Monday, May 21, 2012

Guilty of Indifference to Cruelty

During a book discussion of The Buddha in the Attic an interesting question was raised. Why did Americans “feel outrage” that the Germans did not protest when their Jewish neighbors where taken away?  Yet they themselves looked quietly the other way when their own Japanese neighbors were locked up in prison camps, right here in America.

It is a normal human reaction to feel outrage when we see others harmed; it is inherent in our race, especially if a person is unjustly harmed. Yet it happens every day, especially during wartimes when we kill people in huge numbers, and often to the sound of trumpets.

The key may be the word unjust. During World War II, the attitude of Americans had been molded into believing that the Japanese in this country posed a serious threat. Therefore, government action against Americans of Japanese origin appeared to be justified.

The human mind is easily swayed, particularly by a leader with a lust for power like Hitler to persuade and brainwash us by creating fear and justification.

Two nights ago I saw the musical, Les Miserables, beautifully performed by the Oakland School for the Arts, and again felt outrage that Jean Valjean, a starving youngster, got 19 years of hard labor for steeling one loaf of bread! Obviously, the lawgivers at the time had never gone hungry. 

I know what hunger is like. I grew up during the war when we were hungry every day for six years, and then eight more years after the war. I remember my first good meal thanks to a scholarship that brought me to this great country, when food in Germany was still severely rationed, especially for thousands of us refugees who had to flee from the Communists.

Let me get back to my first question, why did so many Germans not protest the fate of the Jews? Because it would have meant concentration camp and death. Hitler was absolutely ruthless in eradicating any dissention. 

After the Krystallnacht, when Hitler’s chief of police Göring in a flurry of power ordered his men to burn Berlin’s synagogues and smash the windows of Jewish stores, Germans protested so loudly that Hitler demoted Göring by sending him to the Air Force. From then on everything was done in total secrecy. Any protest was squashed immediately. Hitler himself never mentioned the word Jews again.

In spite of it, many, many Germans did help their Jewish neighbors whenever they could. Take Max Schmeling, the famed heavyweight, who hid two Jewish boys in his hotel room and helped them escape from Germany. 

During our summer vacation at Grandmother’s summer home, we children were not allowed near her guest cottage, where secret meetings were held. When items of our clothing disappeared, Grandma told us sternly: Others need them more than you!  Long after the war I learned that grandmother Ahlswede had been deeply involved helping to finance and outfit The White Ship that in 1940 brought close to a thousand Jews to safety (pgs 99-101, The Madman and His Mistress). 

Unless we actually experience hunger, or life under a dictatorship, we cannot imagine its actual impact on the people involved, and for an outsider to feel outrage is normal. Five years after the war my parents sent me to England as an au pair; it was a good way to learn English, but oh how painful! My host family treated me as the never-to-be-forgiven German Enemy and kept me scrubbing, polishing and cleaning all day long. When I came to this country, I'd mumble about my Swedish ancestors, but be silent about my German place of birth because I was too ashamed to admit that I was German, no matter that I was just a child back during the Hitler years. 

These were some of my reasons for writing The Madman and His Mistress—to take the reader back to the Hitler years and how they came about. Once in power he ruled with brutal ruthlessness and persuasive propaganda. the book portrays the story of three generations of my family and my father’s college friends, who valiantly coped and yet remained compassionate human beings. 

Demise to all tyranny! 

Those years under Hitler’s yoke were strong reasons for me to stay here in this country, the great Land of the Free.

Too often we forget how fortunate we are.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Line Dancing

The urge to move is inherent to all living creatures. Even the atoms gyrate—and they do it in extraordinary ways. It’s second nature for people to dance. Dancing can express joy or sadness, elegance or vigor, fulfillment or longing. If we don’t like to dance it’s often because we didn’t get a chance to learn specific dance steps at the right age. And who would want to look like a novice on the dance floor?

In our culture, women are particularly fond of dancing. They willingly teach each other and dance together. Yet, have you ever seen two men waltzing or tangoing with one another? The mere thought seems absurd; it might even raise an eyebrow. And yet, men are great dancers. What could be more spectacular than a group of floor dancers or a performance of Mikhail Baryshnikov or Rudolf Nureyev!

At most social dances, however, we find a preponderance of females. I didn’t notice when I was younger—I didn’t have time to look.

Line dancing may be a good alternative. It combines vigorous exercise with the joys of music, good company and dance. It certainly beats bicycling for an hour in a stuffy gym.

On Sunday afternoons, the Allegro Ballroom in Emeryville, CA offers a great class in Line Dancing ($3.00 for members, and $6.00 for non-members). The class is followed by ballroom dancing.

The instructor is capable and elegant Steven Louie, who instructs in impeccable English and occasionally summarizes in Chinese. He has performed, competed and instructed ballroom and line dancing for 17 years all over the SF Bay area. His students range in age from 18 to 85. He teaches by demonstration, not just in front of the class, but he alternates teaching from each side and the back of the class.

“Bring you cameras,” he told us last Sunday, “and take videos of the steps so you can practice them at home.” It’s a great idea—practice makes perfect. The video works fine on my screen, but it still doesn't play back on this blog. I'll try some more this weekend.

In the meantime, have a good one.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Appeal of Lavish Spending

François Hollande’s colorful campaign did succeed; he was elected President of France. His campaign song that, in journalist Barclay Shoemaker's words, “wantonly promotes lavish consumption and ostentatious spending at a time when Europe faces a huge debt crisis” must have found appeal among the French, more so than the somber aspects of rational thinking and tightening the belt.

Perhaps the French reflect the attitude of the Greek and the Spanish who seem to feel entitled—or has it become an ingrained habit—to enjoy the good life and avoid paying taxes.

Hollande’s success could also be ascribed to a notion that might be rather pleasing to the French: Let those Germans work a bit harder and support us too. Why not? They’re bailing out the Greek and the Spaniards. Why not add us to their list. And next year the Italians.

Greece and Spain suffer from rampant unemployment, especially among young people.

Oddly enough, Germany faced the same problem some 80 years earlier. Inflation had destroyed the currency and 33% of the population was unemployed and starving.  Their only hope was an unknown rabble-rouser who passionately promised work and bread for all.

When he got into power, he kept his promises; before long, unemployment had disappeared; people were building roads, working in ammunition factories and marching in his—Hitler’s—army. It was too late to turn the clock back. The rest is history, but a history so violent we need to be most vigilant never to repeat it.

It’s easy to look at Europe and see the writing on the wall. It allows us to ignore our own problematic situation, and our debt that is unmatched in human history. Yet, we keep printing money and promising everything to everyone, because elections are coming up.

What is going to happen after the elections? Serious inflation?

We’re told that there's no inflation.

Really? The figures must be based on Chinese government-supported products and electronic gadgets that have come down in price, not on daily necessities, such as food and gas. And we’re urged to spend, spend, spend to keep the economy going. I gringe when I think of how much our taxes will be raised after the election!

Here’s a thought. Maybe we should keep our house in order, spend less, live simply and gratefully within our means, and focus on enjoying our family and friends and that most precious and fleeting Gift of Life.

Happy Mother’s Day.
Rosi McIntosh

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why François Hollande is using Jay-Z to become President of France

Guest author, young and brilliant British journalist Barclay Shoemaker, discovers the humor in today’s election campaigning—here and abroad. The article was originally published in the British magazine FHM. I’m looking forward to your comments.

Barclay Shoemaker:

Meet François Hollande. Allegedly he balls quite hard. On closer inspection we can see that he is also balding quite hard. This is because, despite the hip hop soundtrack and pseudo-gangster posturing, François is a French Politician.

Gangsta politician?
Some may question the reasoning behind choosing Kanye West and Jay-Z’s anthemic N***S In Paris to back his latest campaign video; the song after all wantonly promotes lavish consumption and ostentatious spending at a time when Europe faces a huge debt crisis and mass unemployment. View the campaign song video at!

Moreover they might be slightly non-plussed by the video, which features exactly zero campaign promises, but instead sees him riding around the country on various modes of transport, greeting seemingly adoring fans, all of whom hold up voting cards like judges at an Olympic Diving event.

As ego trips go, this video is the political equivalent of David Brent from the office: misguided, self-assured, and unintentionally hilarious.

The French Obama?
But if Barack Obama can throw parties with Jay-Z in attendance and Stevie Wonder performing, then why can’t all politicians follow suit?

Is this an Obamanation of politics, or are politicians simply embracing popular culture and trying to strike a chord with voters who are disaffected and apathetic? When less than 40% of the country votes in general elections and more 18-to-34-year-olds come out to vote for The Voice than their MPs, you can understand why drastic times call for drastic measures
So is this a trend that will make the journey across the channel and blossom in Britain, or will this wave crash idly against the White Cliffs and become Have I Got News For You? fodder?

Throw Some David Camerons On It?
David Cameron has already tried and failed to play the hip card, being banned by Morrissey from liking any music made by The Smiths, allegedly his favourite band. So it’s probably safe to say we won’t see him striding into the House of Commons, flanked by Nick Clegg carrying a boom box blasting out Throw Some Ds by Rich Boy anytime soon.

Though it would be great if, instead of scoffing in Parliament, a few backbenchers could throw up guns fingers and scream, “PARRRRR!” Is this too much to ask?

What about having a girl in a bikini strut her stuff between questions at PM’s Question Time: that will increase the views of BBC Parliament to double digits, if nothing else. What about a Hunger Games-esque fight for survival in swing seats?

Flights of fancy aside, let us bask in the birth, and simultaneous death of all conceptions of Political Swag, at least for the time being.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Mysteries of Human Nature

He looks disgruntled this morning, but why—I did him a big favor last night. And, look at her, she looks so happy—I wonder what she’s been up to? Wouldn’t we love to know the answer and many more!

Human nature remains a mighty mystery, in spite of the many attempts to unravel it. Neither the bumps on our head, nor the lines in our hand, nor the date of our birth have given us satisfactory insights. 
Even the art of graphology is being questioned after newspapermen misinterpreted a sheet of scribbled notes and doodles left behind at the 2005 Economic Summit meeting in Switzerland. 

They thought it belonged to Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, and joyfully analyzed it. They discovered in his handwriting the doubts he felt concerning his upcoming reelection, his struggle to keep control of a confusing world, his preference for day-dreaming and his inability to complete a task as Richard Wiseman wrote in his book “59 Seconds.” They even read a death wish toward his political career into his doodles.

Can you imagine the papers’ immense embarrassment, when it turned out that the notes and doodles did not belong to the Prime Minister, but to mightily successful Bill Gates? Perhaps they should have engaged a better graphologist.

We are told that multiple bumper stickers are a good indicator of the driver’s strong feelings of territoriality—and are urged to give that car a wide berth.

I’d give the same wide berth to a person with a vicious-looking bulldog. It’s uncanny, really, how often and how much people resemble their pets, or vice versa.

A more recent approach is to assess a person on the sliding scale of five characteristics: to what extend is he or she open, conscientious, extraverted, agreeable and neurotic (i.e., emotionally stable)? It’s an amusing device, and could be useful if people were to answer all questions truthfully. 

But how often do we admit even to ourselves that we have shortcomings? Why would we admit them to others, especially if a job may depend on our answers—of course we are agreeable, and emotionally stable, and certainly most conscientious!

Do our basic characteristics change in the course of our lifetime? I doubt it. We do adapt to our environment and our circumstances, we learn and form habits, but our basic character remains pretty much the same. Though, hopefully with persistent effort we do improve.

Rosi McIntosh

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Disadvantages of Condo Living

Everything in life has advantages and disadvantages, including condo living. For one thing, we have different likes and dislikes, and we all face different circumstances that keep changing throughout life. To rent a condo before you buy is often a good idea.

1/ Proximity of Neighbors
If you value utmost quiet and privacy, close condo neighbors may not be for you, especially if you object to noisy children or barking dogs. Having been on our condo board for over a dozen years, I’ve heard many complaints about neighbors. However, most problems could have been avoided with a friendly attempt to communicate with the neighbor or a more considerate attitude. Most of us want to live in peace and harmony and enjoy life, but not everyone. 

By the way, condo associations usually refuse to settle grievances between residents unless an action is clearly in violation of the CC&Rs. Condominiums are also subject to state and federal condo laws.

2/ Diminished Laissez Faire
Condo residents are limited in what they can do. After 10:00 pm, you may be fined for having a noisy party, loud music, or doing the laundry unless your floor is soundproof. Dogs and cats are not allowed in common areas, including the garden. You can’t make structural changes to your condo unless the board gives the green light. Even your balcony and garage area may be scrutinized for neatness and type of storage container. Children have to be accompanied by adults in most areas; they don’t have the freedom of your own back yard.

Recently, our city in California passed a No-Smoking Law that prohibits smoking in common areas of all multi-dwelling buildings, such as apartments and condos. Even more disturbing to smokers will be next year’s edict: as of 1/1/2013, no one will be allowed to smoke in their own unit!

Politicians seem to be steering us more and more away from individual freedom toward an emphasis on the common good. In a few more years we may be spelling the pronoun “I” no longer with a capital letter.

3/ Diminished Control
Unless you are on the board of managers—usually three or five volunteers—you have little control over the management of the complex, nor of its finances, but you do have a vote to elect the candidates, and you can vote on special issues. It’s a pity, we can’t plant an apple tree by our back porch or a rose bush by the bedroom window, but we can join the always-welcome group of garden volunteers. With the board’s support you might even organize a big rummage sale to buy new equipment for the condo gym.

Depending on your stage in life and your preferences, condo living has many benefits that can far outweigh the disadvantages, especially if you are single or retired, and without children or big pets.

Enjoy yourself wherever you live,
Ros McIntosh