Nationalist health service

I’ve been appalled at the leaflets delivered to our home by the Leave campaign. 16-06-2016, 11 44 37

They prominently use the blue and white NHS logo, as though this were official health-service literature, rather than being a political message from people who have never been friends of the NHS before, and are unlikely to be so in the future. It amazes me that they would be permitted to use the logo, or more likely are simply so brazen as to use it without permission.

Their argument, if we can call it that is that without spending on the EU, the UK could build a new hospital every week. Of course, they don’t have enough nurses to adequately staff even the hospitals they have, much less the 200+ new hospitals they promise to build by 2020, and without the East Europeans the staffing crisis will only get worse.

16-06-2016, 11 43 18

A quiet man

I was just reading this interview with former US Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, about Donald Trump. You could see the cutting edge of Trump apologetics, on the way to determining that the Republican establishment has always been allied with Trump. The trick is to reinterpret Trump’s crude thinking as simply crude (or bold, down-to-earth) formulation of very clever, even sophisticated thinking. And then there’s this:

Isaac Chotiner: You were at a meeting on Monday with other Washington figures and Trump. What did you make of him?

Newt Gingrich: Well, Callista and I were both very impressed. In that kind of a setting he talks in a relatively low tone. He is very much somebody who has been good at business. And he listens well. He outlined the campaign as he saw it. I think he did a good job listening. He occasionally asked clarifying questions. He was very open to critical advice. I am not going to get into details, but I will say my overall impression was that in that setting he was totally under control…

Does none of Trump’s rhetoric about Mexicans or Muslims worry you or upset you?

I think he was too strong in talking about illegal immigrants in general, although if you look at the number of people who have been killed by people who aren’t supposed to be here, there is a fair argument on the other side too.

It makes him seem like a reasonable guy who occasionally gets carried away when speaking with the common folk.

Hitler comparisons are almost never useful, whether for insight or political rhetoric. Trump is not Hitler. Even among 1930s fascist dictators, Hitler is not the one Trump most resembles. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but be reminded of something Albert Speer wrote, explaining why as a young academic he found himself drawn to Hitler:

What was decisive for me was a speech Hitler made to students, and which my students finally persuaded me to attend. From what I had read in the opposition press, I expected to find a screaming, gesticulating fanatic in uniform, instead of which we were confronted with a quiet man in a dark suit who addressed us in the measured tones of an academic. I’m determined one day to look up newspapers of that time to see just what it was he said that so impressed me. But I don’t think he attacked the Jews….

Foreigners in Britain and Germany

Many years ago, when I was hitchhiking through the US, I met a guy at a highway rest stop who, for no particular reason that I could discern, was agitated about foreigners. (My accent in English strikes some Americans as vaguely foreign, even though it is unmistakably American to any non-American native English speaker.) But I was surprised about why he was angry. I had always assumed that animus toward immigrants was directed at transients who have no roots or attachment, don’t speak English, are really oriented toward their home country. But this guy thought it was great to have people come and do unpleasant work for low pay for a few years, as long as they move on. What he didn’t like were immigrants who come and remain permanently.

Apparently the current UK government agrees. People like me are a failure of the system. Soon after they came into power the government announced the goal of “breaking the link between temporary and permanent migration.” Now, as net immigration ignores the government’s arbitrary goals and continues to rise, they are growing desperate, even forcing out highly skilled and expensively recruited foreigners who thought they had immigrated. They have introduced draconian fines and even prison sentences for landlords who rent to illegal immigrants; since landlords are hardly equipped to judge people’s immigration status, the effect (possibly unintentional) will be to make life difficult for everyone who looks or sounds foreign.

Most of Europe decided that “temporary workers” isn’t a category that you can reasonably force people into. As Max Frisch famously commented on the European experience of the 1950s through 1970s, “Wir haben Arbeitskräfte gerufen, und es sind Menschen gekommen.” (“We called for workers, but human beings came.”)

The contrast to Germany is stark. Universities are switching much of their lecturing to English, in an effort to attract bright students from around the world to study in Germany. UK universities scrabble for foreign students, too, but the justification is primarily mercenary: non-EU student fees are uncapped — typically they pay around £20,000 a year, whereas EU nationals pay £9,000. German universities, on the other hand, don’t charge fees. 

We could call it plutocratic tolerance: Germans are, by and large, willing to live with foreigners as long as they can profit from them. Britons are willing to exploit foreigners economically, but only if they don’t have to live with them. (The Home Secretary has particularly identified students as people whose otherwise welcome money is tainted by their propensity to continue existing after they have spent it, and to impose their existence on the long-suffering British. “Universities should now develop sustainable funding models that are not so dependent on international students” she said.) Next year’s EU referendum will force the population to decide which of the famous “British values” — greed or xenophobia — has priority.

This issue is not identical with, but obviously not entirely distinct from, the disgusting British government response to the refugee crisis in southern Europe — a combination of “it’s not my problem” and pompous moralising about the moral hazard of encouraging desperate people to make perilous journeys. Angela Merkel has resolutely refused to pander to anti-foreigner sentiment, and has even managed to pressure the UK into taking some small measure of responsibility for taking in some refugees — even if they’ll never accept that they, of all Europeans, bear the most direct responsibility for the Syrian disaster, which is part of the long-term aftermath of Tony Blair’s splendid little war in Iraq.

What’s German for “lame stream media”?

Don’t take words out of my mouth! … or out of my protest sign!

Der Spiegel has posted a short video of a recent anti-Islam demonstration by PEGIDA, a German organisation whose name is an acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West. In one brief segment, starting at about 1:35, a journalist speaks with a demonstrator who is carrying a sign with the message “Islam = Karzinom” (Islam = Carcinoma, i.e., cancer).

Reporter: I wonder if you could explain your sign to me, why you draw this equivalence between Islam and a carcinoma?

Demonstrator: I don’t say they are equivalent, as you’re trying to suggest.

R: But it says there “Islam equals Carcinoma”.

D: Exactly.

R: Well, then, explain to me what you mean by that.

D: I’m not giving you any more information.

You really need to watch it — even if you don’t understand the language — to appreciate the mixture of befuddlement and hostility in this smug old protester, who seems to think that expecting demonstrators to account for their over-the-top slogans is just one of those devious tricks typical of highbrow lefty journalists. (I don’t think there’s a German word for lame stream media.)

People who wore top hats

In thinking about the response of many Americans to the revelations of torture of prisoners by the CIA (not that it was a huge secret before, but I think most people still found something to be surprised and appalled by in the Senate report, such as the 26 people whom even the CIA acknowledges were held in error, or “rectal feeding”), but also the response of many American and British Jews to atrocities and human rights abuses by Israel, I often find myself coming back to the remarks of Aldous Huxley, in his 1958 Brave New World Revisited. In discussing the distinction between the old-fashioned totalitarianism of 1984 — innovative propaganda and mental manipulation, to be sure, but backed up by hard power and torture — and the purely medical and psychological manipulation of Brave New World, he admits that he was too hasty in consigning the crude atrocities to the ashheap of history:

Fifty years ago, when I was a boy, it seemed completely self-evident that the bad old days were over, that torture and massacre, slavery, and the persecution of heretics, were things of the past. Among people who wore top hats, traveled in trains, and took a bath every morning such horrors were simply out of the question. After all, we were living in the twentieth century. A few years later these people who took daily baths and went to church in top hats were committing atrocities on a scale undreamed of by the benighted Africans and Asi­atics. In the light of recent history it would be foolish to suppose that this sort of thing cannot happen again. It can and, no doubt, it will. But in the immedi­ate future there is some reason to believe that the punitive methods of 1984 will give place to the rein­forcements and manipulations of Brave New World.

This phrasing is perfect. (I’m willing to give Huxley the benefit of the doubt by reading ironic scare quotes into “benighted Africans and Asiatics”.) Compare “people who took daily baths and went to church in top hats” with this excerpt from an interview with torturer-in-chief Dick Cheney:

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me start with quoting you. You said earlier this week, “Torture was something that was very carefully avoided.” It implies that you have a definition of what torture is. What is it?

DICK CHENEY:

Well, torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11. There’s this notion that somehow there’s moral equivalence between what the terrorists and what we do. And that’s absolutely not true. We were very careful to stop short of torture. The Senate has seen fit to label their report torture. But we worked hard to stay short of that definition.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, what is that definition?

DICK CHENEY:

Definitions, and one that was provided by the Office of Legal Counsel, we went specifically to them because we did not want to cross that line into where we violating some international agreement that we’d signed up to. They specifically authorized and okayed, for example, exactly what we did. All of the techniques that were authorized by the president were, in effect, blessed by the Justice Department opinion that we could go forward with those without, in fact, committing torture.

Instead of going to church in top hats to have their crimes blessed by God, they went to the Office of Legal Council in slick suits to have their crimes blessed by the Justice department. But the idea is, people like us don’t commit atrocities, because they’re people like us.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me go through some of those techniques that were used, Majid Khan, was subjected to involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration. It included two bottles of Ensure, later in the same day Majid Khan’s lunch tray consisting of hummus, pasta, sauce, nuts and raisins was pureed and rectally infused.[…]  Does that meet the definition of torture in your mind?

DICK CHENEY:

–in my mind, I’ve told you what meets the definition of torture. It’s what 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11. What was done here apparently certainly was not one of the techniques that was approved. I believe it was done for medical reasons.