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Ugh. The holidays. Christmas especially. Ugh. If you know me, you know I don't like this time of year. I love the weather, when it's clear and cold, with no wind, and especially when there is snow -- it's great to walk Albi in such weather. All my dogs have loved cold weather. But all the people rushing, their stress, their bad moods, people whining about people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" (pardon me for trying to be inclusive), plus my own bad memories of holidays past... it makes me want to hide in my house for two months. In November, when the temp was trampled to death at Wal-Mart by greedy shoppers and the two guys shot each other at Toys R Us after their wives/girlfriends/whatever got into an argument, all I could think of was, yup, must be Christmas.
As I've mentioned before, Germany is much more low-key when it comes to Christmas than the USA. Most parents here don't go berserk with presents for their kids. There are simple Christmas parties, but no Secret Santas to force people to stress over more shopping and gift-giving. The best part of the German holidays are the Christmas markets, which are outdoor markets with little nick nacks for sale in little wooden booths, plus potato pancakes and brats and fried mushrooms and spiced wine called "Glühwein." It's awesome to stand out on a freezing cold night and warm up with glühwein...
So, if I hate the holidays, what do I do for them besides drink glühwein? I have several things I listen to and a couple of movies I like to watch:
I actually do like Thanksgiving quite a lot. I learned to love it once I moved away from home and started experiencing it with other people who didn't go home for the holiday, or with someone's family I barely knew. It became a holiday about just food and fellowship and making everyone present feel welcomed. When I host the holiday, I try to make it about that as well.
Unfortunately, this year's Thanksgiving didn't go so well -- only one of four invited guests showed up. But that guest happened to be Lis, and given how much Stefan enjoys eating American traditional Thanksgiving food, we managed to eek out a very good time nonetheless, plus we had way more leftovers to enjoy for the rest of the week.
If you have a computer other than an Apple Macintosh, may I please beg you to install ASAP the free software listed on this page for removing spyware, adware, and malware? It will not only help your computer get much faster, it will not only prevent your computer from sending out personal information about you, it will also prevent your computer from sending my email address to other computers, which gather such in order to send out junk email.
Another recent national historic first in the USA that you may not know about lies in the New Hampshire Senate that now has 13 of 24 seats held by women. This is the first legislative body in the USA to ever have a majority female membership.
While the USA can definitely brag about its ethnic minority representation in elected and federal offices in comparison to Europe, even before Obama, the USA is still ages behind regarding female representation in government compared to Europe. Why is the USA so reluctant to look to women as leaders, in contrast to Europe?
To get our nation's first black President -- which is awesome -- we had to say no to our nation's first woman President -- and that bites. And so, I'm only partially satisfied.
I'm trying to teach my landlord's giant Kangal/Anatolian Shepherd (whatever-- I'm not that into dog breeds) not to bite too hard when he plays, by doing a little puppy yelp myself whenever he takes my hand in my mouth and applies the least little bit of pressure. It worked with Buster once upon a time and, so far, it's working with Ba'ahl (I keep changing how I spell his name because I'm not sure how. But someone needs to work with him every day if they are every going to get him to half way behave. I've also been walking him with Albi on our regular evening walks, as a way to pay our landlord and his wife back from taking care of Albi on so many occasions. She adores them, and they really care about her as well.
A parody review of the new movie "Twilight."
I shouldn't be snarky, I really shouldn't. The kids today love "High School Musical" and "Twilight," and I loved Donny Osmond when I was their age. The difference is that now, 30 years later, Donny Osmond is still cool.
I get one channel in English here in Sinzig: CNN International (for some reason, we can't get digital cable at our apartment and, therefore, lots more English channels; and because of the side of the hill we're on, no satellite TV either). As I've noted before, CNN International is very different than the CNN channels shown in the USA; the reporters are all from a variety of countries, and they present the news with a world view, with much less glitz than their USA counterparts.
I wish people in the USA not only got CNN International, but also the commercials that are shown on CNN International, at least in Europe. Through advertisements for communications companies, banks and tourism, they would see positive images of Arab people, Asian people and African people that they rarely see in the USA. I didn't realize how in contrast it was to what people see in the USA until a few years ago when I was in the USA and watched some TV. It's no big deal for me to see these images; in the USA, I think a few people's heads would explode at the continual images of well-dressed, non-white bankers, architects, teachers, movie stars, fashion designers, families at the beach, and so on.
I hope we can get satellite TV in the USA that has CNN International, as well some German channels. I have no idea if we can. Anyone know?
I'm already getting nostalgic for Germany. I love this country so much. There is so much I'm going to miss, like the hike and bike trails everywhere. If there's a river, no matter how small, there's probably a hike and bike trail next to it here in Germany. I walk on the trail next to the Ahr every day with Albi; it's how I know so many people here in Sinzig. In one direction, it's my "cup of coffee" to wake up for the morning; in the other direction, it's my way to unwind after a day of sitting in front of this computer. Because there are so many trails, most aren't over-used - they are only crowded on Saturdays and Sundays, for the most part.
The hike and bike trails in Germany are all interlinked, and you can easily hike or bike from village to village throughout Germany, with plenty of tiny pensions, large hotels or camp sites to choose from, and you rarely have to go on a major road (though, if you do have to travel on roads with cars, you will probably have a bike lane of your very own -- another thing I love about this country). What a shame that the USA doesn't have hike and bike trails, and bike lanes, everywhere; I fantasize about what a trail along the Ohio River, from the Appalachians to the Mississippi, would look like, and how awesome it would be to travel along it. How sad that most Americans don't see any value in such things.
Not all has been perfect here, however... but I thought I would give this negative diatribe it's own web page.
Looks like we'll be visiting Australia in 2010! I have a speaking gig there and there's no reason to go all that way and not stay a while and see some sights! More about this trip later via at least some of the various avenues listed at the start of this blog.
Some more sites that have made me laugh or think very deeply recently, other than the bits from the Colbert Christmas special:
Richard Pryer as the first black president (geesh but I miss him)
My favorite German commercial; I don't think you need to understand German to get it.
Photo of a Palin supporter. It says so much.
I'm a history geek, as you all know, if you know me. Love all history. If I won the lottery, I'd spend hours and hours watching history documentaries, reading history books and visiting historical sites.
The period of history that fascinates me the most -- and it's hard to pick just one period to top my huge list of historical interests -- are the events leading up to World War I, the Great War itself, and the events leading up to American's involvement in WWII. So, that's about 1913 through 1941. I don't believe you can understand anything that is happening now in most of the world unless you understand this period of history.
If you go to a freshly plowed field in Northern France, it will take you just a few minutes to find shrapnel and spent bullets from the first World War. When we went to Northern France in 2007, it was the endless cemeteries from World War I that gave me the most pause. In November came the 90th anniversary of the end of the Great War. I got to see some stories on TV about it here and there, mostly focused on the daily slaughter of soldiers that gained neither side anything of value during the war. I love old grass roots political songs, and during WWI, there was a French anti-war song, La Chanson de Craonne (The Song of Craonn), the most famous version of which was sung by French soldiers who mutinied after the costly and militarily disastrous offensive of General Nivelle at the Chemins des Dames. My favorite lyrics:
On the grands boulevards it's hard to lookThe International Herald Tribune has an excellent article about the mutiny.
At all the rich and powerful whooping it up
For them life is good But for us it's not the same
Instead of hiding, all these shirkers
Would do better to go up to the trenches
To defend what they have, because we have nothing
All of us poor wretches
All our comrades are being buried there
To defend the wealth of these gentlemen here
Those who have the dough, they'll be coming back,
'Cause it's for them that we're dying.
But it's all over now, 'cause all of the grunts
Are going to go on strike.
It'll be your turn, all you rich and powerful gentlemen,
To go up onto the plateau.
And if you want to make war,
Then pay for it with your own skins.
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) compiled a quiz to measure American civics knowledge. US elected officials scored abysmally, with an average grade of just 44 percent. "Ordinary citizens" did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent. The average score for this quiz during November via the Internet was much better: 77.9%. My score: 93.94 % -- I missed two (I'm a history and politics nerd, in case you haven't noticed).
Back to European history...
70 years ago on November 9 and 10 was the start of one of the most famous pogroms in history: "Kristallnacht", literally "Crystal night" in English, or the Night of Broken Glass, in Nazi Germany. It is often called Novemberpogrom or Reichspogromnacht in German. On a single night, 92 Jews were murdered and 25,000–30,000 were arrested and deported to concentration camps. Kristallnacht saw the destruction of more than 200 synagogues and the ransacking of thousands of Jewish businesses and homes. It marked the beginning of the systematic eradication of a people who could trace their ancestry in Germany to Ancient Rome, a people who had been assimilated in Germany, serving in the German army and WWI, and contributing to every field of German science, business and culture. Neighbor turned against neighbor. Kristallnacht served as a prelude to the Holocaust that was to follow.
Stefan and I went to where the synagogue for Sinzig once stood, so we could light a candle in remembrance. Stefan discovered a web site early last year that helped us find this site. It's called Alemannia Judaica, and it details pre-WWII Jewish communities and culture in Germany. It's mostly in German, but using its English information, as well as an online translation program, I was able to find out about the Jewish communities of the area I live now.
Also see It Came From Within ... 70 Years Since Kristallnacht, an online exhibit by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.
I ask you, dear readers, to remember this awful event by thinking about the dangers of out-of-control nationalism and where it can lead. Remember that there are many different ways to love one's country and to be "patriotic." Remember that differences are worth celebrating and can make a country stronger. Remember there are pogroms happening right now in Sudan and Congo. And remember that silence means approval - speak out, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
Peace. Sa'lam. Shalom.
Speaking of pograms and a community's silence as approval...
I am often dumber than a box of hammers, or grossly naive, or both. I only found in November the the second largest Ku Klux Klan group in the USA is based on a 15-acre compound in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, 50 miles as the crow flies from my home town in Henderson, Kentucky. And I only found out because, in November, the Southern Poverty Law Center helped brought a successful suit against this particular KKK group -- a jury awarded $2.5 million in damages to a Kentucky teenager who was severely beaten by members of this terrorist group.
Now, call me crazy, but it seems to me that if a group of Muslim extremists had a 15-acre compound just 50 miles from Henderson, that would be really huge news in my home town newspaper, the Gleaner, and all of the local television stations (WFIE, WEHT, WEVV, WTVW). I'd hear about it regularly, because people would be continually terrified and outraged at such. There would be lots of gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair and what not. And if that Muslim group's members had beaten a Kentucky teenager, and then been successfully sued for all their assets, it would be HUGE news all over the local press in Henderson, Kentucky, and the outrage would be deafening.
Yet, there was no visible outrage in and around my hometown over the KKK at the back door. Not one person back home has ever mentioned to me the compound, nor this story. All I can find on the Gleaner/Courier web site search are two AP wire stories about the recent trial. Which doesn't even tell me if this story appeared in the Gleaner.
Having just observed the 70th anniversary of the horror of Kristallnacht, this revelation has cut me to the core. Where is the outrage from people that a terrorist group is just an hour's drive away?
I'm heart-broken over all the anti-gay propositions that passed across the USA, and profoundly disappointed at the people who claim to believe in equality and human rights who voted for such propositions.
There's a difference between civil marriage rights and religious marriage rites. Gays are fighting for civil marriage rights, as mixed race couples and divorced couples did in the past. Churches can keep doing whatever they want to do -- just as they do now.
When you get married to someone, you become a family of two (or more, if children are involved). Your marriage is a contract, creating a union that is recognized by the state no matter if you have children, and no matter if the union is recognized by any religious institution. Yes, that's right -- atheists and people who have no plans to have children have the right to marry in the USA (at least as of when I publish this blog). If one spouse ends up in the hospital, the other has full visitation rights that cannot be denied by anyone (not even parents, siblings or kids). If one spouse becomes unable to make decisions for him or herself, the spouse has the power to make those decisions. A husband or wife can provide health care coverage for his or her spouse. If one partner dies, the remaining spouse is responsible for making all funeral arrangements, and those arrangements cannot be over-ruled by anyone (not parents, siblings or kids). Upon death, the deceased spouse's estate becomes the property of the spouse left behind.
That's what it is to be married in the eyes of the state. That's what marriage is in the eyes of the LAW. And that's what gay people are fighting for.
When you vote against gay marriage to be recognized by the state, you are denying a person from visiting his or her partner in the hospital; if the hospital or the parents, siblings or kids of that person want to prevent the partner from visiting, they may do so (and it DOES happen). You are denying a person from making decisions for his or her partner if that person becomes incapacitated; the parents, siblings or kids of that person may make those decisions, and they may exclude the partner entirely (and it DOES happen). You are denying a person from playing a role in his or her partner's funeral; the parents, siblings or kids of that person may exclude a person entirely from the event (and it DOES happen). You are denying a person from accessing health care coverage through his or her partner. You are denying the validity of two people's contract with each other. You are denying them the rights and privileges that you obtain yourself when you say the words "I do" or "I will."
If you believe gay people live a sinful life, then join a religious community that affirms that belief and would never hold a ceremony honoring a gay union. Bring up your children to believe this. You don't ever have to think it's something your God would approve of. Lots of people think the same thing about divorced people, or people of different religions, or people of different ethnicities -- that they should never be able to marry. Back in the 1940s, my grandparents knocked on doors all over Henderson to try to find a religious figure who would marry them, because being married by a pastor was fundamentally important to them. Most people at that time didn't think they should marry, because they were both divorced -- but they were not barred by law from doing so and, thank goodness, they did find someone to perform the ceremony.
But to vote to bar gay marriage is to tell gay people that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution does not apply to them. It is profoundly un-American. The institution of marriage is something this atheist believes in very much, and I would never deny it to any two adults who love each other and are ready to enter into this profound, esteemed contract.
Keith Olbermann says it better than I ever could.
(By the way: in Germany, the only marriage recognized by the state is the civil marriage, officiated by a representative of the state. Having an additional religious ceremony is optional. Which one is considered the "real" marriage is up to the couple.)
I've been thinking a lot about elections of the past in the USA, and my reaction to them. I'm flooded with a lot of memories, and realizing that, when it comes to politics, I'm happiest when I'm trying to make a difference and get out the vote.
I was born when LBJ was President, but I don't remember him. I remember always hating Nixon, but I don't know how I figured out so young that he was evil, as my parents supported him -- I remember them defending him, and me thinking, wow, how scary that my own parents think this way! I was in the third grade -- 10 years old -- when Jimmy Carter was running for President, and covered my notebooks with "Carter for President" stickers. Where I got them, I don't know, as I don't think either of my parents supported him. He seemed so honest, so true, so good. I think he's still all that, actually...
I was devastated later when I was 14 and Ronald Reagan was elected; while my family celebrated, I cried. Kids at school knew better than to sing his praises around me; they knew they would be in for a heated debate that they would lose, badly -- and having nothing to defend their positions, they switched from debating to name-calling -- and the name they called me was always the same: "commie." I didn't wear my politics on my sleeve, but if the subject came up, I was never silent about where I stood. In my junior year history class, the teacher was trying to explain to the class that, no, contrary to what they thought, being on the political left did NOT automatically make someone evil. "Why, right here in your own class you have someone who is probably the most liberal person at our high school: Jayne Cravens!" I slunk down in my seat as far as I could go. She meant it as a compliment. But, ofcourse, it just lead to more "commie" comments.
During my university years, I was too busy trying to pass all my classes, to work enough hours to pay tuition and rent, and to deal with some horrific personal issues to be politically active, though I was only too acutely aware of the consequences of Reagan's attacks on women's reproductive rights and his excruciating silence about HIV and AIDS, two issues which profoundly affected my life then (and have continued to). After I left Kentucky, I volunteered a bit for a pro-choice organization in Connecticut and, later, a LOT for more two organizations in California. I loved staffing tables at public events (even after having my life threatened by an anti-Choice "Christian"), putting together a newsletter every other month and educating friends about what Reagan and, then the first Bush, were doing to women's rights. It was so easy to get not just Democrats but Republicans outraged about what was happening. A couple of people from where I worked -- both Republicans -- recognized me from TV (long story), and donated to one of the Pro-Choice groups I worked with as a result.
It was at this time I almost voted for a Republican: had the California Republicans chosen U.S. Representative Tom Campbell as their candidate for Senate, I would have voted for him instead of Barbara Boxer. I was ready to reward Tom Campbell for being a true moderate and a long-time Pro-Choice Republican. But the party went with anti-environment, anti-choice, far-right Bruce Herschensohn. And so, I've still never voted for a Republican.
I remember sitting around with a room full of people to watch the first Democratic candidate debate of 1980. We all had different candidates we were leaning towards, but by the end of the debate, there was no debate: we were all for Bill Clinton. And it was with great excitement we welcomed Bill Clinton into the White House. As Reagan's mountainous deficit shrank and his anti-choice policies were rolled back, I relaxed politically. And for that, I don't think I'll ever forgive myself. I moved to Texas and, though I volunteered a bit with the A HREF="http://www.tfn.org">Texas Freedom Network (Cecile Richards threw a t-shirt to me. That was cool.), I was too immersed in several personal issues to give thought to politics. I went to bed one night with Al Gore on his way to being President, and awoke the next day to find an election stolen. And as angry as I was at the perpetrators, I was mostly angry at myself, for not doing anything politically for so many years.
I was a huge Howard Dean supporter - he was the first candidate I've ever actively campaigned for. And when I'm back in the USA, I hope I can get more involved in elections than I ever have before. It's one of the reasons I'm so looking forward to getting back to the USA.
Books I was reading during this blawg (just one):
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