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Were the Nazis mad? No, says Tel Aviv academic

October 15th, 2012 No comments

The old chestnut of Hitler’s mental state has re-emerged. Angela heard some interesting takes on it at a London conference

WERE THE Nazis mad? Was Hitler possessed by some demon of the mind, which enabled him to carry a nation with him in his genocidal campaigns?

The answer is often a lazy ‘yes’. Collectively we cannot accept that such inhumanity to fellow creatures could be a sustained campaign for a whole nation.

But Jose Brunner of Tel Aviv University begs to differ: madness would have undermined the project. An incompetent or weak mind could not have sustained the huge undertaking which was the Second World War, and the extermination of whole races of people.

“Why do people say the Nazis were mad?” Brunner challenged a conference on totalitarianism in London. ‘They could not have prosecuted a war of that magnitude, over all those years, if madness was the prevailing condition.”

Likewise, says Brunner, a philosophy professor, the comfortably dismissive notion of Hitler as a madman distinct from society does not wash with his career. “If Hitler had been just mad, he would have lived his life in a garret, would never have been able to do what he did.”

Also director of the German history institute at Tel Aviv, Brunner was addressing a gathering of historians, philosophers and psychoanalysts at the Wellcome Centre in London. They had come together to consider the links between totalitarianism and psychoanalysis.

The Holocaust and the Nazi regime were major themes. The 20th century history of psychoanalysis – and in particular how it took root in the United States due to the arrival of many Jewish analysts, fleeing the storm in Europe – was largely seen through the prism of the Holocaust. A key organizer, Daniel Pick of Birkbeck College and the British Psychoanalytical Society, has just published a book on the conundrum of the Nazi mind and the motivation for the Third Reich.

 The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind uses, naturally, the case of Rudolf Hess as one key to the thought processes behind Auschwitz. (Hess was the senior Nazi who was captured after he parachuted into Scotland in 1943, and spent the rest of the war at   Spandau prison camp. There was little doubt that he was mentally ill, with even Churchill weighing in to comment that Hess was a “medical not a criminal case”).

Pick’s book also contains some fascinating material assembled by the OSS, one of the precursors of the CIA, who ‘profiled’ leading Nazis from a distance during the war. Some studies were done at closer quarters during the Nuremberg trials.

But were they certifiably mad? You’ll have to read Pick’s conclusions, but there is certain merit in Jose Brunner’s argument.

On the subject of a more contemporary horror, the debate raged both inside and outside the Norwegian court-room where Anders Behring Breivik stood trial for the murder of 77 people in July 2011. An eminent London psychiatrist told this writer, “Breivik is not necessarily mad because of what he did. He just made different choices.” And the court, in the end, decided that Breivik was sane.

There has been a recent manifestation of interest in Hitler, the Nazis and their inner workings. As well as Pick’s work, Laurence Rees’s book and BBC series, The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, has just been published. It’s not immediately obvious why this has re-emerged at this time. It is 73 years since the Second World War was under way, although coming up to a tidier 70 years, in December, since the attack on Pearl Harbour which sanctioned the US entry to the conflict.

Whatever the immediate cause, the fascination with the evil of Hitler and his henchmen will remain. The darkness lurks within human beings: we crave to know what causes it to escape.

Links:

http://www.beyondthecouch.org.uk/?unique_name=events&item=60

 http://www.law.tau.ac.il/Eng/?CategoryID=242&ArticleID=171&Page=1

http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Psychology/?view=usa&ci=97801683

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/01/pursuit-nazi-mind-daniel-pick

 

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Bah, humbug, that Olympic opening ceremony was a mess

October 8th, 2012 No comments

Why I’m the curmudgeon over Danny Boyle’s Olympic distract-a-rama

 

It’s the internet, stoopid. And the crumbling of our brains. That, I’ve realised, is why I’m the blight at every enthusiastic mass-praising of Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony.

“Wasn’t it marvellous!” Brit-crowds crow. The gang was still burbling about it when I was in London last week. Mass adoration always irritates me. Unless I am the recipient.

But the lemming-like rush to declare it was such a fabulous event made me think of Leni Riefenstahl or Cecil B. De Mille and those grandiose cinematic extravaganzas which were calculated to make the poor schmuck in the cheap seats drop his popcorn.

Well, it was technically astonishing, and an awful lot went on. Then you’d expect at least those qualities for your £27 million.

However it was all over the place, and to my mind failed to fulfil three key requirements: was it a good piece of entertainment for the people in the Olympic Stadium?

Was it lucid and compelling for the vast television audience?

Did it act as an introduction to the great sporting event it was to usher in?

Taking the last first, the spectacular obviously meant to knock people’s socks off and be the memorable part of the evening. But the Olympics is about talented and dedicated athletes, not about directorial ego.

Was it lucid for a television audience? Probably more so than for the punters in the arena, who could only see bits and didn’t have the long-lens benefit of the cyber- and TV viewers.

But it was still very bitty – ooh, there’s Kenneth Branagh, now forget about him because the grass is all disappearing, there’s Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web, now there are people on hospital beds and lots of dancing and finally, finally, it stops. It was a mass of ideas and half-ideas stuck together with verve, chutzpah and lots of money.

Had the theme been Berners-Lee’s incalculable gift to society (he’s a Brit after all) and that alone, it would have been clear, clean, and obviously afforded all sorts of spin-offs. You can get anything on the Internet, and a brilliant creative person like Danny Boyle could have chosen from a myriad possibilities. Choice, however, was not the keynote of the night, but rather a philosophy of throw everything in. And that does, in fact, mirror the effect of the internet on our lives, but no clear line was drawn between Berners-Lee’s fleeting appearance and the rest of the show. No, the ambition was bigger than that.

As Charlotte Higgins wrote in The Guardian, “it was bewildering enough, at times, to its domestic audience; abroad it must frequently have been plain incomprehensible.” (Although she went on to explain that it made sense to the British, saving for some stuffy Tories.)

It sounds a bit like the disdain for dreary old ‘facts’ that is being displayed by the Republican presidential campaign in the US. Lord, why should anyone be able to understand this fiesta? That would be commonplace and predictable.

The Olympics opening ceremony ritual has gotten out of hand, with the Greeks and the Chinese much to blame for their ludicrous shows that went on way too long and cost way too much. Maybe Rio will calm things down a little. Maybe.

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Privacy is one thing, but falsehood also threatens media reputation

September 17th, 2012 No comments

The fuss over the long-lens topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge re-stokes the smouldering fire over privacy and the press. But in the US a more simple, and equally shocking, issue is over the simplicity of facts, whether they are used in public discourse, and the responsibility of the media in reporting and repeating assertions which are obviously inaccurate or dubious. This piece from the New York Times discusses, in part, the astonishing casualness with which some parties in the current US election campaign are treating facts. That’s a topic worth returning to – in particular the euphemism of ‘misleading’ when applied to statements which also fulfil the description of falsehoods! The old journalistic saw of ‘balance’ is also tossed around.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/opinion/sunday/he-said-she-said-and-the-truth.html?smid=tw-share&_rmoc.semityn.www

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Naked Prince lacks common sense as well as clothes

August 24th, 2012 No comments

When did taking your clothes off in private become a capital offence? Angela thinks Harry is in the clear as well as in the buff

Prince Harry might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, nor the most mature 28-year-old in Britain.

But then, look at his father – and I’m not talking Prince Charles here.

However, surely he is entitled to have fun with friends in private, as long as nobody gets hurt. And if his friends enjoy games of strip pool, whose business is it?

But the whole world, thanks to our ‘responsible’ media outlets as well as those characters categorized by Australian PM Julia Gillard as ‘the nutjobs on the internet’, has been privy to snaps of the prince enjoying himself in Las Vegas, and wearing….a watch.

A lot of  pompous stuff has been voiced about the prince’s responsibilities as a senior member of the royal family – ooh, only the other week he was the ranking royal at the Olympic Games closing ceremony. Granted, you might not like to think of the Queen au naturelle, or Prince Charles. But would that mean their credibility as a dignitary, a focus for national pride? Would that be forever dented if some media platforms had published photos of them in the nip?

For some, every time they see Harry on TV or wherever for the rest of his life, those blurry but genuine late-night shots will come to mind. And he doesn’t look too bad, quite fit, as proper for a young serviceman whose upbringing has featured every advantage – except a mother after the age of  13.

Harry’s only real failing in this silly affair is how he picks his friends.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, the saying goes, but one of Harry’s group wasn’t listening to that voice in her head. She was listening to the much more hearty and confident one telling her she could make big money selling pictures of a naked prince, especially with an attractive lady somewhere in the frame.

The prince’s security staff have come in for some stick on why they didn’t leap in –perhaps rugby tackle the woman? Confiscate her phone, more likely.

And Harry will have to learn more sense than to invite randomers back to his hotel room for jolly japes. Get the boy married, to someone like Katie Price perhaps, and all this would stop…

But the brouhaha all returns to the ethical question, for the media, of whether public figures are entitled to a private life. If you can’t have a private life – or, like Boris Johnson, seem able to ride heedlessly, so to speak, through all embarrassing revelations – then you might go a little bit mad.

Max Mosley must have read the Harry coverage – and looked at the pictures – with interest. The Formula One millionaire continues to campaign against media intrusion after his success in suing the News of the World (remember that?) over whipping up a ‘Nazi sex orgy’ story about him.

But with the red-headed prince it’s fabulous gossip, delicious gossip, and plays to the fake prudery with which the tabloids, in particular, like to address their made-up world.

 

Links: OK, to be fair, here’s a link to James Hewitt denying he could be Harry’s father.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-139425/Hewitt-I-Harrys-father.html

And here’s one to somebody seeing Lance Armstrong’s disgrace and Harry’s embarrassment as two ends of the same spectrum. Not sure that I get the point – or, in fact, Harry is particularly embarrassed!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/brain-flapping/2012/aug/24/prince-harry-lance-armstrong-psychology?newsfeed=true

 

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Too much misspeaking and you’ll be released

August 21st, 2012 No comments

Angela charts the trends in ‘newphemisms’

When Mississippi politician Todd Akin opened his mouth and let out a scandal, it took a hell storm of media and public ire to make him realize. The US Senate candidate had told a TV interviewer that it was less likely for victims of ‘legitimate rape’ (Akin’s term) to fall pregnant, because a woman’s body would ‘shut down’.

Whatever the crazed Southerner was trying to say, he soon found out that he had given enormous offence to a certain category of people – let’s just call them ‘women’.

So he took the line frequently heard by people whose real problem is that they leave the house in the morning…”I misspoke”.

His full explanation was: “In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview, and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,”.

‘Misspoke’ has gained in popularity in recent years. For example, last May President Obama misspoke when he called a concentration camp in Poland a Polish, rather than a Nazi, ‘death camp’. The White House Press Office was quick to correct that one. But the President doesn’t make mistakes, he misspeaks.

Social media, the broadcast of the masses, gives everyone a chance to say something stupid in public, so reeling back in those unwise off-the-bat comments has become something of an art. Not art at a very high level, it is true. ‘With mature reflection I can now appreciate that I might have misspoken,” intones the politician or public official who has just declared that all women are whores or all Republicans wear terrible ties or four-year-olds should be allowed to drive cars.

What misspoke really means is “God, I’m stupid. Please ignore everything that comes out of my mouth (but vote for me anyway).”

It joins a growing list of new euphemisms, ‘newphemisms’ I like to call them, which are burrowing under the skin of 21st century language.

When announcing sackings from the beleaguered News Corp ‘digital-only’ newspaper, The Daily, in New York, the chief executive chose to say that ’50 people would be released’. As if they would joyfully greet the news that they were about to be freed – from the encumbrance of a salary.

‘Firing’ and ‘sacking’ have long been regarded as terms too distasteful to describe people being parted from their jobs. So ‘severance’, ‘retrenchment’, ‘redundancy’, came into use. But, once everybody had cottoned on to the fact that all they meant was firing and sacking, another emollient term had to be found.

And another usage related to those more, ahem, mature members of the community, is undergoing a painful and protracted birth. This morning I watched a short promotional film from a large international consultancy. The speaker was talking about “the end of the digital beginning”, and how everyone was going to be using tablets and smartphones and so on instead of reading poor old newspapers. He described how ways had to be found to ‘reach out to’ (so much reaching going on these days, there must be a terrible lot of muscle strain) and engaging ‘experienced consumers’. What he meant, of course, was older people, but he wasn’t going to be caught using a nasty term like ‘older’. Nobody wants to be older! Because, nestling in that is the three-letter obscenity, ‘old’.

Garrison Keillor, the US humorist describes his fictional Lake Wobegon as the place where ‘all the women were strong, all the men were good-looking and all the children were above average’. In that sort of scenario everyone over 35 is ‘experienced’, not middle-aged – or worse.

So we must all thrash through these newphemisms, peering intently into them to make out the real meaning. Just make sure you don’t mis-read, misinterpret, or miss the bus. Although perhaps you could tell the boss: “Sorry, I mis-arrived on time.”

 

 

P.S. And here’s a link to the whole Akin brouhaha.  The photo is nice – begging for a speech balloon to emanate from the soldier on the left who has been shocked out of peeling his orange by whatever Akin is saying – maybe that it is only in cases of ‘legitimate terrorism’ that people get hurt by a bomb?

http://www.rte.ie/news/2012/0820/todd-akin-legitimate-rape-comments.html

And, indispensably, The Onion on what Akin really meant…

http://www.theonion.com/articles/i-misspokewhat-i-meant-to-say-is-i-am-dumb-as-dog,29256/

 

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