“We are the People“: The Rise of the German Righ

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Ben Mauk in n+1:

LIKE ITS POLITICS, Germany’s version of bowling—kegeln—is a muted affair. You arrive at the kegelbahn by descending into the basement of a certain genus of unpretentious bar, with mastodonic beer mugs, imitation wainscoting, and a permissive smoking policy. The oldest alleys have been operating beneath these pubs for more than a century without mechanization or electronic upgrade, just two narrow wooden lanes—unwaxed and slightly concave—running the length of a bare hallway toward nine pins arranged in a diamond. Due to the slight bowing of the lane you need to bowl the croquet-sized ball so that it traces the path of a sine wave back and forth across the boards, moving gently to the left, then the right, until it reaches the pins, ideally just a hair off-center. A designated teammate reassembles the diamond and returns your ball by rolling it down a freestanding metal chute.

As an American whose experiences of both bowling and politics are those of fully automated, high-gloss, thunderous spectacles, I was excited when a friend invited me to the bowling night of one of the Berlin chapters of Social Democrats (SPD). I imagined that I would learn something about two national traditions. It was plain luck that I happened to come the night Berlin’s mayor, Michael Müller, turned up. We even bowled against each other, using the same craggy gray sponge to moisten our hands before each turn. The center-left politician was an expert bowler. He knew exactly how much force to apply in order to get the ball maneuvering back and forth over the center. I rolled mostly gutterballs.

After the game, we gathered around the basement’s long table for the nightly meeting, where various political issues are traditionally discussed. But tonight everyone was bursting to talk with Müller about the same thing: the previous day’s election results. Three of Germany’s state legislatures had held elections on March 13th, and Alternative for Germany (AfD), the country’s new far-right populist party, had managed to enter all three state parliaments, winning double-digit portions of the vote in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saxony-Anhalt. In the latter state, AfD won a startling 24 percent of the vote, upending the coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU) and SPD. A new, larger coalition would have to be formed, possibly with the Greens, to reach a majority.

More here.

Walter Benjamin’s Blog

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David Beer reviews Walter Benjamin’s Archive (edited by Ursula Marx, Gudran Schwarz, Michael Schwarz, Erdmut Wizisla and translated by Esther Leslie) in Berfrois:

Walter Benjamin’s Archive, which has just been published in paperback to mark the 75thanniversary of his untimely death, has left me thinking that Benjamin might just have been a blogger in the making. The way that he organised and archived his work suggests that he would have embraced the classification, archiving and tagging facilities typical of blogging – he seemed to have a certain enthusiasm for metadata on his own works. We can then add to this his eagerness to share his work and his interest in capturing the everyday fragments and ephemera of modernity. And then we also have his non-linear approach to thought and expression.

I arrived at this conclusion whilst delving into this book’s revelations about the backstage processes that fed into Benjamin’s outputs. The unfinished book The Arcades Project has always given a flavour of these working practices, with its accumulating constellations of ephemera and ideas, but the guided and curated tour of the archives provided by this book show us his craft much greater detail. Seeing inside his working practices shows us the type of processes that he went through – from the type of paper, the size of the writing, the use of notepads, the collating of images, the classificatory overviews, the realisation of connections and patterns. These are all put on display in this book. We see, for instance, as his life became increasingly peripatetic, how Benjamin used whatever paper he could lay his hands on. We have Benjamin writing on hotel paper and prescription pads alongside more professional bound and durable notepads. The very paper became tellingly valuable. Benjamin’s scraps were far from scrappy though, they were full of thoughts on the world, serious thoughts from anything on the built environment to Kafka. We see how he used up every tiny bit of his precious notebooks with ordered yet kaleidoscopic ideas, that he liked to re-arrange and to cross-cut his thoughts, to find new connections and enable the pieces to fall into new and perhaps neglected, or otherwise invisible patterns.

As the editors of the collection have put it, “knowledge that is organized into slips and scraps knows no hierarchy”. Removing such a hierarchy opens up new possibilities for thought to escape convention.

More here.

Colour

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Richard Marshall interviews Jonathan Cohen in 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM: You’re a leading expert in philosophy of mind and colour has been a key focus of your thinking in this area, using it to draw out philosophically interesting questions and answers. You cite CL Hardin as bringing about a sea change in the philosophy of colour: was it because he insisted that philosophers took on board the results of science that make him so important for the field? Have the armchair philosophers of mind been banished, and is this a good thing?

JC: Hardin’s 1988 book, Color for Philosophers, was transformative because it showed how advances in color science (which, I think it’s fair to say, hadn’t been centrally on the radar of philosophers of mind and perception at the time) had the capacity to reshape longstanding philosophical disputes about color. To a crude first approximation, the landscape of philosophical options, and the kinds of considerations used to choose between those options one saw in philosophical writing about color in the decades before Hardin looked surprisingly similar to those present in philosophical writing about color in the 16th and 17th centuries, in great modern philosophers like Boyle, Galileo, and Locke. Hardin pointed out that the science of color had moved considerably forward since the modern period, and showed by example that its discoveries could constrain philosophical debates about the nature of color and color perception in new and unanticipated ways.

It is too strong to say that the armchair philosophers of mind have now been banished — there are still many good ways to do important and interesting philosophy (about color and other topics) that are motivated by different mixes of empirical and non-empirical considerations. But I do think it is an adequacy constraint on responsible philosophical theorizing that one’s views must ultimately mesh in some way with our best theories of the world. And in cases where one is arguing about a subject, such as color, language, or mind, about which there is a reasonably well-established body of empirical knowledge, this requires respecting — a fortiori knowing something about — the relevant facts. I take this not to be any special constraint on philosophical theorizing in particular, but simply a matter of being a responsible inquirer in any field. In my view, philosophical work on color scores better on this yardstick now than it did before Hardin shook the field from its dogmatic slumber.

3:AM: Hardin argued that objects weren’t coloured didn’t he, so he wasn’t a colour realist but some kind of eliminatist? Why do you disagree with him?

JC: Hardin thinks not only that philosophers should pay attention to the findings of the contemporary color sciences, but that these findings collectively amount to an exceedingly stringent set of constraints on what colors could be — indeed, that these constraints are so stringent that nothing that satisfies all of them, i.e., that there are no colors in the actual world.

More here.

Sunday Poem

Per Fumum
(through smoke)

My mother became an ornithologist
when the grackle tumbled through barbecue smoke
and fell at her feet. Soon she learned
why singers cage birds; it can take weeks
to memorize a melody – 
the first days lost as they mope
and warble a friendless note,
the same tone every animal memorizes
hours into breathing. It’s a note
a cologne would emit if the bottle was struck
while something mystical was aligned
with something even more mystical
but farther away. My father was an astronomer
for forty minutes in a row
the first time a bus took us so far
from streetlights he could point out constellations
that may or may not have been Draco,
Orion, Aquila, or Crux.
When they faded I resented the sun’s excess,
a combination of fires I couldn’t smell.
The first chemist was a perfumer
whose combinations, brushed
against pulse points, were unlocked
by quickening blood. From stolen perfumes
I concocted my personal toxin.
It was no more deadly than as much water
to any creature the size of a roach. I grew suspicious
of my plate and lighter Bunsen burner,
the tiny vials accumulating in my closet.
I was a chemist for months
before I learned the difference
between poisoned and drowned.
When my bed caught fire
it smelled like a garden.
.

by Jamaal May
from: Poetry, Vol. 203, No. 5, 2014

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The Dirty Old Men of Pakistan

Mohammed Hanif in The New York Times:

Hanif-superJumboKarachi, Pakistan — IN the world we live in, there is no dearth of pious men who believe that most of the world’s problems can be fixed by giving their women a little thrashing. And this business of a man’s God-given right to give a woman a little thrashing has brought together all of Pakistan’s pious men. A few weeks ago, Pakistan’s largest province passed a new law called the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act. The law institutes radical measures that say a husband can’t beat his wife, and if he does he will face criminal charges and possibly even eviction from his home. It proposes setting up a hotline women can call to report abuse. In some cases, offenders will be required to wear a bracelet with a GPS monitor and will not be allowed to buy guns. A coalition of more than 30 religious and political parties has declared the law un-Islamic, an attempt to secularize Pakistan and a clear and present threat to our most sacred institution: the family. They have threatened countrywide street protests if the government doesn’t back down.

Their logic goes like this: If you beat up a person on the street, it’s a criminal assault. If you bash someone in your bedroom, you’re protected by the sanctity of your home. If you kill a stranger, it’s murder. If you shoot your own sister, you’re defending your honor. I’m sure the nice folks campaigning against the bill don’t want to beat up their wives or murder their sisters, but they are fighting for their fellow men’s right to do just that. It’s not only opposition parties that are against the bill: The government-appointed Council of Islamic Ideology has also declared it repugnant to our religion and culture. The council’s main task is to ensure that all the laws in the country comply with Shariah. But basically it’s a bunch of old men who go to sleep worrying that there are all these women out there trying to trick them into bed. Maybe that’s why there are no pious old women on the council, even though there’s no shortage of them in Pakistan. The council’s past proclamations have defended a man’s right to marry a minor, dispensed him from asking for permission from his first wife before taking a second or a third, and made it impossible for women to prove rape. It’s probably the most privileged dirty old men’s club in the country.

More here.

The data republic

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In The Economist:

“TECHNOLOGY IS NEITHER good nor bad; nor is it neutral,” said the late Melvin Kranzberg, one of the most influential historians of machinery. The same is true for the internet and the use of data in politics: it is neither a blessing, nor is it evil, yet it has an effect. But which effect? And what, if anything, needs to be done about it?

Jürgen Habermas, the German philosopher who thought up the concept of the “public sphere”, has always been in two minds about the internet. Digital communication, he wrote a few years ago, has unequivocal democratic merits only in authoritarian countries, where it undermines the government’s information monopoly. Yet in liberal regimes, online media, with their millions of forums for debate on a vast range of topics, could lead to a “fragmentation of the public” and a “liquefaction of politics”, which would be harmful to democracy.

The ups and downs of the presidential campaign in America and the political turbulences elsewhere seem to support Mr Habermas’s view. Indeed, it is tempting to ask whether all this online activism is not wasted political energy that could be put to better use in other ways. Indeed, the meteoric rise of many online movements appears to explain their equally rapid demise: many never had time to build robust organisations.

But online activism cannot be dismissed. Some movements have had real impact, either by putting an issue on the political agenda or by taking over an existing organisation. Without the Occupy movement, the debate about income inequality in America would be much less prominent. The same goes for the Black Lives Matter campaign and violence against African-Americans. In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters managed to commandeer the Labour Party. In America, Donald Trump seems about to do the same with the Republican Party (though whether he can do it to the whole country remains to be seen).

More here.

The Coming Desert

Kropotkin

Mike Davis in The New Left Review:

Anthropogenic climate change is usually portrayed as a recent discovery, with a genealogy that extends no further backwards than Charles Keeling sampling atmospheric gases from his station near the summit of Mauna Loa in the 1960s, or, at the very most, Svante Arrhenius’s legendary 1896 paper on carbon emissions and the planetary greenhouse. In fact, the deleterious climatic consequences of economic growth, especially the influence of deforestation and plantation agriculture on atmospheric moisture levels, were widely noted, and often exaggerated, from the Enlightenment until the late nineteenth century. The irony of Victorian science, however, was that while human influence on climate, whether as a result of land clearance or industrial pollution, was widely acknowledged, and sometimes envisioned as an approaching doomsday for the big cities (see John Ruskin’s hallucinatory rant, ‘The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century’), few if any major thinkers discerned a pattern of natural climate variability in ancient or modern history. The Lyellian world-view, canonized by Darwin in The Origin of Species, supplanted biblical catastrophism with a vision of slow geological and environmental evolution through deep time. Despite the discovery of the Ice Age(s) by the Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz in the late 1830s, the contemporary scientific bias was against environmental perturbations, whether periodic or progressive, on historical time-scales. Climate change, like evolution, was measured in eons, not centuries.

Oddly, it required the ‘discovery’ of a supposed dying civilization on Mars to finally ignite interest in the idea, first proposed by the anarchist geographer Kropotkin in the late 1870s, that the 14,000 years since the Glacial Maximum constituted an epoch of on-going and catastrophic desiccation of the continental interiors. This theory—we might call it the ‘old climatic interpretation of history’—was highly influential in the early twentieth century, but waned quickly with the advent of dynamic meteorology in the 1940s, with its emphasis on self-adjusting physical equilibrium. What many fervently believed to be a key to world history was found and then lost, discrediting its discoverers almost as completely as the eminent astronomers who had seen (and in some cases, claimed to have photographed) canals on the Red Planet. Although the controversy primarily involved German and English-speaking geographers and orientalists, the original thesis—postglacial aridification as the driver of Eurasian history—was formulated inside Tsardom’s école des hautes études: St Petersburg’s notorious Peter-and-Paul Fortress where the young Prince Piotr Kropotkin, along with other celebrated Russian intellectuals, was held as a political prisoner.

The famed anarchist was also a first-rate natural scientist, physical geographer and explorer. In 1862, he voluntarily exiled himself to eastern Siberia in order to escape the suffocating life of a courtier in an increasingly reactionary court. Offered a commission by Alexander II in the regiment of his choice, he opted for a newly formed Cossack unit in remote Transbaikalia, where his education, pluck and endurance quickly recommended him to lead a series of expeditions—for the purposes of both science and imperial espionage—into a huge, unexplored tangle of mountain andtaiga wildernesses recently annexed by the Empire. Whether measured by physical challenge or scientific achievement, Kropotkin’s explorations of the lower Amur valley and into the heart of Manchuria, followed by a singularly daring reconnaissance of the ‘vast and deserted mountain region between the Lena in northern Siberia and the higher reaches of the Amur near Chita’, were comparable to the Great Northern Expeditions of Vitus Bering in the eighteenth century or the contemporary explorations of the Colorado Plateau by John Wesley Powell and Clarence King. After thousands of miles of travel, usually in extreme terrain, Kropotkin was able to show that the orography of northeast Asia was considerably different from that envisioned by Alexander von Humboldt and his followers.

More here.

on iris murdoch

UrlSarah Churchwell at The Guardian:

In Iris Murdoch’s novel The Black Prince, a popular writer named Arnold Baffin defends his regular production of books he knows are not as good as he’d like them to be: “Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea. The years pass and one has only one life. If one has a thing at all one must do it and keep on and on and on trying to do it better.” Character here presumably speaks for author, although one also suspects that poor silly Baffin’s platonic conception of a perfect idea is probably less perfect than he thinks. It’s a good bet that Iris Murdoch’s perfect ideas were better.

A published philosopher whose first book was the first book in English on Jean-Paul Sartre, Murdoch wrote novels of ideas about love, as well as the occasional love letter to ideas. Obsession is everywhere in her fictional landscape, but characters are as likely to be obsessed with art as with sex. Adulteration is the game: nothing remains pure, certainly not fidelity to other people, or to social conventions, even the most deeply held. Her characters are most faithful to their conceptions of themselves, which are almost never shared by those around them. In her essay “The Sublime and the Beautiful Revisited”, Murdoch wrote that the most important thing for a novel to reveal, “not necessarily the only thing, but incomparably the most important thing, is that other people exist”. It was a point she made repeatedly outside her fiction: “In the moral life the enemy is the fat relentless ego,” as she wrote in “On ‘God’ and ‘Good’”.

more here.

A Hint of the Demonic: Photography as a Dark Art

0262029456.01.LZZZZZZZMatt Seidel at The Millions:

On the cover of his When I Was a Photographer, we see a studio self-portrait of Félix Nadar in a hot air balloon. The French artist gazes into the distance like Hernán Cortés staring out over the Pacific, binoculars at the ready lest something should warrant closer inspection. He is also fully clothed. When he became the first person to capture an image from the air, he was stark naked. Low on gas, he had closed his balloon’s valve on the ascent and began lightening the load, dropping his trousers, shoes and everything else except his camera onto the ground below. Shivering as he rose to an altitude of 80 meters in his “improvised laboratory,” he produced the world’s first successful aerial photograph. (In his many previous failed attempts, the balloon’s gas valve had been open, which had contaminated the developing bath: “silver iodide [from the bath] with hydrogen sulfur, a wicked couple irrevocably condemned to never produce children.”) Nadar, it could thus be said, was a pioneer in both aerostatic and nude photography.

This triumphant, naked flight is one of the spirited accounts in When I Was a Photographer, Nadar’s 1900-book translated and introduced by Eduardo Cadava and Liana Theodoratou. Nadar’s is not one of those conventional memoirs in which the orderly progression of reminiscences serves to obscure rather than illuminate the subject. Rather, Nadar relates an assortment of vignettes, some approaching the central subject head-on, others slantwise, but all in an engagingly conversational style. Reading Nadar’s eccentric musings brought to mind Max Beerbohm’s praise for the lively, unorthodox prose ofJames McNeill Whistler’s The Gentle Art of Making Enemies: “It matters not that you never knew Whistler, never even set eyes on him. You see him and know him here.” Like Whistler’s, Nadar’s writing is revelatory in the literal sense of the word.

more here.

CAPTIVITY BY GYÖRGY SPIRÓ

Captivity-spiroOttilie Mulzet at The Quarterly Conversation:

György Spiró’s novel Captivity, beautifully rendered into English by Tim Wilkinson, is a work of ambition—almost literally, not only metaphorically, titanic. Undeniably, it is titanic in the sense of the evocation of gargantuan sweep and breadth; and it is no less titanic in its hopes to re-awaken a Latin-Hellenic-Hebraic world at the base of what we now consider the “Global West.”

Indeed, Captivity’s depiction of the classical world is most noteworthy in its viewpoint, taking antiquity at a highly significant remove: the viewpoint of an average Jewish citizen facing the varied spheres of ancient Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and rural Judaea at the beginning of the Common Era. At the same time, the novel itself assumes a similar stance in relation to its new Anglophone readership, as the life’s achievement of a major Hungarian literary talent. Not only has Captivity proven a major success among the Hungarian reading public—going through no fewer than 14 printings of the first edition—but even more importantly, it is the long-awaited capstone to Spiró’s career as a writer. And even more so, it is the mass public success of a Hungarian-Jewish author living through the often grim experience of Hungary in the 20th century (who is, as it happens, a close friend of Imre Kertész, and significantly, the first reviewer, in 1983, to call attention to the importance of Kertész’s Sorstalanság (Fatelessness)).

more here.

The Strange Case of a Nazi Who Became an Israeli Hitman

Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman in Haaretz:

ScreenHunter_1829 Apr. 02 14.07On September 11, 1962, a German scientist vanished. The basic facts were simple: Heinz Krug had been at his office, and he never came home.
The only other salient detail known to police in Munich was that Krug commuted to Cairo frequently. He was one of dozens of Nazi rocket experts who had been hired by Egypt to develop advanced weapons for that country.

HaBoker, a now defunct Israeli newspaper, surprisingly claimed to have the explanation: The Egyptians kidnapped Krug to prevent him from doing business with Israel.

But that somewhat clumsy leak was an attempt by Israel to divert investigators from digging too deeply into the case — not that they ever would have found the 49-year-old scientist.

We can now report — based on interviews with former Mossad officers and with Israelis who have access to the Mossad’s archived secrets from half a century ago — that Krug was murdered as part of an Israeli espionage plot to intimidate the German scientists working for Egypt.

Moreover, the most astounding revelation is the Mossad agent who fired the fatal gunshots: Otto Skorzeny, one of the Israeli spy agency’s most valuable assets, was a former lieutenant colonel in Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS and one of Adolf Hitler’s personal favorites among the party’s commando leaders.

More here. [Thanks to Ali Minai.]

Bombs targeting Christians is extremism, but our everyday bigotry isn’t?

Sadia Abbas in Dawn:

Words ought to fail us. But we can't afford the luxury of that failure anymore than we can afford the luxury of all the other potential failures staring us in the face as this phase of the 21st century performs a fractured, farcical, obscene repeat of the third decade of the twentieth.

LahoreBombs. Suicide attacks. Drones. Bodies of Baloch youth turning up tortured and destroyed on roadsides. Death is the norm as alliances implode. America, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia bicker like graceless divorcees who don't know how to move on. You might call the jihadis children of this marriage, but in this custody battle, everyone fights to give away the children who, in turn, are determined to eat their parents. Vitriol against Muslims and Mexicans sweeps America, internment camps, repatriation, walls, bans on travel. Amidst declining oil prices and more disasters to come, the Saudis crush dissidence and abduct their own princes in luxury airplanes: rendition for the oil rich. Pakistan reaps the brutal, devastating benefits of years of state policy, grandly bankrolled by the US and Saudi Arabia. And no. Not just the cultivation of the jihadis in the service of delusions of regional grandeur and “strategic depth,” all other kinds managing to elude our “leaders.”

…People point out that more Muslims died than Christians. Is this consolation or schadenfreude? In any case, what do we with that fact? To what end does one point this out if one is a Muslim? Are we addressing the jihadis? As in: you killed the wrong people. Is that an implicit acknowledgement that killing the right people is well…right? I don't think that's what people mean when they point out the attack killed more Muslims than Christians. It does, however, seem a symptom of a profound moral aphasia. Out of which side of our mouth do we speak when we do point it out? What does it mean that this was an attack on Christians at Easter and the Muslims were just collateral damage? Let's try to be precise in our grief and rage and list some names: Bishop John Joseph, Shantinagar, Manzoor Masih, Ayub Masih, Gojra, Rimsha Masih, Aasia Bibi, the twin church blasts in Peshawar, Shahbaz Bhatti and…memorise this list. Expand it. Write an unconsoling history.

Now add the names of the dead of Lahore. All of them. And mourn, all of us, together.

More here.