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Wodehouse POW, the Example of Hungary, and the Other NASA

Also: The frailty of memory, and more.
Wodehouse POW, the Example of Hungary, and the Other NASA

In 1940, British humorist P. G. Wodehouse was arrested by the Germans. What happened next?

Gareth Roberts has written several Dr. Who TV episodes and books and was recently invited to contribute a short story to a collection of Dr. Who fiction published by BBC Books. He did so, but a tweet from 2017 poking fun at transgender hypocrisies was discovered and BBC pulled his story from the collection. Here’s his response.

A couple of items related to crime and punishment: A few centuries ago, American courts were run by laymen. Now they are run by lawyers and professional judges. Is that a good thing? Eve Tushnet reviews Stephanos Bibas’s re-issued The Machinery of Criminal Justice.

In her book, The Memory Illusion, Julia Shaw argues that human memory is much less reliable than we think and explains the problem this poses for how we use memories in a court of law: “According to Shaw, for example, every individual trusts their own memory but distrusts that of others, a feature known to psychologists as ‘over-self-evaluation’. The list here is long: there is ‘confabulation’ or the filling in of unknowns to make a narrative coherent; ‘contamination’ from other and unrelated memory traces; and flaws of recognition, most evident with police line-ups. And then in terms of interrogation techniques a prime difficulty is defective technique—the suggestion to an interviewee of what he or she should say rather than what they are able to say without suggestion. In these and related matters, Shaw has found existing public and official procedures in several countries to be fundamentally deficient, and liable to lead directly to injustice. Along the way, Shaw disposes of an impressive number of outright myths, always citing the laboratory science and adducing cases. In brief: despite all the confident claims one sometimes hears, no one can ‘remember’ being born or indeed anything much before about four or five years old, as the brain does not physically develop its memory function until then. It seems no one can actually remember ‘the good old days’ with any accuracy. There is no such thing as a ‘photographic memory’ so ignore any ads that claim to teach you how to develop one. Ditto for ‘learn while you sleep’ applications. Ditto for ‘mental sport applications’ claiming to make you ‘smarter’; they will make you dumber. Traumatic memories are highly questionable, and claims need to be handled with extreme care. ‘Multi-tasking’, literally understood, is not possible for the human brain as the short-term memory can handle only limited amounts of information at any one time. Above all, the brain is highly vulnerable to emotional ‘flooding’ or contamination from the high emotions of others (as anyone attending a local ball game will attest from their own experience).”

Vasily Grossman and his mother: “Vasily Grossman’s relationship with his mother, Yekaterina Savelievna, was of central importance to him throughout his life. He dedicated his most well-known work Life and Fate to her. The most remarkable of his short stories (included in The Road) is titled simply ‘Mama’. And after his death, an envelope was found among his papers; in it were two deeply painful letters he had written to his mother on 15 September 1950 and 15 September 1961, that is, on the ninth and twentieth anniversaries of her death. She was one of 30,000 Jews shot by the Nazis outside Berdichev in September 1941.”

No, NASA did not invent Velcro or Tang, but it produces 1,500 new inventions every year, which can be found in hundreds of products worldwide: “A book called Spinoff, issued annually since 1976, tells the stories of American businesses that have adopted NASA technology. According to the latest National Institute of Science and Technology report on technology transfer, NASA posted the second-highest number of invention disclosures across all federal agencies in fiscal year 2015, coming in just behind the Department of Energy, which has an annual budget nearly 40 percent higher than NASA’s. And every day, as scientists at the agency work on plans to return to the moon and peer into the oldest galaxies in the universe, they are conducting research that will be put to use in ways that are impossible to predict.”

Goodbye, iTunes: “At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference . . . Craig Federhigi made it official: iTunes is dead on the Mac, split in the upcoming version of macOS into separate Music, Podcast, and TV apps. In truth, the much-maligned media player had already been buried years ago, crushed by nearly two decades of cruft. But hating on iTunes at this point makes for cheap sport . . . It seems more fitting, at the time of its demise, to consider its powerful legacy.”

Essay of the Day:

In The Claremont Review of Books, Christopher Caldwell explains why, for those who were paying attention, the rise of nationalistic parties in the latest elections in Europe should be no surprise:

“No English-language newspaper reported on it at the time, nor has any cited it since, but the speech Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán made before an annual picnic for his party’s intellectual leaders in the late summer of 2015 is probably the most important by a Western statesman this century. As Orbán spoke in the village of Kötcse, by Lake Balaton, hundreds of thousands of migrants from across the Muslim world, most of them young men, were marching northwestwards out of Asia Minor, across the Balkan countries and into the heart of Europe.

“Already, mobs of migrants had broken Hungarian police lines, trampled cropland, occupied town squares, shut down highways, stormed trains, and massed in front of Budapest’s Keleti train station. German chancellor Angela Merkel had invited those fleeing the Syrian civil war to seek refuge in Europe. They had been joined en route, in at least equal number, by migrants from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. For Hungarians, this was playing with fire. They are taught in school to think of their Magyar ancestors as having ridden off the Asian steppes to put much of Europe to the torch (Attila is a popular boys’ name), and they themselves suffered centuries of subjugation under the Ottomans, who marched north on the same roads the Syrian refugees used in the internet age. But no one was supposed to bring up the past. Merkel and her defenders had raised the subject of human rights, which until then had been sufficient to stifle misgivings. In Kötcse, Orbán informed Merkel and the world that it no longer was.

“Orbán was preparing a military closure of his country’s southern border. That Europe’s ancient nation-states would serve in this way as the first line of defense for the continent’s external borders, such as the one between Hungary and Serbia, was exactly what had been assumed two decades before in the founding treaties of the European Union, the 28-nation federation-in-embryo centered in Brussels and dominated by Merkel’s Germany. But sometime after Hungary joined the E.U. in 2004, this question of Europe’s borders had become complicated, legalistic, and obscured by what Orbán called ‘liberal babble.’ Orbán now had to make a philosophical argument for why he should not be evicted from civilized company for carrying out what a decade before would have been considered the most basic part of his job. His Fidesz party had always belonged to the same political family that Merkel’s did—the hodgepodge of postwar conservative parties called ‘Christian Democracy.’ Now, as Orbán spoke, it was clear the two were arguing from different centuries, opposite ideologies, and irreconcilable Europes.

“‘Hungary must protect its ethnic and cultural composition,’ he said at Kötcse (which more or less rhymes with butcher). ‘I am convinced that Hungary has the right—and every nation has the right—to say that it does not want its country to change.’ France and Britain had been perfectly within their prerogatives to admit millions of immigrants from the former Third World. Germany was entitled to welcome as many Turks as it liked. ‘I think they had a right to make this decision,’ Orbán said. ‘We have a duty to look at where this has taken them.’ He did not care to repeat the experiment.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Bucegi Mountains

Poem: John Fuller, “Edward Lear in Corsica”   

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