RIP Richard Holbrooke

14 12 2010

“Richard Holbrooke was a giant among the diplomats of our time. He was truly one of the best and the brightest and the fiercest fighters for the causes he believed in or interests of his country.” -Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt

“He was a remarkable man, a remarkable public servant and someone who contributed enormously to the cause of a more peaceful and just world. He will be deeply mourned by many people in many different nations.” -British Former Prime Minister Tony Blair

Here’s to Richard Holbrooke! Coming from a family of people with heart disease, I always prefer to romanticize their deaths by arguing that their hearts just gave out; They had lived their lives to such a full extent that it was their hearts that ended up failing them, their determination to live life to the fullest was never compromised. This is definitely the case with my great-grandmother who died at 97 years, taking spanish lessons till that point, and learning the ins and outs of digital devices while taking me to art exhibits and sending me Edmund Morris’s books on Theodore Roosevelt. It goes for my father’s father who I never met aside from my infant age, who used to take me forwalks across our Delaware suburb to give my parents a break from my baby cholic.

“America has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants. He was one of a kind — a true statesman — and that makes his passing all the more painful.” -US Secretary of State (and my personal heroine) Hillary Clinton

Richard Holbrooke demanded more from his life than the average person.  For those Americans living abroad, and any who are concerned about the U.S. standing in the world and international peace, he should be a household name.  His death just made it onto the front page of the New York Times, a real disappointment that his image wasn’t up all day.  It shows that the U.S. indifference to foreign policy and diplomacy is still alive and well for the domestic audience. On the der Spiegel english website, Holbrooke is front and center, right where he belongs.  He was a real American HERO, and will be deeply missed by those of us who lived everyday in gratitude for his service to our country, and the world.

His last words in his pakistani hospital were, “you’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

Prost Ambassador Holbrooke!

“This is a tragic loss for our country, this region and our world. Richard Holbrooke was a true titan in the diplomatic arena and a central figure in the effort of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was with considerable pride that we called him our diplomatic wingman. He was, in short, a tremendous diplomatic partner, a great American and a good friend.” -US General David Petraeus,1518,734573,00.html


A Year of Change

13 12 2010

As the year is coming to an end, I begin to really reflect on everything happening in both my everyday moments and my sphere of friends and family. I’m reminded of this now, as I am watching Julia and Julia on my new computer. It isn’t that the film is great per se, but it is an attractive story for me now stuck in my mid-twenties, wanting to push forward with my career, while still feeling like I’m exploring the world and being the child I still feel like inside. This year, has been an adult year though… I became an aunt, there is a generation under me. I’m applying to Grad School finally, feeling a nice push forward. Emily, my best friend from college got married to her life love Jordan. The great friend Brian across the waters is expecting a boy.  And then there are the friends who are a bit like me, still trying to figure out exactly where we fit in, what our real loves and life motivations are, what we want to be doing. There are the other friends like Dylan and Jarrett who are so satisfied and pleased with carriers that suit them both so well, falling into relationships that make them happy or foregoing relationships completely. It’s been a year of personal life changes and self-discovery, prepping me for 2011, a year I hope to be filled with ambition.


But back to Julia and Julia, I’m making sure I found out what I ‘really want to do’, and it isn’t just eating, but that isn’t so bad. Julia Child is also in a foreign european country, making life work in a strange old language. More than anything else, it’s a blog inspirer, which I definitely needed. Especially after a week of marathon baking of lebkuchen (german christmas spice cookies) and a variety of american cookies.


My other blog inspiration has been Rose-Anne Clermont. An american journalist living in Germany who just wrote a book called Bush Girl coming out soon in the USA, but the German translation is already available. It is largely about the awkward transition of integrating into a country, that doesn’t particularly appreciate foreigners. She has a great blog called Currents Between Shores, and is absolutely entertaining and worthwhile.  It really depicts the roller coaster emotional transitions of being abroad, although she has had a few more years practice than I.


My main regrets of 2010 are not being able to be in Tahoe next weekend, or blogging often enough. Perhaps I should have run a bit more too… Next half marathon, May 2011!

The Renaissance

6 05 2010

For the past few weeks an exhibit has been featured on the Eberhardstraße right here in Stuttgart called Café Endlager.  The term ‘Endlager’ literally meaning ‘end storage’ relates to the place where nuclear waste is stored.  Talk about toxic assets!  Yet now is the time to talk about nuclear power.  Obama has since 2009 been announcing his desire to build more plants arguing that their safety today makes the benefits of these expensive facilities outweigh the potential hazards.  Now, I haven’t been thinking about nuclear power, it simply isn’t a topic that often crosses my mind.  As a part of today’s youth in the United States, nuclear power has always been an energy source that failed.

However, I think that we have simply not been exposed to the kind of scary reality that was once present.  Should we be?  It takes only a second of research to verify my point, even Wikipedia has an article about the ‘nuclear renaissance’ currently taking hold in our country.  The term renaissance has been used, as nuclear power has previously been considered dead after the incidences at 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl.

At the Café Endlager, I watched a film the other night called Dark Circle (Beaver and Irving, 1982). To my pure pleasure the film was not dubbed in German but remained in its original thick american version.  The film focused on the societal effects in the United States of having nuclear power plants and nuclear power weapons.  The film takes a hard look on the nuclear weapons plant in Rocky Flats Colorado, in which the government seemed to fail detecting the amount plutonium in the soil. Children died, people died and that plant is currently undergoing remediation efforts. It also focused on the Diablo Canyon plant protest let by Mothers for Peace, a protest that seemed unnoticed by the government as the plant is active today.  The film revealed that when the plant was first finished, a series of miscalculations in design and mistakes in structure took place.  In short, the plant had been built backwards.  In 1967 the United States had 31,225 warheads, today there are 5,113. Wow.

It is easy to mix up the ideas of discussing nuclear warheads and nuclear power.  Accordingly 1 in every 10 light-bulbs in the United States is lit by former soviet warheads, making these distinctions even fuzzier. India has also shown that they are able to easily convert the ingredients for nuclear energy into warheads according to Dark Circle.  Thus making dabbling in nuclear energy so psychologically frightening.  So with the $8 billion loan to build two new reactors in Georgia approved by the Obama administration in February, and the pro-nuclear views of Steven Chu our own generation could be in for some scary times.  Still with the Gulf of Mexico covered in oil and nuclear power plants under construction, I feel as though that the current administration is stuck between a rock and a hard place in fueling the nation.  Oh wait no they aren’t, there is technology for renewable energy and this industry could use $8 billion more for construction.  Come back Van Jones and your green jobs!

I just bumped into this NYtimes article on Al Qaeda’s knowledge of US nuclear power plants:

and another on Obama’s nuclear policies:


28 09 2009

IMG_2119So, in the past few weeks I have been subjected to the political onslaught that characterizes all National elections.  Wait, what? The German elections just took place and I can’t begin to tell you how comparably civil the election process is in Germany has compared to the hell-raising experience of the US 2008 Elections.    I think it’s particularly poignant now, as the health care debate feels as though it is the continuation of the campaign I assumed ended last years November.

The elections in Germany could even be considered dispassionate.  It isn’t as though people aren’t voting.  They vote.   It isn’t as though they don’t have political concerns.  They do.  They don’t make any absurd claims associating candidates to Hitler.  It’s illegal and they don’t. I guess what bothers me, is that there seems to be a lack of the political fervor and fever that (at least psychologically) empower the individual.  It’s just a little bit boring and it feels like the people just look up the election results as though they are the latest posted soccer scores.

But, at least they don’t fundamentally disgust me.  As a citizen of the United States it blows my mind how sick the health care debate is.  I saw a sign posted from the Glen Beck driven 9.12 rally. “The Zoo has an african and the white house has a lyin’ African!” being carried by a gleeful woman,  or some showing the president as a so-seen “primitive african.” I felt this immediate bezoar forming in my gut that took me back to my American History 240 class at Bryn Mawr.  My professor, the amazing Sharon Ullman, prewarned the entire class beforehand about the Jim Crow pictures we were about to witness.  She showed us a series of postcards showing the lynching of african americans surrounded by the delighted white crowds.  It was the same feeling that I had when watching the healthcare debate.  Pure disgust, discomfort and national shame.   But what I really want to get to here, is the fact that the US has almost moved into a sphere where politics are too personal.  How many people holding those crazy signs can back themselves up with a pure logically constructed argument about why Obama should be attacked with such vitriol?  They feel rather personally assaulted by his presidency.  The real question for me is: when are politics personal and when should they be anything but impersonal?  How can a politician ’empower’ people to vote and then help them to distance themselves a little amount from policy making?  Isn’t that they whole point around trusting one’s elected officials? Any reasonable person has friends who think similarly and totally different.  I have some amazing conservative friends who make constructed arguments about true political issues.  They’re great.  I’m not trying to hate here.  Irrationality, however, is a deal-breaker.

At least there’s Barney Frank to cheer us all up.

By the way, did anyone else know that it is only in the United States that two spaces are inserted after a period before typing a new sentence?

Reiner Bahnsinn!

10 09 2009

The German Rail System is an american myth.  On “our” side of the pond we have an imagined version of the Deutsche Bahn starting from the Brio wooden trains sets we constructed as small children sliding smoothy and punctually along the curvy wooden tracks.  It was German engineering, German perfection we lowly Amtrak participants swooned at.  If we only lived in Germany, we would never be late and could use the train.  The consequences of this thinking has led me to discern two binary types of train theory.  To highlight this point I will compare the two opposing rail systems: the New York City subway model and the Stuttgart S-Bahn.

New York MTA:

Stuttgart S-Bahn:

What is the most obvious point when observing these two models is that New York is a lot, I mean ten-fold times larger than Stuttgart.  But what you do see in the New York map is a true web of trains moving underground, over each other, providing numerous ways to get from point A to point B.  The Stuttgart map has the Hauptbahnhof as the epicenter and every train heading in a unique direction away from this point, allowing only one, two and sometimes three possibilities to reach any given destination.  Now, here is the real clincher.  The New York Subway has basically no functioning schedule.  The trains run so often, with so many possibilities to reach destinations that only the far outskirts of town are subjected to the horrors of punctuality.  Whereas every train in Stuttgart runs every half an hour (every fifteen minutes during rush hour).  This results in a greater human responsibility to be at the right place at the right time to reach your destination.  But! If one train fails, if one accident occurs, there is no alternative around the problem.  You, my friend, are stuck.

Well perhaps not you, but me.  I like to give Deutsche Bahn the benefit of the doubt. Things can’t always be controlled or predicted.  So when I went to Switzerland last Thursday, I didn’t get too angry when I was stuck in Karlsruhe due to an Oberleitungs failure (the overhead power cable of the train).  I just had to wait for an hour for the next train to take me to Offenburg and down to Basel.  Fine… whatever… So it ended up taking about six hours.  But on the way back I was heading on a train to Singen that passes through a small town called Schaffhausen and the train suddenly stopped there and refused to go further.  Now, due to the rail system, there are only two ways out of Schaffhausen: going to Singen or going back to Basel and I wanted to go to Singen.  I was stuck. So I went to the service point and was given a new schedule to go through Ulm to Stuttgart.  But then that train didn’t go in the direction of Singen, and the next train didn’t go to Singen!  It turned out that the electric cable had actually fallen down onto the tracks.  But instead of suggesting that the problem could take hours to solve, the Service Point just kept directing to the next trains heading to Singen, that never made it to Singen.  I had my bike with me and just thought, “fine, I’ll bike my way to Singen.”  Now, Schaffhausen and Singen are not that far from eachother, about 25 kilometers (15 miles), but in total about 20 miles once one is actually able to find the correct bike path headed towards Singen.  And as it turns out, entirely uphill.  Two hours after leaving the Schaffhausen Bahnhof I made it to Singen and eventually arrived at 21:40 in Stuttgart.  Making what was supposed to be a three and a half hour train ride, ten and a half hours long.

Now, I wouldn’t normally complain if it weren’t for the fact that using the train backfires so often.  I have missed appointments far more important despite my careful planning due to the unreliable Bahn.   And I do believe that many of these problems occur as a result of the privatization of  the rail company.  Once a state-run agency, the train used to have a station in every town with a person to speak to there, now one mainly sees machinery prone to malfunction.  The train used to have more employees and sell tickets on board, now the company fines travelers 40 euro when they have no ticket.  So instead of keeping the Bahn state run, the German government decided to privatize, taking jobs away from thousands of workers and impaling travelers with excessively large fines and fees.  All of which has only resulted in a dysfunctional rail system, that has almost always delayed every time I’ve ridden it.

So don’t believe what you’ve heard about German trains, I bear witness to it’s true failures.  And would even go so far as conspire that the real goal of the new Deutsche Bahn is not to be a profitable company, but rather to provide individuals incentive to purchase cars.  What better way to encourage the suffering German Auto Industry than making any other form of transport painful.  Environmentalists?  Green Party?  Where are you?

The only thing worse out there is Deutsche Telekom, known for employing for Stasi members and spying on people… and charging 8 euro per day for internet in all Starbucks across Germany.  But that is a whole different story.

Best Day Ever!

3 09 2009

So, today in Germany it is only 11:20 in the morning, yet it has been so far an absolutely awesome day.  I got a job this morning at a company called PE International which is a consulting firm aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of large companies and helping them developing in an environmentally sustainable fashion.  AND I got my marks back from my German exam that I passed with freaking flying colors.  Diane is feeling really good. And now I will run away to Switzerland and see my mother!  Alles in Ordnung!


1 09 2009

I just started writing. I wanted to get some impressions of Germany down on paper, down in my head.  I picked up a pen I bought at Bryn Mawr and my little notebook and things just started flowing out.  First thought: Germans believe they are a “bread country” that they have the best bread in the world.  Yet almost every single bakery is now a chain that produces bread from frozen dough or dough delivered that morning by a truck.  The result is that almost every so called “bakery” has the same bread.  Are there really bakers anymore?  There is bread in the USA I’ve had that just come to mind, Benbow Inn anyone?  But I’m not really able to recall truly great bread I’ve had in Germany.  Maybe I just don’t know bread. Second thought: Germans prefer fountain pens to ball tipped. Third thought: Germans protest against all food that has a remote amount of spice to it.  Fourth: Germans do not find Hitler humor to be remotely funny… not that I’m suggesting it is.  The new Tarantino film Inglorious Bastards is now showing and I just don’t know if I’m up for seeing the movie dubbed in German.  This is one of those curiosity killed the cat situations where I wonder what it would be like to be an american going into a German cinema and watching a movie about americans killing germans (sorry, not germans, but rather Nazis).   Fifth: Germans are very proud to be German but will never admit it aloud.  Sixth:  Germans tend to think they know more about the world than any other country.  They also criticize Americans for not taking into account how the world views the United States.  Do they, as Europe’s largest business parter with Iran, seem to notice how they are imagined in the mind of other countries?  You would think Inglorious Bastards and that Tom Cruise movie would have been a clue.  And the fact that their largest political party currently is the Christian Democrats, disregarding the impact these words may have on the 6 Million Turks living in the country.  No, no, no the world has very very favorable impression of this European nation.  Seventh: Germans are always accomplishing something that looks good on paper.  If it isn’t on the CV, it isn’t worth doing.  Especially if you’re not getting paid for it. Eighth: Germans must have everything clarified, they never accept a comment at face value.  This, I actually think is a good thing.  No declarative statements here, ja wohl! Ninth: Germans think that the United States is at fault for practically every problem in the now-a-days world. WWII.  Tenth: Germans don’t have much humility, are very short tempered, and not particularly grateful for the kindness and help of others.

Now, I actually like Germany.  I think recycling is great and the passive house movement and Porsche.  I just think, that a foreigner is always in the position of being frustrated with the country they happen to be living in.  I mean 20% sales tax is crazy right?

The truth of the matter is, as kids growing up in the United States, Europe is such a fantasy world.  A Kind (Kid) can barely imagine people speaking french in France because he doesn’t even really know what french sounds like.  A castle to a Californian is a bunch of dream blocks constructed from fairly tales.  In Germany, where the fairy tales (Märchen) were written, a castle is like a dime a dozen. In fact from Georg’s parents house you can see four castles.  Knights and Royalty, Lederhosen and Dirndls, Struedel and Black Forest Chocolate Cake (Schwarzwalderkirschtorte).  It all is so magical, so foreign and enticing.  But in Germany, it’s just life.