1. A friend of mine lives in Mexico, because his wife is unable to get healthcare in the United States.  Don’t ask.  You’ll just get me started on the American decision to allow corporations to profit off of visits to a doctor, and that’s a misery for another day.  For now, let me address the distress he’s going through.  He’s been spending much of his retirement time yacking it up with a bunch of other retirees who gather each week to discuss politics.  I love the idea of lifetime geezer education, so I’ve been inclined to cheer them on from afar.  Problem is, though, they seem to be so dispirited by the endless stream of bad news from Washington that they’re actually thinking of disbanding.

    My heart goes out to them.  I wonder if I’d keep coming back week after week to rehash the latest illustration of how America is making an ass of itself before all the world.  The problem of greed behind it all.  Our talent for generating great wealth, and then making sure it stays in the hands of bankers and CEOs and not too much spills over to the hoi polloi who will just squander it on bread and circuses.

    Besides our greed problem, there’s also the fact that we seem to be unable to think in terms of both/and.  Instead, it’s either/or.  Take the White Christian people, for example.  They started the place; shouldn’t they own it?  Many of them seem to think so.  Instead now there are non-whites everywhere you look, and some of them are even transgendered.

    Here’s the problem.  We couldn’t figure out how to manage the rise of the have-nots without the white people haves having to let go of all the goodies they had acquired by getting here first.  So we picked a man to be president who we thought would make sure that wouldn’t happen.  At least he could slow the process down.

    I wish I hated America, so I could have a good belly laugh at all this.  But I don’t laugh at people falling down the stairs and I don’t laugh at people shooting themselves in the foot. And when you ask young people on the street who we fought the Revolutionary War with and they answer Russia, I don’t laugh, either.  Ignorance makes me sad.  That’s why I became a teacher, because I saw ordinary common ignorance as something that was fixable. 

    Some kinds of ignorance, of course, I just can’t help myself.  Like watching Pat Robertson (may he live forever) with his predictions that hurricanes will hit the coast of North Carolina because there are lesbians running loose in California.  Or Jim Bakker urging his Christian flock to recycle his potato soup buckets into elimination buckets.  No kidding.  Have a look here

    Putting Trump and his men in charge of the henhouse is that kind of ignorance.  We once taught kids to think logically.  "A is bigger than B.  B is bigger than C.  Therefore A is bigger than C."  Today it's "Politicians are all bad.  Trump's not a politician. Therefore, Trump is good."

    Inner city schools are a mess.  The solution?  Logically, replace them with charter schools. Appoint a billionaire friend who has dedicated her life to destroying the public school system to head up the Department of Education.  Killing two birds with one stone.  She can dismantle the Department of Education at the same time.  What happens to the kids we can't fit into the charter schools?  Look, I can't fix everything.

    Solve the “too big to fail” banking problem by appointing Steve Mnuchin, former executive at Goldman Sachs to Secretary of the Treasury.  It appears that Trump's promised "draining of the swamp" (getting rid of corrupt politicians) means putting the people that corrupted the politicians in the first place in his Cabinet, cutting out the middle man.  Logical.

    I can't handle the news anymore.  Every morning it's another outrage.  The accumulation of corporatist millionaires (what am I saying - billionaires!) in the new ruling oligarchy known as Trump's cabinet.  This morning there was a petition being passed around from a friend of mine in New York protesting the need for New Yorkers to foot a million dollars a day so that Mrs. Trump and her son can stay in the tacky gold tower they're used to.  Wouldn't do to have to move to that dump on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.  Not when you can stick the sucker-taxpayers for the rent to stay where you are!

    It's called the new reality.  And I'm still getting word from my sister that God has answered her prayers by putting Trump in the White House.  She gets her information from Billy Graham's little boy, Franklin, so she knows it's good information.  Like so many other evangelicals, the folks now fixing to dismantle Medicare and raid the Social Security coffers to the benefit of the superrich have figured out these are single-issue voters who can be had simply by promising to repeal Roe v. Wade. And making sure their leaders keep them informed as to God's will.

    Just don't know what to do.   I can't live with this much depression.  But I can't shake it, either.  Got to get back to normal.  Got to find a way not to take this in and make it feel like such a personal attack.  Not doing well at all.

    Wish I could watch Trump piss off China by talking with Taiwan and laugh.  Laugh at watching that Carson bozo take on the country’s big city mayors as head of Housing and Urban Development. Laugh as Trump backs another truckload of alligators up to the swamp he promised American suckers he would drain.

    I’m going to suggest to my friend in Mexico that they rename themselves the Resisters of Rosarito Discussion Group.  Sticking your head (my head - obviously I'm talking to myself here first and foremost) in the ground will not satisfy.  It will only allow the pain to dig in and fester.  There has to be resistance.  Catharsis never comes with denial.

    If you’re not going to fight, what are you going to do? 

    Seriously.  What to do?  I am a fan of Robert Reich, whom I see in Indian restaurants here in Berkeley from time to time when he's not on YouTube urging people to organize and fight back. And of Elizabeth Warren.  And Van Jones is out there beating the pavements once again.  And of course, there's Bernie Sanders, who just keeps on running like an old Model T.  Love that guy.

    But organizing and fighting back, for me, are easier said than done. I live in California. Do I knock on doors or join a telephone bank to get my democratic neighbors to vote for electors who are guaranteed to vote democratic already?  Do I join the secession movement? Do I move to Wyoming or North Dakota where my vote will have a greater influence on the Electoral College?

    Do I pay more attention to what’s happening across the pond in Europe and Britain?  Keep abreast of Geert Wilders in Holland, Marine le Pen in France?  Austria narrowly escaped electing a fascist head of state in this week's election, but nobody thinks the winner can hold out against them forever.  Hungary is already in the hands of a thug who is systematically dismantling the courts and oversight bodies..  Germany is struggling with a cross between the Tea Party and a Trump Rebellion in the “Alternative for Germany” Party, which only won 4.7% of the national vote in the 2013 election (and therefore was not entitled to any seats because the country has a 5% minimum requirement).  Three months ago, however, they were able to gain recognition in ten of Germany's sixteen state parliaments.   

    All part of the same Trump show.  The legitimate gripes by the have-nots against the wealth generators who have not figured out how to distribute the wealth equitably.

    My friends, many of them, insist I need to get away from the computer and cultivate my own garden.  Problem with that is that in this age of connection, the national garden is our own garden. Another alternative, also common among my friends, and one which I lean toward quite strongly, is to kvetch. Sit hour after hour at the computer and keep track of all the injustices and shout OUCH day after day after day. At least it relieves some of the pressure.

    Big news here in the East Bay this week is the fire in East Oakland.  Death count is now up to 34.  The artsy-fartsy crowd without a pot to piss in can’t afford the $2500 a month rent in Oakland (It’s $3500 across the Bay in San Francisco), so they gather together in death traps.  All part of the same problem.  The wealth generated locally by Silicon Valley is great for those who can afford the two, three, five, ten-million dollar homes you see advertised everyday in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Not so great on an artist’s income.  Haves, superhaves, and have-nots.  At least we're not at each other's throats yet.

    Democracy?  Pretty much gone.  Vulture capitalism is still alive, but the natives are getting restless.

    The stock market is at an all-time high.

    I think I’ll do Christmas this year.



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  2. The Viking Ship Oseberg, Viking Ship Museum
    I have about half a dozen blog entries started that I can’t get off the ground.  They’re all the same, basically.  They range from rage to sorrow, but they all touch on the American decision to turn our backs on the fight against racism, sexism and homophobia, government by oligarchy and destruction of the environment. Complete with illustrations ad nauseam of foxes being assigned to run the new Hen House.  Depressing as shit on wheels.

    So I went out to our storage shed this morning and began a reorganization of the clutter.  Just the thing, I thought, to get me away from the computer and the relentless beating of my head against a brick wall of bad news.  Time to move the arms and legs, that little voice said.  Time to fix what you have the power to fix and leave the rest to others for a while.

    Perspective.  That’s what’s always missing when you find yourself getting depressed, the voice said.  You need to stretch your attention across something wider, something deeper.  Get some historical perspective, for example.  

    So I let my mind wander.  Free associate.  I found a box of Christmas stuff and suddenly the melody to “O wie wohl ist mir am Abend” came to me.   Don’t know why.  It’s not a Christmas song.  It’s a round I sang with my grandmother as a kid.  You may know it as “Oh, how lovely is the evening.”  I found it on YouTube with three young people I take to be Americans singing it for no apparent reason, not particularly well and mispronouncing the German. They are in Thailand, evidently, just to round out the bits of information of no consequence.  Just three people singing.  Just what the doctor ordered.

    In this case the doctor would seem to be my grandmother.  She had a thing for singing.  She had gone through the hell of the First World War, losing a husband and having to farm a daughter out to her sister to raise so she (the daughter, my mother) would have enough to eat.  Then she gave up her homeland and lived forever caught between Germany, the land of her birth and America, her chosen home.  When in one of those places, she was usually homesick for the other.  Spent a ton of money visiting the Heimat, back in the day when you had to go by ship.  She was a stewardess on the Hamburg-Amerika Line back before the Second World War and jumped ship in New York to be with my mother again.  When the war came, there she was, an illegal German alien in America.  She was arrested for being a spy and taken to Washington for trial, where they soon realized what they had on their hands was a German Hausfrau who loved to cook and sing and knew precious little about politics.  

    “Wherever you are in the world,” she told me more than once, “if you’re ever lost and confused, find your way to where people are singing and you will be all right.”

    My grandmother anchors me to Germany and the European continent.  In 1960 I went to Germany to study, and found myself digging into the history of the Third Reich as taught by German professors at the University of Munich, and attending lectures by concentration camp survivors.  My cognitive dissonance (how do good people do such bad things?) started early on.

    It’s helping, I think, to consider what people have been through and survived.  I know lots of people are saying this is the end of the world, or at least a setback so severe that we will not see the end of it in our lifetimes.  But it’s useful to take note of the marvelous place that Germany is today, and appreciate how it is possible to recover from disaster. 

    1945 was hardly the first time they had to pick up the pieces after a disaster.  Religious Wars.  The Bubonic Plague.  The Inquisition.  Times when people probably didn't feel much like singing.

    If you are a speaker of English or another Germanic language, it's useful, I think, in searching for perspective, to take a look at what is essentially family history.  Today we sit around the table at Thanksgiving with Trump supporters, some of us.  At some point in the past, though, family included Vikings, Goths (Ostro- and Visi-), Huns, Nazis, Crusaders and a whole bunch of other seriously brutal folk.  (And maybe not all that bad, actually, but that is a subject for another day.) We survived them.  We will survive these guys who are, let’s admit it, pretty mild by comparison.  Throwing the weak among us under the bus isn’t quite as bad as raping and pillaging entire villages, after all. (Unless it's you going under the bus, of course.)

    And we know that all the while this pillaging was going on, somewhere people were singing.  We know this because the words the Vikings and the Huns and the rest of the Germanic people used are still here, with their shared grammar (using ablauts to make the past tense and the past participle) and with only minor differences among them:

    English: sing/sang/sung
    German: singen/sang/gesungen
    Icelandic: sing/söng/sungið
    Dutch: zing/zong/gezongen
    Norwegian: synge/sang/sunget
    Danish: sing/sang/sunget
    Swedish: sjunga/sjöng/sjungit
    Frisian: sing/sang/songen

    Things could be a lot worse.  I know, because I have not felt the need to pull out Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing the four last songs of Richard Strauss just yet.  That's my go-to when all else fails.  That and macadamia nuts and white chocolate.  And Bratwurst and German-fried potatoes.

    Here's the last of the four songs, which is a poem by Josef von Eichendorff.

    Wir sind durch Not und Freude
    gegangen Hand in Hand;
    vom Wandern ruhen wir beide
    nun überm stillen Land.
    Rings sich die Täler neigen,
    es dunkelt schon die Luft.
    Zwei Lerchen nur noch steigen
    nachträumend in den Duft.
    Tritt her und lass sie schwirren,
    bald ist es Schlafenszeit.
    Dass wir uns nicht verirren
    in dieser Einsamkeit.
    O weiter, stiller Friede!
    So tief im Abendrot.
    Wie sind wir wandermüde--
    Ist dies etwa der Tod?
    Through sorrow and joy
    we have gone hand in hand;
    from our wanderings, we will rest
    in this quiet land.
    Around us, the valleys bow,
    the air is now darkening.
    Only two larks soar upwards
    dreamily into the haze.
    Come close, and let them twitter,
    soon it will be time for sleep -
    so that we don't get lost
    in this solitude.
    O vast, tranquil peace,
    so deep in the sunset!
    How weary we are of wandering--
    Is this perhaps death?

    It's in virtually every soprano's repertoire, I imagine.  I'm partial to Schwarzkopf's version, but can't find one to link to that is live, and I hate staring at a record label while listening to music. So here's Kiri Te Kanawa's version, which is available online with her performing it live.  A pretty good second, in my estimation.  And I'm so glad she's wearing the kitchen curtains, like Carol Burnett did ("I saw them in the window and couldn't resist") in my favorite skit of hers, the takeoff on Gone with the Wind.

    I can't take this music straight.  Too powerful for me.  So glad she provided this distraction to keep me from spilling over.

    It's the music I'd like to go to, eventually.

    Fear not.  I'm nowhere near ready to cash in my chips just yet.  Just want to get things lined up for when the time comes.

     picture credits:



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  3. Dear Ms. Garchik:

    Your column this morning, entitled "When your side takes a licking," begins:

    The task before us is to shed the us-versus-them mind-set.  The election is over, and unification is needed.  When we get down to specifics, political differences are mere skirmishes.  Americans, let us go forth to bridge the divide between ice cream lovers who prefer mint chip and those who prefer Chunky Monkey.

    I agree with you on the importance of bridging divides.  But in this case, we're talking not about two divides, but three.   And it's not mint chip, Chunky Monkey and strawberry.

    I believe the majority of Americans who need to channel their anger and come together fall into three camps.  In one camp are the serious Trump supporters who carried the day. And by "serious" I mean those with a gripe against "the system," "the elites," "the 1%", or however you characterize them.  I'm not talking about the white supremacists Hillary was referring to when she used the word "deplorables."  Frankly, I don't know how you reach these people.  In the second camp are the Bernie Sanders supporters who were underestimated and shut out by their Democratic Party leaders.  And the third camp consists of the mainstream Democrats who fell in behind Hillary, who tried to sell her as the lesser of two evils, but couldn't pull it off.  Three groups means we need three bridges.  Fine.  Let's get to it.

    But your suggestion that the differences are "mere skirmishes" makes me wonder if you've been paying attention to what all sides agree was the dirtiest political campaign in modern American history.  When one side says the the American way is to grant all citizens full rights regardless of race, creed or ethnicity and the other side says a man cannot be a judge because his parents are Mexican, that is not a skirmish.  It's a confrontation between the rule of law and bigotry.

    The incoming Vice-President posted on his web page the view that "Congress should oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriages," while the majority of Americans rejoiced at the Supreme Court decision to grant same-sex marriages, noting the discrimination against gays in the past.  That too is not a skirmish.  It's a confrontation between a historically oppressed minority of American citizens and a man who would call that oppression justified.  To compare these differences of opinion to ice cream preferences is cruelly insulting, to say the least.  Mint Chip vs. Chunky Monkey?  Respect for the rights of Mexicans and gays?  Really, Ms. Garchik?

    Hillary won the support of American voters by something like a million and a half votes, by latest count.  She did not become president because we have to abide by our system of having electors, not voters, have the final say.  

    It's not about one side "taking a licking."  Ours is a nation characterized by profound injustice in its political system.  It's about one side losing to a leader who has promised to roll back efforts to stop the destruction of the environment, to shut down solar power research and burn more coal, who pretends that black people have not been treated far worse by police than white people have, and who encourages the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

    We haven't just "taken a licking."  We have regressed terribly.  We now have to contend with a setback in the fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, and abuse of the vulnerable.  We may argue over why this happened. But we should not trivialize or minimize what has just happened.

    The article in question is from the San Francisco Chronicle, Datebook Section, Monday, November 14, 2016, p. E6.  It was written by Leah Garchik.  Her e-mail is: lgarchik@sfchonicle.com.  Twitter:@leahgarchik

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  4. Shocked.  Saddened.  Apprehensive.

    Three of the words I am exchanging with friends and correspondents this morning after.

    My first thought was that I should follow my instincts and see this as a train wreck.  Not analyze it.  Just live it, let it sink in, go through the stages of shock and grief.  Not manufacture some false hope, look for silver linings, pretend I think everything will work out in the long run.  I am convinced we are living in an age of self-deception.  The last thing I want to do is create more illusions to live by in the coming days.

    What I am going to do is part ways with many of the people I’ve been reading and talking with since this meteor hit.  I’m going to try and make a case that this Trump victory was not brought about primarily by racists, sexists, anti-Semites and homophobes.  True, people of this ilk are being swept into power, but they are not at the center of support for Donald Trump; they are the periphery.

    Something I heard Robert Reich say some time ago has stuck with me and has had me worried ever since.  We have focused too much on the positives of globalization and too little on the folks without a safety net.  Money, the bottom line, is so important to us that we make the Walton family rich even if it puts local shopkeepers out of business.  We buy our shirts from Bangladesh and sing the praises of Silicon Valley and do little or nothing to help the people who fall through the cracks.  And now the chickens have come home to roost.

    All that stuff about Trump lying 80% of the time?  About insulting Mexicans and Muslims and women?  Turns out Americans don’t care, the majority of them.  The majority of Americans are willing to allow this man to lie and insult and misrepresent and vulgarize all he wants.  So long as he promises us he’ll fix what’s wrong.  Doesn’t have to be true.  It just has to be comforting.

    That terrifies me, the fact that we have embraced a demagogue, a Pied Piper, a narcissist, an authoritarian populist.  Not because he’s the best man for the job, but because we understood the people running against him were the people who set up the financial infrastructure for the benefit of the few and not the many. We Americans made fixing that Priority One.  Never mind that we're probably dead wrong to think this is the way to do it.  We are not a thinking people, by and large. We are a feeling people.  And we feel he's going to kiss the boo-boo and make it better.

    Something had to give.  I was a strong Bernie supporter because I believed, like most Americans, including Trump supporters, that Hillary was at home among the self-serving fat cats, Republicans and Democrats, and would only bring us more of the same.  In the end, like Bernie Sanders himself did, I came around in support of Hillary hoping that once she got in she would then be able to get on with advancing the cause of equity.  I didn’t think she could pull it off, but I wanted to err in the direction of a competent politician and away from a potential fascist.  Not the lesser of two evils; I didn’t think she was evil.  But a person who would put us into a holding pattern, an OK place to be while we worked harder to make sure people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Robert Reich and all the other voices of compassion and reason got a wider hearing.

    But that was not to be.  And now I’m wondering if this isn’t the beginning of a lesson America has to learn the hard way. 

    We lost not just the White House; we lost the Congress, as well. The system now in place will bring in a conservative Supreme Court for decades after I am gone.  We may reverse Roe v. Wade. Millions may lose access to health care. Immigrant families will live in fear of being broken apart. We gay people may even lose the right to marry. After all, one of the country’s most outspoken homophobes is now a heartbeat from the Oval Office.  If those things happen – and particularly if people start moving against immigrants and African-Americans, there may well be some serious rioting in the streets.

    Maybe that’s the way we have to go.  The way of anarchy. 

    How else are we going to learn that you can’t rely on false information.  You can’t make up facts to suit yourself and build on lies.

    I leave it for others to talk about unifying behind a Republican administration.  I have no intention of becoming violent.  Won’t add to impulses toward anarchy.  But I also cannot pretend that things will be all right.  I don’t think they will be.

    I think we are in for a lot of pain and misery.

    Long term, this could lead to positive change.  Maybe this was the best possible outcome.  Maybe it’s best we burn the house down and start over instead of pasting over holes in the wall with pretty wallpaper.

    One day at a time. Keep the faith. Keep telling the truth - and grounding it in evidence.

    What other choice do we have?

    P.S.  Best article so far summing things up, in my opinion, is David Remnick's, from The New Yorker.


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  5. Two friends sent me links this week, one to a speech, one to a documentary, that at first sight had little to do with each other.  One was that speech I just blogged about by Carolin Emcke, about belonging. The other was a recommendation for a film called Hate Rising, which I'll get to in a moment.  It wasn't long before I realized both of these were facets of the same phenomenon, sad evidence that the rats seem to be coming out of the woodwork and there is a sudden rapid increase in hatred in the land.  Lands. What's happening here has a clear parallel in Europe.  Both Carolin Emcke and the documentary deal with hatred and with enablers of hatred.

    I watch a lot of German television, thanks to the internet, and that means talk shows and that means I follow the concerns about the new right and the xenophobia unleashed by Angela Merkel’s decision to allow over a million refugees into the country.

    Merkel’s decision has backfired on her terribly.  Sitting here on the other side of the world, and not in one of the villages in Bavaria or Austria or Hungary (two other countries acutely impacted by her decision) where the pressures of overcrowding have sparked resentment, I can afford to take the longer view, Merkel’s view. This is a crisis situation. People are desperate, frightened and vulnerable. So desperate that they are literally walking across one country after another to get to what they believe is a promised land.  I won’t get into the debate here, with all the woulda, coulda, shouldas of her policy.  I just want to take note of the backlash, the anger and resentment by people who claim the homeland has been invaded by people who don’t belong, people who are “not like us” and are likely to steal “our heritage” and all that is sacred to us.

    Ironically, the loudest howling is coming out of Saxony, one of the parts of the country least affected.  Xenophobes are therefore revealing themselves as just that.  Ask the people in the places where the refugees actually go, and you find grumbling, to be sure, but also a far greater willingness to accommodate a real human need.

    Germany has to live with the consequences of World War II.  Even now, two or more generations since the racist policies of the Third Reich, the world gets uncomfortable when Germans show their teeth at foreigners.  (And to be fair, they're far more welcoming than most, if I'm not mistaken. Call it guilt if you're cynical. I see it as a raised consciousness.)  Unfortunately, while there are lots of welcoming folk there are also the Pegida and the Reichbürger types.  Pegida (which stands for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) was able to draw 20,000 into the streets for a protest in Dresden.  Then there are the people calling themselves the Reichsbürger – citizens of the Reich.  A much smaller band of retrograde twits, to be sure, but making a splash nonetheless.  They are trying to make hay with the fact (the dubious fact) that the “Reich” never actually came to an end.  Modern Germany simply grew up within it, they say.  The Reich is still intact.  Remember “Save your confederate money?”  That sort of nonsense.

    Silly as they are, they represent a tendency of people to go tribal, to circle the wagons against an outsider in their midst.  Fortunately, in Germany extremists on the right can’t get away with bringing back the swastikas and the Hitler salutes.  It’s not only outlawed; it’s also beyond the patience of most modern Germans.  So they have to come up with alternatives.  They can’t call themselves National Socialists, which would no doubt be their preferred term, so they come up with Reichsbürger.

    White nationalists in the United States have no such inhibitions, legal or social, about expressing sympathy for national socialism.  Hitler was, to most Americans, almost a comic character, a funny man who liked to shout and sputter and prance around like the clown Charlie Chaplin made him out to be.  We reduced him to insignificance not through debate about fascism, but through ridicule.  

    Of course, not everybody got the joke. George Lincoln Rockwell managed to form an American Nazi Party in Virginia in the fifties, and they changed the name to the National Socialist White People's Party (NSWPP) in the sixties, in conscious imitation of the NAACP.  (And why do I see a similarity in the impulse to form a White Lives Matter organization in response to Black Lives Matter?)  The good news is that American white nationalists are few and far between, and are not seen as a threat, mostly because they seem to have loser written all over them.The bad news is this is the age of the internet, so they can now get in contact with others of their ilk a whole lot more easily.  No need to pay for gas in your truck to get from Ku Klux Klan headquarters in Arkansas to Yahoo, Idaho to mingle with anti-government Patriot Group survivalist types.  You can do it online.  The wacko Christian Identity group with a membership of about 2000 is now believed, thanks to the internet, to have maybe 50,000 adherents.  Swastika, you remember Dixie Flag, don't you?

    Jorge Ramos, on Time Magazine's
    list of the 100 most influential people
    A new documentary called Hate Rising just came out this week. It features the familiar Spanish language network Univision anchor, Jorge Ramos, whom some people like to think of as “the Walter Cronkite of Latino America. Hate Rising documents the fringe group right-wing supporters Hillary Clinton was referring to when she made the comment about the “basket of deplorables.”  It makes plain she wasn’t speaking idly. 

    The brouhaha over her remarks came from the fact that you can’t make a statement like that in public in the United States without having the other side go ballistic.  Whether it's the intelligence level or simply sinister manipulation, I'll leave for others to decide, but it's clear that any statement about a part is taken as a statement about the whole and immediately the fists come up. To win back the folks put off by that remark, Hillary had to apologize.  What I wish she had done was insist, “Don’t misunderstand me.  I wasn’t talking about the many reasonable folks voting for Trump.  I was talking about the fact that he seems to have brought the rats out of the woodwork.  An unusually large number of seriously deplorable people are conspicuous at his rallies.  As a US News & World Report article pointed out in August, "we have a fast-growing, highly motivated group of right-wing extremists who are quite openly saying that their day has come."  The reference is unmistakeable. We're talking about neo-nazis, racists waving Dixie flags, and an alarming number of white supremacists and white supremacist supporters, including Trump himself.”

    Ramos, a winner of eight Emmy awards, spent nine months traveling the country and interviewing these folks for the documentary.  He describes his motivation for making the film the time Trump refused to call on him and told him, “Go back to Univision.”  I remember that event and at the time I thought Ramos was a little pushy.  But then he wasn’t being called on, and no doubt I’d get pushy, as I expect any good journalist would, under those circumstances.  Ramos was booted out of the press conference and one of Trump’s men actually said to him, “Get out of my country.”  Since Ramos is a U.S. citizen, “Go back to Univision” sounded to him like just another way of saying “Go back to Mexico.” He had come face-to-face with the fear surrounding the predictions about whites becoming a minority in their own country, a fear often expressed as hatred, and he saw it as a story worth investigating further.  Hence Hate Rising, which appeared this last week on Fusion and Univision.  

    Hate groups are nothing new.  Gay people live their lives in constant struggle against organizations of the religious right like the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition, organizations with reasonable sounding names which mask a seriously aggressive bigotry.  Twitter reports 2.6 million anti-semitic messages on twitter on the last year.   And the Southern Poverty Law Center, a major clearing house keeping track of hate groups, has produced a map of 892 hater groups – KKK, neo-nazi, white nationalists and skinheads leading the pack ­– across the United States.  
    I remember reading somewhere - I think it was Alan Dershowitz – about anti-Semitism in the United States.  Whoever it was was making the point that we need to not push the panic button, not assume that anti-semites are under every rock and behind every door.  Focusing on the positive, we need to remember, he said, that there has been considerable progress in Western Civilization.  In the Nazi era, anti-Semitism was official government policy.  And Jews were barred from country clubs in the U.S., as well.  Today, in virtually every modern democratic state, anti-Semitism still exists, but it belongs to the crazy fringe groups. 
    That’s a point worth repeating.  You can be a racist, a homophobe, a sexist or an anti-Semite, but when you reveal yourself as one, you also reveal yourself as a crackpot.  Sane people, decent people, don’t take these stands.
    But maybe that’s too optimistic.  Maybe they are all there hiding somewhere, looking for an opportunity to come out of the woodwork.
    Watch this documentary.  It’s available on YouTube.  Then take a look at some of the folks speaking out at Trump rallies, and watch Trump's response – or, more accurately, non-response.
    There’s the danger, I think.  We all know Trump’s a risk because he knows so little about foreign policy, is clueless about how government works to make and change laws, treats women as playthings, makes statements that are false 80% of the time, has an outspoken homophobe as a running mate and Breitbart bigots running his campaign.  And if you want a longer list, check out Rolling Stone’s “Why Not to Vote for Trump, From A to Z” 

    The Crusader - voice of the KKK
    But for me there is another important reason, one that has been seriously underrated – the fact that ugliness encourages more ugliness. You can’t be blamed, of course, for everything your friends say about you or claim to say in your name.  But we’ve gone from a time when people who believed “Hitler didn’t go far enough” or “blacks need to know their place” or “Mexicans are rapists” stayed pretty much out of sight, and we all thought the KKK was nowhere to be seen any longer.
    Turns out we may have been wrong about that.  All it took was a Donald Trump to bring them out.
    Don't believe me?  Consider this.  Previously most fringe groups refused to engage in American politics, arguing they were anti-government and therefore had no horse in its political races. Compare that with the statements being made these days by KKK and neo-nazis and the like that they are supporting Trump for president.
    Have a look at Hate Rising and tell me I’m wrong.

    Photo credits:
    Crusader, official paper of the KKK



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  6. Carolin Emcke at her acceptance speech in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt
    Not long after Johannes Gutenberg came up with the notion of moveable type and invented the modern printing press in Mainz, the ancient German city on the Rhine, some folks in nearby Frankfurt came up with the idea of a book fair.  The idea caught on. Enabled in no small part by the fact that Luther’s translation of the bible into the vernacular played a major role in bringing about widespread literacy, they have been holding the Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse) every year now for more than five hundred years.  When it was revived after the war in 1949, it was still largely a German phenomenon.  But not for long.  Today, there are more international exhibitors than German ones.  One of the highlights of the fair is the granting of prizes to winning authors.  Some of these, like the Diagram Prize for the most curious English language title, or the strangest title of the year all told, sound capricious and silly.  At the other extreme, though, is the much revered Peace Prize, where an individual is honored for their “extraordinary contributions to literature, science and art which further the cause of peace.” Hence the name.

    Past recipients of the award included Albert Schweizer, Martin Buber, Thornton Wilder, Paul Tillich, Yehudi Menuhin, Jürgen Habermas, Susan Sontag, Chinua Achebe, Orhan Pamuk, just to select a few whose names I know well.  I mentioned last year’s recipient Navid Kermani in passing in an earlier blog. Iran-born Cultural Muslim Kermani was not only a Peace Prize recipient; he was invited to address the German Bundestag on the 65th anniversary last year of the German Constitution. 

    This year the award went to philosopher and journalist, Carolin Emcke.  She is known for her reporting from war zones and for her reflections on the nature of war and bigotry.  She is also a lesbian activist known for her outspoken views on the rights of minorities.  Her acceptance speech took up the meaning of belonging, and the way some seek to define themselves as insiders and others as outsiders.

    My friend Barbara in Berlin sent me a link to her speech.  I went to it right away and was blown away.

    For years I’ve heard people speak of the German language as unappealing to the ear.  I never understood that, probably since I came to know it from, among others, my maternal grandmother and a favorite great aunt, two of the most loving people I have ever known.  Nothing that came out of their mouths could sound ugly to me.  Over the years I learned, one language at a time, that no language sounds ugly if spoken by a beautiful person or even by an ordinary person expressing beautiful thoughts.  I have had the experience of sitting back and swimming in the beauty of French, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese, as well as German and English. I wish I could extend that to even more modern spoken languages.

    Carolin Emcke delivered her acceptance speech in Frankfurt’s St. Paul’s Church (Paulskirche), the site of the birth of German democracy in 1848.  It was badly bombed in 1944, but rebuilt after the war.  Today it is a national monument and site of important events of national consequence.

    I was so moved that I set about finding a copy of the speech and translated it for a few friends, since I wasn’t able at first to find an English translation.  The gods were playing with me.  No sooner had I finished than I did find an official professional translation, but that’s another story.

    Now this will not come as a surprise to any rhetorician, but as I became intimately familiar with the text, as one is forced to when attempting a translation, I realized I wasn’t finding the speech all that inspirational after all.  Nice words, to be sure.  But special?  Not really.  The written version clearly did not pack the wallop her spoken delivery did.  I concluded that much of what had grabbed me lay in her delivery, in the fact that she spoke so articulately and beautifully, had such marvelous diction, and in her choice of words.  Her commanding style, her ability to put beautiful thoughts into beautiful language and deliver them flawlessly meant she was about as eloquent as one can be.

    I would, if I could, because I’d like to understand this phenomenon, pick apart how much power lies in language, how much in delivery, how much in the content of speeches, or in ordinary conversation, for that matter.  There’s no doubt some speakers can carry you away, even seduce you into doing things against your own better judgment.  No one who has ever heard King Henry’s speech to his troops on the Eve of St. Crispin’s Day – “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” can mistake the reason the theater holds such power over us.  Theater is language.  And delivery.  And style.

    The next question is how much of the power comes from content.  Carolin Emcke speaks to me and for me when, writing of her homosexuality, she says,

    It is a very strange experience that something so personal should be so important to people that they claim for themselves the right to interfere in our lives and deny us our rights and our dignity. As if the way we love is more meaningful to others than to ourselves, as if our love and our bodies did not belong to us but to those who reject or pathologize them. This has a certain irony: as if our sexuality defined our belonging less than it did theirs.

    The text of her speech is a philosophical reflection on belonging.  On how we belong, and how in being rejected we come to belong to those who don’t belong.

    Emcke writes about the challenges facing modern Europeans, challenges which resonate here in the U.S., where a large number of people, now feeling disenfranchised and neglected, are following a Pied Piper, a populist who would unite his followers through fear, scapegoating others (Muslims, Mexicans) as Jews and other outliers were once scapegoated:

    There is currently a climate of fanaticism and violence in Europe. Pseudo-religious and nationalist dogmatists are spreading the doctrine of a "homogeneous people", a "true" religion, an "original" tradition, a "natural" family, and an "authentic" nation. They are drawing up terms with which some should be included and others excluded. They are arbitrarily dividing us up, and deciding who among us may belong and who may not.

    Everything that is dynamic, everything varied in its own cultural references and contexts is negated. Everything unique about individuals, everything that makes us human beings, but also people who belong, our struggles, our vulnerabilities, but also our fantasies of happiness, is denied. We are sorted according to identity and difference, are packed into collectives, all living, delicate, contradictory affiliations are scraped off and dulled down.

    They may not be ones to stand in the street and spread fear and terror themselves, these populists and purity fanatics.  They may not be among those who torch refugee shelters, rip the hijabs off of Muslim women or yarmulkes off the heads of Jewish men.  They may not harass Polish or Romanian women (in our midst), may not attack dark-skinned Germans.  They may not necessarily be haters themselves.  But they are enablers of hatred.

    Emcke concludes:

    Freedom is not something you possess, but something you do.

    Secularization is not a finished product but an ongoing project.

    Democracy is not a static certainty but a dynamic exercise in dealing with uncertainties and criticism.

    A free, secular, democratic society is something we must learn. Again and again. By listening to each other. Thinking about each other. In common words and actions. In the mutual respect for the diversity of affiliations and individual uniqueness. And not least, in the mutual acceptance of weaknesses and through forgiveness.

    That's it.  That's the whole story.  It's like the guy who asked, "Why can't we all get along?"  The message is both utterly simple and utterly important for all its plain speech repetitions.  Nobody can claim originality anymore, since these thoughts have been expressed thousands of times in our hearing in our lifetimes.  One can only hope that the way one says it grabs new people each time, as this message did me.

    So no biggie.  No transformative new thing.  Just a smart lady saying shame on you world for your bigotry and lack of imagination and good will.  Get with the drill!


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  7. Justizminister Heiko Maas
    Let’s hear it for Heiko Maas.  Love that name, Heiko.  If I were going to change my name to anything, it would be Heiko.

    Have a thing for Heiko.  Don’t know why.  He’s not particularly gorgeous, although I'm more attracted to his type than to the George Cloonies of the world.  He’s also straight and has a wife and kids, although he's now separated.  He’s a triathlete; I'm a couch potato.   So it's not about male attraction, although men in their forties and early fifties are looking kind of nifty to me these days.  He's 50.

    But I like him.  I like the fact he’s a member of Germany’s Socialist Party.  Belongs to the party I’d probably associate with if I were a German citizen.  He comes from the Saarland, which is the part of Germany I feel the least connection with.  Kind of too far out there.  A little too Frenchy maybe.  Too Luxemburgy?  No serious objections to the place.  It’s just that it has a different feel from Lower Saxony, where my family comes from and the speech patterns are warm and satisfying.  Or from Berlin, with its unique sharp sense of humor and joie de vivre, which will always be home to my soul.

    Maybe it’s just that I resonate with his politics.  He has taken on the CIA and the NSA, and demanded they piss off out of the lives of German citizens.  He has taken on Google and Facebook as well, for their failure to take more effective steps against hate speech.  He’s Germany’s Minister of Justice, the equivalent of Attorney General, so he speaks with some authority.  At the same time, he has been criticized for a number of conservative stances.  Somebody tried to pass a law which would withdraw recognition of marriages performed abroad of people (i.e., girls) under fourteen, and he dragged his feet.   Dragged them again when they tried to pass a no-nonsense law against groping, following the nightmare at the Cologne train station this past new year’s.  Said it was too broad and made bad law.  I see him as taking a reasonable approach, though, with an eye on the big picture instead of on the politically appealing mood of the moment.  I think he’s the kind of person you want running the show, whether you agree with every one of his decisions or not.

    So I’m already a fan.  Which is saying something when it comes to politicians.

    So imagine my delight when reading just now that he has taken another stand, in opposition to Chancellor Merkel, in support of same-sex marriage in Germany.  He’s already not merely a member of the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation (remember Magnus Hirschfeld as the gay rights researcher par excellence, world wide) – not just a member, but president of its Board of Trustees.  Germany already has a pretty liberal registered partnerships law giving gays and lesbians almost all the rights of other citizens.  But it withholds adoption rights.  There is still the lingering fear on the part of the Christian Democrats and the Christian Socialists (note the word “Christian”: in their names), Merkel’s ruling “union” coalition, that there is something not quite right about being gay.  Heiko Maas wants to shed that notion once and for all.

    For that reason, he’s my man.

    Go, Heiko!


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  8. Alan Turing
    Somebody sent me a link to a news item the other day about the decision by the powers that be in Britain to “pardon” all the gay men (I think the law only applies to men) who were arrested in the past for crimes like “buggery, gross indecency and loitering with intent.”

    My first response was anger.

    Who the hell are you to presume the right to "pardon" me, said the voice in my head. You want to "pardon" me for committing a crime? It's on your head, you blinkin’ twit, that what I did was a crime in the first place!"

    It’s me who should pardon you for being such a retrograde bigot. Like you, we all did things in the past we are ashamed of today.  I'm happy to see you are no longer hung up on the sex lives of others, and sure, it's good to let bygones be bygones.

    But pardon me?  Come off it!

    I then read the article about the new Turing Law, as it's being called (a wonderful way, at least, to honor Alan Turing) and was not surprised to find I'm not alone in this reaction.  The article mentions a 93-year-old gay activist from Brighton named George Montague who was among those swept up in the legal prissiness of the day.  He refuses to accept a pardon.

    The problem is by now a familiar one.  It is the gap between legal terminology and words as we use them in daily life.  If in passing the Turing Law they had announced only that they were going to “correct the injustice” or “put right the damage done to gays,” there would, I think, have been a huge sigh of relief.  Some “it’s about damn time!” responses, but a much more general welcoming of the change in attitudes in Britain toward LGBT people.   It's the use of the word "pardon" that gets under your skin.

    The legal term “to pardon” is the word used to mean “remove charges,” so, properly framed, this is a story of the justice system righting itself. Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for illegal wiretapping.  I wouldn't have, but the "dignity of the White House" was never a priority for me. Nixon had clearly done wrong. 

    Unfortunately, in daily parlance, one “pardons” a person for doing an actual wrong. These men, consenting adults who sought each other out for sex, did no wrong.  There’s nothing to pardon.

    Well, let me back up here.  Turns out this is a sticky business because the charge of “lewd behavior” covered a multitude of sins, and folks of a conservative bent are pointing out, with good reason, that a blanket “pardon” might include those who did harm to others – who took advantage of the vulnerable and forced them into sex against their will.

    There’s the rub.  When you use a trumped up excuse to go after someone, it can come back at you.  Go into a private space, like a gay bar, grab somebody dancing with somebody of the same sex, and throw them in jail for “lewd behavior,” and you lose the moral high ground you need when you then want to go for a sexual aggressor on the same charge.

    This issue bugged the hell out of me recently when Donald Trump began hitting back at Hillary Clinton because, as he put it, her husband “did far worse.”  Forget the by now familiar habit Trump has of responding to things like a five-year-old.  His mode of interacting with the world is usually, “Johnny hit me first!” What got lost was the distinction between sex and violence. Between consent and aggression.

    The prissiness of the Victorian age is still with us.  Hillary was married to a horn-dog.  Bill Clinton pulled a stupid that will go down through the ages.  He had an intern in the Oval Office on the floor on her knees giving him a blow job.  Couldn’t get tackier if you tried.

    Now correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn't Monica Lewinsky a consenting adult?  There never was any evidence that she was forced into a sex act.  What she did was inappropriate, and that’s an understatement.  But there was never any way to put it down as an act of violence.  The issue in Trump’s case was – or should have been – sexual aggression, sex with people against their will.  That is, and should remain, a crime.  (And yes, it's entirely possible that Trump is telling the truth for a change and the "crooked Hillary" campaign got these ten women to lie under oath and claim Trump was sexually aggressive. That seedy issue has yet to be worked out.)

    If we could just get past the church’s brilliantly sinister decision to get control of people by making morality center on sex, and recognize that the real ills of this world center on violence and deceit – and not sex between consenting adults – we could eliminate the need for folks at some future date to “pardon” people for doing what comes naturally.

    We've been down this road before with the word tolerance.  Just as the good folk of the British legal system think they are doing good with pardon, most people think they are doing good when they preach tolerance.  But it’s the same inclination to place oneself in a superior position.

    “What the world needs is more tolerance of others.”  Sounds good, right?  Until you put tolerance into context and you come up with things like, “I’ll tolerate you for being Jewish.”  Or “I’ll tolerate your after school work with handicapped kids, but I think you should be working full time on your MBA.”

    I don’t need your tolerance, and I don’t need your pardon.

    I need your recognition that we are equals, and that we have common problems to worry about.

    Let’s get on with those.

    photo credit

    Added 4:15 p.m. - What escaped my notice until just now is the fact that Germany did the same thing the Brits are now doing, earlier this month.  But here the focus is on compensation, and not simply on giving the men a pardon.  They have set aside 30 million euros to compensate the 140,000 men convicted, 50,000 of those since the end of the Second World War.  About 5,000 men are expected to apply for compensation.  The notorious "Paragraph 175" that made gay sex illegal was abolished in West Germany in 1995.  East Germany abolished it as early as 1968.

    Telling is the phrasing of the announcement.  According to the Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas, “We cannot completely undo these outrages of the rule of law, but we want to rehabilitate the victims.”

    That's a damn sight better than "We will pardon you," I'd say.


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  9. Freispruch! (Not guilty!)
    Back in my teaching days, one of my favorite courses was my seminar in Ethics.  I taught in a program dealing with language and culture, and my focus was on how the concepts of right and wrong vary over time and space.  The goal was to help students become aware of what happens when cultures with conflicting values come in contact.  As an educator, I was also hoping to raise consciousness in my students about the importance of clarifying one’s own values and building a rational basis for an ethical system in a world of constant change.

    At some point, we would run through the tried and true standard ethical dilemmas.  The survivors on a life raft, for example.   If there is no way to keep the raft afloat with more than five people and there are six of you, do you toss someone overboard?  If so, who?  Is a doctor’s life worth more than a carpenter’s life?  A child’s life worth more than a 60-year-old’s?  Would you torture somebody to prevent a nuclear disaster?

    Occasionally, students would protest these hypothetical situations.  Ethics, many argued, are contingent.  I’d torture someone to save a loved one, my child, for example.  But not to save a stranger.  One student once told me he was offended that I should be doing this kind of exercise in the first place.  He should not be forced to reveal his values.  They were his and nobody else’s business.

    I followed the Abu Ghraib story and the example of water boarding in particular.  Not just because I was obsessed and depressed with the thought that America had failed a major moral test miserably, but because I was fascinated by the reasons people came down against it.  A Kantian, or somebody at Stage 6 on the Lawrence Kohlberg scale, people who think principles are higher than individual needs or wants, will tell you you need to establish the right thing to do and then do it, period.  Others will want to make room for all sorts of contingencies.  So I became fascinated with how many people would say torture, water-boarding in particular, was wrong – not because it was morally wrong but because it was ineffective and often led to false information.  The implication, obviously, is that it would be all right if it actually worked.

    This week, Germans turned their country into an ethics classroom.  A stage play entitled Terror, written by Ferdinand von Shirach, one of Germany’s most respected writers, was adapted* for television.  The play poses the question, "Would you shoot down a passenger plane – particularly in the light of the 9/11 experience – to save a football stadium filled with spectators?"

    It is the story of a plane carrying 164 passengers which has been commandeered by a terrorist intending to crash it into Munich’s football stadium filled with 70,000 people.  A major makes the decision to shoot the plane down, thus committing what some will designate the “lesser evil.”

    Complicating the question for those who place a high value on the law is the fact that until recently Germany had a law allowing such measures to be taken, in the event of a terrorist act.   Following 9/11, Germany instituted what was known as the Luftsicherheitsgesetz – the “Aviation Security Act on January 15, 2005.”  However, a year later, on February 15, 2006, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court, their Supreme Court, declared that law unconstitutional.  Their reasoning was based on Article 1 of Germany’s constitution, its “Basic Law (Grundgesetz), which reads: “Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar,”  ("Human dignity shall be inviolable" in the official English translation.)

    Article 1 has been interpreted to mean that one may not justify the taking of a life by the saving of another, no matter how many persons are involved.  The court is thus following the Kantian prescription, “Let justice be done, though the world perish.”  Kant’s approach to ethics is in contrast to the utilitarian argument that actions must be taken to bring about “the greatest good for the greatest number.”    Utilitarians focus on the outcome of an action and judge it accordingly.  Kant’s “imperative” is “categorical,” that is it is true for all times and all occasions, without exceptions or conditions.  You can’t shoot down a plane, because you can’t kill people.  Period.

    So when Major Koch, upon whom the duty falls to decide who lives and who dies, kills the 164 to save the 70,000, he has done wrong, according to Immanuel Kant.  And more relevant to his fortunes, he has broken a fundamental law of Germany’s modern democracy.

    Problem is that while Germany’s Supreme Court would seem to be Kantians, most Germans are clearly utilitarians.  And a gap this wide between a people and its government is what makes this a big story.

    Hart Aber Fair panel, left to right: Jung, Wassmann,
    Bahr, Baum, Plasberg (standing)
    When the TV film was shown, it carried the title, Terror – Ihr Urteil (Terror – Your Verdict), and the public, effectively turned into a national jury, was invited to telephone in their decision to a talk show, Hart Aber Fair (Tough But Fair), which then released the results and debated them with four guests.  The two panel members who pronounced the major innocent of murder included Franz Josef Jung, a former defense minister, and Thomas Wassmann, a military man and fighter jet expert.  The two who pronounced him guilty included the theologian and bishop of Hannover, Petra Bahr, although she defended her position on grounds less theological than constitutional; and Gerhart Baum, the former Minister of the Interior, a passionate defender of the constitution.   If your German is up to it, the program is available here.  

    The show, and thus the ethical dilemma, captured the imagination of the nation.  It had an audience of 6.88 million viewers.  That’s a market share of more than 20%. 

    There are two sources of public opinion on the question of whether shooting down the plane was the right thing to do, the stage play and the television version.  When the play was performed around the world, in Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Venezuela, Israel and Japan, audiences were asked to vote on Major Koch’s guilt.  Germans, for the most part, found Major Koch not guilty of murder by a wide margin – 90,357 to 60,897 of the votes tallied.   The range was even greater in Switzerland, where 2424 people voted not guilty to 882.  Tallies have not yet been taken in Denmark and Israel, but Venezuela and Hungary show similar responses to the German speaking countries (Austria's numbers on the television version were virtually identical to the German numbers.)  With the exception of Japan, where the vote went 569 not guilty to 958 guilty, the not guilty votes outweighed the guilty votes about 60/40. 

    The Bundestag seems to have had the popular sentiment on their side when they first passed the Aviation Security Act, allowing a commandeered plane to be shot down.  And the Constitutional Court, their defenders might argue, did what Supreme Courts are supposed to do, determine constitutionality on the basis of reason, and not emotion.  

    In real life.  But what about the television trial of Major Koch, who is found innocent of a crime? An overwhelming majority of citizens agree with the TV court, despite what one assumes would be the decision of the constitutional court in real life.  In the Hart Aber Fair discussion, the defense minister endorses the TV court’s decision.  The argument that one cannot measure one life against another is bogus, he asserts.  We do it all the time, for example, when it comes to saving a mother’s life over a fetus’s life, when faced with that choice.  The Catholic Church has made it clear the doctor’s obligation is to the newborn.  But the state argues a family can always have more children, but once the mother is dead, she’s dead.  And in wartime, medics performing triage routinely neglect a patient near death in order to save three with better life prospects.

    But how to explain the wide discrepancy between the not guilty vote following the theater performances and the not guilty vote following the TV show?  Both agreed, but the TV audience voted for not guilty by a much larger margin – 87 to 13.  

    Bishop Bahr attempts to make the point that the vote was not, in fact, a national referendum.  It was a vote on which ending was appropriate for a television program.  (They had prepared two endings, one in which Major Koch was found guilty, one in which he was found innocent, and it's the "best ending," technically, that they were voting on).  What governs the decisions of a law-making body in real life is not necessarily the same as what influences a television audience primed to be entertained. Florian David Fitz, who played Koch, for example, the major who shot down the plane, is one handsome dude.  As Bahr points out, he might easily be mistaken for Klaus von Stauffenberg, the man who made the attempt on Hitler’s life – a hero, in other words.  The “hero effect” might go a long way to explain the discrepancy between the 87-13 figure in the film as opposed to the 60-40 split in the theaters.  You watch a man on a stage from some distance.  On television, you watch his anxiety and his guilt and his vulnerability in close-ups on his eyes.  Then there’s the technology problem.  At some point, the phone lines jammed.  The figures are not necessarily representative of those who actually voted, much less of those who might vote in a real referendum. 

    None of this detracts from the fact that, for a time, the German nation is being urged to debate a moral dilemma and consider the responsibilities of democratic institutions to follow the rule of law, or justify exceptions to the rule of law.  Such debates will quickly lead to others.  Security debates invariably involve the notion of privacy. Do you want police to be able to spy on everyone?  It would make everyone safer.  And it could perhaps head off such dilemmas as whether to shoot down a plane with 164 innocent passengers in it in the first place.

    The former Minister of the Interior loses his cool in the panel discussion.  At one point the moderator asks him directly, “Are people wrong to find him innocent?”  “Yes,” Baum answers.  “They don’t know the law.”

    Hard to argue with that, although one might raise the question, "If we don't permit our military to go after known terrorists, (remember, they are certain in this case) aren't we encouraging more terrorist acts? Wouldn't one successful attack on 70,000 football fans be certain to encourage another?"  To say nothing of sending the nation into a national trauma. How long would the country abide by the ruling that it's OK to sit tight and allow 70,000 people to meet their death, because "it's the law"? Would there not be riots?

    And then there's the response to this response, "How is this not mob rule?"

    And what about the argument that the folks in the plane are goners in either case?  Does this not suggest one should give them a part in history as tragic heroes and not define them only as tragic victims?

    Or do you want to leave this decision to fate (or God, if you prefer)?  Or worry about guilt, and place it on the terrorists and not the major?

    To which you have to ask, is doing nothing not also sinning/being guilty of criminal neglect of duty? Is being inactive the same as being responsible?

    The questions go on and on.

    It’s tempting to argue, as many have, that the national ruckus raised by populists like Frank Plasberg and his TV program have created more sound and fury than rational thought.  Der Spiegel suggests as much.  Interior Minister Baum lays blame on the author, von Shirach, for even getting this (bogus?) ball rolling (and missing the point that Shirach himself thinks the major is guilty.)

    I’m persuaded by my years in the classroom watching otherwise tuned-out students come alive when faced with life and death questions that this debate is not a mistake, legitimate though the protestations of its faults may be.  I’m also persuaded by watching the sad state of political debate we’ve fallen into in the United States, that there are better things we might be doing, things such as this German debate, in the name of democracy.

    *The play was adapted for television by von Shirach and the director, Lars Kraume and a third director and producer, Oliver Berben.  [To get a sense of Shirach as both writer and criminal defense lawyer, link here.]  It has been called "the TV experiment of the year."

    panel on „Hart Aber Fair“


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  10. Matt Taibbi has a way with words.  His latest article in Rolling Stone on “The Fury and Failure of Donald Trump” is a gorgeous piece of writing.  Read it for the content.  Splash around in it for the imagery.

    Taking up the Trump phenomenon, Taibbi makes the now obvious point that others are making as well: that Americans are between a rock and a hard place, that what we want is change, but because of Trump we have no option but to support the status quo.  

    I see the alternative as putting a grenade into the hands of a three-year-old.  Taibbi uses less clumsy metaphors.

    He risks beating a dead horse.  Most people I know are sick to death of this election campaign and we feel like we're crawling through the desert with an empty water canteen, hoping we can make it to the next oasis alive.  

    Taibbi's writing reminds you that this seemingly endless journey can be fun, if you don't lose your sense of humor.

    A few quotes:

    Taibbi sums up the mess Trump has made for himself:

    Trump, in the space of a few hours, had become the mother of all pop-culture villains, a globally despised cross of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Charlie Sheen and Satan.

    It begs the question, how did we get here?  Why Trump, for God’s sake?  Well…

    All 16 of the non-Trump entrants were dunces, religious zealots, wimps or tyrants, all equally out of touch with voters. Scott Walker was a lipless sadist who in centuries past would have worn a leather jerkin and thrown dogs off the castle walls for recreation. Marco Rubio was the young rake with debts. Jeb Bush was the last offering in a fast-diminishing hereditary line. Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer….  By the time the other 16 candidates finished their mass-suicide-squad routine, a tail-chasing, sewer-mouthed septuagenarian New Yorker was accepting the nomination of the Family Values Party.

    On the fate of the clueless Republican voter:

    Duped for a generation by a party that kowtowed to the wealthy while offering scraps to voters, then egged on to a doomed rebellion by a third-rate con man who wilted under pressure and was finally incinerated in a fireball of his own stupidity…

    On Mike Pence:

    The man who once opposed clean needles on moral grounds was now ready to march through history with a serial groper and tit-gazer

    On Rudolph Giuliani’s role in the campaign:

    How Giuliani isn't Trump's running mate, no one will ever understand. Theirs is the most passionate television love story since Beavis and Butthead. Every time Trump says something nuts, Giuliani either co-signs it or outdoes him. They will probably spend the years after the election doing prostate-medicine commercials together.

    On the problems the Republicans have been faced with:

    The challenge for the leaders of the Republican Party: it's hard to keep the loons out when you're scraping to find people willing to sell rich-friendly policies to a broke population.

    On Trump’s chutzpah:

    Shackled! Only in America can a man martyr himself on a cross of pussy.

    Taibbi sums up the country’s best course of action.   It’s a sign of the times that Taibbi, like the rest of us, is singing Hillary’s praises.  Sure, she’s the Queen of Wall Street.  So why doesn’t she stop denying it?  That’s where we are.  We could go off the grid and live in the dark.  Or we could have four more years of business as usual with a candidate who knows the ropes.  In time, we need to get to the real issues like the gap between rich and poor in America and a totally corrupted political process. Get this election over with, admit defeat, put Hillary in, and get on with the show. 

    Taibbi calls the American political process a TV reality show, which explains Trump’s remarkable success in the first place:

    … (T)he Campaign Reality Show as it has evolved over the years…(l)ike every TV contest…discourages subtlety, reflection and reconciliation, and encourages belligerence, action and conflict…. It's a divide-and-conquer mechanism that keeps us from communicating with one another, and prevents us from examining the broader, systemic problems we all face together.

    We’ve now seen that reality show.  It’s done with, and the hero is dead.

    Built up in the press as the American Hitler, he was unmasked in the end as a pathetic little prankster who ruined himself, his family and half of America's two-party political system for what was probably a half-assed ego trip all along, adventure tourism for the idiot rich.

    Taibbi articulates the dismay of the American left.  Thanks, Donald.  Thanks, Republican Party.  We’re voting for the status quo now.   The Queen of Wall Street.  There simply is no realistic alternative:

    If he goes on to lose, he will be our Bonaparte, the monster who will continue to terrify us even in exile, reinforcing the authority of kings.

    There’s no justification for putting all the blame on the Republicans, of course.  Democrats participate in this process of selecting leaders from alternate dynasties.  Republicans didn’t write our Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama-Clinton history all on their own.

    But that’s a problem for another day.  Tomorrow, if we are able, we will rebuild.  Today, we simply pick up the pieces.


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