Day: April 11, 2017

Sean Spicer forgets the Holocaust

It’s possible that at the beginning, Sean Spicer remembered a widely-circulated anecdote about how Hitler didn’t use nerve gas at Normandy.

Because this surprised Allied commanders, who knew he had nerve agents stockpiled nearby, all kinds of armchair psychologists have pontificated that Hitler’s restraint showed a distaste for gas attacks in a military setting.

This pontificating, for whatever reason, has held in the popular imagination, even though the Nazi army used chemical weapons plenty of other times, mostly on the Eastern front, and although Göring testified that they only held off at Normandy because the Nazi army was using horses to move equipment around and hadn’t figured out how to make a gas mask for a horse.

(Next time you write something with Nazis in it, I would appreciate it if you made “gas mask for a horse” their “build a better mousetrap.”)

This anecdote, I think, is what Spicer was drawing on.

Then, when somebody said “wait, the Holocaust,” he got super flustered and reflexively went into a defensive “it’s different.” The distinction that first leapt to mind is that concentration camps weren’t bombed – they had gas chambers. (See, it’s different! It’s an execution, not part of combat!)

However, he couldn’t remember the term “concentration camp” or for that matter “gas chamber,” although he remembered he was looking for a two-word phrase. He hit upon Holocaust center as a two-word phrase he has seen before that describes a place where Jews sometimes go and cry.

I don’t think he was trying to deny the existence of the Holocaust; I think the Holocaust and WWII are seperate simultaneous events in his mind and he wanted to talk about one and not the other, and got tangled up.

However, I also think this is something you can only do if you don’t empathize viscerally with the victims of the Holocaust, chiefly because if you identify viscerally with the victims of the Holocaust and somebody says “what about the Holocaust” you clutch your stomach or burst into tears and say “of course you’re right. How unspeakably terrible that was. Never again.”

Sonya says: I was just talking about this over the weekend (although not because of Sean Spicer, because I am not that precognitive) and elsewhere on the internet: I do think a lot of people in this country forget that chemical weapons were used in World War II, because they associate weapons with battlefields and the Nazis never used poison gas against the Western Allies and they don’t think of the Holocaust as a theater of war; they may know perfectly well about gas chambers, but they don’t classify them the same way as the gas-clouds choking the trenches of World War I. So I agree with you that I don’t think Spicer was demonstrating Holocaust denial. Some casual low-grade anti-Semitism, sure; I wouldn’t need much convincing of that. It’s been going around this administration from the start. But what he was demonstrating still blows my mind.

(He didn’t even have to go for the Hitler comparison. It’s not like Godwin’s Law hasn’t been getting a workout for months now. And people aren’t desensitized—if anything, all the recent dogwhistling has caused people to examine Nazi-referencing rhetoric even more closely than before. But he went for it because this administration speaks hyperbole as a first language and what did he think people were going to do, not remember?)

The gas-mask-for-a-horse problem is one of the things that reminds you just what an incredible collision of technologies WWII was.

Romie: Your comment about hyperbole is dead on: biggest inagural attendance instead of a normal one; biggest victory in the electoral college instead of a fairly slim one; jobs numbers like we’ve never seen before that of course we have. Now they’re engaging him, Assad has to be the worst villain to have ever lived. “Nobody’s ever done this” might be the slogan of the administration, but in a different way than I would mean it.

Kate L says: What’s so frustrating about the whole thing is Assad really is a horrifying piece of shit who should have been taken out years ago, and we should all be talking about him, but instead, we’re talking about how unspeakably stupid Sean Spicer is, and wondering if we can have any faith in any actions taken by an administration filled with people this unspeakably stupid.

Joseph says: Two other terms that may have been rattling around his frantic mind: population centers, what Assad targeted in battle, and the Anne Frank Center, which has been a very vocal opponent of the Trump Administration and a group Spicer could have expected a reply from even while he was searching for the right shovel to dig his way out of his worsening answer.


Eva Bartlett debunk

Hokay, looks like recuts of that appalling video of “independent Canadian journalist” Eva Bartlett are making the rounds again. Her name is never mentioned, but you may recognize the picture:

It’s propaganda; she’s paid by Russia and Syria, not a newspaper, and her claims are verifiably untrue. Suggest you read Snopes prophylactically and then bookmark it in case you find you need to inoculate someone else.

Or if someone hates Snopes, you have other options:

Channel 4


Pulse Media

The amount of desire you have to have, to think that video of aerial bombardments and children in ambulances is easy to fake, but a closeup of one white person in front of a paper background must be honest, even though you’ve never heard her name and she’s “independent” of press credentials…


The Libor scandal, the Bank of England, and Brexit

The quick version of the Libor banking scandal is that for a few years, a bunch of international banks headquartered in London flat out lied about what they needed to charge each other to borrow money, and what revenue they were getting from it. (Libor is the London interbank lending rate.)

That mattered not just because it hid big holes in bank balance sheets (like covering up that you’ve been fired by taking cash advances from your credit card), but because the number they lied about was the basis for interest rates on a lot of other things – like the mortage on your house in the U.S., or the variable rate you were charged on a loan, or municipal bonds issued by cities like Baltimore.

Essentially, Libor was supposed to be a thermometer that took the temperature of the market so we knew what was sick and what was healthy, and bankers were working together to stick it on lamps and ice cubes to get doctors’ notes.

One consequence is that banks were able to rake in literally billions of extra dollars on people’s mortgages, because whenever it was time to reset a variable rate, they had a button under the roulette table. This significantly contributed to the housing crisis and the European sovereign debt crisis.

Something similar happened simultaneously in Iceland (although on a smaller scale), and that’s notable because both Iceland and the City of London were in the E.U. but not the currency union. Employees could enjoy the protections of E.U. residence, but the banks themselves escaped oversight and regulation by the European Central Bank.

It’s almost like being able to shop around and pick your regulator creates a fertile environment for fraud.

One possible silver lining of hard Brexit with no passporting is that it may break up the too-cosy relationship between the Bank of England and the City of London investment banks which will move their operations. I expect they’ll find their own scummy level again soon, but it’s nice to imagine a temporary bust-up on the horizon, even if it’s for gloomy reasons.

It lets me daydream that someday Delaware will do something so stupid we’ll be able to take down Delaware. Yes, Delaware. Part of the reason U.S. corporations are assholes is they all claim to be from Delaware, and Delaware says corporations have no obligations whatsoever. Hence even though I have ancestral connections to Baron De La Warr, and even though I love Joe Biden, Delaware is my white whale. Someday, Delaware. Someday.