onsdag 30 mars 2011

I did this!

The joke here is of course that Sarge, a grown man and one of the strip's strongest – in fact, frequently brutal – authority figures behaves like a child when it comes to his weaknesses (mainly food, of course), and that the military buildup of the joke in the first two panels (binoculars, speeding jeep) would lead the reader to believe that he has spotted something of military importance, like an advancing enemy.

tisdag 29 mars 2011

Back from the bookstore

OK, I will admit upfront that going back to school to study art history did take a big bite out of my available time; hence the somewhat weak blogging record this month. We'll see what can be done about that once the next exam is over and done with. Meanwhile, I did go back to the spring book sale for some extra stuff that I'll have time to read... Well, sometime after those already-mentioned exams, perhaps.

Two art history books with some gorgeous pictures, and an Hergé biography. At least they'll look good on the bookshelf, even if they'll have to wait a spot before getting the attention they deserve.

söndag 27 mars 2011

Cheering dictators on Swedish public-sevice television

Björn Kumm is an old journalist and fan of revolutionary movements who has written a biography of his old fave Fidel Castro. Here he is being interviewed about it by Mattias Österlund in a program produced by the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company, UR, and broadcasted by Kunskapskanalen – "the Knowledge Channel". Kumm does the standard dance-around to avoid admitting the political oppression that Castro stands for, while extolling his hero for being such a strong, charismatic, inspiring, forceful and thoughtful person. 

And Österlund listens intently and very respectfully to dictator-fan Kumm, who compares Castro, a dictator who doesn't mind throwing dissidents in prison, to the Swedish Social Democratic prime minister of the sixties, Tage Erlander. To Kumm, Castro is thoughtful and an educator -- whereas Cubans in exile in the U.S. are "vicious" and "hateful". (Oh, I'm sure there are plenty of them who are, but I'm also pretty certain that very few, in fact most likely very close to none of them, have ruled a country as a dictator for decades, persecuting dissidents.)

(The revolutionary romantic Kumm also takes the time to describe his life's greatest sorrow, the death of Che Guevara.)

During all of this cheering for a dictator, amid claims that Cuba liberated itself once and for all with Castro taking power, what does the interviewer Österlund do? Does he challenge Kumm's romantic view of the revolution? Nope. Does he question Kumm's extolling of the qualities of the dictator Castro? Nope. He listens intently and highly respectfully to Kumm's man-love for an oppressive dictator, asking very, very polite and somewhat obsequious questions, like an acolyte might ask a revered guru. 

Towards the end, Österberg actually does bring up the lack of free elections and people being imprisoned, asking how much of a dictator Castro has been. Kumm brushes it off, denying that Castro is really a dictator and glossing over the lack of free elections ("well, sooner or later, there's going to be some sort of free elections"), and what does Österberg do? Does he question Kumm's assertions about the greatness of Castro – in light of the lack of free elections and other democratic rights – or does he point out that it is abject hypocrisy to praise a democratic breakthrough in Latin America's old dictatorships while extolling the virtues of a dictatorship that is still in place, or does he in any way pressure Kumm on his brushing off the lack of democracy in Cuba?


He does not.

The issue gets less than a minute's attention in the half-hour program, and most of that time is spent by Kumm rationalizing Cuba's lack of human rights and democracy under Castro. It is an utter disgrace. Not only for Kumm, who reveals himself as an anti-democrat, and not only for Österberg , who reveals himself to be either A-OK with such unwavering support for dictatorship or too incompetent to actually do his job as an interviewer, but for the entire editorial board of the program, for the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company who produced this mess, and for Kunskapskanalen for broadcasting it. I can't help but wonder if everybody involved would have been equally A-OK with a defense of the crimes and anti-democratic deeds of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. (Well, strike that – I'm actually quite certain they would be justifiably appalled at anybody defending that vicious dictator as some sort of folk hero.)

These are supposed to be public service broadcasting companies. With that comes a particular responsibility to not support dictatorships and anti-democratic forces, and everybody involved failed that responsibility.


(You want to read up on Fidel Castro, I advice you to stay well clear of Kumm's biography – or, more likely, hagiography. Try Wikipedia instead; not only will you save time and money and avoid the nauseating dictator-worship, you'll most likely be served some facts that are too inconvenient for the authoritarianism-loving Kumm to even bring up.)

torsdag 24 mars 2011

Back from the comics store

This time, there was a sale on Jim Holdaway "Modesty Blaise" collections (an easy choice; at less then $14 each, these nice hardcovers were a steal – even though I'm a heretic who prefers Neville Colvin's Modesty). Also on sale were the Swedish comics "Hälge", about a morose moose's constant battles with his hunter nemesis (or vice versa) and "Herman Hedning" about a disgusting, violent and flatulent creep making life miserable for his prehistory colleagues in pre-humanity, as well as for every other prehistoric creature there is. The Steven King comics hardcovers I bought mainly because my old Spider-Man fave Peter David scripted them, even though they're not bad-looking.

onsdag 23 mars 2011

Neoconservatism unmasked

Yes, well, it's more politics because I'm too busy to write that review of DC's Our Army at War (hint: Two-Fisted Tales it's not). However, this does sound like an intersting book given how much influence neoconservatives have had recently on US politics (much to the detriment of both the US and the world), and I do intend to seek it out once I get some other things out of the way – regardless of Thompson's libertarian anti-welfare-state digs. Libertarians and liberals can meet halfway in condemning the deceptiveness of the neocons, but the liberals should take care not to accept the libertarians programmatic disdain for society bothering with ensuring that even the less fortunate people have relatively decent lives.

Over to Bradley Thompson:

Defining neoconservatism is no easy task given that its exponents deny that it’s a systematic political philosophy. Neocons such as Irving Kristol prefer to characterize neoconservatism as a “persuasion,” a “mode of thinking,” or a “mood.” At best, they say, it’s a syncretic intellectual movement influenced by thinkers as diverse as Plato, Trotsky, and Hayek. Daniel Bell captured the syncretic nature of neoconservatism when he described himself as a “socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture.” On one level, neoconservatism certainly is a syncretic “mode of thinking,” but I shall demonstrate here that neoconservatism is in fact a comprehensive political philosophy shaped most fundamentally by the ideas of Leo Strauss via Irving Kristol.

First, though, let us examine how the neocons present themselves, particularly in relation to the broader conservative intellectual movement and the Republican Party. Irving Kristol once boasted that neoconservatism is the first variant of twentieth-century conservatism that is “in the ‘American grain.’” The implication of this extraordinary claim is that Goldwater conservatism—with its proclaimed attachment to individual rights, limited government, and laissez-faire capitalism, and its rejection of the modern welfare-regulatory state—is somehow outside the American grain. The neoconservatives are and always have been, by contrast, defenders of the post–New Deal welfare state. Not surprisingly, the neocons support, in the words of Ben Wattenberg, a “muscular role for the state,” one that taxes, regulates, and redistributes—and, as we shall see, one that fights. This, apparently, is what it means to be in the American grain.

What really bothers the neocons about small-government Republicans is that they lack a “governing philosophy.” The neocons have long urged the Republicans to reinvent themselves by giving up their Jeffersonian principles and developing a new “philosophy of governance.” Ironically, though, the neocons’ conception of a “governing philosophy” is notone defined by fixed moral principles. Instead, it’s an intellectual technique defined by pragmatism. The neocons’ “philosophy of governance” is a philosophy for how to rule or govern. It’s all about “thinking politically,” which means developing strategies for getting, keeping, and using power in certain ways. The neocons therefore urge the GOP to become chameleon-like and to adapt themselves to changing circumstances.

The neocons’ pragmatic statesmanship is grounded in two basic assumptions: first, the identification of the “public interest” with some kind of golden mean and, second, the conceit that they—and only they—have the practical wisdom by which to know the golden mean. The neocons therefore believe it to be both necessary and possible for wise statesmen to find the golden mean between altruism and self-interest, duties and rights, regulation and competition, religion and science, socialism and capitalism. Norman Podhoretz, for instance, has argued that neoconservative statesmen should be able to figure out the “precise point at which the incentive to work” would be “undermined by the availability of welfare benefits, or the point at which the redistribution of income” would begin “to erode economic growth, or the point at which egalitarianism” would come “into serious conflict with liberty.” In the end, the neocons’ strategy is to accept the moral ends of liberal-socialism, but with the caveat that they can do a better job of delivering “social services” or that they can direct those services toward conservative ends. (...)

What, then, are the core principles of neoconservatism?
  1. Neoconservative Metaphysics: The neocons take the “political community” or what Irving Kristol called the “collective self” as the primary unit of moral, social and political value. They accept Plato’s premise that the polis or the nation is the only community adequate for the fulfillment of man’s natural end or telos, which they associate with what they variously call the “public interest” or the “common good.” The actual content of the “public interest” is whatever wise and benevolent men say it is, which is precisely why it should never be defined. The highest task of neoconservative statesmanship is to superimpose ideological unity on the “collective self” in the name of an ever-shifting “public interest.”
  2. Neoconservative Epistemology: Neoconservatives begin with the Platonic assumption that ordinary people are irrational and must be guided by those who are rational. According to Irving Kristol, there are “different kinds of truth for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy.” The highest truth in Strauss and Kristol is restricted to the philosopher, while the common man is and must be limited to “knowledge” of a different sort: to myth, revelation, custom, and prejudice. Neoconservatives believe the opinions of the nation must therefore be shaped by those who rule. To control ideas is to control public opinion, which in turn is to control the regime as a whole. Ultimately, the vulgar must be ruled by faith and by faith’s necessary ally, force.
  3. Neoconservative Ethics: If you believe, as Straussianized neocons do, that there are “different kinds of truth for different kinds of people,” then you must believe that there are and must be different moral codes as well. Ordinary people need some form of conventional morality that is easily learned, followed, and transmitted from one generation to another. The vulgar many need piety and patriotism as the ordering myths by which to live. For the neocons, morality is conventional and pragmatic. Because they regard the nation as the primary unit of political value and because they identify the “public interest” with the purpose of government, they regard moral good and virtue to be that which works—not for the individual, but for the nation. Morality is therefore defined as overcoming one’s petty self-interest so as to sacrifice for the common good.
  4. Neoconservative Politics: Central to the neoconservatives’ philosophy of governance is the conceit that it is possible, in the words of Kristol, for a small elite “to have an a priori knowledge of what constitutes happiness for other people.” Because common people cannot possibly know what they really want or what constitutes their true happiness, it is entirely appropriate for a philosophically trained political elite to guide them to their true happiness and to prevent them from making bad decisions. The highest purpose of neoconservative statesmanship is therefore to shape preferences, form habits, cultivate virtues, and create the “good” society, a society that is known a priori to those of superior philosophic wisdom. The neocons therefore advocate using government force to make “good” choices for America’s nonphilosophers in order to nudge them in certain directions—that is, toward choosing a life of virtue and duty. As Strauss made clear in his most influential work Natural Right and History, wise statesmen must learn to use “forcible restraint” and “benevolent coercion” in order to keep down the selfish and base desires of ordinary men.

The culmination of the neoconservatives’ political philosophy is their call for a “national-greatness conservatism.” Following Irving Kristol and Leo Strauss, David Brooks, William Kristol, and a new generation of neocons proclaimed the “nation” as the fundamental unit of political reality, “nationalism” as the rallying cry for a new public morality, and the “national interest” as the moral standard of political decisionmaking. This new nationalism, according to Brooks, “marries community goodness with national greatness.”

This is very interesting stuff – if you're interested in this sort of thing, of course – and heartily recommended. Thompson finishes off with a disquieting comparison between neocons and fascism. Go and read the whole thing!

tisdag 22 mars 2011

Brad DeLong on causes and cures of the Great Recession

In our popular  Brad DeLong is a National Treasure series:

The Right Explanation for Our Great Recession

The right explanation of our Great Recession is that the downturn had three sources. First comes irrational exuberance in housing markets. Irrational exuberance in housing markets led to a substantial number of mortgage loans being made that should not have been made. These loans would not have been a problem if you had had capital market arrangements like we had in the late 1990s during the dot-com boom. The dot-com boom also saw irrational exuberance, much more irrational exuberance, in fact, than we saw in the subprime mortgage bubble.

But irrational exuberance in the dot-com boom was not accompanied by overleverage. The venture capital firms that created and issued the securities of the dot-com boom sold them off to unleveraged primary investors, rather than leveraging up and holding on to them by financing their positions with borrowed money. When the dot-com crash came, high-net-worth individuals lost their wealth. But there were no large money-center banks whose solvency was thrown into doubt by the crash.

Things were different with the subprime crash. The large money-center investment and commercial banks found, after the crash, that the losses on their subprime mortgage holdings were of the same order of magnitude as and might exceed their capital cushion. Their other liabilities were thus no longer beyond question--perhaps the money-center banks were not good to pay back all their creditors and make good on all of the deposits they had accepted. This was, in large part, the result of the third factor: misregulation--the government had failed to impose and maintain proper capital adequacy standards of those banks that were indeed "too big to fail"; the government had failed to use its regulatory hammer to check whether the large money-center banks possessed the proper risk controls. It turned out that they did not: that the top managements of the money center banks had no idea of the risks that their subordinates were running on their shareholders' behalf.

The consequence was panic and flight to quality. A huge tranche of financial assets that had been generally classified as safe turned out not to be so. These tranches had been places to put your money where you could sleep easy, confident it would still be there when you came back for it. That was the whole reason for you to invest in a AAA mortgage-backed security rather than in something riskier that offered a higher return.

So what happened when it became clear that the supply of high-quality financial assets was a lot lower than people had thought? What happened when it became clear that a larger value of assets labeled AAA were not so? What happened when all of those debts that were thought to be of high quality because those owing the debts owned AAA assets turned out to be not such high quality at all because the assets backing those debts were not AAA? And what happened when it became clear that the ability of financial professionals to properly understand their risks had been greatly oversold? A collapse in the supply of high-quality financial assets accompanied by a surge in demand.

This fall in the supply and rise in the demand for high-quality assets created an enormous financial market imbalance. The counterpart to this large excess demand for high quality assets was deficient demand for currently-produced goods and services and labor--a "general glut." People who felt that their portfolios were short of high-quality assets cut back on their spending to try to build up their high-quality asset stocks. But when they and everyone else cut back in spending, all they managed to do was to cut back on sales, employment, and income. They found that their cut back on spending was matched by a fall in their incomes so that they did not manage in fact to build up their stocks of high-quality assets. And as total spending fell short of the amount needed to provide full employment the economy headed into recession.

He goes on to outline the cure, and the reasons so many have gotten the Great Recession wrong (hint: Milton Friedman's name is mentioned once or twice). ...Oh heck, I'll quote some more:

It is in this sense, I think, that I blame Milton Friedman: he sold the Chicago School an interventionist, technocratic, managerial optimal monetary policy under the pretense that it was something--laissez-faire--that it was not.

And then it turned out at the end of 2008 that it simply did not work.

Now at this point the seven sects of macroeconomic error could have done either of two things. They could have chosen wisely. They could have said: "Oops we’ve been followers of Milton Friedman for 50 years and we were wrong, his intellectual opponents were right. We have to go back and listen to them and learn what they had to say and change our minds. We need to sit at the feet of Bagehot and Wicksell and Minsky and Keynes and Hicks and Tobin for a while and think through the issues of the determinants of aggregate demand.

They chose not wisely. They chose to say: "Milton Friedman taught us that the Keynesian version of the income-expenditure approach was wrong. There is something wrong with Friedman's theory. But we need to develop it and add something new rather than return to something old and discredited."

But I do recommend that you follow the link and read the whole piece. (And a bunch of other posts on his blog, of course – I did call him a national treasure...)

fredag 18 mars 2011

Carl Hårleman – människan och verket ("Carl Hårleman – the man and his work")

Carl Hårleman is undoubtedly a giant in Sweden's art and architectural history.

The son of a landscape architect, he trained to be an architect under the tutelage of Nicodemus Tessin Jr., one of Sweden's great Baroque architects. Hårleman spent 1721-1725 in Paris, improving his craft, and then went to Italy to to study church architecture. Coming home, Tessin Jr. had died, and his son Carl Gustaf had taken over as the country's Head Architect or Superintendent. Hårleman was still a young man, not even 30 years old, but he had the finest architectural education of any Swede, so he got the job to finish the job of building the Swedish royal palace in Stockholm. Tessin Jr. had drawn up the plans, but they had to be implemented, and there was also lots of work to be done on the interior decorating.

Tessin Jr. had planned a Baroque palace, but the fashionable style in France was now the Rococo, and that was Hårleman's style. Nevertheless, he stayed faithful to Tessin Jr's plans for the exterior, and created some very pleasant and enjoyable Rococo interiors – not as scrumptious and expensive as e.g. Versailles, but very tastefully and nicely done. Of course, to get it done, he needed expertise not available in Sweden, so he had to go back to France to hire competent artists of all sorts. They would then teach a new generation of Swedish artists and artisans, setting the stage for some very nice work in the decades that followed.

Hårleman succeeded Tessin as Superintendent, and would mold the Swedish tastes in architecture and interior decorating for a century through lots of hard work, administrative skill, and design talent. (Some of his drawings in ink and wash are reproduced in the book, and man, could he ever draw.) He also designed a number of palaces and villas, both new ones and renovation objects. When he reshaped or rebuilt, he always respected what had been there before, and kept his designs congenial with that.

Carl Hårleman was simply one of the most important Swedes of the 1700s, and even though he died only 52 years old, we still have a number of beautiful buildings to thank him for – and he didn't just do architecture and interior decorations, he also did landscape architecture, designed sumptuous fêtes and sober burial ceremonies, and created an education system to ensure that Sweden would continue to have a cadre of skilled artists and artisans to take on the work of designing, building and decorating top class royal palaces and administrative buildings when he was gone. A pretty darn impressive life, and a book worth reading.

I'll close with a couple of examples of his designing and drawing skills, no less impressive than the man himself:

torsdag 17 mars 2011

Sven Jonson, surrealist

I have to wonder if the Swedish painter Sven Jonson was a "Krazy Kat" reader...

Weird desert landscape, cacti, weird rock formations, and a weird moon in the sky... It is a bit Krazy, you have to agree, and Herriman's creation was popular among various intellectuals in different fields,  like the poet E. E. Cummings and the art critic Gilbert Seldes. Indeed, the strip has itself been labeled "surrealist".

Well, that needn't mean anything, of course. I just thought there were some interesting parallels between the painting and the Coconino County surroundings, parallels that just might be due to it being Krazy's surroundings that were viewed through the lens of another artistic temperament.

More Jonson paintings here. You can read about George Herriman, creator of "Krazy Kat", here.

My t-shirts, part 33: Lucy van Pelt

I might add that I really, really like the design of these shirts.

onsdag 16 mars 2011

Showcase Presents: Aquaman vol 1

I'm not one to say that it's a waste of time to read comics – a tradition that I uphold by not talking about the terrible "Dredger" – but I came close with this.

I'm being a bit unfair here, because this clearly isn't a comic for grown-ups, or even for teenagers. The stories are at first mainly about finding new (or not so new) ways of having various sea creatures stop criminals – like having Aquaman's pet octopus Topo and his octopi pals use lots of bows and shoot arrows at them, or using a swordfish to puncture something, etc. It's all based on the rather weak gimmick of Aquaman being able to use "fish telepathy" – which isn't even much of a superpower, since apparently almost any human who needs the help of fish can use it if they concentrate hard enough (or if the scriptwriter is sufficiently stuck for a solution, and sufficiently lazy) – and after a short while, it becomes rather tedious.

This schtick was sufficiently similar to what I'd seen in early sixties Superman stories that I had to look who was writing this stuff, but the name Robert Bernstein was unknown to me (turned out he was a "Superman" writer, though). Then I learned that the editor was Mort Weisinger, at which point I went "say no more!".

Anyway, there is development. Aquaman gets a sidekick – Aqualad – who wants them to have a home, so he turns an underwater cave into a home, complete with trophies. Also, Aqualad says stuff like "Leaping sea lions!" a lot, and Aquaman starts being referred to as the "Sea sleuth". Holy derivative, Batman! Also, the daring duo gets a recurring character, a sea sprite with magical powers and a somewhat wicked sense of humor...

The first half of this collection is drawn in a somewhat cartoons-influenced style by Metamorpho co-creator Ramona Fradon, who leaves the comic in 1961 (and later in the sixties takes break from comics to raise her daughter) and is replaced by Nick Cardy, for those who like that sort of thing – and Cardy does have a strong style and handles posing the characters well. He's not a Joe Kubert, bit when the inking is good, his art looks good.

This is, in the end, a kiddie comic. I'd say that "Adam Strange" is for kids up to 12-13 years old; this is for kids up to maybe 9-10. Us adults... Well, unless you can rationalize it by pretending that "I'm reading this to learn more about comics history", this one's not something you should spend any time reading, and it doesn't have the excellent art or fun creativity of some other old DC comics to recommend it – so I'm not going to recommend it, either.

tisdag 15 mars 2011

My t-shirts, part 32: Lone Wolf and Cub

(Yes, this is lazy blogging, but I'm seriously strapped for time right now, and this is a seriously cool comic. If you haven't read it, by all means do so.)

måndag 14 mars 2011

My t-shirts, part 31: Linus – Securitywear

Several years ago came a bunch of beautiful pastiches on Calvin Klein t-shirts with the Peanuts characters. One of them almost kept me from my 15 minutes (literally) of TV fame, but it turned out that a bunch of Chilean miners managed to do that anyway.

onsdag 9 mars 2011

My t-shirts, part 30: Limp Bizkit

No, I'm not actually a Limp Bizkit fan, but the shirt was dirt cheap so I bought it to work out in and to wear underneath sweaters.

Whenever real Limp Bizkit fans among my acquaintances wonder why I'm wearing this t-shirt and whether I'm really a Limp Bizkit fan, I always challenge them to name three Limp Bizkit hits. When they reach "one", I admit defeat as that's one more than I could ever come up with.

tisdag 8 mars 2011

Back from the comics store

March's pickings a bit slimmer than I've gotten used to, which is probably a good thing.

The Popeye collection, of course, and the Little Lulu collection, of course, Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers, of course, classic JLA, of course – these are self-evident necessities for my comics library. Mouse Guard is a charming newcomer that I'm about to form an opinion on as soon as I've read it properly, I like Geoff Johns' writing so I bought his Flash story even though I'm not all that fond of the just-a-bit-on-the-cartoony-side art, and I'm a fan of both Captain America and Mark Waid, so that was an easy choice as well.

I did this!

fredag 4 mars 2011

Knut Kristofersen: Heydrich. Förintelsens arkitekt ("Heydrich. Architect of the Holocaust")

If you're making a list of evil people, Reinhard Heydrich would certainly be qualified to be on it. You'll learn why in this well-written popular history that turns out to actually be two books in one.

Brought up by a distant, ultra-nationalist father and a cold, disciplinarian mother, Heydrich grew up arrogant – and bullied at school. He got into the Navy, apparently with big plans for advancement. He remained arrogant, still had problems relating to his peers, worked hard to improve himself as an athlete, and becomes quite the womanizer. Engaged to his future wife, he was then thrown out of the Navy for scandalizing an influential man's daughter, and wound up with little remaining of his career.

So things look reasonably bad for Heydrich in 1931, when he meets with Himmler to apply for the post as leader of the Nazi party's Sicherheitsdienst. However, Himmler is impressed by Heydrich's use of the correct military vocabulary and a sketched-out organization chart, so he's hired, and starts working very energetically to chart all the enemies of the Nazi party. In order to protect the SS from infiltrators and saboteurs, the SS needs to have Heydrich's men detailed to every SS unit. So Heydrich tells the party, so it must be true. Later, the Münich SS leadership of Himmler and Heydrich will prove their invaluable worth to Hitler by exposing numerous plots against him, originating in Bavaria. Naturally, this means that Himmler and Heydrich needs more and more resources to expose and stop all of these plots...

By being a hard worker, a skilled bureaucratic infighter and having no qualms about ruthless murder (for example, he helped with the preparations for the Night of the Long Knives) and torture, Heydrich rises to become an ever-more powerful player in the party. He still has problems gaining actual friends, though, as his personality doesn't appear to have improved one bit with his increased power. Something that really surprised me was the revelation that Heydrich flew combat air missions during the war – I'd never heard of it before, and it seems idiotic to risk a high official's life on him playing the role of a hero pilot (though considering how idiotic – in addition to evil – the Nazi regime was in many other ways when it came to waging war, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by practically anything).

Anyway, Heydrich was intimately involved in setting the stage the Holocaust, chairing the Wannsee conference, and in 1941 he was also appointed Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia because Konstantin von Neurath, who's had the post up until then, is considered too soft. Combining vicious terror with carrots like increased food rations for workers, Heydrich keeps the country under control.

And this is where the book makes a big, 90-degree turn. From having been a Hydrich biography combined with a brief popular history of the Third Reich, in its second half it becomes a war thriller about the planning and execution of the assassination of Heydrich. While this story isn't bad as popular histories go, the 90° turn perplexed me a bit at first.

Kristofersen sees the assassination in part as a way for the Czech exile government to prove that they were a force to reckon with, and is critical of how the decision was made – and of how they, while preparing the assassination, kept sending agents to Czechoslovakia even though they had to know that any network they were able to build up would be severely damaged by the repression that would follow after an assassination attempt.

After many problems, the paratroopers sent in to do the deed – Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, whom I mention by name because I think their bravery and integrity deserves recognition – managed to kill Heydrich, but only barely (he died after a week of horrible pain from the wounds he sustained by a grenade attack), but couldn't get out of the country. They died, along with a couple of other operatives, after a long shootout with German soldiers from the cellar of an Orthodox church where they had been hiding. German reprisals against the civilian population were vicious and horrifying, as were the methods they used in their attempts to find the assassins. These parts of the book is really not for the faint of heart.

Kristofersen hasn't done any original research, but has compiled the book from other works and created a pretty good popular history of a man who was anything but decent, and that man's far too deserved and far too late-in-coming death. Worth the read, at least if you're not already a scholar on these issues.

torsdag 3 mars 2011

What is wrong with these people? Part 3: Rep. Trent Franks & Hugh McInnish edition

And in our ever-popular What Is Wrong With These People? feature, we have

 Rep. Trent Franks:

 KEYES: What recourse does Congress have? Could you, for instance, defund the Department of Justice if they don’t reverse course and start to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act?

FRANKS: That’s probably the strongest leverage that we have. [...] I would support that in a moment. [...]

KEYES: I know Newt Gingrich has came out and said if they don’t reverse course here, we ought to be talking about possibly impeaching either Attorney General Holder or even President Obama to try to get them to reverse course. Do you think that is something you would support?

FRANK: If it could gain the collective support, absolutely. I called for Eric Holder to repudiate the policy to try terrorists within our civil courts, or resign. So it just seems like that they have an uncanny ability to get it wrong on almost all fronts.

And we also have Hugh McInnish of the Madison County Republican Executive Committee, schooling the Obama Department of Justice:

 The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has been evaluating the Huntsville, AL school system’s racial integration, and earlier this month released a report that “wasn’t promising.” The DOJ listed “several outstanding desegregation issues that the school district must address,” including “that predominantly black schools have too few advanced courses” and “that black children at predominantly white schools are punished and suspended at alarming rates.”

But Hugh McInnish, a member of the Madison County Republican Executive Committee who also sits on the state Republican Executive Committee, set out to school the DOJ on the real reason racial disparities exist in Hunstville: “Life is unfair.” In a press conference at his gated community and a letter responding to the DOJ last week, McInnish offered a litany of bizarre “proof” that racial disparity isn’t “manmade,” claiming “blacks misbehave on average more frequently than whites do,” and that black students are unable to perform as well as white students. To McInnish, the only “manmade unfairness here” is that the DOJ wants to “correct a problem that is not of their making” (...)

[M]ost of McInnish’s data is cribbed from the right-wing New Century Foundation (NCF), which, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is a “self-styled think tank” that propagates “academic racism.” Dedicated “to the ideal of the United States as a white European nation,” NCF also publishes the American Renaissance — a magazine that “publishes frequent articles on the discredited field of eugenics” which is “selective breeding to improve human genetic stock.” Incidentally, the foundation’s “most important publication” is The Color Of Crime (which, to NCF, is black.) (...)

But McInnish spends more time posting editorials on the white supremacist site VDare, and publishing the news aggregater Suppressed News which includes insightful comments like “Black on black racism is OK. White on black racism for the same reason is not. When are we going to wake up?”

 © 2005-2011 Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Good grief. Now, it's not like we don't have idiots in Swedish politics as well; in fact, the first parliamentary debate I saw a representative from the xenophobic Sverigedemokraterna in, in every statement he made he worked in a xenophobic talking point about "out of control mass immigration" or somesuch, regardless of whether it had anything to do with the subject at hand – but at least that guy isn't part of a party that controls more than 50% of parliament...

tisdag 1 mars 2011

Back from the book store

The big annual book sale here in Sweden is apparently not as successful this year as it usually is. Me, I'm reasonably happy, though.

Gustave Courbet, Caspar David Friedrich, Audobon, Greek and medieval art; Willmott's WWII history, Oliver Wendell Holmes & "The Virginian", and Paul Slansky – really, what's not to like?

(Apart from not really having the time to read them, of course...)