31 January 2011

The permanence of print and the requirement of thought

Matched by Ally Condie (11/10 DTArc):
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (written 1950, enlarged and published as a novel in 1953, my version 2003 with multiple afterwords by the author):

I reread Fahrenheit 451 for a new book club. It must be almost 30 years since I last reread it, with the other classic dystopian novels such as 1984, Clockwork Orange, Animal Farm, Brave New World, Anthem and, of course, 2112. I am amazed at how topical it manages to be, as the latest controversy surrounding the expurgation of Huck Finn sweeps the internets. In exactly this context, Bradbury discusses in an afterword how vehemently opposed he was to allowing one of his characters to be portrayed as a woman rather than a man, that bending to the sensitivities of multiple minorities will allow the destruction, basically, of independent thought (in the novel, this is one of the original groundswells that allowed the beginning of the destruction of literature as a form of coherent and critical thought).
Yet, when I read him saying that, all I could think was that although I had enjoyed reading the novel, although so many of the thoughts and even technological visions are blindingly accurate and still both timely and prophetic, that Bradbury is indeed a child of his time and that he is not able to step beyond that time.
In a specific example, one which struck me as a blow, there is one point when Guy Montag has fled the city and encounters five older men sitting around a fire. (SPOILER)
These men are former professors and thinkers and are now part of a movement where they are the actual embodiments of books: rather than attempting to save the physical structures of information, they have read the books and recite them to retain the knowledge for future generations after the anticipated implosion/conflagration of current society.
The question is: why must these be five men? Would the story be altered in any way if one or even more of these "wise white men" were women or recognizably belonging to other groups? In no way. What would change is the immediate blow that I felt when reading this, as I recognized the subsuming of women into the male as a generality and the erasure of women as a respected part of reality (rather than the women seen in the novel who act as 'types'—as a catalyst or an exemplar of passivity and hopelessness, rather than thinking and reasoning individuals).
In very much the same way, as I read individuals fighting against, saying how horrendous the concept is of, changing the 'N-word' in Huck Finn to slave (and, I believe the derogatory epithet of 'Injun' to another word), I wonder if they belong to that group. I'm one of the minority that sees no problem in having different versions of works: certainly I read enough Little Golden books in my time. Just last week on the BBC I heard that the Malaysian government, after requiring a certain book be taught in school, needed to expurgate a passage because it was inciting racial disharmony.

Well, I have no desire to have my children in grade school, middle school, or perhaps even ordinary level high school "English" class being required to read and to have their classmates read, books that contain vile words that are meant only to hurt them. Below University level, I don't trust the teachers, the system, or the students to adequately deal with that nor do I want my children exposed to the blow after blow of being forced to read or hear read aloud, a word that is like a rock against the body. In the case of Huck Finn, more than 210 times. I can't understand why this is so difficult to understand? The book can still be taught at University level and can be freely purchased (and downloaded— it's in the public domain, after all) where one desires. I think that it would be a good idea to have a foreword or afterword discussing the change that has been made, and why.
I can't even understand this controversy: I have bowdlerized and expurgated versions of both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn sitting on the bookshelf in my childrens' room and that version has been available for 50 years without a ruckus being raised. And my children will read the real versions when they are old enough and mature enough, with guidance and help from me to understand how to deal with the epithets and concepts therein. In the same way that they will slowly grow to understand what the society we live in did and allowed to be done to our people only 60-70 years ago. And I won't be requiring them to read The Merchant of Venice or The Protocols of Zion in grade school, either. I would also very much prefer it that their classmates were not exposed in a casual manner to the beliefs underlying those books, for example, either.

Moving on to look at Fahrenheit 451, there had been discussions in the last decade as to refilming it. One of the issues discussed (and this has been going on for more than 10 years), was
there was difficulty in finding a script that would be appropriate for the film, and that with the advent of computers, the concept of book-burning in a futuristic period may no longer work.
I think that is simplistic and ridiculous, because a book is a permanent understanding, not a physical object that is needed to stand for the idea. Even within this novel, one sees the books— objects that are of themselves illegal— replaced by the mind which holds them. The objects which are currently replacing books, such as e-books and Wikipedia (which you see me citing constantly in my posts) are far more amenable to suppression of thought and dissent than any book might be: they are easily changed and there are no records of the changes. This is seen even now, when I read a lie on Wikipedia and wonder:"How many people believe this to be true? How many people use this as basic research or for basic understanding of a subject and will always believe this falsehood? And what happens if it changes next week— "truth" as understood by many, has become a movable goal. How many lies have I believed?"

Something I find very interesting is that Ray Bradbury has had over 60 years to think about and discuss and change his understanding of what he meant in this novel, but

The novel is frequently interpreted as being critical of state-sponsored censorship, but Bradbury has disputed this interpretation. He said in a 2007 interview that the book explored the effects of television and mass media on the reading of literature:

Bradbury still has a lot to say, especially about how people do not understand his most famous literary work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953... Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature...
Interestingly, before I had seen that I would be reading Bradbury's book, I had grabbed Ally Condie's Matched from my shelf of unread ARCs. This is a YA, aimed at 12+/7th grade and up. The plot is that in an unknown future (SPOILER), individuals are "matched" by Officials in the Society. They are matched with their mates, with their work, and with their place in society. The book is a fascinating mixture of 1984, Fahrenheit 451, A Brave New World and other classics with a similar theme but written for a modern (and younger audience). In particular, there is a scene when the protagonist, Cassia, is being taught to write by a friend who is an Aberration (and thus unmatchable- if he were an Anomaly, he would be destroyed/exiled). She can, of course, read. In fact, she is a talented Sorter and will probably become an Official herself, as he parents and Grandparents were. Her father's work is burning undesirable Artifacts, such as books, poems, and artwork: the Society chose a model 100 of each form and Simplified the remainder away. Writing is never learned because every individual has a reader that travels with them at all times, art is done only in school and is erased after creation while the brushes are chained to the terminals. Print outs of instructions and orders degrade within a week and the only item close enough to be used as "paper" is napkins, which are issued with the centrally generated meals: there are, of course, no pens or other writing materials.

And so on. As I watch the rebellion in Egypt, where the government has "turned off" the majority of the Internet (retaining that which it considers necessary for itself), it makes it clear that one way to control rebellion is to control the ability to disseminate it and that it's difficult to create a rebellion where there is no history or thought to use as a model.

I very much enjoyed this book and I'm going to send a copy to my niece, because I think that she will enjoy it as well.

But of the two, of course Bradbury's is the more thought provoking and interesting, although perhaps dated in language and the baggage of sexist underlying thought. When Clarisse mentions that there are no more porches,because then men might sit and think and speak to each other, when we look at the Walls that send noise and plot-less video with false interactions at the watchers, we see our own society and the result of the fast, relentless and unmoderated by thought, current life we lead and— it makes one think. I hope.

What I am reading: January 2011

  1. Right from the Gecko (2007)
  2. Who's Kitten Who (2007) by Cynthia Baxter: Fluffy and vaguely unsatisfying, which is amazing since the protagonist, Amanda Popper, is a DVM and I would usually find that fascinating. However, she is a real ditz and her relationship with her boyfriend (in law school) is tremendously unsatisfying— there's a backflash to her first proposal refusal, after which they move in together (??). Then, after they get engaged, he breaks the engagement because he's annoyed by her involvement in investigating a murder... bah.(DTM)
  3. Dealing in Murder by Elaine Flinn(2003): I enjoyed this book about an antiques dealer who flees Manhattan for Carmel after her ex involves their business in a scam, tremendously. So much that I immediately went online to see what other books were available and to order them. When I saw that there were only three other books after this, Ms Flinn's first (she had been an antiques dealer for many years, according to the jacket copy), I started looking to see why. I was very sad to discover that cancer had taken her. The internet lets us found out many things so quickly: before I might have ordered her books and wondered at the delay in a new novel and then only after many years discovered the reason. I felt as sad as I did after reading my first novel by Laurie Colwin, to discover that there would only be a few more to enjoy.(DTM)
  4. Still as Death by Sarah Stewart Taylor (2006): I found this such a topical read for me, as one of the themes is the difference in how the "revolution" of the 60's and 70's actually resulted in the treatment of women, particularly in academia. I've been reading about that a lot in the past year, particularly in the wake of the Polanski rape and the Assange accusations: in both cases, women I would have considered feminist( that is—believing that women should have the same rights as all other humans) (as well as the usual men who said that they were) came out swinging against the women involved, even though in the case of Polanski, he had been previously convicted (and had confessed). I have just read this interview with Steinem and Hammad which references this discussion of societal change in the late 60's through early 80's and this mystery, which had the continuing thread of what happened to a female undergrad who committed suicide in 1979, really made me think back to my own college days, not so long after this and then to graduate school, where women in my field were considered outre. I felt the writing was a bit awkward and I was unhappy with some of the character development (I hadn't read the previous three in this series), but I was interested enough to check to see if there was a sequel (and to discover that after an auctorial break, there will likely be one next year).(I was also a bit frightened, after reading of Ms. Flinn's sudden death, to become interested in a new author and discover that the characters were left hanging and the action unfinished.)(DTM)
  5. Death with an Ocean View by Nora Charles(2004):This is copyrighted by Noreen Wald, so I would guess the name on the cover is a homage to Nick and Nora Charles. Kate Kennedy retired to a condo in a small town by Boca with her husband, only to lose him to a heart attack at the closing. When real estate skullduggery impacts her community, her one time sister-in-law and she are dragged into the mystery of who killed the activist in their association and Kate is dragged back into participating in life. A little rough, but not bad for what seems to be her first novel.(DTM)
  6. The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library by Alice Kimberly (2006): This is a pseudonym for Cleo Coyle (which is the wife-husband writing team of Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini) some of whose books I vaguely remember enjoying. This is the third book in the series and I know that I read the first some years ago. Pen McClure takes her young son and returns to her aunt and her hometown after the suicide of her husband where she discovers the wisecracking ghost of a noirish PI who was murdered in the 40's in her Aunt's bookshop. (I have a strange longing to reread The Ghost and Mrs Muir.) This story deals with the death of an elderly man who has just consigned a complete and rare set of Poe to her shop for sale when he dies in a suspicious manner. The interest in the set is intense and leads to the discovery of a belief in a treasure which can only be found through solving clues within a complete set. I can see that my apple did not fall far from the tree as I see where my mom has corrected the many grammatical errors in the editing: really, if books from Penguin can't be trusted to know the difference between the nominative and the accusative, no wonder so many Anglophones are losing the distinction. I enjoyed the book, I think it could have used some editing for plot and more for actual grammar and I found that distracting.(DTM)
  7. If Books Could Kill by Kate Carlisle (2010): Copyright by Kathleen Beaver, so I'll guess that's her real name. Surprisingly interesting book restoration protagonist Brooklyn Wainwright. Wacky parents who raised her on a commune, strangely high number of colonic comments, interesting setting at a book fair in Edinburgh. I should have read the first one, though, because I feel as if I have come into the middle of the story, albeit an interesting one.(DTM)
  8. A Dose of Murder by Lori Avocato (2004): A first novel by a former nurse, the protagonist is herself a burned out nurse who finds a job, through her roommate, as a medical insurance fraud investigator. Very well written first novel, interesting characters introduced and well written. I see she currently has 6 books about Pauline Sokol out and I will be interested in reading the others.--- I went out to see why she had no Sokol book since 2007 and I see she published one on-line and I recommend checking out her website here.(DTM)
  9. oogy by Larry Levin(exp Nov 2010): This is the first of many ARCs I'm going to be reading, although they should all be past their publication dates by now. I need to start clearing out some of the piles of physical books I have hanging around as I continue to attempt to declutter. This is the story of how a man and his family adopt a terribly abused puppy who has been used as bait in a dog ring. Heart-warming as one might expect, touches on the family and how the couple's children, also adopted, feel about the adoption of the pet. Not terribly deep, but I'm a sucker for pet stories so I enjoyed it. (DTArc)
  10. Ah-Choo: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold by Jennifer Ackerman (exp Sept 2010): I love stories about disease and illness. (Go read The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett– it will blow your socks off). Even though the cold isn't quite in the category of AIDS, Hanta virus or Ebola, it was a fun read and nicely researched. (DTArc)
  11. Jane: A modern retelling of Jane Eyre by April Lindner (exp Oct 2010): It's been ages and ages since I've read Jane Eyre and although I recognized the story that I remember in this "reboot", it is a much lighter and fluffier and modern re-telling. I don't know if this story can ever really have the baggage and connotations, as told in modern Western society, of what it really would have meant to be Jane, with no real recourse in her life, in patriarchal and stratified Victorian society. This re-telling didn't even attempt to deal with the real issues of class, gender, and morality that the original told so grippingly that I can still remember it after more than 30 years. Still, it was nice and light and YA (with only a tiny bit of non-graphic sex, so YA not children's). I enjoyed it, but it wasn't Brontë. (DTArc)
  12. Beware False Profits by Emilie Richards(2007): The fourth in a series by (I would guess from the copyright) Emily McGee, I just didn't enjoy it. The protagonist is a minister's wife and in this case she is looking for a parishioner who has "disappeared". Lots of plot twists later, including cross-dressing, stripping, a murder and embezzlement, and there's an answer. I just couldn't work up any interest in the characters, so I won't be looking for other books in this series. (DTM)
  13. Matched by Ally Condie (11/10 DTArc):
  14. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (written 1950, enlarged and published as a novel in 1953, my version 2003 with multiple afterwords by the author): These two books got their own post.

The (M) stands for Mobipocket (the generic form of the file that Kindle Reads) as well as AZW and PRC, the other forms readable by Kindle. Let's leave DT as Dead Tree books. (And perhaps I should add M for books borrowed from my mother:).)I think it's clear what percentage of my reading is becoming e-format. The vast majority are also free, either as public domain or as promotional offers through Amazon and the other online sources I frequent. B stands for Baen, the best of the on-line stores by so many orders of magnitude there is no comparison.

30 January 2011

Grüne Woche

Grüne Woche here in Berlin is one of the largest agricultural conventions and exhibitions in the world. According to its literature,

"It's the world's biggest fair for food, agriculture and horticulture."

I can certainly believe that. because after three years of visiting the expo, we have never seen more than the tiniest portion of it.
We hang out in the section with the big tractors and the forestry exhibits and then we spend a good long time looking at all the different animals and watching the horse shows. We visited the cats and watched a dog obedience show as well.

We brought along T1's friend L, and I hope that she had a good time as well.

I thought that this year I might go back alone and visit the more adult sections (where all my friends go to drink alcohol and buy fancy cheese, apparently) but the week got away from me, with class starting, museum visiting a bit of illness and a birthday party getting away. Next year!

28 January 2011

The New National Gallery

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Foto: F. Friedrich
I'm glad that I arranged to meet a friend after my yoga class to see the New National Gallery, because today (Friday), I'm already stiffening up. Interesting that the serious pain is now in my arms rather than my legs.

In any case, continuing on my goal of really exploring Berlin, my friend chose the Neue Nationalgalerie for our visit this week. A very interesting look to the museum, which was designed by Mies Van der Rohe and opened in 1968, his last work.

After seeing the New Museum, which opened last year, it was fascinating to see the difference in architecture and to see how different the New National Gallery, considered a symbol of "modern architecture" when it was built, differs from the former. The latter is built to display Van der Rohe's genius and the former was built to display, as functionally and beautifully as possible, the contents of the museum.

There were some lovely painting there and, as usual, the audioguide was enlightening and informative.

The work to the left, George Grosz' "Pillars of Society" or "Stützen der Gesellschaft" was just amazing. 1926. Wow. I think I have seen some of his work in NY and from reading about him I see that he was a member of the Dada movement.
In a different vein, this painting "Baku- Agitationstafel" 1927 (and others by Heinrich Vogeler). Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry appears to be incorrect. Rather than being deported in 1942 by Soviet Authorities, he was fleeing the Nazis when he died (or at least, that is the truth according to the German government, which one would think would choose a less damaging story, if it were true). Here I find a style that in the US I knew as Depression era artwork (Federal Art Project work and New Deal artwork), of whom the most iconic would be Thomas Hart Benton. I am very fond of this style of artwork, perhaps influenced because the style was used on so many children's books which I loved when I was small.

27 January 2011

Yoga: the second week

Last week , I thought the yoga class was surprisingly easy. I knew that it would be good for me but I was astonished that I could follow along with the class and do just about everything (no worries– it was a Yoga for All) considering that I am basically a bowl of jelly that has done no sport for a very long time (perhaps not really since having the kids).

I was afraid that the class wouldn't be useful to me since I was able to perform the exercises (shade of Groucho Marx, not wanting to be in a club that would accept me). That fear disappeared by Friday evening, when I found it increasingly difficult to turn my head (always a sore spot, after my spinal surgery) or to bend my legs.

I wasn't pain-free until Tuesday.

Today, when I mentioned to a class mate that I had been limping around for days she said, "But it looks as if you don't find it difficult." I thought that was an interesting comment and it made me wonder: how many people do we look at, thinking that they are finding life easy, when actually they are finding it quite difficult?

In the specific, I have a relatively high pain threshold and perhaps I am stretching myself more than I should, but in the bigger scale of things, is it that I am an American and my default is a smile? Should I complain during the class?– a few women actually do moan a bit, or say "no" to trying things.

I'm really enjoying the class and although I anticipate quite a bit of pain tomorrow, I hope that in a few weeks the pain only lasts for 2-3 days rather than for 5!

26 January 2011

Halloween in January

I'm not exactly certain why T2 felt like making a Jack O'Lantern this week, but she did a very nice job of it. I think the ducky bathrobe made a real contribution to the overall theme of the holiday revisited.

And the Jack O'Lantern lasts much longer with the temperature hovering around 2C than it did in October.

22 January 2011

Customer Service, German Style

Yesterday we met up with a group that I belong to and went out to a restaurant by Savignyplatz,
Cassambalis. It's a restaurant that I had frequently walked by, as one of the places that we have lived in was across Kurfürstendamm from it, but we had never gone there.

We were a relatively large group at 15, but we went relatively early for Berlin on a Friday night, arriving at 19:30. The environment was interesting, with the appearance of a gallery and "modern art" on the walls (with Modern meaning what one might see at the Bergruenn) and an interesting buffet type of display in the center (where one can choose items, but they are plated by staff).

We ordered wine and our meals and started to chat and have a good time. Then our salad arrived and it was the wrong salad. We decided to let it go. But the woman next to me got her fish and it was the wrong one (fillet, not grilled). The waiter exchanged it. Our steak arrived. It was the wrong steak (we had ordered with pepper sauce and one type of potatoes, what arrived was the other one. The one without pepper sauce and with vegetables.

The German pointed this out to the waiter and said it was fine, but could we please just have the pepper sauce? The waiter told him that he was wrong, that he had not ordered that steak. The German just looked at him. He couldn't believe that the waiter told him that he was wrong. There was no price difference, it wasn't as if we were "scamming" our way into a pepper sauce upgrade! After a few seconds of disbelief, the waiter muttered, "But I can get you the sauce anyway."

What the heck was that about? Even if we had ordered the wrong steak (which we had not– and we hadn't even pointed out that we had received the wrong salad!), what type of response was this? And no apology to the woman next to us, as he gave her her correct order, no discussion with the 4 out of 15 whose orders were mysteriously delayed (salads yet, which should have been ready and waiting for the other orders to finish!) and no apology when they finally arrived. And last, when we ordered the creme brulee, to be told it was sold out! Well, when you sell out at the beginning of the dinner seating, I would guess that it had never been available and the waiter should have mentioned that when discussing the menu after seating us.

Oh right- he never mentioned specials or any other items on the menu when seating us.

One of the poorer customer experiences I've had at any real restaurant here in Germany. The service was even worse than at the Biergarten where the waiter charged us for a meal we never ordered– at least there, he actually got us the orders we had requested!

On the very plus side, several of the couples invited us to join them at a bar for live music after dinner and it turns out the venue is around the corner from us! Amazing and amazingly fun: they have live entertainment every day of the week and real cider. I expect we will visit again.

21 January 2011

Resolution Update

So far the year has been rolling along. The kids are set with swimming and skating and the older has expanded her ceramics class to include another 90 minutes of art/drawing. She is very happy with that and I'm anxiously waiting until T2 is old enough to join her.
I haven't found them recorder lessons yet, but on the other hand, they have both added speech therapy to their week: we had checked speech therapy out for T2 last year, but found the therapist useless (after two visits, she was still "testing"). Instead we took T2 to have her adenoids checked, discovered they were enlarged and dealt with that situation.

In this case, T1's school teacher had said she noted a few issues, that T1 was vastly improved from last year, but that we might want to consider having her speech checked and proferred the name of her own child's speech therapist (I sometimes wonder whether all German children actually require speech therapy? Is that the sign of a language that is actually too difficult for its own speakers?)— that is, logopädin.

When we brought T1 in, there were some issues that were a result of grammar mixing between English and German, but there were also some issues that are the result of not clearly hearing and understanding certain word endings. While we were there, we decided to set up another appointment to determine whether T2 also had issues, or whether it is the resurgence of the adenoids and a week later we had the answer: some real issues with certain Germanic fricatives and sibilants. So now they have a weekly appointment each and we are on the waiting list to have 1 appointment moved to allow them to be there at the same time. Sigh. And T2 is off to the doctor today to see whether he cough and snuffles need to be treated or whether she will be back on what the ENT prescribed last year to treat the adenoids.

So I think that is their week pretty well laid out: until the therapy visits hit a single day there's not even space to attempt music, so we are booked.

My yoga started yesterday and although I thought the class was fine and well within my abilities, today I can barely bend my legs or turn my head, so that's a good sign:). Next week my once a week writing class starts and the B1/B2 Brucken (bridging) class (4 days a week) starts a few weeks after: all is stacking up. I also have a few cooking classes scheduled.

So, the resolutions have been scheduled and are proceeding as planned, which can give me a sense of satisfaction/ order.

Anything else I attempt will be extra and I'll need to see if there can be room for it. I think our "free time" winds up being swallowed by unscheduled but expected add-ons: two hours today at the doctor for 1 child, two days over the last week for the TüF (inspection) and the then required brake work and re-inspect, and so on.
An afternoon picking up a "registered " for gift and the opportunity to make that lunch with a friend, another lunch with someone whose company I enjoy who was showing me the ropes on some work I'm thinking of undertaking: activity seems to expand to fill the space that we have for it!

19 January 2011


I went to my local Volkshochschule (VHS) yesterday to sign up for a grammar course and another language course next month (I've been taking a little break and very much enjoying it).

Part of the reason that I have been taking my break is that I have been waiting to hear the results of my B1/DTfZ. If I didn't pass, I would repeat the B1.2 and take the test again. I hadn't received my scores yet, so I decided to take a quick one day course in grammar while waiting. (ed. That is, one day a week.)

When I went in to discuss what course to take (all placement in the VHS for German requires a personal discussion, other courses can be registered for on line) the head told me that the scores should be in and they were.

I passed the reading and listening section with 98%, speaking with 91% and I just scraped by in the writing. That was a shock, because I thought that my speaking score would be much lower. With the writing, I had known that I had done badly: the test required a "half official letter" and I had used elements from an "official letter" by accident: huge no-no.

I haven't received the results back yet from the Orienteeringskurse exam, but I'll guess that will be 100%, so I can officially consider myself (and the German government also considers me) to be integrated. I used only 400 of the 600 hours offered to me at a subsidized cost (by the government- German language courses cost 1/2 of what other language courses such as French or Italian or Arabic cost) and none of the possible additional 300 hours. It's unfortunate that I can't use any of these hours to continue my studies, because I think I'll need to progress through at least C1.2 and do additional work in writing to actually be considered moderately literate and capable of getting a job if I look for one here in Germany, but I am also extremely grateful that Germany has provided such an easy and low cost path for me and all other incomers to become more integrated, especially in language skills. It amazes me that people pay 5-6 times the cost of going to the VHS to take lessons at private schools when the teachers at the VHS may be the same teachers they have as well, or far exceed their skills. My teachers have all been wonderful.

I think it's a pity that the US doesn't follow this model: I do believe that one should not be allowed, in ordinary circumstances, to be a permanent resident or a citizen without the requisite language skills. I also believe that once that decision is made, the country with such a belief should provide a path for immigrants to actually gain those skills. Here in Germany, it's not (in my case) much of a subsidy (although it is for the poor or jobless) — it's that the classes are readily available, that childcare is available for those who require it (I did not), that full-time and part-time, morning, afternoon and evening classes are available and that the path to mastery is clearly indicated and achievement is determined through testing, with the availability of additional help as needed.

Germany talks the talk and it walks the walk and I think that is just great.

18 January 2011

A typical evening at home

Isn't it for everyone?

I found it charming that they chose to dress as the same princess (Cinderella) and both wear glass slippers and crowns. The carrying of a Kuscheltiere and a purse is also lovely, as was the decision to put a show on for us.

The full face mask on T2 did give me a bit of pause, though.

15 January 2011

Ice skating

Proceeding with the New Year's resolutions, T1 tried out the skating verein attached to our swimming verein and liked it very much. We are late for the season but she will be taking a regular weekly lesson until the end of the skating season and then will move on to the same club's in-line skating lessons. She's pretty advanced at ice skating for a child who has only done 5-6 times because she's quite good at in-line skating for a child who has never had a lesson (but likes to put her skates on and fly about).

T2 had a birthday party today but will join her next week: the verein has multiple lessons going on at the same time. I don't expect that she will be as good because she has less experience on skates (she likes her bike best) and she's not as naturally athletic as T1 is (although physically stronger). The lessons/abteilung anmeldung are remarkably inexpensive but ice skate rental is remarkably expensive so we will be buying the girls skates before the next lesson!

14 January 2011

13 January 2011

Clean teeth make the man?

What do I do with these? 4 electric toothbrushes, 2 for children, 2 for adults.

I have already discarded the heads, of course, but the brushes are perfectly fine: we have just upgraded to the "sonic" variety, after advice from my dentist. They work well, but I'm a sad case of extremely efficient calcium deposition and I need all the help that I can get.

I was also glad to be able to reduce the clutter in the bathroom by getting versions that allow different heads to be used with the same bases.

So, you can't donate used electronic at the places that I have looked– anyone know what can be done with them? There's always the recycling Hof, but it seems so wasteful.


I don't want to specifically discuss the horror of what happened in Arizona on the 8th. Already people are pretending that this should be a knee jerk of one side defending itself against (justified) charges that it has embraced polarizing discourse.

Instead, I want to think aloud about the state of public discourse.

A few days ago I posted some thoughts on the New Year and one of those thoughts was that I needed to remove certain people and attitudes from my atmosphere. I talked about how individuals, empowered through the internet, were increasingly using ad hominem attacks and how glad I was that the bullying could not become physical because I live in a civilized society.

I spoke too soon. Or the USA is not civilized. At least here in Germany the likelihood of someone attacking me with a gun is vanishingly small and my odds of surviving other physical attacks is much greater. The verbal attacks are, to a certain extent, forbidden by law. And those in the internet which I find intemperate or uncivil, I have removed from my view.

But the question is why individuals feel entitled to act in such a manner? So I'm going to look at three specific examples in the past year that have either silenced me or forced me to curtail my activity and active exchange of thought.

The first was earlier this year. Another expat blogger posted an ad campaign that she found amusing. It was a British campaign and I found it sexist and as such, a bit misogynistic. Some other commenters saw my point and some thought it was funny in spite of that and some did not see my issue.
That's not the point: what happened as the result of my comment was. Another blogger attacked me, took a post from my blog to say that I myself was sexist, posted it on his blog with commentary and without telling me or permission. Then another of his friends told me that I had no sense of humor, suggested that I needed to have sex more frequently to give me a sense of humor and used common misogynist language to belittle me. His wife told me that being told I "needed to get laid" was neither an insult to me nor to my husband (whom they had both met). She assured me that she had taken feminist studies and therefore knew that this language was not sexist or misogynist. I didn't point out to her at the time, but will now: I understand that we all tell ourselves stories to live with the unbearable. Telling a woman that she has no sense of humor about sexism and misogynism, that she needs to have sex enacted against her, that her ideas and opinions are formed by her hormone levels: this is indeed the heart of misogyny. Let me direct you to Feminism 101 and more specifically to this.

I removed these people from my blog reader.

The next issue that arose came in the context of the removal of Elizabeth Moon from the Guest of Honor position at Wiscon 35. Wiscon is a science fiction convention concentrating on issues of feminism. This is their statement of intention:
Wiscon is the world's leading feminist science fiction convention. WisCon encourages discussion and debate of ideas relating to feminism, gender, race and class.
Moon was "dis-invited" as the result of an interview that she gave wherein she stated that Muslims in the US have the same responsibilities as all Americans.

This is a small quote:
...I can easily imagine how Muslims would react to my excusing the Crusades on the basis of Islamic aggression from 600 to 1000 C.E....(for instance, excusing the building of a church on the site of a mosque in Cordoba after the Reconquista by reminding them of the mosque built on the site of an important early Christian church in Antioch.) So I don't give that lecture to the innocent Muslims I come in contact with. I would appreciate the same courtesy in return (and don't get it.) The same with other points of Islam that I find appalling (especially as a free woman) and totally against those basic principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution...I feel that I personally (and many others) lean over backwards to put up with these things, to let Muslims believe stuff that unfits them for citizenship, on the grounds of their personal freedom. It would be helpful to have them understand what they're demanding of me and others--how much more they're asking than giving. It would be helpful for them to show more understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship in a non-Muslim country. (And the same is true for many others, of course. Libertarians, survivalists, Tea-Partyers, fundamentalist Christians, anyone else whose goals benefit only their own group. There's been a huge decline in the understanding of good citizenship overall.)...
Leaving aside whether one disagrees with what Moon said, I see nothing against feminism here: in fact, it stands up for women against a religion which when followed as Islamists do, is misognistic. This ( from Reclusive Leftist) is a good discussion of that aspect.

However, I personally agree with what she said. I am a member of a religious minority and I want the country I live in to protect me from other religious groups. I am a woman and I want my country to protect me from groups and individuals that seek to curtail my freedom as a tenet of their religious faiths. I am afraid of Islamists and I have every right to be so, as I pass through gates guarded by policemen with machine guns on a daily basis and know that in India, people just like myself were sought out by Islamists, to be murdered, for no other reason than their religion or their visiting of a place associated with my religion.

When I said that, I was attacked personally for my beliefs. No one explained why my fear was wrong, but I was told that I was racist (it's tough to not have a word for fear of religious extremism or one for hatred of a specific religion or cult, I know– that's why Jew haters are called antisemites although they really only hate Jews). Someone who I had been corresponding with for years told me that she was "afraid of me".

Here we see the concept of the Big Lie. Here are some specific words of Hitler from Mein Kampf, where the phrase originally arose (and was used specifically against Jews) and was then used by Göbbels:
All this was inspired by the principle--which is quite true within itself--that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.
Was my acquaintance afraid of me? No. We go to conventions together– does she feel in any danger from me? No. Does she feel that any of my actions will damage anyone's freedom or speak negatively against a single individual? No. But when I say that I am afraid, she says that she fears me. Now the emphasis seems to show that my saying that I am afraid (we won't discuss lack of action) has engendered a sense of danger in her.

That's the same type of lie where Sarah Palin says that when the world looks at her "attack map" with gun sights and says it helped to create an atmosphere of rancor and acceptance of violence, that: it's a blood libel. Does she even understand the Jew hating context of that phrase? This type of appropriation is often part of the big lie, as when the above blogger takes my fear for her own and dismissed mine in its entirety.

Lastly is the reason for my New Year's post, after which I determined to continue to rid my environment of people who think that attack is a replacement (or synonym) for debate or discussion. Another blogger had posted a list of posts that had the most viewers this year and one was a discussion of the way some parents fear allowing their children to go to school alone, in relation to commuting. I mentioned that the same morning I had heard, on the BBC, the statistic that 2000 children in the US go missing every day.

The same expat blogger from my first example told me I was wrong. Now, he didn't say the BBC was wrong, so the implication was that I lied. In a few seconds, I looked up and supplied the link from the interview where the pertinent information can be seen: "An estimated 800,000 children are reported missing each year – more than 2,000 children every day." This information is sourced from the FBI and the Department of Justice.

But the blogger told me that I was wrong, that statistics lie, that my unwarranted fears and these lies were responsible for the atmosphere of fear in which people live. He also said that the organization lied and made up a bunch of statistics to prove that the numbers were not possible.

Here we see misdirection: he was shown the source for what he called a lie, and now has no direct response (because he won't apologize). Another commenter posted that many of these missing children would have been taken by parents: absolutely. With a little Google-fu one can discover within moments (also from the FBI and DOJ) that many kidnappings are guardian or non-custodial parent(although that certainly does not make them less tragic to the child or parent/guardian, although one could at least hope that in those cases the children were not being harmed). This same magic of research comes up with 7000 children "permanently" disappearing a year: still quite a lot, but not 800,000. Not pertinent to my original comment of having heard an interview, but would have been useful if mentioned later by someone commenting.

I do look forward to seeing the FBI and the Department of Justice change their statistics in response to the blogger's off the cuff analysis.

I didn't respond, because responding to individuals who attack in this unreasoning way leads one to be attacked by them and their friends but as I understand (and do not know because I don't read this person's blog) he has discussed this at length on his blog and once again attached a link to mine: I see this because individuals I don't know are coming to my blog through his. That's what stats view allows. These individuals are attacking and I have moved to comments moderation as a result.

And that's what silencing is about. (Or as wikipedia calls it, suppression of dissent.)

What's been happening in the US is remendous stridency and usage of terms of violence and hunting terminology from the Right, but whenever anyone mentions this atmosphere, the right responds that the left does it as well.

Well, they really don't. But many normal individuals just can't deal with the violent rhetoric and in your face behavior of the new normalized wacky Right, and we give up.

Here's a look at the Insurrectionism Timeline put together by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (which one would have hoped was non-partisan, even if it isn't to the wackos).

That's sad and that's dangerous.

10 January 2011

The Neues Museum

Entry to the Musem Isle
Continuing with this year's resolution to see more of Berlin (and by that I don't just mean walking by the architecture), I grabbed my Museum Pass on Monday and off we went. I would have preferred to see one of the National Galleries, but, having learned my lesson as to checking open days, I knew that Monday was closed for the majority of museums that I was interested in. However the Pergamon and the Neues Museum were available.

The Neues has only recently (2009) reopened after being closed for 70 years, since the beginning of World War II in 1939. It is an absolutely fascinating museum architecturally and one of the finest that I think I have ever seen. Please do read the above link which describes some of the controversy over David Chipperfield's design (some protesters attempted to have UNESCO place the Museum on its list of endangered World Heritage sites due to the redesign). To the right you see the view down the long hall to the famous bust of Nefertiti (shown below), which was discovered by Ludwig Borchardt in 1912. Believed to have been crafted in 1345 BC by the sculptor Thutmose, the paint you see is original. It is amazing to see this in person and no photos are allowed (therefore my shot from where photos are allowed) but the bust is even more incredible than the official picture I have included.
As we entered through the center staircase, I turned to the German and said how amazing I found the design, with the integration of recycled bricks and classic elements with stark modernity. That's when he told me how controversial the redesign had been. I wandered the halls in amazement at how perfectly the architect had incorporated the elements that were salvageable. I was so fascinated that I actually went to the gift shop and bought a "coffee table" style book on the design and rebuilding of the museum with essays by architects and I expect that I will read it slowly, chapter by chapter, over the next year. There's also a very good architectural visual tour on the web site of the museum.
On the right you see the south cupola in 1984, on the left you see it as it is today.

We spent a few hours wandering around, looking at the architecture and some of the exhibition highlights (like the Schliemann exhibit discussing the excavation and display of items from Troy–those that were not stolen by the Soviet Union during the occupation of Berlin). But we didn't see (or hear, using the once again wonderful and included audio guide) the quarter of it and I will visit again this year.

When deciding to see the Neues Museum, the most important thing to remember is that one needs to buy a timed admission ticket in addition to the regular ticket (or use of the museum pass). The ticket is free and can be purchase on-line or on-site, but it defines the time one will be allowed to enter (one can stay as long as one wishes) within a 30 minute period. Don't show up without one during busy periods or special exhibits, or one may wind up disappointed.

09 January 2011


I have been making couscous for ages using a recipe that had me, after expansion, wringing the water out of the grains.

That's darned annoying (and the heat of the water is also painful)!

Today I thought, why don't I just add less water instead? D'oh!

The answer:
  • One part couscous
  • 1 1/2 part boiling water
Stir, cover with a cloth, wait 10 minutes, stir again and serve. This may vary a fit based on your type of couscous, but not a lot. What's even more embrassing is that if you read that Wikipedia link, this direction is right in the article. To be fair to me, if there are cooking directions on the couscous I buy, they are in Turkish.

I wonder what other "of course" moments await me?

Mom's Waffles

Hmm. I'm getting a little tired of pancakes every Sunday, so here's my mother's waffle recipe.

I'm posting it today, but I'll be making it this week and I may need to do some ingredient shuffling to make it work with what can find.
In particular, I know that I won't stock buttermilk, so I will try it with regular milk and with milk that has been curdled with lemon juice to see if one is better than the other.
Additionally, most shortenings here are made with animal fat and even though I have found a plant fat one, I'm not certain how I feel cooking with shortening again now that I have gone without it for three years. So I will try it with shortening (and weigh it because weight is so much easier) and then with olive oil and see which we prefer.--- Nope, used oil and just fine with it.

  • 2 eggs
  • 2C buttermilk (use whole if you can't find)
  • 2C Gold Medal Flour (405 Flour)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C shortening
Heat waffle iron. Beat eggs, beat in remaining ingredients with rotary beater until smooth. (spoon doesn't do it- I use my immersion blender).
Pour batter from cup into center of hot waffle iron. Bake until steaming stops or you have a whistle on your machine.

Richer Waffles
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 C Gold Medal Flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C shortening (oil).
Treat same as above.

Okay- I like them better with the buttermilk and I stint the oil by about 50%.

Picasso and Matisse and Klee, oh my

Museum Berggruen Berlin-Charlottenburg, Schlossstr. 1 © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Foto: SMB
Following up on my "resolution" to see more of what Berlin has to offer, I met a friend on Friday and we went to the Berggruen Museum.
I have been looking at this museum almost every day for the last three years (I passed it on the way to dropping the children at kita and on the way to one of my classes) and the only time I attempted to visit, it was closed (memo to self- many museums are closed on Monday in Berlin).

This time, I did some research and my friend and I chose an open day. We chose this museum because it was close to both of us and we had been thinking about it for a while and I really enjoyed the visit: I normally look at earlier periods but I have been trying to expand my understanding of art since visiting the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice last year.

This museum and collection were left to Berlin by Heinz Berggruen, a German Jew who fled the Nazis to the US and, while in Paris after WWII became an extremely influential gallery owner and friend of many artists, especially Picasso.
Berggruen left the art collection in a generous gesture of a low price to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. For this he was awarded the honorary citizenship of Berlin and the Federal Cross of Merit (Grand Cross 2nd Class) of Germany (Bundesverdienstkreuz, Großes Verdienstkreuz mit Stern und Schulterband). (cf Wiki above)
The museum has a collection of 85 works from Picasso, across his lifetime, as well as other artists that Berggruen collected personally) and I found it exciting and enlightening to look at Picasso's work across 80 years: I have never really liked the works that I saw, but now I see that there are many periods of Picasso that I do like. One of the most confusing points of the work that I have seen is that although Picasso painted in many periods, he did so whenever he wanted to, so one doesn't necessarily look at hos work and see a progression: in fact, his more classic works can be seen throughout his oeuvre and his technical virtuosity is seen from a very early age: when he chose to paint in less technical styles, it was a choice, not a lack of skill.

Salvador Dali said of Picasso that he was a great painter with no originality, that he was a master of copying styles, and I think it might be true as I looked through this collection which has masters of the different styles next to his paintings (which were not copies in the classical sense, but simply used the style of the period, such as Cubism or Fauvism– did he help create these styles or did he run with the thoughts of other artists?).

This looks amazingly like a Botero,
or does a Botero look amazingly like it?

He outlasted the originators and he had amazing technical skill, though.
While this is an amazing homage to Cranach the Younger

There is an entire section of Klee which I also found fascinating.Klee lost his post at the university of Düsseldorf because he was Jewish and fled to Switzerland, where he died while awaiting naturalization (although his mother was Swiss, at that time, as in Germany, nationality passed through the male bloodline).

(Although nothing at all is mentioned in the exhibition about Klee's religion or its effect on his painting and life.)

Well worth visiting and the audio guide (which is included with admission) is extremely well done and includes some introductions by Heinz Berggruen to his collection and some specific paintings,a s well as some interesting interviews with contemporaries of Picasso.

This is a Berlin State Museum, and if one purchases the annual pass for 40€ one can go to them all (lots of them!) on the pass (80€ includes special exhibits): so far, all the museums have included a free audio guide with entry and I am very glad: they lend quite a bit to an understanding of the material.


Another Sunday. another double batch of pancakes.

07 January 2011

Vaccination and Autism continued

Quite a while ago I pointed out how ridiculous the anti-vax movement was.

Since, there have been many articles pointing out that the people promulgating this movement are either unsophisticated or making a profit off it.

Last year, the Doctor who published all the studies on which this movement was based (and made a huge amount off it) was stricken off.

Now all his studies are shown to be not only falsified but created.

What a terrible way to both exploit the deep sorrow and unwarranted guilt of those affected but to prevent research that might actually explain and help to prevent the tremendous increase in diagnosed autism cases that have been seen in the last decades.

06 January 2011

Thoughts on the New Year, general and specific

Pondering on the last year as it moves into the present, I find that I am still amazed at how adults can be childish and can be bullies. I'm grateful every day that I live in a society where the most that people can do is to run their mouths. They can do so more thoroughly, of course, on the Web. But I am protected from the average physical bullying that I would be subjected to in other societies and as an adult myself, I can remove people who aren't reasonable from my world view: another benefit of the web is how easy it is to not look at irrationality.
I hope that every year I learn more completely how to remove such people from my society and so increase my happiness, in much the same way that I do not feel any need to watch FOX to know that it is full of lies.
One of the important new pieces of knowledge that I gained last year is that even individuals that I thought would and should be on the same side of certain issues may not be: that being persecuted doesn't prevent some individuals and groups from feeling an increased sense of power through persecuting and maligning other minority groups. These are things I knew theoretically, but it is always useful to have knowledge reinforced in reality.

For this year, I hope to continue examining my interactions with others, to determine whether it is worth responding to ad hominem attacks from those for whom I have no respect or to note that these attacks have no power to affect me and thus should be ignored. I expect to choose my battles and confining them to general statements of my beliefs and to actual discussions with those I care enough about to attempt to persuade and inform.

On the less global and more specific front, we will consider again this year whether to stay in Berlin, go to München or consider the US, Switzerland and Austria, all of which are current opportunities: sometimes choices can be overwhelming

I'm going to take a break in my German slog and pull back to a grammar class and take the opportunity to enjoy a bit more of Berlin: in that effort I spent the day at a museum today. I'd hate to leave the city without having seen more of it and with having the children by myself in the week I feel like I haven't explored nearly enough.

I've also taken some of that time I have used working through the Integrationskurse and signed up for various one day and two day cooking classes, as well as a Yoga class once a week and a DSLR class in April: all the things that I could have been doing if I hadn't been going every day to language course. I'm feeling a bit guilty but I'm also feeling a huge sensation of relief.

The children are settled in their new Schwimmverein and T1 has expanded to drawing class in addition to ceramics. We will to add ice skating for them since we probably won't get skiing started this year.
I'm also thinking about a Girl Guides or Girl Scouts group for them and I plan on moving the search up my to-do list.
The last activity that we really need is music: I need to follow through with arranging lessons for them this month.

That should give us enough to do through this school year at least!

02 January 2011

Starting the New Year

The last month has been a whirl of activity and running, like the Red Queen, just to stay in place. So what starts the New Year better than getting rid of clutter? What I want to know is how, after getting rid of so many documents, there seem to be more still in the filing cabinet that can go? We get a good workout with the cross-cut shredder that we brought with us from the States for paperwork that needs shredding and the rest goes into paper recycling. We did this gather and shred while sipping champagne and listening to the firecarchers and fireworks going off outside, but we did stop before midnight to watch the Hoff at the Berlin Wall :-) and to see some episodes of the new (to us) series Being Human.

01 January 2011

For those who hadn't noticed...

I'm never certain who actually reads this blog on a reader, who goes to the blog itself and who gets some other type of feed. But for those who actually go there, 1. How's the new look? I'm afraid it might be a bit too wide and bright and 2. I finally finished all the December posts and they come before the list of books read in the month.
And feel free to say "hi": sometimes I am amazed to see who swings by but doesn't say hello.