Book Review: Against Hate, Carolin Emcke

Against Hate

‘As a homosexual and an intellectual, I belong to two … social groups that are particularly hated’ says Carolin Emcke, in her book Against Hatred. Originally published in 2016 in her native Germany, this recent English translation reads like an academic presentation, or PhD paper. That’s a pity.

Quoting people like Hannah Arendt and Jacques Derrida might go down well in certain intellectual/academic circles – folk like that were bread and butter for the staff/syllabus at Goldsmiths when I was there – but almost certainly won’t reach beyond people who, like me, largely share Emcke’s ideals already. So she’s really preaching to the converted.

Even though his books tend to be enormous and time consuming, I prefer Stephen Pinker’s approach, which is closer to the Dawkins/Dennett axis of scientific methodology. As a result Pinker’s perhaps/probably more likely to reach a wider audience, his reference points being less left-wing-Euro-cultural, i.e. more Charles Darwin than Jean Paul Sartre.

Better Angels
Read this instead.

The back cover blurb mentions such things as passion, lucidity, brevity and precision. Well, I’m afraid it was only really the passion I could find. The text varies from occasionally straightforward to sometimes headache-inducingly convoluted (most especially so when quoting postmodernist thinkers), which does the very valid and timely underlying arguments no favours.

Emcke wants a pluralist, democratic, secular society. So do I. But not everybody else does, clearly! And it’s these people, and the ‘mechanisms’ that give rise to their feelings and actions that she’s ostensibly scrutinising and discussing. Brexit and Trump happened just after she first published the book, and are mentioned in the book’s Postscript as worrying symptoms of collective atavistic regression. Again, agreed.

Carolin Emcke
Carolin Emcke

But, and here there’s a strange irony, if any lessons from history both confirm and yet contradict Emcke’s hopes, beliefs and desires, it’s Nazi Germany. On the one hand Nazism (and similar irruptions around the world) proves that über-hatred carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. But on the other we had to fight fire with fire. It was the Hawks of the East and West who defeated Hitler, not the academic/intellectual Doves, who all too often wound up in jail, gulags or the gas chamber.

During WWII there came a point when lines were crossed by all parties, haters and the hated, even the bystanders, and – even though we can argue that the progressive powers of democracy (well, that holds to some degree for the Western powers, but certainly not Stalin’s Russia!) beat the retrogressive powers of fascism – pluralism failed to cope with or contain less tolerant ideologies.

It’s a tough subject, and whilst I agree with much of what Emcke says, the content, I was disappointed by the delivery, or form. I wouldn’t recommend this, to be honest. Instead set aside a bit more time and read Pinker’s Better Angels.

Book Review: The Escape Line, Megan Koreman

Escape Line

This lies just outside the scope of my mini-military hobby blog, I guess, so I thought I’d post a review here.

The Escape Line is an excellent book, telling the exciting story of ‘Dutch-Paris’, a clandestine group/line that ran from The Netherlands through Belgium and France to Switzerland and Spain, both sheltering and helping to escape Jews, downed Allied airmen, and others, such as young men fleeing conscription into German forced labour.

Johann or Jean Weidner (he chose to use the more French form of his name, being based in France) was a Seventh Day Adventist and textiles merchant who, along with his wife and an ever growing number of others, found himself drawn into a shady underworld, ostensibly at odds with his former standing as an upright law-abiding citizen, in order to help others and live in accordance with his own inner moral compass.

This well-written and researched book shines a light into this murky netherworld of underground but pacific resistance, which itself occurred during dark times. Finding funds, going on the lam, forging documents, crossing borders. There’s lot derring-do! Plenty of contemporary pictures and some useful maps help keep the whole thing both vivid and comprehensible. It’s very much a tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in extraordinary times.

A compelling page turner, set in Nazi-occupied Western Europe, the network and its stories spread their tentacles outwards from Weidner’s initial base in Lyons, France, to Switzerland and Spain, and up into Belgium and Holland. With characters such as couriers or hosts for fugitives ranging from young secretaries and mothers to elderly widows, and civilian passeurs, from French and Dutch clergy and businessmen to downed Allied airmen, Maquis resistance, Milice collaborators, the SS, SD, Gestapo and so on, it’s a very colourful cast.

It’s very interesting in respect of civil disobedience, and the potential conflict between individual conscience and the laws of the state. As Koreman says many times, most people during WWII in the occupied territories would rather look at the floor, so to speak, and try to just get through such troubled times without risking themselves.

In hindsight things at the tine of WWII can look simpler and more clear cut, in respect of an issue such as the persecution of Jews. But how can we apply such lessons as this story might impart for our own times? I have friends who are very active in helping refugees in the U.K. I have to confess I feel very conflicted about such issues as they are in the present.

I’ve got a huge stack of books to review, and was worried I’d find this a chore. But far from it. I was, rather appropriately, captivated, and felt compelled to continue. Indeed, it was hard to put down. I won’t go into any more detail here. Better that you read the book yourself.

HOME/DiY: Backdoor kitchen curtain rail

It’s been a while since I posted here. Having got back into making regular posts on my mini-military blog and not having done too much in the home or garden beyond bits of maintenance tidying.

Yesterday I finally installed the first of the four or so fire-alarms we’ve had for some time now, in the guest/airbnb room. One down, three to go!

I’ve also had to prop up a couple of sections of fence, which are busted and sagging under the weight of some ivy. Didn’t want Storm Freya knocking them down! We need to do lots of work on our fence, as it’s very old and dilapidated. About 8-12 panels have either fallen down or are just about to. Some of these have subsequently been burned or dumped, leaving gaps.

Back door curtain rail Pine brackets for the curtain rail.

But another job has left Teresa breathing down my neck! She made a green velvet curtain for our back/kitchen door, a little while back, and has been on to me ever since about getting it up (fnarrr, fnarrr!).

Back door curtain rail Screw holes drilled all the way through.
Back door curtain rail I didn’t have a long enough bit for the top holes…

Starting a few days ago, I began work on some DIY wooden curtain support brackets, to my own design. Cutting the wood for these gave me the chance to use my recently acquired Kity 613 bandsaw for the first time.

She’s a good gal! But I need some new/finer blades. I only got one with the machine – a wide low tooth count one, best suited for deep/straight cutting – which I bought via Gumtree. I travelled up to Lincoln to buy the Kity, paying £300 (I managed to haggle the seller down from £400!). I had to take out the passenger seat in my little MX5 to fit the bandsaw in. Didn’t know if it’d work (transportation, that is)till I got there. But it did. Phew!

Just typing this as I take a tea-break, before drilling holes in my brackets, so as to mount them ‘pon de wall. I was going to buy a couple more blades for the Kity today, from Bedford Saw & Tool Co. But they make the blades to order, and didn’t have any in stock. They’re ordered now, at any rate. Just a question if collecting them when they let me know they’re ready.

I was able to drill the lower holes all the way through on my bench-top drill press. But the upper ones required drilling from both sides. I managed to get the first one perfectly aligned. But the second was ever so slightly off, and had to be drilled twice. But they both worked out fine when it came to installation.

Back door curtain rail Drilling locating holes for rawl-plugs and screws.
Back door curtain rail And she’s up!
Back door curtain rail Another angle.

Not having a narrow high tooth count blade on my Kity as yet, suitable for cutting tight curves, I had to break out the little old 10″ (chortle) bandsaw. That does have such a blade currently installed, allowing me to cut the curves on that. It struggled. But I cut near to the pencil line, and then used rasps and sandpaper to get a nicer smoother finish. I’m happy with the result.

I was considering a little bit of router-work ornamentation on the brackets. That’d give me a chance to try out my new router, which I’ve not actually used yet. But for some reason I’m a bit wary of doing so. Hmm!?

Back door curtain rail With the curtain in place.
Back door curtain rail From the lounge.

After another break I finally got it all in place, and the curtain up. I have to confess I was a little bit disappointed. I think that’s partly ’cause it should be painted gloss white. I might also plug the screw holes. I’m not going to bother routing any ornamentation on them, however. I might do so at some future point, or next time I make something similar.

Another thing is that Teresa hadn’t quite got the hang of consistent curtain manufacture yet. Sometimes the curtains are wide enough, i.e. contain enough material to have the right amount of ‘gather’, and look right. This curtain’s not really got quite enough material, width-wise.

The other more noticeable issue, with Teresa’s coitans: floppy tops! She’s taken to adding a strips of reinforcing material along the top edge, which is meant to stop this happening. And she’s done so here. But it’s still as limp as a drunken monk. I think she may need to locate the strip that the curtain hooks go through a bit higher as well?

So, there’s more to be done. I need to paint the brackets and the pole. And Teresa needs to do something about her floppy top.

Oh, and then there’s the small matter of inheriting a kitchen not to our tastes. I don’t like the style of it at all. I’ve already repainted the walls and some of the woodwork. I intend to gut the room entirely and rebuild all the cabinets, install a butler sink (which we already have), and so on… when time, funds and materials allow.

But for now, small modest changes.

Sounding Off: The Rising Tide of Gambling

Does anybody else feel, as I do, that the steadily rising tide of gambling in the U.K. is a disturbing thing? I don’t know the facts on gambling itself, but the amount of ads in the media, most especially noticeably on TV, seem very obviously to be on the increase.

Like formation dancing, all-smiling multiracial couples/families*, and sickeningly smug car adverts, there’s an increasing ubiquity of a whole plethora of gambling: bingo, sports betting and, most worryingly of all to me, the ‘raising money for worthy causes’ lotteries.

When the National Lottery was introduced, many moons ago, someone called it, I think rather astutely, a ‘tax on hope’. Speaking of taxes, isn’t that the way we ought to be addressing worthy causes? But with the Conservative government slowly dismembering and privatising the welfare state, we’re blithely heading the opposite way.

Hmmm? Brexit is a worrying mess, and with gambling on the rise, it seems to signal to me that we are living in a reckless world of fantasy. Where are we headed!?

* What bugs me about this is the blithely unreal gloss on issues of racism this suggests. It irks me that I feel obliged to mention this, but I’m in a happy marriage with a lady differently coloured to myself. Whilst such ads are laudable for trying to normalise such things, and show them in a positive light, advertising is also insidious in how it contrasts the fake world of consumer bliss with our real flawed mundane realities. And there in lies the ‘rub’… But this is supposed to be a post about the sordid Vegas-ification of gambling!

Workshop: Kity 613 bandsaw

I finally bowed to the inevitable, realising that my little bandsaw simply isn’t man enough to do the kind of work I need a bandsaw for.

Kity bandsaw
The new bandsaw dwarfs the old ‘un!

So I started looking for something that’d better suit my needs. And afore long I lit upon the Kity 613 as a potential answer. They seem big enough – re height and depth of cut – very solidly built, and can be bought for about £250-300, which is as much (more, really!) as I could muster, max.

I followed one on eBay, which eventually sold for £260. But with the travel involved it’d have cost me in excess of £300. It also looked in very good condition. However, at the same time there was an even more pristine one listed on Preloved, complete with manual. Advertised at £400ovno, after some haggling I managed to persuade the seller to let me have it for £300.

Adding fuel costs to that – I had to drive to Lincoln and back (the eBay one was even further afield) – it probably set me back about £330 in all. Having only my MX5 with which to transport it, I decided I’d take the passenger seat out. That was relatively easy, thankfully. And it’s a good job I did. Even with the seat out it only just fit.

The seller and I removed the base, a sturdy two-part metal affair, which went into the boot (just!), along with the fence and manual, etc. The saw itself only just went in, leaned back at an angle and strapped in with bungees. Covered with a dust sheet it looked a bit like I had some sort of android under wraps in the passenger seat.

Clearing space for this full on bit of kit in the shed has meant moving a reclaimed table out. Not sure what’ll become of that? If it survives being outside for a while it might wind up in the art studio, if/when I get round to building that! Although I managed to transport the bandsaw from the lounge to the shed on my own, it’s both heavy and awkwardly shaped enough to mean I’m almost certainly going to need help getting it back up on to its base.

I now have two bits of ‘vintage’ Kity gear, this 613 bandsaw, and the as yet to be got functioning planer/thicknesser. As the weather starts to improve, I hope to get into the workshop more, and get these tools working for me. I have sooo many projects in mind!

HOME/DiY: Domino’s for Dad

Another archival post this, with the actual project occurring in late march last year.

Having no available cash at the time of my dad’s birthday last year, I decided I’d make him a gift. I made him a set of rosewood dominos, all entirely handmade, individually, by  me. Far from perfect in conception or execution. But he loves them. That’s the main thing!

Dad's dominos The set, with pop’s b’day card.

Another pic of the full set, this time sat atop the green velvet bag teresa made, for Pa to keep his dominos in. Along with the green ‘pips’ on the dominos – green is a favourite colour of both my father and myself – this gives an overall theme of… well, green!

Dad's dominos Tumbled about a bit, as if removed from their bag.
Dad's dominos And in the bag, ready to be gift-wrapped and delivered.

I have ideas about making further sets of dominos, and improving on both design and execution in the process. As a kid my favourite thing to do with dominos was making domino runs (is that what they’re called?), in which you line ’em all up, and knock ’em all down. These days you see folk doing this stuff on a huge scale. I never had more than a couple of packs at my disposal. Maybe that’ll change?

In the meantime, ‘hippo birdy’ Pops, and I’m glad you like my ‘umble gift!

Workshop: Teresa’s Sewing Box

Another archival post, this time a rosewood sewing box, for Teresa’s birthday (May), last year. I should’ve, and was intending to, make it twice as deep. But in the end time ran out, so I went with a shallower design.

I enjoyed lining it in green felt, and felt (boom-boom) that it was a successful project, albeit far from perfect. Teresa really likes it, and that’s the main thing. Plus I learn something new with every project.

MUSiC: Vulfpeck, a new discovery

I can sometimes be a bit of a grumpy old curmudgeon when it comes to contemporary music culture, mostly because what I hear in the mainstream seems like so much utterly vacuous drivel, by and large.

As an example, one of my young drum pupils has suggested a track, Rise, by Jonas Blue for his most recent project. This kind of contemporary pop is utterly devoid of any interest to me, simply being an assemblage of the most obvious and banal of clichés.  Fortunately my student wants to add a drum part to the ‘acoustic’ version of the single, so we’ll have the freedom to inject some honest humanity of our own into proceedings.

Of course there is a good deal of great music being made now, and YouTube is perhaps the best way I know of to discover much of it. It’s where I discovered the chief subject of this post.

Having said that, some music I really love has come to my notice via personal links: my uncle Terry introduced me to The Society of Strange and Unusual Instruments. And their latest recording, The Longest Night, is sublimely beautiful. I did a general post on the group here

Then there’s Resolution 88, the Herbie/Rhodes focussed project of Tom O’Grady, a local musician I’ve had the privilege to work with on occasion, whose music keeps alive and brings into the present a very rich tradition of superb jazz-funk-fusion. I’ll post more on these guys here soon. In the meantime, here’s a link to my Amazon UK review of their debut album.

But today’s post is all about ze Vunderful Vurld of Vulf. Vulfpeck are an American group, the dynamo of which is Jack Stratton, a very charismatic character. The core of the group appear to be a development of a former music school quartet, comprising Stratton (multi-instrumentalist and renaissance-cyberman), Joe Dart (bass), Theo Katzmann (multi-instrumentalist/vocals), and Woody Goss (keys).

Around this core there’s a colourful cast of collaborators, and the Vulf channel on YouTube covers a lot of territory, centred around music, but ranging into comedy, auto-didactic eclecticism, and all sorts. As well as a distinct central focus on funky soulful music, there’s a fantastic design and production aesthetic, which affects both music and visual production. The Vurld of Vulf is really something special.

Vulf, Funkier
This moment in this particular video made me smile so hard I cracked my face.

I find it all terrifically joyful and inspiring. It’s making me aware that I really ought to bring all my creative endeavours out into the open. For example, I’ve always had a thang for typography, and designed a family of fonts many moons ago, some of which I actually turned into workable computer typefaces using Fontographer, for use in my design, illustration and music projects.

Vulf have their own signature font, which I believe you can buy via their website. I think I’ll dust off my fonts, and bring them up to date and share them. But I really want to create another one, suitable for use in the broadest of contexts – most of my previous font design was for more ‘graphic’ type characters, and not so well suited to ‘body text’ – and I’ve long had a yen to try my hand at a variant of Carolingian Miniscule script. Sebolingian, perhaps? Or maybe… Sebolingus?

Vulf have also developed their own compressor, with some help from another former college buddy. Both the font and compressor can be bought via links on their website. I’m planning to get back into recording and producing my own music, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying this compressor at some point, as it looks and sounds terrific.

Jack Stratton can be observed doing all sorts of stuff besides music. And he seems to have some alter-egos, such as ‘Mushy’, for some of his prolific output. Amongst the many things he’s put out are several ‘Holy Trinities’, which are ‘the three best’ of such and such. These latter, produced, I think, by the guy who helped develop their compressor, are musical, but are about, say, the three greatest tambourine players (as shown above), for example. They are superbly put together, massively enjoyable, and I find myself entirely in agreement with senor Stratton.

Many of the musical references these chaps are drawing from chime with my own. Dean Town, a live video of which is included above, is an homage to Weather Report’s Teen Town, a longstanding favourite track of mine [1]. And it’s interesting to see which legendary figures Stratton cites, such as Fonce Mizzell, or who they collaborate with, live and in the studio, such as David Walker, James Gadson, Bernard Purdie, and Mike McDonald. When I saw that they performed What A Fool Believes, with MacDonald, I was blown away.

Woody Goss’ face above says it all.


[1] I have long loved Teen Town. Since discovering Weather Report in my early/mid teens (how appropriate!), and enjoying learning a lot from drumming along to their stuff, I’ve always had a few favourites from their extensive and varied catalogue. From very early on Teen Town was amongst my tip-top favourites. Unlike much Weather Report, it’s a small intricately wrought little nugget. And it’s largely performed by its composer, Jaco Pastorius, with his drums and bass being the key dominant elements. Alex Acura drums (brilliantly) on the rest of the album. But Jaco himself plays the traps on this number, and sounds as if he’s done it in two passes: one’s a relatively simple cyclic groove, dominated by the hi-hat (or, as Vulfpeck have it in Dean Town, ‘sock cymbal’), whilst the other is a very funkily syncopated duet between an open boomy bass drum, and a super-tight, super-dry snare. These drum parts reveal Pastorius to be an incredibly talented drummer. Manolo Badrena, Wayne Shorter, and (possibly?) Joe Zawinul contribute parts that are extremely and unusually minimal. The result is a highly wrought gem of a piece. Vulfpeck’s homage recycles the ‘sock cymbal’ element, and also features bass as the lead instrument, but is also very different in some respects, primarily in the simplicity and linear straightforwardness – or lack of complex syncopation (such a feature of the Pastorius number) – of the drum part.

Misc: Bovington Tank Museum, Tiger Collection

I’ve been wanting to go to the Bovington Tank Museum for some time, to see the Tiger collection. It’s a shame they don’t have a SturmTiger, but they have a Tiger I, two Tiger IIs, a JadTiger and an Elefant.

Bovington, Elefant
On loan from the U.S. of A mighty Sd.Kfz. 184, aka Ferdinand, or Elefant.

I’ve posted a photo report on the Elefant on my mini-military blog, here.

I’ll be posting more stuff there about the other Tigers, etc. But here a few pics of stuff I particularly dug.

Bovington, Tiger II
A Porsche turreted Tiger II.

There are two Tiger II tanks, one with a Porsche turret, and one with the Henschel turret, that became the chosen production variant. It was Porsche’s rejected King Tiger hulls that formed the basis of the Ferdinand/Elefant Tank-hunter.

Bovington, JagdTiger
The JagdTiger, another mighty monster.

Another Tank-hunter, by name as well as fighting role, was the awesome JagdTiger. Above you can see what a huge beast it was. This tank looks pristine inside, and you can see into both the engine bay and fighting compartment.

Bovington, JagdTiger
You can see inside the JagdTiger.

Below is the Henschel King Tiger, or Tiger II, also in zimmerit anti-magnetic mine paste. The paint job is the mid/late-war three colour ‘ambush’ scheme, and the markings are very nice.

Bovington, Tiger II
Henschel turreted Tiger II
Bovington, Tiger II
Zimmerit and markings.

All that is there to stand in for the SturmTiger is a mortar barrel. Below is a picture taken looking down said barrel, with a torch illuminating the rifled interior. Impressive! (Can’t help hearing the James Bond theme tune when I see this!)

Bovington, SturmTiger
Internal view of the SturmTiger mortar barrel.

The five Tigers on display are truly amazing. I’m sooo glad I made the effort to see them all. I’ll go again later in the year, I think. But I had to go today to catch the Elefant before it’s shipped back Stateside… tomorrow!

One of the reasons I had to see the Elefant is ’cause I’ve been making models of them. I’ve built two so far, and I’m working on a third. Seeing the real thing is both inspiring, and useful for gathering reference.

I love the tank museum!