So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye…

The relationship between Germany and the US has a pseudo Machiavellian feel to it.  It’s a love and hate friendship that lasted 75 years.  Born out of the ashes of WWII, the Marshall Plan, the Cold War, and of course 9/11; the “on and off” surreal love affair managed to outlive politics and politicians.  But Donald Trump is not a politician. And even Frau Merkel was no match to his impulsive “cowboy diplomacy”.  But NATO acquiesced to an agreement, and the Secretary of Defense announced the 11,900 re-alignment of troops from Germany to other locations in Europe or back to the US.  The angst has started in earnest, and for good reason.

 Let’s not be fooled.  Although not as scathingly loud, brash, and often downright rude;   former Presidents from Clinton to Obama silently complained of the unfair contribution toward European and Gulf security by rich European nations like Germany, which barely contributes enough to manage its own military.

It’s common knowledge that Germany lacks behind in hardware. Old equipment and aircraft have rendered the German Bundesweher impotent in any conflict.  Their outdated armor can’t defend a brawl at a wine fest.  Once the pride of Europe, German military would not stand a chance deterring anyone coming across the borders not even red ants. Their air force is no better. The ranking in NATO contribution between 2013-2019 is an eye opener:

CountryGDP %
US3.42
Bulgaria3.25
Greece2.28
UK2.34
Estonia2.14
Romania2.04
Lithuania2.03
Latvia2.01
Poland2.00

Germany and other elitist old Western European nations barely make it past 1.80%.  Turkey stands at 1.89%.  Germany’s percentage has remained steady at 1.38% with a left- handed promise from Frau Merkel that Germany would reach its 2.0% target by 2034! We should have warp drive by then.  In the meantime, the US pumps billions of Euros into the German economy, its defense, and the defense of the rest of Europe.  Albeit the fact that the US has self interests in keeping Europe safe, it has taken on the posture of the main parent in a family of dysfunctional children.

Those of us who have  lived and served in Europe since the 1970’s have a more down to earth perspective.   We lived through terrorist attacks in the 70’s and early 80’s which compelled the US military to teach us how to “inspect” our private owned vehicles for explosive devices.  We checked under the wheels and under our vehicles for anything that we might consider “unusual” lest we get blown up.   We attended NEO briefings in case of a Communist invasion. And we had to keep supplies and packed luggage at a ready in case of an immediate evacuation.

The German Red Army Faction and its “friends” in other Western European countries ran rampant and rogue.  Their objective was to kill Americans and those associated with them. Among their most nefarious deeds was the killing of several airmen on Rhein Main Air Base on the outskirts of Frankfurt. They stole a US registered vehicle and drove it on base to the HQ building and blew it up killing several airmen.  Another famous terror attack targeted a West Berlin nightclub frequented mostly by US service members. It was spring 1986 when an RAF bomb killed four Americans and injured 155.  That was Germany during the Cold War. That was the Germany we lived in.

Not a weekend goes by that a protest perpetrated by the far left or far right does not stop US Forces traffic through the gates at Ramstein Air Base, or Stuttgart, or even Wiesbaden. We’ve gone through anti-nuke protests, Army Go Home graffiti, and complaints in Stuttgart, Ansbach, Ramstein, and Spangdahlen citing aircraft noise, and military traffic.  The latest “persecution” of US Service Members and DoD civilians is happening within the Rheinland Pfalz region where the highest concentration of US soldiers and Airmen are located and live.  A few kilometers from Ramstein, Landstuhl Regional Hospital, Baumholder, and Kaiserslautern, the Rheinland Pfalz government is going after US Service Members married to German spouses for alleged tax evasion. Despite the fact that US Service Members and DoD civilians are exempt from VAT under SOFA, the local government chooses to “interpret” the SOFA agreement egregiously demanding thousands of Euros from US soldiers and airmen in back taxes.  The loosened interpretation conveniently assumes that once the spouse is German, the intent is to remain in Germany.  Germany is the only country with a SOFA agreement attempting such a nebulous attempt at collecting revenue from US Service members and their families stationed overseas.

Then there is the expense.  A few weeks ago, in a futile attempt at self promoting NATO-US support, the German government indignantly stated that in 10 years it had spent 1 Billion Euros in US Military support.  That equates to approximately 10 million Euros a year. A drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the approximate 8.125 billion Euros the US spends annually in salaries to local nationals, benefits to local nationals, utilities to local governments, fees to local contractors, leasing expenses to local landlords, local maintenance, repairs, and environmental regulation expenses. In the meantime, Americans contribute an approximate additional annual 2 billion Euros to local businesses in services directly correlated to their presence. These include rentals, restaurants, local stores, and travel. Tax Free car dealerships and local furniture stores sprout like weeds outside US garrisons and Bases. Their livelihood depends on the US presence in their respective areas.

That was the “hate” portion of the German-American relationship;  but there is also a lot of love.  We have lived in Germany since 1985.  From Bremerhaven to Frankfurt, and finally Bavaria; we made friendships and connections to last us a lifetime. Germans albeit reserved, once thawed, will remain the best of friends forever.  The ties between the US and Germany go back hundreds of years through immigration, WWII, and Elvis Presley. 

Elvis Presley: Ray Barracks, Friedberg, 1958

My short stint on Friedberg’s Ray Barracks, taught me that the 3rd Armor Division liberated Hessen, but Elvis liberated the Germans.  Elvis spent two years on Ray Barracks, Friedberg, as the personal driver to the Brigade Commander.  He also spent a few weeks training on Grafenwohr Training Area. Every year, the love of Elvis gathers thousands of Germans and Americans at Bad Nauheim, four kilometers from Friedberg, to celebrate  his birthday or memorialize his death. Elvis lived in Bad Nauheim with his father for the duration of his Army tour in Germany. This was where in the summer of 1959, Priscilla was driven over from Wiesbaden to meet him, where a shrine still stands at the front door of the hotel Grunewald where he lived at, and  where “Wooden Heart” still plays loud in English and German.  Elvis chose to live off post to deter unnecessary commotion at the front gate of Ray Barracks where screaming girls became the norm.

Hotel Grunwald, Bad Nauheim

Except for this COVID year, one of the largest German-American Fest is held in our military neighborhood of Grafenwoehr. Over 150,000 Germans brave the elements for a taste of hamburgers cooked by GI’s, American Ice Cream, American Country and Western Music, and a look at some US Army hardware on display. Such fests are held on all US facilities all over Germany.  That’s when nukes, climate change, politics, and Army Go Home are put aside for a good ol’e fashioned shindig which only Americans know how to throw. It’s not unusual to see Germans in cowboy hats, cowboy boots, and country shirts and skirts doing line dancing with the best of them.

In many locations where US presence is predominant, local vendors accept dollars instead of Euros.  US families send their kids to local German kindergartens.  Eventually the kids will learn German and start translating for their parents. Omas and Opas in small neighborhoods and villages become the ultimate day care providers, teaching American kids how to speak German and liking German food.  It’s not unusual to see teary eyed German neighbors wave goodbye to American families as they pack and leave their neighborhoods to go back to the States. They hug as they invite each other to the opposite side of the pond. Let us not forget the many German spouses who married Americans and moved to the US only to return and retire in Germany. Germany has the largest number of recorded military retirees in the world. Most of us chose to retiree in Germany close to a US military installation for the continual connection to the US military which we had known all our lives, but also for the tranquility of German life.  We live and thrive in German neighborhoods where we are accepted with love by German neighbors.

Americans in Germany contribute to the local lore that most US installations past and present provide German communities.  My neighbors recall Americans on the German Caserne in our neighborhood. They fondly recall  American families who were stationed here many years ago and returned for visits.  They tell of attending American Thanksgivings, and 4th of July .  There isn’t an American family that does not own at least one Dirndl or Lederhosen.  There are no Bretzels like Bavarian Bretzels.  Sorry NYC.  Schnitzel, kase spatzle, leberkase, and beer are extraordinary, especially if eaten at a local Gasthaus or fest in beautiful Bavaria.

The reality is that our presence in Germany was not supposed to be permanent.  The Marshall Plan was a startup attempt at getting a devastated country on its feet.  But the Cold War changed all of that.  Eventually families started accompanying service members, and the rest is history. But closing a US installation is psychologically devastating for local populations. I recall the town of Bamberg in tears as the US Installation that had been there since WWII closed its doors for the last time.  After the speeches and the rhetoric, the local German population sat with the remaining Americans and reminisced and cried.  A family had been broken.  This was 2012.  I was there for the closure.  Locals still walk past the locked gates of USAG Bamberg wistfully and sad. 

Germans remember when Americans numbered in the thousands, bringing with them an American way of life they only watched on a movie screen and often yearned for.  In contrast to the quiet and disciplined German characteristics, Americans are loud, brash, and often undisciplined.  But most Germans, especially older ones, remember and appreciate the fact that it was these Americans who kept them safe in places like Grafenwoehr, only 35 kilometers from the former Communist Czechoslovakia border. They remember Cold War West Berlin, where flights from West Germany kept the population fed and warm right after the Russian blockade.  They remember Fulda, where the famous “Fulda Gap” was located. A nickname derived from the fact that it was the determined point of entry of choice by Communist Eastern Bloc should they have chosen to invade.  From the North, to the South, to the East, and the West; during the Cold War, US presence in Europe numbered approximately 250,000. 

We made Germany our country of choice because we have always felt “at home” here.  Our small Bavarian neighborhood nestled in the hills and valleys of the Oberphalz is picture perfect. It brings to us harmony and peace in a world full of crazy.  Many Americans in Germany feel safer than in their own country.  COVID and other insane happening in the land of the free prompted some of them to extend their stay in Germany. Is it the end of an era?  Probably. It had to come sooner than later.  One thing for sure: every administration from Bush senior downwards could have prevented a Putin in Russia, but the pressure for “peace” and dismantling of US assets in Germany after the Cold War, left an open path for Russia to regroup. That’s politics and politicians. Votes outweigh common sense.

As gates to US Installations start closing, thousands of Germans are now anticipating the inevitable. Loss of income. I’ve grown to love and respect many local nationals who I worked with in my capacity as DoD contractor. Many have worked and supported the military since they were teens. They are our neighbors and friends. Not much to do at this point but wait and see. Is it goodbye or Auf Wiedersehen…till we see you again!

Statues, monuments, and morons-oh my!

The United States is at cross roads, absurd to the left and irrelevance to the right.  The latest victim to absurdity is the cry for the removal of Theodore Roosevelt’s statue from New York’s American Museum of Natural History.  This absurdity is further propagated by the  buffoonery of NYC Mayor De Blasio and NY State Governor Cuomo. Both pandering to something that has morphed into stupid without an end in sight.  Historical distortion of events, personages, and truth has now reached epic proportions.  The blatant disregard to dialogue has turned the country into an ignorant caricature of  politicians attempting to seem “woke” or empathetic while thugs destroy public property with immunity.  So what’s with Teddy?  What’s the beef?

Statue of Teddy Roosevelt outside NY American Museum of Natural History

Theodore Roosevelt was the most beloved  American President and entrepreneur of the 20th century.  He embodied the  American dream, the “can do” attitude that built a country everybody wants to be in and those currently in it want to destroy. Theodore Roosevelt was an adventurer. He was also a progressive long before being progressive was considered “hip”. He served for a short time as Governor of NY State, but spent most of his life travelling across the country and finding ways to preserve its beauty.  He designated wild parks, trails, and nature walks as areas for enjoyment.  But all of this has been put aside in an attempt by the likes of De Blasio and Cuomo to find Teddy‘s statue “problematic”. 

Two figures join Teddy: a native American and an African man.  Both representing the two continents where Teddy travelled and had adventures in.  But wait, he is on a horse and they are beneath him; a definite sign of colonial supremacy and racism. That’s the narrative.  Even the great grandson of Teddy chimed into the absurd.  Theodore Roosevelt IV does not think that the statue reflects his ancestor’s “legacy”. Whatever that means.   By the way, Mr. Roosevelt “the IV” is one of the trustees and on the board of the Museum.  Let’s appease stupid to keep our pocket book lined and throw the great grandfather under the bus.

Alexander Stephens

I have only recently found out that we have a Monument Removal Brigade.  Can’t make this up.  A self appointed morality squad.  They determine the what is socially and morally unacceptable and we must comply. They have been operating since 2017 after the White Supremacist march in Charlottesville. They were behind the initial removal of the Confederate statues in the South.  To be fully honest and transparent; I personally don’t have  a problem with any of those statues being removed.  The losing side should never be glorified in bronze.  As soon as the Cold War ended, the first casualties of freedom were the statues of Lenin.  We all rejoiced when we watched the Iraqis topple the statue of Saddam Hussein.  And we applauded as Leningrad was again renamed St. Petersburg. Honoring “heroes” of the Confederacy is questionable to say the least.  The Confederacy was based on “the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race…” (Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy – Cornerstone Speech, Savannah, Georgia March 21, 1861).  As Henry Olsen so eloquently concluded in his Washington Post opinion column (June 24, 2020), “Monuments to this revolting sentiment have no place in the United States that is dedicated to the opposite principle-that all men are created equal”.  I agree.

Ulysses Grant

But why go after Grant, the general who defeated the Confederacy? Or Washington, who defeated colonialism? Or Lincoln, the President who went to war for emancipation? What stupid has entered our society? What historical ignorance is lurking in the halls of our academia? Have we reached a point in our country that fact and truth is irrelevant? Is erasing the truth easing the alleged pain? If we are to go back in history and punish all those who wanted a segregated South, or owned slaves, then we should start with Congress.  Southern Democrats owned slavery and segregation. 

Robert Byrd statue in W. Virginia State Capitol

Remember Robert Byrd? Oldest Democratic Senator from West Virginia?  Loved by Hillary Clinton, and eulogized by President Obama as a “voice of principle and reason”. When Byrd died in 2010, then Vice President Biden called him a “dear friend”. Robert Byrd was a self-admitting KKK honcho.  In the early 1940’s he led a 150 member chapter of the KKK as their Exalted Cyclops.  Whatever that meant. In 1945, when he returned from WWII he passionately lamented to then Democratic Senator from Mississippi, Theodore Bilbo, another segregationist, that the military was on the verge of integrating its troops.  The “principled” Byrd wrote that he would rather die and see the flag trampled in the dirt than to “…see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels”.  His supporters will tell you that he later renounced his KKK affiliation and regretted it. How convenient when it’s one of your own. In the meantime no liberal has found his statue still standing in the State Capitol of West Virginia “problematic” or offensive. No monument police has been sent out to deface or remove. Go figure.

Churchill statue boarded up for protection.

The “idiotic” is not confined to Uncle Sam. Across the pond, bands of thugs went after Winston Churchill.   The man who saved Great Britain and Europe from Nazism.  Unfortunately, the past is a path no one wants to take.  The slave trade flourished in Africa because blacks sold blacks.  They had no moral compass that held them back from selling their own to white slave traders. We don’t need to go that far back.  On a “normal” weekend, deaths in Chicago are in double digits.  Blacks killing blacks. Slavery is not one dimensional and is not owned by black ethnicity only.  The first recorded slaves were the Jews.  Taken by force to Egypt and eventually to Europe by the Romans. The Pyramids were built by slaves. Do we pull them down? In the Mediterranean, the Ottoman Empire ran amok, landing on small islands and taking inhabitants as slaves.  Gozo, the small island off the coast of Malta was raided regularly and its inhabitants carted away.

The free world was built on the backs of many, but it also flourished through the mindset of those who fought to redeem, regret, forgive, and learn.  The millions risking their lives attempting to reach our shores should be testimonial to the country’s redeeming factors not its troublesome past.  Is there racism in America? I’m certain there is. Is there bigotry? I’m also certain there is. Are Americans by nature both? No.  Americans have died and still die protecting others. They are the first to assist in disasters and conflict. They are generous to a fault. Are they perfect? No.

Flossenburg Labor Camp 1940

I live 45 minutes away from a Nazi slave labor camp in Germany.  A reminder of evil beyond imagination.  How can humans dehumanize each other so succinctly? Germany left its concentration camps and labor camps open to the public as a lesson in a country gone bad. Nurnberg, the epicenter of the Third Reich, still has vivid reminders of the Fuhrer’s madness and craving for imperial greatness.  Germany did not hide its past, it left it exposed as atonement. Proof of what it inflicted is the shame and guilt that every generation of Germans since WWII must carry.  Removing its “monuments” to Nazism would have also erased the memory of the six million that died in camps as inconsequential. Those wounds must remain open.

Every generation has a past. How far is atonement relevant? Religious zeal has killed and tortured in the name of God for millennia.  Are we going to burn churches down? The Ottoman Empire ravaged Europe in the name of Islam.  Are we going to burn Mosques down? How far back do we want to go to satisfy those who want reparation? The Roman Empire? The Greek Empire? The rabid anti-civilization leftist movement is seeking a better future by erasing the past. A page from Lenin’s playbook.  How did that work out?

Olsen, H. (June 24, 2020) Anti-statue movement has taken an absurd turn. Stars and Stripes. The Washington Post.

Light is at the end of the tunnel

Our vaterland is easing Corona restrictions resiliently and determinedly as we move toward the 5th week of isolation.  Not that life has been harsh in beautiful Bavaria.  Until I’m at the local grocery store where everyone wears and breaths through masks like Darth Vader, I would not know that there is a health crises. My morning walks continue, and I still hold appointments with clients.  Life has continued relatively unscathed in our small Bavarian community.  Our Corona angst was several decibels lower than everyone else’s. 

Thanks to Frau Merkel, we expect some businesses to open by April 20th, and high schools to open by the first week in May.  Large gatherings are still banned until August. I think the latter is putting a damper on things more than any other restriction.  Oktoberfest normally kicks off end of September, and soccer season is in full swing come June; a quandary for organizers of these large events. Lest we forget; beer fests, outdoor concerts, and wine fests are staples for any decent German enjoying the summer.   But Germans have taken everything in their stride with discipline and determination that prompted Frau Merkel to give everyone a pat on the back for a job well done.

Bar in Stockholm

As we move forward toward normalcy or semblance thereof,  I reflect and opine on the rapid government decision to lock us up.  Fear and mass hysteria mostly fueled by the media and cable news “experts” prompted politicians to react lest they are thought of being complacent.  But not everyone followed suit.  Sweden was the lonely reed that held out in favor of self determination.  The Swedish government decided to “appeal to the common sense” of its people.  That’s a tall order. They requested social distancing, working from home, refraining from unnecessary travel, and school closures for a few extra weeks.  Restaurants and other services remained open with an appeal to keep customers apart.  Very civilized. Very gemutlichkeit as the Germans would say.

Marlene Riedel, Communications Officer for the European Council on Foreign Relations, and a Swede living in Berlin, misses her country right now. Back home she would be enjoying life. Marlene has some interesting observations on Sweden. It seems that Swedes unlike their Southern EU cousins refrain from handshaking or any intimate gestures so familiar in other European countries. As she so aptly put it, Swedes practice distancing all their lives.  They are not prone to large gatherings not even families, and even on bus stops they keep their distance. The majority of Swedes already work from home. But Sweden’s Nordic neighbors are not amused.  Sweden has been called naïve, slow, and crazy.  One impassioned Danish journalist went as far as calling Sweden a “horror movie” ready to happen. But Sweden kept its course. Sweden to date has about the same reported cases as its neighbors and the same number of deaths, but they did not find it necessary to close down the economy.  Although the jury is still out, it remains scathingly remarkable how the Swedish government decided to stand by its own scientific and health advisors rather than by “political considerations”. Translation: they prefer their own judgment to being pushed by a political agenda . Sweden has balls! (Pardon the pun).

Let’s face it, this year is shot to shit. Economies are now crap and forget about sunny beaches anywhere.  Our lives have been put on hold.  Will our lives ever return to normal?  What I find disturbing is how we easily allowed governments to take over our lives and civil liberties without resistance. A little perspective is in order. The CDC reports that since  2010, between 9 million and  45 million Americans have been infected by the annual flu epidemic. 140,000-810,000 Americans have also been hospitalized with the flu in the same time frame. The 2017-2018 flu season killed 61,000 Americans.  The 2014-2015 flu season killed 51,000 Americans.  No angst at any time.  No quarantine, no social distancing, no economic closures, and no panic.  As a matter of fact since 2010, except for the appeal to the public to be vaccinated against the flu, life went on as usual. So what changed? What red button was pushed to detain us? Have we set a precedent? Are we going to lock countries up every time some asshole sets a virus loose?

Woman in Wuhan barricaded in her home.

Reports from China were frightening on several levels.  Besides lying to the world, Chinese authorities went as far as locking down Wuhan citizens without cause relying only on “suspicion” of being infected.  Locking up meant barricading people in their own homes. Most were dragged out of homes to be tested and then locked up.  Neighbors snitched on neighbors. Images of people resisting authorities should get a rise out of us. Are we okay with that? Do we really want our government to poke and test us without our consent to “protect” us? Are we prepared to be locked in our homes without recourse? Are we prepared to give up our basic civil liberties every time a flu or unknown disease hits our shores?  If we did it for Corona why not for influenza? It kills more people.  Are we prepared for mandatory vaccinations, examinations, testing, and prodding when the next virus angst hits us?

Governments and politicians reacted to political pressure.  At the end of the day votes matter. I’m sure that after the world settles down the finger pointing will start in earnest.  

Donald G. McNeil Jr of The New York Times is  a science and health reporter specializing in plagues and pestilence. In a March 26th article he scathingly outlined what went wrong with the US response to the virus.  The New York Times is not one of my favorite newspapers, but I went to the dark side and found light.

Mr. McNeil outlined a few facts succinctly. The US is the 3rd most populated country in the world with approximately 337 million people.  The potential for a virus to spread is greater than other countries. But some failings could have been avoided. Trump’s calm denial followed by incoherent and mixed messages failed to give any precise guidelines or the extent of the situation. This was further compounded by the drastic shortage of protection equipment, to include masks. The country also lacked adequate testing and was caught with its pants down so to speak.  Mr. McNeil spreads the blame equally among politicians who in February were more concerned with impeaching Trump, putting Harvey Weinstein behind bars, Brexit, and Climate Change. But if Trump had given even one second of his attention to the virus which by February had already killed hundreds of people in Italy, I am certain he would have been accused of attempting to deflect from his impeachment trial. 

Waiting to be tested in NYC

At this point I must also add that until March 8th, Governor Cuomo of New York still refused to outline any guidelines. In an interview on FNC Sunday Morning Futures, he told Maria Bartiromo that there was no reason for panic, as the few cases appeared in Westchester county were “a cluster”. He did not predict any similar problem in NYC, plus he wanted to avoid panic at all costs.  How did that work out Governor?

We will soon enter into the could have, should have, would have, phase of politics especially as we slowly move toward the US general election in November.  The circus will soon come to town with accusations and second guessing, each side throwing blame like flame throwers at a street festival.  I doubt that had it been someone else in the White House they would have done any better.  Politicians on both sides have failed Americans miserably in health, education, and leadership. Americans have lost their trust in their government. But most important; Americans have lost their grit and ability to cope.  A progressive social agenda has rendered the country impotent.  Panic has replaced logic. Politics has replaced common sense.  Sensationalism has replaced journalism. Opinion has replaced truth.  Yes, it’s going to be interesting the post Corona era.  Some politicians will rise while others will fall.  Will we be better prepared the next time some idiot lets loose another viral crap? Who knows, but I doubt it. 

I am not ashamed to admit that being isolated in Bavaria is not a hardship.  Inconvenient at times but nothing major.  No unnecessary angst.  No panic at grocery stores. No fighting for toilet paper.  An abundance of beer and wine sooths the Bavarian temperament adequately. As I sit in the garden with a nice glass of wine a smirk escapes my lips: it doesn’t get better than this. 

https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_sweden_goes_it_alone_the_eus_coronavirus_exception

Week three of Corona and the “woke” generation

Third week into our Corona isolation and weird is the norm.  The epidemic is slowly revealing a generation of unable to cope with life.  The angst has reached shrill pitch and staying home is now requiring mental health “advisors”. The “woke” generation is learning a stiff lesson in accountability, responsibility, and financial inconvenience.  Stupid has peaked into hysteria.

My morning paper is cover to cover Corona.  An annoyance in itself since I keep on reading the same crap day after day.  How many times do we have to tell morons to stay home? But then how many times did we tell people that they should saved at least two months’ salary? The gizmo generation is stuck on a couch with only Sony or Apple as companionship.  Their fingers tired from texting, and brain fried by microwaves, they are itching for the outside world, suddenly realizing that they have been zombies for the best part of their lives.

My mother’s generation managed to go through WWI, Spanish flu, Polio epidemics, diphtheria, measles, mumps, chickenpox, WWII and Korea; with limited resources and sans much angst. Some of them managed to later walk on the moon. They managed to survive by sheer belief that one must plough through the bad to get to the good.  They conquered adversity like warriors not entitled twits.  I wonder what  my mother would have said if she had read that women are in total panic because childbirth “support” people have been denied access to the delivery room? Oy Vey!

My mother’s generation of women delivered millions of kids, us included, in bedrooms, barns, fields, and if lucky enough; a hospital.  Their “support” person totaled a midwife or a neighbor.  If things went well, the baby was born and the mother was up in two days cleaning the house and probably taking care of other urchins.  Often things did go bad.  But life went on.  Pragmatically and sustainably. Fast forward to my generation, when albeit conditions fared better and with more comfort, we also managed to deliver kids sans “support” persons.  We sweated, we cursed, we kicked, and we blamed the son of a bitch who put us through the hell we were going through in the first place. We all swore off sex on that delivery bed.  I could have easily reached for the nearest IV needle and stabbed anyone in the groin.  It was childbirth. The grit women were made of. What most of us boasted about. The ante we had on men. Unfortunately, today’s feminists define grit only as marching for the right to abortion in pink goofy hats. An oxymoron on resilience and courage.  We substituted our Amazonian hutzpah with political activism that is often vulgar, minute, and extremely underrated.

And so the angst continues. I sip on my coffee and gag as I read that pregnant women are now in unsolicited panic because hospitals are restricting “support” people during delivery.  So I keep on reading how In recent years hospitals started  “stork nesting” programs; allowing for  “support” people to be in attendance.  The insured have been footing the bill for people who want to feel good about themselves.  A natural process has been reduced to a another “feel good” entitlement. A generation conditioned to think that it is entitled to a life without pain, discomfort, and bad experiences. A generation totally immune to unpleasantness. I was unaware that childbirth had suddenly morphed into a team building event. Who’d have thought?

But my daily dose of nausea was not over yet. Over a bite of apple and peanut butter I discovered that we are entitled to be saved from ourselves. Bring on the morons who are stuck on cruise ships off the coast of Florida, bitching because the governor is refusing them landing.  And this is his and our problem how?  The virus has been making its party rounds since January, and seriously spreading since February.  Opting to lull on a large sea faring Petri dish  with 5,000 other morons is your problem.  That’s like knowing there are flames inside a building and you still insist on entering. My sympathy has been reduced to minus digits. Stupid is as stupid does. I personally refuse to have my tax dollars spent on saving idiots who might produce other idiots from their loins.

Corona is an eye opener.  When staying home for two weeks is psychologically damaging, then the nation’s brains we have supposedly nurtured have sprung a leak.  Trace the lack of fortitude to thirty years of telling kids that they are God’s gift to humankind.  Dumb or not, they deserve a trophy. A big pat on the back to the “equality” politically correct police who convinced parents, educators, and the easily swayed morons that everybody is equal in substance and intellect.  We raised the village idiot to the status of Einstein.  We have provided “safe spaces” for the inept, and compelled them to pursue useless “studies” that are neither marketable nor needed. Yet we failed to teach life coping mechanisms and survival skills. We have even given them “life” coaches whatever and whoever they are.  We put this crap on the forefront of our children’s lives and put common sense, discipline, will power, and disappointment on the back burner; raising a generation of idiotic self-centered weaklings.

My breakfast is over, which is my cue to stop reading more “needy” anguished garbage. I close my paper and wonder how many distraught couch potatoes are on the brink of despair.  I also wonder how many parents are tearing their hair out because they have suddenly realized that they have raised little shits (I stole that from my teacher daughter)  not shining star geniuses.  Yes, the virus might be a blessing in disguise; but for how long?

Is life as we knew it over? Second week in lockdown.

We are now into week two of our Bavarian Corona lockdown.  One can easily get used to the silent streets, clean air, quiet neighbors, and boredom. But eventually we get comfortable in our day wear (pajamas) while days roll by like an old rolodex.  I now know how hamsters feel.  Lock them up, spin that wheel long enough, and they will eventually look forward to it.  It is an insidious situation of wanting to leave the house but our butts won’t budge because it is too much of an effort.  We are now conditioned. I don’t leave the house without carrying latex gloves like a pervert. When this blows over (pardon the pun) I would still be walking six feet away from everybody else just in case.

We are now in the pre-corona remembrance state.  Do any of us recall what life was like when we could be obnoxious without having to think about catching anything?  The joy of being jostled on a busy street, bus, or subway? Businesses are out of business.  Whether a brothel or a jewelry store, we are all up the same creek. The joy of working from home.

I understand the trepidation in Europe, because borders were nonexistent and travel across EU states was virtually unhindered. Which is why the virus spread so rapidly.  Italy took the brunt. Started in the North, in Milan, where fashion designers and brand name houses wheel, deal, and flourish. They are the ones who do the most business with China.  From fabric to leather, China provides high end brands with lower priced resources and labor.

 Milan is “China Town” to name brands like Prada, Gucci, Armani, and many others.  In 2007, Gucci, D & G, and Prada were investigated by investigative journalists from one of Italy’s national television stations, RAI-3.  The journalists discovered that the expensive “stuff” might have been “made in Italy”,  but by Chinese immigrants often in slave labor conditions. In 2008, The Los Angeles Times wrote a piece called “Slaving in the Lap of Luxury”. Another expose on fashion houses in Tuscany and other parts of Northern Italy. Large manufacturing factories of high end goods were little more than sweatshops with poor sanitary conditions, and extreme low wages.  Most of the Chinese were from the Wenzhou region in China.  According to EU labor laws, a manufacturer can claim the country where the product is manufactured or assembled as the country of origin. A subtle legal loophole that brought myriad of Chinese workers into Northern Italy.  The perfect connection from China to Italy to corona.  Greed knows no bounds.

We are now living in the epicenter of the Chinese Virus, except that we can’t call it that because it is considered racist, or so we are told.  We had no problem calling a flu Spanish although it never originated in Spain.  No problem calling a flu African either.  But this is the dawning of the age of politically correctness where stupid is raised to another level.  In the meantime, our lives as we knew them, have changed forever.  Akin to 9/11, we will never travel the same way again, interact with people the same way again, or even leave our homes the same way again.  If this continues through the summer, we would have conditioned ourselves to never shake hands, hug, or touch anyone again.  Are we anticipating a science fiction pod type of life in the corona aftermath?

I for one am taking the entire experience as a work in progress. Each day I brace myself like a trooper. My eyebrows are still plucked, and I will hopefully manage to hide the grey from my hair long enough to psych myself into believing that grey is the new blond.  I might even wear my grey as a badge honor like those “I survived” goofy t-shirts college kids wear.  My nails remain trimmed and even if I have to venture into the grocery store, stand at my pre-conditioned social distance, watching the masked latexed cashier run my groceries; my make-up remains impeccably applicated.

Gas is now at its lowest price I can remember in probably a decade. With no one on the streets, gas stations are lowering prices from one masked breath to the next.  The price I drive by in the morning changes south by mid afternoon.  No complaints here.  But I can also envision the prices going up the minute we are told that we are free to continue our lives sans corona.

The virus has replaced all other world angst.  Heard anyone talking about Climate Change lately?  Where is our teenage climate change ninja; Greta? She must be going through some serious withdrawals. Her face contorts as she realizes that we are experiencing the cleanest climate in decades. China has stopped producing toxic crap and instead went into biological zoolonic crap.  Oh for a whiff of carbon emissions at this moment. Will Greta and other banshee activist morons ever realize that they barked up the wrong tree?  That the West is not the main culprit of climate degradation?  I wonder what convulsions Ms Greta would experience if she realizes that the “climate friendly” boat she sailed on was probably made in China, and contributed more to the world’s pollution than my emission guilty roadster ever will.  Well, the oomph has gone out of that balloon with a swipe of a contaminated hand and a cough.

Every day is a moment in time when we attempt to establish some norm in this crazy.  I find myself timing my day between writing, eating, studying, working, and Netflix.  What to do first?  I am sleeping later because the quiet is surreal. Not a sound of tires, footsteps, or dogs.  The mail person is the highlight of the day. If at all possible, he or she would throw the mail through the mail box.  Last week I had the first package delivered at the established corona distance.  The DHL man did not want my signature on the receipt.  If he could have thrown it through the front door he would have.  So I gingerly balanced myself to grab it as he tailed it out of dodge.  I was compelled to yell: “Hey, I’m not sick!” Skid marks are still on the asphalt. Oy Vey.

I heard that distilleries are going to start manufacturing sanitizers.   Adding a little bit of this and that to their original product.  I intend to use the sanitizer on both hands, lick them, then settle down with a good cigar!  Car manufacturers will be going into respiratory equipment; let’s hope that we have no recalls. I can stand behind a BMW, Mercedes, or Volvo respirator; but I have a problem with a Ford.

Every cloud has a silver lining.  This exercise in regimental regulated living should sit well with the young socialist voters.  We are going through a quick drill in socialist living.  Nothing to buy, nowhere to go, nothing to do, and miserable.  This is life under government regulations.  A government that dictates what is good for you, when, and how.  Which brings me to the young college morons at Spring Break in Miami.  The  intellectual elite who want us, taxpayers, to pay for their education because they think they deserve it.  After their blatant refusal to abide by the restrictions imposed by the government, I submit that they would not fare very well in a Socialist “Amerika.”  Good luck with that dream.

As I walk past my neighbors’ front doors I realize that I have not seen them for almost two weeks.  They have vanished. Swallowed by brick , mortar and fear.  I stop as I get this sudden strong urge to yell, “Is anyone still in there?” But I hesitate , as I conjure up third eyes, two heads, and long fangs creeping behind dark walls. I slowly tiptoe past a front door and suddenly catch a familiar hand waving through the laced curtains of a closed window.  A sigh of relief. I am safe. I can now return to my corona life of tranquility and day wear (pyjamas)!

So what’s with toilet paper?

It is the epidemic of the century, or so they say, and what is getting people mostly hyped about is the possibility of their life without toilet paper.  It’s a phenomenon worth looking into.  Shelves and shelves of toilet paper disappeared overnight like the “rapture” in a Hallmark movie.  The eighth locust plague was a doddle compared to the insidious snatching of rolls on our supermarket shelves.  The panic and the angst of a life sans toilet paper would have given Sigmund Freud a new purpose in life.  So why the compulsion?

I can understand older Europeans in their 80’s and 90’s being concerned with food and staple shortages.  They lived through the devastation of WWII Europe, where toilet paper would have been considered a luxury.  I remember my own mother who went  into a hoarding frenzy every time the news mentioned “war”.  It could have been in South America, but the buzz word was enough to send her to the local store and buy enough toilet paper to last her through several life times.  That I can possibly wrap my mind around.  But the younger generation is an enigma to me.  Are they so utterly unprepared for any kind of hardship that they cannot imagine or have a plan B for ass wiping sans Charmin?  One can’t help being crude because it does involve that part of our body that is taboo in polite company but fair game in a supermarket.

The penchant for hoarding is not new.  If a heat wave is predicted; stores run out of ice, fans, and air conditioners.  If the weatherman predicts cold; then oil prices rise, we run out of heaters, snow shovels, and salt.  The panic of today’s society is beyond any other that our parents or grandparents ever exhibited.  They were told to suck it up.  That gave them a sense of perspective of what should be considered a catastrophe. Life and death was a panic situation, not having enough paper to wipe your ass was not.  But we are talking about the current “trophy” generation ;  conditioned to think that they are God’s gift to mankind and anything short of complete comfort is Armageddon.  They are sans grit, sans gravitas.

The virus panic has crossed ethnicity, gender, time zones, and social standing.  “Doctors” opine on cable news and put their two cents in promising us that their truth is the truth.  Which should make us ask; if we do not have a reasonable vaccine or a cure, doesn’t logic dictate that we really don’t know shit about it? Why speculate?  Because it sells ratings.  In the meantime mainstream media’s over the top call to arms has raised everyone’s blood pressure and urged some of us to become rabid and raid supermarkets out of toilet paper.  

To put everything in perspective. The world population is approximately 8 billion. According to the latest WHO statistics, the current number of Corona infected individuals worldwide is 101,000; .00128% of the world population.  Influenza infects approximately 1 billion individuals worldwide each year.  Killing annually between 291,000 – 646,000 people worldwide. Approximately 45 million are infected by influenza each year in the US.  According to the CDC approximately 56,000 die of it. Currently, the US corona cases have numbered to approximately 2,000 with 56 deaths; mostly elderly and those suffering with immune systems. The current population of the US is approximately 333 million. 56 deaths is .00000017% of the population.  Catch my drift? But the frenzy trumpet sounded, and the unmitigated rush to the toilet paper aisle took off.

Cans of soup, sauces, and sundry still remain gently resting on our supermarket shelves in Germany.  However, one does notice shopping carts filled to the brim with beer and wurst.  After all next to “ass” comforts,  to a true Bavarian, a beer and a wurst makes the prospect of quarantine more bearable.  In Bavaria, the angst is less apparent. Less pronounced.  Schools have closed for an extended spring break and Gast Hauser are taking a sabbatical.  But other than that, the tranquil life of Bavaria is still moving along at its usual slow pace.  At least for now. Frau Merkel did crease her Arian brown in constrained Corona concern, but not to the extent that we have seen in other parts of the world. Germany has a population of approximately 81 million. Up to date: 3,795 cases have been identified and 26 deaths reported. More than 26 Germans have died on the autobahn this year. Perspective?

I will not predict what unprecedented angst will suddenly arise tomorrow. Toilet paper at a neighborhood Lidl  left the building as quickly as Elvis left a Vegas stage.  A young German couple were lately interviewed on a local television station at an attempt to explain the toilet paper corona caper.  They divulged that their next door neighbors made three separate trips to the supermarket to buy the much coveted toilet paper.  They each bought three large packets of 24 rolls.  By the time the young interviewed couple decided to get their quota of toilet paper; the local store had none .  When the reporter asked what they intended to do, they stoically, quietly, and without missing a beat replied; “go next door”.

According to Mary Alvord, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at George Washington University School of Medicine; toilet paper represents an almost “infantile” primal desire to be clean.  It’s inherent. It is a product that we associate with cleanliness, good living, and beautiful people.  It’s a desperate urge to remain unsoiled.   It’s a psychological drive that compels us to keep our asses clean. A behavior attributed to our upbringing and social expectations.  Just for the hell of it I Googled “hoarding toilet paper” and a long list of possibilities dropped down like manna.  From Time to the media guru The Washington Post; psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and all genre of “experts” opined on a myriad of mental possibilities and conditions that compel us to go out in droves and clean supermarkets of ass wipes. I’m sure some Ivy League university has a “study” on “toilet paper compulsion in the world today.”

Bavaria’s roads are reasonably quiet, the weather is getting warmer, and spring is around the corner. As I contemplate what other panic-button restrictions I might have to endure in the next few days, I quickly jump out of my chair on a mission of great import. I must  check on my staple storage room in the basement.  I open the door, turn on quickly the light, and a sigh of utmost relief escapes my puckered lips.  Toilet Paper is safely tucked on the top shelf.  What a wonderful feeling of contentment. The world is as it should be.

Why I love National Geographic…

I have never yearned or had the compelling urge to visit third world countries, eat monkey brains, bat wings, snake innards, worm soup, or other bizarre shit of that ilk.  Any place that I would have to forage for unmentionables as a source of food was off my list.  My bucket list is obviously short.  Which brings me to China and the Corona Virus.  Has anyone noticed that these viruses and diseases always seem to take root in developing countries?  I have never heard of a virus from Finland, Sweden, Norway, or Iceland.  Their taste of exotic food stops at fermented fish; disgusting yes, but causing viruses no.

Fried Cockroaches

I am a closet Netflix watcher and an avid “cooking show” junkie.  Whatever they are cooking I watch.  I got hooked on a new series called Restaurants on the Edge.  Started watching it when the first episode featured a restaurant in Malta.  Much of the same reality premise just rehashed: three personalities from the US descend upon a restaurant that needs help.  An interior designer, a chef, and a social guru, visit the restaurant than decide on how to give it a facelift, new menu, and the push needed to stay in business.  On one of these episodes, they travelled to Hong Kong, China. 

The Chef whose mantra is local produce and local flavors, was taken to a street market which also doubled as “street” food.  He oohed and aahed as he watched little Chinese old ladies cook snakes, cow innards, and other unmentionables in spices and sauces.  He supped, licked, and drooled over flavors that tasted like “chicken”.  And we wonder how diseases get transferred from China to an apartment in NYC! A short note of interest: when the Chef returned to the restaurant to upgrade the menu, it was sans snakes, innards, or other creepy crawlies that tasted like “chicken” a few hours prior.  Go figure.

Wet Market in China

Eating street food in Calcutta or “nowhere” China is a far cry from selling and eating food in Los Angeles or New York.  What goes in those huge woks is as mysterious as what comes out of a bad magician’s hat. Africa is no better.  Aids and Ebola come to mind.  The Corona virus which is normally animal specific spread to humans through a “wet” market place in Wuhan, China. The market happened to be in close proximity to a research lab home to approximately 600 bats.  At least this is what the Chinese government allowed us to know.  But some Chinese scientists in Beijing are now suspecting that someone from the Wuhan science lab, inadvertently caught the virus through a bat encounter, and then spread it through the neighboring “wet” market. The virus is categorized as zoolonic , but when transferred to humans it changes composition and mutates attacking our respiratory system. Which is why it is more dangerous in older folk. By the way, for those of you who are not sure what “wet” markets are; live stock and other animals are slaughtered and sold at open air markets generally under very unsanitary conditions.

Swine Fever in China

In 2019, China lost over 100 million pigs to African Swine Fever.  Notice; it was not called German Swine Fever, or Swedish Swine Fever, or even California Swine Fever.  Diseases and epidemics continue to spread because developing countries remain unhygienic, with little or no government sanitary oversight, and traditional eating habits which include animal species carrying intrinsic viruses and often plagues.  Which brings me to the point of why I love National Geographic. 

National Geographic does the travelling, eating, and contaminating on my behalf without detriment to my well being.  I can sit comfortably in the comfort of my couch sipping a glass of wine while watching presumptuous yahoos eat monkey brains in the Congo.  At the same time I can wonder and marvel at how a seemingly intelligent individual can bring himself to eat snake tripe, scorpion soup, and beetle fricassee just because he can.  The National Geographic “journalist-explorer” will look at the camera while eagerly chewing on fried cockroaches.  I’m sure they too taste like chicken. Yes, spare me the pain but still give me the adventure.

Enters exotic world travel that sends morons to nether regions of the world to have an “awesome” experience. We then compound the situation by the sick crap they bring back. And as we relax with a Starbucks somewhere on Main Street USA, we are unaware of the garbage that will soon hit the proverbial health fan.  The double and triple digit tonnage of a floating Petri dish with 5,000 or more souls on board, eating food that has been exposed to the elements for days, and who disembark in ports that are less sanitary than a New York City public toilet; further adds to the incoming plethora of unknown viruses and diseases. 

The penchant to travel to countries not best known for hygiene has become an obsession among this generation.  In my youth, only medical doctors, nurses, archeologists, and missionaries ever ventured out into an “awesome” experience.  On their return they were immediately put in quarantine.   But I digress.  Some might call me a bigot but once again I must remind you that serious diseases have never originated in western countries.  Even the European plagues were brought to Europe by ships carrying vermin from “exotic” places.  Again I digress.

Cruise ships are not the only travelling Petri dishes.  Airlines are the ultimate toilets in the skies.  Crammed like sardines and breathing each other’s arm pits, the air that circulates comes from the breath of the 300 cramped transatlantic zombies strapped to their seats.  Add the fact that airline travelers  have morphed from the sophisticated 60’s Pan Am passenger to the unwashed masses that board a plane in their pajamas; they are the proverbial incubators for anything and everything they catch in some remote “must see” market in Timbuktu.

China, India, South America, and Africa create havoc in our world and we ignore it, because “racist” “bigot” and “insensitive” gets thrown in our faces like confetti on the 4th of July.  They are the worst polluters in the world, and they are the primary source of microbiological viruses and epidemics that spread like wildfire.  There was a short pleasant world reprieve; in the past few weeks NASA satellites noticed a sharp drop in pollutants over China.   The Coronavirus closed down lithium, coal, and other toxic factories for a few weeks.  I wonder if the 15-year old angry teenage twit in Sweden noticed.  Hey Greta, it’s not us who pollute!

The EU and US are at a crossroads on developing countries. They need to get a grip and start taking serious action against nations that take our money but refuse to clean up their acts.  I would not wish any economy to go South, but western governments throw money at these nations like a croupier in Vegas, yet they still spread AIDS, SARS, Swine flu, Ebola, and now Corona. Western religious organizations have spent billions on assistance, as have Doctors without Borders, UNESCO, and the WHO; to no avail. The global community must insist on a change in dangerous traditional eating habits, hygiene, and safety.  Stop the aid until they clean up their act. Stop the cruises, flights, and commerce until governments become serious enough to educate and change. If you want our hard earned dollars then make an effort to protect us when we visit you. Join the 21st century already.

In the meantime, I will wash my hands 20+ seconds, then position myself with a glass of wine as I turn on Netflix and National Geographic.  I heard that tonight the show features a special cooking show from the exotic jungles and rainforests of the Congo. Someone mentioned Gordon Ramsey’s famous Beef Wellington with a twist: African striped weasel en croute….YUM! I’m sure it will taste like chicken!

So much for gun control

We have been in Germany for 30+ years, and there isn’t a country in the western hemisphere with stricter gun control than here.  Regulations cover from how to store a gun to when to use it.  Licenses separate the hunter from the home owner.  Which brings us to yesterday’s shooting in Hanau, Germany. 

Courtesy BBC News

Hanau is situated approximately 45 kilometers from Frankfurt.  I am very familiar with Hanau because until 2008, it was home to one of the biggest US Army installations and depots in Europe.  It is also home to a few thousand Turks, Kurds, and immigrants from the Middle East.  Yesterday’s massacre was premeditated and calculated.  The perpetrator targeted two hookah lounges frequented mostly by Kurds.  The polizei  eventually caught up to the nutcase and they assumed he killed himself and two more people in his house.  He left a note.  He didn’t like immigrants.  No surprises there.

The polizei found a cache of arsenal in his vehicle and other weapons at home.  Which brings me to the opening of this rant: how could this guy buy weapons and openly transport them in the trunk of his car when Germany has the toughest gun control? This brings us to the conclusion that most anti gun activist seem to conveniently miss; if one wants to kill, one will find a way and means of doing it.  In recent years, the weapon of choice in London has been the knife, machete, or a vehicle.  So far no one has come out against any of these three weapons.  But the band goes on playing the gun control swan song.

Courtesy of The Guardian

Murderers do not normally pick protected targets.  Schools, churches, restaurants, and unprotected public places are fodder for these nut cases.  The constant harping on more regulation and gun control is no deterrent to one bent on killing someone.  There are over a 100 gun regulations in the US.  The majority of gun owners are law abiding citizens.  You would not know it if you listened to the shrills of some of the current candidates running for office. They want to be more like Europe, they claim.  How has that worked for Hanau?  Hanau is in the news because the number of victims is in double digits.  As of today, 10 have died.  But Germany has had its share of gun related violence which we also conveniently choose to forget. 

In the early 70’s and way into the late 80’s, the Red Army Faction or Baader Meinhof Gang,  managed to kill several airmen on Rhein Main AFB, and several high ranking US officers in Berlin.  They targeted anyone they remotely suspected of being “capitalist”. They went after bankers, politicians, and the US Military.  For years, we never left our house and got into our vehicles without checking behind our tires and under the cars for anything suspicious. That was normal for the US military families living in Germany. But I digress. The Red Army Faction were a far-left terrorist group who went on a rampage for over three decades.  They carried bombs, guns, explosives, and any other weapon of choice that killed the most human life.  They mostly used Russian arsenal which some alleged that the KGB was providing through Eastern Europe. Although never proven, they were probably funded by most socialist regimes in the Eastern bloc. How they managed to run amok carrying enough ammunition to blow up buildings is beyond belief, especially since Germany enacted its strict laws soon after WWII. But carry they did.

https://www.thelocal.de/20190405/what-germanys-red-army-faction-can-tell-the-world-about-terror

All the regulations and political rhetoric in the world will not stop anyone’s intent to kill. After a major shooting we get the rest of the story.  The killer was generally never “normal”.  Often pissed off at the world, unaccomplished, and seemingly attracted to the bizarre. The weapon is not the issue.  The individual is.  In the US, it is difficult to get seemingly normal individuals to turn anyone in for fear of law suits or worse.  The 2009 Fort Hood shooting by an Islamic Major Nidal Hasan could have been prevented.  After the shooting, colleagues came forward to admit that he had become weird.  He started making anti-US remarks.  They were apprehensive in turning him in. Why? Because they would have been labeled racist Islam phobic.   That is the trend.  The bad guys get a pass and the good guys die.  But that’s a story for another day.

Whether people knew the Hanau murderer or not, I am certain that he did not become a far right wing bigot over night. It has also come to light that he imagined “voices”. Where have we heard that before? I am certain that if he had not used guns he would have found some other method to kill. He went out that night wanting to kill.  So what is the answer?  There is none. 

Which brings me to the pinhead politicians on both sides of the proverbial pond thumping the pulpit on gun control.  There aren’t enough back ground checks and bans to be had or made that would have prevented this or any other shooting.  The bad guys will find a way to get arsenal.  They will literally beg, borrow, steal, and kill to get it.  There aren’t enough laws in the western world that would have stopped Hanau or any other shooting. The hypocrisy of the anti-gun lobby stands alone.  Those on the campaign trail have armed guards.  Hollywood elite live behind thick high walls guarded by armed goons.  They have no problem with their protection, its yours they don’t want.  Typical socialist mantra; doing without is only for others not for us.

 All terrorist attacks carried in France, the UK, Germany, Netherlands, and the climate friendly Northern Scandinavian countries used guns. A lot of guns.  Those gunned down could not defend themselves or had anyone within a reasonable distance to defend them.  Everyone here in Germany is aghast and wondering how in a country where one needs a permit to take a leak, a crazy man could amass a car load full of armor and without anyone getting wind of it. My answer: because he could.  The old adage; where there is a will there is a way, is not just whimsical, it is true. 

Bavarians are the biggest gun owners in Germany because they hunt.  Hunting season is highly regulated in typical German beauracratic fashion.  Special gun locked cabinets must be purchased or insurers will not insure either the person or the house.  Licenses and permits are difficult to get and authorities can demand personally owned guns at any moment.  It is very difficult to bring a gun into Germany.  Foreigners who want to bring guns into Germany must first apply for a permit which takes months. If allowed, the gun has to be transported in an approved container.  The zoll polizei will meet the individual at the airport, and paperwork is drawn up on the spot. Accountability for the weapon lies strictly with the owner.  One would think that such an air tight system is impenetrable. Obviously not, and without hesitation, I would add that although in my opinion, Germany has the best gun control in the world, it still has gaps that can never be plugged.  In a country of approximately 82 million with open borders to several other countries, shit happens.  In recent years, shootings in Germany have increased albeit the fact that regulations remain the strictest. A testimony to the fact that if one wants to kill he or she will find a way.

The US population is approximately 334 million.  That is without counting the several million illegal immigrants.  Attempting to stop gun violence in the US is like chewing on water; equally senseless.  Even if the country bans every gun in the country, shootings will still occur. Bad guys don’t normally ask permission to carry.  Thinking that more regulation will deter drug dealers, nut cases, and other genre from shooting people up is not only naïve, it is downright stupid.  So what is the solution?  How can we stop the shootings? We can’t.

As long as movies and television shows remain open season to violence, and video game moguls keep on cashing in on violent games as amusement, and children are raised by technology instead of parents and God; we remain kicking dust like a horse in dry pasture.  Guns have always been part of life and in the US, our rights.  What changed is the world’s attitude toward parenting, personal responsibility, and beliefs.  Our parents and grandparents drew a line between good and evil and discipline built a sense of expectations in us.  Many children have been raised with guns.  But they were also raised with principals and respect.  Something this new world generation is sorely lacking.  

As I wind down my rant, I say a prayer for those who were victims of a horrific act of hatred in Hanau.  Will it happen again? Probably.  Can we prevent it? I doubt it.  If it isn’t a gun it will be something else.  Unfortunately it’s the world we live in.   

Why I love Netflix: two great relevant movies to watch

My New Year’s choice of movies is normally The Godfather trilogy.  It sets the mood.  “Leave the gun and take the cannoli”. “It’s not personal but business”. However, my recent ardent discovery of Netflix opened new doors to the world of movies. Not one to miss such an opportunity, I spent New Year’s week engrossed in two movies: On the Basis of Sex and The Green Book.  Two movies based on true stories and equally enthralling.  Both I would recommend to anyone interested in watching something substantial, relevant, and entertaining. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

On the Basis of Sex is a short biopic of Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG).  It focuses on her early years as a struggling law student in a man’s world.  The movie was written by her nephew Daniel Stiepleman and edited by RBG and her daughter Jane.  Although Ruth admitted that some imagination was given license, the “meat” of the story remains true to what she had gone through as a woman attending Harvard’s Law School in the early 50’s.  The early 50’s, when women were not encouraged to go beyond teaching or typing. 

When RBG entered Harvard, the university was in its sixth year of admitting women, mostly because the Dean’s wife urged her husband to do so.  In 1956 RBG was one of nine women admitted to Harvard that year. One year prior she had given birth to a baby girl; Jane.  That same year, her husband Marty developed cancer but she urged him to continue studying law.  So she attended his classes and typed his papers as he dictated his thoughts. She did this while also attending her own classes. Marty went into remission and overcame the disease.  Eventually, RBG transferred to Columbia and ended up as a Law Professor at Rutgers; she needed a job.  She was top of her class at both Harvard and Columbia.

The movie brings up the legal and social divide between genders.  Harvard Dean Griswold’s  welcome speech to the new law students dismissed the presence of the nine women present and smugly asked the class; “What does it mean to be a Harvard man?” The movie goes beyond the now too familiar gender inequality of the 50’s through the 70’s; the film hones on a particular case which changed the mindset that the law is allowed to follow preconceived  traditional gender roles.  The case was based on the premise that women should be the lawful caregivers and nurturers.

RBG and her husband fought this first major case on behalf of a single male (Charles Moritz) against the IRS. Charles was the sole caregiver of his ailing mother.  He was not married. He was not entitled to any tax breaks. Tax breaks were only given to women or divorced men but not single males.  Teaming up with the ACLU, Ruth and Marty Ginsberg  co-chaired their appeal to the US Court of Appeals in an attempt to change the caregiver laws that discriminate against men. A great line from RBG’s alleged address to the Court of Appeals was: “Why shouldn’t men be nurses?” Bringing home the stereotyping of gender bias.

I have always had an affinity with RBG.  I can recall the many times some yahoo walked into my bank and asked for the manager “where can I find him?”  My scathing reply was always; “I am the manager and you have found HER”. As women we have been referred to as “the little lady” and for a long time military wives were “dependents”.  The joke went something like this: if the military wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you one.

The social male umbilical cord  took a long time to break and not without pain. As the movie so eloquently brought up:  women could not apply for a credit card without the permission of their husbands, and when RBG was at Harvard there were no female latrines there either. At a dinner party for the female law students Dean Griswold asked each woman why she wanted to “take the place belonging to a man”. The US Court of Appeals judges tried to justify discrimination through tradition.  Dean Griswold who appeared for the defense (the IRS) blatantly declared; “let’s put gender equality to bed once and for all.” The Plaintiffs (Ruth & Marty) used the term “gender inequality” for the first time in their brief to the Court of Appeals.  The paralegal  typing up their brief thought it more appropriate than “sex discrimination”.   She felt that the word “sex” was too much “in your face”.

The movie made me like RBG even more than I had before.  I do not always espouse to her ideology but I sure admire this kick ass woman.  She interpreted equality within the spirit of the constitution.  In her tenure she has often brought out points of challenges and contention that few politicians or her colleagues want to address or comprehend.  She points out that nowhere in the constitution is “woman” ever mentioned.  How many of us have noticed that? “Freedom” appears in the 1st Amendment. 

RBG’s legal and social commitment has always been “equality”.  Possibly because of personal experience but probably because she was raised Jewish and by a strong mother. For example, her stand on abortion has always been justified by an “equality side” of the issue.  A woman should be equal to a man in decision making.  Nowhere is it more apparent then when she went to bat for Charles Moritz against the IRS. She was looking at the fundamental right of an individual to have the same rights as another individual who the law had given a preference to because of gender.  In this case it discriminated against men. The law was based on a predetermined traditional role of one gender against another. Her fight for equality was and has never been conveniently feminist, but always relied on undisputed individual rights for equal benefits. 

Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali as Tony Lip and Dr Don Shirley

The Green Book is Driving Miss Daisy backwards.  The story about Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a prolific piano player who in 1962, hit the US concert road in the company of the most unlikely driver; Tony Lip aka Frank Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen).  The movie was co-written by Nick Vallelonga from conversations and years of reminiscing with his father Frank.  The story takes flamboyant Don Shirley, who lives on the top floor of Carnegie Hall with a butler, across the mid-west to the deep South.  The 1962 Jim Crow south.  Dr. Don Shirley needed a chauffeur to drive him to the various concert halls, private clubs, and venues where he  performed with two cello musicians from Leningrad.  The chauffer’s job was given to Tony Lip; a Godfather-like character with limited vocabulary lost in vulgarity, and whose job experience included being a waiter/maitre d’/bouncer at the famous Copacabana in NYC.

In those Jim Crow days, black families took to the road using a guide book called The Green Book.  A book that listed “safe” places to stay and travel through with hopefully minimal harassment and danger.  The odds of being stopped by law enforcement and harassed were very high and often hazardous to your health if you were black. The movie has several scenes where Dr. Shirley was invited to play in high end venues only to be forced to find accommodations in sub standard “Colored Only” establishments.  The friendship between the two men developed on various levels of often comic relief between the articulate and well educated Don Shirley, and the Joe Pesce-like Tony Lip, who managed to sock a few Southern hicks in the mouth while protecting his boss.

The movie is a good example of racism that tears people apart but also brings unlikely people together.  NYC in the 60’s was not exactly haven to minorities either.  Bigotry and bias was based mostly on territorial dominance of the fittest.  The changing demographics brought problems which we discover in the first few minutes of the movie. Tony’s wife Delores gives a glass of water to two black men workmen at her house.  Tony  proceeds to slowly pick the glasses from the sink and throw them unceremoniously in the garbage.  There was no love lost between  Italians, Hispanic, or blacks in NYC.  The movie manages to expose the best and the worst of both men and their individual response to the environment and upbringing. 

In real life both men became and remained the best of friends until they both died in 2013.  Some critics pan the movie as nothing more than a soft story of a musician who was neither great nor significant.  However, they miss the point.  The movie is about the resiliency of the human spirit.  Both men had weaknesses; Don Shirley liked to drink and if so believed was also a closet homosexual.  Tony was ignorant with barely enough education to write a decent letter to his wife.  He could be described as the stereotypical street smart Italian American; carried a gun and got into fights.  But together they discovered a balance between their two lives and existences that brought them closer than any friendships they ever had.  They fought their stereotypical lives in their own way.

I am not a movie critic by any means; but these two flicks are worth the time, glass of wine, and cigar.  Both movies peel the nuances of an era when inequality was normal.  Both brought into the open the immoral and unethical justification of race and gender inequality as a convenience of the time.  Both got me thinking that the “good ol’ days” were not really that good or great after all.  Written in tongue-in-cheek cynic quotes, the writers were relatives of the protagonists and knew their subjects well.  Taking creative and entertainment liberties into consideration; both movies hit me with a sense of awakening.  Thank you Daniel Stiepleman for writing about your aunt who in true RBG character was pragmatic and told you that “if you must” to just go ahead and write about her.   Thank you Nick Vallelonga for sharing a story that would have otherwise not been told.  Thank you Netflix for being in my life!

The Berlin Wall – 30 years ago and yes I remember it well

30 years ago – The Berlin Wall
US tanks facing off Soviet tanks at Checkpoint Charlie – 1961

Nothing in the world signified the evil of Communism and Socialism more than the Berlin Wall. Those of us who still remember the black and white images of American tanks facing off Soviet tanks across Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, also remember our angst that WW III might have also been just around the corner. That was 1961. A few months later without much fanfare, barbed wire was quickly unraveled dividing a city, a country, and eventually a continent.  Germany, and Berlin in particular was hastily divided into prosperity and misery depending where you stood on that morning in 1961.  Streets, buildings, and families were caught on either side of a wall that epitomized the Cold War and Soviet aggression toward the West.

West Berlin post 1989

Berlin became the proverbial thorn in the side for every Soviet leader in the good ole’ USSR.  It was the epicenter of contrasts. However, it was the East German puppet government that fared the worst.  Not recognized as legitimate by the rest of Western Europe or the free world; the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) became Russia’s bitch. Berlin was a city stuck between cosmopolitan capitalism and stagnant communism.  It must have irked the shit out of Moscow having to endure western culture literally on their doorstep. 

Duty Train orders

The difference between East and West Berlin was best seen at night.  Lights and life on one side, darkness and silence on the other. Divided into allied sectors, West “Berliners” were the isolated privileged stuck in a city that constantly reminded them that their war was far from over.  It was also a lesson in “allies” incongruity. The US, France, and Russia were the three allied countries controlling the city.  Russia of course controlled East Berlin, and for all purposes they were still our allies. Members of the US Armed Forces were authorized to drive through East Germany carrying travel orders. They also carried signs printed in Russian in case they were stopped by East German authorities.  Because East Germany was never recognized as a legitimate government, being stopped by East German authorities was considered illegal by the allies. Americans were instructed to demand to speak with a Russian official. 

The convoluted Allied agreement allowed US service members in uniform unhindered passage through Checkpoint Charlie into the East.  This also meant that Russian counterparts had the same privilege. A situation that Hollywood has attempted to capture on film many times but always missed the mark.  Reality was more dangerous.  It was easy for one of us to lose track of our surroundings and inadvertently find ourselves in East Berlin without authorization. Happened a few times when riding a U-Bahn (subway) and missing the last stop in the West a few yards from Checkpoint Charlie. Although spouses and dependents of US Service members were authorized unhindered passage into the East through Checkpoint Charlie, they still required US authorization.  Being captured as a spy was truism not a Hollywood script.

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, US military presence in Germany numbered to approximately 500,000.  Combined NATO exercises like REFORGER (Return Forces Europe) visibly and intentionally demonstrated allied might that would intimidate any Soviet watching across the East/West German border.  Our family became part of the 500,000 when in 1985 we were sent to our next military station in Bremerhaven, North Germany. In the following four years we took advantage of the US Military Duty Train from Bremerhaven to Berlin, and visited the city often. Duty trains transported personnel and supplies to the US Sector in West Berlin and vice-versa.

US Sector and train station in Berlin

 Duty Trains traveled all across Germany between garrisons and occupied allied sectors and locations.  The Duty Train to Berlin was more interesting than most because it crossed from West Germany through East Germany to its final destination in West Berlin.  With limited space and capacity, those of us eager to travel to Berlin signed up days in advance.  We were issued travel orders written in English, French, and Russian.  We were briefed in detail on security and safety protocols that would eliminate any possibility of a Cold War “incident”.  As the train approached the East German border, it stopped at the last station in the West (Helmsted) long enough to swap the engine for an East German one (diesel), and for a Russian interpreter to come aboard.  With window shades down, and strict security protocols in place, we were on our way to Berlin. On arrival to Berlin, we still had to stop at the first East Berlin control point where East German & Russian guards scanned the undercarriage with mirrors and led K9’s around the train for possible stowaways. 

Security protocols

I have walked through the Checkpoint Charlie border many times in those four years.  Carrying 15 West German marks, I remember ringing a bell to enter a very small border control room. Stuck between two worlds.  Always unnerving. I handed my passport to an expressionless East German official who stamped it, took my West German marks and gave me the equivalent in East German marks (NOTE: in 1989, a US dollar was worth 4 West German marks and 23 East German marks). In that instance one realizes the hypocrisy of socialism as the Deutsche Demokratic Republik  (DDR) made profit off outrageous mark conversions; one for one.  But I digress.

My status was precarious because at that time I was still a non-US citizen but a US Military dependent. It was not a good idea to carry my US Military ID Card or SOFA stamp (Status of Forces Agreement) that identified me with the US Military for fear of being accused of espionage.  Meanwhile, my husband in USAF uniform walked through and carried my documentations.  Because everybody watched everybody else, we did not link up for several blocks.  We had to repeat the process coming back into West Berlin; going through the East German control room again and show what I had bought for 15 East German marks.  The short walk from that room to Checkpoint Charlie always seemed to take forever.  Always aware that I might be stopped for one reason or other. 

Peter Fechter

Walking along side “the wall” at the Brandenburg Gate was both exhilarating and chilling. Graffiti, some political, some obscene, but always defiant, adorned an otherwise grey cement wall that separated a city and a people.  High viewing platforms were placed at intervals on the West side of the wall where we could observe “the other side”, and often taunt the East German guards watching through their binoculars. But the Berlin Wall was not just a symbol of division it was also a place where heroes gave their all.  140 individuals were murdered in cold blood attempting freedom.  One of them shot in the back and left to bleed to death.  His name was Peter Fechter. 

East Germany

The 30th anniversary of the fall of communism and socialism in Europe brings back memories that confound me in today’s euphoric socialist rhetoric.  It is not only regretful, but incredulous that 70-year old pseudo socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and others of their ilk embrace their misguided socialist mantra.  They more than anyone else should remember the pain socialism caused in Europe, Cuba, and South America.  Maybe we should add dementia to stupid. Unfortunately, mainstream media which in the past few years has morphed into a Castro-like bullhorn for socialist agenda also seemed to have conveniently forgotten history.  Socialism born out of disingenuous narrative of equality divided a country and a continent into “haves” and “have not”.  Romanticizing socialism is an affront to those who gave their lives running from it.  People like Peter Fechter.  I would love to remind Messer’s Sanders and Warren that the Berlin Wall was built to keep people in not out.

Early 1989, standing in line at the only department store in Alexanderplatz in East Berlin, I foolishly asked the grumpy socialist comrade cashier if a child’s item came in any other color or size.  I could only find one size and one color.  In a dismissive chilling voice that would crack a pretzel, I was waved aside with a curt “nein”. I attempted to break the ice between comrade and capitalist by asking when she expects other sizes or colors to arrive.  One would have thought that I asked if she would be growing a third eye because between the unsympathetic grunt and the cold stare I was informed that availability was already on the shelves.  The socialist chill was temporarily warmed up by an elderly lady who sympathetically explained that availability is by chance.  Get whatever while it’s on the shelf.  In true capitalist fashion I foolishly asked; “Suppose they don’t fit?” A shrug of the shoulder in defeat told me all I needed to know.  Isn’t Socialism just precious?

Our Garrison Chaplain was born in Communist Poland and his sense of humor was equally born out of the absurdity he had to endure as a child in a communist country.  He recalls walking down the street and watching people standing in line.  When asked what they were standing in line for, most of them were clueless, but resigned to the fact that it was obviously something they did not have the day before,  is available now, so worth standing in line for today. He also recalls his mother sending him to the baker who only sold one kind of bread.  “Is this today’s fresh bread?” “No, this is yesterday’s, today’s fresh bread will be here tomorrow!” Comical as it may sound, socialism is humor wrapped in false good intentions propagated by politicians who would never have to stand in line or want for anything in their lives.  They only want equality and distribution for me and you and not them.   

The current millennial misguided love affair and romance with socialism is not only disturbing it is frightening.  Communism and socialism promises equality but takes away freedom.  Those who boast of idyllic distribution of wealth for everyone will eventually get tired of mundane and want more.  There was zero unemployment in the Soviet Union.  But there was also zero incentive to produce any significant work either.  When a doctor earned the same as a street sweeper why bother?

Trabi

To own a private vehicle in East Germany, one had to place an order in often 15 years in advance and delivery depended on proximity to Berlin or how loyal a party member you were. An East German Trabi cost approximately 8,000 marks, often a year’s salary. Poorly made from recycled materials they rotted within a few years.  A Trabi’s 23 HP two-stroke engine spewed black smoke and became the brunt of most jokes in both the east and the west.  But socialist mayhem did not stop at substandard cars, it crossed lateral lines into daily living we take for granted.  The joke goes: a comrade goes to order a Trabi.  He is told that it would take 13 years, and was given a delivery date.  Comrade asks if it would be delivered in the morning or the afternoon.  He was asked why that was important.  Comrade answers: “I have an appointment with the plumber in the afternoon.”

After the wall came down, the first thing that was thrown in the trash was the Trabi.  East German guards took off and sold uniforms on the spot to tourists eager to buy a piece of history.  We still own plenty of “Wall” remnants we chiseled with the rest of the thousands that flocked in the hope of taking home a fragment of an “era”. We also managed to acquire several Soviet and East German “medals” that DDR soldiers were eager to part with for a few precious West German marks and a taste of freedom.  I have since visited Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate in the past few years.  The first time I took the trip to Berlin since 1989 was in 2015.  I was totally disoriented because the silent and deserted streets I had walked on so many years prior were now bustling with people and brand names like Gucci, Armani, and others of their ilk.  But I was also disappointed that many young people I spoke with were clueless of their surroundings. 

We have been in Germany for 34+ years.  But the one singular event that shaped us and Germany was the end of Communism and Unification.  Unfortunately, Unification did not bring the two Germanys together as it was supposed to. The former East German states are still lagging behind in employment and economic growth. With the influx of over a million immigrants in the past few years, resentment toward the Berlin government has risen.  The far right AfD (Alternativ fur Deutschland) has rapidly risen in power in the former East German states, giving the party seats in the Bundestag and a voice that smacks of Fuhrer like racism and anti-Semitism. Germany has experienced a large rise in anti-Semitism, with most incidents reported in Berlin. 

The euphoria of a united Germany died many years ago.  An initial 3% Unification tax was implemented to allegedly augment the reconstruction of depilated East German infrastructure and economy.  The plan was big on aspirations and good intentions but short on reality.   The Unification tax has since morphed into a 7% social tax which to most Germans it has become meaningless.  In the meantime, former East German states still lag in employment, infrastructure, and contentment.  Watching Merkel’s government giving away free handouts to over a million immigrants gave rise to entities like the AfD who claim that Merkel cares more about foreign immigrants than Germans. 

30 years ago, in our military housing living room in Bremerhaven, we stood in awe and excitement as we watched the wall slowly crumble and thousands of Germans ripping it apart from opposite sides.  We smiled, we cried, and we had hope.  We realized that we were watching history unfold before our very eyes.  We feel privileged to have been part of the force that protected Germany and stood by it throughout the Cold War. That realization is no truer than now, as we live 30 kilometers from the Czech border where Russian tanks would have come through to the West. We are also glad that our presence lends some reality and historic significance to this anniversary.  We thank Germany and our wonderful German friends and neighbors who have become our home and our family respectively.  Wir wunchen Deutschland in den nachsten 30 jahren alles gute.