American Views Abroad

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.

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