31 January 2009

What I am reading: January 2009

I haven't been enjoying the format of putting up my reading list in the side-bar, so I am going to try leaving it as a post, which I will update as I read books. I am not certain if I will expand on the reviews or not. I'll start with a +/- to show whether I was glad to read it or not. (I think in the future I will date this the first of the month.) :

  1. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga: Interesting. Well written. I am over reading stories set in India. Looking at the society is painful.+
  2. The Uncommon Reader by Allan Bennet: Small but gem-like. What if the Queen discovered the joy of reading. A pleasure that is her own rather than belonging to the nation.+
  3. Deep France by Celia Brayfield: Interesting. Odd racist comments float throughout. Perhaps par for the course for UK? Good recipes.+
  4. French Dirt by Richard Goodman: too light. No substance. Facile.-
  5. Swallowing Darkness Laurell K Hamilton: it's like a train wreck. Inside the "erotica" was a plot that I was interested in. 6 books later I'm just glad it's over.
  6. Damien by Jacquelyn Frank: Paranormal romance. 4th in a series I have read since I got the first at an ABA a while back. Much better than the above, with an interesting world peopled by Demons, Lycanthropes, Vampires and Mistrals, existing as Nightwalkers away from the humans who are only peripheral to their existence.

30 January 2009

It's almost like having an adult in charge:a response to the Finance industry's bonus policy.

Wow. In fact, it is like having a normal adult in charge.(NYT)

“That is the height of irresponsibility,” Mr. Obama said. “It is shameful. And part of what we’re going to need is for the folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility.”
And in spite of the NYT attempting to call this "populism" and implying pandering thereby, I think normal individuals absolutely agree.

Mr. Obama was reacting to a report by the New York State comptroller that found financial executives had received an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for 2008, less than for the previous several years but the same level of bonuses as they received in 2004, when times were flush.
There is also political pressure to rein in pay in industries beyond banks and investment firms. The pressure reflects the substantial disparities between pay increases for senior executives, the low rate of wage growth for workers and the frequent disconnect between compensation and the long-term strategic success or failure of corporations.

By the way, have I missed a style change? Does one say Mr. Obama now rather than President Obama?

I can (almost) see clearly now.(A saga in parts.)

When we picked the car up last month (and then got the GPS, without which I refused to drive), I realized how much I don't like driving here. It's not that I can't drive. I have been driving for far more than half my life at this point. Last time we went to the States I hopped in multiple cars and even a few trucks and drove them. I have a motorcycle (still in the US).

But I was feeling a real reluctance to drive in Europe. It's not just the slightly different traffic rules and road lay out. It's not even the speed on the Autobahn, now that I understand it's not mandatory to drive like my husband (he averages 220 kph)- something I had thought for quite some time;).

No, when the German made me start driving around the city and on the highways I realized the problem: my vision is not good enough. I couldn't see road signs at an adequate distance to feel comfortable. Since I am to start taking the kids to school and back in February, I felt that I really needed to be able to see properly.

It was very depressing to need to go to an optometrist. 11 years ago, I had the then relatively experimental LASIK surgery. I was deeply myopic and extremely astigmatic and from the morning following the surgery I have had the ever new joy of opeining my eyes in the morning and seeing the clock. You can't know what a joy that is if you haven't spent your whole lifetime not having it.

About 5 years ago, after I had Thing1, I started getting eyestrain when on the computer, staring at spreadsheets for long periods, and got glasses again. I only used them at work, occasionally, and after Thing2, when I stopped working outside the home, I stopped needing them.

So last week was the first time that I have been to an optometrist in about 6 years, and the first time in a foreign country. The German looked up a chain close to us and after my German class (more on that another time) I took the bus to the U-bahn and headed over there. When I arrived, the clerk organized an English-speaking optometrist for me, which I found very reassuring (it took some sign language and pointing to show that what I was looking for: new lenses, not contact lenses and not glasses frames, with a new prescription). My little dictionary is sometimes not that useful but I find arm waving and pointing to be of great assistance.

The exam itself was just about as stressful as I normally find it. I am always afraid that I will say the wrong thing, make the wrong decision, and wind up with glasses  that are not the right prescription.

At the end, we seemed to have found the answer: wearing the "fake" glasses comprised of multiple lenses I could see through the store, across the street, and into the store across the way. Pretty amazing. And it would only be two days for the lenses to be made as the glass was available in a main store. By the way, the cost of the lenses is unbelievably high. So I will make my back up pair in the US in March.

Off I went to be home for the kids, with a quick stop at the Arab market for meat.

But wait! Where is my book? Oh no. And I don't have time to run back. So the German gave them a call, they found it, and they would hold onto it for me until I went back on Wednesday. Ok, I was enjoying it but I have other books (omg, so many) to read.

Comes Wednesday. Another interestingly stressful day at German class.

I arrive at Fielman's (the store), ask for my book, get it, am told that the manager has asked to borrow it when I am done(???),wait a short time (customer service here is strangely good), and am helped.

When I put the glasses on, I can't see. In fact, I suffer a vertigo attack. I fully understand what has happened: the axis of the lens in the right eye is incorrect. This is extremely important in astigmatism. The woman helping me tries to tell me that my inability to see is because of the great difference between the new and the old prescription: my old glasses had only a clear lens in the right eye.

I gently explain that it is not a question of strength (I actually think the strength is accurate) but of axis and attempt to demonstrate by showing that I feel better as I move my head to the right until I am almost upside down (but of course the point of clarity moves as well because the axis is twisted). The woman suggests that I try the glasses for a few days and see how they feel.

I say "no".

She suggests that I will do better with someone who speaks English more clearly and grabs the manager. The manager is a nice woman, British-speaking, and she also tries to persuade me to the view that I can "get used to" the new prescription. I point out again that if I could see without vomiting at the exam, with the temp lenses, then clearly there is a problem with this prescription. I am adamant and also point out my time constraints and she very kindly arranges for me to return tomorrow to have another exam as clearly there is some problem. We discuss my book, and I offer to introduce her to the two English language book clubs that I'm in but she only wants to read this one.

I have loaned too many books to actual friends and not received them back to start loaning books I like to strangers (no matter how polite) who aren't interested in even sharing public social activities. It's not as if The Audacity of Hope was written by some poorly published unknown writer! I gave her the names of three English bookstores in the neighborhood and mentioned Amazon.

Thursday: back to Fielman's I return. Another attempt by a non-English speaker to convince me that I should try the bad glasses and then I am given another nice English-speaking optometrist. We do the exam over and he thinks that he needs to increase the strength of the right eye as well as acknowledging the incorrect axis of the prescription as related to my eye. For the final, practical test, where the demo lenses are on my eyes and I read a chart across the room he dials the strength in the right eye back and the prescription is now exactly as I said it would be: the same strength but with the axis of the right lens changed. The gentleman said that he would see if he could adjust the axis of the cut lens, but I knew that wouldn't work: the lens is too angled and small for the gross movement that was obviously required. I was right.

The new lenses should be ready Saturday. I am hoping that this time it is correct because I don't know if I have the strength to go through this again. Not only am I supposed to (and must as the bus cancellation takes effect on February 1) start driving the kids on Monday but also this has been using up every available moment after class all week and I am just tired from the lack of "personal time", although I was able to get some reading done while waiting and travelling.

27 January 2009

Tuesday's with Dorie: Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread

I baked this cake for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie.

Heather of Sherry Trifle chose this recipe and will post it.

Thanks Heather, this was surprisingly good considering that I don't really like chocolate. I do, however, love ginger and happened to have a large root just hanging out in my fridge. I used top quality bittersweet chocolate and as a result, although rich, the cake was not cloyingly sweet. I would have preferred a stronger ginger flavor, though, and I used extra ginger.

It was an interesting cake to make. I have recently found brown sugar here in Berlin at my local Asian markt, so that ingredient was covered. The molasses was a treasured import from the US, and the chocolate was a pretty high quality chocolate I picked up some time back for cooking purposes (I don't like chocolate myself). As you can see, I didn't have a 9" pan, so I used an 8" and added a mini-loaf pan. That was super and I wish I had made the whole recipe in mini pans, because this is too rich and chocolatey for my little family.

The German liked it and he will eat the mini-loaf (he has just volunteered to take half the larger pan in to work),while the larger cake will go to German class with me tomorrow I'll hope the young and hungry things there can help me to get rid of it;).

Even the frosting is surprisingly non-sweet and good. Someone on another blog mentioned ganache- is this what that is? I like it- does it come in vanilla?

Anyway, I am off to visit other bloggers on the roll to see how it turned out for them- come along and take a look!

Lest We Forget: Holocaust Victim Remembrance Day

Taking a break: Camp commandant Richard Baer, notorious concentration camp doctor Josef Mengele, and the commandant of the Birkenau camp, Josef Kramer (obscured) and former commandant Rudolf Höss.A pleasant and relaxing break between torturing and murdering over 1,500,000 people.Spiegel through US Holocaust Museum

I had planned to write an interesting post here. This is the 64th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Russians.

Some reports say the German guards were given orders several days ago to destroy the crematoria and gas chambers. Tens of thousands of prisoners - those who were able to walk - have been moved out of the prison and forced to march to other camps in Germany.BBC 1/27/45. 

They entered to find a near empty camp, because the Nazis had loaded all the moveable victims that they could into trains to nowhere, which were then bombed and the victims were forced on a march to nowhere.
They also found seven tons of women's hair, human teeth, from which gold fillings had been extracted and tens of thousands of children's outfits. BBC
 My father was one of 25,000+ on the march to nowhere. He was one of 38 survivors.

I don't have the energy to discuss this. Instead I want to link to other stories and other blog posts. Take a look. To those who wish to say that the destruction of the Jews is comparable to any other mass murder I say, "You are wrong".

The Wiki entry for Auschwitz-Birkenau
Yad Vashem
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Should Auschwitz be left to decay?(BBC). In a world where the Pope (a former Nazi, if an unenthusiastic one) finds it good to remove the excommunication of a Holocaust denying "Bishop"(Reuters) two days before Holocaust Remembrance day,
"Especially from a German pope, I would have expected more understanding and sensitivity," Graumann said. "The fact that this comes from a German pope leaves a certain taste and provokes certain feelings."
In comments to Swedish television broadcast and widely available on the Internet, Williamson has said: "I believe there were no gas chambers." He said up to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi camps, rather than the 6 million widely accepted.
it seems falsely naive to pretend that allowing the concrete evidence of this evil to disappear is not a step onto the path of forgetfulness. There's a reason that the Nazis attempted to burn all records and destroy the crematoria before the Red Army arrived.

A beautiful post from Ian, at Letters Home.

A post from Normblog dicussing the two cities that cancelled the commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust through an anti-Semitic equation of the murder of more than 6,000,000 with the sad deaths of some 300+ innocent people in a war started by their own terroristic government lobbing bombs at innocent people. Barcelona is one of them.

Norm also discussed the debate referenced above about keeping Auschwitz as a memorial.

I'm going to close with a link to an interview with Norm (Nrman Geras) and a long quote- here is a disussion of the "uniqueness" of the Shoah that I feel does not derive from a desire to minimize the destruction of my people and my way of life, and which thought processes I understand and respect:

Is there something special about the Holocaust that, in your view, marks it out as uniquely significant? Or does it stand alongside other acts of genocide such as the Turkish massacre of the Armenians or the recent slaughter in Rwanda?

The first thing to say is that the disjunctive implication in this pair of questions is one I would want to discourage. The Holocaust can stand alongside the Armenian, Rwandan and other genocides, even if it also stands apart in some significant way. I would go further. The universal significance of the Holocaust as an act of human barbarity and an experience of colossal suffering – and in these respects just like a very large number of other historical experiences – is of greater moment than is any special significance the event might possess. As terrible as was their fate, the destruction of the Jews of Europe belongs to a wider pattern of human violence and resulting pain and torment, and one should oppose all attempts to single it out as having been somehow uniquely terrible for its victims. It was another ghastly chapter in the long book of mass human suffering – and that is terrible enough. Accordingly, I did not see it as in any way inappropriate to formulate a universalizing theoretical argument on the basis (mainly) of the Jewish tragedy.
On the other hand, I think that from the side of the perpetrators – that is, if one considers the Nazi genocide not as an experience of suffering but as a crime – there may well be something significantly singular about it. I reject the notion, of increasing currency these days though it would not have been acceptably utterable in any left or liberal milieu for several decades after the Second World War, that the claim that the Holocaust was unique is merely some sort of epiphenomenon of Zionism. The Holocaust-uniqueness thesis can be, and sometimes is, misused in apologetics for unjust and oppressive policies of the Israeli state, but it is not reducible to this; no more than is the denial that the Holocaust was unique necessarily a form of German historical apologia, though it can be that, and was during the German historians' debate of the 1980s, in the writings of Ernst Nolte and others. There have been both non-Jewish and Jewish proponents of the uniqueness thesis whose internationalist, or ethically universalist, credentials were beyond doubt; as there have been opponents of the same thesis without any interest in apologetics on behalf of the Third Reich. There is a legitimate and difficult question here and it should be tackled on assumptions of good faith rather than malign motivation. To summarize a complex argument in a few sentences – for this is the topic of a paper I completed recently – my own view is that the claimed uniqueness of the Holocaust, if it can be sustained, is not persuasively attributable to any one distinguishing feature of the disaster. It is the product of a combination of features. I draw on the Wittgensteinian argument about family-resemblance concepts. The features in question – comprehensiveness of genocidal intent; 'modernity'; the effort at a kind of moral, as well as physical, annihilation of the Jews; and the fact that the undertaking had no ulterior instrumental purpose but was, in a sense, for its own sake – combined to produce an ongoing, tendentially permanent, social sub-system specifically for the mass production of death outside warfare. This was an ominous precedent for humankind.

26 January 2009

I love NY

The NY take on Holocaust Denying "Bishop" un-excommunicated by Pope.

Poll Results

Thank you for voting.

Was Pope Benedict XVI right to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop?

Yes. He's the Pope -- it's his call! 19%
No. This bishop is a loon. 75%
Not sure. 7%

23 January 2009

Du or Sie?

Today both the German and I had what we felt were interesting experiences with the du versus Sie problem.
His experience was a bit more interesting than mine. For the last year he has associated with a person at the client site and in the last three weeks this person has been referring to the German with du, without invitation or acknowledgment. It's all a morass, of course, as the German is younger, but theoretically hierarchically superior and yet outside the hierarchy as an outside consultant. He's been at a loss as to how he should handle the situation, so in a typically German (of his area of Germany at least) manner he has been speaking to his colleague in circumlocutions that have not required him to use either du or Sie. I admire that as i am completely incapable of doing that for even the length of a sentence and he has been able to do it for weeks.
Today however, in a particularly direct exchange, it became impossible to continue in that manner and he stopped, said to the colleague that perhaps they should speak with "thou" and then did that amusing little thing where he held out his hand and introduced himself by his vorname over a handshake. What a relief.

Meanwhile I was home with the girls after school while a heating inspector was checking out our meters and radiator readings. The gentleman was apparently having some sort of problem after I walked him from room to room, and said something to me in a strong Berlin dialect that I didn't understand. I asked him to go more slowly, said that I didn't nderstand, and asked if it was important or if he needed anything. He looked at me and said that he lived in Germany and therefore spoke only German and therefore so should I. I was so upset! There I was, making my best attempt at German, and there he was, being a complete swine.
Flushing with anger (I'm not exagerating), I then used the du form to ask him if I should call my husband or whether he needed anything else before leaving. He said no, then did actually explain that he was not able to find two registers that he was looking for. I switched back to Sie and we concluded his examination and I showed him out.
The really annoying part is that the German says that my calculated insult (the switch to "thou") was surely understood only as ignorance on my part. Darn it.
And if this is how someone who is "white" and without a strong accent is treated, I have a good understanding of how others are.

22 January 2009

What I've been reading in Links: Anti-Semitism, Israel, Gaza

New York Times:
A One State Solution
What a wonderful world it would be if we could all live in peace. Otherwise, since Hamas is obdurate, it feels like this commentary is just another exercise of pretty bullcrap pretending that an answer lies in Israel's hands, while not mentioning that the answer given here would amount to suicide. In addition, while Qaddafi discusses the "right of return" for Palestinians, I note that he makes no mention of a similar right for the thousands of Jews forced from their homes in the Arab countries, their property stolen, as they were actually being threatened and murdered. And I note that even if he had mentioned such it could have included no concept of personal or religious freedom for such returnees, because those concepts do not exist in the Arab states (as Christians living in them can now attest).

It is a fact that Palestinians inhabited the land and owned farms and homes there until recently, fleeing in fear of violence at the hands of Jews after 1948 — violence that did not occur, but rumors of which led to a mass exodus. It is important to note that the Jews did not forcibly expel Palestinians. They were never “un-welcomed.” Yet only the full territories of Isratine can accommodate all the refugees and bring about the justice that is key to peace.

Assimilation is already a fact of life in Israel. There are more than one million Muslim Arabs in Israel; they possess Israeli nationality and take part in political life with the Jews, forming political parties. On the other side, there are Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israeli factories depend on Palestinian labor, and goods and services are exchanged. This successful assimilation can be a model for Isratine.

It all sounds so pretty when he says it.

Hamas' Internal Divisions (and links on he right to other translated Middle East Reporting)
Tunnel diggers are already back in operation

Wind Rose Hotel (blog)
Hamas Infiltration into UK State Agencies
Who is to blame for Gaza
Why should Hamas want a Truce?
a specular purpose can be traced back to Hamas charter itself:

Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!”

Crotchety Old Fan:
The War on Gaza, with some statistics
the scope of what they’ve been dealing with begins to become apparent:

Tunnels: by my count 302+ smuggling tunnels were destroyed - many of them serving as weapons caches as well

Rocket and Mortar Launchers: 159 destroyed. That’s LAUNCHERS not rockets. Most launchers (depending on design) can be used to fire multiple rockets

Facilities: 104. These include everything from outposts to weapons manufacturing facilities, storage facilities and schools, mosques and homes used for the same

Gunmen: Unclear, as the IDF usually refers to ’squads’, ‘cells’ or ‘groups’. If you add those up - 201 ‘groups’ of indeterminate size, plus a few “commanders” here and there.

Israel claims that many of the civilian casualties claimed by Hamas are, in fact, Hamas fighters. Hamas itself claims only 35 fighters killed. If we make a swag that a group/cell/squad is, on average 5 fighters, we end up with 1005. Take out the 35 dead claimed by Hamas, you end up with 965 Hamas fighters. If you subtract that from the civilian casualty count of more than 1300, you end up with about 350 - far too many to be sure, but not anywhere’s near as horrifying as 1300.

Two Stage Solution
Does Israel have any moral obligation to negotiate with Hamas, with an organization that envisages, whether sooner or later, the destruction of the country? The answer to that seems to me entirely straightforward. Israel has no such obligation. No nation is obliged to deal, as between dialogic equals, with an organization that denies its fundamental right to national existence and announces the intention of terminating it. It would be good if more of Israel's critics recognized this, but that may be expecting too much in the present toxic climate.
Pointing out revisionist falsehoods parroted by the British

What I'm interested in is 'no "charter" for the destruction of Israel in its political programme'. So how to deal with the fact that the Hamas Charter, with its reference to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, not only talks about killing Jews 'until [they] hide behind rocks and trees', but goes so far as to say:

Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.

In addition, 'pointless' wouldn't be the word I'd choose for the rockets from Gaza 'aimed at Israeli towns', but that's by the way.

Subject to later addition

21 January 2009

The TBR 2009 Challenge: January

My to-be-read stacks are piled high, yet it seems that certain books keep falling to the bottom, while other, perhaps newer, perhaps more interesting, perhaps lighter books get read. So when Avid Reader had a challenge to read at least 1 book from that pile and post a review every month I was excited to join in. She has posted suggested genres, but I just grabbed one from down at the bottom of the pile. I think that I will need to make a more informed choice next time, though, or all my monthly reviews may wind up being a bit negative: there may be a reason that these books keep slipping down the list!

French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France (Richard Goodman 1991 reissued 2002) is one of the many expatriate books I have on my shelf. However, of all the ones that I have read so far this was the lightest, least interesting, least amusing and least informative of all the very many that I have read. The story of his year in France and his cultivation of a garden was just too facile for me. As an expat myself, as a gardener myself, as a lover of the south of France myself, I would have enjoyed a more in depth examination of any facet or occupation. Oh well. At least the 203 pp went as quickly as a more detailed 100. But it was much like popcorn- a quick carb rush, but not filling. Look to MFK Fisher, to Mayle, to Celia Brayfield's Deep France: A Writer's Year in the Bearn, which really dealt with being a foreigner and exploring a land and learning a culture (as well as some local recipes). This was Mr. Goodman's first novel, so I will guess that his work has deepened since then, but I won't be seeking it out.

20 January 2009

Video Links: Presidential Swearing In

CBS (53 min)

Watch CBS Videos Online

"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real," he said. "They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time."

The text of President Obama's Acceptance Speech and other links

From the NYT

Europe sees moment as theirs too (NYT)

Here is Live Streaming Coverage of the Inauguration

Free TV : Ustream

Inauguration Day 2009

It's finally here.

Here's LifeHacker's guide to the Inauguration, This has a wonderful list including multiple live streaming Inaugural sites. That's especially important to those of us who are trying to watch internationally.

I'm here in Berlin, which is, I believe, the site of the largest party outside of the US (and only two stops from where I live) but due to an inauspiciously planned Elternabend we will be missing watching the swearing in (11:56 am EST) live. We decided that it's not worth going to a party that starts at 16:00 when we get out at 19:30.(Here's a link to the livestream view of the party- let's see if it works during the time period in question.)

Because of my two little darlings, I am also missing the entire run up. They seem to have no patience for political discussion.

On the other hand, I am DVRing it on both CNN and C-Span, so after the school meeting and a nice steak and salad dinner out, I expect that we will come back, make a choice between the two stations, and then watch a few hours of it.

19 January 2009

Because Alice asked.

The snow effect is gone until next year (or until I am so depressed that I need it back:)).

15 January 2009

The difference between baking powder and soda, and how to make the former from the latter

What you need to know and an even more thorough (and a bit technical) explanation here:

Both baking soda and baking powder are leaveners, which means they make cakes and muffins rise. So what's the difference?

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. Not only will baking soda fluff up your muffins, it can also put out a grease fire, clean your teeth and deodorize your carpet. When you cook with baking soda, you need to balance it out with an acid like lemon juice or buttermilk. Otherwise, your muffins may have a bitter, soapy flavor.

Baking powder, which usually comes in a can, is a combination of baking soda and a few other ingredients, most notably cream of tartar, a dry acid. Out of baking powder? Make your own by mixing one part baking soda with two parts cream of tartar.

Here in Germany I have been told that one can find cream of tartar, or weinsaure at the Apotheke, although I have not tried it yet. Baking soda and baking powder are best found, here in Berlin, at my local Lebanese market, where I can get it in large packets, as opposed to the 1 T packets sold in the German supermarkets. Warning: baking powder here is not double reactive. For me, that means that the mix should go in the oven as soon as possible after hitting fluid.

What I've been reading in Links: Anti-Semitism,

and hatred of Jews, as well as an associated look at Israel and how their war to survive is looked at in a world which both holds Jews to a higher standard and ignores the threats to our existence.

With a quick look back at how the German intransigence to accepting responsibility lingers in strange corners that still impact human (and Jewish in particular)life.

Spiegel: For those who told me that I should feel no fear in displaying a Jewish religious icon in Germany, note what happens when one does. The police break one's door down and commit vandalism, then continue to harass the innocent victims. Only when there is a public outcry does an apology follow and still there is no actual remedy.

A non-violent rally of Jews and supporters of Israel in the UK against Hamas, in part to protest the violent anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rally of the weekend.
Some of us are here not because of Israel, but because we are concerned for our Jewish kids on the street, because there are Muslim kids who think if they beat up a Jewish kid or smash up a Jewish shop they are striking a blow for Kashmir or Palestine. People are shouting deaths to Jews and running amok in Golders Green. We are saying " Jews cannot get pushed around in this country". I have got kids at university and I am really concerned for them."

Pro-Hamas Gaza protests in London turn violent. Set to music because some people find violence arousing. I find this more frightening than the actual violence. Note the masks. This is why it should be illegal to cover your face in public.
WindRoseHotel(blog): Who is to blame for Gaza. I discovered this blog (based in Italy) while looking at the nominees for the weblog awards. It's a great read and I particularly found this post well written. It sent me to this Post article: The Demons of Gaza and to this book, which I will be reading as an extremely interesting and topic travel memoir: Looking for Trouble:Adventures in a Broken World.

An older article: Neo-Nazis torch an apartment house, murder 9.

14 January 2009

London Calling...

I'm off for a solo three day weekend in London Friday very early.

I'm booked in Bloomsbury, quite close to the British Museum, so no matter what happens I know where I can spend unlimited hours (and it should be soggy the whole time I am there).

I'm thinking Murder One (sadly closing its doors at the end of the month), Forbidden Planet, and Foyles for bookstores. Japan Centre for bento boxes and accessories. The Spice Shop or a closer spice shop if I can find it for vanilla beans, although one of the locations apparently has a cute cookbook bookshop/cafe across the street from it.

I also hope to make it to Golders Green to check out some Judaica shops and perhaps visit the Jewish Museum or take this walking tour, depending on the weather.

Any recommendations for Indian/Japanese/Vietnamese/English Pub places in an area easily reached from central?

Any other shops you think I should check in this limited time?

13 January 2009

Tuesday's with Dorie: Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins

Neither of us liked this muffin.
It looked good but when I pulled it out of the oven it was crumbling. A few hours later it had moistened up and held together but I still found it very dry and I actively disliked the taste. Since I am a savory lover and a cornbread lover, I'm not certain what combination of the ingredients I disliked so much (and I ate half a muffin- the husband spat his out- the whole batch went into bio recycling).

Was it the buttermilk? Probably not. We like buttermilk pancakes.

I think the cilantro and the chili powder just melded extremely poorly with the cornmeal for us. (I sort of resent it, too, as I hand carry that corn meal here- can anyone tell me the German equivalent of stone-ground corn meal? Because it isn't Mais Mehl or Mais Gries.)

Everyone else seems to have loved this recipe (although Cynthia suggests it might be because my cornmeal was stone-ground and that I should have used regular- which might actually be Mais Mehl), while I am regretting not trying the Corniest Corn Muffins on page 4 instead. It was chosen by Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake. Head on over to her blog and others on the blogroll to see Corn Muffins that actually taste good.

12 January 2009

How to get a stuck ring off your finger aka Don't Panic.

Two weeks ago, when we zipped very rapidly out of the in-laws, I moved so quickly that I left a few things behind.

One of them was my rings. I only wear two, a plain band on my left hand and my engagement ring on my right (sometimes I switch them) and I actually don't think I have had them off for longer than overnight (barring that time I thought the dryer had eaten one ring a few years ago, then found it in the couch) since I was married.

So I felt a little naked.

I looked through the few things that I brought to Europe with me (don't ask why I thought I wouldn't use earrings for two+ years- I have been wearing my Mickey Mouse dangly earrings since last year!) and found an eternity band that had belonged to my grandmother. I thought some sentimental thoughts and put it on.

All went well for 8 days. Then, three days ago, all my joints ached. I made some jokes about weather changes (and it did change, from quite dry and cold to much warmer and melty) and thought no more of it. Until I woke up Saturday morning with my fingers swollen and achey (arthritis is annoying) and tried to take the ring off. And wasn't able to.  I am a bit claustrophobic so this bothered me. I soaped up and tried. No luck. I tried oil. Also no luck. And I was skinning my finger and my knuckle was looking purple. I took some deep breaths and decided to try later. I spent the day avoiding salt, drinking coffee (a diuretic) and taking ibuprofen (an anti-inflammatory).

That evening I tried again, after soaking my hand in cold water. Again no luck. I swallowed my anxiety attack and googled the problem. This was a great link. I decided to sleep with my hand over my head and try in the morning but sometime in the night Thing1 appeared in bed and wound up sleeping on that arm and though the ring was looser in the morning when I tried to remove it in the shower (I got impatient!) it didn't work and my knuckle swelled again.

Last night, after the kids were in bed, we decided to go all out. If we couldn't get the ring off, I would need to go to a doctor in the morning and see if there would be any way to get this ff without destroying it (this is why my actual wedding bands are so simple: snipping them would be easy as would be the repair).

I put my hand in a bowl of ice water (and that was all the ice in our tiny freezer) to try chilling it, while sitting on the floor to elevate my hand above my heart. That was extremely painful. After the first minute I could only dunk my hand in because the pain was intense. I gave up within a few minutes. I have a big bottle of Windex that came over wit us and I put some in a spray bottle (I don't know what the effective ingredient is, so I was afraid that my Frosch glass cleaner wouldn't work). Then we tried wrapping the finger in saran wrap tightly, but it slid off as I sprayed the Windex and the German twisted on the ring, so we stopped, took off the wrap and started again.

There was a moment, when we heard a CRACK, that the German wanted to stop, but I kept spraying and pulling back on the skin at the base of my finger and told him to keep going and... it did come off. You can't belive how relieved I was. The pain was less than that of putting my hand in the icewater and the residual pain was less than when I had been horsing on the ring with soap.

The ring went in my jewelry box and I don't think that I shall be wearing it again this year!

09 January 2009

Stupid and Selfish People: Medicines and Vaccinations

Let's start with stupididity.

Here in Germany, homeopathy is a multi-billion Euro industry. It was invented here, so perhaps that's why even insurance will often pay for it (although not as much as it once did). It is a ridiculous and stupid concept, basically operating in the same way as this true anecdote:

When I was in college, I bartended over the summer. (My Ivy even offered a non-credit Mixology class). The first time I made a martini for a real alcoholic, she sent it back: not dry enough. I dumped it and re-made it but I still used the same ice cubes and it was still "too wet". My manager re-made it, with a different shaker and new ice and I noted that she did not add any vermouth at all. She told me the old joke:"When making an extra-dry vodka martini, you just whisper "vermouth" three times over the ice." What the drinker wanted was chilled straight vodka and the belief that she was having "a mixed drink" rather than drinking the equivalent of the purest alcohol one can buy in New York.

That's homeopathy. You dilute an ingredient that may or may not be useful beyond any recognition beside existing in the same world, package it prettily in a sugar pill and container and prescribe it. It may actually succeed in doing something for an ignorant patient, due to the placebo effect.

I am actually good with giving stupid people sugar pills (it only works on those who believe in it) and hoping that it makes them better, my problem is with the disgusting profits made by the industry and paid in many cases by governmental insurance companies, as well as the people who actually make careers out of being "homeopaths" and waste their lives going to "homeopath colleges". They would be far better off taking a course in massage therapy and throwing in the homeopathy for free. By the way, I am not knocking herbal remedies here: those are actual, although perhaps dangerously uncontrolled, remedies.

Moving on to the type of stupidity that damages others in a terrible, perhaps life threatening way: not vaccinating children.

The German and I were at a convention in London last year that actually offered babysitting. We hadn't known that when we registered and that was actually the first weekend that we ever left the kids with the grandparents. When we arrived and saw the service, we were kicking ourselves for being separated from the kids. That is, until we saw next day in the convention newsletter that a child in babysitting had the measles and had exposed everyone there (as well as whoever else had come into contact with the children).

While standing in line for something the following day, we wound up discussing this behind the very parents who were responsible for their child exposing a swathe of perhaps extremely vulnerable (especially younger- babysitting went down to 12 months!) people to this quite dangerous disease. As we discussed how grateful we were that our kids weren't there, they turned around to tell us how terrible this was for them, how they had to take their kids to the grandparents (they were London residents!), how it had interfered with their lives.... I was apalled. This is becoming increasingly common in the UK and Europe. Europe is now exporting measles cases to the Third World. Measles is not a common cold. It caused 530,000 deaths in 2003. It is wrong and selfish and stupid for mis-educated, ignorant parents in the First world, who rely on a good system of health care and well nourished children to allow their children to survive to put the rest of the world at risk of death and birth defects.

I am not saying that I don't have serious concerns about giving too many vaccines at once, or about when there was thimerosal (to which I am violently allergic) in them (thimerosol is no longer in childhood vaccines and I make certain to check that they aren't old vaccines).

There are currently vaccines that are different in different areas of the world. When we arrived in Germany, I made certain that my children received the meningococcal vaccine that is not given in the US. But when they were born, I delayed the hep B until they were a month old because I didn't feel it was necessary that they have it at birth. I have pushed vaccinations when they were ill, I have split them and used only vaccines without thimerosal. But I would never dream of allowing my kids to be susceptible to terrible diseases and to destroy the herd immunity
which is all that protects the prgnant and immune suppressed and old and ill from a terrible death.

That's just plain stupid and I think the healthy non-immunized should not be allowed to co-exist and reap the benefits while destroying them. No schools (which is illegal and therefore would mandate immunization in the school age), no pubic venues, no public babysitting: live in enclaves until you can show a blood titer. Do you have better answers?

08 January 2009

Rip van Winkle awakes.

My goodness, I think I have forgotten what it's like to have a good night's sleep.

Last night, I had a migraine and when the German got home, about 19:15, I went to bed. No migraine medication and baths and story telling and then socializing with the husband.

I went to bed. I believe I was asleep at 19:16, certainly before the German was finished changing out of his suit. I woke up at 6 am today, with two children crawling over me, got up, went to their room, and slept until 7 am, when I heard a plaintive call,"Where are you, G, the kids are crying for you." Strangely, what the kids wanted was to watch TV before dressing for school but the German interpreted that to mean I should be awakened.

Except for a nasty crick in the neck (for which I have adopted the German custom of the neck scarf in the house- I find it comforting), I am feeling pretty chipper and ready for the day.

I have really been feeling house bound and exhausted recently. Some of that is SADD, I would guess, with the perpetual greyness and drizzle that is Berlin and I am invigorated by our current (yes it is cold, yes there is snow and ice but there are) CLEAR SKIES!!! Let's see if the extra sleep helps my spirits as well.

07 January 2009

What I've been reading in Links: Anti-Semitism, Economics, Book titles


Jews attacked in attempted murder because of their Judaism: in Denmark, scene of riots over a cartoon which is nothing compared to unnoticed Arabic anti-Semitic cartoons.

Another (American) Jew murdered because he was Jewish: Everyone has forgotten Daniel Pearl. I am so glad to read that some people haven't and that through a lawsuit they are still attempting to uncover the details of his death and how the US and others would prefer to sweep it under the rug.

More anti-Jewish acts on the part of the UN: Let's send a man who calls Israels actions the same as the Nazis to be an impartial observer to Israel. The act of this comparison is itself an act of anti-Semitism by court decree, used even by Shoah deniers as an attempt to trivialize and derogate the Holocaust.

The End of the Financial World as We Know it (NYT): A very well written op-ed by Michael Lewis. I have read his work for years now and he just keeps getting better. From Madoff to an understanding of how he was allowed to continue. It echoes my disgust with business morality, which is clearly exhibited through this anecdote: when I entered Columbia's MBA program, we were given an ethic test, as we were when we left. Our collective ethical values dived during the two years we were there. You see the result in the financial world.
How to repair a broken financial world (NYT): I won't be holding my breath as the foxes guard the henhouse.

Book titles:
Cooking with all things Trader Joe's : interesting concept. Since I don't have TJs here (and Aldi is no substitute), I'm not sure I will get this.
Lifting for Women : I've had this recommended. I'd have to start lifting in the first place but I think I'll keep the title for the future.

06 January 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: French Pear Tart

I finally have my camera up and going on a Tuesday and today is a special Tuesdays with Dorie as Ms. Greenspan has chosen the recipe of the day: French Pear Tart on page 368 of
Baking: From my home to yours. Here she also displays and discusses her rendition of her recipe. She has also taken the time to answer some of our many questions in a gracious interview.

My take is definitely not as lovely. I don't own a tart pan in this country and every week I continue to regret leaving my food processor in the US (I really think that I will purchase one before our next recipe!). On the other hand, this recipe worked for me. It cooked up well and tasted wonderful. As you can see above, I finally found ground almonds. That saved me mixing them up in my coffee mill again. Then you see my mise en scene, a mix of weight and volume measurements (I have translations taped to my wall as well).

The next picture is of the long suffering husband, as he kindly assists me in the grating of the frozen butter. I did that to facilitate the making of the "tart" crust, Dorie's Sweet Tart Dough from page 444. She wasn't kidding when she said that one should press that dough into a pan. Since I didn't have a tart pan, I wound up using a pie pan. As you can see below, that resulted in a bit of crisping at the edges, but I'm fine with that.

Continuing the saga, after making the crust, I needed to freeze before baking. Since I have a European (or perhaps a German) freezer, that means that it is the size of a breadbox. I put the pan outside on the patio, as it is currently below freezing in Berlin. Then I pre-baked the crust for 15 minutes, as I found the directions a bit unclear as to the required duration for pre-baking. I cooled the crust on the balcony again.

While the crust was cooling, I put together the almond cream. I found it was too stiff (perhaps a result of small German bio eggs? or that I used the vanilla rather than the rum?)so I added two tablespoons of water and remixed and it looked good.

My pears are a bit funny, but I think I got the hang of it after the first try and luckily the expansion of the cream while baking just makes it look great. I think it over-browned a bit and next time I might try putting tinfoil on for the last ten minutes or perhaps it would be better in a tart pan with its deep edges. However, this was a great relief after the failure of the pudding- it tastes great and set well.

05 January 2009

Can Hit**r be humorous?

You may note the asterisks in the title. I have learned from the posters on my previous post (in re A*n R*nd and Alan Gree**pan) that there are individuals whose goal is to keep constant track of specific names and swamp the web sites that mention them. My innocuous and domestic little blog is not used to these sorts of attentions.

This post is in reference to another blog, one which I have been reading after having read his wife's blog. This blogger (who I will reference if he oks it) recently posted a video which, specifically, used a clip of a movie about the fall of Berlin, starring Hit**r, to mock Clinton. When I commented that I found that offensive and misogynistic, it was explained to me by other posters that this is a meme which has been used in reference to other topics, such as the real estate market or football. My response was that when used in reference to an individual, this was horrifying. I went on to discuss my general feelings about the trivialization of Hit**r's crimes by using him as a figure of fun. The general response was that 1: 1st Amendment rights so allow, 2. that laughing at horror allows one to be in control and 3. that other Jewish people find this funny and therefore that I have no sense of humor.

Looking further back, the blogger notes that this arose once before and that a similar discussion arose. True, and I was part of it. I had 1. forgotten that it was this individual's blog- that was early enough in my blogging that I did not feel comfortable discussing personal things openly and 2. forgotten how uncomfortable I had grown at the tone and lack of understanding that I saw in that discussion. The same discomfort that I feel now and the reason that I have unsubscribed from comments on that post, the first time that I have ever felt that necessary to do so.

Let's start with my lack of sense of humor.

I guess that's the same lack of sense of humor I have when I don't find other misogynistic "jokes" and comments amusing. I am offended to be told that I need to have a sense of "humor" about trivializing the man who murdered the majority of my family and destroyed our way of life. I am also offended to be told that putting a woman in that space, and one who has spent over a year being viciously attacked, not for her actions or beliefs, but because of her gender, is funny and that I "just don't get it" when I feel the deep nastiness that really resides behind that action.

I saw that "meme" used with the destruction of the real estate market and I was not terribly offended by it. I thought it tasteless (and actually knew what the German meant), I knew that it was illegal here and was fine with that, but was not heartily offended. There is a real difference when such a heinous figure is used to mock an individual rather than a state of affairs. The latter is tasteless, the former is sick/misogynistic/disgusting. But looking back and thinking about it for more than the three minutes I spent on it last time, I can say that I disapprove of both. But I was not offended enough to post a remark to the individual who used this clip in re real estate.

Let me add that I am also offended, as a woman and a Jew, when someone uses the word JAP around me. As I mentioned before, the fact that another woman and a Jew, uses that derogatory term simply means that she has been so indoctrinated that she is comfortable using self-hating terms.

Looking at position 2, that mocking and belittling a monster renders it amusing and no longer "aweful": I just flat out disagree with that. I believe, with every study that I have ever read, that using awful things in a trivial manner normalizes them. This is why violence, profanity and obscenity as well as sexualization of children, have all become "acceptable", unremarked and normalized in American culture. This is extremely clear here, in Europe, where violence is generally unacceptable to display to children, whereas naked bodies are fine. (By the way, I think this is a better way of protecting children than exposing them to violence and hiding breastfeeding!). I don't think making mock of Hit**r does anything other than mock those who suffered at his hands. And if one could argue to use such mockery, in limited ways, I would argue that it could work only as parts of works of art, infused with an actual meaning, rather than in the hands of the ignorant (as when Prince William and his brother found it amusing to dress as N*zi party members).

And lastly, 1st Amendment rights. I actually think that the 1st Amendment should not cover certain things (as it does not). I would be fine with making it illegal to disseminate and use pictures and images of the Th*rd Re**h and Hit**r , as it is here and in Austria. Allowing their use leads to terrible results such as the poor little child in Union Township named A***ph Hit**r (with his sister Ar**n N**ion and other sibling, Hinnler) being irretrievably scarred by the idiotic and racist actions of their parents. I think it is harder for fools to be "seduced" by the dark side when one can only read about it in dry tomes rather than look at the sexy jackboots and tight jodhpurs.

So there you have it. I may add more later.

Everyone loves Frodo

found on Suburban Vampire

02 January 2009

A Strange Place

is where my head has been recently.

Ever since my husband requested that, for security's sake, we not place our hanukiah where it could be viewed from outside, I've had my head floating a bit in this dimension that is reality. A reality that I have been safe from as an American.

As he pointed out, I should have noticed by now that all Jewish establishments have police guards and fences, that we had a security meeting at our kindergarten that discussed checking for bombs under vehicles, that I take my German class after entering through metal detectors.

How clear can it be that we are targeted as Jews when a tiny house, without a sign, in Bombay, a city with what- a 100 Jews amidst millions of non-Jews?- can be sought out so that Islamist terrorists can murder a pregnant Jewish woman and other innocent bystanders?

He is, of course, correct. It would not be safe, here in a city where Nazi signs are scrawled as grafitti and where a rabbi is chased and harassed for being noticeably Jewish, to display my religion in a publicly identifiable (and traceable) manner. Because I think that the people I meet every day are normal human beings has led me to the fallacy that resulted in so many not fleeing in time.

Last week, at a holiday party, I had a quiet political discussion with another American ex-pat, a woman who is black, a minority status not as easily concealed as my own. She said that after a recent visit to her home in Washington, DC she felt less overt racism here in Berlin than she did there.

I looked at her in disbelief. In my short time here, I have found that my friends and aquaintances of color are quite overtly discriminated against. But perhaps the fact that the minority here which it is fashionable to be openly hateful toward is the Turkish has made her feel differently?

What I do know is that Berliners in the workplace, in front of my husband who appears to be "one of them", feel quite comfortable being openly sexist and racist in a way that leaves him- a German who has spent his work life in the US- openly amazed and dismayed.

And this past week, in the comfort of the German's family home, a family friend (I was asleep upstairs with the girls and not a witness or fomentor) called him- "You American... (and then went off on an amazing diatribe about American intolerance and America's past injustices- this from a German!)..." when my husband suggested that the diversity training the friend was stating was useless (and which the German had just finished the equivalent of for his own CPEs) actually was useful. Particularly in the context of the large study just released showing that Germany has a significant gender gap! And this to a German and the son of the house which he was a guest in!

It makes me sad.

01 January 2009

The Little White Horse

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge (the link is to the very old edition that I have, there are newer paperbacks available here) was a childhood and teen-age favorite for me. I still have very fond memories of discovering it, in a used bookstore in England, in 1977 and then searching for other books by Goudge for years (a cursory search of Amazon show several I was not able to find then but also another Elizabeth Goudge). I am very excited to see this treatment and can't wait to watch it (and then to purchase the DVD for my girls to enjoy). Maria is Lyra from The Golden Compass which we just saw and enjoyed yesterday.As a child, my dream room was Maria's and I still believe that one day, when we build our own house, I will be abe to have a room of my own just like hers.

We are at the epicenter

of the firestorm of fireworks (or so it feels. Kreuzberg is probably worse, of course). So far it has been 40 minutes and it still continues unabated. An apartment kitty-corner to us just burnt out. It was amazing how fast it went. The firemen were here but they seemed to be moving in slow motion and meanwhile the constant explosion of fireworks continued all around us. The windows rattle occasionally and every now and then there is the sound of something hitting the glass. I can't believe that people are driving in this: all our streets have fireworks exploding in them.

Next year I will learn how to take pictures of fireworks: this year they are all orange and flames and look like a picture of the inferno rather than the gorgeous things that they are.

50 minutes later and the corners of my street seem to be dying down... The firemen are about done putting out the fire although smoke is still escaping. The mini Cooper and the red car parked (illegally) on the curve look a little worse for the wear. Our car is (knock wood) fine so far (by chance we had a spot not in the way).

New life on our corner and the wind is shifting- they are hitting our windows (which you had better believe that we have closed!)

75 minutes later and it seems to be over bar the three firepots still flaming outside the door and the occasional crack. The firemen across the way are rolling up their hoses and starting on their way to the next call (tatoo-ta-ta, as the Germans say).

We had planned on going to Brandenburg Tor to do the tourist thing, but a combination of Thing2 still having a croupy and bronchial sounding cough after her several days of high fever, and my starting to have a similar cough, made us tell the babysitter that we would pay for the sitting (as an apology and because of the late cancellation) but not use it. I am glad to be home. Perhaps next year we can try for a more elegant Silvester Ball (now that we know we can get sitting) which will be indoors: yesterday and today were the coldest days so far here in Berlin.