American Views Abroad

Sunday, June 06, 2010
Two articles on this first weekend in June:

A crack in the Stoic's armor at a-crack-in-the-stoic-armor/ by Nancy Sherman
wanted to feel and process the loss. They wanted to register the complex inner moral landscape of war by finding their own emotions. .....For some, the war after the war is unrelenting. It is about psychological trauma and multiple suicide attempts, exacerbated by his own sense of shame
Yet in the more than 30 interviews I conducted with soldiers who have returned from the current wars, what I heard was the wish to let go of the Stoic armor. They in not being the Stoic warrior that he thought he could and should be.

And in this Sunday's Ideas Section of the Boston Globe is this interesting article comparing Americans and Europeans on individualism and conformity:

Sunday, May 09, 2010
A Devastated Berlin 65 years ago at

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Europe may be facing an eruption in its economy as a fall out from the ban on flying these last few days, but the fall out over Goldman Sacks in the US is going to be far greater. Societies cannot control acts of nature. Volcanoes can lie dormant for centuries, but the potential for an eruption is always there. There isn't much anyone can do but accept what's happening, pick up the pieces, re-arrange priorities, rethink relying on the fastest way of traveling short distances and work things out.

Causing untold harm to fellow citizens through fraud, cover-ups, not revealing facts, making huge profits while producing nothing of worth gets to the core of what human beings can become when left uncontrolled and allowed to run amok with other people's money and property.


The Business of America is Kleptocracy by William Astore:

If we were to take an honest look at American's blasted landscape of 'losers' and the far shinier spiffier world of 'winners', we'd have to admit that it wasn't signs of onrushing socialism or fascism that stood out, but of staggeringly self-aggrandizing greed and theft right in the here and now. We'd notice our public coffers being emptied to benefit major corporations and financial institutions working in close alliance with, and passing on remarkable sums of money to, the representatives of 'the people.' We'd see, in a word, kleptocracy on a scale to dazzle. We would suddenly see an almost magical disappearing act being performed, largely without comment, right before our eyes.

Friday, March 19, 2010
The long bitter winter left one spellbound and in a state of apathy. Spring hasn't arrived properly yet, but let's face it: of course it will soon be here. Nature may be moody but its rhythm remains untouched. It can't keep things under wrap like the Catholic Church and its stubborn refusal to take on its horrible legacy of child abuse. It has been sickening to watch how centuries of denying women rights and denying sexual feelings has led to those least able to defend themselves, children and young adults, being so misused, abused, and not given any sympathy of their plights. To be abused by a clergyman in such a position of authority is as unforgiving as being abused by one's parent. What's been interesting here in Germany is how the number of women in powerful positions in government has finally brought the bishops to their knees in forcing them to abandon secrecy and take the formal legal road whenever a crime has been committed or even a hint of a crime.

There are, however, other stories unfolding as well besides the usual about politics: the vote on health car, wars, massive unemployment, budget deficits..... There are individual stories like that of historian Tony Judt. He is, unfortunately, dying of ALS, often known as Lou Gehrig's disease but he is not going quietly into the good night. He is being unduly productive. He is now in the process of dictating his reflections in The New York Review of Books and this introduction to his terminal illness is moving, chilling and gets under the skin:

By my present stage of decline, I am thus effectively quadriplegic. ......To say the least, I am utterly and completely dependent upon the kindness of strangers (and anyone else). During the day I can at least request a scratch, an adjustment, a drink, or simply a gratuitous re-placement of my limbs ---- since enforced stillness for hours on end is not only physically uncomfortable but psychologically close to intolerable. It is not as though you lose the desire to stretch, to bend, to stand or lie or run or even exercise. But when the urge comes over you there is nothing ---- nothing---- that you can do except seek some tiny substitute or else find a way to suppress the thought and the accompanying muscle memory.

Judt has also released a new book Ill Fares the Land reviewed by Dwight Garner in NYT and IHT. Garner writes: ...a slim and penetrating work, a dying man's sense of a dying idea: the notion that the state can play a significant role in its citizens' lives without imperiling their liberties.

Saturday, February 20, 2010
It's beginning to thaw in Hamburg.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Snow Falling on Hamburg
It's been a cold city since a week before Christmas. Lulled by years of uncommonly mild winters, this city has all but forgotten what winter can bring, what it used to be like. Snow started falling in December and at first everyone was enchanted with the idea of having a white Christmas. No one bothered to clean the streets. After all, it's a freak of nature in these times of global warming and it wouldn't last more than a few days. Temperatures continued to drop. News reported very cold weather on the way before New Year and indeed it began to snow, and it got colder and it snowed more. Eventually the ground became so cold, the snow turned to ice, and winter, it seemed, just continued to reinvent itself.

Hardly anyone bothered to clean the streets. Around twenty years ago the laws changed. No side streets were to be cleared of snow, only the main ones. Since the city no longer considered side streets worth the effort, some people living on those streets decided to take the same stance. Why bother shoveling, hacking, throwing down some sand. Even on main streets in front of shops there was far too little effort shown. Small paths were cleared but getting from the car to that path means surviving very thick layers of ice. Hundreds of citizens have been rushed to hospitals with broken limbs. Hundreds more are literally being held hostage, confined to their apartments, fearful of venturing out onto the ice, particularly the elderly. Driving on side streets is next to impossible, biking is not an option and walking is far too risky. Six weeks and counting.

What has the city government done? It finally got around to having a crisis call this past Monday. First, most government agencies here are hardly in any better shape than the rest of the city. Why? A number of years ago, someone, most likely with a MBA, decided Hamburg should sell off lots of its buildings and then rent them back. Most citizens never understood what the city was to gain from this, other than short term profit. What everyone now understands is the new owners of these buildings are not interested in shoveling snow. Certainly not more than a small path. Getting from the subway across large swatches of very thick ice to these buildings is risking serious falls and injuries. Add to this the 'joys' of privatizing winter services instead of using the Sanitation Department. Let's face it: it's much cheaper not to use any one in a union. Pay the private ones six or seven euros an hour and one thought the outcome would be the same. It's not. They often don't bother to show up. Even right in front of City Hall. Subcontracting city services to private firms has proved to be a disaster.

There is, however, one side street fully ice free, compliments of the Sanitation Department. It's the one where the president of the Hamburg Senate lives. It's very cold in Hamburg these days with temperatures dropping even more, on many levels.

According to weather reports this severe cold spell does not disprove global warming. Most of Europe is locked in between a high in Siberia of -35C and a high over Greenland of -20C which is not letting the milder air in.

Saturday, January 30, 2010
The Corruption in Washington is Smothering America's Future by Johann Hari:

.....But corporations are not people. Should they have the right to bear arms, or to vote? It would make as much sense. They are a legal fiction, invented by the state - and they can be fairly regulated to stop them devouring their creator. This is the same Supreme Court that ruled that the detainees at Guantanomo Bay are not 'persons' under the constitution deserving basic protections. A court that says a living breathing human is less of a 'persons' than Lockheed Martin has gone badly awry.

The 'Devastating' Decision by Ronald Dworkin:

The conservative justices savaged canons of judicial restraint they themselves have long praised. Chief Justice Roberts takes every opportunity to repeat what he said, under oath, in his Senate nomination hearings: that the Supreme Court should avoid declaring any statute unconstitutional unless it cannot decide the case before it in any other way. Now consider how shamelessly he and the other justices who voted in the majority ignored that constraint in their haste to declare the McCain-Feingold Act unconstitutional in time for the coming midterm elections.

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