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Germany’s president is Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The president of Germany is a largely ceremonial position, with the chancellor serving as the chief executive. In the U.S., our president serves as both. In Germany, these duties are spread over the two positions. At the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, when the U.S. president made a serious faux pas by “congratulating” Poland and stating it was “a great country,” Steinmeier asserted at a ceremony:

I Affirm our Lasting Responsibility

— Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Germany did a lot of damage in the world during the last century and it still as an inferiority complex as a result to this day. Contrary to what the U.S. president currently often does when world affairs do not go right, namely blaming his predecessors, blaming his staffers and appointees, or blaming other nations and their leaders, the president of Germany took responsibility for the brutal and unprovoked attack on Poland on September 1, 1939 that started World War II.

Steinmeier and I have a few things in common. His mother was born in Breslau, which is in now a part of Poland and called Wrocław. She was a refugee after the war. My father was also born in Breslau, and he was a refugee. Steinmeier was born in 1956. I was born in 1956. When I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, World War II was ancient history to me. I only know the Germany of the economic miracle of the 1960s. Due to his age, the same would be true for Steinmeier. I am certainly not personally responsible for the atrocities committed by the people of Germany in World War II, even though my grandfather was a German soldier of low rank serving in the Wehrmacht during the war, and several of my uncles from the maternal side were reportedly members of the SS, even though I never had a chance to actually talk about this with them. It was not talked about then.

There are very few Germans alive today that were alive during World War II. Those who are still with us were children then. Nobody of any position of responsibility or authority is still alive. Nobody who has personally committed atrocities is still alive. And yet, the German president affirms the country’s lasting responsibility for damaging the Polish nation, resulting in the deaths of about six million Polish citizens, about a fifth of the country’s pre-war population, both by the occupation by Germany and then the Russians when they attacked from the eastern front. Six million Polish civilians were killed by war crimes, crimes against humanity and by starvation.

The U.S. president congratulates Poland for this.

The German president affirms his country’s lasting responsibility, even though he himself was born 17 years after the event.

Nations carry responsibility for their actions. The United States is currently responsible for millions of civilian deaths due to wars it started in Afghanistan and Iraq, which triggered conflicts all over the Middle East. That responsibility will remain with our nation. I wonder, in the year 2099, when a U.S. president, who is today not even alive yet, gives a memorial speech for the victims of these wars, whether he will exhibit the same sense of responsibility and grace for those victims?

Countries are bigger than people. They can do more good, and they can do more damage. Where does our country rate today? Will we be proud of our actions today come 2099?

 

Here is an interesting post from a blogger friend who reviews airlines, hotels and other travel services. Further on down in the article he describes a hotel room that includes a fully functioning Boeing 737 flight simulator. Just what I have always wanted to do on a stopover at Narita in Tokyo!

Switching gears from recent posts about Qatar Qsuites and the Al Safwa First Lounge, the next posts finish my report on a very memorable trip to Japan this Spring for sakura season. This post covers a one-night stay at the Royal Park Hotel at Haneda Airport. The next ones cover ANA’s Haneda first class lounge […]

via Advantages and Disadvantages Of Airport Hotels – The Royal Park Hotel Haneda International Airport Terminal 2, Tokyo, Japan — Salsaworldtraveler’sblog

I love the classic Russian writers, Tolstoy (Anna Karenina, War and Peace), Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov) and  Turgenev (Fathers and Sons).  I have read Anna Karenina and Fathers and Sons twice. When a friend recommended I read A Gentleman in Moscow, I immediately picked it up and started reading. I didn’t check any reviews. I didn’t read up on the author. I didn’t check the date of initial publication. Reading A Gentleman in Moscow put me into the world of Tolstoy, and I found myself in Russian drawing rooms and in sleighs in the winter in the Russian countryside.

The story starts in June of 1922 in a Russian court. Count Alexander Ilych Rostov is 33 years old. He had had a life of privilege and education as a Russian nobleman. When the Russian Revolution happened in 1917, he was abroad – and therefore safe. The Soviets didn’t treat nobility with kindness and many of them were executed on the spot. When the Count came back he was promptly tried by a court for some of his liberal writings that were against “the people.” His sentence: Live under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel where he was living at the time. He was not allowed to ever leave the hotel.

The entire book takes place inside the Metropol, the best hotel in Moscow at the time. We follow the Count’s life from his time as a young man through the decades into the mid 1950s. The story brings to life the changes that Russia underwent during the early Soviet years, and then the rule of Stalin and finally Khrushchev.

Towles tells the story in the style of the classic Russian writers and he fooled me. Towles is an American writer with an M.A. in English from Stanford. He has been to Russia a few times, but does not speak the language. He lives in Manhattan and worked most of his life as an investment professional. Starting writing later in life, he published A Gentleman in Moscow in 2016. I knew none of this while I was reading the book.

I enjoyed it very much and it made me want to travel to Moscow and stay at the Metropol in Suite 217. Why? You’re just going to have to read up on that.

Pink Lake in Melbourne

I stumbled upon this article about the “pink lake” in the Westgate Park outside of Melbourne, Australia.

Pink Lake in Melbourne – Picture Credit: Parks Victoria

Just looking at it, it looks like it would be toxic. But that’s actually not the case. It’s a natural phenomenon. Read this article for more details.

There are only a hundred thousand giraffes left in the wild and their numbers are going down rapidly. There are now less giraffes left in the world than elephants. Most people are not aware of this catastrophic decline. Check out this video interview of Dr. Malu Celli with the Calgary Zoo, an expert in giraffe conservation, for more information.

 

 

This Sunday morning in the San Diego Union (of Sep 8, 2019) I found this article:

[click to enlarge]

Our government just issued another permit to allow a Michigan trophy hunter to import skin, horn and skull of a rare black rhinoceros he shot in Africa. The guy paid $400,000 to anti-poaching programs for the privilege.

Our government needs to stop issuing these permits. So do those of other nations, including China. To be fair to Trump, he has issued “only” two such permits during his tenure. Obama issued three since 2013. My question is, what do those trophy hunters have that makes our government bow to their pressure?

There are only 5,500 black rhinoceroses living in the wild, half of them in Namibia. And they are allowing some of them to be killed by trophy hunters. In what universe do you have to live for this to make sense?

The argument is that the money from trophy hunting funds the anti-poaching efforts. Scary as it seems, it’s probably correct, but I believe it’s still misguided.

I call bullshit.

If there were a properly conducted crowd-funding campaign to collect $400,000 to offset this one Michigan man’s permit, I believe it would be successful. If only 400,000 people around the world put in just one dollar, it would be accomplished. I’d put in a lot more than one dollar.

I really think we need zero tolerance for all big-game hunting, both trophy hunting and poaching. We need to make it so big game hunting is socially viewed as disgusting, so nobody can get away with it anymore. Those hunters with heads of big game in their lodges in Michigan, Montana and Shanghai need to be embarrassed about the trophies, not admired. Only once the practice is socially unacceptable in all rich countries will this stop.

I know that this is not likely to happen, and we will kill those last 5,500 rhinos.

Then where will the Chinese get their placebo rhino horn powder?

Today’s NASA’s image of the day is this stunning photography of the Galaxy M81 in Ursa Major.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech [click to enlarge]

I have taken the liberty of adding a little mark for illustration purposes. I added a tiny red circle at the end of the green arrow.

If M81 were the Milky Way, our own sun would be approximately where the little red circle is. A bit on the outside of one of the arms, far away from the center.

However, here comes the stunner: If this were the Milky Way, and our sun would be in the middle of the little red circle I drew, then all the stars we see with our naked eyes in our night sky would be within the little red circle. The farthest stars we can see are just a few thousand light years away.

And that is our little world.

Joseph Bridgeman is a single guy with a failing antiques business, money problems, emotional problems, and for some reason he can’t sleep.

But he has some unusual skills. For instance, he can “view” the past, not like you and I when we recall memories. No, he can get into another person’s head and see the world from their point of view. He does that involuntarily when he sleeps. No wonder he is an insomniac!

He also has a terrible history. In 1992, when he was 14, he took his little sister to the fair and she disappeared. As one might expect, the family was never the same again and Joe’s life was dominated by his guilt.

Then, quite by accident, when trying to get help from a hypnotherapist, he discovers that he can time travel.

Can he go back to the fair in 1992 and change things just enough to keep his sister from disappearing?

I am a time travel buff, so I had to read this. I am glad I did. This story is a unique time travel tome, reminiscent of The Time Traveler’s Wife, or the various books by Nathan Van Coops (search my blog for his stories). There is a sequel, which is not as highly rated by the reviewers on Amazon, but I like Nick Jones’ style well enough, I’ll probably pick up the next one.

A few weeks ago I posted about Sigmund Freud’s conclusions after a visit to America.

My friend and French and Latin teacher Pit (PG) corrected some of my thoughts from a grammatical and etymological perspective and I reported on that here. He is correct in all his statements and his language lesson about the origin of you and the fact that you is actually plural from an etymological point of view.

Here is what I said that led to his challenge:

They have trouble, at first, calling everyone “you” in the familiar form. In the English language, we address each other with you, no matter what the relationship is. We talk the same way to our doctors, our supervisors at work, the president of the country, teachers, relatives, parents, students, playmates, buddies and our dogs. Not so in German, French, Spanish, or Japanese, to name just a few major languages which differentiate the common address based on relationship and status.

While Pit is correct, the fact is that modern Americans have no idea that “you” is plural, and even less that “you” is therefore an ancient formal address.

In our world today, “you” certainly seems singular and very familiar, and we are used to addressing everyone the same way.

In German, there is almost a ceremony when you transition from the formal “Sie” address, which is originally plural, per Pit’s discussion, to the familiar “Du.” It does not happen automatically, and generally the elder or higher-ranking in the relationship will propose that the new address henceforth shall be “Du.” And the relationship changes.

Another representation of egalitarianism is the use of first names to address almost everyone in America. We do not use Mr. SoAndSo in our general interactions. We use our first names. There are some exceptions, like when writing business correspondence with people we have never met, in student teacher relationships (but even there not universally) and when initially addressing customers in business situations. However, 99% of the time we call each other by our first names, and that is not something the average German would be used to.

For Germans first arriving in America, and using “you” and the first name to address everyone, is at first disorienting. It takes some getting used to. The inverse is also true. Once used to the linguistic egalitarianism in America, I have run into many a German tourist, and when speaking German with him, I have unthinkingly used the “Du” form simply because it flows out naturally and it goes well with the first name.

Why am I telling you all this? As Thou Thinkest, Thus Thou Feelest!

In the senseless Odessa shooting yesterday, seven are dead and 19 injured, among them a 17-month-old baby. Odessa, Texas Mayor David Turner rushed home from a vacation and announced:

In a situation like this, prayer is the most important thing. We’ll get through this.

Seriously. That is what the mayor said.

Tell that to the relatives of any of the seven innocent people who died, because some nutcase went berserk during a traffic stop!

Tell that to any of the injured people!

Praying isn’t going to fix this. Making sure there are no firearms in cars driving around on our streets would fix this.

On the same day that the San Diego Union’s headline on page one was “5 Dead, 21 Injured in Shooting,” there was a small article on page 4 in the left lower column, titled: Gunfire Erupts at Football Game; 10 Wounded. A 17-year-old student started shooting at a high school football game in Mobile, Alabama. All the injured were other high school kids. Since nobody actually died this time, the article didn’t even make a headline.

Praying isn’t going to fix this. Making sure that there are no firearms in the hand of a 17-year-old high school student would fix this.

Obviously, the god all these people are praying to isn’t doing anything to protect them. Do they notice it’s not working?

And our beloved Second Amendment isn’t really protecting us, is it? The founders wrote it for these two purposes:

  1. a practical purpose, to protect people from thieves, bandits, Native Americans, and slave uprisings
  2. a political purpose, to remind the rest of the world that the United States is well-armed

I am not very terrified about thieves and bandits. And I am not worried about Native Americans and slave uprisings. And I really don’t think the rest of the world is unaware that the United States is well-armed.

The Second Amendment makes no more sense. We need sensible laws regarding guns. We need laws that actually protect our people, not from slaves, thieves, bandits and Native Americans, but from nutcases wielding guns in public places killing innocent people.

If you asked me what Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is about, I’d be hard-pressed to give you an answer.

The story plays in Los Angeles in 1969. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the former star of a western TV series. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is Rick’s stunt double, who also serves as his driver and definitely his best friend and buddy. Rick is struggling to keep his career moving forward. He feels washed out and does not know how to cope with Hollywood’s new realities. When he is recruited to travel to Rome and star in a series of “spaghetti westerns” he is depressed and driven to tears. Cliff’s own success is directly dependent on Rick’s career, since nobody needs a stunt double other than the star, and if the star does not have gigs, the double does not eat. But Cliff has other skills and he does not take shit from anyone. When he runs into Bruce Lee on a movie set and Bruce taunts him, he ends up giving him a good beating.

Rick lives in a nice house on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood hills, and his next door neighbors are Roman Polanski and his girlfriend Sharon Tate. Rick’s ambition is to somehow meet the famous “Polish Prince” director in an effort to boost his own chances of landing a starring role, but he does not know how to go about it.

Cliff, in his own right, has been around the movie business for a long time, and he knows people. During one chance excursion he goes out to the Spahn movie ranch where he finds an old friend on his dilapidated farm taken over by a gang of zombie-like hippies. Their leader is Charlie and the hippie in charge of security is Tex.

The casting was somewhat unusual, too. Seldom do we see two top Hollywood actors share the same movie. Neither Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio was the star of this movie, they both were, and it was very well balanced. The two played off each other well, and neither dominated the other. The acting was superb, convincing and poignant.

So what is the movie about?

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is probably a play on Once Upon a Time in the West, my favorite spaghetti western with Charles Bronson by Sergio Leone. It’s about struggling actors in Hollywood in the Sixties.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is also about the Charlie Manson murders, specifically the Sharon Tate massacre on August 8, 1969. When Cliff ran into Tex, it was Charles “Tex” Watson of the Manson gang who was a central figure in the Manson crimes and is serving his life sentence to this day.

A friend told me that after watching this movie he went to get the 1974 book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, to read up on the Manson gang. Coincidentally, Helter Skelter was the first book I read in the English language back in 1974, and I still remembered quite a few of the details as I watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

I thought I knew what would happen, but I was wrong.

So what was the movie about?

You’re just going to have to go and see it to find out.

 

There are two words in American English that are commonly misused in the plural forms.

One is “alumni.” The Latin word for “student” is “alumnus.” Its plural form is “alumni.” One alumnus, many alumni. Ironically, the misuse is often even propagated by university alumni organizations which refer to its members as alumni (correctly) but also sell bumper stickers and other paraphernalia with labels like “Alumni of SoAndSo University.” You are actually an alumnus of SoAndSo University.

Another is “octopuses.” The word comes from Greek, and the plural form is “octopodes.” The Latin word for “octopus” is actually “polypus.” There is no “i” in any from of octopus.

And that’s my language lesson for the day.

To get a sense of what it was like to travel on a slave ship, I resort to a Wikipedia post:

Slave ships were large cargo ships specially converted for the purpose of taking slaves, especially newly captured African slaves to the Americas. Living conditions for slaves on these ships was inhuman. Men, women and children were crowded into every possible space leaving no room to move or even breathe. There was little food and the smell could not be described. Between 1526 and 1867 about 12.5 million slaves were sent by slave ships from Africa to the Americas. But only about 10.7 million slaves actually arrived. Of all human migrations it was the most costly in terms of human lives lost. The average time to sail across the Atlantic took from 60 to 90 days. Sometimes the trips took up to four months.

Here are some charts showing the way people were crammed into the vessels:

Now for the shocking visualization.

The video below shows the movement of slaves in over 15,000 journeys. Every one of the moving dots on this graphic is a journey of a ship holding hundreds of victims, for 3 or 4 months, in these conditions, against their will.

More than 10 million human beings were displaced in this fashion.

 

The scale of the slave trade and its injustice comes to life this video.

From Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

Most of the immigrants came from Italy and Eastern Europe. They were taken in launches to Ellis Island. There, in a curiously ornate human warehouse of red brick and gray stone, they were tagged, given showers, and arranged on benches in waiting pens. They were immediately sensitive to the enormous power of the immigration officials. These officials changed names they couldn’t pronounce and tore people from their families, consigning to a return voyage old folks, people with bad eyes, riffraff and also those who looked insolent. Such power was dazzling. The immigrants were reminded of home. They went into the streets and were somehow absorbed in the tenements. They were despised by New Yorkers. They were filthy and illiterate. They stank of fish and garlic. They had running sores. They had no honor and worked for next to nothing. They stole. They drank. They raped their own daughters. They killed each other casually. Among those who despised them the most were the second-generation Irish, whose fathers had been guilty of the same crimes. Irish kids pulled the beards of old Jews and knocked them down. The upended the pushcarts of Italian peddlers.

— page 16

Number 86 on the Random House Board’s list of 100 Greatest Novels is Ragtime. A business associate had given me the book as a present. I finally got finished reading it.

Ragtime tells the story of life in New York City in the years before World War I. It brings together a number of famous contemporaries of the time, including Henry Ford, Houdini, the famous anarchist revolutionary Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan and many others, and weaves them into the fictional characters of Doctorow that tell a compelling story of racism in America.

The main storyline is about Coalhouse Walker, a black American Ragtime musician who, through talent, hard work and discipline creates a successful life for himself in New York. He can even afford a car, and the drives around in a new shiny black Model T. Most whites cannot afford cars, and when he runs into a roadblock in front of a firehouse, the firemen thugs are harassing him. But Coalhouse Walker does not bend to injustice. He starts a one-man war, and it does not end well for the firemen and the city of New York.

More poignant than the story itself are the graphic description of life of the common man, the black man, and immigrants, at that time in our history. Here is an excerpt on immigration:

Most of the immigrants came from Italy and Eastern Europe. They were taken in launches to Ellis Island. There, in a curiously ornate human warehouse of red brick and gray stone, they were tagged, given showers, and arranged on benches in waiting pens. They were immediately sensitive to the enormous power of the immigration officials. These officials changed names they couldn’t pronounce and tore people from their families, consigning to a return voyage old folks, people with bad eyes, riffraff and also those who looked insolent. Such power was dazzling. The immigrants were reminded of home. They went into the streets and were somehow absorbed in the tenements. They were despised by New Yorkers. They were filthy and illiterate. They stank of fish and garlic. They had running sores. They had no honor and worked for next to nothing. They stole. They drank. They raped their own daughters. They killed each other casually. Among those who despised them the most were the second-generation Irish, whose fathers had been guilty of the same crimes. Irish kids pulled the beards of old Jews and knocked them down. The upended the pushcarts of Italian peddlers.

— page 16

I have been to Ellis Island. This description does not match the glorious pictures we have in our minds of immigration into the United States over the years. It matches more the descriptions of Trump today, does it not? Ragtime is a novel, of course, and not reality, but it paints a very dark picture of our history that does not match what we like to tell ourselves today about “this great country.”

Life in New York was very different a hundred years ago. I have always loved the city. When I walk through its streets today, as I did 45 years ago when I first came to this country, I always think about its rich history and all the stories that its walls and streets and parks and sidewalks could tell – if they could speak. Here is a particularly graphic paragraph depicting city life not as we think about it:

That evening White went to the opening night of Mamzelle Champagne at the roof garden at Madison Square. This was early in the month of June and by the end of the month a serious heat wave had begun to kill infants all over the slums. The tenements glowed like furnaces and the tenants had no water to drink. The sink at the bottom of the stairs was dry. Fathers raced through the streets looking for ice. Tammany Hall had been destroyed by reformers and the hustlers on the ward still cornered the ice supply and sold little chips of it at exorbitant prices. Pillows were placed on the sidewalks. Families slept on stoops and in doorways. Horses collapsed and died in the streets. The Department of Sanitation sent drays around the city to drag away horses that had died. But it was not an efficient service. Horses exploded in the heat. Their exposed intestines heaved with rats. And up through the slum alleys, through the gray clothes hanging listlessly on lines strung across air shafts, rose the smell of fried fish.

— page 19

Racism in America needs more coverage. Reading Ragtime today, thinking of our current policies as they relate to immigrants and racial minorities, opens our eyes about our sketchy history and terribly flawed past. Our politicians always talk about:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Oh no, those are illustrious words, but we haven’t really lived up to them, and we’re not living up to them today.

Ragtime is a powerful book, with 320 pages a fairly quick read, that I highly recommend.

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