oddly enough, USA

Why Americans should not be allowed to travel…

from tauquil.com: travel agents speak out: why americans should never be allowed to travel. One reason –

A man called, furious about a Florida package we did. I asked what was wrong with the vacation in Orlando. He said he was expecting an ocean-view room. I tried to explain that is not possible, since Orlando is in the middle of the state. He replied, “Don’t lie to me. I looked on the map and Florida is a very thin state.”

photoblogging, US Politics, USA

More Texan-friendliness.


I had heard of http://www.sorryeverybody.com/gallery/single/se24.jpg/ before, but I had not seen the site until today. As opposed to the reason for its existence, it is really good fun. And in light of this blog’s recently re-discovered Texan-friendliness, I just had to reassure the lady above that while Europeans are religiously deprived and accordingly morally depraved, we are also, as prominently pointed out by Robert Kagan, generally rather too quiet and peaceful. Moreover, while many of us would love to, we have been taught by history not to play around with long-distance missiles just for fun…

oddly enough, US Politics, USA

An Ambigous Tour Of The Oval Office.

More people than usual are concerned about the quality of the administrational work done by elected officials these days. Domestic German examples abound and include the recent scandal surrounding the “world’s most advanced vehicle toll system”, which is so advanced it has to be protected by not deploying it; and, of course, by a 1700-pages contract that, with hindsight, should alarm Brussels because, to me, it looks like a bad example of how to grant hidden subventions to national industrial champions.

In the US, on top of all the credibility problems, the administration has to fight different, but equally embarrassing issues of quality management. With regard to the story of the day, a voodoo finance concept to save the (also demographically challenged) US social security (pension) system, Matthew Yglesias claims that the problem is inherent, that this Presidency is all about abiguity.

Note that the president’s habit of proposing not actual legislation, but rather vague “principles” that tell no one anything about anything is quite systemic. … People on the Hill have literally no idea what the president thinks about this or, really, any other issue. Apparently the White House staff doesn’t know either – the speechwriters just write stuff and the president says it and no one knows what anyone’s talking about.

I’ve always said that too many people are probably underestimating Mr Bush. And maybe that is still correct. But, then again, “maybe” may not be sufficient with respect to defining the political guidelines of the most important polity on the planet.

Let me invite you to the White House oval office for some first hand, apparently only slightly edited streaming evidence, provided by President Bush himself. It’s a document that is, in my opinion, rather illuminating about the character of his presidency. It is oscillating between moments of rather informed historic comment, Cowboy paintings and marvel Bushisms. It seems that indeed, the ambiguity we can witness on tv each day is not simply in policies or PR.

Seriously, what is one to think of a President who can in one moment rather precisely explain historical details and in the next moment go on to state that “these windows are magnificient – they let in the sunlight…” – in this strangely clumsy manner we had to witness so many times.

Well, I don’t know.

compulsory reading, Germany, USA

Sophie and Hans Scholl, Our Best.

I’m still not writing much these days because of my broken elbow, but today I just had to say something. Today, Papascott links to Bill Dawson, a US expat, living in and blogging from Vienna, who has written a wonderful post about Sophie Scholl and others who lost their lives in the almost hopeless struggle for human decency during the Nazi regime. For all of you who might not know how and why Sophie Scholl died, I’ll quote from Bill’s post –

“A man lifted her small body and placed it flat on a platform, and a blade from high above came crashing down and severed her twenty-one year-old head from her twenty-one year-old body. Yes, she died on the Guillotine, as did her brother and a close friend on that same day. Her murderers are well-known to us: Die Geheime Staatspolizei, the Secret State Police, the Gestapo. Sophie Scholl was a young lady both of words and of action. She was arrested with her brother Hans on February 18, 1943, one day after that final letter of hers cited above. Their friend Christoph Probst was arrested soon thereafter, and all three were murdered on the same day, February 22, 1943. The Gestapo, though they didn’t know precisely who their prey was, had been hunting them for some time, because leaflets from a group calling itself Die Weisse Rose, the White Rose, had been distributed on multiple occasions in Munich and other cities since the second-half of 1942. On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie Scholl were observed by a custodian of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich as they quickly distributed leaflets inside an otherwise empty hall of the university. This “loyal” janitor, Jakob Schmied, raised the alarm, and the resistance movement called the White Rose came to an end.”

Bill’s post comes as a reply to the least creative Kraut Bashing article I have come across in quite some time, written by a certain Ralph Peters for the New York Post, the newspaper which started the sophisticated “Axis of Weasels” campaign back in February. On the surface, Mr Peters is concerned with the bulls**t talk given on October 3rd by soon to be former CDU MP Martin Hohmann, but the gist of his argument can safely be induced from the following statement –

“The whopping difference between the Allied occupation of Germany and our occupation of Iraq is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis welcomed their liberation. We had to force freedom and democracy on the Germans at gunpoint.”

Tell that to my mother and my father, who, just like millions of other German kids, took chocolate bars from GIs. Anyway, Mr Peters’ article is not worthy of any extended refutation, which is the only objection I have with respect to Bill Dawson’s otherwise great post – he tries to rationlize Peters’ article by explaining that –

“[i]t’s the disgusting mindlessness of anti-Americanism here in Europe that offends Peters, myself and many others and which makes us want to hit back. With this gargantuan post I simply mean to show that one can both express disgust and disapproval towards the mindlessness here in Europe and at the same time recognize that the condition is not entirely universal.”

Here I can’t quite follow. By putting his post in this context, by saying that there are exceptions to the “current mindlessness of anti-Americanism” in Europe just like Sophie Scholl was an exception to the appaling cowardice that held this country, and much of Europe, in grip during the Third Reich, he – I am almost certain accidentally – gives the impression that these two things were actually comparable – which could not be further from the truth.

Last Friday, ZDF tv broadcast “Unsere Besten” (“our best”), the local version of a BBC programme, that allowed tv viewers to cast votes for 300 “cultural Germans”, including celebrity PR nominations like “German Idol” juror Dieter Bohlen, who was ranked 30th, but excluding Hitler and those in his gang. Sophie and her brother Hans made it to the top ten shortlist from which “the best” German will be chosen, once more fulfilling Thomas Mann’s prediction that one day Germany would build monuments to commemorate the courage of these young people – although putting them on the shortlist of a meaningless tv show was probably not what they had in mind.

Just as the other nominees, from Albert Einstein to Johann Sebastian Bach, Sophie and Hans Scholl were primarily exceptional humans, not Germans. But there is something about them that stands out. Something that Bill captures rather well by saying –

“[W]e tend to learn about such people – who by all accounts seem fairly normal to their contemporaries – only via extraordinary circumstances. Were it not for the fact that she lived – and died – when she did, she may never have become so remarkable that we would know anything at all about her today.”

More than for anyone on the list, for Sophie and Hans Scholl, just as for those whom they represent in our collective memory, being exceptional humans meant being exceptional Germans. They were truly “our best”. So go and vote for them. I did.

Germany, USA

A Friend in Need.

Markus of Dormouse Dreaming points to a comment by Richard Cohen, published today in the Washington Post. Mr Cohen is apparently travelling in Germany these days and his observations made him write a manual for future American administrations about “how to loose a friend.” While his observations are certainly accurate –

“… the indulgence that was granted other presidents is not offered Bush. It is his manner, his rhetoric, his bristling unilateralism that make the United States not so much an exceptional nation but a nation that demands exceptions [very well put, the ed.]. … With the collapse of the Soviet Union, German-American relations were bound to change. The common enemy was gone. But whatever differences were going to emerge have been exacerbated by the Bush administration’s haughty and abrasive style. Might may make right but, as America will discover when it needs them, it does not make friends.”

I would not yet say that Germany has been lost as a friend of the US yet. Although it has taken quite some time for the American administration to understand that when forced to choose between France and the US, it would certainly choose France.

With respect to Mr Cohen’s column, Markus is predominantly concerned About his interpretation of a bizarre, inconclusive poll saying that 20% of Germans believe that the official version of the events of 911 *could* not be the real one, and who do *not rule out* the possibility of American governmental involvement. By contrast, I am not concerned about this at all. And I don’t think this number would have been significantly lower without the American administration preemptively following Mr Cohen’s cliff notes about how to diss old Europe.

I have already written about the possible beneficial effects of intelligent conspiracy theories as well as the dead weight loss of stupid ones when I met a Japanese actress last year who explained to me that the Nazis were actually alien-run puppets – and she wasn’t kidding.

“Now you might reply that conspiracy theories can be valuable – some sort of intellectual modelling, an intelligent fictional exercise trying to identify fundamental causes behind the events that shape the world in our framed perception – even though evidently wrong, most of the times. But the important part of the last argument is intelligent – unintelligent conspiracy theories simply are pulp fiction. Moreover, unintelligent conspiracy theories are plainly dangerous, because they appear to be no longer checks and balances to a possibly framed official version of history but ot have become a “Matrix” themselves.”

Sure. But even unintelligent ones serve a purpose: when seemingly isolated events seem to shape history, many people will turn to conspiracy theories because they offer the comfort of some kind of deductive logic within their framework when the alternative would be to accept the rough, dark truth that chaos rules, that some mad individuals can change the world, and threaten our way of life, simply by using carpet knives, hijack some planes, and crash them into the World Trade Center.

As for the 20% who “want to believe” – of course I can’t prove this for no one will have a time series about the number of people (or Germans) who contemplate about the possibility of an American administration using force against its own people because of some secret agenda – I suggest that it is predominantly the discourse, and the tone, that have changed. Suddenly some people get offered microphones who did not before – this, of course, is a direct consequence of the current transatlantic communicative problems.

An American friend once told me that it is a mark of good manners “to say nothing, if you can’t say something nice”. Maybe less people would look for explanations that vilify President Bush and his team had they practiced abstinence as much as they preach it…

Iraq, quicklink, USA

Deserting a professional army?

Apparently, the number of deserters in the US army has been increasing for some years now.. Not surprising, one might be tempted to say, given the rising number of foreign deployments. But then again – maybe I am not getting this – but why would anyone desert in a professional army? Isn’t serving in a professional army like any other employment? Why “desert” when one could simply quit?