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Orwell, Fascism, &c – we need our own red lines, but where?

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — how far gone are we — from a sorta leftist-centrist-don’t-really-fit-labels POV? ]
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I’m not sure what exactly JM was responding to here, there have been too many pointers..

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I for one don’t think Charlottesville stacks up against Kristallnacht, and am wary of the words Fascism and Nazi. I wholeheartedly agree with JM Berger in his piece today, Calling them Nazis:

There’s an increasingly common argument online against referring to the alt-right by its chosen name. “Call them Nazis” is the refrain. If you haven’t said it yourself, you’ve probably seen other people saying it.

While this approach may be understandable and may suit certain rhetorical purposes, it’s a grave mistake for journalists and experts who substantively study and cover the movement to embrace this approach.

JM continues:

The alt-right category is extremely important to understanding what’s happening in this movement. Nazis are only part of this movement, or more correctly neo-Nazis, since most of them aren’t German nationalists. If neo-Nazis were America’s only problem, it would be a much smaller problem.

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My concern here is with a somewhat different angle, and not specifically with the Charlottesville clashes. I’m noting the widespread tendency to suggest we’re already in Brownshirt territory, if not deeper in than that, and I think it may be a bit premature.

IMO, we need to be cautious in where we draw the lines that say, beyond here is Fascism, or Nazism, it seems to me: exaggeration only serves to discredit those who indulge.

There are real problems, both with overt swastika-wavers and with those who support or merely tolerate them. Which way the wind will blow over the coming few years, however, is yet to be seen.

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However, getting back to Orwell

— it does seem to me that scooping up more than a million IP addresses of epople who may have an interest in protesting Trump gies way beyond some kind of Orwell Limit.

Orwell kept his resistance movement cellular and basically unnowable: datamining the web blows an enormous hole in that strategy.

I’d have to say that with today’s news about DOJ vs DisruptJ20, one of my personal Orwell Red Lines has been crossed.

Graeme Wood and a symmetry in Dallas

Monday, August 14th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — on writers and analysts, via Dallas, Syria, Wagner, Bayreuth, Hitler and Israel ]
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The symmetry is between two men that Graeme Wood has profiled in The AtlanticRichard Spencer and John Georgelas aka Yahya Abu Hassan, leader of the alt-right and early American proponent of ISIS, respectively:

Both men are the only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians. They both bloomed late, intellectually and politically, and overcompensated by immersing themselves in books and ideas with gusto uncommon among their bourgeois demographic. Both admired Ron Paul, and both saw their home country as a broken land — and themselves as its savior.

They are also both young.

You can read about them both in greater detail in Wood’s twin accounts here:

  • Wood profiles Richard Spencer, His Kampf
  • Wood profiles John Georgelas, The American Climbing the Ranks of ISIS
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    When I worked at John L Petersen‘s think tank The Arlington Institute, the boss often used to ask me for a “leading indicator” — and I’d reply that one data point seldom meant anything to me, whereas two in parallel or opposition might indicate a trend. My motto became “two is the first number” — a mantram I’ve repeated here from time to time [1, 2, 3], finding notable backup in Aristotle, Carl Jung, and the Ismaili Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, as reported in my post It is always good to find oneself in good company.

    Graeme Wood must feel some satisfaction in having written profiles of two such opposite yet well-matched men as Georgelas and Spencer — I certainly take delight in the pairing — and the parallelism is truly quite striking. Yet to deduce a trend from the observation that both are “only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians” isn’t grounds for alerting the FBI to profile — let alone surveil — all other such only sons.

    Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

    And yet, and yet.

    Graeme Wood is a writer, not an analyst, and while the specifics here — “only son”, “north-Dallas physician” — do not in themselves provide “actionable intelligence” for intel purposes, the two stories as Wood spells them out enrich our analytic understanding of the drivers that may be in play in the recruitment of extremists and terrorists.

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    I have a small and tattered pamphlet in my desk, 1876 – 1896, Die ersten zwanzig Jahre der Bayreuther Bühnenfestspiele by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who later married Richard Wagner‘s daughter Eva von Bülow.

    Chamberlain’s pamphlet about Wagner’s operas and the theater he built for them in Bayreuth, published there in Bayreuth in 1896, is not his best-known work, however. That would be his two-volume work, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, or The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century — published in the same year, 1899, as Freud‘s Die Traumdeutung — which was to provide Nazism with some of its anti-Semitic ideology. Of similar interest, his 1905 Aryan Worldview.

    Chamberlain’s letter to Hitler in 1923 has to my ear some resonance with discussions of Donald Trump today:

    Now I believe I understand that it is precisely this that characterizes and defines your being: the true awakener is at the same time the bestower of peace.

    You are not at all, as you have been described to me, a fanatic. In fact, I would call you the complete opposite of a fanatic. The fanatic inflames the mind, you warm the heart. The fanatic wants to overwhelm people with words, you wish to convince, only to convince them-and that is why you are successful. Indeed, I would also describe you as the opposite of a politician, in the commonly accepted sense of the word, for the essence of all politics is membership of a party, whereas with you all parties disappear, consumed by the heat of your love for the fatherland. It was, I think, the misfortune of our great Bismarck that he became, as fate would have it (by no means through innate predisposition), a little too involved in politics. May you be spared this fate.

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    I am chasing down byways of history and culture here to be sure — and it is not my intention to make a facile comparison between Trump and Hitler. But Wagner — surely it is interesting to note that not only were Hitler and Chamberlain obsessed with Wagner’s operas, but Graeme Wood’s account of Spencer notes that at one point Richard Spencer worked as “a gofer at the Bavarian State Opera”.

    Echo? Parallelism? Kinship?

    Wagner is a cultural influence of connsiderable strength — as an Alex Ross article in the New Yorker, The Case for Wagner in Israel, notred in 2012:

    In recent decades, musicians have periodically attempted to play Wagner in Israel, setting off impassioned protests; Na’ama Sheffi’s book “The Ring of Myths: The Israelis, Wagner, and the Nazis” gives an account of them. At an Israel Philharmonic concert in 1981, Zubin Mehta, after giving audience members an opportunity to leave the hall, conducted the “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde” as an encore; in response, Ben-Zion Leitner, a Holocaust survivor and a hero of the First Arab-Israeli War, walked in front of the podium, bared his scarred stomach, and shouted, “Play Wagner over my body.” Similarly charged scenes unfolded when Daniel Barenboim led the “Tristan” Prelude in Jerusalem in 2001. This past summer, an effort by the Israel Wagner Society to present a concert at Tel Aviv University created yet another media frenzy; in the end, the university withdrew its permission, and plans to move the event to a Hilton subsequently fell through. The Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, who was to have led the concert, has personal reasons for campaigning against the unwritten ban: his mother, who was forced to leave Vienna in 1939, felt that if her son could conduct Wagner in Israel it would amount to a final victory over Hitler, and he still hopes to realize her dream.

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    An author’s skilled meanderings in cultural associations may not make for actionable intelligence, but they do provide invaluable context for the overt tides and little known undertows of human history.

    Which in turn affect us all, and which we in turn may wish to affect or deflect..

    King Cnut rebukes N Carolina legislators, & Trump by extension

    Saturday, August 12th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — a meditation on sea-level rise ]
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    A thousand years later, the lesson King Cnut sought to teach his nobles still hasn’t altogether sunk in.

    The North Carolina story is from 2012, and I haven’t been tracking to see if there have been any changes since then — but the attitude behind the gutting of the EPA under President Trump is simply “more of the same”..

    Humility is the key word in the article on King Cnut.

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    Sources:

  • ABC News, New Law in North Carolina Bans Latest Scientific Predictions of Sea-Level Rise
  • Wikipedia, King Canute and the waves
  • Ouroboros catch’em post

    Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — attempting to keep the self-eating serpents in one pen, so they don’t get tangled in your hair and eyes ]
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    From Aneurism, a brilliant long-form essay by neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, from his book Do No Harm, and presented in Slightly More Than 100 Exceptional Works of Journalism:

    Are the thoughts that I am thinking as I look at this solid lump of fatty protein covered in blood vessels really made out of the same stuff? And the answer always comes back–they are–and the thought itself is too crazy, too incomprehensible, and I get on with the operation.

    From Political Tracts of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley via PR Beckman:

    The purpose of the historian, to Coleridge, is the same as that of the poet : to convert a series of events, which constitute the straight-line of real or imagined history, into a whole, so that the series shall assume to our understanding “a circular motion — the snake with its tail in its mouth.”

    Here’s one more:

    And this I can’t resist — there’s hope for humankind!

    There will no doubt be others, which I’ll drop into the comment section. So you don’t need to be troubled by a new post every time I see one.

    If your memory serves you well..

    Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — Muslim travel ban DoubleQuoted with Japanese internment camps, history rhyming, Ginsberg on Dylan’s national rhyme ]
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    Anna O Law (The Immigration Battle in American Courts, Cambridge, 2014) made the connection:

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    What kind of rhyme is that anyway, Mister History?

    Is it one like:

    Idiot wind, blowing everytime you move your jaw,
    From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Mardi Gras.

    — the first version the current Nobel Laureate in Literature tried out — or this, definitive one? —

    Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull,
    From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol.

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    The question interests me because there’s a back-level where the rhyme is in the concept, not the sound of the words as pronounced by poet or listener, reader — as with the rhyme womb / tomb, where before-birth and after-death meet both soncally and conceptually, making life freshly worthwhile as only the mechanics of poetry can.

    Ginsberg explains:

    Christopher Ricks, who has also penned books about T. S. Eliot and John Keats, argues that Dylan’s lyrics not only qualify as poetry, but that Dylan is among the finest poets of all time, on the same level as Milton, Keats, and Tennyson. He points to Dylan’s mastery of rhymes that are often startling and perfectly judged. For example, this pairing from “Idiot Wind,” released in 1975:

    Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull,
    From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol

    The metaphorical relation between the head and the head of state, both of them two big domes, and the “idiot wind” blowing out of Washington, D.C., from the mouths of politicians, made this particular lyric the “great disillusioned national rhyme,” according to Allen Ginsberg.

    Ginsberg’s formidable liking for this rhyme is part of what got him invited to Dylan’s Rolling thunder Review:

    Ginsberg’s tribute to that rhyme is one of the reasons he is here with Bob and Joan and the rest of the merry motley. It was, says Allen, “one of the little sparks of intelligence that passed between Bob and me and that led him to invite me on the tour.”

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    I caught the rolling thunder in Fort Collins:

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    Ah yes.

    And If your memory serves you well is, as I recall via Google, Dylan’s top of the hat to Rimbaud‘s A Season in Hell, which opens with the words:

    Jadis, si je me souviens bien, ma vie était un festin où s’ouvraient tous les cœurs, où tous les vins coulaient.

    This Wheel’s On Fire, lyrics by that Nobel fellow, Rick Danko and the Band:

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    Memory, pattern, association, analogy, history, learning.

    And Dylan on how literature works on you a similar wonder — in his recently released Nobel speech:

    Music to my ears.


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