Atemübungen

An old friend writes of being very enthusiastic about breathing exercises for clearing one’s ‘stuff’ out of one’s cellular memory. You can apparently take courses on this sort of thing.

Berlin is cold and windy today, quite a bit windier than Bergen-Belsen last week. I find myself thinking about Walter Benjamin’s “Nur um der Hoffnungslosen willen ist uns die Hoffnung gegeben.”

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Owning wit

David Taylor, Guardian US deputy news editor:

In one deft performance the top Democrat in the House owned the president, having faced down Republicans’ scare tactics and attacks from her own side

Pelosi walked out of the White House into brilliant sunshine in sunglasses and a fiery red coat looking triumphant and returned to Capitol Hill to make jokes about Trump’s manhood and utter the memorable description: “It goes to show you: you get into a tickle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

The confrontation showed that Pelosi can outwit Trump.

Taylor’s piece seems to have been written without irony.

Ω Ω Ω

I’m continuing to enjoy Wer wir sein könnten. This week Die Zeit has a piece on Habeck with the lead:

In diesem Jahr haben sich viele gefragt, was den Grünen Robert Habeck von anderen Politikern unterscheidet. Die Antwort könnte lauten: Er hat Literatur studiert.

I found this witty.

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Bergen-Belsen

The original huts at Bergen-Belsen were for workers who built a military exercise grounds. The military area has been in use ever since, and is today known as NATO-Truppen­übungs­platz Bergen.

Prisoners were transported to the camp by train and unloaded here. The platform is on the military reserve and access is forbidden to civilians.

A memorial at the prisoner unloading ramp is accessible via a several hundred meter path along a barbed wire fence.

The Nazis incinerated the bodies of the dead, but by the end of the war deaths had exceeded the incinerator’s capacity, and when the British liberated the camp the grounds were littered with thousands of corpses, with people continuing to die at the rate of hundreds a day from starvation and disease. The British bulldozed bodies into mass graves, marked with the approximate number of the dead. At first I photographed each one, but soon stopped. There are too many.

The POW camp was separated from the concentration camp by a 70 meter wide clearing. These are mass graves on the POW camp side, where Soviet deaths numbered in the tens of thousands.

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Stadtfriedhof Bothfeld

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Triangel Gutshof

Vesper Haus

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Kleiner Buchladen raus, teure Galerie rein

Peter Unfried:

Trotzdem ist der Glaube immer noch lebendig, schreibt der New Yorker, dass San Francisco eine superprogressive Stadt sei. Very leftleaning, also linksdrehend. Darüber habe ich mit dem Reporter George Packer gesprochen, der in seinem grandiosen Buch „Die Abwicklung“ den Absturz der amerikanischen Mittelschicht skizziert.

Amerika sei immer mehr wie Wal-Mart geworden, sagt Packer: billig.

I find Unfried referencing George Packer to describe San Francisco both fitting and hilarious. There are a number of good lines here: Jaron Lanier on bunker-building in New Zealand made me laugh, knowing a couple builders as I do.

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Natalia Gorbanevskaya

I found this article thought-provoking for a number of reasons. As 2018 draws to a close several media sites have published stories reminiscing about Apollo 8 and Earthrise, and rightly so — when I think of 1968 I think of Têt, MLK, RFK, Chicago, Prague, and Apollo 8. The article’s closing paragraph is jarringly disconnected with the previous train of thought and can safely be omitted. What interested me were the names Dubček, Kundera, Havel, Forman, and Gorbanevskaya, which prompted memories of the 1980s, when I read Kundera, watched Forman films, and knew of the imprisonment of people like Gorbanevskaya who had struggled for a socialism with a human face.

In the late 80s in a living room in Berkeley I remember my listening to Joan Baez’s plaintive sincere ballad to Gorbanevskaya being met with patronizing amusement by those who, cooler than me, preferred Talking Heads, R.E.M., and pretentious poser Bono. We age. I now read Kafka in German, continue to read of Dubček. The Berkeley crowd feels itself tortured by Trump and yearns for capitalism with a Hillary Clinton face.

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Sorry, I’m having trouble understanding you right now

Guardian:

The crash, at about 10am GMT, caused Amazon customers to complain about not being able to play festive songs, turn on their living room lights or get cooking instructions for Christmas dinner.

Richard Hyland tweeted: “Good day for Amazon’s Alexa to crash. It’s not like people might want to register new devices or play music or anything.”

As I understand it, this man is communicating in a format whose message length is limited to 280 characters in order to speak ironically about his inability to play music because of a failure in connectivity between a listening device in his home and the computer servers of a multi-billion dollar corporation.

I am pondering the thinking behind these people’s difficulty. One chooses to make one’s ability to turn the lights on or play festive music in one’s living room dependent on the functioning of an always-on microphone which eavesdrops on the conversation in one’s home.

What concept can Amazon Alexa customers have of “private conversation”?

How might limiting message length to several hundred characters affect one’s ability to formulate an argument?

Has irony become a default tone for public discourse? If discourse is programmatically ambiguous, if content is by default freighted with incongruity what effect might this have on one’s ability to frame and interpret argumentation?

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Sprache

Die konservativen Parteien wollen kein »Ein­wanderungs­gesetz«, weil sie nicht wollen, dass Deutschland ein Einwanderungsland wird, stattdessen sprechen sie von einem »Fach­kräfte­zuwanderungs­gesetz« — was faktisch das Gleiche ist, aber eine andere sprachliche Wirklichkeit entstehen lässt. Und sie sprechen von »Lohn­untergrenze«, weil sie nicht »Mindestlohn« sagen wollen.

—Robert Habeck, Wer wir sein könnten, (Köln: Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2018), 24.

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Ascendancy of neoliberalism

Henry Giroux:

The ascendancy of neoliberalism in American politics has made visible a plague of deep-seated civic illiteracy, a corrupt political system and a contempt for reason that has been decades in the making. It also points to the withering of civic attachments, the undoing of civic culture, the decline of public life and the erosion of any sense of shared citizenship.

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