But he doesn’t look the type!

After reading my post about Lindsay Shepherd, my research assistant (the small one) said something to the effect of:

“Those guys look like complete weirdos! The one on the left looks like the sort of person who appears in your posts on polyamory!”

She is referring to Nathan Rambukkana, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University:

Let’s take a look at his biography:

My book, Fraught Intimacies: Non/Monogamy in the Public Sphere (UBC Press, 2015) explores the increased mediation of non-monogamies since the early nineties—in every medium from television, to film, to self-help books, to the Internet—and how such convergent mediation opens these discourses up to societal scrutiny, as well as transformation. By exploring the privileged logics that frame our conceptions of intimacy, I explore the political and cultural implications of how we frame non-monogamy broadly in sexual discourse, as well as how the public sphere presences of three major forms of non-monogamy (adultery, polygamy and polyamory) display a complex relationship with “intimate privilege,” an emergent state in which one’s intimacies are read as viable, ethical or even real.

Now there’s a surprise, eh? If the media wants us to buy the line that polyamory is now mainstream, we’re going to have to overlook the fact that most people involved with it are complete weirdos and many of them have serious issues which urgently need addressing.

Share

Light Pollution

I confess, I’ve never quite seen what the complaint was here:

A study of pictures of Earth by night has revealed that artificial light is growing brighter and more extensive every year.

Between 2012 and 2016, the planet’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by more than 2% per year.

Scientists say a “loss of night” in many countries is having negative consequences for “flora, fauna, and human well-being”.

The only downside I can see about light pollution is that you can’t see the night sky, which is admittedly very pretty. If this is a cost of living in a big city, being able to see where you’re going, and avoiding being mugged or assaulted, then it’s a small one. If it means that much to you, or any other stargazer, you have options: go and live in mid-Wales, or drive to Scotland or Bodmin Moor. Or take a job on Sakhalin: the visibility of the night sky there was often spectacular, particularly when we went camping way out of town.

It showed that changes in brightness over time varied greatly by country. Some of the world’s “brightest nations”, such as the US and Spain, remained the same. Most nations in South America, Africa and Asia grew brighter.

Yes, they’re getting richer and people generally don’t like having to go to bed at sundown or remain indoors. Africa is still mostly in darkness, as is North Korea (famously). This is not generally considered a good thing.

The nocturnal satellite images – of glowing coastlines and spider-like city networks – look quite beautiful but artificial lighting has unintended consequences for human health and the environment.

Really?

In 2016, the American Medical Association officially recognised the “detrimental effects of poorly designed, high-intensity LED lighting”, saying it encouraged communities to “minimise and control blue-rich environmental lighting by using the lowest emission of blue light possible to reduce glare. The sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is particularly sensitive to blue light.

What’s this got to do with overall levels of outdoor lighting?

A recent study published in the journal Nature revealed that artificial light was a threat to crop pollination – reducing the pollinating activity of nocturnal insects.

That explains the reduced yields in inner-city wheat fields.

Research in the UK revealed that trees in more brightly lit areas burst their buds up to a week earlier than those in areas without artificial lighting.

Causing children to die of surprise.

A study published earlier this year found that urban light installations “dramatically altered” the behaviour of nocturnally migrating birds.

The BBC didn’t even bother linking to this one or naming the study. Which is a shame, because I was curious as to where these birds were ending up.

Prof Kevin Gaston from the University of Exeter told BBC News that humans were “imposing abnormal light regimes on ourselves”.

We’d much rather blunder around in the dark, we just don’t know it.

“You now struggle to find anywhere in Europe with a natural night sky – without that skyglow we’re all familiar with.”

Bollocks. Drive into the middle of France, or up into the Alps.

“For light, it’s just a case of directing it where we need it and not wasting it where we don’t.”

Presumably this chap thinks lighting is something just thrown up willy-nilly with barely any thought.

Dr Kyba said that we could make our urban areas much dimmer and not actually cause any problems for visibility.

“Human vision relies on contrast, not the amount of light,” he explained.

Something hithero unknown to those who make their living in the multi-billion dollar global lighting industry: they’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

If we’re reduced to complaining about light pollution, we’ve solved the big issues facing mankind, haven’t we?

Share

Hierarchical Bullies

A story doing the rounds over the last couple of days concerns Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. Briefly, Miss Shepherd showed her class a video clip of a televised public debate featuring Jordan Peterson, who is either a Nazi or a fairly normal chap depending on your point of view, in order to demonstrate that there are two sides to every debate. She was then hauled over the coals for several hours and reduced to tears by these two fuckwits:

David Thompson has the story covered and I recommend anyone interested pops over there and reads both the post and the comments. The case has caused outrage, mainly because Miss Shepherd was smart enough to record her bollocking and lay bare the Kafkaesque bullying she received at the hands of her supposed academic superiors. This article from the National Post gives a flavour, as does this one from the same place regarding one of the professor’s pathetic apology.

But it was this tweet which caught my attention, referring to those interrogating Shepherd:

It would be tempting to convince ourselves that such behaviour exists only in the clown-quarter that is western academia, but what Freek Groeneveld describes is widespread throughout many modern organisations, including corporations.

Firstly there is the relying on authority. I don’t know how many times I’ve been sat in front of someone who has dared speak to me in a certain way solely because he or she sat above me in the company hierarchy. Had the roles been reversed, they’d never have uttered a squeak; had the situation arisen outside of a work environment, they’d have been lucky to avoid getting a slap. In the brief periods I’ve been a manager I learned that if you are relying solely on your authority then you’re already in trouble. By all means use your position to make a decision, but if you rely on it to prevail in an argument it’s a sign you’ve already lost. If you rely on it to manage your people effectively, then you really shouldn’t be in the post. Nobody who has earned the respect of their subordinates should be relying on their position in the managerial hierarchy (technical hierarchy is somewhat different); that should be almost incidental if you’re managing people properly.

Secondly, there’s the “we all agreed” line. Too often I have heard the words “it was discussed” in relation to a subject that was briefly mentioned in passing, rapidly glossed over, or delivered in a monologue by a manager to a subordinate. It’s a deliberate ploy to lay the foundations for the next step in a process without the necessary bother of having to make a proper case, secure agreement, or listen to dissent.

The mistake Miss Shepherd made was to cooperate with what was obviously a kangaroo court. I can see why she did, but she’d have been better off understanding that the people she was dealing with were not acting in good faith. They were not seeking an explanation, they did not want to give her an opportunity to salvage her reputation, the whole process was set up so they could exercise their power over someone in a compromised position. The whole charade was a demonstration of their power, authority, and egos – and this is true for so much of what passes for management in modern organisations.

I know this is easy to say, but she ought to have flipped the script on them. You’ve seen how frustrating little shitlord kids are, the sort you see on police reality TV shows having been caught shoplifting. When questioned they interrupt, deliberately misunderstand the question, respond to a question with one of their own, ignore their interlocutors for periods, etc. and generally show utter, complete contempt towards the people in front of them. Miss Shepherd should have opted for a form of this. e.g. by laughing in the guy’s face when he uses some stupid term like “positionality” and say “What? What the hell does that mean? Did you just invent it?” She should have shaken her head confused and asked the guy to repeat himself, and then start looking out the window when he’s halfway through doing so. There are a million passive-aggressive tricks she could have pulled to signal her contempt for the whole process and the people conducting it.

The reason she didn’t do this is because, like thousands of Soviets who were hauled before similar tribunals, they believed they’d done nothing wrong and thought cooperating would make them leave her alone. She would have worried that if she didn’t cooperate they’d punish her, possibly by firing her. We all have bills to pay, and we all need a job. This is why so many people allow themselves to get bullied by those above them in the hierarchy: they think by cooperating with unreasonable people they’ll get treated less harshly. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I suspect she was finished from the moment they hauled her in, and the only way to save herself was by fighting back – hard. She – and anyone else in a similar position – needs to understand that the worst that can happen is you lose your job: you’re not going to get shot or sent to a Siberian camp, so grow some fucking balls. Secondly, she ought to have flipped the script in the way I described until one of them loses their cool and says something which could get them fired. Or something close to it. Then she needed to walk out and pen a letter to the head of the university describing her version of the meeting, shorn of all context and scattered liberally with terms that lawyers like to use in divorce hearings. In other words, assume the role of bully for herself and go on the warpath. It might not work, and she might get fired anyway, but it might also make them back the hell off, or at least get them on the defensive and having to explain their actions. And it’s better than grovelling in front of a star-chamber.

This is how anyone should deal with a bully in any organisation. Note that I mentioned her letter should be shorn of context. This is important. A mistake a lot of people make is to write thousands of words when lodging a complaint or defending themselves, whereas the whole idea is to give the other person the biggest headache possible. I remember once being asked to sign a document I didn’t want to. I thought about writing an explanation why, but in the end I simply wrote:

“I have no intention of signing this document.”

and left it at that. Let them come back to you to find out why you won’t sign it. If you’re going to be treated like shit, don’t make it easy for them. Simply resort to one sentence replies and make them run around trying to work out what you’re thinking. Here’s another I’ve used, in its entirety:

“Your email appears to contravene the corporate ethics policy.”

I never said how or why: let them figure out what you could possibly mean. Give them a sleepless night or two. Get the headache on their desk, and off yours.

I wish more people stood up to bullies, and to Lindsay Shepherd’s credit she gave it a damned good shot; by recording the meeting and making it go viral, she’s probably going to have the last laugh. But the way to stop this thing from happening in the first place is for people to grow a pair and not cooperate. If people could stand up and shout down Stalin’s show-trials, we ought to be able to stand up to wankers like those at Wilfrid Laurier University at the risk of getting a bad report.

Share

Polyamorists of Yore

Well, whaddya know? Another article – this time in The Guardian – telling us how perfectly normal and mainstream polyamory is (thanks to my research assistant for pointing me towards it. No, not that one. Nor the other one. This one is, erm, heavier.)

How movies brought polyamory into the mainstream

Why, it’s so mainstream you get a free extra partner with every third box of washing powder!

Non-monogamous relationships used to be portrayed as disastrous in film.

Thank goodness for audiences’ ability to suspend belief, eh?

Last week, a very different period drama hit cinemas. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women concerns a real-life love story between a professor and his academic wife – and their teaching student, Olive. From the late 1920s onwards, they begin sharing a workplace, a bed, a home and eventually a family.

Angela Robinson’s biopic of the creator of Wonder Woman, American psychologist William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), may be the most positive depiction of polyamory – the state of being in love with more than one person – in mainstream film to date. It posits that the comic-book superheroine was inspired by a happy, long-term union between the feminist Marston, his brilliant, acerbic wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and bright young student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), as well as their dalliances with S&M, a theme that worked its way into the comics. Despite the controversy the latter caused at the time, it is an accessible, occasionally moving film that treats the three-way relationship much like a typical movie coupling. This makes it decidedly atypical in the history of cinema.

Now I’ve had a brief look at the story behind this chap and his two lovers and unless what I could find online has been sanitised, it seems the three of them made a proper go of it. Well, good for them. I’ve never said polyamory can’t work, I’ve just said that it is very unusual and most examples I’ve heard of are based mainly in sex/shagging around and end in disaster after a very short time. In fact, I think it’s telling that in order to make a film about a polyamorous relationship that didn’t end in disaster they’ve had to go all the way back to 1930 to find an example of one. If this was so mainstream one would have thought they’d have used a more modern example – or not bothered to make a film of it at all.

Also, none of the accounts I have read of this particular case indicated there was any sex going on outside the trio, i.e. it was a locked-down version of polyamory. Most other accounts involved one or more of the partner being free to go off and have sex with someone else, provided the ground rules are followed (and they’re often not), which isn’t quite the same thing. The relationship depicted in this film seems to differ from contemporary accounts of polyamory by virtue of it not, at least on the surface, being centred wholly around sex and shagging around.

This line in the article amuses me somewhat:

It posits that the comic-book superheroine was inspired by a happy, long-term union between the feminist Marston, his brilliant, acerbic wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and bright young student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), as well as their dalliances with S&M, a theme that worked its way into the comics.

An alpha-male with a wife and a mistress who are into threesomes and S&M is a feminist, is he? Wikipedia goes further:

Marston had 2 children each with both his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and his live-in mistress Olive Byrne. Elizabeth supported the family financially while Byrne stayed home to take care of all four children. Both Olive and Elizabeth “embodied the feminism of the day.”

Now I have no reason to think this Marston chap was a bad ‘un, and his women appear to be happy with the arrangement so good for all three of them. But two women agreeing to be part of a harem is an embodiment of feminism? Are the multiple wives of Mormons feminists too?

In my previous post I wrote about how modern-day feminists seem happy to let all sorts of weirdos and scumbags into their circles provided they are on-message with the latest progressive pronouncements. We can add to that a bizarre habit of calling anyone a feminist if their lifestyle meets with their approval. No wonder so many of them come across as barking mad.

Share

The Feminists who Enable Sex-Pests

I’ve written before about my theory that many feminists take a dim view of men because those they choose to associate with are low-grade scumbags. Only recently we had a woman saying that all men were sex-pests and a few minutes later labelling men who weren’t sex-pests as “boring”, and I have written several posts on how Laurie Penny’s views of men tell us more about who she befriends than it does about men in general. Just in case one or two of you were thinking this theory doesn’t hold water, let me share this tweet from Laurie herself:

Now there’s a surprise, eh? But let’s just bask in the irony of someone who befriends and partners-up with a serial rapist presuming to lecture the world on the dangers of men and The Patriarchy.

So did our gal know what was going on? Did she cover for him? Alas, we don’t know and she isn’t saying:

Frankly, I’mm not surprised in the least that at least one of Laurie’s friends have turned out to be a rapist. She already told us this:

So, I’ve got this friend with a shady past. He’s a clever and conscientious person who grew up in the patriarchy, and he knows that he’s done things which may not have been criminal but have hurt people, and by people he means women. My friend has hurt women, and he doesn’t know what to do about that now, and from time to time we talk about it. That’s how it happened that, a few weeks ago, halfway through an effervescent confession in a coffee shop, the following words came out of his mouth: “Technically, I don’t think I’ve raped anyone.”

And as I said about another former friend of hers:

Why do I get the impression that this individual is not half as normal and decent as Penny is letting us believe. At a guess, I would say he is a slimy fucker of the first water who hangs around lefty circles hoping to get into the knickers of women, usually much younger and with low self-esteem and few morals, throwing out leftist and feminist platitudes to get himself accepted with no further scrutiny. Penny, at nineteen years of age, ought to have stayed well away from him even if she didn’t think he was a rapist.

For a self-declared feminist warrior who pops up in the national media to denounce misogyny and demonise men in general, she seems to befriend an awful lot of rapists and serial abusers. But as I say in the paragraph above, these types will gravitate towards people like her. Consider this tweet I read today:

Erika makes a good point. Abusive people deliberately target dysfunctional communities – such as hardcore leftists and polyamorists – knowing they won’t be turfed out on their ear. Instead, by spouting the right political platitudes, they’ll be liked and respected and can count on the support of the rest of the group if anyone lodges a complaint against them.

All of this is obvious, none of it should be a surprise. It seems a lot of these people complaining about sexually-abusive men are enabling and protecting them. For now I’ll charitably assume they are doing so unwittingly.

Share

Don’t be that guy

I bring to your attention this tweet from Iowahawk and two responses, one of which is mine:

On the one hand, you have this batshit insane idea pushed by deranged feminists that unwanted attention such as catcalling, suggestive remarks, or flirting constitutes sexual harassment or even assault, and that all such interactions should be eliminated from the workplace and greater society. If that were to happen, men and women would never get together.

On the other hand, you have this idea that middle-aged men ought to be trying it on with women half their age because a tiny minority of men in highly unusual circumstances manage to do so. In this post, Chateau Heartiste quotes one of his commenters thusly:

[A father] would be delighted with his mid-teens daughter marrying a proper 30-year old man.

Uh-huh. This is a major problem with the red-pilled, manosphere, PUA blogs: the authors may have some experience with women worth sharing, but they induce in their commenters delusions no less idiotic than those of their feminist counterparts.

It is well known that women, in general, like men who are a bit older. How much older? It depends, but not that much older. 18 year old girls like 24 year old men, 25 year old girls like 30 year old men, something like that. There are some exceptions: ageing rock stars, politicians, and other high-status individuals do okay with young women; teenage hookers seem happy to accept customers of any age; there are an abundance of emotionally-scarred girls with deep-rooted daddy issues attracted to men twice their age; and occasionally you come across a genuine relationship with a big age-gap that seems normal. And there’s nothing wrong with any of this.

But that doesn’t mean the average young girl you meet in a bar or on the street is interested in a bloke miles older than them. Sure, they might be interested in a particular guy who’s much older than them, but it is highly unlikely to be you. Whereas it is true that it’s a man’s right and prerogative to try it on with any woman he fancies, the flip side of that is a man really ought to know who’s in his league and who isn’t. That some men don’t ever figure this out is why the category “creep” exists. It gets overused for sure, particularly by women, but it also applies to deeply average guys in their 30s or 40s thinking they’re in with half a chance with the teenage intern. As Iowahawk says, best wait until you’re flirted at before you make a fool of yourself and get branded a creep. I saw a lot of this on Sakhalin, middle-aged men thinking every pretty young Russian girl found them desirable, leading to some excruciating advances which the women didn’t like very much. And a lot did what Carl Gustav warns of, i.e. they interpreted a girl being nice as flirting.

Of course, most men find much younger women attractive and desirable, but this is a big step away from the idea that they should therefore hit on them. Frankly, I don’t know who the hell would want a relationship with a much younger woman anyway, except for obvious physical reasons. I know women of 23 now, and I occasionally meet 18 year olds: they come across as annoying kids. Who the hell would want to hang around them? I’ve often suspected older guys who go for naive, immature women do so because their females peers can see right through them.

There’s a caveat in here, though. The age gap ceases to matter once a woman has passed 28 or 30 or so because she’s probably mature and experienced enough to know what she’s doing. Anyone who thinks a woman of 18 or 20 is mature enough to know what she’s doing in the company of a 40 year old man probably doesn’t know many 18 year old women. Perhaps in the past this was common, but I’d be interested to get the perspective from the women on what their marriages were like. The general rule of thumb, which I think is sensible, is the “half age plus seven” rule, e.g. 27 is the approximate lower limit for a 40 year old man, 22 for a 30 year old.

Exceptions abound in all of this of course, and I’m writing this post mainly to make the point that, while we all roll our eyes at feminists complaining about the natural attraction women have to older, powerful men the other side of the internet is filled with bro’d-up wannabe-alphas thinking young women are just waiting to be “gamed” by much older men. We should roll our eyes at them, too. Knowing your market and avoiding the creep label ought to be top priorities of any man entering middle-age with an intention of dating women.

Share

Al Franken is an arse, but he shouldn’t resign over this photo

Earlier this week, a judge by the name of Roy Moore stood accused of sexually assaulting a teenage woman in Alabama, the state for which he will shortly run for senator as a Republican. The accusations date back decades meaning we’re never going to find out what happened, but the guy comes across as a slimy bastard at best: he did an interview with Sean Hannity which only served to make him look shiftier, and the comments from his lawyer can’t have helped much. If he had any sense he’d withdraw from the race, and Republicans would back someone less dodgy.

The trouble is, Moore has become the trench in which many Republicans have selected to fight what they see as Democrat hypocrisy, particularly over Bill Clinton. Why should Moore resign over ancient, unproven allegations of sexual assault when the Democrats defended Slick Willie for decades and still wheel him out at fundraisers and election campaigns? The Republicans have a good point, but defending Moore is an odd way to go about it: certainly, I’d not want to be among those defending him. Innocent until proven guilty is an important principle to uphold when dispensing justice, but I am happy to accept a lower burden of proof when someone is merely running for office.

But things took a stupid turn yesterday when former comedian and Democrat senator Al Franken was accused of forcibly kissing and groping a model by the name of Leeann Tweeden when they visited Iraq in 2006. A picture has emerged of Franken allegedly groping Tweeden as she sleeps:

This photo – taken by Franken’s brother – is being held up as being proof of Tweeden’s allegations and a lot of people are now calling for his resignation. The way things are going, they’ll probably get their way.

Now I really don’t like Franken. I didn’t know of him until I saw him question Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s Supreme Court pick, during his nomination hearings and he came across as a deeply ignorant partisan fool. If he resigns it’s hard to see how American politics would be worse off, but to do so on the basis of that photo is stupid. Now it’s clear Franken is an idiot and taking photos like that is not the wisest thing to do. But it was before he was a senator at a time when he was a comedian, or what passes for one these days, and it was obviously meant as a joke. Tweeden is asleep but wearing a flak jacket, and it’s not even clear that Franken’s hands are touching it. It is humiliating for Tweeden, and Franken should have been given a bollocking for it, and perhaps Tweeden’s claim that he forcibly kissed her should be taken more seriously – but to say this photo is proof of sexual assault on the same level as that which Moore is accused of is absolute nonsense.

It’s probably been a long time coming, but America is in the middle of a moral panic over sexual assaults both real and imagined. Unable to deal with it sensibly, everyone is just digging political trenches and lobbing hand-grenades at the other side when this ought to have nothing to do with politics at all. Unfortunately, everything is about politics these days and as such we’re being subject to ever-more bizarre displays of political posturing. The worrying thing is I don’t think we’re anywhere close to rock-bottom yet, and moral panics rarely end well.

Share

Blue on Blue

This is amusing:

An internal investigation has been launched at the Detroit Police Department after two different precincts got into a turf war as they converged on an east side neighborhood.

Sources say it started when two special ops officers from the 12th Precinct were operating a “push off” on Andover near Seven Mile. That is when two undercover officers pretend to be dope dealers, waiting for eager customers to approach, and then arrest potential buyers and seize their vehicles.

But this time, instead of customers, special ops officers from the 11th Precinct showed up. Not realizing they were fellow officers, they ordered the other undercover officers to the ground.

FOX 2 is told the rest of the special ops team from the 12th Precinct showed up, and officers began raiding a house in the 19300 block of Andover. But instead of fighting crime, officers from both precincts began fighting with each other.

Sources say guns were drawn and punches were thrown while the homeowner stood and watched.

The first question asked by the investigation team ought to be why are police posing as drug dealers? If they have resources to spare capturing people who show an interest in buying dope, Detroit must be in much better shape than I thought. Or is this just an easy way to get arrest numbers and conviction rates up, rather than catching those who have made Detroit the city with the second highest murder rate in America?

Anyway, this reminded me of a story I heard about when I was in Lagos. All expats working in my company were issued with an emergency radio thing, a bit like a walkie-talkie but also with a GPS tracker and a panic button. On this device we’d receive regular text messages warning us of any incidents we ought to avoid, and one day we were notified of a shoot-out at a crossroads near a supermarket popular with expats. The next day I got more details from someone who worked in security.

Apparently the army was doing something – marching, protesting, who knows what? – and had blocked a road. A well-to-do woman in a fancy car decided she wasn’t making a detour and ignored the road block. This enraged one of the army officers who stopped the car, dragged her out by the hair, and pistol-whipped her. Only it turned out her father was an admiral in the Nigerian navy and when she called daddy he dispatched a unit of marines to the scene. From there the whole thing escalated into a shooting match between the Nigerian army and navy, right there in the middle of Lagos. Apparently there were casualties, but as is always the case with these things you’ll never get the full story.

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking Africa is like Europe only less developed and poorer. It isn’t. Africa is…well, different. I expect Detroit is, too.

Share

A Fear of Heights

From the BBC:

An Australian diplomat has died after falling from a New York City balcony while socialising with friends.

Julian Simpson, 30, accidentally slipped from a seventh-floor ledge of his Manhattan building to a landing on the second floor, the NYPD said.

US media reported he was playing a “trust game” with a friend when he fell.

This is tragic for his family and friends, and 30 seems a bit old to be pulling stunts like this. Then again, I’ve found a lot of Australian men shed the reckless bravado of youth rather later than most, if at all.

One thing’s for sure, you’d not catch me playing “trust games” seven stories up. I have a very mixed relationship with heights: I am fine in a tall building, I don’t mind being hoiked in the air by a crane while sat in a frog, helicopters and planes are okay, and working on the outside of tall structures while clipped on doesn’t bother me (but takes a little getting used to). But put me on a balcony with a low railing, or near a ledge, and I go weak at the knees and start to feel sick. The fear is twofold: I am petrified of someone pushing me over the edge either on purpose or by accident, but also I have a burning desire to jump off which I am never convinced I can overcome. This means I can abseil without much fear, but if I were to visit somewhere like the Trolltunga in Norway you’d not see me taking selfies at the edge, or sat with my legs dangling into the void. You’re more likely to find me a mile away, looking at it through binoculars. There’s something about being up high and unsecured that terrifies me, which is why I’d not be hanging out of windows seven floors up in New York.

Sometimes just for fun I lie in bed and watch videos of those Russian or Ukrainan nutters who climb buildings and cranes with GoPros on their heads. There are two in particular that I like, both in China:

Even in bed these videos make my stomach churn, which makes them fun to watch in a masochist kind of way. This one of a couple of Romanians climbing a chimney in Slovenia is good too:

Frankly, I think the people who do this sort of thing are complete idiots but at the same time astonishingly brave. It’s a shame this Australian lad didn’t stick to watching videos of other people doing stupid things rather than having a go himself.

Share

Contrasting Camps

In the comments under this post, Toblerone-scoffing abacab makes this remark:

And precious few know about the Soviet policy of deliberate starvation of entire regions, or of shipping thousands of people out into the tundra or the taiga in the middle of winter and leaving them there without food, shelter or tools.

The Soviets didn’t need extermination camps when they could just dump people in the middle of nowhere with little chance of survival. Solzhenitsyn reports an anecdote about one such group actually surviving until years later, when they were promptly rounded up again, shipped off somewhere else, and perished.

Although this is true, there is still a difference between the Soviet GULAG system and the concentration and extermination camp system run by the Nazis. I put this in a comment at Samizdata recently as an explanation as to why the horrors of the Soviets don’t resonate as much as those of the Nazis:

Every major power has massacred other people or those who they deem a political threat, and what the Soviets did was of much the same form albeit on a larger scale. Furthermore, when you read the accounts of the Soviet terror, there is a definite air of callous disregard: the camps weren’t really built to kill people, they were set up to get them out the way and put them to work. Nobody cared if they died, but nobody cared if they lived either. The Soviet system simply didn’t care about the lives of these people. Even those who were actively identified and shot were often selected simply to fulfill quotas, or killed along with a load of others “just in case”. The Soviets were not the first to do this, and are unlikely to be the last.

What made the Nazis different is they didn’t kill through callous neglect; their victims were specifically selected and the Nazis made sure there wasn’t collateral damage, i.e. they didn’t just massacre the whole village in trying to kill Jews as the Soviets would have done, they expended considerable resources finding the individuals while leaving the rest alone. They cared about the names of their victims, and took their photos, and documented their possessions, all during the process of exterminating them. The Nazis built camps specifically for the purposes of killing people (the Soviets never did) and went about it with an industrial precision. The suffering they inflicted on inmates was quite deliberate and calculated, and not just the result of callous neglect on the part of the administration (or incompetence, as it often was in the case of the Soviets). The Nazis counted their victims and took meticulous records, the Soviets never did. The Nazi administrators and guards were of a totally different class than the inmates, whereas in the Gulags the guards were considered little better than the prisoners, often sharing the same conditions and fate, and there are thousands of cases where prisoners became inmates and vice-versa. This never happened with the Nazis.

So in short, the horrors of the Soviets had been seen before and since; the Nazis, purely because of the way they went about it, inspire a unique horror. From the accounts I’ve heard of those poor individuals who experienced both, the Nazi camps were a lot worse.

When abacab mentions the Soviets dumping a bunch of people in the middle of nowhere with little chance of survival, that would almost certainly have included the guards as well. I don’t like Anne Applebaum’s newspaper columns much, but her book Gulag: a History of the Soviet Camps is excellent and there is an account in there of a few hundred unfortunates being dropped off on an island in the middle of one of Siberia’s enormous rivers. The plan was to get the prisoners to build a camp but there was no wood, so they had to stay in tents. Before they could get anything more robust set up a terrible storm blew through and everyone perished: prisoners, guards, dogs, the lot. It wasn’t so much the authorities wanted these people to die – the ones they considered really dangerous were shot out of hand, along with a whole load of others who were mostly unlucky – they simply didn’t care and were too callous and incompetent to prevent it.

Another point Applebaum makes is that most people survived the GULAG, and the harshness of the conditions varied greatly between individual camps and eras. During the war, when there were severe hardships outside the camps, life behind the wire was particularly tough but conditions improved afterwards. The general idea was to get prisoners working not to kill them off, even if the result was just that. By contrast, the conditions in the Nazi camps were kept universally harsh purely as a matter of deliberate policy, independent of incompetence and outside factors.

The other point Applebaum makes is that the numbers in the GULAG system waxed and waned. The population swelled during times of repression and decreased during periods of relative calm, and it was quite possible for a Soviet citizen to be imprisoned, released, imprisoned again, and released once more. I presume there are instances of Nazi concentration camp inmates being released, but their numbers must be few and I expect are limited to particular groups such as troublesome POWs or non-Jewish Germans. I’ve never heard of anyone being released from an extermination camp, although Soviet POWs were held at Sobibor who may have been. Most accounts of the Nazis camps come from people who were liberated, not released. It’s worth bearing in mind that the inmates of the Soviet GULAGs were never liberated, they were simply released (into exile mostly, but released all the same).

As anyone who has read Applebaum’s book or Solzhenitsyn knows, the GULAG system was abominable in its entirety and absolutely horrific in parts, but it differed from the Nazi camps in some fairly fundamental ways. It’s why a comparison of the two can only be taken so far, and it’s important to acknowledge the differences.

Share