Holiday Genre: Time to Forgive

 

SGWM1

Another typical German Christmas tradition we usually see during the holiday season are the commercials. Using special themes that connect Christmas with family and love, store chains produce scenes that bring family and friends together, following the events that happened during the year as well as basing some of them on personal experiences of people working there.

Two commercials come to mind that were televised during the holiday season, both of whom focused on the theme of forgiveness. Forgiveness of the sins committed against family, friends and even mankind. Forgiveness which means starting over again and mending the ties that were ripped apart because of war and conflict that didn’t need to happen but it did.  Forgiveness which means loving again.

In the first holiday commercial, forgiveness meant reestablishing a bond between a parent and a child. In this one, produced by the German grocery chain Penny, the mother seeks out to her daughter, years after they had a fall-out during the daughter’s pregnancy. The mother’s journey was like a walk in the woods- meeting obstacles that were as painful as it was recalling the memories of the two together. The end result is not what is expected except that they both came home:

 

In the second commercial, the scene took place in the future, where artificial intelligence invaded mankind and chased the humans away into forests and other dugouts. While the three-legged machines looked for other natural life forms- most likely to kill off, one of the robots discovered the holiday the humans had been celebrating after coming across first a poster of a show entitled “Wonderful Christmas” and then a Christmas tree and pieced together how the celebration took shape. While reenacting the scene with manequins didn’t function, the robot sought human life to better understand their life, taking with it, the Christmas star to give to the family that it found. In the end, the grocery chain Edeka offered the viewers a glimpse of how two groups can come together:

While the theme forgiveness was clearly in connection with events that have unfolded since US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017- name any conflict, because he had his hand in the apple pie- it showed how conflicts can permanently damage a relationship in ways the parties cannot comprehend until years later, when it is all too late. When Siegmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minster mentioned in an interview that Germany was breaking off ties with the US on foreign policy, it had to do with conflicts between both countries on virtually everything, combined with accusations (mostly were considered fake) and the unwillingness to compromise. The damage has, according to Gabriel, become irreversible that it may be impossible to mend ties, even after Trump leaves office. Other countries have also expressed concern that America will be so isolated that it will become something like in the commercials above. But perhaps this wake-up call is needed in order to come to terms and realize that we need to work together and forget about our egos or even our nostalgia.

Maybe by looking at the commercials we can come to terms and try and forgive, regardless of how long it takes. ❤

 

fLfI WINTER

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For Jacob

porch light

On a cold fall night a porch light is on

All is silent, the sun makes its leave

Onto the next morning, leaving us behind

We wait and we wait for our child to come home

But still we feel alone……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

People are talking memories as the stars come out

It gets colder and lonelier as we wait for our child

To come home to a warm house and open arms

But still he’s out and about……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

People are out, armed with torches and flames

We become worried, filled with regret and remorse

Wondering what went wrong as it gets darker.

We call out his name as the street lights are lit

But still, not sound or a whimper…..

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

The media is now in force,

Collecting facts and faces and getting the word out

But still, not a sign, not a trace……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

All our family and friends gather around

Over an open fire, and it’s completely dark,

Talking about a child’s dreams and ambitions

But all on the fritz because he’s been gone like a blitz……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

The police are involved, the suspects are questioned,

We speculate and assume, we start campaigns

For justice and humanity but with one purpose:

To bring our child home even though he’s not there yet….

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

Politicians and children’s advocates storm the capital

Demanding changes to laws to protect children’s rights

And put those responsible behind bars for good

We do this in our child’s name,

Though he still has not come home.

 

Every cold fall night, porch lights everywhere go on

We all call out our child’s name, never giving up

It’s colder and windier but the town lights are the brightest

In hopes he’ll be home soon….

 

On a cold fall morning, a porch light goes out

The sun has risen, the sky all blue and hue.

Our child has come home and into our hearts

We don’t know what happened, or who or how.

The bottom line is he’s home for good

And we can now forever be at peace.

 

Amen.

IMGP6328

This poem is written in memory of Jacob Wetterling, whose remains were found on 1 September, 2016 after having been kidnapped on 22 October, 1989 and gone missing for almost 27 years. I was 12 years old when the incident occurred in St. Joseph, Minnesota, located three hours north of Jackson, where I grew up. The kidnapping sparked an outcry by parents and children’s advocates demanding tougher laws to protect children from predators and register sex offenders after having spent time in prison. Still, thousands of children are reported missing in the US and Europe every year, more than half have yet to be found. Jacob had many dreams of being an athlete, just like everybody else. However Jacob did much more as he helped us define what a good parent can and should be- protective of their rights but also fostering their growth so they can be whatever they wanted to be. From a parent’s point of view, he has our thanks. While the person, who led police to his remains, has been put in custody and will most likely be put away for life, the bottom line is Jacob has come home to rest. It is in my hope as well as others, that the Wetterling family, who have been proud advocates of children’s rights for almost three decades, finally find peace after many years of searching for him. Our porch lights will forever remain on in Jacob’s memory……

14199136_10205444208223562_8066645106224406126_n
To the unknown person who created this with many thanks….

FF new logo1

For Jacob

porch light

On a cold fall night a porch light is on

All is silent, the sun makes its leave

Onto the next morning, leaving us behind

We wait and we wait for our child to come home

But still we feel alone……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

People are talking memories as the stars come out

It gets colder and lonelier as we wait for our child

To come home to a warm house and open arms

But still he’s out and about……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

People are out, armed with torches and flames

We become worried, filled with regret and remorse

Wondering what went wrong as it gets darker.

We call out his name as the street lights are lit

But still, not sound or a whimper…..

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

The media is now in force,

Collecting facts and faces and getting the word out

But still, not a sign, not a trace……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

All our family and friends gather around

Over an open fire, and it’s completely dark,

Talking about a child’s dreams and ambitions

But all on the fritz because he’s been gone like a blitz……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

The police are involved, the suspects are questioned,

We speculate and assume, we start campaigns

For justice and humanity but with one purpose:

To bring our child home even though he’s not there yet….

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

Politicians and children’s advocates storm the capital

Demanding changes to laws to protect children’s rights

And put those responsible behind bars for good

We do this in our child’s name,

Though he still has not come home.

 

Every cold fall night, porch lights everywhere go on

We all call out our child’s name, never giving up

It’s colder and windier but the town lights are the brightest

In hopes he’ll be home soon….

 

On a cold fall morning, a porch light goes out

The sun has risen, the sky all blue and hue.

Our child has come home and into our hearts

We don’t know what happened, or who or how.

The bottom line is he’s home for good

And we can now forever be at peace.

Amen.

IMGP6328

This poem is written in memory of Jacob Wetterling, whose remains were found on 1 September, 2016 after having been kidnapped on 22 October, 1989 and gone missing for almost 27 years. I was 12 years old when the incident occurred in St. Joseph, Minnesota, located three hours north of Jackson, where I grew up. The kidnapping sparked an outcry by parents and children’s advocates demanding tougher laws to protect children from predators and register sex offenders after having spent time in prison. Still, thousands of children are reported missing in the US and Europe every year, more than half have yet to be found. Jacob had many dreams of being an athlete, just like everybody else. However Jacob did much more as he helped us define what a good parent can and should be- protective of their rights but also fostering their growth so they can be whatever they wanted to be. From a parent’s point of view, he has our thanks. While the person, who led police to his remains, has been put in custody and will most likely be put away for life, the bottom line is Jacob has come home to rest. It is in my hope as well as others, that the Wetterling family, who have been proud advocates of children’s rights for almost three decades, finally find peace after many years of searching for him. Our porch lights will forever remain on in Jacob’s memory……

14199136_10205444208223562_8066645106224406126_n
To the unknown person who created this with many thanks….

FF new logo1

Tribute to Bud Spencer

sunset in the wild west

I’d like to start this tribute off along the tracks. The sun, while baking two heroes walking to a small town in Iowa in the late 1880s, is setting slowly. The men, dressed as cowboys and holstering guns, are tired and hungry, yet their town they are walking to is only a mile away. They keep marching along as the train broke down three miles behind them because of a boiler that blew up along the way. Yet the explosion was planned as a party of six bandits try to rob the train. Yet these men, a toothpick and a big burly bearded man use fists and legs instead of bullets to ring them out to dry. After they were tied up, the two men walked the tracks to the nearest town to get help, only to find that it is empty:

Yet they enter a saloon and were met by hostile men wishing to pick a fight while drunk. Again with fists and leg power, they were taken down instantly by the two heroes with no shots fired. Some of them flew through the windows and doors. After chomping down on drumsticks and a good mug, the bartender calls for a doctor and other people willing to help the stranded, as a good gesture and as a way of offering thanks for making the streets friendlier again.

Now this can be found in many American western films with the likes of John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Michael Landon, Henry Fonda, James Arness, Sam Elliot, Clint Eastwood and even “the Dude,” Jeff Bridges. But these two heroes are known by many today as the Spaghetti westerners, known as Terrance Hill (the toothpick) and Bud Spencer (the big man).  Today we are saying good bye to the big man, who passed away on 27 June, 2016.  Despite their presence on the American stage, Europeans are more attached Bud Spencer than the Americans. Even I as an expat was first introduced to the spaghetti western films when coming to Germany 17 years ago. While perhaps a handful of Americans, mainly baby boomers, may know him for his films, here is a crash course on the big guy which will get many of you acquainted with his films:

 

fast fact logo

He was known as Carlo Pedersoli and was born in Naples, Italy in 1929. He had a younger sister, Vera (born in 1934). In 1940, he and his family moved to Rome and thanks to the presence of the Pope, escaped most of the bombings during World War II. Italy was under the rule of Mussolini until his overthrow in 1943 and subsequentially his execution two years later. He married Maria Amato, the daughter of a movie producer, in 1960 and had three children, Giuseppe, Christiana and Diamante.

Before he became a famous actor, Pedersoli was an all-star swimmer, having started swimming at the age of eight and having won his first championships in high school at the age of 15. He later broke records for freestyle stroke for Italy and participated in the Olympics in Helsinki (1952) and Melbourne (1956). Before retiring from the sport in 1957, he had collected seven national championships and was even on the Italian water polo team which won gold medals in 1948 and 1960. He was very athletic, having competed in and won several championships in rugby and boxing. His size and height of 1.94 meters served to his advantage.

Despite a short career as a pianist, Pedersoli’s biggest break came with an offer from Giuseppe Colizzi, an Italian western actor who was an acquaintance of his wife Maria and an admirer of his swimming career. Colizzi offered him to play a key role in the film “God Forgives, I don’t,” which he was to team up with another Italian actor, Mario Girotti. The film was released in 1967 but not before the two actors changed their names for marketing purposes. Giorotti became Terrance Hill, while Pedersoli became Bud Spencer, which was based on his favorite beer Budweiser and his favorite actor Spencer Tracy.  For 27 years, the duo appeared in 17 films, including two Trinity films, Miami Supercops, and Troublemakers.

In addition, Bud Spencer went solo in 10 other films, such as Aladin and Banana Joe as well as guest starred in many other TV shows. His side dish career as a musician added some cinnamon and spice to his storied career as he produced two solos for two films in two years (1981-2), while releasing 13 albums and dozens of musical pieces to his credit. While most of the films have been translated into 20 languages, Spencer can speak only three other languages in addition to his Italian: Portuguese, English and German, although the first one was his primary foreign language.

 

The last interesting fact that is worth noting was his passion for flying. After starring with Terrance Hill in the film, All the Way, Boys,  in 1972, where they played airplane pilots in Columbia, Bud Spencer decided to take up flying, which was for him the symbol of freedom and passion. He took flying lessons and clocked up 2000 hours flying several different airplanes and jets as well as 500 hours of flying with the helicopter.  He flew for 35 years, flying not only for business and pleasure, but also utilizing his talents as a pilot for later films.  He even founded Mistral Air in 1981, which became one of the well-known freight airlines in Italy. He later sold it to a larger company.

While many people in America think that guns are the answer to all conflicts, they should also see how Bud Spencer handled all his problems in his films, with a fist full of coins and dollars. When seeing him in action (especially together with Terrance Hill), the first characteristic that comes to mind is his size and wit. The second is always the fist, taking down fools who dared to try and mess with him. Some examples at the end of the article will show his signature character.

Yet not all fighters and “bouncer-actors” did not live like that alone. Hulk Hogan is an artist, Road Warrior Animal became a priest, and Bruce Lee was a writer and teacher. With Bud Spencer, he was a man of multiple talents, whether it was an aviator, writer, musician or even an inventor (he invented and patented 12 items in his lifetime).  One can learn a lot from the big guy himself- a person of justice and a spaghetti westerner on the set, but a well-talented Luciano Pavoratti off the set. Therefore one should open up to a guy who, like Spencer, is a teddy bear with a heart. And as Bud Spencer and his counterpart head off into the sunset, with food, supplies and some help from other locals to rescue the people stranded outside the small town, we have one word to say for what you’ve done through the years and what you’re continuing to do in Heaven, Bud: Grazi/ Danke/ Thanks!

 

Greatest Hits:

 

 

flefi-deutschland-logo

The Flensburg Files would like to pay homage and tribute to Bud Spencer, thanking him for showing his talents both on and off the stage. He will be missed by many who watched his films over the years. For those who have yet to watch a spaghetti western, you have 30+ reasons to do that and Bud Spencer and Terrance Hill will show you why. After watching some of their films since coming here in 1999, all I can say is you don’t know what you are missing. 🙂  

Tribute to Bud Spencer

sunset in the wild west

I’d like to start this tribute off along the tracks. The sun, while baking two heroes walking to a small town in Iowa in the late 1880s, is setting slowly. The men, dressed as cowboys and holstering guns, are tired and hungry, yet their town they are walking to is only a mile away. They keep marching along as the train broke down three miles behind them because of a boiler that blew up along the way. Yet the explosion was planned as a party of six bandits try to rob the train. Yet these men, a toothpick and a big burly bearded man use fists and legs instead of bullets to ring them out to dry. After they were tied up, the two men walked the tracks to the nearest town to get help, only to find that it is empty:

Yet they enter a saloon and were met by hostile men wishing to pick a fight while drunk. Again with fists and leg power, they were taken down instantly by the two heroes with no shots fired. Some of them flew through the windows and doors. After chomping down on drumsticks and a good mug, the bartender calls for a doctor and other people willing to help the stranded, as a good gesture and as a way of offering thanks for making the streets friendlier again.

Now this can be found in many American western films with the likes of John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Michael Landon, Henry Fonda, James Arness, Sam Elliot, Clint Eastwood and even “the Dude,” Jeff Bridges. But these two heroes are known by many today as the Spaghetti westerners, known as Terrance Hill (the toothpick) and Bud Spencer (the big man).  Today we are saying good bye to the big man, who passed away on 27 June, 2016.  Despite their presence on the American stage, Europeans are more attached Bud Spencer than the Americans. Even I as an expat was first introduced to the spaghetti western films when coming to Germany 17 years ago. While perhaps a handful of Americans, mainly baby boomers, may know him for his films, here is a crash course on the big guy which will get many of you acquainted with his films:

fast fact logo

He was known as Carlo Pedersoli and was born in Naples, Italy in 1929. He had a younger sister, Vera (born in 1934). In 1940, he and his family moved to Rome and thanks to the presence of the Pope, escaped most of the bombings during World War II. Italy was under the rule of Mussolini until his overthrow in 1943 and subsequentially his execution two years later. He married Maria Amato, the daughter of a movie producer, in 1960 and had three children, Giuseppe, Christiana and Diamante.

Before he became a famous actor, Pedersoli was an all-star swimmer, having started swimming at the age of eight and having won his first championships in high school at the age of 15. He later broke records for freestyle stroke for Italy and participated in the Olympics in Helsinki (1952) and Melbourne (1956). Before retiring from the sport in 1957, he had collected seven national championships and was even on the Italian water polo team which won gold medals in 1948 and 1960. He was very athletic, having competed in and won several championships in rugby and boxing. His size and height of 1.94 meters served to his advantage.

Despite a short career as a pianist, Pedersoli’s biggest break came with an offer from Giuseppe Colizzi, an Italian western actor who was an acquaintance of his wife Maria and an admirer of his swimming career. Colizzi offered him to play a key role in the film “God Forgives, I don’t,” which he was to team up with another Italian actor, Mario Girotti. The film was released in 1967 but not before the two actors changed their names for marketing purposes. Giorotti became Terrance Hill, while Pedersoli became Bud Spencer, which was based on his favorite beer Budweiser and his favorite actor Spencer Tracy.  For 27 years, the duo appeared in 17 films, including two Trinity films, Miami Supercops, and Troublemakers.

In addition, Bud Spencer went solo in 10 other films, such as Aladin and Banana Joe as well as guest starred in many other TV shows. His side dish career as a musician added some cinnamon and spice to his storied career as he produced two solos for two films in two years (1981-2), while releasing 13 albums and dozens of musical pieces to his credit. While most of the films have been translated into 20 languages, Spencer can speak only three other languages in addition to his Italian: Portuguese, English and German, although the first one was his primary foreign language.

The last interesting fact that is worth noting was his passion for flying. After starring with Terrance Hill in the film, All the Way, Boys,  in 1972, where they played airplane pilots in Columbia, Bud Spencer decided to take up flying, which was for him the symbol of freedom and passion. He took flying lessons and clocked up 2000 hours flying several different airplanes and jets as well as 500 hours of flying with the helicopter.  He flew for 35 years, flying not only for business and pleasure, but also utilizing his talents as a pilot for later films.  He even founded Mistral Air in 1981, which became one of the well-known freight airlines in Italy. He later sold it to a larger company.

While many people in America think that guns are the answer to all conflicts, they should also see how Bud Spencer handled all his problems in his films, with a fist full of coins and dollars. When seeing him in action (especially together with Terrance Hill), the first characteristic that comes to mind is his size and wit. The second is always the fist, taking down fools who dared to try and mess with him. Some examples at the end of the article will show his signature character.

Yet not all fighters and “bouncer-actors” did not live like that alone. Hulk Hogan is an artist, Road Warrior Animal became a priest, and Bruce Lee was a writer and teacher. With Bud Spencer, he was a man of multiple talents, whether it was an aviator, writer, musician or even an inventor (he invented and patented 12 items in his lifetime).  One can learn a lot from the big guy himself- a person of justice and a spaghetti westerner on the set, but a well-talented Luciano Pavoratti off the set. Therefore one should open up to a guy who, like Spencer, is a teddy bear with a heart. And as Bud Spencer and his counterpart head off into the sunset, with food, supplies and some help from other locals to rescue the people stranded outside the small town, we have one word to say for what you’ve done through the years and what you’re continuing to do in Heaven, Bud: Grazi/ Danke/ Thanks!

Greatest Hits:

flefi-deutschland-logo

The Flensburg Files would like to pay homage and tribute to Bud Spencer, thanking him for showing his talents both on and off the stage. He will be missed by many who watched his films over the years. For those who have yet to watch a spaghetti western, you have 30+ reasons to do that and Bud Spencer and Terrance Hill will show you why. After watching some of their films since coming here in 1999, all I can say is you don’t know what you are missing.  🙂

Guest Column: The Dark Falls

P1010894

As I was compiling the information on the last Christmas market of 2015, I happened have two encounters that served as eye openers and something to think about. The first one was listening to the presidential debate in the United States, where the candidates spent the entire time either bashing one another, being evasive to sensitive questions about dealing with pressing issues involving the environment, terrorism and Donald Trump, and coming up with a slogan “I have a plan.” What plan? A candidate says he/she has a plan even though the elections are less than a year away? Interesting.

At the same time, I ran across this story, written by Loren Niemi entitled The Dark Falls. The story was ironically published in the social network scene on the shortest day of the year, but the text provides a reader with some very sensitive topics to think about. It basically envisions the situation that we are in and we don’t know how to handle it, except to say “We have a plan.” It’s best that instead of proclaiming it to others, to read this text and then ask what plan do we have to right the wrongs of society and do they produce substance. Without further ado, here’s the piece by guest columnist Loren Niemi:

 

The Dark Falls

Friends,
With the darkening of the season my thoughts have turned to the shadow we know as well. And so I am warning you, or inviting you, if you chose to read this winter solstice missive that it is my meditation on race, gun violence and politics.
I’ll forgive you if this is as far as you want to go. Be of good cheer and have a happy whatever you celebrate in this festive season. For those who will take this journey with me, welcome and fasten your seatbelts, it may be a bumpy ride.
Race
When I think about race, two things come immediately to mind. The first is that it is an artificial social and political construct whose fundamental purpose it to divide one human being from another for the sake of power and profit. It is a way of creating a “them.” Those that will be separated, exploited, that will be the scapegoat for all that ails the “us” that benefit from such distinctions.
The historical fact is that it is not always about skin color, though that has been the dominate frame of the American experience. The historical fact is that science or more accurately, pseudo-science, and social science has been used to create the concept and classifications of race and justify the otherness, the inferiority of Blacks, Jews, Irish, Italians, Asians, Catholics, etc.
The biological fact is that all human DNA is descended from a common lineage regardless of skin, hair or eyes. We are the first cousins of the great apes whose best chance for survival was being organized into small cooperative groups. In my view, a very aggressive mammal that kills for sport and due to our linguistic mutations justifies that killing in the name of our God, tribe and territory.
The second thought follows from the first. Race is really about racism, about the myth of difference and the institutions of power that make difference possible. It is about the systemic and institutional, about privilege and about what is taken for granted, The very fact of which is invisible to the privileged and obvious to the dispossessed. It is as Joseph Campbell said, “when you are inside the myth it makes perfect sense, but when you are outside of it, you have to ask why would anyone believe that?”
I am White. I have been a beneficiary of the unasked for and unseen privilege that comes from being a White male in America. It is not a matter of my being prejudice or even my being biased (which is inherently a condition of being human) but rather the simple fact that the basic educational, economic, social and political structure of American life is structured to benefit me.
It is the legacy of European Christian settlement. It is the legacy of the genocide of native peoples to acquire land for settlement and resources, whether gold or furs, buffalo hide or water, for profit. It is the legacy of slavery that was the abomination that was sidestepped in the Constitution and nearly destroyed this union. It is the legacy of Jim Crow, etc. – a legacy that I have not felt the negative effects of. Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me for an articulate explanation of how this myth plays out in the life of a man who if he were White (and therefore the beneficiary of institutional privilege) would not be faced with explaining the broken world he lives in to his son.
I never had to question the neighborhood I lived in but always assumed my parents could live anywhere they could afford. I never had to consider whether the education I got would prepare me for college, it was a given. When I applied for jobs, I started with the assumption that I was qualified and never considered the idea that my name or gender or skin color might make keep me from getting an interview. These days I recognize that my age will. Yet I know people of color for whom each of those statements is proof of my privilege and their continuing disadvantage.
From 1990-2010, I had the good fortune to be able to work extensively with communities of color and low wealth individuals. First at St Stephens, then in the Elliot Park neighborhood, then with David Hunt in Chicago, and finally with James Trice here in the Cities.
Let me say a word about working with James. Being a smart, politically savvy, and white got me hired at Children’s and Family Services to run their civic engagement/advocacy program. The first thing I did was hire James to be a part of this effort, because it made no sense to me to be another White guy telling people of color what they needed to do to better their lives. We built the program on two principles: that those most effected by poverty knew what was wrong and that policy or program change would come only if they participated in making it happen. In 2005 when we were reorganized out of CFS, we became partners working for the next five years as the Public Policy Project. It was good work focused on poverty, on equity, on framing the critical stories and messages that low wealth folks needed to share with politicians and the pubic to help mitigate prejudice and that same institutional racism that got me rather than James hired in the first place.
I often point out that there were many times that I was the only White guy in the room. What a gift that was to be in the room and to really be able listen to people of color speak directly and truthfully to their experience of oppression and denied opportunity. We worked with them respectfully to accentuate the compelling human stories that could counter the negative and frame the actions that would improve their lives and those of all low wealth people, regardless of skin color. And yet, even then, if I went with that same group to meet with a legislator or a program manager, etc. because of my assumed privilege the authority would always turn to me as the “responsible adult” in the room. And I would say, no I’m here to support these folks – they’re the ones you need to be talking to.
I can’t change the fact of my historical and institutional privilege because it is, to use a phrase, “baked in” though I can mitigate it to some degree. I can acknowledge that I do have access, education, experience and skills by virtue of that privilege and use them not to reinforce the mechanisms of oppression but to find ways to leverage small and large changes for the sake of justice. I can listen. I can ask rather than tell, I can be clear about speaking up for inclusion, for facilitating inclusion when I have the chance, for acknowledging common ground, for seeking that justice that is demanded by Occupy and Black Lives Matter.
Gun Violence
When I hear “Black Lives Matter” I know from experience the truth of that statement. You can say that “All Lives Matter” and they do but the fact is that in America if you are Black, and especially if you are a Black male, your risk of being shot by the police is exponentially higher than mine.
More than once I’ve been driving through a poverty neighborhood, a neglected and economically exploited community, and been “lit up” by the police. If I am in the car by myself, the officer comes up and asks if I am lost or where I am going as he assesses whether I am looking to buy drugs or sex. But every time I have been in the car with a person of color, the first response is his hand on the gun. It’s not even driving While Black (or Brown, Red or Yellow) it’s simply driving WITH that is the anomaly and changes the nature of the encounter. I’m not talking about something that happened once in Chicago, I’m talking many times, in Chicago, in Minneapolis, in Omaha, in Duluth, in St. Louis, in pretty much any city in America.
Why?
The core of it is fear. Fear of the “other” that lets or makes the police reach for the gun as a first response. Fear as the mechanism of racism that says to every person of color, be careful what you say or do, because you may get killed no matter what you say or do.
There was a reason the Black Panthers read the 2nd Amendment and took to open carrying shotguns, as the NRA would have us do. There was a reason why that carrying of shotguns coupled with their militancy to counter racism by building a philosophy of self protection and community work got them killed by the police in their beds.
I believe that fear and especially the fear of the loss of privilege is at the core of the epidemic of gun violence in this country. The gun is a proxy for power and the ease of acquisition, the glorification of guns as a response to conflict, has made targets of us all.
I continually wonder why the white male terrorists (calling them by their true name) that we say were mentally deranged when they shot up the movie theater or classroom, when they killed the unarmed Black teenager or shot the waitress who didn’t bring them that third cup of coffee fast enough don’t see that the source of their agony is not those beneath them but the 1% who profit from fear. At some point, someone is going to say the enemy is not refugees or the scapegoat du jour but the 400 families that control more wealth than the rest of us combined. The ones who are closing the factories and shipping the jobs overseas, who are paying lobbyists to avoid any and all taxes and the hedge fund managers scheming to skim profits off the working poor’s social security trust fund. When that happens, the gated neighborhoods and stretch limos will be targets not refuges.
It is time to stop laying the blame for murder on loners who seemed like nice quiet men before they opened fire and lay it at the feet of the gun manufacturers and the NRA who have resisted all reasonable regulation in the favor of a fear that supports the odd canard that “a good guy with a guy will stop a bad guy with a gun” until the police arrive and start shooting everyone with a gun in hand.
The second amendment says “a well regulated militia” and while the NRA and the “ammosexuals” read that to mean as many guns as you want of whatever kind, I read those same words, “well regulated” and take it to mean that Congress and the States already have the power (but not the will) to legislate sensible gun control.
From my perspective, guns should be regulated like cars. Cars don’t kill people except when they do and because they do, we mandate licensing, registration, liability insurance, and safety standards for the used material itself. This is not the confiscation that gun fetishists fear. They can still have their manhood measured by the size of their gun or the cost of their car. It is however past time for us to admit that doing so needs to carry a price that is particular to the gun owner and not to the families of the dead and wounded who are being shot with an astounding regularity.
How do we get to a sensible gun ownership?
Politics
We start by voting. Voting not only our self-interest but our collective self-interest. Voting for, not against. Voting not only in the year of the Presidential election but in the years of state and city legislative ballots. Every vote, ever time, brings us closer to the representative government we want and every time you don’t vote it leaves the determination of what will be to those that do. Frankly, given what I see from some of the electorate, I do not want to leave my future up to them.
At this point I’ll remind those who haven’t been paying attention that I am a Progressive, a Democratic Socialist in the Paul Wellstone tradition. I was for Gene McCarthy in ’68 and George McGovern in ’72. I am a nominal Democrat because the system is rigged against third parties and the last Republican I agreed with was Dwight Eisenhower.
I have little to say about Trump, other than his narcissism could well be the death of us all and yet, he is less dangerous than Ted Cruz, who might as well be a Dominionist (look it up…) or Marco Rubio, who I think is an opportunist beholden to the very corporate interests that are killing us by inches. If you support one of these guys, you’re welcome to your opinion and your vote but from my perspective they, and pretty much the entire Republican party, are addicted to fear and the power of the elites, the 1%. The party of Lincoln and Roosevelt has become handmaiden to the military-industrial complex, and the party of denial – of the real danger and cost of climate change, of the real danger and cost of inequity, of the vilification of immigrants, Muslims, women and Gays leading to bad policy and worse rhetoric. The past is done and yet, they want to recreate a past that never was.
I support Bernie. Like every politician he has his faults but the fact is that he is the one who is speaking to and about issues that matter to me. From my perspective it really is about a fundamental choice in government for the people or government for the corporations. I’m joining millions of Americans who are disappointed but not surprised with the media’s downplaying of Bernie. I do not look to NBC or MSNBC for the news, no more than I look to Fox or talk radio, for I understand that their self-interest is in bombast and fear. I’m joining the millions of Americans who are contributing small amounts to Bernie’s campaign because we want to have a stake in our future. I’m voting for him. I’m encouraging others to vote for him. It is the least I can do.
As I said, I vote in every election. My White privilege makes it easy and my sense of obligation to the common good makes it necessary.
Here’s why: I vote for President because he/she sets the tone for our posture in the world, commands the military, nominates the Supreme and Appellate Court judges. It is a big job and yet there are limits to what a president can do as the Obama experience shows us. I vote for Congress because the difference between a liberal Al Franken or a Muslim Keith Ellison and any conservative is substantial. They can support or thwart the President and of the two I’d rather support prgress. I vote the state Governor and legislative races because the difference between Mark Dayton saying let’s raise taxes on the top earners and invest in education produced a very different result than his predecessor’s policies. I vote in the city and county races because in the end the way the police patrol the street and whether they are accountable does rest with the Mayor and City Council.
To get to implementing the demands of Black Lives Matter or Indian Lives or any other lives, it does matter who sits on the Ways and Means Committee or who votes to spend X thousands of dollars providing training for the beat cops. Let’s not kid ourselves, in America, at least until the corporate oligarchy and fascism come with the flag and the cross, voting still matters, Politics at every level matters. Your opinion matters, all the more so when it is backed by your time and money. When you stand in line at the voting booth to exercise the right that others have died to secure.
Are you still with me?
All through the darkening months I have been thinking about these things and talking with folks here and there. I frankly do not care whether you agree with me. I am not going to argue these points. It is not a matter of you changing my mind or my trying to change yours. We are entitled to our opinions and to their expression. If you don’t like what I’ve said, write and post yours. It is a matter of being clear to myself and by extension to you about where I stand on these points. I write to counter fear and to own my part in the making of this American Dream.
Tonight at 10:49 Central time, the Solstice will come and with it winter. It appears that this winter will be one of the warmest on record but do not let the lack of snow fool you. That glorious interval which is winter is not only snow and cold but a season of the fallow and the well-deserved rest. It is in the dark time that we tell the stories of what matters now and the coming of the light. I use this moment to name those things that go bump in the long night, to explain the shiver and wind rattling the windows. I use this time to sit before the fire and think of all that is right with the world, to name the ones I love and if I am lucky to be able to reach across to hold their hand. This is the moment for the sniffer of cognac and a good book. The time to plot next year’s garden while eating the home canned peaches that were the bounty of this last summer’s heat. This is the time to snuggle under the covers, to spoon with your beloved.
It is all good!! The feasting and the fire, the decorated tree and the giving of presents, large and small are good, but most of all the giving time and presence.
I wish you well. I wish you time and presence. I wish you comfort in the dark and joy with the coming of the light.
Author’s Note:

Loren Niemi is innovative storyteller, poet, the author of “The New Book of Plots” and co-author with Elizabeth Ellis of the critically acclaimed, “Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories.” He is also the producer of the award winning “Two Chairs Telling” spoken word series at Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis, MN. Loren teaches Storytelling in the Theater Program at Metro State University and provides workshops, presentation coaching, and message framing, brand or organizational consulting for individuals, businesses, nonprofits and government agencies around the country.

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Never Meet a Stranger in the Alps

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I am not sure how to start this column entry off as I needed some time to think about what to write about. But being a Methodist who also has a background in other religions in Christianity (mainly Lutheran and Catholic, the latter of which I was baptised at the age of 3 months) and learning some lessons from a devote Christian I met a few months ago, I figure I would start off with a quote from the Bible from the book of James.

James 4:11-12: 11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.[a] The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

The topic I am referring to in this article: politics in social network- in particular, Facebook. And even further, the events in France and refugees. When I joined Facebook in 2010, I did it with the main intention of reconnecting with friends and colleagues whom I lost connections since leaving the United States for my adventure in Germany, while at the same time, establish new friendship with people I met while in Germany, as well as those who have similar interests as I so and those whose interesting life stories have led us to connecting.  And this in addition to connecting with family members.

Fast forwarding to the present, and despite being reconnected with people, who I would put into eleven different categories (including people from five different alma maters, two high schools, the bridgehunting community, close friends, expatriates and family), I have realized that social networking does have worms in them which can destroy connections and friendships. In particular, when it comes to politics.

A few days ago, I had put a post on my timeline expressing my opposition to the petition made by 32 US Governors to President Barack Obama to put a halt to the immigration of refugees from Syria and Iraq, despite their lands being destroyed by ISIS terrorists, and in response to the terrorists attacks in Paris and Beirut that killed ca. 200 people and injured many more. The responses to the posts were outrageous. The respondants showed disrepect towards the President, calling him a dictator even though the US Government system consists of Congress (which passes the bills), Executive (where the President signs the bill into law) and Judicial (where the Supreme Court can determine its constitutionality) Branches.  But what more alarming was a comment by one respondant saying the following to a German in this conversation, who supported the refugees living in Europe and the US: “If it hadn’t been for us Americans, you (…..) would be speaking Russian!” (I think you can fit any degrading comment depicting a German in here) 

You can imagine the author’s reaction in response to the comment, analogizing it with a scene from The Big Lebowski:

If there is a word of advice regarding posting potential controversial topics on Facebook, it would be this: Do NOT mess with a stranger in the Alps. Your enounter will determine your life’s destiny.

This incident opened my eyes to reality in ways that were not opened before- not even during the days of George W. Bush. It went beyond the insult made on my family and friends here in Germany and into an area most sensitive to the human body, mind and soul- our freedom of expression, our freedom to state our opinion and respect the opinions of others.  We were taught the US Constitution in school and I learned about the German Basic Law while living here, both of which feature the right to free speech. Before social networking came about and became an important commodity in our lives, we would enjoy conversations in person where our opinions mattered and we learned from each other. Even when Bush ran the country to the ground during his reign, we kept ourselves civilized and respected each other and our rights.

What has happened to it? With the introduction of social network, we have been getting bombarded by information deemed biased, containing half-lies and leading us to hatred. Whenever we post our own opinions towards topics like refugees or provide questions for the forum, we are received with hate comments even from strangers. Even the information from neutral sources is played down as absurd. And instead of a good chat with a friend far away, we get thrown out of his/her network for expressing our opinions because it does not conform with his/her opinion. It is like with the Miranda Law in the US: Anything you say can and will be used against you, except in this case, we cannot state anything without causing a fight and below-the-belt comments like what I witnessed. Sadly, other people have experienced worse and have even started reconsidering plans to spend Christmas with them.

What in God’s name have we become? Have we lost our sense of reasoning and sensitivity towards others?  Has (at least this latest round of) politics really destroyed the fabric of friendship and family?  When will this hatred on social network finally stop?

The same devout Christian from Saxony once forewarned me that I was posting too much and that my political opinions will eventually cause dischord which cannot be reversed. Unfortunately, her revelations were right, but with the latest debate on refugees in the US and Europe, it has affected us all, not just myself. Several people have even reconsidered closing down their Facebook accounts because being on there is like walking through a Wal-Mart store filled with trailer trash people purging the store, destroying items in their path without even paying for them. But as I have many in my network I keep in touch with, it does not make sense. The only solution is to take a few steps back, spend less time with the social network and cease posting political comments and engaging in political discussions. And kick out those who try to start one in my timeline.

Sometimes being away from this junk can serve as a signal for people to think about their actions, to learn to respect the opinions of others and become civilized towards each other. As the statement at the beginning shows, I respect the opinions of others. I want others to respect mine too. Listening to others helps a person grow, too. A little word of advice before posting the next political comment for discussion on your timeline or that of others.

P.S. to that person who advised me to cut back on my posting, in case you read this, I will take that advice in hope to find a bit of peace in light of all the problems we have in the world. In other words, I owe you for this. 😉

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