11 August 2006

Let's face it, Hating People is fun!

Contemporary events have put me, like quite a few others, in mind of a classic lyrik written by Tom Lehrer, the Harvard math professor who regaled 'egghead' audiences with songs containing mordant political and social commentary. In 1965, shortly after Malcolm X was assassinated, various groups advocating tolerance promoted 'National Brotherhood Week.' In a song lampooning the folly of racism and hatred, Lehrer made the following observations:

Oh the white folks hate the black folks,
And the black folks hate the white folks,
To hate all but the right folks,
Is an old established rule.

. . .

Oh, the rich folks hate the poor folks,
And the poor folks hate the rich folks,
All of my folks hate all of your folks,
It's an old established rule.

. . .

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
And everyone hates the Jews.


Forty years ago or yesterday?

10 August 2006


Ich bin erstaunt, aber mit 40 Jahren kann ich mich noch an die Zeit erinnern, als Fluggesellschaften noch überhaupt keine Sicherheitsmassnahmen eingerichtet hatten. Es war genau als ob man ins Kino: jeder Passagier hat einfach die Karte dem Personal vorgezeigt und ist danach eingestiegen. Es hat keine von analphabetischen Mindestlohnarbeitern betriebenen Durchleuchtungsvorrichtungen gegeben; ebenfalls keine Kofferinspektion; keine zwecklosen, dämlichen Fragen, z.B., "Haben Sie Ihren Koffer selbst eingepackt?)". In den USA traten erst am 5. Januar 1973 die ersten Vorschriften der FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in Kraft. Gemäß diesen neuen Regeln mussten die Fluggesellschaften die Passagiere sowie ihr Gepäck kontrollieren. Diese Sicherheitsmaßnahmen nahmen dem Flugzeugreisen seinem Glamour weg; es ist nicht besonders elegant und prächtig, wenn man in einer Schlange stehen und sich abtasten lassen muss. Damals hatten die Flugzeuge häufig nur eine Stahltreppe draußen zum Einsteigen gehabt, über die die Passagiere von dem Rollfeld fesch ins Flugzeug hinaufgeklettert sind.

Daher war das Ganze während dieser einfacheren Ära romantischer und würdevoller, denke ich. Ganz gewiß hat zu dieser Zeit das Reisen mit dem Flugzeug noch einen Hauch Glanz gehabt; die Erfahrung war noch etwas exklusives. Das Essen und die Bedienung an Bord waren viel üppiger, und man hat zuweilen noch das Wort 'Jet' als Verb verwendet--'I jetted off to London last month'--denn das Düsenflugzeug war noch nicht zum Alltagsbeförderungsmittel geworden. Die Armen sind hingegen eher mit dem Bus gefahren, oder, wahrscheinlicher, sind einfach zu Hause geblieben. Heutzutage reisen auch die kleinen Leute, und zwar mit dem Flugzeug; selbst die Reichen müssen lange Schlangen sowie die anderen Unbequemlichkeiten, Unannehmlichkeiten und Demütigungen erdulden. Nur die Ultrareichen, die sich leisten können, mit Privatflugzeugen zu reisen, genießen noch echten Glamour. O tempora, o mores.


Growing up in Southern California, I developed the typical attachment to the automobile, because over there it embodies freedom itself. It's hardly a profound insight (so I shan't dwell on it too long, mercifully) that in Los Angeles, having no car severely hampers one's mobility, and, accordingly, one's opportunities to work, date or do pretty much anything outside of the house. Over the years, however, I have intermittently lived in cities in which car ownership is not essential, or can even constitute a nuisance, such as New York, Chicago, and, more recently, Munich. And I freely admit that I am not a particularly good driver, in that my attention tends to wander. These days, when I think of cars, a parade of horribles, or nasties at any rate, courses through my mind: accidents, expense (gas!!, oil, repairs, parts, parking, registration, insurance), fiddling with said insurance, finding parking places, waiting around in parts- and repairshops, futile efforts to keep the thing clean inside and out, worrying about damage (keying, etc.), declining value, DMV (Autobehörde) paperwork, pollution, sitting in ever-larger traffic jams (note how we tend to drop that word these days in favor of plain 'traffic'), and, finally, simply enriching Arab potentates with every mile you drive alone.

Anyhow, here in Munich recently I have seen two late-model full-sized Dodge Ram pickups. One belongs to a neighbor half a block away in this little suburb. Interestingly--I had never noticed this--European license plates, though they seem so large, actually have the same height as American ones; only the width is greater. So the authorities issued the owner a custom-fitted license plate which nicely fits into the US-designed slot--same height, just not as wide, and since the German numbers are so much bigger, it has only four digits. As a result it resembles a US plate, but with much bigger numbers.

All quite convenient. But for the life of me I cannot fathom why anyone, unless he earned more than, say, €20,000 per month (a very, very high income indeed) would want to own and operate such a beast here. First off, a truck (LKW) this large must be terribly unwieldy on narrow streets and parking places designed for smaller vehicles. I have no idea what the environmental requirements and import fees are, but I would wager that they are hardly cheap. Next, the headache of finding parts--from what I have seen, there appear to be no supply and maintenance networks for cars sold only in the States. Years ago, when BMW and Mercedes sold relatively few cars in the US, a similar problem obtained--back in the seventies, you had to wait weeks for a part from Germany. Since then, these companies have assiduously built up the necessarily supply and distribution networks, but only because their cars have become prevalent enough to make it worthwhile. US pickups are rarely sold in Europe and I would think that all spare parts would have to be imported as you go, shipped over.

But the granddaddy of all Nachteilen (disadvantages) has to be the GAS! Sprit! Benzin! Um Himmels Willen!!! €1,40 pro Liter...basically about $7.20 a gallon. A rig like this late-model pickup gets, what--12 mpg?! (19 liters/100) So, one tank, 25 gallons (100 liters) you are talking close to $200, or €270--and that 25 gallons ain't gonna take you too far. And imagine opening up that V-12 or whatever it is on the AUTOBAHN at 115 mph (ca. 185 km/St.) and you will probably not be able to drive more than an hour, because you then will be down to 7 mpg (ca. 33 liter/100) and after going 115 miles, poof! The thing would be as costly to operate as an airplane--more--$150 an hour or some such!!

09 August 2006

Abraham Lincoln, immer da

Die Torheit und die Vergeblichkeit des heutigen Kriegs im Nah-Osten erinnern mich an die zweite Amtseintrittrede Abraham Lincolns. Sie ist heute genau so angebracht als damals. Diese Rede gilt als einer der besten Prosastücke der englischen Sprache. Sie wurde 1865 von Lincoln, dem 16. Präsidenten der USA, verfasst und vorgelesen, kurz vor seiner Ermordung. Der Anlass war seine zweite Vereidungszeremonie. Der Sezessions- bzw. Bürgerkrieg war fast am Ende. Lincoln bewerkstelligte die moralischen Paradoxe, die der Krieg immer entfesselt.

Leider habe ich bislang keine deutsche Übersetzung gefunden, und in diesem Fall geht die Aufgabe über meine Kräfte. Falls irgendjemand den Versuch unternehmen will, hat er/sie meine wärmste Unterstützung.


"At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention, and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

"On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it--all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

"One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!'1 If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of
God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether'.2

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."


1. Matthew 18:7 (Wehe der Welt mit ihrer Verführung! Es muss zwar Verführung geben; doch wehe dem Menschen, der sie verschuldet.)
2. Psalm 19:9 (The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.) (Die Befehle des Herrn sind richtig, / sie erfreuen das Herz; das Gebot des Herrn is lauter, / es erleuchtet die Augen.)

God willing.