Suffering Worse Than Death

 Posted by on 17 January 2014 at 10:00 am  History, Holocaust, Medicine
Jan 172014
 

A while back, I had to look up the spelling of Dr. Mengele’s name, and as a result, I came across this horrifying article: Why One Auschwitz Survivor Avoided Doctors for 65 Years.

The transport to Auschwitz took two weeks. His sick father died on the journey. Upon arrival, they had to strip and submit to an inspection. Ganon’s mother and five siblings were then sent to the gas chambers.

Yitzhak Ganon was taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau hospital, where Josef Mengele, the so-called “Angel of Death,” conducted grisly experiments on Jewish prisoners.

Ganon had to lie down on a table and was tied down. Without any anesthetics, Mengele cut him open and removed his kidney. “I saw the kidney pulsing in his hand and cried like a crazy man,” Ganon says. “I screamed the ‘Shema Yisrael.’ I begged for death, to stop the suffering.”

After the “operation,” he had to work in the Auschwitz sewing room without painkillers. Among other things, he had to clean bloody medical instruments. Once, he had to spend the whole night in a bath of ice-cold water because Mengele wanted to “test” his lung function. Altogether, Ganon spent six and a half months in the concentration camp’s hospital.

Although I read a slew of books on the Holocaust last year, I avoided reading about the gruesome experiments of Nazi doctors. For someone to deliberately inflict suffering worse than death on innocent people, including children. As much as I want to recognize the historical facts and honor the victims, it’s far, far too horrifying imagine.

The Myth of Diana and Actaeon, Retold

 Posted by on 3 January 2014 at 10:00 am  Film, History, Literature
Jan 032014
 

Metamorphosis is a stunning beautiful short film retelling the myth of Diana (or Artemis) and Actaeon. I’ve long been familiar with this myth, as it’s surely the most famous one about my namesake. But if you’re not, here’s the story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Bk III:138-164 Actaeon returns from the hunt

Actaeon, one of your grandsons, was your first reason for grief, in all your happiness, Cadmus. Strange horns appeared on his forehead, and his hunting dogs sated themselves on the blood of their master. But if you look carefully, you will find that it was the fault of chance and not wickedness: what wickedness is there in error? It happened on a mountain, stained with the blood of many creatures, and midday had contracted every shadow and the sun was equidistant from either end of his journey. Then Actaeon, the young Boeotian, with a quiet expression, spoke to his companions in the hunt as they wandered through the solitary wilds ‘Friends, our spears and nets are drenched with the blood of our victims, and the day has been fortunate enough. When Aurora in her golden chariot brings another day we will resume our purpose. Now Phoebus is also between the limits of his task, and is splitting open the earth with his heat. Finish your present task and carry home the netted meshes.’ The men obeyed his order and left off their labour.

There was a valley there called Gargaphie, dense with pine trees and sharp cypresses, sacred to Diana of the high-girded tunic, where, in the depths, there is a wooded cave, not fashioned by art. But ingenious nature had imitated art. She had made a natural arch out of native pumice and porous tufa. On the right, a spring of bright clear water murmured into a widening pool, enclosed by grassy banks. Here the woodland goddess, weary from the chase, would bathe her virgin limbs in the crystal liquid.

Bk III:165-205 Actaeon sees Diana naked and is turned into a stag.

Having reached the place, she gives her spear, quiver and unstrung bow to one of the nymphs, her weapon-bearer. Another takes her robe over her arm, while two unfasten the sandals on her feet. Then, more skilful than the rest, Theban Crocale gathers the hair strewn around her neck into a knot, while her own is still loose. Nephele, Hyale, Rhanis, Psecas and Phiale draw water, and pour it over their mistress out of the deep jars.

While Titania is bathing there, in her accustomed place, Cadmus’s grandson, free of his share of the labour, strays with aimless steps through the strange wood, and enters the sacred grove. So the fates would have it. As soon as he reaches the cave mouth dampened by the fountain, the naked nymphs, seeing a man’s face, beat at their breasts and filling the whole wood with their sudden outcry, crowd round Diana to hide her with their bodies. But the goddess stood head and shoulders above all the others. Diana’s face, seen there, while she herself was naked, was the colour of clouds stained by the opposing shafts of sun, or Aurora’s brightness.

However, though her band of nymphs gathered in confusion around her, she stood turning to one side, and looking back, and wishing she had her arrows to hand. She caught up a handful of the water that she did have, and threw it in the man’s face. And as she sprinkled his hair with the vengeful drops she added these words, harbingers of his coming ruin, ‘Now you may tell, if you can tell that is, of having seen me naked!’ Without more threats, she gave the horns of a mature stag to the head she had sprinkled, lengthening his neck, making his ear-tips pointed, changing feet for hands, long legs for arms, and covering his body with a dappled hide. And then she added fear. Autonoë’s brave son flies off, marvelling at such swift speed, within himself. But when he sees his head and horns reflected for certain in the water, he tries to say ‘Oh, look at me!’ but no voice follows. He groans: that is his voice, and tears run down his altered face. Only his mind remains unchanged. What can he do? Shall he return to his home and the royal palace, or lie hidden in the woods? Shame prevents the one, and fear the other.

Bk III:206-231 Actaeon is pursued by his hounds

While he hesitates his dogs catch sight of him. First ‘Black-foot’, Melampus, and keen-scented Ichnobates, ‘Tracker’, signal him with baying, Ichnobates out of Crete, Melampus, Sparta. Then others rush at him swift as the wind, ‘Greedy’, Pamphagus, Dorceus, ‘Gazelle’, Oribasos, ‘Mountaineer’, all out of Arcady: powerful ‘Deerslayer’, Nebrophonos, savage Theron, ‘Whirlwind’, and Laelape, ‘Hunter’.

Then swift-footed Pterelas, ‘Wings’, and trail-scenting Agre, ‘Chaser’, fierce Hylaeus, ‘Woody’, lately gored by a boar, the wolf-born Nape, ‘Valley’, Poemenis, the trusty ‘Shepherd’, and Harpyia, ‘Snatcher’, with her two pups. There is thin-flanked Sicyonian Ladon, ‘Catcher’, Dromas, ‘Runner’, ‘Grinder’, Canache, Sticte ‘Spot’, Tigris ‘Tigress’, Alce, ‘Strong’, and white-haired Leucon, ‘Whitey’, and black-haired Asbolus, ‘Soot’.

Lacon, ‘Spartan’, follows them, a dog well known for his strength, and strong-running Aëllo, ‘Storm’. Then Thoos, ‘Swift’, and speedy Lycisce, ‘Wolf’, with her brother Cyprius ‘Cyprian’. Next ‘Grasper’, Harpalos, with a distinguishing mark of white, in the centre of his black forehead, ‘Black’, Melaneus, and Lachne, ‘Shaggy’, with hairy pelt, Labros, ‘Fury’, and Argiodus, ‘White-tooth’, born of a Cretan sire and Spartan dam, keen-voiced Hylactor, ‘Barker’, and others there is no need to name. The pack of them, greedy for the prey follow over cliffs and crags, and inaccessible rocks, where the way is hard or there is no way at all. He runs, over the places where he has often chased, flying, alas, from his own hounds. He longs to shout ‘I am Actaeon! Know your own master!’ but words fail him, the air echoes to the baying.

Bk III:232-252 Actaeon is killed by the dogs

First ‘Black-hair’, Melanchaetes, wounds his back, then ‘Killer’, Theridamas, and Oresitrophos, the ‘Climber’, clings to his shoulder. They had set out late but outflanked the route by a shortcut over the mountains. While they hold their master the whole pack gathers and they sink their teeth in his body till there is no place left to wound him. He groans and makes a noise, not human, but still not one a deer could make, and fills familiar heights with mournful cries. And on his knees, like a suppliant begging, he turns his wordless head from side to side, as if he were stretching arms out towards them.

Now his friends, unknowingly, urge the ravening crowd of dogs on with their usual cries, looking out for Actaeon, and shouting, in emulation, for absent Actaeon (he turning his head at the sound of his name) complaining he is not there, and through his slowness is missing the spectacle offered by their prey. He might wish to be absent it’s true, but he is here: he might wish to see and not feel the fierce doings of his own hounds. They surround him on every side, sinking their jaws into his flesh, tearing their master to pieces in the deceptive shape of the deer. They say Diana the Quiver-bearer’s anger was not appeased, until his life had ended in innumerable wounds.

Now, here’s the short film, which is masterfully devoid of dialogue:

The painting shown at the outset is Diana and Actaeon by Italian Renaissance master Titian.

Dec 032013
 

This article — What International Air Travel Was Like in the 1930s — fascinates me. If you just look at the pictures, like this one…

… it’s easy to think, “Oh, people had it so much better in the past! Now we’re all cramped in planes like sardines!” But once you read the text, you’ll surely change your tune.

Consider this, for example:

Imperial Airways appealed to the consumer who desired the most luxurious way to travel. But it wasn’t always very pleasant, despite the most advanced technology of the time. People would often get sick, and bowls were discreetly placed under the seats to ensure that passengers had a place to throw up. The widespread pressurization of cabins wouldn’t occur until the 1950s, so altitude sickness often meant that people needed to receive oxygen.

The temperature inside the cabin was also a major consideration, since horror stories of incredibly cold flights were common in the late 1920s.

And:

Nearly 50,000 people would fly Imperial Airways from 1930 until 1939. But these passengers paid incredibly high prices to hop around the world. The longest flights could span over 12,000 miles and cost as much as $20,000 when adjusted for inflation.

A flight from London to Brisbane, Australia, for instance, (the longest route available in 1938) took 11 days and included over two dozen scheduled stops. Today, people can make that journey in just 22 hours, with a single layover in Hong Kong, and pay less than $2,000 for a round trip ticket.

See what I mean?

Oct 102013
 

This excellent blog post on Kant’s various crazy views by UC Riverside philosophy professor Eric Schwitzgebel details some of the crazy views that I covered in my recent broadcast on Kant’s views on sex. It’s worth reading though for its tidbits on including on organ donation, women in politics, and more.

At the end of the post, Schwitzgebel draws two lessons, both worthy of consideration:

First, from our cultural distance, it is evident that Kant’s arguments against masturbation, for the return of wives to abusive husbands, etc., are gobbledy-gook. This should make us suspicious that there might be other parts of Kant, too, that are gobbledy-gook, for example, the stuff that transparently reads like gobbledy-gook, such as the transcendental deduction, and such as his claims that his various obviously non-equivalent formulations of the fundamental principle of morality are in fact “so many formulations of precisely the same law” (Groundwork, 4:436, Zweig trans.). I read Kant as a master at promising philosophers what they want and then effusing a haze of words with glimmers enough of hope that readers can convince themselves that there is something profound underneath.

Second, Kant’s philosophical moral reasoning appears mainly to have confirmed his prejudices and the ideas inherited from his culture. We should be nervous about expecting more from the philosophical moral reasoning of people less philosophically capable than Kant.

I added the bold, because I think that’s so damn true. Kant does not merely handwave on occasion. So many of Kant’s arguments are rationalistic, pie-in-the-sky handwaving, where mere associations between words are supposed to give the force of argument.

My only point of disagreement is that I strongly suspect that the various horrifying ethical claims surveyed in the blog post were significant worse than the prejudices of his culture. For example, children born out of wedlock might have been stigmatized, but I doubt that more than a few crazies thought they could be killed with impunity. Then again, maybe I’m overestimating the moral culture of Königsberg.

Happy Fourth of July

 Posted by on 4 July 2013 at 10:00 am  History
Jul 042013
 

Happy Fourth of July, Everyone! For the true meaning of the holiday, read Craig Biddle’s quick blog post: What to Celebrate on Independence Day.

Spitfire 944

 Posted by on 13 June 2013 at 2:00 pm  History, World War 2
Jun 132013
 

This is just an amazing short documentary about the video taken of a successful crash landing of a reconnaissance pilot in World War 2. These pilots flew into Germany to photograph sites… unarmed and unescorted. Wow.

Color Video of London in 1927

 Posted by on 21 May 2013 at 2:00 pm  Film, History
May 212013
 

London in 1927… in color!

The video description says:

Incredible colour footage of 1920s London shot by an early British pioneer of film named Claude Frisse-Greene, who made a series of travelogues using the colour process his father William – a noted cinematographer – was experimenting with. It’s like a beautifully dusty old postcard you’d find in a junk store, but moving.

Music by Jonquil and Yann Tiersen.

I love early color photographs and videos. The past seems so much more real in color.

Alliance with the Soviets in World War II

 Posted by on 5 February 2013 at 10:00 am  Communism, History, World War 2
Feb 052013
 

I posted these remarks on World War II to Facebook yesterday. The ensuing comments were quite interesting, so I thought I’d share my initial remarks here too.

Now that I’ve gotten to the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” I have a question… I’ve heard various people (of the non-interventionist bent) claim that Britain, France, and the United States should not have allied with Soviet Russia. Undoubtedly, even if that alliance was necessary to win the war, turning over eastern Europe to the Soviets at the end of the war was a major, major evil. (The alliance did not necessitate that, from what I’ve read. Instead, FDR appeased the Soviets as much as Chamberlain did Hitler.)

I’ve also heard such people say that we should have allowed the Nazis and the Soviets to destroy each other. But what does that mean? It seems to mean that when Germany attacked Russia, the Allies should have left Russia to fight its own war, without any coordination with them.

In that case, given how close Hitler came to Moscow, wouldn’t it be very likely that he would have defeated Russia, such that the Allies would have faced a much, much greater threat from Hitler — perhaps an undefeatable threat — even with help from the United States?

I’m sure that I’ll come to my own answers as the narrative progresses, but I still want to understand this “we should not have allied with the Soviets” view better. Right now, it seems wildly unrealistic to me.

I’m enjoying The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (paperback, kindle, or audible) so much more than I thought I would. It’s an intensely detailed history. I’ve seen some people criticize it as “journalistic,” but I vastly prefer such fact-rich histories to those light on facts but heavy on interpretation. When the author draws conclusions, I want those conclusions to be overwhelmingly supported by the evidence drawn from primary sources.

To be clear, I don’t merely dislike interpretation-heavy histories when the underlying ideology is, say, pro-Marxist. Such histories are so unreliable as to be useless. Rather, I dislike any interpretation-heavy histories — even when the underlying ideology is Objectivist. I don’t trust anyone to come to conclusions for me, even when we share the same basic philosophic principles. While I’d be interested to hear what an Objectivist historian would say, ultimately, I want to make my own integrations and draw my own conclusions. I’ve got my own brain, and I’m not interested in any convenient pre-packaged history.

Perhaps my college years in St. Louis rubbed off on me. I’m a one-woman “Show Me State” … and darn proud of it too!

Oct 232012
 

In last Friday’s Philosophy in Action Newsletter, I recommended three books on the Holocaust that I’ve read recently. I thought I’d post those recommendations here, with a reminder that you can get the special offer of a free 30-day trial subscription with Audible at AudibleTrial.com/PA.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading — or rather, listening to — books on the Third Reich and the Holocaust.  I’m particularly interested in personal narratives: I want to know what it was like to live through that inhuman era, including the warning signs available to ordinary people of the coming disaster.

It’s difficult but rewarding reading.  I’m not just acquiring knowledge: I’m honoring the victims of the Third Reich by listening to their stories.

Here, I’ll just recommend three books:

Life and Death in the Third Reich by Peter Fritzsche (Amazon & Audible)

I’d strongly recommend this book as a from-the-ground overview of the Holocaust.  It focuses on people’s experiences of the Third Reich — drawing heavily on letters and journals — against the background of major political and military events.  It’s also an excellent intellectual history: it looks deeply at the ideology and goals of the Nazis, in order to make sense of their actions.  (Thanks to this book, I understand that so much better than ever before now.)  It includes thoughtful discussions of the moral culpability of ordinary Germans too.

Night by Elie Wiesel (Amazon and Audible

This was a painfully poetic personal narrative — and it’s a classic for good reason.  It’s short, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust by Lyn Smith (Amazon and Audible)

I just finished listening to this book yesterday morning.  It consists of small stories told by Holocaust survivors, organized chronologically and topically, with the narrator providing an overarching context.  In the audiobook, the stories are just segments of the interviews, and they’re often so much more emotionally moving as a result.  I couldn’t stop listening.

Except on occasion, I won’t be replicating these tidbits from the Newsletter blog posts or elsewhere, so if you’d like to see it, be sure to subscribe. By doing so, you’ll receive weekly announcements of upcoming broadcasts, posted podcasts, and exclusive tidbits of advice.

Subscribe to the Philosophy in Action Newsletter

You can see a sample newsletter here.

Amazing Progress

 Posted by on 13 August 2012 at 10:00 am  Culture, History, Politics, Sports
Aug 132012
 

If I had to pick any time in which to live, I’d choose right now. Although I want to live centuries into the future, I wouldn’t want to jump to some unknown future, only to find humanity eradicated or enslaved to some alien species. Mostly though, I wouldn’t wish to live in anytime in the past.

I’d not wish to live in the past because past societies have been rigidly stratified by family, sex, and race. People from poor families, women, and ethnic minorities were severely limited in their powers to make something of their lives. I could not tolerate living in a society where racism and sexism were the norm — let alone oppression of gays, slavery, and religious homogeneity.

I’d not wish to live in the past because the politics would not be nearly as free as most people suppose. In early American history, the federal government was much smaller, but severe violations of rights by state and local governments were commonplace. Individual rights were not even known in Greece and Rome.

I’d not wish to live in the past because life was far, far more brutal and rough. Abject misery and suffering, including at the hands of others, was accepted as perfectly ordinary. Little could be done to alleviate it, due to the lack of wealth and technology.

I would not wish to live in the past because access to art was severely limited. In centuries past, you were grateful if someone in your family or social circle could sing well. Today, we can watch fabulous movies on demand, instantly download masterpieces of chamber music, browse gorgeous painting and order prints, and read any novel ever written on a Kindle.

I’d not wish to live in the past because so much awesome technology has been developed in the past century, the past decade, and even the past year. Heck, I don’t want to go back to the days of dial-up — or the days before computers — or the days before ball point pens. The thought of going back to medical care of 10 or 20 or 100 or 1000 years ago should make anyone’s skin crawl.

The simple fact is that humanity has made so much fabulous progress in the last century. So if you ever feel depressed about America’s political decline, take a moment to contemplate how much better your life is now, thanks to an amazing slew of social and technological developments over the last century. In fact, I’m doubtful that the politics is much worse than ever before: it’s better in some ways, worse in others.

Oddly, I was inspired to write this post after watching this video of women’s uneven bars from the 1950s to 2010:

This video of gymnastics from 1928 to 1968 is also revealing:

I’ve seen some amazing and inspiring performances in women’s gymnastics in these Olympic Games. Just imagine if one of today’s top gymnasts travelled back in time to perform in a competition from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s. Everyone would be utterly flabbergasted because she’d be performing at a level so beyond their capacity to even imagine. That marked increase in human athletic ability — also evident in this infographic on the men’s 100 meter sprint — is another form of fabulous human progress that makes me so happy to be alive today.

We live in amazing times. Savor all the goodness!

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha