Monday, January 11, 2021

post-truth is pre-fascism

Four years ago, ahead of the inauguration of a certain US president, I warned of the dangers of a post-truth world. After the November 2020 election that voted him out I wondered what we have to do to get some sense of truth back, after the world has become used to being flooded with toxic lies. Conspiracy theories not only disturb political process, they may also jeopardise the response to the Covid crisis.

I wrote a feature about this in the first week of December, writing about the strange beliefs of Republicans in the past tense, half hoping they might get bored of crazy conspiracies by the time the article comes out. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened and they decided it might be a good idea to storm the Capitol and try to prevent the completion of the official election process. A very good analysis of what happened, with just the right amount of references to Weimar Germany, is in this essay by Yale historian Timothy Snyder - from which I borrowed the title of this blogpost. Snyder makes the point that, on top of all the small and medium sized lies, the big lie that Trump won the 2020 election and had the presidency stolen from him could continue to bind his fanbase in their perceived victimhood and serve a future fascist coup like the Dolchstoss-Legende about the end of worldwar I served the Nazis. Trump might be too incompetent to lead that coup himself, but somebody else now patiently waiting in the wings could take over his devoted fanbase and use it for a successful putsch.

Now I'm somewhat less optimistic that the problem can still be fixed in the US, and if it can't the fallout will be catastrophic for the rest of the world as well, if only because raving lunatics around the world will feel encouraged to try the same. But to feed the small hopes we still have here are some thoughts on how to bring back a bit of reason.

Recovering a sense of reality

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 1, 11 January 2021, Pages R1-R3

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

The denialists in the photos we had available in December looked comparatively sane compared to the photos from last week! Demonstration of denialists protesting against Covid restrictions in Leipzig, Germany. (Photo: Roy Zuo/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).)

Saturday, January 02, 2021

a city on the border

#lostcities episode 7: Aachen

Aachen is still there, physically, just lost to my family who left it behind. Today a city with 250,000 residents, it is doing quite well out of its technical university and the historic sites linked to Charlemagne who was crowned emperor there on Christmas Day 800. Located close to the point where the borderlines between Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium meet, it is also terrifically well connected with the high speed trains from Frankfurt and Cologne stopping there on their way to Paris or Brussels.

Aachen Hauptbahnhof in 1938, with the Haus Grenzwacht (which ironically never was the customs office although its name seems to suggest some sort of border protection function, but I think it refers only to it being an unusually high tower block for its time and close to the national border, so I suspect from the top you could probably see Belgium and the Netherlands. The Hauptzollamt is behind the viewer's back.
Source.

My grandfather worked at the customs office, and got moved around frequently, typically being relocated to a new city each time he got promoted. By the time he was posted to Aachen in January 1936, he had an official car and more than 100 people to boss around so it was kind of a last hurrah before the war from which he didn’t return.

When you step outside the main station, the former main customs office (Hauptzollamt) is on your left, it is now a listed building and looking very well kept, although I couldn’t find a postcard of it. Instead, the one above shows what may very well have been the view from his office window. The family lived in Mariabrunnstraße, just a block away from the Hauptzollamt and still close to the railway line. The street is a cul de sac for cars but has a footpath passing under the rails.

Although I have stayed at Aachen a couple of times and visited the sites mentioned, I haven't formed much of an attachment. One issue I have with the place is that I am missing the structure provided by a decent river. There is some water flowing from the Elisenbrunnen in the city centre and the area around that is ok, and the cathedral is an UNESCO World Heritage Site of course. I am also slightly spooked by the fact that the relevant time frame falls entirely into the Nazi era, so one can imagine the spirit prevailing in the main customs office, which by then would have been cleared of anybody who didn't go with the flow.

A modern photo of the Hauptzollamt (2014).
Source: Wikipedia

#lostcities series so far:

  1. Elberfeld / Wuppertal 1919 - 1961
  2. Strasbourg 1901 - 1908
  3. Minden 1903 - 1952
  4. Tangermünde 1888 - 1916
  5. Rheydt 1923 - 1935
  6. Königsberg 1935-1945
  7. Aachen 1936-1940

Friday, January 01, 2021

new year, new minuets

I would say happy new year everyone, but I guess last year's data show that the wishes don't really work, so let's just get on with it.

For the eleventh month of my Plague Year Bach Project, I have been bold and moved into a new key, choosing the Minuets from the second suite, which is in D minor. Thus, the first of the minuets is in D minor and the second in D major. After a quick go at sight reading both, I am now slightly scared by the awkward chords in the first minuet, so I'll start with the second, which looks quite a bit easier.

Some helpful links:

I'm starting with Inbal Segev's musings, as always, and I found recordings from:
Eva Lymenstull (that's the whole D minor suite, but I've included the timestamp for the minuets in the link to take you there directly).
Misha Maisky (ditto)
Laurens Price-Nowak (ditto)

I'm also adding these videos to my youtube playlist "cello repertoire".

In December, I didn't tackle a new movement but completed memorising the Bourrees from the third suite and also started playing the first bourree with a metronome. Also making progress with memorising the Gigue in C, only a couple of lines left to learn of this movement which is quite long. I've made a ranking of the movements in tiers last month (inspired by the covid tiers), but it now occurred to me that it would be more constructive to have a system where rising numbers mark progress (as in grade exams) rather than crisis levels. So, flipped upside down and with the bourrees promoted by a grade, my revision list now looks like this:

1) movements I've studied for a month, then put aside for now
1.1. Prelude
1.2 Allemande

2) movements memorised in a significant part
1.3 Courante (2/3)
3.4 Sarabande (1/3)
3.6. Gigue (4/5)

3) movements memorised in their entirety
1.4 Sarabande
1.5 Minuet I&II
1.6 Gigue
3.5 Bourree I&II

Future levels with higher numbers may include: able to play with a metronome at a reasonable speed, able to perform, actually performed.

Did I mention that Old Heinrich has a very beautiful backside?

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