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New Year's Eve: Silly or Serious?

Reposted from December 31, 2007:

It's the same procedure as every year: Millions of Germans watch "Dinner for One" every New Year's Eve since 1972. It is "as big a tradition in Germany as the crystal ball drop is in New York's Times Square," writes Patrick Donahue for Bloomberg. You can watch the 10 minutes British comedy on Youtube. It is so funny, it never got dubbed into German. As Observing Hermann points out: "A bit strange maybe, but aren't most traditions - when they're not yours, I mean?"

Many in the media write every year that this New Year's Eve tradition is strange and that this silly slapstick never got popular in the UK or the US. Of course, I could point out that US upholders of moral standards probably do not like to broadcast all that drinking and the sexual reference in the end. But that is all silly and not important.

The end of a year should be a time for reflection, I believe. It's worthwhile to remember all the unknown people who have done good in the real Marla Ruzickaworld. I try to ignore the many "year in review"-articles that feature silly people that made the headlines.  The media does not write much about the many relief workers in war and natural disaster zones around the world. At least not while they are alive. Marla Ruzicka from California got big press coverage after she was killed in a car bomb explosion in Bagdad in April 2005.

December 31 was her birthday. Read last year's Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there. 

Actually, seriousness and silliness serve both their distinct purposes. It's all about finding the right balance in life between work and entertainment. Marla would definitely agree. And with these superficial words of wisdom 2007 comes to an end. Thank you for reading Atlantic Review. Stay tuned in 2008. All the best for the new year.

Empower the People of Myanmar to Help Themselves

My sister Daphne Wolf studied Burmese music in Yangon. Her music school is organizing relief aid. Daphne wrote this guest blog post:

Small and local aid agencies are best equipped to help the victims of cyclone Nargis because they are already operating on the ground. Donations to these agencies are more effective since big aid organizations are still struggling to access the affected areas.
Local relief groups such as the Music School Gitameit, are providing the most urgently needed first-aid supplies.

For two years I lived in Yangon, studying Burmese traditional music and teaching classical flute at the Gitameit Music Center, a private school founded by the American pianist Kit Young in 2003. I returned to Berlin in December 2007 to finish my masters in Musicology and Southeast Asian Studies.

My friends, former colleagues, and students all tell me that Yangon, the old capital, is widely devastated and that the fertile delta of the Irrawaddy River is still flooded:

Continue reading "Empower the People of Myanmar to Help Themselves"

Urban Democracy: How the City of Seattle Empowers Its Neighborhoods

Most people try to avoid bureaucracy as best as possible. Others fight the government wherever they can. Too bad, if you ask Jim Diers, a former community organizer who initiated Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods in 1988 and served as its first director until 2002. “Cities work best when local government and the community are working as partners”, and there are lots of things that communities can do better than government can, he concludes in his book: Neighbor Power. Building Community the Seattle Way.

According to Diers’ approach, governments shouldn’t consider themselves as service-providers for their (passive) customers. Quite to the contrary: Dependency on government money and government planning ruins people’s sense of responsibility for their own neighborhoods. At the same time, an incredible wealth of “social capital” goes unused. In order to build ongoing community engagement, you have to allow citizens to choose what they want to change and then accomplish this change in a collaborative effort.

Continue reading "Urban Democracy: How the City of Seattle Empowers Its Neighborhoods"

German and American Volunteers Support US Soldiers at Landstuhl Military Hospital

In light of the inquiries into the care for injured troops and the Walter Reed scandal, it might be interesting to point out that Germany hosts a big US military hospital, which has provided crucial services for American soldiers for many decades.
MaryAnn explains in the Soldiers Angels Germany blog: "Ramstein AFB in Germany is a 5-hour medevac flight from Iraq. From here, troops are brought to either the nearby Landstuhl hospital or to the Medical Transient Detachment at Kleber Barracks. The Landstuhl hospital is for troops with serious injuries or illness requiring surgery and hospitalization. Up to 50 soldiers are hospitalized at any given time and the average stay is under a week before being stabilized and sent on to a military hospital in the US or transitioned to the outpatient barracks at Kleber."

• Soldiers' Angels Germany is a group of volunteers living in Germany:
As part of the Soldiers' Angels Wounded Team, our mission is to support wounded and ill soldiers being treated at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center facilities. Please read About Medevacs to Germany and Balad: The First Step of a Long Journey Home. Although we are small compared to the wonderful efforts of the LRMC Pastoral Department (Chaplains Office and Wounded Warrior Ministry Center), the USO, and the Red Cross, we serve approximately 400 hospital inpatients and outpatients with up to 1000 lbs of donations each month. Donations include phone cards, clothing, Blankets of Hope, snacks, get well cards, and much more.
UPDATE: MaryAnn explained via email "the complimentary roles of the military and the volunteers. The Army provides the patients with everything they need. The role of the volunteer is to represent the grassroots support back home for the soldiers and their mission."

Wilhelmine Aufmkolk of Soldiers Angels recommends the Stars & Stripes article: "Troops praise Landstuhl outpatient care: Facility makes some minor changes as a result of Walter Reed scandal" and posts some pictures.

More about the work of these volunteers and role of Landstuhl for the US military below the jump
Continue reading "German and American Volunteers Support US Soldiers at Landstuhl Military Hospital"

Volunteering is Sexy in the United States

Volunteerism has reached a historic high in the US, reports the Christian Science Monitor:
More Americans than ever before are volunteering. In 2005, 29 percent of adults were serving – a 30-year high, according to a December report by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). It's partly because volunteerism is uniquely rooted in the American character, some experts say. Barn-raisings and harvest seasons bonded communities long ago. Today, as mentoring, drug rehabilitation, and other programs depend primarily on volunteers, and as religious groups reach far beyond their congregations to address social problems, the trend is poised to engender real change, says David Eisner, chief executive of the CNCS. "There are no other countries that have the kind of deep-rooted volunteering ethic that we have," Mr. Eisner says.
The German Koerber Foundation's "USable" contest tries to bring the American Spirit of Civic Responsibility to Germany.

The Christian Science Monitor mentions several reasons, why volunteering is so popular in the United States. The San Francisco ad campaign SF Connect highlights one additional reason: "Volunteering is Sexy" (via Erkan's Field Diary).

More about the SF Connect campaign:
When you give of yourself, you feel good. And when you feel good, you look good. After all, what could be more attractive than inner beauty? (...) Our call to action is a simple one: Give a day to San Francisco. Just think, if everyone spent just one day helping the homeless, cleaning up a city park or teaching inner city youth how to use a computer, together we could tackle and potentially eradicate many of the problems we all face as San Franciscans.
More pictures of sexy volunteers.

Related posts in the Atlantic Review concerning volunteerism:
Americans donate and volunteer a lot for good causes abroad
Top graduates teach to the poor in attempt to tackle education disparities
German relief experts at work in New Orleans and
Fulbrighters in action

Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there

Marla RuzickaToday, December 31st, was supposed to be Marla Ruzicka's 30th birthday.
Marla has founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) and convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund
. Lawmakers realized that financial compensation for families of civilians accidentally injured or killed by the U.S. military is important for helping them cope financially. A compassionate response might convince the families that Americans feel sorry about their loss; therefore they might not hate Americans, i.e. Marla was advancing US interests. Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief wrote that "Marla was alienated from much of the human rights community because she chose to work with the military instead of always against it." As Peter Bergen wrote in the Washington Post:
Ruzicka initially came off like a blond surfer girl (she was much given to exclaiming "Dude!" and "You rock!"), but underneath the effervescent exterior was a tough-minded humanitarian advocate who had little tolerance for leftist anti-war demonstrators. Ruzicka understood that wars happen despite the demonstrations, and she wanted to do something concrete to alleviate the subsequent damage to human life.
Rolling Stone Magazine described her as a "youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism." It's a good, balanced and heart-wrenching biographic article.
Continue reading "Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there"

Human Rights Day: Various Opinions on Helping Darfur

"On December 10 – Human Rights Day – people around the world will be joining together to denounce the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war in Darfur and to show solidarity with the women and girls of Darfur." writes GLOBE FOR DARFUR:
On September 17 2006 tens of thousands of people took part in the Global Day for Darfur to show world-wide support for the Darfuri people and to put pressure on our Governments to protect civilians. Nearly 60 events took place in 41 countries. The response was magnificent. But the atrocities and suffering in Darfur continue, including a growing number of rapes and sexual assaults on women and girls.
Alex de Waal, program director at the Social Science Research Council and the author of Darfur: A Short History of a Long War, is skeptical of a military intervention in the London Review of Books (HT: Mark's feed) 
Military intervention won't stop the killing. Those who are clamouring for troops to fight their way into Darfur are suffering from a salvation delusion. It's a simple reality that UN troops can’t stop an ongoing war, and their record at protecting civilians is far from perfect. Moreover, the idea of Bush and Blair acting as global moral arbiters doesn’t travel well. The crisis in Darfur is political. It’s a civil war, and like all wars it needs a political settlement.
Continue reading "Human Rights Day: Various Opinions on Helping Darfur"

Fulbrighter Runs Marathon for a Good Cause

Australian Fulbrighter Eliza Matthews will be participating in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC on October 29, 2006. You can sponsor her Marathon:
Did you know that more than one million Americans, and 40 million others around the world, are living with HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS? With more than 20 million deaths so far, AIDS is now the leading cause of death among all people aged 15 to 59 worldwide. Regrettably, approximately 1 in every 20 adults in the District of Columbia is living with HIV/AIDS. So, the money I am raising will benefit Whitman-Walker Clinic, the largest provider of HIV/AIDS services in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. The Clinic provides direct medical care, food, housing and other really important AIDS services -- to help keep people alive until there's a cure.
This concept of doing something extraordinary and having others sponsor you by donating for a good cause has been pretty popular in the United States for a long time (how long?), but is not popular at all in Germany. Not yet, at least.
Eliza also has a blog. Recently she wrote about being labeled a "non-resident alien" by the Bank of America, the Patriot Act and trouble with the service provided by the German company T-Mobile in the US.
UPDATE: Due to a terrible infection, Eliza won't run the marathon next Sunday. She ran the Philadelphia half marathon and is still fundraising for the Whitman Walker Clinic whilst building up to a full marathon.

More Fulbright blogs and Fulbright projects.