Monthly Archives: August 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. Had a Dream

Beyond the breaking news that the US is close to intervening in Syria, the country is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, August 28th 1963.  Yesterday a commemorative gathering was held on the Mall, before the Lincoln Memorial, the same location as Dr King chose long ago as center-stage for his campaign of non-violent protest to the plight of black Americans 100 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation liberated them from their shackles.

JOBS AND FREEDOM

Over 200,000 people – 2/3s of them black, the rest white – arrived in Washington, not to burn down the capital but to set hearts and minds aflame for the just cause of equal rights for all. Jobs and Freedom was their cry, a modest demand in the home of the brave and land of the free. Yet it had still not materialized for the portion of the population who happened to be born with a different shade of skin.

HE HAD A DREAM

Dr Martin Luther King Jr,  a 34 year-old Baptist preacher and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, didn’t hold a speech. No, he preached a sermon that every American needed to hear. I watched a recording of it last night and it gave me goosebumps. He departed from his written speech to hold forth eloquently about his American dream. And that dream was inconceivable in 1963. Here, the relevant portion:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.

Fifty years later great progress has been achieved. However, speaking at yesterday’s gathering, the black sports star Bill Russell admonished his audience not to rest on past achievements. He told listeners not to measure progress by how far we’ve come but by how far we still need to go.

There is much truth in that, however, it seems to me so much has been achieved that it must be acknowledged as a major miracle.

RETRACTION

I feel a great need to retract a statement that I made as a reply to a comment on my last (guest) post on Italian politics. I agreed with Alison that we were powerless to have any affect on what’s going on around us on a national or international level; that yes, it probably didn’t matter much whether we knew what’s going on in the world or not.

After revisiting the events of 1963, I must retract those views. If those black and white individuals had not been determined to change their world, blacks would still be living the lives of semi-slaves and whites would be the perpetrators. I am so grateful to those people who had the courage to march and to protest non-violently despite police brutality, who weren’t satisfied to sit on their couches and live with the world as it was. Thank you for changing our perceptions. Thank you for proving that the actions of individuals do count.

Do we not owe it to them – and to ourselves – not to relinquish our responsibilities, not to disenfranchise ourselves? Because if we do not participate on some level in making our society a better place for all, we have little right to damn the Germans in the twenties and thirties for allowing a Hitler to happen.

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Filed under American history, civil rights, Remembering

Italian Politics – And the Beat Goes On and On….

I do apologize for blogging two days in a row, but my expat friend and Italy expert Nic Mudie stuck this piece in as a comment on a post. So thought I’d better put it where it belongs.

Here’s a new one for your Italian file, straight from the online pages of the Economist and the FT:

Burly Boy with his three governments has had, including a full 5 yr term, more opportunity to begin to set things aright in Italy than anybody else ( see below) .. The fact that he has not done so, is a not very handsome tribute to the political naivety of the Italians. He’s not the disease – just a symptom ; not that those can’t be nasty. Unfortunately there are still 10 million voters out there with the attention span of a gnat and the appetites and morals of a 14 yr old feral child. It beggars belief that some quite intelligent women are to be found in his political ( not domestic ) entourage . Maybe this is a comment on the misogynistic dinosaurs of the left, so the Gelminis, Santachès of this world can only have a political future as a Burly Boy handmaiden. It should be perfectly obvious but obviously is not , even to the self styled bien pensants , in Italy.that the constitution needs changing; especially re the senate and that the electoral law needs changing. Of all European nations Italy has the highest paid politicians and the greatest number of governments since 1945 (65 in all) and still counting (one lasted 9 days , two the eternity that is 11 days and two 12 days) . On the other hand it is quite possibly the worst run country in group that is much wider than just Europe. The conclusion that the entire polity, which was set up with the excesses of Fascism on the one hand and the fear of communist takeover in mind, needs a complete change is not one that most Italians seem able to draw. Until they do this mess will persist.

Tomorrow is the last, last well almost the last last for the last time critical day for Burly boy and his garden gnome plus Alpha No to see sense and realise that some kind of property tax is required. Otherwise 10 yr. spreads against 10 yr Bunds are going stratospheric as we look forward to an expensive, uncalled-for early election.

Gee, hope you all understood Nic’s cryptic message!

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Filed under Fiction and Other Truths, Italy, Politics

Buffalo, New York – Armpit of the East?

Trimmed with art-deco

  Buffalo’s art-deco City Hall stands proud on the skyline

Today your intrepid blogger is checking in with you from her hometown, Buffalo, New York. Situated on Lake Erie, Buffalo was once home to prosperous steel, car and flour milling industries. It succumbed to the changing fortunes of those manufacturers, caused by the rise of new technologies and foreign competition.

The city was relegated, along with many other American cities, to the ranks of the Rust Belt. It became the brunt of endless jokes, my favorite (if I’m allowed one) comes up in the musical A Chorus Line. When one of the dancers confesses that when living in Buffalo, he was so depressed he considered killing himself. But he soon realized:  Committing suicide in Buffalo was redundant.

This is my first visit “home” in about 16 years and it’s given me the opportunity to counter some of this bad press. Buffalo ain’t what it used to be. It’s bouncing back, re-creating itself in a 21st century incarnation that will – hopefully – equip it for sustained growth in this still-young millennium.

Today I had the privilege of being taken on a guided tour by a native Buffalonian Booster who showed us where the city was heading.  And I am talking about serious inner-city redevelopment. Our guide, Peter Z, told us the mantra is Med/ Ed.

Several world-reknowned medical research enterprises have led the way by building state-of-the-art facilities in Buffalo’s city center. The University of Buffalo is boldly following suit and also moving its medical campus downtown. The face of the city is being tranformed.

Introducing students to the area – moving them in from the suburban campuses – brings in fresh young blood. It’s not unknown for students from elsewhere to graduate and stay to settle down in there newly acquired hometown.

These developments reflect the daunting challenge facing every city in every country in the developed world: demographics. A population increasingly suffering from diseases that typically afflict the ageing will require more medical facilities and research to better fight those ailments. Jobs in the medical care professions are bound to proliferate.

As we cruised along streets lined with old factories, we were confronted by buildings impressively rejuvenated to house offices and lofts and the amenities needed to serve the inhabitants. There are still many more properties requiring the same treatment, but the word on the street is that real estate prices are rising as we speak.

Meanwhile down on the waterfront, the decaying harbor facilities necessary for Buffalo’s once-thriving industrial life are being aggressively replaced by water-side promenades and gardens to create leisure options for all of those professionals now working – and even living – downtown.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

NO MORE ARMPIT

Optimism is the word to describe the smell of the air in Buffalo these days. Although it may still have a long road to travel to regain its former glory and affluence, the city is well on its way. I wish it well on its odyssey.

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Filed under Beginnings, Cities

The Wall – Anti-Semitic?

Just a quickie here to comment on the concert critique published in our regional rag, The Wiesbadener Kurier. The author was not at all taken by Roger Waters’ opinions as presented in his rock opera. The critic judged it to be anti-Semitic. It strikes me he wasn’t paying attention.

In my opinion, Waters’ work shows a total lack of deference for whom he is prepared to slate. For he doesn’t limit his criticism to the Jews. All three “Great” Religions are denounced as warmongers, along with Big Business and Big Ideologies. In fact, he liberally hits any establishment force we can think of. It would be more correct to label him an anti-Faschist and anti-Communist, but as an over-all label, anti-warmonger fits best.

When we consider that he wrote the work in 1977, it is astonishing how valid it still is – and disturbing. Nothing has changed in thirty-six years. Only that perhaps we are now less innocent than we were in the seventies and eighties. I know, at least, that is true in my private world.

How do you see it?

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THE WALL – ROGER WATERS IN FRANKFURT

ImageImage

All week the radio stations hyped the event. Last night it happened: Roger Waters and his crew staged a magnificent performance of THE WALL.

The music was as powerful as when first released in 1979. Live performances of the full-blown rock opera have been infrequent, thus making the Frankfurt gig a rare gem in the year’s schedule of big name appearances.

The special effects – light, sound and visuals – were stunning. The droning airplanes and thwacking helicopters, the crashing bombs and the flak artillery, were not only loud. You felt them shake the arena; your internal organs vibrated along.  They even flew a real airplane through the air to explode into the stage.

With all this sound and fury, it must be noted that this is an anti-war message par excellance.  Waters protests against the wanton destruction of individual human beings and their worlds with anger and irony. One bit of graffiti on the wall: “If at first you don’t succeed, call an airstrike.”  Waters takes to task every element of our society responsible for causing war: the three big religions, political ideologies and big business. Symbols of these forces fall as payloads from bombers, causing death and destruction as they hit the ground.

Behind the anti-war message lies Waters’ own private demons: the death of his father who he never knew in WWII, abuse by bullying teachers at school, an over-protective mother and his divorce.

This statement on the wall, however, conveyed Roger Waters’ entire message to me in three words: FEAR BUILDS WALLS. I couldn’t help but think of my own small-scale, non-explosive creative efforts. In THE PEACE BRIDGE Hannah Zimmer fights to bring down the wall of silence that her family has built around the past. Fear built that wall, too. Like Hannah and Waters’ protagonist, Pink, we each have demons that haunt us and make us fear what we are walling in. Or walling out.

Were you there last night? If so, what did you think?

BTW: The performance deserves better photos! Sorry I couldn’t deliver.

 

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Filed under Fiction and Other Truths, Great Britain, Poetry, Politics, Remembering, Rock Music

“Make Me a German” on the BBC

Last night I watched the third and final episode of BBC2’s  Germany series. After dealing with German cars (a German’s favorite child) and then German cooking, they got down to brass tacks: Why is Germany more successful than Britain?

To find the answer they sent Justin and Bee Rowlatt and two of their children to Nuremberg to live for two weeks as Germans live. All fine so far. Except two weeks is no where near long enough to make anything but superficial generalizations. For Justin, a BBC journalist who took up a job in a pencil factory, it seemed to be a great adventure. He investigated what makes a German worker more efficient and more satisfied than a Brit.

For Bee, stuck at home with her two youngest children, it seemed a drag. I’ve just read about her on her blog (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/posts/Make-Me-A-German) and although she is half German, she had never lived there. She reckoned she was “predisposed” to liking what she saw, but it didn’t seem to me to be the case. The attempts to do everything that the average German does in a day or week left her wanting in the cleaning area. It’s a shame to have reduced “being a German Hausfrau” to the amount of time spent on housekeeping, laundry and cooking. There’s only so much of it in a two-bedroom apartment that’s only yours for two weeks.

Bee was greatly impressed with the Waldkindergarten that her 4-year-old attended but had no comprehension of why so many mothers stayed home not only with the under-threes but also with older children . She soon learned why: short school hours and no provision for nurseries for the under-threes. Everything in the system is geared to stay-at-home moms.

Of course, she was in Bavaria, the most conservative and Catholic Bundesland in the country. While Germany has just passed the deadline set for creating sufficient nursery capacities for a third of all children aged 1 and two, the Bavarian sister party to the national Christian Democrats blackmailed the federal government into paying mothers “care money” for staying home and minding their children there. To use Bavaria as a measure for all of Germany was perhaps a poor choice.

I’ve raised three children through the Kindergarten and school system in Germany and I was continually annoyed about so many aspects that they hold dear. To broach those issues would turn this blog post into an entire book. Suffice to say that since I had my kids in the system, the various counties and Bundesländer (the federal states are responsible for education policies – that means 16 different school systems!) have made huge (by their standards) strides forward. Kindergärten have become all-day affairs if you need it. Many elementary schools offer care till late afternoon. They call these all-day schools. However, the afternoons are not given over to class lessons. The kids are offered some crafts and sports options as well as help with their homework. It certainly isn’t a perfect solution but it’s progress nonetheless.

Going back briefly to my own experience: Firstly, we had kids because we wanted a family. What’s the point of giving birth only to drop the kid off at the child-minder for the first five years till school starts? There wasn’t a job out there (that I was qualified to do) that would have tempted me to leave my kids regularly with someone else. Especially since, as non-Germans, we had no family here to support our child-rearing. Most of our friends did have parents or siblings nearby to jump in when needed. Many moms did go out and do part-time jobs because they wanted to or had to.

Secondly, the system here is such that all sports, music and whatever extracurricular activities are all run independently of the schools by clubs and take place in the afternoon. Thus I spent my afternoons driving my kids to music lessons, football training, tennis, horse-back riding, judo, etc. If I’d had a full-time – or even a part-time job, who would have done that?

Bee and Justin’s experiment was a noble one. It was no doubt interesting to British audiences  to have a look at how Herr & Frau Durchschnitt (average) live. How much the Brits can learn from it about competing with the Germans is a different question. I am left questioning the validity and value of many of their conclusions. In the end the Brits have to find their own modus vivendi.

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Filed under Gender Questions, German History, Great Britain, Parenting