July Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Los Alamos means “the poplars”.
  • A friend lent me J.P. Hogan’s 1980 novel Thrice Upon A Time. It’s set in 2010 but has pre-PC “mini” computers the size of fridges, with text terminals and command-line interfaces. Four years before Neuromancer
  • 1970s computer designers: “What? You folks run your screens in graphics mode all the time? But why? It’s so inefficient compared to text mode! Must be unbearably slow!”
  • Had some skin moles lasered. The smell of burning hair is strong immediately inside the clinic’s front door. The lasering makes a noise like quietly frying bacon.
  • Pluto’s orbit is outside Neptune’s. But the planet that Pluto gets closest to is Uranus. Because it is locked in orbital resonance with Neptune which means it is not overtaken by that planet at the point where their orbits are closest.
  • I don’t understand the business model of running / walking / cycling for charity. I donate regularly to several charities, but I am not influenced in this by anyone running.
  • Chinese snacks and gift items are horrendously over-packaged. More packaging than content.
  • Wife puts stones in the bird bath as life-saving platforms for bugs. But OCD magpies find them incredibly annoying and keep throwing them out.
  • Kindle gets my advertising demographic wrong: “Are you looking for a clean saga that will capture your heart?” Nope nope nope. Maybe you should ask the folks browsing in the Christian Romance section. You know, over there at the opposite end of the enormous book store from where you found me.
  • Just signed a contract to temp for two months at Gothenburg Uni. It means I’ll have temped at most of Sweden’s seven archaeology depts. Uppsala, Lund and Södertörn remain.
  • Funny how red become the Republican Party’s colour. In the 80s its voters used to say “Better dead than red”.
  • You read sometimes about scholars whose careers were cut short because they didn’t have the informal support necessary to secure a steady job. It’s been the other way around with me. I would never have been able to write all these books and papers if I’d had steady teaching duties. People who don’t like my kind of archaeology have certainly made sure that my income’s been slight. But thereby they’ve also made me an exceptionally loud and prolific participant in various fields of research. Historians of scholarship may one day wonder how the hell Rundkvist managed to put out all this stuff. An important part of the answer is that he didn’t have the informal support necessary to secure a steady job.
  • I want to see a major scientific inquiry into what frozen-up computers are doing.
  • Removing the ads from your Kindle takes only a minute on the customer service chat line.
  • I watched Hawk the Slayer at my first con in 1986. All I remember is the cheesy cut & repeat effect when the elf shoots his bow super fast.

Comments

  1. #1 Jazzlet
    July 21, 2017

    I don’t understand the running/walking/cycling for charity thing either. My school had a charity fundraising day every year where one was pretty much forced into some sponsored activity or other, I used to swim a mile. However I never raised very much money because I didn’t have many adults I could ask, all of them just gave me a fixed amount of money and I certainly wasn’t about to knock on neighbour’s doors to ask for sponsorship. In the end I refused to participate and was put to washing aluminium foil milk bottle tops which had been collected over months for the same charitable purpose; as you can imagine they stank, this was definitely punishment. And I am still clearly bitter about the experience! But subsequent experience hasn’t changed my view, give to charities of your choice, don’t try and use emotional blackmail to make me give to those charities.

  2. #2 JustaTech
    July 21, 2017

    At a recent race someone asked me “who are you running for?”
    “Me.”
    Here’s the thing, it’s not like my aunt is going to be cured of cancer if I run a personal record, or even if I win. Nor will she suddenly die if I have a terrible race.

    I can see the motivation behind people who run in memorium (there was a lady who fell to her knees and wept at the picture of the solider in whose memory she was running) but that seems like a very different thing.

    And I am just not going to pester everyone I know for $5000 for a race. Nope, just make that donation directly.

  3. #3 John Massey
    July 22, 2017

    It is indeed a form of emotional blackmail, or worse: the message is that if it is good enough for me to go to this effort in aid of this particular charity, in order to ‘earn’ something, the least you can do is give some money. I sympathise completely with Jazzlet’s view on this.

    I am a fan of the Buddhist belief that an act of charity can only ‘acquire merit’ if no one knows about it. The logic is simple enough – any act of charity which is made public is performed for the purpose of impressing other people; the only purely altruistic charitable act is one which no one knows you have performed. I like this idea so much that I apply it to myself. No one will ever know what I do for charity. So you ask: how do I know you ever do anything for charity? The answer is, you don’t. I am not doing it to impress you, I am doing it because it is the right thing to do, and that is reason enough.

    Meanwhile, credit to Kristina Hildebrand for taking Lars Amréus to task. I also wish to do so, but will hold off out of deference to you, Martin, waiting for you to give your own response first.

    If you think Chinese packaging is overdone, you should see Japanese packaging – Japanese retailers have developed this to such a fine art form that when in Japan, whenever I bought something, I had the urge to throw away the relatively unimpressive item I had bought and just keep the packaging. I solve the dilemma by keeping both.

  4. #4 John Massey
    July 22, 2017

    More on the concreting of park trails in Hong Kong – this article is absolutely spot on; it hits all the right points: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health-beauty/article/2103436/concreting-hong-kong-trails-harms-runners-joints-even-if-its

    And another reflection on charitable donations – in both Hong Kong and Australia (and no doubt in many other places) charitable donations to ‘approved charities’ are allowable as tax deductions. But I never claim them, because to do so would reveal my charitable acts to someone else and breach my personal philosophy. In any case, when I see a bent-over very elderly woman begging in the street because she is so impoverished that she does not have enough money to buy a simple meal (distressingly, an increasing sight here), I put an amount of money in her tin as an act of compassion, not because I am looking for a tax deduction. She is certainly not an ‘approved charity’, but undoubtedly deserving of compassion.

  5. #5 Martin R
    July 22, 2017

    John, I leave bulky packaging at the store’s checkout desk when I go shopping. Saves me work and hopefully sends the management a message.

  6. #6 John Massey
    July 22, 2017

    Yeah. I always do that when I buy shoes; leave the box behind. Evidently now a lot of people do, because now the shop staff always automatically ask me if I want the box or not. Some even say “If you do not want the box, we can reuse it.” Not that I buy shoes much, they make me unhappy.

  7. #7 Kaleberg
    July 23, 2017

    I’ve had a number of friends run/bike/walk as part of charitable fund raisers. Often, the charity is fighting a disease or problem that is affecting or has affected someone my friend knows and loves. I can’t donate to every charity, so I might as well give in to social pressure, and help out a worthy charity and do something nice for a friend. The running/biking/walking, that’s something my friend can do, along with helping to raise money. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of adversity. Maybe running/biking/walking isn’t going to cure cancer or help ex-convicts find jobs, at least not directly, but it fulfills a psychological need. Wringing one’s hands and sobbing isn’t going to help much either, but it’s worse than running/biking/walking for one’s mental health. And, the money might even do some good.

    P.S. This is different from another type of social fund raising, one often used to fund campaigns. In that case, everyone is ready to give something, but no one is sure how much to donate or where to start. Eventually, someone breaks the ice and writes a check and explains why they are giving and why they want to give that much. Then the money starts rolling in. It was a matter of getting things started. This is a pretty old custom. It was a common thing at anti-slavery meetings in England in the early 19th century, for example. Laugh at the gullibility and weakness in the face of social pressure, but keep the technique in mind.

  8. #8 John Massey
    July 23, 2017

    One oddity of Chinese language (or maybe other languages as well, I wouldn’t know) is ‘converted words’, which are words that used to mean one thing, but have now been converted to mean something different, while still remaining identical in both written and spoken form.

    One I have just come across that has struck me as particularly odd – in Cantonese, the word “haau2” (roughly pronounced like the English word “how”, but slightly drawn out, with the 2 at the end signifying a middle rising tone) originally meant “father deceased”. It has now lost that meaning, and now means “to examine” or “to compete”. You can construct some kind of imagined narrative for how the original meaning transformed into the current meaning, but it’s certainly not obvious.

    It seems generally recognised that Cantonese is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn, and there are some reasons for that. The number of different tones that are used is only one of the difficulties, and the sheer speed with which the language changes with time is another.

    But there’s another one. I often see or hear non-Cantonese speakers say that the written form of Chinese is Mandarin, and that Cantonese is only a spoken form. That’s absolutely not true – you can write Cantonese perfectly correctly, and it is different from written Mandarin. But the difficulty arises that a lot of words that you use when you write Cantonese are different from the words you use to mean the same thing when you speak it. Of course, you can speak the written words, and Cantonese speakers who are literate in written Chinese will understand exactly what you mean, but they will think you are rather odd for speaking the written form rather than the spoken form – maybe like you learned Cantonese only in the written form, and don’t know that people don’t actually speak it the way they write it.

    Of course, it follows that it is the spoken form of Cantonese that changes so rapidly. The written form has tended to remain much more stable with time. So it is probably safe to conclude that written Cantonese is the way that people used to speak it, but the spoken form has drifted away from the written form – so speaking the written form sounds kind of something like the equivalent of speaking to someone today in Shakespearian English. Educated people will get your meaning, but think you are pretty weird, or just a pseudo-intellectual poseur.

  9. #9 John Massey
    July 23, 2017

    One of the things that I have found particularly objectionable is the ploy of making school kids sell books of raffle tickets to raise money for charity. There was no way I was going to have my young daughter going around knocking on strange people’s doors or approaching strangers in the street to try to persuade them to buy a raffle ticket. She couldn’t sell any tickets to the parents of her school friends, because their daughters also had books of raffle tickets that they were under an obligation, imposed by the school, to sell.

    So my wife and I hit on the tactic that we would just buy the whole book of tickets – that way, the pressure was off our daughter; she could return to school with all of her tickets sold and the requisite amount of money; social obligation discharged. We never won a bloody thing, by the way, on the several occasions that we did this.

    Then we discovered that *all* of the parents of her schoolmates were doing exactly the same thing that we were doing. 100%. And the school started objecting to what we were doing – it was too easy; it was not ‘respecting the process’ of persuading people in the community to part with money for charity in the ‘right’ way.

    So, and this is an object lesson about what you are up against when you try to take on a bunch of parents; Chinese parents anyway, because we (they, but I’m kind of an honorary Chinese in this context) network like crazy, and we go a long way to help each other in a reciprocal manner when we are concerned collectively about our kids. To get around the school’s objection to parents just buying all of their own kids’ raffle tickets, we parents all got together, and just bought each other’s kids’ raffle tickets. And we could mix it up in a much more complex manner, so all the tickets would get sold to some parent or other, but not just by one parent buying one whole book of tickets from one other parent’s kid. We were a bunch of pretty bright people, and it wasn’t rocket science – figuring out how to make that work took us about 5 seconds. And the school had no possible grounds to object.

    If that was supposed to be one of the school’s ways to try to teach the kids some kind of social responsibility, by flogging raffle tickets to people who didn’t want them in order to weedle money out of them for charity, it absolutely sucked. And we parents won. Parents 1 School 0.

  10. #10 Martin R
    July 23, 2017

    For years I’ve been saying at meetings about end-of-year trips in my kids’ preppy school,

    “This is ridiculous. Everyone here except me is super affluent. Let’s buy 25 candles and sell each one for €300 to the families, and stop doing bake sales that make us €200.”

    But the school won’t allow it and the parents who like to organise bake sales look at me like I’m a bad man.

  11. #11 Birger Johansson
    July 23, 2017

    Nothing about the R¤epublicans is even remotely logic (Think Twin Peaks meets Ctulhu) but in this case it is simply about the Horrible Black Man in the White house.
    During election, journalists on TV used to have states dominated by party of incumbent president in one color, and states dominated by the opposition party in another. When Obama became president, the Republicans became the “red” party and ever since it got stuck.
    Of course Lenin stared off as an oppostunistic populist (before he became a dictator) so the color red is appropriate in one way.

  12. #12 Birger Johansson
    July 23, 2017

    Addendum: I used to say “we are living inside an episode of The Simpsons”.
    Now, it is a David Lynch production. Sean Spicer has been replaced as White House spokesman by the dancing midget.
    Agent Cooper is taking a nap after eating pies and has a dream where the mysterious giant says “covfefe”.
    From the context he instantly understands the message: David Barton is the unseen murderer from “Lost Highway”!And Theresa May is really the log lady.

  13. #13 Birger Johansson
    July 23, 2017

    In saliva, clues to a ‘ghost’ species of ancient human https://phys.org/news/2017-07-saliva-clues-ghost-species-ancient.html

  14. #14 John Massey
    July 23, 2017

    Yes, yet another ghost – our collective past is full of them: the ancient ones. It has been speculated for a while now that there was archaic admixture within subSaharan Africa, distinct from the interbeeding with archaics that occurred outside of Africa, but now there is clear evidence for it.

    And you just don’t realise how important saliva is until you can no longer produce any.

    Martin@10, these things become memes. You just can’t shake them off.

  15. #15 Birger Johansson
    July 24, 2017

    Are there any Freudians left? One of their memes is bound to be applied to what the bishop is holding.

    The frozen-up computers have been hijacked by mathematical entities from the Far Side. They are chanting “He will come soon” in Enochian (see CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the “Laundry” novels).

  16. #16 John Massey
    July 24, 2017

    Jordan Peterson likes Freud. But he reads very different things into Freud from all of the stuff I have read about him. And he thinks Jung was better, and he says that Nietzche was a genius, but that Nietzche was horribly misinterpreted by the German Nazis, and that Nietzche would absolutely have hated what they created.

    I haven’t studied any of this stuff, not really – I’ve glanced at some of it, but there’s only so much time, and you can’t give a close reading to everything, especially if a quick glance suggests that it is all irrelevant, fabricated rubbish, so I can’t really say. Peterson makes it as easy as possible because he breaks it all down and explains it, but it still takes time to watch his lectures, and there are lots of competing demands on time.

    First priority is work, and maintaining professional competence so I can retain my licence to practice. Then there’s continuing language study, and maintaining a reasonable grasp of what is happening in the world that might matter to me, and listening because there are people I love and who really matter to me who want to talk to me about things that matter to them. Then there’s physical maintenance, to keep myself functioning. It turns into a pretty long list of stuff that needs attention. An amazingly long list, actually, and that’s just the important stuff.

  17. #17 John Massey
    July 24, 2017

    I might add that Peterson also says that Freud was wrong, and that Nietzche was wrong. And he has clearly read both of them very closely and thought about it a hell of a lot, and he has read a whole lot of other people very closely too, and he has also practised a lot as a clinical psychologist, as well as being Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto.

    And, just believing what he says about Freud, because the only other option is for me to do my own close reading of everything that Freud did (and I am certainly not going to do that), if there is still anyone out there that thinks that Freud was absolutely right about anything, then they are badly deluded. And that’s the end for me, because I am not going to try to engage with deluded people.

    I read an anonymous comment on one of the blogs I read yesterday, which I thought was really wise: “Never play to a delusion. Unless, literally there’s a gun pointed at you. And then it’s iffy. Just don’t do it. It’s not being an ass to refuse to play along with a delusion or insane ideas.” I think that’s right.

  18. #18 John Massey
    July 25, 2017

    Cautionary tale: a responsible Netizen in the UK tries to report a cyber crime in progress:

    https://hackernoon.com/stumbling-across-a-scam-a-system-inadequate-to-fight-cybercrime-b52f2265c596

    He and his mate could have stopped the crime themselves, but would have been breaking the law if they did so. But is that ultimately the answer to policing cyber crime – vigilante white hat hackers?

  19. #19 JustaTech
    July 26, 2017

    John @9: At least you didn’t do what a few parents at schools I went to did: take the thing we were selling to work and not-so-subtly demand that all the employees buy the thing from their kid.
    This was particularly common if there was some prize to be won by the child who sold the most.
    Kids who’s parents won’t do that (or aren’t senior enough), kids who don’t have lots of local family, kids from poor families? Yeah, sucks to be you.

    At least most of the time the thing I had to sell was wrapping paper, which is a product you might actually want and use up by next year when selling time comes around again.

  20. #20 Phillip Helbig
    Tyskland
    July 26, 2017

    “A friend lent me J.P. Hogan’s 1980 novel Thrice Upon A Time. It’s set in 2010 but has pre-PC “mini” computers the size of fridges, with text terminals and command-line interfaces. Four years before Neuromancer…”

    Things like this are why Fred Pohl called his autobiography The Way the Future Was.

    Actually, Hogan is one of the better of the new generation (old now, of course, but new compared to the Golden Age and so on) writers, at least his early stuff. I haven’t read most of his later stuff. He has also made a name for himself as a crackpot historian, but one can be good in one area and bad in another. I think his best books are Voyage from Yesteryear and Code of the Life-Maker.

  21. #21 Phillip Helbig
    Tyskland
    July 26, 2017

    “Pluto’s orbit is outside Neptune’s.”

    Most of it is. Sometimes it is nearer than Neptune.

  22. #22 Phillip Helbig
    Tyskland
    July 26, 2017

    “Funny how red become the Republican Party’s colour. In the 80s its voters used to say “Better dead than red”.”

    This happened long before the 80s. As is often the case, things like red being associated with the socialists, labour day on 1 May, and Protestants being more liberal than Catholics, are different in the U S of A.

  23. #23 Phillip Helbig
    Tyskland
    July 26, 2017

    “Horrible Black Man in the White house”

    When Trump became President, did anyone say “Orange is the new black”?

  24. #24 Phillip Helbig
    Tyskland
    July 26, 2017

    “During election, journalists on TV used to have states dominated by party of incumbent president in one color, and states dominated by the opposition party in another. When Obama became president, the Republicans became the “red” party and ever since it got stuck.”

    Reference? Red for Republicans and blue for Democrats goes back much longer than Obama.

  25. #25 John Massey
    July 27, 2017

    Phillip@22 – I said that recently somewhere as a joke, but no one reacted. That’s fine, there is not really any response to it anyway.

    @23 – You’re right, of course – these colour designations go back very much further than Obama. I can’t say how far back, but as far back as I can remember.

  26. #26 Birger Johansson
    July 27, 2017

    @24, I am still intrigued that the color designations for election maps got “frozen” instead of switching in accordance with “red”= opposition and “blue”= party of incumbent president. I am told this used to be the practice of US television when covering elections.

    — — —
    A fun clip about how “loyalty” is defined by The Donald.
    https://youtu.be/bXByTyrO-b4
    or, to quote the motto of an infamous organisation, mein ehre heisst truhe.

  27. #27 John Massey
    July 27, 2017

    Birger@25 – I don’t know the answer to that, but I imagine a lot of people would find it confusing. They talk routinely now about the red states and the blue states – like, California is always blue, and Texas is always red, except for Houston, which is blue, because it has become a science/tech hub and a lot of scientists go to live there to work, and the majority of scientist are liberals, unlike engineers, the majority of whom are conservatives (at least in America, and in my experience in Australia also), and there have been some debates (which never actually got anywhere near to solving this apparent puzzle) about why it should be that way. (People come up with all kinds of reasons, most of which are really not tenable, but no one has ever demonstrated satisfactorily why this should be the case. The other thing to know about engineers is that terrorist organisations target engineering schools in universities as recruiting grounds. There have been some frankly pretty bloody stupid debates about that too, which also got nowhere. All I can tell you with certainty, because I know, is that there is nothing about an engineering education that will turn you into either a conservative or a terrorist. They also target doctors and medical schools, although most people choose not to mention that. It turns out that terrorists, including suicidal ones, are mostly not poor people, like impoverished resentful revolutionary types, they tend to be middle to upper class types. And that is food for thought, for sure, although I don’t know what to conclude from it.)

    And they need to choose two colours like red and blue because there is no red-blue colour blindness, except in people who have no colour perception at all, and they are pretty rare and tend to have other vision problems as well.

  28. #28 Birger Johansson
    July 27, 2017

    “Alt-right mouthpiece gets a terrific lesson on diversity in Roman Britain” http://www.thepoke.co.uk/2017/07/26/alt-right-mouthpiece-gets-terrific-lesson-diversity-roman-britain/
    Ha! DNA shows people in Londinium came from all over.

    “Terrorists, including suicidal ones, are mostly not poor people, like impoverished resentful revolutionary types, they tend to be middle to upper class types”

    I suppose that people who are genuinely disadvantaged have their hands full with putting food on the table, from one day to the next. The upper and middle classes have always been fond of appointing themselves as spokespeople for the proles (and this presumably applies to religion as well).
    Few farmers at Eufrat will be obsessed with the theological differences between shia and sunni Islam. Until the propaganda apparatus run by others thell them to kill their neighbours.

  29. #29 Birger Johansson
    July 27, 2017

    First exomoon might have been spotted 4000 light years away https://www.newscientist.com/article/2141982-first-exomoon-might-have-been-spotted-4000-light-years-away/ If the Neptune-sized moon is real, it is probably originally a planet that was later caught in orbit around a Jovian world.

  30. #30 Birger Johansson
    July 27, 2017

    (Vomits) -This is “honour culture”, and it is not limited to Islamic countries.
    “20 members of Pakistan village council accused of ordering rape of girl” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/27/20-members-of-pakistan-village-council-accused-of-ordering-of-girl

    Australia’s female composers are having a moment. We need to harness that energy https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jul/27/australian-women-composers-are-being-brought-into-the-spotlight-and-not-a-moment-too-soon-and-we-should-embrace-it

  31. #31 John Massey
    July 28, 2017

    Birger@27 – Organisations like IS have succeeded in radicalising and recruiting disaffected, impoverished and very resentful young men who are minorities living in countries where they suffer high unemployment and a lot of active discrimination from the local majority (and if my polite, friendly and obviously harmless little Chinese wife who is trying like crazy to assimilate can suffer discrimination at the hands of the Anglo-Celtic majority every single time she leaves the house, it’s not hard to imagine what these resentful young males hanging around the streets with nothing to do get thrown at them), but they recruit and train them as soldiers to fight in what they see as holy wars.

    Young men in general are predisposed hormonally and culturally to be very ready to go to war if someone gives them enough reason to. This kicks in around the age of 14, when they get a huge spike of testosterone, and they get over it when they reach the age of about 28, when the testosterone level starts to drop (both creativity and criminality peak during this period, which is kind of interesting). The terrorist, and specifically the suicidal lone wolf terrorist, is a different kind of person, and typically not impoverished. I don’t pretend to understand what drives that.

    But studying engineering doesn’t do it to you, although it might help to teach you some of the tools of the trade, so to speak. And medicine, well, I just don’t get that at all. Why a medical doctor like Guevara should morph into a mass murdering monster is beyond me. I suppose the answer is that all humans have the capacity for evil as well as the capacity for good, but most of us, given half a chance and a minimal amount of common human dignity and respect, choose not to act out the evil.

  32. #32 Phillip Helbig
    Tyskland
    July 28, 2017

    “I am still intrigued that the color designations for election maps got “frozen” instead of switching in accordance with “red”= opposition and “blue”= party of incumbent president. I am told this used to be the practice of US television when covering elections.”

    I am pretty sure that this was never the case. It has been red and blue since at least the 1970s, and before that much television was black and white.

    Well, at least I thought so. Apparently it is not that old: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_states_and_blue_states

    However, it was always parties, not incument/opposition.

  33. #33 Birger Johansson
    July 28, 2017

    Philip, I stand corrected.

    John, Guevara travelled through Latin America in his youth and came to Guatemala that had just sufferef a CIA-instigated coup. What he saw apparently fuelled a lifelong hatred in him.

    I am also told that having his first wife executed by the regime *may* have pushed Mao into his later Stalinesque persona, but these armchair speculations can never be verified.

    Then we have the example of the SS camp guards, many of whom were normal people but the system and peer pressure dragged them along into becoming mass murderers.
    There are always some (like Andrei Sakharov in the USSR) who refuse to go along, but the common herd keep their heads down and obey to survive.

    Lighter stuff. Not Gangnam style, but Faroe Island style https://satwcomic.com/let-s-party

  34. #34 Birger Johansson
    July 28, 2017

    (Completely OT)
    I assume many of you need mental relief from American bad news so I found this episode of Brit humor show, British election special:
    Have I Got Election News For You – S53E08 (9 June 2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScRo7g32r5A

    More OT good news “Glowing tumor technology helps surgeons remove hidden cancer cells” https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-07-tumor-technology-surgeons-hidden-cancer.html

  35. #35 Martin R
    July 28, 2017

    Mao’s behaviour already as a young man suggests clinical psychopathy unless I’m misinformed. He didn’t even care about his children.

  36. #36 John Massey
    July 29, 2017

    Birger@32 – I think the (very common) reference to people supporting a murderous totalitarian regime and committing crimes against humanity because the system and peer pressure dragged them into it, obeying to survive, is actually the wrong way round. Hitler rose to power because the majority of German people wanted what he was proposing to them, and they put him into that position of power. And the process pushed him to further and further extremes. He would make a public speech and suggest something, and the people hearing the speech would respond very forcefully and positively in a way that affirmed to him that he should go in that direction. And so he was pushed further and further into inhumanly cruel and malevolent policies, because he kept getting strong group affirmation that was the direction he should go in.

    I mean, he was never going to be a nice, benevolent guy, right, he was a hugely resentful and hate-filled individual, and that festered and grew in him because of his life experiences. But without the strong public affirmation that he got whenever he addressed the public, he could not have progressed to where he ended up. So the idea that the German people were just innocent bystanders who were dragged into supporting this massively malevolent regime in order to survive just doesn’t survive critical analysis.

    It’s worth noting that the context for this was that they had fought a dreadful war with massive casualties and suffering, suffered the humiliation of defeat, had hugely burdensome reparations imposed on them which impoverished them, made their money worthless and destroyed their economy, and then they were plunged into the Great Depression. And that whole process went on relentlessly for decades. And that does something to people.

    The thing to understand about people, normal people, and it’s not a comfortable thing to recognise, but it’s maybe important to recognise it – all people, normal people, have the propensity for good, and the propensity for evil. With a psychopath like Mao, there is no conscience constraining the evil. Most people are not psychopaths, and so their propensity for evil is constrained; they get evil thoughts, if they pay attention closely enough to observing their own thoughts, but they don’t come anywhere close to acting them out.

    With Guevara, the idea that, well, I killed all these people because I was driven to it by the tragedy of what those bastards did to my first wife, or what I saw the CIA do to Guatemala, like…no. No you didn’t. People are hit by dreadful tragedy in their lives all the time, and they don’t turn into murderous monsters.

    That’s not an original thought, by the way, I stole it from someone who explains it very much better than I can. But it is the reverse of the very common narrative that you hear about Nazi Germany. “Not my fault – I was just following orders.” Nope.

  37. #37 John Massey
    July 29, 2017

    One of the things that I have heard from Nazi concentration camp survivors (and I have known a few) was that the most bestial and cruel camp guards were not Germans, they were Croatians. When I was a kid, I was very friendly with a Croatian family, and they were nice, normal people – definitely not the sort of people you would associate with that kind of behaviour. But I saw what they morphed into when confronted by Serbs. That is when the bitter, uncompromising hatred in them, and in the Serbs for them, revealed itself. And these were people living in and adapted to Australia, a million miles from the former Yugoslavia. The kids had all been born in Australia.

    I heard a similar thing about Japanese prisoner of war camps, and as a young kid I met plenty of Australian servicemen who had managed to survive those camps – the most bestial and cruel camp guards were not Japanese, they were Koreans. The Japanese deluded themselves that they were acting out the will of their Divine Emperor. There is no evidence that the Koreans thought that.

    As for the Japanese, so, they raped Chinese women and murdered Chinese babies in incredibly high numbers in Nanjing because that is what their Divine Emperor wanted them to do. No, I don’t think so. The raping and killing in Nanjing finally stopped when the Japanese officers finally managed to get their troops under control and ordered them to stop doing it.

  38. #38 Martin R
    July 29, 2017

    It’s difficult to get soldiers to actually shoot at enemies. I guess once you’re past that hurdle anything goes. You become brutal.

  39. #39 John Massey
    July 29, 2017

    Oh, my bad, I see it was Mao’s first wife who was executed, not Guevara’s. Maybe Guevara’s first cigar was stubbed out against his will – that could really affect a person very badly. Bill Clinton found a solution for what to do with his cigars, which he evidently regarded as an improvement on smoking them and them stubbing them out.

    Well, anyone who thinks the execution of his wife turned Mao into the narcissistic psychopath that he was is kidding themselves.

  40. #40 John Massey
    July 29, 2017

    Martin@37 – Astute observation: a high proportion of testosterone-fuelled young men are very ready to go to war, given enough reason, but when it comes to the point of actually having to kill another human, most of them find it extremely difficult and traumatic, far more difficult than they imagined it would be. You have to absolutely demonise the enemy before you can even bring yourself to pull the trigger. Some enjoy it, but they are definitely a minority. This helps to explain why so many soldiers suffer post traumatic stress disorder – they have had to do things which they feel are horrific, and they never recover from that.

    There is an element of brutalisation; I think once you have done it once, and if you can survive the psychological trauma of having done it, then doing it again and again is just additive increments. But even for most soldiers who (1) are not psychopaths, but (2) show no evidence of suffering from PTSD brought on by what they have had to do in war, or even just the horrors of what they have witnessed in war, try getting them to talk about it. They won’t do it. They just won’t. I think that for normal soldiers, any brutalisation that happens is a temporary thing, and it disappears again when they return to normal society. They don’t remain murdering monsters.

    My ex-brother-in-law had a grandfather who had been awarded a medal for bravery in WWI for charging a German trench and bayonetting to death 7 German soldiers. Of course, people wanted to ask him about that experience. His response was that he hid his medal in a drawer where no one could find it, and he would never speak about what he did. No matter how hard people pressed or tried to cajole him into recounting his experiences, he simply refused to speak of them.

  41. #41 Martin R
    July 29, 2017

    It’s a truth as old as writing on military topics that battle-hardened troops are much better than green ones. I always find it chilling to think of what this hardedness entails in psychological terms.

  42. #42 John Massey
    July 29, 2017

    I’m trying to be an amateur psychologist here, and I shouldn’t do it because I’m not qualified to do it.

    But I think that ‘hardening’ process that is referred to in battle-hardened troops is that they have learned to suppress their own conscience,and their horrified reactions to all of the dreadful things happening around them, to enable them to focus on just doing what they need to do, and do it. Plus there’s the acquired experience of how to go about doing it, of course. A lot of green soldiers who find themselves in the middle of a pitched battle for the first time just freeze because they don’t know what to do.

  43. #43 John Massey
    July 29, 2017

    I forget the number exactly, but someone published a paper on American troops who engaged in the liberation of Europe after the Normandy landings. It was something like: only one in ten American infantry soldiers actually fired their rifles. The majority never pulled the trigger, for the whole of the campaign.

  44. #44 John Massey
    July 29, 2017

    Maybe that number is wrong; maybe it was one in three. What I’m trying to winkle out is the principle: that the majority of American infantry riflemen (and I’m not picking on Americans, particularly, it’s just that the paper I saw was a study on American soldiers) did not fire their weapons, including guys who went through some big pitched battles against the Germans. Never fired a shot. And that’s not cowardice; that’s not what it was. If they were cowards they would never have been there in the first place. It was something else.

  45. #45 John Massey
    July 29, 2017

    I watched the 2017 film “Ghost in the Shell”. I enjoyed it because the street scenes and cityscapes were all shot in Hong Kong (yeah, Scarlett Johansson was walking all around HK and I missed her – damn!), all places intimately familiar to me, but erm visually enhanced, so I saw all these places that I have been many times, but with a surreal overlay, which fascinated me, and I think it was well done. For anyone who watches the film and doesn’t know, yes, parts of urban HK do actually look exactly like that, but without the visual enhancement, which is obvious when you see the film.

    It is not a good film. The storyline is just not interesting. Scarlett Johansson does an excellent acting job in the lead role of Major, who is basically a robot with an implanted human brain, and her performance is enjoyable to watch, but the film doesn’t live up to the level of her performance, or stunning appearance. I found myself getting bored with the story. I’m not into the genre (Japanese cult manga?) at all, and after watching this, I have absolutely no desire to see any more of it.

    All of the virtue-signalling and screeching that went on about how the lead role should have been given to an actress of Japanese ancestry was really not warranted. It’s a bloody robot, for crying out loud, it could look like anyone. You can’t whitewash a robot. Evidently, manga fan audiences in Japan really didn’t give a damn about that, they thought the casting was a normal thing to do and that Johansson’s appearance, or ancestry, or whatever, was “immaterial” – Japanese manga fans obviously get it, Major is a robot, a cyborg, whatever. Someone wrote that Japanese Americans find the casting of Johansson “distressing”. Well, what pathetic special little snowflakes they must be, if they feel “distressed” by something like that – and who was the democratically elected spokesperson who was authorised to say that on behalf of all Japanese American cult manga anime whatever fans anyway? It’s garbage.

    On the whole, although I enjoyed the visuals and Scarlett’s performance, I really can’t recommend the film. Watch it just out of curiosity if it won’t cost you much, fine, but it’s not a good film.

  46. #46 John Massey
    July 29, 2017

    I also watched the 2017 film “Kong: Skull Island”. Well made, well acted, enjoyable enough mindless fun. That’s all. I feel like screeching about how distressed I am that they didn’t use a real gorilla in the role of Kong, but I just can’t summon the energy.

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