Tom Baker saying “the United States of America”

Some time ago I came upon this video clip of a decades-old interview with actor Tom Baker, and have been trying ever since to imitate him when I say “the United States of America”:

The Mosley Shuffle

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.

I feel you, Johanna

Halloween is coming, so I recently watched the video of the 1982 touring company of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  I wonder if the opening lines of the song “Johanna”- “I feel you, Johanna, I feel you”- are the source of the phrase “I feel you,” meaning “I share your concerns and understand your position,” that was in such widespread use a couple of years ago.  Anyway, it’s a good song.  Here is a clip from that 1982 video showing the bits of it from before and after the confrontation between the sailor Anthony and the evil Judge Turpin:

Out of context, a man telling a woman that no barriers can stop him from his plan to “steal” her may sound creepy, though in the show it is clear that she needs all the help she can get to escape from Judge Turpin and the nightmarish London he and men like him have created.  Perhaps the problem of the male rescuer can be alleviated a bit if we turn to Bernadette Peters’ concert version of the song:

Another reinterpretation of the song is provided here, by Robert Adams:

“Happily you were not rotten…”

If this does not make you laugh, go to a doctor and make sure you’re still alive

Quite a while since our last update- here’s a video I find irresistibly hilarious.  It’s several years old, but whatever:

Something Brilliant

This was one of the Videos of the Week the other day at Ukulele Hunt, I hope it wins the Nobel Prize for Awesomeness:


Laughing at Hitler

It was the first of September, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland; in the eyes of the British and French governments, that event marked the beginning of the Second World War.  By that point, a great many people in Europe and Asia had already for years been fighting wars that would be subsumed in that conflict; a great many more were still years away from being drawn into it.  Nonetheless, that date has come to be widely accepted as marking the first day of the war.

Since it was the late Adolf Hitler who, as they put it in The Rutles, “invented World War Two,” he often comes to my mind on this date.  There’s been a marked trend in pop culture these past few years to laugh at Hitler.  So, about three or four years ago, there was a craze for posting videos on YouTube that added silly subtitles to the scene in the movie Downfall where the Hitler character learns that his plans for the final defense of Berlin have collapsed and shouts hysterically at his staff.  The only specimens I thought were worth watching were this one and this one; this one and this one give the same treatment to other scenes from the movie.

At about the time the Downfall parody craze was at its height, a webcomic called Hipster Hitler made its debut.  I saw a reference to it the other day; evidently it is still going.  I’d thought the first strip exhausted its potential, and as I looked through the archive I found that I was correct.  The image of Hitler in an ironic T-shirt and fedora seems to be making a point of some kind; I’ve spent a fair bit of time wondering what that point might be.  Hitler is a symbol of the evil that extreme authoritarianism makes possible; hipsters present themselves as extreme anti-authoritarians; so showing Hitler as a hipster means… something?  Maybe?  Be that as it may, I doubt anyone actually laughs at the strip.

More recently, there was a short-lived strip on tumblr called Ignore Hitler.  That one was closer to being funny than is Hipster Hitler, although it wasn’t as thought-provoking, or as interesting to look at.

Some jokes involving Hitler do make a clear point.  For example, this video  is a spoof of conspiracy theories concerning the birth of US President Barack Obama, which does some funny stuff with Hitler’s picture.  Some of the theories about President Obama’s birth that people actually believe are just as silly as the one in the video, so the spoof works quite well.

King Kong falling off the Empire State Building

This animated gif appeared in Slate some time ago, I love it:

The smallest and the largest

In 1968, designers Charles and Ray Eames released a short film called “Powers of Ten.”  Here it is:

Here’s a tribute to the film that appeared as xkcd #271:

There’s something I occasionally wonder about.  People sometimes say that hearing about the scale of the universe at its largest makes them feel small and unimportant.  On that scale, the earth figures as a minuscule portion of a solar system that is itself a minuscule portion of a galaxy that is in turn a minuscule portion of one of countless clusters of galaxies in the universe.  When I hear that remark, I think about the scale of the universe at its smallest.  Tiny as our world is in comparison with the deepest reaches of the sky, how large do we bulk in comparison with the smallest units of the submicroscopic world?

This flash animation from Cary and Michael Huang, released a couple of days ago as a followup to a similar project they put out in 2010, takes us from the Planck length, which is evidently the smallest size a thing can be, up to what theorists currently suspect is the total size of the universe, which extends at least 7000 times as far as we will ever be able to see.  The latest theories hold that the total size of the universe might be about 1.6 times 10 to the 27th power meters.  That theory may be as mistaken as all the previous theories about the same thing have been, but it’s the best we have going at the moment.   So, if that theory is correct and you were to lay humans end to end, the number of them you would need to stretch from one end of the universe to the other would be 28 digits long.  The Huang brothers note in their animation that the total height of all living humans is much shorter than that, of course; in fact, if we were all to lie down end to end we would only reach about 1o million kilometers, only about 1/15 of the way from the earth to the sun.  Even if all 100,000,000,000 humans who ever lived were to be reincarnated and join us, we would still reach less than 15 billion kilometers, which would barely get us from one side of the Solar System’s Kuiper Belt to the other.

So, compared to the largest scale of structure in the universe, we are indeed quite small.  But let’s take a moment and look at the smallest scale of things in the universe.  The Eameses stopped their exploration at the level of the proton.  In 1968, there wasn’t much point in trying to delve deeper.  Since then, science has made advances.  The Planck length is 1.6 times ten to the minus 35th power meters; so, if you laid the shortest possible objects end to end, the number of them it would take to stretch from one end of your body to the other would be 36 digits long. A 36 digit number is of course bigger than a 28 digit number, vastly bigger.  So our size is much closer to that of the entire universe than it is to that of an object that exists on the scale of the Planck length.  The 2010 version of the Huangs’ flash animation illustrated this dramatically, with a human symbol standing well to the right of the center of the zoom bar. If contemplating the scope of the universe as a whole makes us feel small and insignificant, does contemplation of the Planck length make us feel large and mighty?

Perhaps it does.  If it doesn’t, I can think of two possible reasons.  First, it might be that the feature of astronomy that gives people the feeling of smallness and weakness is not the size of the structures astronomers study, but the fact that those people don’t understand what astronomers are talking about and don’t feel confident in their ability to figure it out.  That sense of smallness is not likely to be relieved when the conversation turns from light-years and dark energy to yoctometers and the quantum foam.

Second, it might be the legacy of monotheism.  When we visualize the universe on the largest scale, we imagine ourselves to be standing outside it, taking it in at a glance.  To minds formed under the influence of a belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present Creator God, such a visualization is clearly an imitation of God.  In such an imagination, it shows an awesome power to zoom in and find individual humans, to number the hairs on their heads (between 50,000 and 200,000, according to the Huang brothers) and keep an eye on the sparrow.  On the other hand, to look up from the level of the Planck length may not suggest much to such a mind.  It’s true that medieval theologians like Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas developed ideas about angels as one-dimensional beings who had the power to assume visible form as the situation required; to those titans of Scholasticism, the idea of two-dimensional strings vibrating at the smallest levels of scale in the universe and forming the basis of the physical world might have been extremely interesting.  Still, to the extent that people think about angels today, it’s in terms that neither Albertus nor Thomas would have recognized as rational, or even as Christian.  Aside from a few eccentric philosophers like Massimo Cacciari and the late Mortimer Adler who maintain an interest in the Scholastic conception of angels, the only people who bring them up nowadays seem to be those who believe that the souls of holy people become angels.  For the Scholastics, this would have been rank heresy.  They believed that angels represented an order of creation separate from humans, who may operate within time and space on occasion, but who are not generally subject to the passage of time or extended in three-dimensional space.  Humans, they held, were destined either to be resurrected in perfected bodies, as Jesus had been, or to be cast into Hell.  In either case, we would continue to be three-dimensional beings of something about a meter and a half in height.  I can’t see what motive believers in the Hollywood-derived conception of the afterlife would have for attaching any special significance to a view of the universe that looks up from the smallest scale, and indeed they do not seem to be excited about the submicroscopic world.

Star Pilot: The Motion Picture

Yesterday, I recommended the independent comic Star Pilot.  Today, I embed a video version of the first issue, created by the book’s author.

Buy Star Pilot here.  Each issue costs a single US dollar.  I’ve read them all, and can testify that they are worth that price many times over.  Issues 4 and 5 are particularly interesting; in those, the author develops a remarkable approach to storytelling.  Each has a story that seems to be on the point of ending, when in fact the main part of the story is only beginning.  But the best way to read them is in sequence; issues 1 through 3 not only are enjoyable in themselves, but also make the depth and complexity of issues 4 and 5 a great surprise.

The Norwegian Association for the Blind is an even funnier group than their name might suggest

A couple of years ago, Believer1 embedded a short video here from the Norwegian Association for the Blind.  It was hilarious, as is this video, produced around the same time, making it clear why people shouldn’t bother service dogs while they’re on the job:

The Believer’s service dog is an important part of our family; when the three of us are out on the town, people sometimes ask me when it’s appropriate to pet him.  I tell them, first, that the key thing is to ask her permission before paying any attention to her dog.  I then compare him to a dentist.  If a dentist was drilling your teeth, you wouldn’t want someone to wander into the room and start rubbing your dentist’s head and shoulders, exclaiming “What a good dentist!”  If you can understand why it would be wrong to do that, you should be able to understand why it is wrong to interrupt a service dog on the job.