American Views Abroad

Wednesday, November 29, 2006
The N-Word ---- Unmentionable Lessons of the Midterm Aftermath by Diane McWhorter in Slate:

'While we may prefer to believe that the Good German institutions capitulated to Hitler under the black boot of the SS, current scholarship confirms that Nazification, like segregation in America, was largely voluntary, even in the free press.'

A very thought provoking analysis on why the election in November turned out the way it did.

Saturday, November 25, 2006
There are far too many grim statistics in the last few weeks alone. In October 3,709 Iraqis were killed in the mayhem in Iraq and as of last Thursday 2,860 US service members lost their lives in this immoral war of choice. Last Tuesday the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC heard the case of Army medic Agustin Aguayo. His hearing is a habeas corpus petition against the Army for wrongfully denying him conscientious objector status.
Interestingly, it is the first such case before a federal court since 1971. The judges have not yet handed down a decision. Complete information on his case can be found at

Government attorneys are arguing that to receive conscientious objector status a soldier must show a deeply rooted objection to war in any form. Aguayo's attorney argues that his beliefs evolved over time and 'crystallized' to the point that he could no longer take a life.

Militaries have never had any interest in soldiers changing their minds on the battlefield. Last week ZDF, a public TV station, aired a 90 minute documentary on Die Hoelle von Verdun, The Hell of Verdun. Based on diaries and letters of French and German soldiers, it depicted ghastly scenes and statistics of 300 days of ongoing slaughter in 1916. 700,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or uncounted for; the average time of survival of a soldier sent to fight there was 14 days; those commanders running the show knew full well that the battle could only end in a stalemate, yet refused to seek another way out of it. Some scenes were so horrific I had to change channels for some respite. Not an uncommon feeling when turning on the evening news. The soldiers in that battle were in a perfect bind -- shot if they 'deserted', shot if they fought on. Verdun, as this documentary pointed out, is the symbol for the senselessness of war.

Aguayo, now in a military jail here in Germany for refusing to redeploy to Iraq, has been able to take his case to court. It would be disheartening if he were sentenced to years in prison for following his conscience and standing up for what he considers the right thing to do. It seems inconceivable after the post 1945 wars of Vietnam and Iraq that soldiers are to be punished for having their beliefs evolve over time.

Thursday, November 23, 2006
A slew of articles on Thanksgiving in various US newspapers this year focused on how to survive a meal of too many calories or the logistic problems of getting to wherever the family dinner is to be held or how to cope with relatives who can be problematic or the etiquette of sitting around a table with the tug of football games in the background. There was even a juicy op- ed column on stuffing and how if there is one topic certain to cause an uproar or emotional distress on this day, it is what goes into a stuffing. Every family has its own traditions and Americans abroad have learned this when trying to plan a community Thanksgiving dinner.

This year Corby Kummer, who has been writing about food for years at The Atlantic Monthly, has the one article everyone should take to heart. In Thanksgiving's Moveable Feast in the NY Times he writes: Cranberries and any number of Thanksgiving Day staples are probably headed north (to Canada) thanks to global warming. .....North American agriculture is being affected today, for reasons that don't get much attention. Winter and nighttime temperatures are going up twice as fast as overall global warming, making for prolonged growing seasons and heat that can give pests a foothold........Damage to crops from weather extremes, aggressive weeds and voracious pests is a fact of the present. .....the real losers......Africa and South America, where droughts give rise to locusts......

Kummer suggests that Thanksgiving 'might be a time to think about how food is being grown where you live and what you can do about it.' Every Fall we go pumpkin hunting, i.e., we roam through the North German countryside looking for organic farmers and this year we hit upon a farm which specializes in old sorts of pumpkins and apples. We have just cup up a luscious looking, deep orange pumpkin for the soup and pie while two sorts of hard- to- find organic apples fill the apple pie. Germany has a rich tradition of organic farmers and sellers at farmers markets which are quite popular. They usually are more expensive, though not necessarily outrageously so. A small apple that delights the taste buds and smells good is more than enough than any number of huge bland tasting ones.

Sunday, November 19, 2006
In today's Boston Globe, the director for Electronic Journalism at The American University in Cairo, Lawrence Pintak, comments on America's Media Bubble.

'There used to be a time when the US media wrote the global narrative. The world saw itself through a largely American camera lens. No more. ........After five years of Sturm and Drang from the Bush administration about the evils of the Arab media, American officials still don't really get it. The genie is out of the lamp. News people abroad --- whether Arabs, Irish, or Zimbabweans --- do see the world and US policy, differently than their American counterparts. Their news organizations will report differently. It's a fact. .....American officials must engage, not demonize. They must find a way to communicate, not preach. But most of all, they must be aware that their every word and deed is being viewed real-time, often in a split screen showing the reality for folks at the receiving end of US policy.'

Thursday, November 16, 2006
Today is an unusually warm November day with stunning blue sky, deep orange leaves and no hint of winter yet. One could say it's a rather lovely birthday gift having such gorgeous weather in the middle of November were it not for global warming. Once upon a time November was mostly dreary, certainly grey but now, suddenly, you can almost walk outside without a winter coat.

It has been a weird, difficult year. Nothing like serious illness in the family and confrontations with medical progress makes you so aware of how much we don't know. For example, very kind and concerned doctors could not provide any explanation of why a 60 year old man who watched his weight, played regular tennis, followed all those dietary laws handed down by statistics could get so ill. First it was Parkinsons three years ago, albeit an 'easy to handle form' according to the specialists. However, the tests showed that he once suffered a silent stroke. Full cardiac exams were done to make sure it never happens again. The second stroke came exactly a year ago. Again, they could find no explanation. Immediate medical care saw him back up on his feet and continuing on as if nothing happened. Middle of July he showed signs of a not- to- be- shaken- off fatigue which got worse and led to pneumonia. Only then did they see that his heart wasn't functioning very well but it took till middle of October before the end diagnose was found. A heart attack which claimed 50% of his muscle had hit him sometime in summer.

How much do we know about what makes people so sick? Is there a connection between glaciers shrinking and human illness? I have no idea. Can, for example, war even when it ended over 60 years ago make someone ill today? There have been some rather interesting reports in the media hinting at how the lack of adequate nutrition and tremendous stress during pregnancy plays an important role in how that child ages. Just this week the New York Times had an article about how ill men can get, how they die much earlier than women and it posed the question if there shouldn't be more research into men's health. It claimed men are reluctant to go to doctors, but in our case, he constantly went to the doctors and followed their advice. Can stress alone make someone very ill or is it more as one doctor put it 'not verbalizing his stress'?

Lots of questions, hardly any answers. Just the things you think about when turning 60.

Saturday, November 11, 2006
All US citizens who reside abroad who voted, didn't vote, or wanted to vote and couldn't are urged to participate in the 2006 Post Election Survey conducted by the Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF). In order to take part, you need to sign up and receive an invitation. Each survey link is uniquely generated and can be used only once and cannot be forwarded. Sign up at

OVF is committed to a nonpartisan program of research and development in overseas voter registration and balloting and will use the feedback to understand key issues, inform policy makers and improve OVF's outreach.

The Post Election Survey is opened to all citizens abroad, private and active duty military.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Every Thursday the weekly newspaper Die Zeit is published. Last week its front page showed the face of the Statue of Liberty with a red sunset in the background and the headline ran Gebt uns das gute Amerika zurueck -- Give us back the good America. There is life after George W. Bush and the mid-term elections might signal a new beginning.

Yesterday the signal was overwhelmingly clear. It was Day One for setting the country back on track in what is surely going to be a long haul.

A sinking Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld appeared on page three of Die Zeit at

Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Somewhat surprising, but The American Conservative has online GOP Must Go at It writes:

'There may be little Americans can do to atone for this presidency, which will stain our country's reputation for a long time. But the process of recovering our good name must begin somewhere, and the logical place is in the voting booth on November 7. If we are fortunate, we can produce a result that is seen -- in Washington, in Peoria, and in world capitals from Prague to Kuala Lumpur -- as a repudiation of George W. Bush and the war of aggression he launched against Iraq.'

Garrison Keillor in the Salt Lake Tribune writes:

The Current Occupant, who is two years and three months away from retirement, was quoted last week as saying, 'They can say what they want about me, but at least I know who I am, and I know who my friends are.' A pathetic admission of defeat for one who has owned all three branches of government for the past six years ---- did he seek power so that he could attain self-knowledge? If so, the price is too high. The beloved country endures a government that merges blithering corruption with murderous incompetence. .....Republicans haven't tolerated much dissent in their ranks, the voice of conscience has not been welcome......It's discouraging seeing so many people go so wrong all at once. It makes you question the idea that each of us has unlimited potential for good.'

Sunday, November 05, 2006
Should we laugh or cry? David Rose in on online Vanity Fair Exclusive Now They Tell Us writes:

I spent the better part of two weeks in conversations with some of the most respected voices among the neoconservative elite. What I discover is that none of them is optimistic. All of them have regrets, not only about what has happened but also, in many cases, about the roles they played. Their dismay extends beyond the tactical issues of whether America did right or wrong, to the underlying question of whether exporting democracy is something America knows how to do. I will present my findings in full in the January issue of Vanity Fair.

Rose quotes Richard Perle, The Prince of Darkness: The levels of brutality that we've seen are truly horrifying and I have to say, I underestimated the depravity......Perle goes so far as to say that, if he had his time over, he would not have advocated an invasion of Iraq....Could we have managed that threat by means other than a direct military intervention? Well, maybe we could have.

Of course all the blame gets passed on to where the buck stops. Perhaps these so-called neocon elites could pass the day doing more than just giving remorseful interviews, helping to save their scalps. Perhaps they should spend all day, every day at Arlington.
At Arlington, Grim Reminders of What Matters by Mike Lupuica at

'The ones who started this war do not want you to see the hear the mournful sound of the bulge playing taps....They would rather have Tuesday's elections be a referendum on anything except another young soldier ending up here.'

Saturday, November 04, 2006
End of October straddles into November and it is sad to see how the very commercial plastic world of pumpkins has taken over and pushed other traditions aside here. Daylight savings time ends, the days are short, the evenings plunge into darkness. It used to be the custom to take small children out with lanterns and sing songs about the sun, moon and stars. It is certainly still done, but the call of ghosts and ghouls overshadows the lantern symbol. What was once a private day of simple ritual --- get a nice size pumpkin, scrap out the insides, make muffins, a pie, roast the shells, no costumes, no trick or treating, just a Jack-o-lantern with a candle in it in the evening seems to have been hijacked.

October 31 is also Reformation Day which was only nominally celebrated here before the great pumpkin took over. Talk about a clash of cultures. Here the pagan one from Ireland, via America taking on a solemn day in the Lutheran Church. Last Monday the local newspaper reported on a drive to substitute Luther candy for Halloween treats. Catholic holidays abound, certainly in May, though many people here often haven't a clue about the meaning of them (including many Catholics).

What is touching on the first days of November here is how the dead are remembered. The normal flower stands on the markets are awash in grave decorations and before the Advent wreath and other Christmas decorations take over, the graves are decorated, taken care of, visited.

Interestingly, in today's Boston Globe Derrick Z. Jackson examines the secret world inside of Mt. Auburn Cemetery which was opened 175 years ago. Remarkable is the wild life that exists within its walls and in particular the many splendid old trees.
Viewing this slideshow was a welcome respite from pre-election forecasts and other news.

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