American Views Abroad

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I often wonder what Mark Twain would say today. This is what he said then (1889):

These poor ostensible freemen who were sharing their breakfast and their talk with me, were as full of humble reverence for their king and Church and nobility as their worst enemy could desire. There was something pitifully ludicrous about it. I asked them if they supposed a nation of people ever existed, who, with a free vote in every man's hand, would elect that a single family and its descendants should reign over it forever, whether gifted or boobies, to the exclusion of all other families--including the voter's; and would also elect that a certain hundred families should be raised to dizzy summits of rank, and clothed on with offensive transmissible glories and privileges to the exclusion of the rest of the nation's families--
including his own.

They all looked unhit, and said they didn't know; that they had never thought about it before, and it hadn't ever occurred to them that a nation could be so situated that every man could have a say in the government. I said I had seen one--and that it would last until it had an Established Church. Again they were all unhit--at first. But presently one man looked up and asked me to state that proposition again; and state it slowly, so it could soak into his understanding. I did it; and after a little he had the idea, and he brought his fist down and said _he_ didn't believe a nation where every man had a vote would voluntarily get down in the mud and dirt in any such way; and that to steal from a nation its will and preference must be a crime and the first of all crimes. I said to myself:

"This one's a man. If I were backed by enough of his sort, I would make a strike for the welfare of this country, and try to prove myself its loyalest citizen by making a wholesome change in its system of government."

You see my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its office-holders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death. To be loyal to rags, to shout for rags, to worship rags, to die for rags--that is a loyalty of unreason, it is pure animal; it belongs to monarchy, was invented by monarchy; let monarchy keep it. I was from Connecticut, whose Constitution declares "that all political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit; and that they have at all times an undeniable and indefeasible right to alter their form of government in such a manner as they may think expedient."

Under that gospel, the citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth's political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is a traitor. That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this decay, does not excuse him; it is his duty to agitate anyway, and it is the duty of the others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does.

And now here I was, in a country where a right to say how the country should be governed was restricted to six persons in each thousand of its population. For the nine hundred and ninety-four to express dissatisfaction with the regnant system and propose to change it, would have made the whole six shudder as one man, it would have been so disloyal, so dishonorable, such putrid black treason. So to speak, I was become a stockholder in a corporation where nine hundred and ninety-four of the members furnished all the money and did all the work, and the other six elected themselves a permanent board of direction and took all the dividends. It seemed to me that what the nine hundred and ninety-four dupes needed was a new deal.

Sunday, October 28, 2007
Raking leaves on a placid October afternoon with the fresh smell of the earth, the array of colors particularly the trees offer, the tide of sun out or haziness in, even the thought of it all having to be done again in a matter of days doesn't deter from the soothing effect it has. Getting lost outdoors in these last days before gale force North Sea storms set in or the long drawn out months of winter, sometimes drab, less often sparkling with snow is similar to getting lost to everything through music, either playing it or simply listening to it. German media amply covered those horrific firestorms in California. There is an interesting article in today's NYT about how difficult it is to juggle nature's need to renew through fires with people's stubbornness and determination to live in one particular place. Of course parts of California are magnificent to live in with views of the Pacific, the desert, the mountains. Gazing at the Pacific is quite something else than looking out over the Atlantic. Then again the North Sea is quite something else than the Baltic. Once, having spent over five weeks out west in the US, I wondered how the readjustment to Europe would be with its small parcels of land and far less space. Yet upon returning here, I was taken aback by its beauty in smaller details, yet in no way less lovely. There is subtle beauty in things being close together. Within less than an hour's drive from the heart of the city, farms are open on Sundays offering old sorts of delicious apples, pears, quince, potatoes, pumpkins and close by one can stroll along the Elbe.

As for music, here is an article in the September 17th issue of The New Yorker which shows a rather all too normal side to it, alas. Fantasia for Piano by Mark Singer at Unfortunately hoax and deceiving others don't only exist in the business or political world. What a read.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007
We can continue to blame the Bush administration for the horrors of Iraq -- and should. ....But we Americans must also examine our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name in a war where we have now fought longer than we did in the one that put Verschaerfte Vernehmung (enhanced or intensified interrogation) on the map.

Frank Rich in The Good Germans among Us at

In August 2004 in New York City for a wedding, the first time back since the breaking of the Abu Ghraib story with its shocking photos and even more hideous reporting of what was taking place there, and the silence was stunning. No one brings up torture at weddings, but the running conversation at one table at the brunch on the following day was a bitter tirade on the government and the state of society, with a couple of very noticeable exceptions: there was not one word lost on the war in Iraq or Abu Ghraib. Ditto the following week in a lovely town just outside of Philadelphia. At a gathering given for the American residing abroad there was one question asked: Do they hate us over there? There was, however, plenty of arguing about if John Kerry was telling the truth about his service in Viet Nam. It seemed surreal to argue about someone's certified service in a war long over with no mention whatsoever of the present, ongoing war, or for that matter the lies it is based on. This point was brought up (gently) on the way to the airport. Wasn't it strange the torture of Abu Ghraib was never once mentioned? The reply was so simple and to the point: We were all so ashamed. End of the discussion.

Shame, powerful and intimate, lingers and nags. Sooner or later, one way or another, things come full circle. When we first married, it was my German husband who was confronted by his country's shame time and again. In Brooklyn to meet the in-laws in the early 70s, he was confronted with a shop owner who never wanted a German to enter her shop. A rather difficult family member decided to push the envelope and see what would happen when he got there. One very nice Jewish lady was forced into dealing with one much younger German very, very reluctantly. 'I don't like Germans, in fact I have never wanted anything to do with them,' she said, 'but you're nice. I like you.' Thereafter, they always made a point of greeting each other whenever he passed her shop. He understood her initial feelings and has always felt she was kind to him. Not everyone here who heard him tell this story agreed with his point of view. In fact, it was often the source of lively debates.

Just a few years ago consulting a doctor who had been the family doctor for years, I was confronted with him stating rather point blankly that he would have a very difficult time taking care of me unless he knew where I stood on the war in Iraq and with Bush's policies. He went on to say he had an American couple as patients and after telling them how he felt politically, they never returned. Why not, he asked. Are all Americans abroad in favor of his policies? Talk about being put on the spot. I recall stuttering of course not and neither do I. However, it didn't take long to realize he could no longer be our family doctor. The doctor was unprofessional, to say the least. Our government in Washington is beyond the word professional. There isn't anything left but us citizens to start getting things back on course.

Related Articles:
Spiegel Online Interview with Military Historian Gabriel Kolko on Many in the US Military think Bush and Cheney are Out of Control at,1518,511492,00.html

Sun Sets Early on the American Century by Philip S. Golub at Le Monde Diplomatique at

Thursday, October 11, 2007
There has been another school shooting in America, in Ohio, my home state. It got me to wondering what the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution (the Bill of Rights) might look like in an unnamed count of years from now:

Tenth Amendment - Powers of states and people
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
(Only the President can issue signing statements.)

Ninth Amendment - Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
(They could be terrorists.)

Eighth Amendment - Prohibition of excessive bail, as well as cruel and unusual punishment.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
(They could be terrorists, they deserve what they get.)

Seventh Amendment - Civil trial by jury.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
(Anyone declared a potential terrorist has no right to a civil trial.)

Sixth Amendment - Trial by jury and other rights of the accused.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
(Consumes vital time - they could be terrorists.)

Fifth Amendment - Due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, private property.
No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
(They could be terrorists.)

Fourth Amendment - Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
(They could be terrorists.)

Third Amendment - Protection from quartering of troops.
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
(Quartering of troops is an excellent way to cut housing costs for the military, give citizens an opportunity to show their patriotism, and stop terrorism in private homes.)

Second Amendment - Right to keep and bear arms.
A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
(One nation, under God, with Liberty and Justice for all. Amen.)

First Amendment - Freedom of religion, speech, press, and peaceable assembly as well as the right to petition the government.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
(They could be terrorists.)

Sunday, October 07, 2007
36 Hours in Hamburg with a lovely slide show Hamburg on the Water at

Thursday, October 04, 2007
Seymour M. Hersh, one of the most famous investigative journalists in the US, was awarded the Blaetter Democracy Prize in Germany last week. Die Zeit printed a translated version of his speech The Fragility of Democracy last week.

Hersh: There is a disconnect -- of unprecedented significance -- between the American leadership and the press, the people, and the peoples of the world. .....I see my role as very basic: I believe a responsible journalist in Washington must hold the senior people of the government to the highest possible standard, and never relent in that view. We have a profound problem in American -- one that constantly works to the disadvantage of the loyal citizen. The Bushs and Kissingers and Nixons have the power to send our children -- our sons and daughters -- into war, to kill and be killed. As loyal citizens, we honor that power and willingly follow our leaders and send our young into war. And what do we get in return -- what have we learned to expect from our leaders? We get leaders who lie, misrepresent, distort and manipulate the facts. It's a very bad bargain, and one that should be challenged by every citizen and every journalist.

The original English version can be read at

Monday, October 01, 2007
Reading about Germans in New York and their experience there is a bit like looking through several mirrors at different angles. In yesterday's NYT in Peter Applebome's Our Towns column about the difficulty one German woman encountered when she tried (in vain) to bring her 'energy-conscious sensibilities of life in Europe' into US supermarkets was sadly on target.

'When I was first here, I brought my own bags to the market, but they would stuff the groceries in the plastic bags anyway. Finally, I gave up, she said. People are very nice here. It's more relaxed. But the environmental thing is a little scary. ....When visitors come from Germany, they're baffled by the local customs, the tolerance of such stupendous, routine waste.'

It certainly is far more relaxed over there, on one hand. You certainly don't have other customers breathing down your back while you load groceries onto the counter, have no chance of checking the prices and then pack it all up again on your own. Shopping is not a form of entertainment here, nor is it a time for small talk or chit-chat. It's a formal affair. You are greeted when entering and wished a nice day or weekend when leaving. To be fair they do start warming up (a bit) once they get to know you. However, the word 'service' or for that matter 'convenience' is not on the agenda here. Or, not on the agenda the way it is in the US. It's considered convenient or practical to bring your own bags when going shopping because it doesn't create even more waste and landfills. It is hardly a bother to bring them either. They tag along with your handbag and make you far more aware of how much you intend to buy. You learn to plan ahead since you very often have to pay for parking (at malls or downtown), and place a coin in for a shopping cart, as well as pay double or triple the price for gas. Credit cards are hardly used in daily transactions.

According to Applebome 'it is estimated that the United States goes through 100 billion plastic bags a year, which take an estimated 12 million barrels of oil to produce and last almost forever.' According to reports in one of today's papers oil may top $100 a barrel soon and there are a lot more people clamouring for more of it than 20 years ago. In today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung on page 3 there was a report on one US woman's fight to be able to hang her laundry out to dry in a community that doesn't allow it so that she can save using up even more energy with a dryer. Look up 'laundry lines' and it is surprising what's behind it all.

Canvas bags, in particular canvas book bags are particularly good for groceries and can be hung on shoulders making them appear less heavy. So much can be recycled and re-used as was noticed a few years ago during a strike of the sanitation department. It lasted a few weeks but it was hardly noticed.

Disclaimer: American Views Abroad is not responsible for offsite content. All links in blog entires are external offsite links, unless otherwise indicated.