American Views Abroad

Sunday, April 29, 2007
Riverbend will be joining the exodus out of Iraq into the unknown. In her words:

On the one hand, I know that leaving the country and starting a new life somewhere else--- as yet unknown --- is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it's the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. ...What clothes do we take ... What about my books ...the baby pictures? The problem is that we don't even know if we'll ever see this stuff again. We don't know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our house and what remains of family and friends. ...And to what? It's difficult to decide which is more frightening car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.

Riverbend walked us through life as a civilian caught up in a foreign military invasion, occupation and civil war. Surely somewhere in that unspecified place there'll be an internet connection so she can continue her job of telling us how life is outside the familiar and as a refugee.

Thursday, April 26, 2007
A positive note on global warming is the return of orchids in Germany. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung reports that the change in climate in combination with strict environmental laws have led to an increase in wild orchids that were once found in Germany as well as those orchids moving north from warmer places. in Wissen under Rueckkehr der Koeniginnen . The same page also offers eleven photos of some of these orchids under Bildstrecke.

The New York Daily News reports the Mayor of New York City is going to start forcing office buildings to shut off their lights at night to save energy. A move in the right direction that should have happened years ago. The positive outcome might be the ability to see the stars at night. The mayor has offered an ambitious plan to cut the use of cars in the city, provide more green space in the outer boroughs, get people to walk more. Sounds almost European. Hamburg is a wonderful example of a city that provides marvelous parks, woods, dikes, river paths for walking and biking, all within city limits. Since parking is hardly available these days, public transportation or biking is the best way to get around.

There have been reports about a few US cities making an attempt to ban the hand out of plastic bags when shopping. Another European solution since plastic bags have not been provided free for very many years. People are encouraged to bring their own bags when going shopping and if a basket on the arm seems provincial, sturdy canvas book bags are worth looking for. They can carry everything from milk to fruit and veggies.

Coffee-to-go (almost always in English) is a craze that has taken over here recently. A pity since those cups can only be thrown away and what is more pleasant then lingering, even if it's only for five or ten minutes, over a cup of coffee. Near Hamburg airport there is a Coffee-to-fly stand which is rather amusing. Actually you can't even take a bottle of water on a plane these days. On the other hand, Starbucks is trying its luck among all the other, rather good, upcoming coffee shops. It's good to see a revival of a fine tradition.

Sunday, April 15, 2007
A sublimely beautiful April week, normally balsam for the soul, were it not the first April in memory when the garden has to be watered. After one of the warmest winters and an unusually early Spring, it is uncanny how four seasons seem to mesh into two.
The pear, cherry and magnolia trees simultaneously in bloom and drenching the garden in white petals provoke an urge to flee from harsh reality, like the news of a close friend's very rare form of blood cancer or the even harsher, more damning, man-made news in the papers and on TV.

Sometimes the idea of saving sanity by not paying attention is enticing. For example, when you read about a democracy looking for a 'war czar' can things get any more bizarre? Need for 'Czar' Shows Chaos of War by Ann McFeatters at 'This is amazingly surreal for a democracy where we're not supposed to have 'war czars' who have unspecified powers over life and death.'

The cover of The New Yorker's April 9 issue shows how to use those 1040 tax forms properly. Craft them into tanks, fighter planes, war ships. In this Sunday's Der Tagesspiegel an editorial on the USA and Iraq makes two hard-hitting points. The first is that the situation today in Iraq can cause the entire region to explode and become totally uncontrollable. The second is the deconstructing of a world power. The present US government has opened the doors of hell in its Iraq politics, in particular because it did not think through its invasion beforehand. It isn't only Iraq, but Guantanamo and the present scandal in the Justice Department. There is no end in sight yet and those who call for staying the course have not recognized the full scoop of what's going on there. (Ein Land geht durch die Hoelle von Stephan-Andreas Casdorff)

Monday, April 09, 2007
The New Yorker appears in Europe a week or two later than on newsstands in the US. The latest in is the March 26th issue and an article breathtaking in scope on the arrogance, ignorance and stupidity of invading a foreign country without any knowledge of its culture, language, customs, history is George Packer's Betrayed -- The Iraqis Who Trusted America the Most at It is gut-wrenching how many, though not all, Americans within the Green Zone in Baghdad treated their interpreters.

'Almost all the Iraqis who were hired became interpreters, and American soldiers call them 'terps' often giving them nicknames for convenience and, later, security. But what the Iraqis had to offer went well beyond linguistic ability: each of them was, potentially, a cultural adviser, an intelligence officer, a policy analyst. ....Interpreters assumed that their perspective would be valuable to foreigners who knew little or nothing of Iraq.'

One interpreter 'kept being confronted by fresh ironies: he had less authority than any of the Americans, although he knew more about Iraq; and the less that Americans knew about Iraq the less they wanted to hear from him, especially if they occupied high positions.'

'This story repeated itself across the country: Iraqi employees of the US military began to be kidnapped and killed in large numbers, and there was essentially no American response. ....It's as if the Americans never imagined that the intimidation and murder of interpreters by other Iraqis would undermine the larger American effort, by destroying the confidence of Iraqis who wanted to give it support. The problem was treated as managerial, nor moral or political.'

These sixteen pages online are worth reading.

Friday, April 06, 2007
A peaceful, quiet day, one you can hear upon waking in the morning. It's the start of a long holiday weekend where commercialism plays no role. On the Friday before Easter, Good Friday, Germany shuts down tight. Yet it's more noticeable than a normal Sunday. First off there is far less traffic, at least in the cities. Could be many have left for the countryside and the autobahns are where the action is. Even in the nurseries or gardening centers, rare exceptions in being allowed to open, there were only a few hardy souls looking around. The mood was low-key, almost somber. It stands in stark contrast to previous days where running around and fighting the crowds leaves you wondering if it's worth it. The bottom line is the noticeable lack of traffic and garden noise is balsam for the spirit. Tomorrow evening the Easter fires will be lit and Easter Sunday and Monday will be devoted to celebrating, most likely with colored eggs and brunch, but without any notion to use these days for shopping or doing loud work outside. A good tradition worth holding on to.

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