Somehow I had been unaware of artist Click Mort until this morning, when a friend posted a link on a social media site. As a devotee of ViewMaster, I can only wish that a company like Berezin would bring out a set of reels devoted to these intricate little studies in three-dimensional form.
Posted by acilius on March 4, 2015
I was looking for something else a moment ago, and stumbled on something terrific that’s been online for years. It’s a zoomable chart called “A Tree of World Religions,” and according to Hemant Mehta it was created by a team at Funk Consulting led by Dzvenislava Novakivska.
Posted by acilius on February 25, 2015
I’ve always found it alarming that so many American politicians are quick to declare that particular groups are or are not Islamic. I’m referring to the sort of thing that reached dizzying proportions in late 2001, when such figures as George W. Bush and Charles Krauthammer and Madeleine (Not-At-) Albright went on television not only to declare that the terrorists responsible for that year’s attacks on New York and Washington were not true Muslims, but to tell the world the true meaning of the word “jihad,” and in Professor (Not-At-) Albright’s case to go on at length about the concept of “reopening the gate of ijtihad,” which they apparently regarded as a necessary step in the revival of true Islam. No one in the media in those days seemed inclined to ask who had appointed these people as imams and asked them to issue such monumental fatwas.
Anyway, Elizabeth Stoker Bruening seems to feel the same way I do about this kind of thing. Juan Cole is more sanguine, arguing that it should be possible for a reasonably well-informed outside observer to figure out where the “center of gravity” is in a religious tradition and to recognize that this group or that is very distant from that center. Professor Cole may be right, though I suspect he would agree with me that the Bushes and Krauthammers and (Not-At-) Albirights of the world would be well advised to be more circumspect in their commentary.
Posted by acilius on February 19, 2015
It looks like the the principal candidates in next year’s election for US president will be Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican John Ellis “Jeb” Bush. An election between the wife of one former president and the son and brother of two others does make one wonder how the two parties can call themselves “democratic” and “republican” when “restorationist” and “hereditarian” would seem more fitting.
Also, the last time the USA had a Clinton/ Bush presidential contest eccentric billionaire H. Ross Perot ran an independent campaign that attracted many millions of votes. Maybe this time Mr Perot’s son will throw his hat into the ring. He has made himself even richer than his father, and seems to be just as peculiar.
Mr Bush faces a large number of challengers for his party’s nomination, while Ms Clinton has so far drawn only token opposition on her side of the ballot. It occurs to me that it is strange that it isn’t always that way. Both the Democrats and the Republicans nominate the early favorite virtually every time. The only two Democrats in recent decades to win the nomination without having been the early favorite were Barack Obama, who was at least a clear second to Ms Clinton in the early stages of the 2008 race, and James “Jimmy” Carter, who in 1976 triumphed over a field that never had a clear front-runner. And the last Republican to emerge as a true surprise nominee was Wendell Willkie in 1940.
One of the ways to become the early favorite in the Republican contest is to place or show in the previous contest. Five of the last six Republican nominees- Willard M. Romney, John McCain, Robert Dole, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan- had all finished close behind the eventual nominee in the last open contest before they were themselves bore the party’s standard. For their part, the Democrats take comparatively little note of losing candidates for their nomination. The last five Democrats in recent decades to capture their party’s nod after an unsuccessful first try have been Albert Gore, who after his 1988 attempt had served two terms as vice president; George McGovern, whose 1968 bid as a placeholder for the assassinated Robert F. Kennedy really shouldn’t count; Hubert Humphrey, who had been elected vice president in 1964 after his failed bid in 1960; Alfred Smith, who came back from losing the nomination at the 1924 Democratic convention to lead the Democrats into a landslide defeat in 1928; and the only winner in the whole bunch, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, who received a few votes at the 1908 Democratic convention, then won the nomination and the presidency in 1912.
In 2004 and 2008, the Democratic nominee chose one of his rivals as his vice-presidential running mate. As Messrs Gore and Humphrey showed, election to the vice presidency is a path to front-runner status in the presidential race. However, the last time before 2004 that a losing candidate for that year’s Democratic nomination was chosen to run for vice president was 1960, when John Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson, a Texan who led the US Senate. And the last time before that was 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt chose John “Cactus Jack” Garner, a Texan who led the US House of Representatives. The dozens of losing candidates for the Democratic nominations before 2004 who controlled neither a chamber of Congress nor Texas’ electoral votes generally emerged from the experience with little to show for it except the disappointment of their supporters and a heavy load of personal debt.
Looking at that record, ambitious Democrats have virtually no incentive to run for president unless they begin at the head of the pack, while ambitious Republicans have a great deal of incentive to run even if they look weak at the beginning of the race. Granted, beyond a certain age that incentive fades; while there is probably some slim chance that former New York governor George Pataki, for example, might pick up enough momentum to emerge as Mr Bush’s main rival in the closing stages of the nomination race, the reward for doing that would be a chance of becoming the front-running candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020 or 2024, when Mr Pataki will be 75 or 79 years old. It seems unlikely that even a very strong performance in the 2016 primaries would convince the Republicans to rally around such an elderly candidate. Granted, Messrs Dole and McCain were both in their mid-70s when they were nominated, and as Adlai Stevenson said, “Once a man has been x-rayed for the presidency, he stays radioactive for life.” So it wouldn’t be surprising if Mr Pataki were to run in earnest.
Posted by acilius on January 31, 2015
Here’s today’s xkcd:
It’s true that not knowing much about sports is culturally isolating, far more so than not knowing much about meteorology or space probes. In the USA, where xkcd creator Randall Munroe and I both live, ignorance of American football* is more isolating than ignorance of meteorology and space probes even among faculty and students of universities with departments of meteorology and aerospace, as witness the relative pay scales and promotion schedules of football coaches and professors of those subjects.
Considering how much money and power are put into promoting football in the USA, it is simply absurd to claim that football fans are vulnerable to some kind of power that an individual acquires by not caring about the sport. Whether or not you care about football, if you live in the USA you have no choice but to pay taxes that subsidize football, to seek employment in businesses managed by people whose small talk consists largely of discussions of football, to receive news and entertainment through media outlets that are saturated with football, and to be educated in schools where football is enshrined as the supreme collective experience.
Indeed, Americans are so heavily incentivized to like football, and football games are so intensively covered by US media, that I find it hard to believe that there are a great many people in the USA who haven’t tried to like football. I suspect most Americans who dislike football simply find it impossible to overcome the stupefying tedium of watching a bunch of costumed men standing around doing nothing for hours at a time, and that most who complain about football or mock football fans resent the power that football has in American social life.
I would hasten to add that the experience of playing football isn’t dominated by the 90% of the time that players spend standing around doing nothing. I have far more vivid memories from my high school days of the 9% of the time that players spend striking and holding poses in formation. I remember the many times I was called off-sides, which in football means that a player is posing incorrectly. While from the spectator’s perspective football is like staring at people milling about at a bus station, from the player’s perspective it is much more like being a fashion model.
There is so little action of any kind in an American football game that I cannot help but be suspicious of the reports one hears about the rates at which players suffer head injuries. I find it particularly incredible that the almost perfectly immobile players of the National Football League can all suffer concussions during their games. Perhaps they all sustain heavy blows to the head before coming onto the field, and that’s why they do so little during the game.
A blog post today by Rod Dreher reminds me of a hypothesis of mine about how football became so popular in the USA in the twentieth century. Dreher quotes and comments on a conversation between Jon Ronson and Adam Curtis about how financial institutions and financial markets are able to exercise enormous power without much public scrutiny simply because their operations strike most people, including most reporters and certainly most politicians, as intolerably dull. I suspect that the average American is aware of the fact that a high threshold for boredom is key to gaining wealth, power, and high status in our society, and that as this awareness grew in the last century football, the most boring of sports, crowded out boxing, horse racing, and ultimately even baseball to become not only the king of American sports, but the lingua franca of social interaction in corporate America.
*Hereinafter referred to simply as “football,” because this post is all about conditions within the USA.
Posted by acilius on January 30, 2015
If there is a point in a task when an interruption will result in disaster, assume that you will be interrupted at that point
Suppose a man hasn’t shaved in a very long time. He decides to get rid of his facial hair, so he digs out his old electric shaver. This is the only shaving tool he has, and it is not in good shape. Still, it starts when he plugs it in.
So he goes to work. Even though the shaver is clearly damaged and his whiskers are very long, it’s getting the job done. He shaves his face first. Then he shaves the top of his neck. Then he shaves a path down the middle of his throat. Then it breaks. There’s no fixing it, and there’s no one else in the house he can ask to go buy him a replacement.
He goers to the store himself. In the olden days, this would have been a potential embarrassment, if by some chance he had seen someone he knew. Still, it would have been between him and that person. The most the person could have done to make it worse was to describe it to other people, and the description would be less likely to call a visual image to mind than to raise the question of what happened. The answer to that question would dissipate the embarrassment pretty quickly.
That was in the olden days. Now people carry camera phones and post to social media. So, our guy could end up like this:
I don’t know who this guy is, and have no idea how he came to look like that. But the story above is the only explanation I can think of that doesn’t involve a lifestyle commitment to Seussical the Musical. And it makes me glad that I shave my neck first. Indeed, I sometimes think of the adage “If there is a point in a task when interruption will result in disaster, assume that you will be interrupted at that point” as Neckbeard’s Law.
I’ve searched for this adage online, but have so far found nothing. There are a number of books with “Murphy’s Law” in their titles; perhaps one of those books would have a form of it. And I find that there is a field called “Interruption Science” which consists entirely of studies about what happens when people are interrupted during tasks. So if I wanted to christen it “Acilius’ Law” and gain worldwide fame, I’d start by looking in journals that publish research in Interruption Science and, if I couldn’t find any article there in which the adage was already named for someone else, proceed on to those Murphy’s Law collections.
Posted by acilius on January 30, 2015
I’ve recently been rereading Robert Skidelsky’s 1975 biography of Oswald Mosley. Robert Skidelsky* tells a tale the ancient Greeks would have recognized as tragedy in the strictest sense of the term, the story of a man of the rarest gifts brought shockingly low by his own insatiable vanity. To think that a man as talented and as dashing as Mosley should have welcomed Adolf Hitler as the guest of honor at his wedding and should almost single-handedly have conjured up a significant anti-Semitic movement in England is to realize that a man whose capacities are such that he might have become a very great historical figure may in the end make of himself an absolute jackass.
What brought me back to the story of Mosley was a video that I saw on YouTube several weeks ago. It is Mosley’s November 1967 appearance on the David Frost Programme. In Mosley’s time, and indeed until quite recently, the ability to see hecklers off was an essential part of success in British political oratory. Mosley was apparently quite good at this from the beginning of his political career in the early 1920’s. After giving over 200 speeches a year throughout the 1930’s, encountering hecklers on the vast majority of those occasions, he was as good at handling hecklers as anyone could be. It was to Mosley’s advantage, then, that the audience was quite hostile to him (well, what audience wouldn’t have been, by that time?) It was an even greater advantage that the lead heckler, Solly Kaye, had been a frequent antagonist of Mosley’s in the 1930’s, so that Mosley knew exactly what to expect from him. After the showdown between Kaye and Mosley in the first half of the program, one rather has the uneasy feeling that Mosley is going to come out a clear winner. Frost appears to have felt that way, as he resorts to a rather frantic attempt to remind people that the amiable fellow sitting across from him is after all Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists and one of the undoubted villains of the century.
In that interview, embedded below, Mosley executes what I think of as “the Mosley Shuffle.” At the 27 minute mark, Frost asks Mosley whether he thinks Hitler, if he had survived the war, ought to have been tried for and convicted of war crimes. Mosley says yes, that the killing of defenseless prisoners is a crime under any system of laws and so the murder of massive numbers of Jews in concentration camps should have brought Hitler and his top men into court. At the 28 minute mark, he throws in a curious aside about that particular mass murder: “while I don’t think nearly so many were killed as were supposed to be killed, that doesn’t matter- that doesn’t matter- because any crime, the killing of any defenseless prisoner, is a crime and everybody must detest it.” At the 33 minute mark, he acknowledges that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, then immediately blames Jews collectively for starting World War Two (“They made the greatest mistake they ever made when they produced that war,”) without which the Holocaust would not have been possible.
I call it the Mosley Shuffle because it does seem like a dance. A step forward (the mass murders of Jews in the Nazi concentration camps were a crime that should have been punished,) a step backward (“I don’t think nearly so many were killed as were supposed to be killed,”) a step to the left (“that doesn’t matter- that doesn’t matter.”) A step forward (it was 6 million after all,) a step backward (world Jewry was to blame for the war,) a step to the right (all of those Jews would still be alive and included within Mosley’s “Europe a Nation” project if Britain and France had listened to Mosley and taken a pro-German line in the 30’s.) Considering Mosley’s association with Hitler, it’s difficult not to think of this:
I think I understand why Mosley would perform this unbecoming rhetorical box-step. He was still trying to revive his political career in 1967; in the previous year’s general election, he and two colleagues from his Union Movement stood for parliament, receiving an average of 3.7% of the vote. Mosley takes great pains in the last minutes of the program to ensure Frost repeats that figure correctly, then tells Frost that it is almost exactly double what the Nazi Party received in the German elections five years before Hitler came to power. That prompts Frost to ask if Mosley still expects someday to come to power, and the program ends before Mosley can finish his answer.
Given his background, any revival of Mosley’s political prospects would have had to begin on the far right, with him consolidating their support, then expanding from that base to reach into the mainstream in a time of crisis. By the late 60’s, many activists on the far right busied themselves with Holocaust denial, so if Mosley were to reemerge as their leader he had to leave some space in his platform for that noxious pastime. On the other hand, people in general resent insults, and Holocaust denial is an aggressive insult to the intelligence of the average or even the quite substantially below-average voter. So it must have been difficult to imagine a movement that allowed itself to be widely identified with Holocaust denial could expand beyond the fringes under any circumstances. Therefore, Mosley could hope to reconnect with the mainstream only if he kept the denialists at arm’s length.
Yesterday I stumbled upon some writings by a spiritual heir of Mosley’s, a man named David Cole. Mr Cole writes for Taki’s Magazine, an always-lively, rarely lovely far right publication. Taki’s is quite undiscriminating in one sense; anyone who can write amusingly is likely to be accepted as a contributor, no matter how scandalous his or her background may be. Mr Cole is a spectacular example of this; in 2013, after 15 years of working in Hollywood making Holocaust-related documentaries and promoting pro-Israel groups under the name “David Stein,” he was dramatically unmasked as a man who spent several years ending in the mid-1990s promoting a theory that the Holocaust ended in 1943, killing 4 million rather than 6 million Jews, none of them in gas chambers at Auschwitz. Mr Cole gives two reasons for his retirement from the field of Holocaust minimization. First, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing made him think twice about the sort of people whose support he was attracting. And second, the Jewish Defense League offered a $25,000 bounty for his assassination. When “David Stein” was exposed as David Cole, Mr Cole said that he still believed the stuff he’d peddled back in the 90’s.
Mr Cole’s article for Taki’s is a very amusing piece making fun of the media for hailing every re-editing and re-release of Holocaust-related footage as “a never before seen film.” Mr Cole says that it was precisely this habit that made it possible for “David Stein” to establish himself in Hollywood as a Holocaust documentarian when he cleaned up some public domain footage of the Nuremberg trials and stamped his copyright on the result. When Mr Cole describes his ability to get in on this racket, one remembers the old joke, “There’s no business like Shoah business…”
On his blog, Counter-Contempt, Mr Cole gives some examples that suggest the kind of thing he put out in the pre-“David Stein” era. I was particularly intrigued by a post titled “My Unintentionally Negative Impact on Holocaust Revisionism,” he attacks one denialist after another, ridiculing their arguments and slamming their personalities, declaring that only an idiot could doubt that the Nazis murdered 4 million Jews. Now 6 million, that he won’t accept. His final paragraph is “Not everything in life has clearly defined, easily identifiable sides. This does. Revisionist or denier. Pick a side.”
The list of “revisionists” Mr Cole presents is “David Irving,** Mark Weber, and your humble author.” This seems to be a complete census of the breed, at least of its living representatives as Mr Cole recognizes them. The various “deniers” Mr Cole describes in this piece he summarizes (evidently with no more than simple justice) as “one man totally uninterested in history, another who forms his opinions based on who accepts or turns down his dinner invitations, another who is a self-described delusional psychotic, and finally a man capable of making the most sweeping statement possible while never bothering to read up on one of the most vital episodes of the period.” Directed to “pick a side” between these alternatives, I feel like the would-be immigrant to the USA who was asked “Do you advocate the overthrow of the US government by violence or by subversion?” He thought about it for a moment, then answered “By subversion.”
If we can identify the motive behind Mosley’s box-step, what motivates Mr Cole to perform his wild tarantella? He doesn’t seem to have any master plan that will culminate in the building of a political force, as Mosley did. Mr Cole seems to be in search of a small-time racket, the equivalent of running a three-card Monte game on a street corner.
Mr Cole seems to trade on the fact that he is Jewish by ethnicity, as this screen cap from his 1994 appearance on the Phil Donahue show would indicate:
Jewish Holocaust denier seems like a small niche, but I doubt there is much competition to fill it.
The passive-aggressive approach of at once conceding, indeed forcefully arguing, that the Nazis murdered millions of Jews, then making rather less impressive arguments to depress the number of millions significantly below the generally accepted figure, may fit the idea that Mr Cole aspires to be a two-bit operator. While a highly ambitious figure like Mosley took care not to alienate any of the people he needed to achieve his [evil!] plan, Mr Cole seems to go out of his way to alienate as many people as he can. He is clearly an intelligent fellow, so presumably this means that his plan does not require the support of any particular person or any particular constituency. A three-card Monte dealer can get by with any two or three confederates to act as lookout and to lure marks in by pretending to be gamblers winning at the game, but a bigger time scam artist needs particular people and a large number of them.
Perhaps that in turn explains why an intelligent man with Mr Cole’s apparent talent for self-promotion wants to become the equivalent of a three-card Monte dealer. He wants the independence they have. At a moment’s notice, the three-card Monte dealer can disappear into the night and set up again in a different location. That Mr Cole dropped out of sight and reinvented himself under an alias, playing another con game built around the same topic that underpinned his original dodge, sounds like something that a man would do who would rather be highly independent than have a broad scope of action.
*Usually on this blog I refer to living people by courtesy titles or professional honorifics, but I find the British aristocracy so preposterous an anachronism that I cannot bring myself to call Robert Skidelsky “Lord Skidelsky.” Nor would I refer to Oswald Mosley by his title as “Sir Oswald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats.” Since Robert Skidelsky does have that title, though, I don’t think I can call him “Mr Skidelsky” or “Professor Skidelsky.” That’s why I’m stuck with his full name.
**To the extent that Mr Cole associates with Mr Irving, he is a bit more than just a spiritual heir of Oswald Mosley. In 1961, as a student at University College London, Mr Irving seconded Oswald Mosley in a public debate about immigration. So Mr Cole appears to have an acquaintance in common with Mosley.
Posted by acilius on January 29, 2015
What’s happening in northern Nigeria? Eric Draitser, founder of the website Stop Imperialism, seems to have an answer, and he shares it with readers of Counterpunch in this, the first of a series of articles he promises to contribute there.
Mr Draitser lists three major factors that have made the rise of Boko Haram possible:
First, there is Nigeria’s domestic politics, and the issue of Boko Haram and the perception of the government and opposition’s responsibility for the chaos it has wreaked. With elections scheduled to take place in February, Boko Haram and national security have, quite understandably, become dominant issues in the public mind. The mutual finger-pointing and accusations provide an important backdrop for understanding how Boko Haram fits both into the public discourse, and into the strategies of political networks behind the scenes in Nigeria, and the region more broadly.
Second is the all-important regional political and economic chessboard. In West Africa – an area rich in strategic resources – there are a few interested parties who stand to gain from Boko Haram’s ongoing attacks which amount to a destabilization of the entire Nigerian state. Nigeria’s neighbor Chad has recently come under heavy scrutiny from Nigeria’s military apparatus for its purported role in financing and facilitating Boko Haram’s expansion. Chad sees in Nigeria potential oil profits as it expands its own oil extraction capabilities throughout the Chad Basin – a geographical region that includes significant territory in Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger. Of course, major oil companies, not to mention powerful western nations such as France, have a vested interest in maintaining their profits from West African oil.
Finally and, perhaps most importantly, is the continental and global perspective. Nigeria, as Africa’s most dynamic economy, presents major opportunities and challenges for key global powers. For China, Nigeria represents one of its principal investment footholds in Africa. A key trading partner for Beijing, Nigeria has increasingly been moving out of the direct orbit of the West, transforming it from a reliable, if subservient, Western ally, into an obstacle to be overcome. Coinciding with these developments has been the continually expanding US military presence throughout Africa, one that is increasingly concentrated in West Africa, though without much media fanfare aside from the Ebola story.
Mr Draitser goes on to explain how the destruction of the Gadhafi regime in Libya destabilized the whole region to the north and east of Nigeria, transforming Chad from a subordinate player in North African politics into a revisionist power.
Mr Draitser’s piece is the single most illuminating thing I have found about the situation in Nigeria, and I am very glad to have seen it. I do feel constrained to quote from something I read the same day, a blog post in which Rod Dreher, referring to discussions of conflicts in the Muslim world, including northern Nigeria, complains that “most people on the secular Left simply do not understand how religion works.” That isn’t to say that we have to take the actors in these conflicts at their word when they claim that their motives are entirely religious, and certainly the conflict in Nigeria would not be possible without the economic and geopolitical facts on which Mr Draitser focuses. What I suspect is simply this, that it is a mistake to leave religion out altogether when we are analyzing a situation like this.
Be that as it may, I very much look forward to Mr Draitser’s next installment. He refers to a forthcoming “Part Two”; I hope there will also be a Part Three, Part Four, and as many other parts as he can manage.
Posted by acilius on January 28, 2015