Thursday, 22 January 2009

Once you start looking you can find it everywhere

This was going be a short post about one stupid thing but has ended up covering four very different kinds of stupid. I've attempted to rein in my criticism as far as possible, firstly because it's more fun if people find the stupid for themselves, and secondly because if I analyse these masterpieces of mindfartery for much longer the bile is going to reach and kill my brain.

  1. PETA's "Sea-kittens" campaign - As I wrote a post on this last year, I was delighted to see this topic hit the Guardian and - far more importantly - Unspeak. Ingrid Newkirk's defence of the campaign is less than convincing:
    And while "sea kitten hunting," formerly known as angling, is cruel to animals, commercial sea kitten hunting is environmentally catastrophic. It has devastated the ocean's ecosystem to the extent that large fish populations are only 10% what they were in the 1950s. Scientists warn that the damage caused by the fishing industry is irreparable.
    We invite everyone of any age to play the sea kitten game and find out more about Peta's Sea Kittens campaign. It's a bit of fun with a serious message: never dismiss any individual's interests just because they look a bit funny.
    I completely agree that overfishing is a huge environmental problem which needs to be prevented as it cannot be cured later. What I don't get is why "everyone of any age" should be invited to wade through a flood of drivel before they can find out important facts about the situation. And how is that "serious message" in any way linked to the campaign? My mental faculties clearly aren't up to scratch, maybe I should start eating fish.

  2. Elizabeth Wurtzel's explanation of how all criticism of Israel is anti-semitic - One reason I love the Guardian's Comment is Free section is that people are given space to explain opinions that you may have suspected were only straw-man positions. I've come across many things refuting this idea but never met anyone who supported it. Wurtzel's article is similar to Newkirk's defence of PETA, in that it only serves to inspire fresh counter-arguments. I have one thing that I'd like to add to the existing criticism of this article, specifically countering this assertion:
    [...]while I'd like to artificially separate anti-Zionism from antisemitism, like most American Jews, I'm not willing to make that false distinction: when there is more than one Jewish state, the world's hatred of Israel might become no different from its exasperation with any other country, but since Israel is the only homeland, and really it is nothing more than six million Jews living together in an area the size of New Jersey, I can't pretend that the problem with Israel is that it's a poorly located country that happens to be at odds with its neighbours and only coincidentally happens to be Jewish. The trouble with Israel is the trouble with Jews.

    In fact it's easier to make a distinction between "the Jews" and Israel than it is to separate a country from its citizens. Whether you're talking about Judaism or "Jewishness", you're discussing a worldwide community of millions of people, with vastly different backgrounds and opinions, with members who have inspired profound respect in many different fields. Israel is just one political / geographical entity. It's really very difficult to confuse the two, unlike discussions about "Iran" and "the Iranians", for example.

  3. "Six months after the MMR jab... a bubbly little girl now struggles to speak, walk and feed herself" - If there's one word I'd like to ban from Daily Mail headlines, it's "after". This article made me very angry indeed, being the shameless exploitation of a parent's fear and misery in order to shamelessly exploit other parents just to sell cheap paper to wrap potato peelings in. Every damn line is either persuading parents to mistrust vaccinations or manipulating their emotions to make the persuasion all the more effective. It's such a dangerous campaign to run, with absolutely no reason for it, but once tabloids get up on a high horse they'll happily trample anyone into the mud. It seems impossible to me that a literate individual could write the following sentences and not grasp the reality of the situation:

    [Doctors] have told Melody's mother Alicia Ellis, 25, there is no reason to believe the MMR vaccine has anything to do with her condition.
    However, Miss Ellis is convinced it is the only logical explanation and there could be a connection to a neurological problem she had as a newborn baby.
    Miss Ellis, from Leeds, said: 'Show me the evidence that it's not linked to the MMR jab and I might be all right, but they can't.
    The tiny baby was seriously-ill in hospital and was close to death. Doctors feared she would suffer from developmental problems as a result, but to their amazement she made a complete recovery and grew up as a normal, healthy little girl.
    'I think the jab has attacked the part of her brain that was damaged when she was a baby. It's just too much of a coincidence for this to happen just two days after her jab, but no-one wants to listen to me.'

    It only seems like too much of a coincidence if you've been manipulated into believing that vaccinations are very dangerous and that doctors don't care if they are, and a child has only "grown-up" healthy once they've stopped growing. Furthermore, it's impossible to provide proof of a non-link which would convince a lay audience (*trivial parallel warning*)- the more you tell someone that there's no evidence linking their choice of underwear to their team's performance in a cup final, the more they'll suspect you of rooting for the other side.

  4. "foul, lowest-common-denominator, sub-literate emotivist twattery" - I couldn't think of a better description of this video. For goodness sake, don't follow this link. It's not worth it. It's billed as "tear-jerking" but then so is waxing your nose-hair (probably). I learned two things from it: A. that presenting single-braincelled judgements on the state of modern Britain in the voice of a child only highlights their over-simplicity and B. that it's not a good idea to watch something which someone called "Pigdogfucker" finds offensive.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

"simple, unpolitical children's stories"

I've recently been reading ,,Lügendetektor" by Saul K. Padover. Padover was a US intelligence officer responsible for interviewing German citizens or foreign workers recently returned from Germany, in areas occupied by American forces. It looks like it was published in 1946 under the title "Experiment in Germany" (or "Psychologist in Germany" in the UK) but is out of print, and only available as an expensive second-hand hardback. I bought the 1999 German translation from a bargain basement for 2 Euros, funny old world.

Even though it may be a monumental waste of time to translate something into English which was recently translated into German from an English transcript of interviews conducted in German... that's exactly what I've done. While the actual words the interviewees used have been repeatedly mangled, hopefully the meaning has been passed down intact. Just imagine it's been written by a 12th Century monk.

Chapter 17 - Padover and his men are stationed in Roetgen, recently captured without too much trouble:

As a matter of fact it was here that we first noticed a phenomenon which we would often encounter in Germany; the level of skepticism and defeatism stood in direct relation to the suffering that people had experienced. In largely destroyed towns, attitudes of defeatism or criticism of the regime were widespread, while untouched areas were filled with fascism and confidence of victory. In the small, undamaged town of Roetgen, around one third of the population counted as between convinced and fanatic Nazis. Those left over were running with the pack.
(p. 67-8)

Tatsächlich bemerkten wir hier erstmals jenes Phänomen, das wir in Deutschland noch sehr oft vorfinden sollten: der Grad an Skepsis und Defätismus stand in direkten Bezug zu dem Leid, das die Menschen erlebt hatten. In schwer zerstörten Städten waren regimekritische und defätistiche Haltungen sehr verbreitet, während unversehrte Orte von Faschismus und Siegesgewißheit erfüllt waren. In dem kleinen, unzerstörten Roetgen bestand etwa ein Drittel der Bevölkerung aus überzeugten bis fanatischen Nationalsozialisten. Die übrigen waren Mitläufer.

A local boy who runs errands for them urges them to interview his old school teacher, Agnes Pernitz. He describes her as one of many "Mußnazis" - people who claim they supported the Nazi Party out of necessity:

She had worked as a teacher in a Volksschule [standard state primary school before 1968] for forty years and claimed to be unpolitical. “In political matters,” she said, her whole face beaming, “I am like a child, like a real child. All that I know about this complex subject matter, I have from my husband.”

Sie habe vierzig Jahre lang als Volksschullehrerin gearbeitet und sei unpolitisch. „In politischen Dingen,” sagte sie und strahlt über das ganze Gesicht, „bin ich wie ein Kind, wie ein richtiges Kind. Was ich über diese komplizierte Materia weiß,habe ich alles von meinem Mann.”
Had she taught any political subjects or told her pupils about political events?
“For heaven’s sake, what can you be thinking?” she cried, as if shocked. “I only taught reading and mathematics. I read simple, unpolitical children’s stories to them, from the life of the Leader*, for instance.”

Ob sie politische Fächer unterrichtet oder ihren Schülern von politischen Begebenheiten erzählt habe? „Um Gottes willen, wo denken Sie hin?” rief Frau Pernitz wie schockiert. „Ich habe nur Lesen und Rechnen unterrichtet. Vorgelesen habe ich einfache, unpolitische Kindergeschichten, etwa aus den Leben unseres Führers.”
Did the party exert its influence on the syllabus in any way?
“Not at all. No-one laid down rules for the teachers to follow. Naturally the school books were all changed after the Leader came to power, but we teachers had complete freedom. We were completely at liberty to choose different topics from the teaching materials provided for us and nobody supervised us in any way.

Hat die Partei in irgendeiner Weise Einfluß auf den Lehrplan genommen? „Keineswegs. Niemand hat uns Lehrern Vorschriften gemacht. Natürlich wurden nach dem Machtantritt der Führers die Schulbücher ausgetauscht, aber wir Lehrer hatten völlige Freiheit. Wir konnten aus dem Lehrmaterial, das uns zur Verfügung gestellt wurde, ganz nach Belieben die verschiedensten Themen auswählen, und niemand hat uns in irgendeiner Weise kontrolliert.”

She offers a schoolbook description of Germany’s recent history:
Wilson didn’t keep to the Fourteen Points. Germany needed a rescuer. Then Ebert came, who was a socialist, and everything got worse. Then came the inflation and the situation got even worse. The German people yearned for better times, and then came Field Marshal Hindenburg. He was getting older and suddenly the Leader came forward. He promised the workers a better life. Hindenburg named him Chancellor and after Hindenburg’s death he became the Leader of Germany. He won over the people because he gave then work and because they could go travelling with the organisation “Strength through Joy”. Ordinary Germans were overjoyed at the Leader. And when industrialists recognised that the Leader had brought them a better life, they joined with the workers and adopted the new ideas as their own. In the end, the whole German population was behind the Leader.
„Wilson hat sich nicht an die Vierzehn Punkte gehalten. Deutschland brauchte einen Retter. Da kam Ebert, das war ein Sozialist, und alles wurde schlimmer. Dann kam die Inflation, und die Verhältnisse verschlechterten sich noch mehr. Das deutsche Volk sehnte sich nach besseren Zeiten, und dann kam der Feldmarschall Hindenburg. Der wurde immer älter und plötzlich trat der Führer hervor. Er versprach den Arbeitern ein besseres Leben. Hindenburg ernannte ihn zum Reichskanzler, und nach Hindenburgs Tod wurde er Führer des Deutschen Reiches. Er gewann die Menschen, weil er ihnen Arbeit gab und sie mit der Organisation „Kraft durch Freude” verreisen konnte. Die Masse des deutschen Volkes begeisterte sich für den Führer. Und als sie Industriellen erkannten, daß der Führer den Arbeitern zu einem besseren Leben verhalf, schlossen auch sie sich den Arbeitern an und machten sich die neuen Ideen zu eigen. Am Ende stand das ganze Volk hinter den Führer.”

On the factors which led to the war:
“That's quite simple. England started the war. The English wanted to dispute Germany’s rightful position in Europe. They have their own great empire of colonies but again and again, when Germany tries to gain more space for the population*, they put obstacles in the way.”
And how did the war with Russia start?
“The Russians,” she said darkly, “had been arming themselves for a long time because they wanted to launch an assault on Germany. And so we defended ourselves by attacking them. We’ve always found the Bolsheviks to be abominable, there’s no place for them on German soil. That’s why we attacked them before they could attack us.”
And Poland?
“That was purely a defensive war. Germany needed to protect herself from the Poles.”

„Das ist ganz einfach”, sagte Frau Pernitz. „England hat mit dem Krieg angefangen. Die Engländer wollten Deutschland seinen rechtmäßigen Platz in Europa streitig machen. Sie selbst haben ein großes Kolonialreich, aber wenn Deutschland versucht, Lebensraum zu erwerben, legen sie uns immer wieder Hindernisse in den Weg.”

Und wieso kam es zum Krieg gegen Rußland?

„Die Russen,” sagte sie düster, „hatten schon seit langem aufgerüstet, weil sie Deutschland überfallen wollten. Also haben wir uns verteidigt, indem wir sie angegriffen haben. Die Bolschewisten sind uns schon immer ein Greuel gewesen. sie haben auf deutschem Boden nichts zu suchen. Daher haben wir sie angegriffen, bevor sie uns angreifen konnten.”

Und Polen? „Das was ein reiner Verteidigungskrieg. Deutschland mußte sich vor den Polen schützen.”

*Due to the overwhelming extra connotations the words Führer and Lebensraum have acquired since World War Two, I’ve decided to translate them as everyday English terms. I believe that that’s how an “unpolitical” person such as Agnes Pernitz would have used them.

Extra, extra: I was wondering how Germany's invasion of Poland could have been seen as self-defence and came across this info on "Operation Himmler", a false-flag campaign in which German positions close to the Polish border were attacked by German soldiers, who left dead concentration camp prisoners at the scene dressed in Polish uniforms. I'm not sure why this didn't come up in any history lessons.