USA

A new millennium?

After playing with the idea for about twenty minutes to explain my response to the 2017 Presidential Inauguration using Sherlock memes, I gave it up. There’s maybe one meme, but it’s a bit dramatic and doesn’t face the issues head-on. I’ll save it for the end.

I was lucky enough to follow the inauguration on the big screen at work Friday. You know you come from a powerful country when the German colleagues at work are more concerned about hearing the inauguration speech than you are. I guess I take being American for granted a lot of the time. And can you blame other people wanting to have that kind of freedom? Also, I had to be grateful again that I have that kind of access to events in the US real time through today’s technology and globalized value of covering the news of other countries.

A few  things that impressed upon me watching the Inauguration with Germans was their response to the prayers and use of God in the ceremony and speeches. The separation of religion and state is, I guess, much stronger in Germany, perhaps because their democracy is much younger. Also, our song “America the Beautiful” as sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was related to a Disney performance. That actualy hurt my feelings a bit, and I’m not that sensitive a person when it comes to patriotism. Still, I love that song and the awe of US landscapes, brotherhood, and beauty it inspires.

Standing there, though, staring at the screen usually reserved for conferences, I was reminded of “The Situation Room,” Pete Souza’s famous photo of the national security team awaiting updates about the death of Bin Laden.

Obama_and_Biden_await_updates_on_bin_Laden.jpg

Yesterday was a reenactment of the Situation Room all over the globe, I imagine. However, yesterday in the office where I work, there were a lot more women in the room.

I’m not comparing Trump in power to the death of a terrorist cell leader, but the image belies the tension  and concern I felt about what to expect based on Trump’s speech. I listened attentively for the most part, rolled my eyes at a few moments, and was surprised by a few others. It’s these moments that I want to respond to for a chance to think about what they mean. .

“[…]we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.”

Yes. Yes they have. And gracious is a great word to describe the Obamas throughout this whole presidency. That and decent. And intelligent. And thoughtful. These adjectives are all ones I find difficult to ascribe to President Trump, but he was gracious in that moment near the beginning of his speech, and so there is a spark of decency in him. But I wonder if that’s just a trait reserved for practiced speeches. It also did not last very long.

I think what bothered me immediately about the speech was its simplistic language and its caustic tone. I can deal with simplicity, but not in a speech that is meant to inspire, promise, and prophesize.

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

Some of the words struck the right note, and I won’t fail to acknowledge the poetic potential in the simile of US factories to tombstones, but “carnage”? And “beautiful students”? A lot of words come to mind when I think of students, but beautiful is not congruous with the promise Trump intends to make here. Also, there seems to be a lack of logical clarity. It’s not knowledge the students are missing; they are missing an effective teaching system based on getting students to think, not just know.

And I don’t know, but the whole “carnage” and “America first” is something I had a problem with. It verbally imagines the US as a country that has been bullied, abused, and had its lands and people laid to waste by other countries. If there’s carnage in the US, it comes from within. If there are bullying countries in the world, I think many would agree that the US tops the list.

I understand and support US business holders and workers being able to provide and take jobs, but I don’t see what a nation can (or should) do to make items that can be made abroad for less money economically feasible in the US. Why not move forward in finding solutions for the globalized economic streams, rather than reverting to an old isolationist mentality that certainly did not help in the late 1800s and definitely does not even seem possible now?

We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and most importantly, we will be protected by God.

Um, did he just ignore the past few years of violence by and against police? Where a large portion of US society spoke out about how they don’t feel protected?  And why does he assume that God cares about what happens to the US more than the people of other nations? That aside, let’s get to the ringing phrase of his Address.

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and, through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

At first, I was struck by the line “when you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” It actually sounds like a great line. It sounds like something that could unite all US Americans. After all, yes, we do all pledge allegiance to the same ideas that the US flag represents.  However, what about prejudice against “non-Americans?” And those not seen as “US Americans”? What happens when a person of foreign heritage is in question? And  one can interpret the line to mean that patriotism means we don’t have the grounds to prejudice other people, other nations. But we do, and according to Trump, we will. “America first,” after all.

“From this day forward,” Trump said at one point, “it’s going to be only America first. America first.”

I understand the point he makes about the US staking its claim to put its interests first. What surprises me, though, is that this line implies that it hasn’t been this way for the past 8 years or for most of the US’s history. The US has always puts its interests first. All the notes about investing in other militaries and other economies, it was never to the detriment of the US. And I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t mean it like this, but “America first” sounds an awful lot like “only America.” Unfortunately, that’s a stance that’s hard to take for me.

We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again. We stand at the birth of a lewl [sic] millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space…” (Speech as transcribed on The Gaurdian 

What did he actually try to say? I thought the new millennium started in 2000? And if he meant little millennium, that surprises me. I would not think it’s part of his vocabulary. Everything must be “yuge.” In general, this rounds up a general announcement of a lot of promises, often repeated from his campaigning speeches, that are “all talk.” Now is the time for action, and I guess the executive orders are a start: the first steps to dismantle the ACA and make mortgages more difficult to attain.

In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.

This is actually one great line that I will give him, but only for the sake of the line. It was like a pearl thrown before swine. I also worry about what is striven towards. While I hold faith that democrats and republicans do strive towards the same things: security for ourselves, our families, our jobs, or livelihoods, our values, we will disagree on the practices.

In stark contrast to Trump’s Address stands Barack Obama’s Address in 2009. It’s not just the language used (thought the diction is clearly more sophisticated). It’s also how words from the bible are used, how no particular entity (congress, capitol hill, etc.) is antagonized, but weaknesses are acknowledged. It’s also, perhaps, a promise that all people can hold onto, not just US Americans (those who are recognized as such, since I know of many people who usually consider themselves American who were excluded from Trump’s private party), but especially US Americans, given the context.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.  On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.  We remain a young nation.  But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.  The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation:  the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. – from Barack Obama’s 2009 Inaugural Address

Oh well. It’s time to face the future, though with a little more critical thinking than Trump showed. Here are a few images to move on with.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPf65CqBk24/?taken-by=petesouza&hl=en

Another Souza photo, his caption: “Another view of President Obama leaving the Oval Office for the last time this morning.” Have a good vacation, Mr. Obama! God knows, you deserve some real time off.

Meet the new boss, not quite the same as the old boss.

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/20/politics/gallery/donald-trump-inauguration/index.html

I’m going to miss the president signing with his left hand. Image as found on the CNN politics page Jan. 21st

It is a new millennium, but I am not sure if I want to be privy to seeing how it continues to play out.

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Via GIPHY

I’m sorry. I had to get these thoughts out there. I’ll try to write more about other things again, soon… but just know that those other things won’t be “America first.” Given the title of my blog, I assume that’s a given. Given the fact that you follow this blog, I assume you’re okay with that.

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15 years ago…

This marks the first year that I’m not in the US on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. While I didn’t expect there to be any sort of reminder other than the interactions I made with the online world, I was surprised to hear tributes to victims and observance of September 11, 2001 on German radio stations.

Apparently, even though most of the world, contrary to US belief, hold reservations about the US being the best country on Earth, they still are very tied to the 9/11 Attacks and their history is tied to the US on this day. For example, there were also German citizens in the Towers and nearby in NYC on that day. Furthermore, the resulting “War on Terror” drew in various countries all over the world, and let’s not forget the growing threat of terrorist attacks since then.

“A thick bundle of black smoke is hanging outside the tower. It looks too heavy to hang there. An aeroplane comes in slow motion from the corner of the screen…” “The aeroplane comes again. The television shows it again and again.”- Brick Lane by Monica Ali, pg. 366

Since starting my PhD project dealing with intermedial references in contemporary literature to events like the 9/11 attacks, I’ve been forced to address the large amount of discussion in German intellectual circles about the event and its mark as a “turning point” in history. Arguably, having a massive symbol of western capitalism and ideology attacked and destroyed before the eyes of the world– camera crews were on hand to capture the second crash into the Towers–shifted “what is possible” and “how do communities react?” for the world as well as for the US.

Still, it’s a strange feeling to be a US native in a German city, hearing about this event both as a mature adult and as a representative of my country- for, despite how good my German is and how integrated I am into the social, legal, and academic structures here, I am still “the American.”  I like to think I have a special claim to memory and grief in regards to this event, because I was one of the millions of school children sent home early that day to find safety with family- since many US Americans feared even more attacks scattered all over the US. I was someone whose normal routine was interrupted by a call by someone who happened to catch the news and gave instructions to turn on the television news. I was someone who sat at home with my family, television news running in the background, trying to get in contact with people we knew who were in NYC and the Pentagon, wanting to make sure that at least the people we knew personally had escaped death and, if lucky, weren’t in the area altogether. I was someone who couldn’t understand why one group of people could hate an ideology so much, that they would be willing to take the lives of anyone who lived in it.

Now that I’m older, more critical of the world and the way public trauma works, I realize that there’s a lot of “black and white” understanding of these events and the subsequent reactions of the US and countries around the world. It’s actually thousands of shades and tints of gray that no one person could summarize in his/her lifetime. Still, 15 years later, I think we can all agree that it was not the end of the world. Time moves on. Wounds heal. Movies are made, books written, and thousands of interviews and conversations add more layers to understanding the attacks (or rather, continuing to try to understand).

Fifty-five years from now (I’m an optimist- I believe there will be a 2071, I imagine my grandchildren asking me where I was during the 9/11 attacks. What will we tell them? How will they learn about it in school? What is the timeline of events that will appear in the history books, before and after September 11, 2001? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ve learned what it means to despise an ideology- Islamist fundamentalism is a pretty nasty piece of business- and  I hope I’ll never to have find out whether I’d be willing to kill someone of that ideology. I suppose an individual can be justified differently than 3000+ individuals. But that’s not a thought I want to end this post with.

Rather, I felt the need to publicly reflect on an event that is such a key part of recent public memory. I know I won’t be the only one who feels that way today, though most people don’t feel the need to share their reflection with the world.

I am grateful to live in a world so interconnected that a US American can be inspired to reflect in Germany, and that US Americans are wise enough to recognize their role in the world and work on being a productive member of it, even if we often disagree on the methods they take to fulfill that purpose. This interconnectedness- another word could be globalism in the cultural, political and economic sense- is, as we’ve seen, a double-edged sword that we’re still collectively learning to wield. Good luck to us all.

 

Women’s World Cup update in which Germany loses and the USA wins, hopefully

Hello again!

So the end of the Women’s World Cup is upon us. I’m sure you share my sadness (if you even knew it was happening to begin with). Germany played England last night for third place, and the number one team in the world faced another loss, this time in overtime without penalty kicks. I’m sure I’m not the only one disappointed in Germany’s performance, but it is also good to see proof of the chances in a soccer match. When it comes down to it, the chances are always 50-50. As Sepp Herberger is famously remembered to have said: “Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten.” I have to admit, I’m happy for the Lionesses who’ve never made it this far in a world cup… who doesn’t love an underdog?

So, we’ll see what happens as the 2011 rematch gets played out tonight. During the Women’s World Cup four years ago, USA played and lost to Japan. In 2011, Japan proved itself as technically superior to all they played against, and a lot of that skill seems to have returned. The US has a strong team with the motivation to beat Japan.

Not to mention, the US has made it to the finals in the past three World Cups, and lost each time. Fourth time a charm?

From Sea to Shining Sea

A US Patriot in a German Grossstadt- Happy 4th of July!

I’m not really patriotic, few people in my family are. Part of this is because my mother is German and her upbringing involved very little flag waving… though why any form of German patriotism is still likened to extreme nationalism speaks to the pervasive power of collective memory. My father served in the US Air Force and continues to serve the government in a different way, working in Immigration offices where he has the unique opportunity to watch new US citizens be sworn in every day. He is a patriot, but not a blind one. Through his experiences, I think he is able to look at his country objectively. Anyone who experiences other cultures and learns other languages will be set on a path of comparisons and thinking that add nuances to the world as he/she knew it, or thought s/he did. However, the person who is able to go to another country, experience many good things there, and then come back to his/her own country and say s/he likes it better there makes a much more powerful statement than the one who stayed within the same borders his/her whole life and says it’s the best place to be. I can say that I like to be in the U.S.  and be very specific about why.

Having lived in Germany for nine months now, I’ve seen a lot of Germany. There are many, many things I like and could appreciate for the rest of my life, but also a few things that bother me about a few individuals who grew up here. Of course, one can say the same about the U.S. Americans.

I have learned to differentiate between individuals, communities, political and social commonalities versus individual idiosyncrasies. But before I go off on a list of things I’ve learned from being here in Germany, which I’m saving for the end of the month, I want to talk a little about what I’ve learned about the US and the German perspective of the US.

I’m sorry, but while most Germans I have met think US Americans are very nice and very helpful, a lot have also said that they consider US citizens uninformed and almost stupid when it comes to politics. They see many Americans as conservatives who oppose abortion, believe in the right to bear arms, and fear taxes and a good health care system. There is a lot of confusion about race relations in the US, and many think of the US as being New York, Washington D.C., or LA and San Francisco, when there really is so much more to the country. It’s interesting that the social stereotypes about the country reflect spaces different than the cities Germans imagine when they think of the US.

One thing that all Germans I have met agree upon, however, is how beautiful the country is. Perhaps it’s also just the wide expanses of nothing but nature that the Germans appreciate, squeezing 80 million people into a land half the size of Texas. There’s no denying the strength of the beauty of our country, and I can’t help but think that the beauty passes onto the people somehow too.

I should probably try to write more (after all, I wanted to be more to grant this post a little more critical weight), but the sun is shining outside, and it’s too warm to be inside. One thing I’m really missing right now is the beach near my home in the US, but I’ll be there soon enough.  Hope my US readers have a great day! And that the Germans have fun grilling this afternoon. I have a term paper to write… yippee

Follow-up: Welps, I guess I expected Germany to win

Despite what I wrote yesterday, until I saw that the US beat Germany 2:0, I think I expected Germany to win.

As expected, it was a tight game. There were a few calls by the referee that people are saying were against Germany’s favor (these “sayings” are especially loud over here), but ignoring the foul that occurred in/outside the box, or the foul that did or did not happen, the U.S. objectively had more shots and more ball possession. They also scored a goal other than the contended penalty kick, which would have been enough to win the game on its own.

So, it’s USA in the finals! It will be interesting to see them play against Japan, the defending World Cup champs or England. I’m neutral about whom I’d like to see. I just want a good game that ends in US victory, obviously.

Hope everyone has a good Wednesday!

PSA: Germany versus US Women’s Soccer Match

or, a short commentary on whom to root for:

See full size imageSince I’m sure you’re all well-informed about women’s soccer, and the fact that the Women’s World Cup is currently being held, I may be overkilling it with this announcement about the match tonight at 0000 BST. I just want to make sure that you’re as pumped about it as I am.

Even if it isn’t a match-up like the Men’s World Cup group qualifiers, where Juergen Klinsman, former German trainer met Jogi Loew, current German trainer, there are enough ties between the teams for tonight’s game to be tense. Just looking at the last names of the U.S. players: Krieger (which ironically means war-maker), Engen, Klingenberg, Naeher, Sauerbrunn, one gets an idea of the historical ties the US players have to Germany. I can imagine there are no mixed feeling amoungst the players about who should win, but I certainly have some.

Growing up in the US, I saw soccer as the only outlet to play a sport that allowed me to play with the guys at lunchtime and have a sort of competitive equality. Girls are quickly outmatched in any other sport. I imagine that basketball has a similar kind of appeal to girls like me, but other than that, sports are pretty separate in the US. Thus, I have a good idea of what it means to be a national player in the US and the stereotypes that go along with being a female soccer player. The US team, therefore, has my sympathies.

However, being in Germany now and having played on a German team, I learned a new way to interact on and off the field and I know how the Germans celebrate when their team wins. I kind of hope they do tonight… and then again, I don’t.

It’s not as though one team is much better than the other, either. The US is currently ranked number 2 in the world, and Germany is ranked first… but that means nothing when it comes down to the 90 minutes on the playing field. It can go either way and I’m just going to try and enjoy the game and be happy either way.

A German Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is considered a traditional U.S. American holiday. Es ist eine traditionelle U.S. Amerikanische Feiertag und wird jeden November am 4. Donnerstag gefeiert. Obwohl Thanksgiving ein Herbsterntefest ist , wie sie in vielen Kulturen gefunden werden kann, ist es besonders mit US-Kultur verbunden. O. Henry, the writer, called Thanksgiving the one holiday that is purely U.S. American, one on which one can expect anyone in the U.S. to be traveling for or hosting for. There are some problems with the origins of the holiday, as I’ve learned while getting older, but the celebration itself, other than how it’s taught in elementary schools, is removed from those origins  and for many people,Thanksgiving is a time of friends and family reunions… and about food. 

While writing, I had to remind myself that there are different experiences associated with Thanksgiving, For example, for some Native Americans the holiday represents something different than togetherness and is actually a day of mourning. Also, for many of the poor and homeless people living in the States, preparing the huge meal or spending the holiday with friends and family is difficult. But there are also many religious and service organizations who try to make celebrating the holiday possible with holiday meals and events.

Being away from my family this year, I didn’t expect to be celebrating the holiday. Aber dan… heute haben mich mehrere deutsche oder internationalle Studentin darueber angesprochen, und ich habe mich gefreut, als ich sagen konnte, ich werde es auch hier feiern. Ich war zum Thanksgiving Essen eingeladen. I didn’t know if I would be celebrating Thanksgiving this year, since it is the first time I’m not home, but my fellow VDAC American and I were graciously invited by another American in my area, and it turned out to be my first “real American Thanksgiving.”

Ever since I can remember, I’ve celebrated a German Thanksgiving. The only language spoken around the table was German because the guests were all Germans. Once or twice, there was an exception in the form of a U.S. American (other than my father) or a Polish lady, but they always also spoke German. This meant that while we were sitting in South Florida in temperatures too warm for late Fall and eating traditional southern Thanksgiving dishes (no one makes stuffing like my Papa), the atmosphere had a certain German aura that could not be dislodged. Perhaps it permeated because we don’t carry on any U.S. American traditions, like watching football afterwards, or just the euro-centered conversations that went on, but I never came back to school the following Monday the stories like my U.S. American classmates.

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This year, however, I picked up some wine and blackberry juice from the local grocery store, put on a dress and my nice boots with heels, and tried to get into the festive mood.

The place we were invited to was small (a typical student’s apartment) with not enough chairs and a table too small for all the good things that were to go on it… but that could of course happen in any Thanksgiving home. The guests also weren’t all American. There were us two VDAC students, the two US singer-students, a German student who will go to the US next year, a German one of the singers met on the S-Bahn once, a German whom the other singer had befriended, and another America who has been living and performing (Phantom of the Opera?!) for a year already in Hamburg. Our levels of German were acoustically scattered across the board, but it was the general consensus to speak English. Hence, my first American Thanksgiving. 🙂

Jill, our wonderful host, had prepared every single traditional dish. She said that she had been cooking since the night before, and I could believe it. I would have liked to have brought something too! But she had already said not to bring anything except ourselves and maybe something to drink.

It was a delightful evening with other guests coming and going, enough excellent food (green bean casserole, steamed carrots in honey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and turkey) to go up for three helpings, and just good atmosphere and company.

Jokes were made and politics were discussed (and then quickly topics were changed), much laughing was done, and we went around and every got to say what they were thankful for (this took a while to get everyone settled down for, since as was pointed out by various guests, it is also Thanksgiving custom to interrupt or start side-conversations). When it was my turn, I could only say how thankful I was to be there and celebrating Thanksgiving. I am also thankful to be in Germany and able to complete my MA while abroad. I have experienced so many great things as a citizen of Hamburg. My list of all the things I’ve been able to see and do gets longer each day. The last thing I said I was grateful for was technology, since without programs like MagicJack, Skype, or FaceTime, I would not be able to communicate with my family and friends to the extent that I do. Being able to talk with them and see them has made being away from them (and not getting their hugs) more bearable.

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excuse the fact that I cut Jill out; I did not know if she would want her picture on the interwebs. But look at all the great food!!!

All in all, this Thanksgiving provides me with a wonderful memory that I’ll be able to look back at with fondness. It was such a sweet experience to create a little bubble of America in the room like that.

So it was a surprise when it was after midnight and I was reminded that I had class the next day. In the States, no one would have to worry about being ready for Friday (unless one was a horrible Black-Friday shopper :p). The question of transportation home also became an issue since, while public transportation in Hamburg does run longer on holidays, Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday for the Germans.

But it worked out, since another guest and I (this guest happens to be the German VDAC student who is going to the U.S. through the exchange program next year) both needed to leave “earlier” than the others and left together. We had a nice walk through Hamburg-Altona to the bus station (there are night buses, even when the subways/strassenbahne don’t run), and she convinced me to go a little out of our way to see the Altona Hafen at night.

I am glad we did.

It was a magical ending to a beautiful evening. I’m starting to think Thanksgiving is always good if there’s some German involved somehow.

A surprisingly relevant article I found: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/nov/27/celebrating-thanksgiving-american-student-abroad

Another article I found is for English-as-a-foreign-language speakers:  http://learningenglish.voanews.com/content/american-celebrate-thanksgiving/2529775.html