American Views Abroad

Friday, August 31, 2007
Denial is a powerful tool to escape from reality. If eight people, in the case of Muegeln Indian citizens, are verbally harassed they don't belong there, then hounded and chased and have to run for their lives after being beaten up by a group of fifty, you would think the townspeople would wake up the next day and ask some serious questions about what went wrong. Reading various media reports indicate this did not happen on any appropriate scale. Instead, the town feels it has been dragged into the mud by the media and politicians. What exactly happened, who provoked whom, isn't the point. Rather it's 50 vs 8. The sheer number involved should have people on alert. Why weren't cell phones immediately used to call the police? Letters to the editors of various newspapers show outrage at politicians demanding more civil courage of ordinary citizens, which came across as out-of-touch and arrogant. Expecting individual citizens to stand up to a mob is unrealistic. Yet, there is no explanation for not calling the police at once these days. No one can argue that whipping out a cell phone and using it would cause any physical harm. Of course, the added dimension that these were Indian citizens being so abused created headlines about the anti-foreign hostility of the mob and possibly the town. The problem, however, is more than just anti-foreign. It's anti-anything-not-us.

Since my husband's mother was born near Jena in the east and he grew up in Hamburg experiencing first hand a divided Germany, he felt a certain personal responsibility to help out once the Wall fell. He reached out to engineers on the other side to help them understand the new playing field, invested in two businesses 'over there' and was eager to venture out and see the more beautiful parts of the Baltic coast as well as the smaller towns inland. Yet, he has never felt at home there or particularly welcomed. The first trip up to Wismar, a town that was then so utterly in ruin and today a success story in how it has been rebuilt, ended up proving to be par for the course. We fled that Sunday in 1990, after a few hours there, because we simply couldn't take the total neglect of everything, including an almost appalling apathy in the people sitting and staring out their open windows, almost faceless. In 1998 we spent some time on Usedom with its pristine beaches near the Polish border. Again and again my husband remarked how he felt more comfortable walking around Cape Cod in the US than in Usedom. From body language to haircuts (the heads of so many men there seemed to be almost bald) to clothes we both felt we stuck out like sore thumbs. There was an unmistakeable impression on our part that we didn't belong there, the beach was not ours to play on. We have had a lot to do near the Mueritz national park and the lake of Mueritz and we both now notice an inner weariness whenever we have to go there. Irregardless of good will in wanting to accomplish something, we keep hitting up against another wall.

Of course all this happened in the more rural, isolated, very empty small hamlets in the north east. Leipzig on the weekend immediately following 9/11 showed us another side. The concert for the victims in the Thomas Church where Bach spent many years was very moving and well attended. Everywhere there people expressed their sympathy and there was an openness and a flair we appreciated. Ditto Dresden a few years later. West Germans are often arrogant when it comes to the Saxon dialogue; however, to foreign ears it sounded open, friendly, and welcoming.

Throwing more money around or appeals to the mob on how their actions ruin Germany's reputation in the world appear hollow. Perhaps the ghosts of the past have to be looked at from a different angle and finally confronted.

Sunday, August 26, 2007
GIs' Morale Dips As Iraq War Drags On in the Los Angeles Times:

'Some say two wars are being fought here: the one the enlisted men see, and the one that senior officers and politicians want the world to see.'

Thursday, August 23, 2007
Seen at Buzzflash. Erin Burnett, a good corporate journalist and latter day Marie Antoinette:
A lot of people like to say, uh, scaremonger about China, right?" Burnett recently commented on "Hardball." "A lot of politicians, and I know you talk about that issue all the time. I think people should be careful what they wish for on China. You know, if China were to revalue its currency or China is to start making say, toys that don't have lead in them or food that isn't poisonous, their costs of production are going to go up and that means prices at Wal-Mart here in the United States are going to go up too. So, I would say China is our greatest friend right now, they're keeping prices low and they're keeping the prices for mortgages low, too.
Did she mean to say, "Let them eat lead"? Is someone proud of her?

Friday, August 17, 2007
No Dog Days of Summer to help take minds off the mayhem spinning out of control almost everywhere this year. Not a bad idea to brace yourself before picking up the papers in the morning. There were the hundreds killed off in villages in northern Iraq in suicide bombings; the army strongly suggesting families of those to be deployed yet again for another 15 months in Iraq should stay on base in Germany rather than returning to the US --- ' also demonstrates how the gap between American society and its volunteer army has widened as the Iraq war has dragged on. Many people there (in the US) have just moved on.' and the army suicide rate hit a 26 year high

How does one even begin to explain sub-prime mortgages to German readers? Well, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung did a good job trying to make sense of the madness that has taken over these last years on Thursday. The bundling of loans and mortgages with hardly any down payment being sent on to others who make money off of what? What it did in fact convey to its readers is that no one knows who is responsible or who to turn to. It's like facing an abyss. A German TV hard-hitting journal, Frontal on ZDF, took on the privatization of electricity companies here and the reaction of people was one of anger and a determination to start changing companies. A neighbor confided that for the first time in her life she will not vote in any upcoming elections until those responsible for selling things off take responsibility for their actions. Others started using the word crooks a lot more than one usually hears here.

To get away from all that and the weather which is not the usual lovely August of other years, the only way to flee is through novels. Down home is lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Pete Hamill is good at bringing it all together in North River. Unfortunately, nothing could ever top Snow in August, the ultimate Brooklyn novel in the years after WW II, but it was good to get away from current themes and to remember that once upon a time you didn't have to have millions to live in Manhattan. Picking up the New York strain, Alice McDermott's After This was on the windowsill waiting to be read. It is a gem of a novel that so depicts the post World War II Long Island of the fifties and sixties with its Irish family and Catholic upbringing and war, both WW II and Viet Nam, you have to pinch yourself when putting the book down that you are in Europe in 2007. No, After This is not an escape from the present, but it does put what's happening today in perspective.

Friday, August 10, 2007
A tornado has hit the area of Brooklyn where childhood memories are imbeded. The old neighborhood with its under the highway playground and smooth roller skating surface was literally torn apart by a category 2 tornado --- in the heart of Brooklyn. According to newspaper reports there hasn't been a tornado in Brooklyn since 1880. No, the reports indicated that since 1880 no one could remember one hitting that area. Southeast Asia, as usual, has been hit hard by rains and flooding. Southern Germany and Switzerland have had a tremendous amount of rainfall in this same week with flooding and high waters on the Rhine. New York friends were in visiting Hamburg and after weeks of torrential downfalls we were giddy to experience four days of gorgeous weather. Pristine blue sky after all those bleak water-logged Sundays. There is a tongue-in-cheek report on the strange state of the climate in
post-Gore America from a series in the Neue Zuericher Zeitung translated into English by signandsight at

Friday, August 03, 2007
Pierre Tristam looks at the question--- what does it mean to be an American--- which a local newspaper asked its readers and their answers. 'Almost every answer was a variation on the theme of freedom, usually personal freedom, but in the abstract, as if they each were repeating by rote phrases from a hymnal than speaking truths they knew and felt first-hand or could explain.'

American Fatalism at

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