will testify at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on March 14, 2006:

Witnesses from several European nations to speak about the situation of military war resisters.




The Intergroup on Peace Initiatives at the European Parliament will sponsor a hearing at the EP in Strasbourg on March 14 2006, concerning the situation of military war resisters from the 'coalition of the willing' fighting in Iraq.

The two US witnesses will be Cindy Sheehan and a US Iraq war veteran. Four European witnesses are also being selected to testify.

In her first trip to Europe since the events in Crawford, Texas last August, Ms. Sheehan arrived in London on December 7, where she attended a party in her honor sponsored by the Mayor at City Hall. She is accompanied by many supporters from the US, including Ann Wright, a former US career officer and diplomat who resigned her post in 2003 in protest against the invasion of Iraq.

On December 8, Ms. Sheehan will speak in the Scottish Parliament together with Rose Gentle, a leader of the UK Military Families Speak Out and a mother whose son, Gordon, was killed in Iraq. Other bereaved family members will speak as well.

On December 10, Ms. Sheehan, Ms. Gentle, Ms. Wright and other key anti-war activists from the US, the UK, and many other countries, including Iraq, will participate in the International Peace Conference organized by Stop the War Coalition in London.

Then Ms. Sheehan will travel to Madrid, accompanied by Spanish-American family members of fallen US soldiers, Juan Torres and Beatriz Saldivar. They will meet with bereaved Spanish families, including the mother of Jose Couso, a cameraman who was killed in 2003 by US tank fire into a hotel for journalists in Baghdad.

Ms. Sheehan galvanized discussion about the war and continued occupation of Iraq last August, when she camped outside the Texas ranch of US President George W. Bush for several weeks, demanding that he come out and answer her question: 'for what noble cause' her son, Casey Sheehan, gave his life as a U.S. soldier in Iraq on April 4, 2004.

Ms. Sheehan began her vigil in a roadside ditch in Crawford, Texas (population 705) on August 6, 2005 with only a few supporters at her side. But by the end of August about 10,000 people had come through Crawford to support or oppose her, some for just a day, others camping out for weeks. On August 31, as President Bush headed back to Washington after his summer vacation, Ms. Sheehan and her supporters travelled in busses throughout the US to assist the victims of hurricane Katrina and to garner support for their anti-war campaign.

Supporters as well as opponents came to Crawford from among other families who have lost loved ones to the war in Iraq, including members of Gold Star Families for Peace (, co-founded by Ms. Sheehan and Bill Mitchell, a father whose son Bill
was also killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004. Members of other organizations came to Crawford to support Ms. Sheehan, such as Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Not in Our Name, and Code Pink. They gathered again in Crawford over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Many US soldiers have gone to prison as a result of their opposition to US policy in Iraq. According to the Pentagon, as of December 2004, more than 5500 US soldiers had already by then gone AWOL (absent without leave) or deserted since the US invasion of Iraq. Most are thought to be living 'underground.' During the Vietnam War era, both Canada and Sweden offered asylum to US soldiers. Now no western country does.

American Voices Abroad's (AVA) Military Project proposed the EP hearing to the Intergroup and obtained the consent of Ms. Sheehan to testify. Founded in 2003, AVA is an international network of US citizens living in twenty cities in Europe and the Middle East ( AVA Military Project is assisting the Intergroup for Peace Initiatives regarding a further US witness for the hearing at the EP on March 14, and is seeking witnesses for related events in Strasbourg that week.

An international coalition of organizations, including the War Resisters' International, based in London, will join with AVA to support the EP hearing and plan events in Strasbourg March 10-16. The plans include an international networking conference in Strasbourg on March 13 of organizations supporting military resisters.

Elsa Rassbach, a member of AVA and a Berlin-based US filmmaker who has been videotaping Ms. Sheehan and her supporters since early August, says:

'Soldiers must not be forced to support the war and occupation in Iraq when their conscience dictates otherwise. There are still 67,000 US military personnel in twenty US military bases here in Germany. They are regularly sent to fight in Iraq, where they sometimes are involved in torture and other war crimes. The wounded are returned to a US hospital in Germany. Many other European nations are also supporting the US in the occupation. The Iraqi people will be voting on December 15, 2005. Now is the time for Europe to exercise moral leadership to end the occupation of Iraq, which only serves to escalate the violent bloodshed there.'

Wednesday, December 07, 2005
The prime time evening news was almost surreal yesterday. There they were, the second woman US Secretary of State twisting and turning words and condoning 'renditions' but claiming the US does not torture (of course, that depends on one's definition of torture), and the first woman, and former East German, Chancellor calling for 'transparency' and for respecting international law. There was a complete mix-up if the US admitted a mistake or not and what the former German government knew or not. Meanwhile, the newspapers here report in detail about the plight of the German citizen who was hauled away, drugged and held under horrible conditions for months without access to lawyers or the rule of law, and then released because it was all an incident of mistaken identity. Of course, he is not allowed to enter the US even though the ACLU is suing the CIA on his behalf. Take a deep breath and repeat: times are different now because of terrorism.

Once upon a time, there were many who used to justify slavery. Remember the concept of blacks only counting as 2/3's of a person for the census, but were owned by their masters? Words twisted and turned so that people could be counted, but not really and all for politics.

Once upon a time, we used to believe in following the letter of the law. Remember going to see that film about the Nuremburg trials and how Spencer Tracy lectured the German judge played by Burt Lancaster? Wasn't there a great quote in there about law and morality and how Lancaster looked so downcast because he got it all wrong?

The times, they have changed. Last Saturday I met an American friend of over 20 years here. Her brother is presently serving in Afghanistan (after having done a year in Iraq) and is due home in March. Then her sister leaves for another tour in Iraq. The family is deeply divided on the war, but only one is gun-ho war, others are not admitting it openly but seem to be souring on it, and she is totally anti-war. Of course, this gets put aside just hoping her relatives survive. What she told me is exactly how I have felt for months now: each time you think the news can't possibly get any worse, it does. It has become unbearable just listening to it.

Rice Visit Fails to Build Bridges is Der Spiegel's take on her stop-over here yesterday at,1518,389057,00.html.

Monday, December 05, 2005
Looking for something special to give an American friend on her birthday, I unexpectedly found the last two hardback copies of The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster in English in a German bookshop for 17 euros each. About Brooklyn, by a very good writer, and for a surprisingly decent price for a 'foreign' book published this year, I couldn't resist buying both. Some books you just don't want to borrow or give away. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem had me feeling the sidewalk heat and I wondered how those who don't know Brooklyn (like I do) could ever really get it. Yet, Lethem's book was well received here and people were encouraged in reviews to try to read it in the original. Some books translate well, some don't. Some authors seem more popular outside their countries like Auster who is widely read in German. My friend had never heard of him but she is now interested in digging into his older works.

There has been a lot written here on plagiarism recently. What constitutes it, what are an author's responsibilities to previous authors if their work is being referred to or used in a new work, how to appropriately pay homage to another author in a creative work? Lots of grey area but the rule of thumb is to acknowledge what you are doing either at the beginning of the work or at the end. Nobody wants to be hit over the head with a signpost within the story, but give credit where it's due, and think about all your readers, including those outside your language. This is probably not a theme within the US which rarely looks outside its borders. It was, however, what bothered me most in the recent discussion. It seemed rather limited to a handful of those intimately acquainted with Alabama literature, the nature of copyright laws, and writers.

Readers shouldn't have to wander through a desert for forty years looking for what's behind it all. Good books should be able to stand on their own without a roadmap. If, however, the work is experimental or very regional and a map is needed, provide it. It was troubling that neither that author's editor nor the members of the committee who gave him a prize recognized the homage. If they didn't, can a reader in Germany or China, picking up an acclaimed book on the American South, find it on her own? The question, of course, is would it have made a difference? In this case, yes, most probably, because it would have shown an important link to the past. A reference to the older book would certainly be of interest to most readers. So why not provide it.

Friday, December 02, 2005
Brad Vice Followup

My article on Brad Vice received an anonymous comment which I will repeat here:
Hi Fred--

From today's New York Press:

"If Vice's plagiarizing from Carmer is in fact an homage to Southern literature, then how are we to regard Vice's plagiarizing from Dent? Is it an homage to the screwworm?"

Care to revise that "gross injustice...against Brad Vice" part of your post?

You were right about one thing. Mr. Vice's troubles are far from over.

Additionally I received a signed e-mail with the subject "Brad Vice stole again!!" and message "And now Brad Vice has been completely destroyed," then a link to the Robert Clark Young article.

To summarize, Brad Vice has been accused of plagiarism, has had his book "The Bear Bryant Funeral Train " and Flannery O'Connor award withdrawn, and stands now to lose his job. But from my point of view these charges of plagiarism are not at all clear cut. I have read the referenced article by Robert Clark Young. It indeed makes Brad Vice look bad. I still maintain it is a gross injustice to deny someone due process, to not examine both sides, before declaring them guilty.

I had never heard of Robert Clark Young until reading some of his comments at one of the Story South articles on Brad Vice. They struck me as being especially provocative, vindictive and uncalled for. I responded directly to these comments myself. Now it is no surprise that his name shows up on an article attempting to deliver the knock out punch to Mr. Vice. I do wonder about Mr. Young's motives and the energy he has apparently put into destroying a fellow author. Based on the comments and his volunteer investigation he seems to me to have some hidden agenda, which to some extent discredits his arguments.

My quick response to his New York Press article would be:

1) The original charges:
There is clear evidence that Brad Vice's story "Tuscaloosa Knights" was meant as an homage to Carl Carmer's work. The similar title suggests it implicitly and Mr. Vice has acknowledged it explicitly (before the controversy) in interviews.

I'm not in the literary profession per se but I know that there is a long tradition of borrowing and building upon which is something qualitatively different than plagiarism. It would probably be easy to build false cases of plagiarism based on an out of context comparison of texts, as Mr. Young does. My point is that a work must be judged as a whole, and passages judged in their context. Why does Mr. Young not want to do this, although doing so would be called upon by due process? I have read the story in question and see Mr. Vice's use of the Carmer passages as a valid literary device.

2) As for the new instance of alleged plagiarism:
What I remember about plagiarism, in the context of high school and university research papers is that it's not OK to repeat word for word passages, but that borrowed passages must be put into one's own words. Even in the line by line comparison shown in Mr. Young's article, this is clearly the case. There is gray area here, and this does not seem to me to be grounds to destroy someone.

3) Accusations of favoritism:
Mr. Young describes some of Mr. Vice's friends and associates at the Sewanee Writers' Conference and makes the accusation that Mr. Vice spends most of his time writing favorable reviews for his friends' and mentors' works in exchange for favorable reviews of his own works. I am not in a position to judge objectively, as I do not have an overview of Mr. Vice's critical writings or critical writings on Mr. Vice, though I know his work has been critically acclaimed. I do sense that an alternative explanation is possible, namely that Mr. Vice is simply a person who is very generous with his praise. I would take that to be a positive quality. I've often felt moved to review works that have impressed me, less so works that failed in their impression. This is not a unique motivation. On the other hand, if Mr. Vice is guilty of favoritism, Mr. Young is definitely guilty of the opposite, as he has shown himself to be very generous with his contempt, in the form of attacks and denunciations. That I call a very uninspiring human quality.

Anyone wishing to write a letter of support for Brad Vice to the committee at Mississippi State reviewing his employment may do so at:

Richard Raymond
316 Lee Hall
English Department
Mississippi State, MS 39762

Postscript: Two additional bloggers offer further light on the NY Press article: Michelle Richmond at Sans Serif and Hayden at From Here to Obscurity.

Storysouth has also published a response.

Thursday, December 01, 2005
And Now for Something Completely Different go over to Read and listen to his post from Sunday, November 27th.

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