Literary avatars,Jawara´s story, excerpt

IMG_5726Where do you live when you live in a mattress under a dining table as a roommate to a legal intern? What is your legal address? Do you even have one? You are not freezing at night. You do not go hungry by day. You are alive to the world, breathing, thinking, feeling, and you have a history that walks by your side as you walk past the store fronts on Madison on your way to the subway on 96th Street after your boss has taken off with the food truck towards Queens. His day is not over yet. He still has to drive the truck out, clean and unload it in order to comply with food regulation rules, to keep the truck running that provides both of you with a livelihood but in your case just so.

From the window displays on Fifth and Madison distant galaxies of human existence are reflecting. The entry to these worlds is being jealously guarded by slim young men in well cut suits with cold stares. You don´t even desire the kinds of goods that are hiding behind those faraway windows though you are also not ignorant of them, there is simply no meaning in the acquisition of things that furbish and decorate for events that are not even on your far horizon.

You do desire books though and a place to sit and work quietly. At this moment all you need is a few minutes for yourself, to be a free man and a free agent of your fortune, maybe pretending there was indeed a place for you to go to, not here in the Upper East side, maybe somewhere in Queens like your boss, a place with friends and family waiting for you like back at home. You correct yourself: like it used to be at home.

You stop in front of the book store on Madison Avenue, Crawford & Doyle. You have never once been here during opening hours but you love the window display and the old-world storefront. Your time is ticking, and you are incredibly tired, but you take a few minutes to let your eyes rest on the new arrangement of books. You love book design. Your mother was born in in Saint-Louis, Senegal, where she grew up before moving to Dakar to finish her secondary schooling and becoming a book designer. You know book design because she loves it. You miss her, but you know she approves of you being here and giving it your best shot. And so you feel ashamed that your best shot does not go so very far as you are exhausting yourself working at the food truck so you don´t have to live in the street. Any other city you might be having your own place but here it is all but impossible, all you can afford here is the mattress under a dining room table of a legal intern who is too poor to afford that place on her own.

The studio apartment you share is really small like a doll´s house, which explains why the only place for your mattress is under the table. The intern herself owns next to nothing – but she does own this table that is like a small hut. A table like a boat, like the Arche Noah she once said. New York could drown and all she´d have to do is turn the table over and float out of there. The both of you share the upper part of that table and the kitchen and the bathroom. She has made her own bedroom in a walk-in-closet which accommodates her own mattress underneath the clothes hangers. The arrangement works remarkably well. You are rarely at home when she is, time´s maybe overlapping a few hours at night. She comes in late, often after midnight, you have to get up at 3.30 am to meet your boss set up the food truck in time for the morning crowd of office workers. Both of you try to be mindful of the other´s sleep. Neither one of you brings a lover home though you have once seen her with this tall guy on Bank Street, artist looking type. He would not have fit in that closet. Such a strange thing though to know there is a girl in the closet while you are brushing your teeth. Sometimes she´s talking in her sleep from deep within that closet. New York is a strange place.

All of this you think as you let your eyes travel unseeing over the books displayed in the windows at Crawford & Doyle. You should be writing a book and have it displayed in this book store´s window for people to see and buy, you are a good narrator and a good writer, and you have a story to tell. But even in real life no one here seems to care about your story, you are all but invisible. People ask you for a bottle of Peach Snapple or Newman´s Lemon Ice Tea, they ask for coffee to go, they ask you for a donut with cream cheese or a pretzel with salt which you carefully wrap in a napkin and hand out to your customer, but not before you have carefully counted the change. People don´t care for you touching the pretzel with your hands, they are afraid of touch and life and smell, though the city is full of touch and life and smell, but it is like a playground to them with their own set of rules, it is their playground but your jungle, and they know close to nothing about you and they don´t want to either. You are not their problem, you hand out snacks and food and sugared drinks and coffee in a sanitary, non-threatening, polite way so they can forget about you the moment they bite into their pretzel, you are like an extra to their own, legitimate story while you keep invisible, keep in your place. Your head is so full of life and stories that all you want to do is sit down and start writing, tell a story, only you can´t because you are so tired and lonely and tired again,  so tired you almost hear your thoughts and they are so loud that they are almost painful and the blood rushes to your face, and what you really have to do is to go home and wash the dust off and crawl on to your mattress under the table in order to be able to get up in a few hours to start working again, so you will still have that mattress under the table and water and enough food to survive, and so this will be another night when you don´t start your book. Maybe tomorrow night. Try again. You have not given up quite yet. And you slowly start walking toward the subway station on 96th and your life´s avatars drag behind a bit, still clinging to that beautiful window display.

Ice fishing in Lake Willoughby, about 1790, new chapter, excerpt

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Aunt Melissy and Uncle Joe Hyde, Westmore, Lake Willoughby


“As you know the town was chartered by the authority of the State, Aug. 17th in the year of the Lord over 150 years ago.” I said, imitating Uncle Joe’s voice. Fiona smiled a bit. Encouraged, I continued:” It was then granted to Capt. Uriah Seymour, Abraham Sedgwick and their associates, being 65 persons in all, with the usual reservations and appropriations in the Charters or the grants by the Legislature. None of the original grantees or proprietors ever settled on their lands.”
All of Unce Joe’s stories started like a history lesson. Maybe to put Aunt Melissy’s suspicion over too wild a tale to rest only to sneak it in later. If Fiona was bored by the beginning, she did not let on. The patches on her dress now were of a saturated blue and orange, shining.
“There is no record of the exact time, nor by whom the first settlement was made.. But we do know that some six or seven families finally came to this town from Windsor and Orange Counties and made a settlement, among whom were Jabesh Hunter, Allen Wait, James Lyon, Jeremeel Cummings, Lot F. Woodruff, Dave Porter, Abel Bugbee and my grandfather, Joseph W. Hyde. The town had not been allotted at this time and they settled on such lands as best suited them, and others came too and made a beginning.”

Fiona listened contentedly. Stories were rare in our every day lives and even though I could by far not do it as well as Uncle Joe Hyde, who would pause artfully now and then, and whose blue eyes delighted in the fact that he had someone listening to his old stories gave it a special mellow flavor.

“But soon the cold season came and the Great War broke out between the Colonies and England. The settlers were surrounded by a howling wilderness a long distance from any other settlement, their numbers were few and not all were of kind disposition for you had to be rough at heart to survive on the land even though the soil is rich and productive and well suited to farming. The settlers were a hardy and industrious band of pioneers; like my grandfather they had come a long way into the wilderness, some single men on their own, some had made the way with young families. Each of them knew loss, especially loss of wee ones who passed on into the peace of the Lord before their first birthdays and left young wives sad and dreary. 
Their labors on the land were not ordered and peaceful like today, but it was onerous work, with no time for rest, not even on the day of the Lord, their privations were many, but the hope of better times coming and faith in their Lord cheered them on and enabled them to endure the hardships until the War came. Some had even build commodious barns and comfortable dwellings but though all of their hearts were fierce and brave, most were still forced to abandon their homes not yet into the second generation and retreat. Their numbers were scattering, the frost destroyed their crops and the fear of the British and of hostile Indian tribes filled their hearts with fear. So they held a council to see what it was best to do in their perilous situation, and most families decided to surrender at discretion and most left very soon for some of the lower and more thickly settled towns in the State.”

Fiona embraced her legs and listened to me intently. I had given up imitating Uncle Joe but was still using his words. My history teacher in Summerville would have been fascinated as I spoke like a gazette from the early 19th century.
“It took over 30 years until the town was settled again. But my grandfather was among the few and scattered who stayed on, all these years. So did my grandmother who was a small, fearless woman and could hold her own among the men, and she worked like one, too. So my father was born, and was the only surviving child among 12 children who all perished before their 15th birthday. The family lived in a wee wooden cottage for all of the married life of the parents, sometimes with up to four or five children, from cradle to grave, right here on the old clearing where my father later built the stone house. Maybe it was because the cabin was so tiny and surrounded by dense woods, maybe it was because they respected the land they lived, didon very little farming, really just working a small garden patch, and made their living mostly on hunting and fishing, that the enemy overlooked them, and also the tribes who roamed the hills let them be, maybe they were just too insignificant to be noticed, and so they did survive the wild days and years when they had no company but each other.

My grandfather taught my father all there was to know about the lake and he knew as much about fishing and hunting as any Indian. They lived well enough on trout, rainbow smelt, burbot, yellow perch, longnose sucker, lake chub, common shiner and whitefish.

My grandfather took my father and his older brother Will out ice-fishing in winter. They mainly fished for burbot, a fish rich in cod-liver oil which my grandmother extracted and made the children swallow measured out by the spoonfull each morning. It left an ill, fishy taste crawling up from the stomach all day long, but she would not let them leave the house without it. You know, the liver of the burbot is huge. I was told my grandfather would cut it out of the fresh kill and eat it raw, but my father and his brother refused.

When Will died, last of all the brothers and sisters, just shy of his fifteenth birthday, my father became fearless. He said, Will had been his only friend, all others had died too young or had been too sick or had been girls and not fit for the rough hunting and fishing trips my grandfather took my father and Will along on. There had been babies who died before they ever learned to walk and talk, a sister – Abbe – who was funny and quick-witted and who had lived almost nine years and was still missed, but it had always been Joe and Will and they had taken each other’s company for granted even when all the others left them, some not leaving behind more than a shadow. Even when Abbe had taken sick with a high fever and passed on after having been delirious for two days and nights and then unconscious for another day before she faded at nightfall of the third night it had still been the two of them who brought Abbe flowers in summer and put them on her grave as they remembered that she had loved them, still the two of them who did not contract the fever and had lived once again.

Will had been his best and only friend, they had been thick as thieves and one knew what the other was thinking without ever saying it out loud. They shared a bed all their lives and woke up the same minute every morning, Over time they had grown sure that it was this bond that protected both of them from harm – and they had been their parents’ pride because bringing up two healthy, strong boys out 12 children was still an accomplishment in the wilderness by the lake.

Both loved fishing with their father, but ice-fishing they loved best of all. It took a while until the lake froze over in winter because it is so deep, and my grandfather went out every day to test if it was safe to walk on the ice after the frost had come to stay and the ice slowly glazed over. They knew that fresh burbot with its brown and green mottled skin was waiting for them under the ice, deep down, and as they were subsiding on dried fish and meats they could not wait for the fresh catch even if it meant fresh cod liver oil. They say, said Uncle Joe Hyde, that burbot tastes a lot like lobster and they call it the “poor man’s lobster” and, by the good Lord, (here Aunt Melissy would cast him a stern glance) I have never tasted lobster in my live but there is no fish as delicious as freshly fried burbot.

Note: This chapter is based on a historical article in the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, edited by Abby Maria Hennenway. Orleans County – Westmore Chapter: By Calvin Gibson and Alpha Allyn. Published by Claremont Manufacturing Co., 1877, pgs. 365 -373.

Die Radbruchsche Formel und Restitutionsansprüche

Notiz: Radbruch zum gesetzlichen Unrecht und der Natur übergesetzlichen Rechts. Nach der sogenannten Radbruch’schen Formel entschied das BVerfG 1968,  dass die Akte der Vermögenseinziehung unter den Nationalsozialisten nicht isoliert, sondern nur in ihrem Kontext der Vernichtung von Menschen zu bewerten seien und der BGH, dass diese Akte “niemals Recht, sondern von Anfang an das Gegenteil, nämlich krasses Unrecht waren.” Allerdings legte der BGH zugleich dar, dass die alliierten Rückerstattungsgesetze – auch wenn sie faktisch einen weiten Ausschluss konkreter Rückgabebegehren bewirkten, rechtmäßig waren – da sie die wieder  herzustellende Rechtssicherheit als eines hohen Gutes des Rechtsstaates zu schaffen geeignet gewesen seien. Die Frage bleibt bis heute: wenn das Unrecht so krass (Wortlaut der Entscheidung) war, dass die Unerträglichkeitsklausel Radbruchs zur Anwendung kommen konnte (und daran besteht kein Zweifel), wie anders als durch vollständige Wiedergutmachung konnte ihm auch in rechtlich hinreichender Weise geantwortet werden?

Und weiter: der Rechtsfrieden, der derart wieder hergestellt wurde, war nicht der Rechtsfrieden derjenigen, die ihres Lebens, ihrer Lebenswerke und ihres Vermögens beraubt wurden. Wie die Erben Max Sterns es formulieren: Rechtsfrieden auf Seiten der Opfer des nationalsozialistischen Regimes kann erst mit Befriedung der Ansprüche durch Restitution geschehen.

Sehen wir in die Passage des BGH, mit welcher im Jahr 1953 der Rechtsfrieden der jungen Bundesrepublik mit den Folgen einer umfassenden Aufarbeitung und Restitution aufgewogen wird, so bleibt der Eindruck einer gewissen Hast. Hier heißt es in einer für eine BHG Entscheidung recht nachlässigen Sprache (siehe: “Rechtswirrwarr”): “Dadurch, dass der nationalsozialistische Staat in der Lage gewesen war, seine Akte des Unrechts viele Jahre mit allen ihm zur Verfügung stehenden Machtmitteln durchzusetzen, waren deren Auswirkungen auf allen Lebensgebieten so weittragend und tiefgreifend, dass nur ein neuer Rechtswirrwarr entstanden wäre, wenn die Rechtsordnung über die nun einmal entstandene Tatsachen einfach durch Nichtbeachtung hinweggegangen wäre. Die Entwirrung des durch jene Unrechtsakte geschaffenen Chaos konnte vielmehr nur durch eine besondere gesetzliche Regelung vorgenommen werden.”  BGHZ 9,34 (44 f.) = NJW 1953, 542

“Weittragend und tiefgreifend” war in der Tat die Aufgabe, die sich der jungen Bundesrepublik in der Aufarbeitung seiner jüngsten Vergangenheit stellte und welcher sie jedenfalls in den fünfziger Jahren nach wohl inzwischen einhelliger Auffassung nicht nachkam. Zu stark war der Wiedereinzug von unter dem Nationalsozialisten tätigen Funktionären in die Ämter der jungen Bundesrepublik. Bequemlichkeit, Wiederaufbaueuphorie, eine fehlende Auswahl alternativer, fachlich kompetenter Anwärter (weil diese ermordet oder vertrieben worden waren) – dies sind die nachsichtigsten Erklärungen der Dynamik jener Zeit. “Weittragend und tiefgreifend” – wie im Grundsatz vom BGH erkannt – wäre das Maß für ein hinreichendes Gesetz gewesen, die aus dem Unrecht resultierenden Vermögensverluste zu restituieren. Wenn das Unrecht derart krass ist, dass die Radbruchsche Formel der Unerträglichkeit zum Tragen kommt, so bleibt das erlittene Unrecht als unerträglich im Sinne Radbruchs bestehen, wenn ihm keine ausgleichendes oder doch wenigstens ausgleichende Gerechtigkeit anstrebendes Recht zur Seite gestellt wird.

Ein Gesetz, dass dies nicht bewirken kann, so bleibt zu argumentieren, hat auch nicht die Kraft das “krasse Unrecht” zu befrieden.

Zur Natur des Rats der Könige und Kriegstreiber – on the nature of the council of kings and warmongers

Zur Natur des Rats der Könige und Kriegstreiber – on the nature of the council of kings and warmongers

  Once they realized that there was not one king or one queen, but a succession of kings and queens each of whom was “the” king or “the” queen regardless of their individual identity, so that in fact, the king … Continue reading

Come on: Does it really matter who has access to our private data?

English: A page from American Civil Liberties ...

English: A page from American Civil Liberties Union v. Ashcroft. This image was made public by the ACLU (from http://www.aclu.org/Files/getFile.cfm?id=15551). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you don’t speak up for everybody’s rights you have to prepare for your own rights to be trampled when you least expect it.” David Sirota

“Powerful digital technologies can be abused to carve away at civil liberties.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/26/opinion/why-care-about-the-nsa.html?ref=international

In response to that excellent contribution to the discussion by the NYTimes of today (see above link): Even the most liberal systems have an inherent tendency towards a restriction of  civil right positions. Civil rights are, by nature and design, inconvenient, inefficient, administratively annoying – but absolutely necessary for the upkeep of democracy. Because systems in themselves for a variety of reasons, some of them plainly administrative, have a spin towards restriction of individual rights, civil rights have to be constantly and equally system inherently defended against that tendency – this has to be understood as a necessary premise for any kind of democratic system.  Due to the system inherent tendency to restriction, the ability of the executive branch to gain access to the totality of data that makes all branches – including the political dialog –  transparent, is especially worrisome from a cicil rights point of view because it enables to influence the democratic process and dialog that defends cicil rights even before it starts. access to a totality of information carries the foreboding of totalitarian systems.

We have known this for at least thirty years, and it is part of the understanding of the constitution of the United States as well as of the constitution of Germany that the idea has been firmly established that an individual has the right to keep control over what you would now call data, but what then was simply called privacy and freedom of speech.

What is new is that this problem is not limited to one country. Single branch control exerted by privileged access to individual and governmental data alike, made possible by the use of powerful digital technology, if not contested by citizens world wide, will lead to an immense loss of civil rights and constitutional guarantees – world wide. Uncontrolled access to data will prepare the way for an ascent of totalitarian systems, possibly cooperating, totalitarian systems world wide. it is not the world we want to live in.

we need to start developing democratic, predictable and controllable systems and corresponding requirements for legal access to the use of data, country by country, world wide – right now. most of all we need to raise the wide spread awareness that to defend our constitutional values and civil rights we need to demand of our political systems to treat our data with the same respect that they are obliged to obey at least by the letter in treating the individual. we need to know that it matters who accesses our private data, who reads our emails – even if we are just writing down a few lines to grandma or jotting down a recipe.