on the holocaust and self-deception.

The BBC flew a drone over the Auschwitz concentration camp, and the footage is, as you might expect, profoundly haunting.

Of all the conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers piss me off the most, because they blithely try to minimize or outright eradicate from history the industrialized extermination of eleven million people–men, women, children, infants, the infirm. And I’ve often asked myself how people can completely close their minds to reality and cold, hard evidence. I mean, we have footage of the camps. We have survivor testimonies and admissions of guilt from the perpetrators. We have overwhelming physical evidence: hundreds of thousands of clothing items, eyeglasses, dentures, suitcases, just from Auschwitz alone. We have dozens of tons of human hair. And we have official records, because Germans are fastidious record keepers. They tallied all the victims, and they catalogued everything they kept, down to the last gold filling. We have order forms and receipts for the many tons of Zyklon B pesticide they used. Those who survived the war admitted to the scope of the atrocities and their part in them after the war. So there’s a mountain of solid historical evidence that a.) the Holocaust really happened, and b.) Nazi Germany really did kill millions of people in purpose-built extermination camps.

So how can an otherwise functional intellect close itself to all this irrefutable evidence and claim that the Holocaust was either a hoax or nowhere near as large in scope as claimed?

The answer, of course, lies in the nearly unlimited human capacity for self-deception. We are really, really good at both rationalizing our own preferences, and “explaining away” evidence that points to something we don’t want to be true. Denying Auschwitz is a piece of cake for someone with conviction when you consider that people can deny, on the spot, the reality of things that happen right then and there. That’s how you can have 9/11 truthers. That’s how you can have people claiming that the Charlie Hebdo attacks were a false flag operation perpetrated by a sinister race of “magical Jews” who can shape-shift. That’s why it doesn’t even matter if police officers wear body cameras–because you can videotape the most justified shooting of an armed perpetrator, and there will still be people who will watch the video and claim that the police officer executed someone in cold blood for no reason.

It’s because when you are invested in an ideology, you have to make reality subordinate to that ideology. And when the physical evidence points to the possibility that your ideology doesn’t match reality, then you have to deny that reality, or face the possibility that you ideology is wrong. It’s much easier to dismiss historical records or claim that a video was doctored than to examine your beliefs and concede that everything you believe is wrong.

But reality doesn’t go away when you deny it. Those buildings and crematoriums at Auschwitz still stand, and every time someone denies what they were used for, they deny the humanity of all the people who died there. And just as importantly, they deny the human ability to commit such atrocities, which in turn paves the way for a repeat of those atrocities. To borrow my friend Kathy’s words, there’s a world of difference between “Never Again” and “It can’t happen here.”

Because if a society of civilized, educated people, the nation of Goethe and Schiller and Beethoven, can build and staff a place like Auschwitz and systematically murder millions of people in just a few years–if orderly, fastidious Germans can go from bookkeeping to putting on a uniform and herding women and children into gas chambers at gunpoint because they perceive the approval of society and enjoy the power they are given–then it can happen anywhere, at any time.

Auschwitz happened. Auschwitz is real. And we must constantly be on guard to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We must make sure others don’t fall into the same cycle of denial and self-justifiying savagery, but it’s equally important–and maybe even more so–that we don’t fall into it ourselves willingly. And every time someone blithely suggests that we just wipe out all the members of a religion or ethnic group for the actions of a few of its members, I know that there will always be people willing to put on a uniform and man a guard tower if they perceive the approval of their peers, and if they convince themselves they’re acting for the good of their own people. And I will not stand for it or tolerate it, not now, not ever. Because if you don’t speak up when it isn’t dangerous, you may not get a chance to do so later, and your silence when you could have spoken up is a form of consent.

relics.

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The idea for the different beret colors for the service branches of the NAC military in my Frontlines novels isn’t unique to my fictional universe, of course. Every military that issues the beret as headgear has a color-coding system for the particular branches and military specialties. In the Frontlines universe, the NAC issues midnight blue berets to the Fleet, green ones to Homeworld Defense, and maroon ones to Spaceborne Infantry.

Maroon is the standard international color for airborne troops. Everyone except Russia issues maroon beanies to their paratroops. (The paratroopers of Russia have inherited the old Soviet Union airborne color, sky blue.) The beret in the picture above was one of my two issued berets when I served in the German Bundeswehr from 1989 to 1993. When it was time to turn in my gear, I turned in one beret and reported the other as lost and paid for it so I could keep it as a service souvenir.

In the Bundeswehr, combat troops wear green (infantry), black (armor), or maroon (airborne) berets. (Sound familiar? I also cribbed the Bundeswehr rank insignia and made up slightly modified versions for the post-reorganization NAC ranks. Authors steal literally everywhere and everything.) Logistics troops and combat support troops, such as artillery or engineers, wear red berets. The medical corps wears dark blue berets. The badge on the beret denotes the particular branch: airborne has a diving eagle, artillery has two crossed cannons, signals has a lightning flash, and so on. The beret I wore has the badge of the Fernspäher branch on it. The eagle stands for airborne capability, the lightning flashes for signals, and the marking flags for the reconnaissance mission.

The beret color still exists, of course, but the badge and its associated branch are no more. The Fernspäher branch was dissolved, and its personnel formed the nucleus of the new KSK (Kommando Spezialkraefte) special operations branch. Two of the three Fernspäher companies in existence were eliminated outright, and the third one was turned into a teaching and demonstration unit for spec ops training. With the loss of their distinct beret badge, the men of the FSLK200 were supposed to wear the new beret badge of the consolidated “Reconnaissance” arm of the army (two crossed marking flags without the eagle or the lightning flashes), but I’ve been told that FSLK200 personnel continued to wear the old Fernspäher badge on their berets in defiance of paper regulations, which is of course exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from troops with a high esprit de corps and a branch history dating back to the beginning of the Cold War.

It’s kind of strange to look at that beret and know that the branch it represents is no more. The barracks where I had my basic training is now a civilian apartment complex. The building where I used to stand in formation every morning for three months in the cold Southern German weather from January to March of 1989 still exists, but it has been renovated and fitted with modern insulation and windows, and it looks very little like the old “A-Building” that had our boot platoon housed on the second floor. That’s when I have to remind myself that the first day of basic training was almost 26 years ago. Things sure have changed in the quarter century since. My four years of service spanned the historic time from the tail end of the Cold War to the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and few four-year stretches have been as eventful. Thankfully, it all happened without any of us having to fire a shot in anger, which is a major privilege in and of itself.

A very small number of the soldiers I served with–my former peers–decided to go Pro and make the military a career. One’s a helicopter pilot who is now a Lieutenant Colonel. The other is a Stabsfeldwebel, which is the second-highest enlisted rank, equivalent to a Master Sergeant/First Sergeant (E-8). I find myself thinking that when I was in uniform, the Lieuteant Colonels and Master Sergeants were old dudes. And then I consider the possibility that I am now an old dude as well. Had I stayed in, I’d have close to 26 years of service time, and I’d be an E-8 or E-9 now. That is one scary-ass thought, and it makes me want to listen to some Britney Swift and do some rap-hop dancing or whatever it is the kids do these days for fun at their sex parties with their hoverpants and their video games.

 

 

 

walls and fences.

25 years….don’t they go by in a blink.

A quarter-century ago, the Wall between East and West Berlin finally came down, and a divided city and country began growing back together after 45 years of enforced separation.

I was in the military at the time. When the Iron Curtain became porous, and the flow of refugees went from a trickle to a steady flow and then a tidal wave, I was a young private, barely 18. It felt momentous at the time, but it was mostly a punch-drunk rush, so many things of such magnitude happening so quickly that you lost your sense of being firmly anchored in history. We didn’t know what was going to happen in the following years when those first Trabis came across the border, but we knew that things would never go back to the way they had been.

Whenever some starry-eyed campus Marxist waxes on about the failures of capitalism and the free market, I know that they never got to cross from West Germany into the East, and have their world turn from color to gray. And I tell them that the truth of the matter is this: no capitalist free market society has ever had to use walls and guns and barbed wire to keep their population from leaving, but every socialist or communist country does.

The East German legal system had a term for the felony committed when trying to leave the country without (almost impossible to get) permission: Republikflucht, “flight from the Republic”.  Tens of thousands were arrested and imprisoned for the offense, and many hundreds were killed attempting to cross.

And that’s why I flinch whenever someone runs their mouth about putting a similar border fence up along our southern border. When you advocate that sort of thing—when you call for armed guards on that wall—you have to be aware what “closing the border” would entail. Who is going to machine-gun unarmed men, women, and children trying to cross that river and climb those fences? Will it be the people who wanted that wall there? Will it be their children? Or will they just pay some barely-out-of-high-school kid twenty grand a year to do that unpleasant work for them? And to what end?

Free people and free markets don’t require fences and armed guards, whether it’s to keep people in or out. I’ll never be a fan of walls and fences, no matter which way the barbed wire on top is pointed.

bow & arrow.

Back when I went to community college in Tennessee, I took archery as one of my P.E. classes, and found that I really enjoyed it. Ever since then, I had plans to get a bow of my own and shoot it regularly, but we didn’t have the space in Tennessee, and other priorities got in the way after we moved to New Hampshire.

Last year I finally bought a decent bow and ancillary equipment, and started flinging arrows again. It’s a recurve bow with no added equipment–no sights, fancy arrow rest, or bow-mounted quiver. I like the low-tech aspect of it, and it’s more of a challenge to get good with what’s essentially just a length of springy wood and a string.

I often take it out when I’m waiting for the school bus, and shoot at the orange bag at various distances. I try to empty the twelve-arrow quiver three or four times before the bus drops the kids off at the bottom of our driveway. It’s interesting just how precisely you can shoot an arrow off a fairly simple bow with a little bit of practice. And archery is one of the sports where you can see rapid improvement with frequent practice. I’ll notice when I haven’t shot a bow for a few weeks–the arrows tend to go a little wider than usual–but get back to it for a day or three, and you can pop that bag eleven out of twelve times at 30 yards and feel like some bad-ass middle-aged Robin Hood again.

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First session after a month and a half without any practice. Half an hour later, they were all reliably in the bag again.

they can thank “blackboard jungle” for that one.

This excellent and thorough Village Voice article on the outdated, arbitrary, and capricious knife laws in New York City is about “gravity knives”, but those laws share the hallmarks of most weapons-related legislation:

  • They were passed in an emotional atmosphere fanned by perceptions and media coverage
  • They have little to no basis in demonstrable facts or science
  • Their intent at enactment was to disarm specific ethnic or racial groups
  • They are used as a universal legal adapter to arrest primarily people from those ethnic or racial groups at will
  • Their statutory language is intentionally vague and interpreted by law enforcement in the broadest possible definition to make it applicable to as many people as possible
  • They are still used disproportionately against specific ethnic and racial groups
  • They are used to pad arrest and prosecution statistics artificially to make the police and DAs look tough on crime
  • They put thousands or even tens of thousands of nonviolent people in prison who have no proven criminal intent
  • They are enforced inconsistently, arbitrarily, and unequally depending on race, ethnicity, and social status of the accused person

Most weapons laws aren’t about public safety, they are–and always have been–about social control. 

travel report, part the second.

When last we checked in with our intrepid correspondent, Team Munchkin Wrangler had returned from their excellent little side trip to Vienna.

Back at my brother’s place, we spent the next few days with Family Stuff™. One thing that really worked out well on this trip was the way in which we were able to spread ourselves around evenly among the family so everyone could spend time with us and nobody felt like they got the short end of the stick. Robin and I went gift-shopping in Muenster and used the opportunity to leave Lyra and Quinn with my mother, who was more than happy to ply them with toys and treats all day long.

(When we came to pick them up, I asked my mom if they’d had nothing but candy all day long. She shook her head and asserted that OF COURSE they’d had real food. At McDonald’s.)

The kids had no problem at all being the center of attention and consuming their own body weights in German candy all day long at Oma’s place, and we got to stroll around Muenster without any complaints about hurting feet or boredom.

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Quinn, Lyra, and their Oma.

Lyra even got to spend a day at a German kindergarten with her cousin Janne, who is also five years old. You’d figure the language barrier would have been a problem, but at that age, it doesn’t seem to hold them back much when they can’t really understand the words coming out of the other’s mouth. When I came to pick her up, she asked to go again the next day. (“It’s a school just for playing!”) In Germany, kindergarten starts at age 3, so they don’t do all that much educational stuff in the mixed classes and mostly let the kids engage in free play.

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The sight that greeted me when I walked into the Kindergarten to pick up Lyra.

I took a little bit of time on this trip to visit some landmarks of my childhood. This time I had a DSLR in tow, thanks to my friend Oleg. For example, I went to see my old kindergarten in the center of Muenster:

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St. Ludgeri kindergarten in Muenster. I went there as a wee lad, back in 1976-77.

I also drove out to a small village called Ladbergen, where we used to live in the late 1970s. I’ve always had fond memories of that quaint little place, unlike some of the places we lived in subsequent years.

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Moeller’s Hof gasthaus in Ladbergen. My father ran the place in the late 1970s/early 1980s. My sister Nadine was born while we lived here.

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The village bookstore, still in the same spot where it stood in 1978/79. I used it as my unofficial library quite a bit.

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Another gasthaus on what is Main Street in town. Also another family landmark: my little brother got hit by a car right in front of the place. (He was fine.)

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My old elementary school. I spent second and third grades here.

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The church and main cemetery, right in the town center. I played there a lot as a kid with my local friends.

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A closer look at the church and that ancient cemetery wall all around the place.

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Detail above the church door. It’s been in that spot for a while. The words are “Come; for all things are now ready”, from Luke 14:15-24, the parable of the Great Supper.

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Memorial in the cemetery, commemorating “our brothers fallen for king and fatherland” of the Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian Wars. Before the German Empire’s establishment in 1871, Westphalia was part of the Kingdom of Prussia.

I appreciated that the trip was unhurried enough for me to indulge in a bit of personal history sleuthing, going back to places I hadn’t seen in thirty years or more. If you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you’re headed.

(Part Three to follow, in which I will show you around Muenster, my favorite city.)

analog data: the longevity thereof.

One of my regular reads from the old Fatherland has an interesting article today about a letter that took 71 years to deliver. (link is in German)

In WWII, German troops occupied the Channel island of Jersey for five years. Some of the local yoots decided to steal a bag of German military mail as an act of defiance. They didn’t destroy the letters, but kept them safely stashed away. One of the former defiant yoots turned a bunch of them in to the Jersey archives 70 years later. They made copies, translated what they could, and then contacted the post office. The Jersey post office got in touch with the German Mail, and together they came up with the idea to deliver whatever letters they still could. Some of the recipients couldn’t be located, some letters went to (now luckily defunct) National Socialist organizations and offices and definitely couldn’t be delivered anymore, but ten of the letters found their way to the addressees or their descendants.

I’ve mentioned the hand-written recipe books my wife owns—they were written by her maternal grandmother before she emigrated to the United States in the early 1920s. Not only can I still read them (with a little difficulty—the Sütterlin script taught in schools back then can be a bit hard to decipher even for a German speaker), but it’s really neat to be able to hold and own an object that she owned and filled with her own handwriting. The postcard story above reinforces to me that the analog ways of data recording and transmission not only still have value, but also advantages that digital data lacks. Imagine if your descendants go through some old stuff in the attic in seventy years and find a USB stick with your writings or drawings on it. Will they be able to extract the data on whatever computers they use in 2082?

(I have a set of Jaz disks in a box in the attic that have some of Robin’s college and grad school stuff on them. I’m quite handy with a computer, but even I don’t have the necessary hardware and drivers to extract that data. How about a bunch of 5.25” floppies with WordStar documents on them? Or maybe a 3.5” disk formatted for AmigaOS?)

Handwritten notes, however, will still be perfectly legible and accessible, providing they’re stored in a dry spot.

That assumes, of course, that our descendants in 2082 can still read.

do you hate a plant more than you love your rights?

Prohibition causes huge profit margins for dealers cause turf wars cause violence causes public concern causes calls to “do something” cause gun control. If you’re for prohibition, you are for gun control. That’s irrespective of the substance to be prohibited.

I posted that on Facebook yesterday, in response to one of my FB friends posting about the pot legalization law in Colorado. I want to expand on that statement a little, even though in its current form it’s pretty much distilled down into the TL;DR form already.

Prohibition of a desired substance or item always causes a black market, unless you have police powers and social controls similar to the German occupation forces in WWII Eastern Europe. (And the fact that even the Nazis were never able to fully suppress the black market for cigarettes and butter despite death penalties for “economic parasites” just shows how nigh-impossible it is to kill that sort of entrepreneurship.) The reason is simple: government prohibition of a desired good makes that good artificially expensive, and all the profits go to those willing to risk bucking the system. As the Prohibition was an effective price control and profit guarantee for bootleggers, hooch runners, and speakeasies, the current War on Some Drugs serves in the same fashion for pot growers, cocaine smugglers, and meth cooks. The risks are high, but when you pass a law that effectively puts a 10,000% profit margin on a simple plant product, you will always have plenty of people taking the risks involved in its manufacture and distribution. That’s a simple economic fact, and working against it is as pointless as working against gravity.

(It may not seem obvious from the position of a reasonably prosperous American suburbanite, but imagine I put an ad on Craigslist and offer twenty times the average annual U.S. salary to volunteers willing to smuggle twenty pounds of banned Earl Grey tea into a foreign country. How many takers do you think I would get per week? Answer that question to yourself, and you’ll realize why it’s utterly pointless when the DEA busts some scraggly smuggler at the border crossing with a few pounds of Colombian marching powder sewn into his car seat.)

Because people can make astronomical profits serving the market for the prohibited goods, turf wars between the suppliers are also inevitable. And because they’re all operating in an extralegal space already, they solve their competition issues in an extralegal way—gang violence. Prohibitions drive up the crime statistics directly (turf warfare between the gangs and syndicates involved), and indirectly (the ancillary crime related to the customers of those syndicates having to finance their purchases via property crime). Sooner or later, the public violence gets to a point where Joe and Jane Q. Public want Something To Be Done, and that something is often a push for arms control. The Prohibition violence brought us NFA ‘34, banning what were perceived the typical tools of the trade of gangsters: short-barreled shotguns and automatic weapons. (Machine guns got slapped with a tax rather than banned outright, but a $200 tax stamp on a gun retailing for less than half that in a time where the average annual wage is $1,300 is effectively a ban.) The 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill was a result of the drug wars of the 1980s and 1990s (and Joe and Jane Q. Public watching Miami Vice as a documentary). And that stuff is a mere inconvenience compared to the awful excesses of asset forfeiture laws, which have given police departments all over the country a financial incentive to outright steal property from citizens without the inconvenience of having to prove that a crime occurred.

It’s interesting how the same people who scoff at the notion that criminals won’t use guns if they’re banned can simultaneously hold the opinion that people will stop using or trading in drugs when they’re banned. They’ll use the same arguments the gun control crowd makes in favor of gun bans: at least it’ll be more difficult to get them, we can just come up with really draconian punishments for offenders, and doing nothing will make things worse. If that logic doesn’t apply to guns, why should it apply to drugs—which are easier to make and smuggle, and carry much higher profit margins? The rules of the market are what they are, and they don’t bend around a pet cause. And what if that “doing something” is in fact far worse than doing nothing? Gun control is unilateral disarmament of the law-abiding citizen in favor of the criminal. Drug prohibition is government-enforced price control for drug cartels, and a universal adaptor for an overreaching police state. Both cures are far more poisonous to the host than the problems they mean to fix. And the kicker is that support for the latter invariably results in getting more of the former.

battleship.

My friend Mark went to visit USS Iowa (BB-61). Being a 3D animator type, he took a metric crapton of detail pictures. If you’ve never been on an Iowa-class battleship, or you’re just a sucker for those big-ass ships and their big-ass guns, his Picasa page of the trip is worth a look.