Nazi Gumball Ring… Or Is It?

Nazi RingMy friend Will brought my attention to this curious article, Toy Vending Machine Gives Tulsa Boy a Nazi-Themed Ring. A Oklahoma mother was shopping at a dollar store when her son got the ring pictured there on the left from one of those little toy vending machines.

My first reaction was that it must be a prank being perpetrated by the boy or his mother. But when the local news ponied up some serious coin, they found a dozen other rings just like it. This led me to my second reaction: it must be something done by someone who works for the vending machine company. That could be a prank but it could also be a stunt done by some neo-Nazi. That got me searching Google Images.

I immediately noticed that I couldn’t find any Nazi ring that looked anything like this. And even a search on Nazi symbols with birds in them didn’t turn up anything that looked especially like this. Overwhelmingly, Nazi symbols contained birds with their wings outstretched. I’m sure the Nazis saw themselves as very active: birds that soared, not birds that nested. This is the best match I can come up with:

Nazi Eagle Symbol

Another question I have is how anyone could do this even if they wanted to. It would certainly be easier to create Nazi swastika decals rather than plastic rings. What’s more, let’s not forget that the Nazi swastika was first and is still part of the primary symbol of Jainism — the most peaceful religion or philosophy in the world:

Jainism Symbol Explained
Image used without permission from Jain Belief

I figure it happened as follows. The vending machine company buys these rings for about a penny a piece from some company in China. The company in China makes rings with all sorts of designs on them. They don’t know what they mean, nor do they care. They are providing stupid plastic rings at unbelievably low prices. And the people at the vending machine company don’t even look at the rings because they usually just have Hello Kitty on them anyway. What’s more, they aren’t as hung up on the Nazis as we are. They remember the Japanese! When they see a swastika, they probably think Jainism, not fascism.

All this means that it probably is a Nazi symbol. But I doubt that anyone intended it as Nazi propaganda. It was just another example of how great globalization is. And it just proves that the market is always right. Heil profits!

Attack of the Crybaby: Why Chris Hughes Turned Against New Republic

Chris HughesI don’t especially care about the death of New Republic. As I discussed in, New Republic: 1914 – 2014, I mostly associate it with The Bell Curve. But I am interested in Chris Hughes. After all, what did Chris Hughes do in life? His singular claim to fame is that he was Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate. In exchange for that chance encounter, Hughes has a half billion dollars. Now I don’t think much of Zuckerberg either. But at least he did something and was a leader of men. Hughes is just a man-child who ought to be a barista at a suburban Starbucks.

So I’m really interested in how this entitled rich boy went from the savior of New Republic to its destroyer. And luckily, Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker has the whole story, Inside the Collapse of the New Republic. Just to give you a little idea of how thoroughly Hughes has managed to destroy the magazine, Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke at the hundred year anniversary for the magazine last month. This month, she canceled her subscription. But it may not matter. Because of the mass resignations, New Republic has stopped producing the magazine until February. We’ll see if they manage to grind one out even then. And if they do, I wonder how long it will go on. The two top people are New Republic have no experience doing actual journalism.

But I don’t want to get distracted. My interest is in Chris Hughes and his crybaby act. According to the article, things were great at first. Hughes even went to a conference with the writers and editors and hung out with them late into the night. Sadly, everyone involved, including Lizza, seems to think that this was a good sign. But it wasn’t. It was just a pampered rich boy playing with his new toy. Here were all these urbane sophisticated people willing to hang out with Hughes, who is the kind of guy every one of those writers would have scoffed at had he not been the boss.

Just how pathetic a figure is Chris Hughes? After totally screwing up and causing a mass exodus of his staff, he whined to his remaining staff that he cared “about tradition and about institutions.” And as an example of that, he noted that he studied history and literature at Harvard. Oh my! That does settle it, then. And this is why he hired a guy who said the following on his first day of being placed in charged of the magazine:

They say that there’s two types of CEOs. There’s the peacetime CEO and the wartime CEO. Not to be overly dramatic about it, but this is sort of a war. This is a wartime period. That just means that we need to change a lot of things. We need to just break shit. Sorry to say, we’ve got to break shit and embrace being uncomfortable sometimes. And it’s scary. It’s definitely a scary thing to do. But it’s also fun: you know, lean up against the wall and break it.

This bit of self-consciously belligerent new economy babble was widely mocked by the staff at New Republic. What’s become clear over the past decade or so is that the jargon of the high tech “entrepreneurs” is no more meaningful than the Sun Tzu quotations of the idiot traders of the 1980s. But this is all that Hughes and company bring to the table: business “truisms.” The fact that Hughes considers himself a Democrat is all you really need to know about the state of the Democratic Party.

One of the first things that Hughes did after buying New Republic was an amazing bit of micromanagement. The magazine was already being printed. But Hughes stopped it because he didn’t like the following headline, “Attack of the Crybabies: Why Hedge Fund Honchos Turned Against Obama.” He had the staff remove “Attack of the Crybabies” from the headline. Similarly, when Amazon cut off their participation in their Alpha House campaign because of a critical New Republic article, Hughes did not want that information made public. That one’s a twofer: two different high tech icons showing that they behave exactly the same (if not worse) than their business predecessors.

But I will just quote Lizza for the best example of how small-minded Chris Hughes is. It shows what really attracts him to the Democratic Party: it accepts his sexual orientation and makes no claims on his wealth:

Hughes’s eroding relationship with the staff took on an ideological edge. On the morning that Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, announced that he was gay, MacGillis wrote a note to “the Plank,” TNR’s internal e-mail listserv for writers and editors. “I see the celebration of his announcement, while entirely justifiable, as another sign of what’s happened to liberalism today, where rights/identity liberalism trumps economic liberalism,” he wrote. “This is, after all, a guy who embodies so much of what’s amiss in the age of inequality — pulling down $378 million in 2011 alone; Apple skirting taxes more brazenly than anyone else — yet those revelations have caused barely a stir.”

Hughes responded to the note six minutes later: “I think those are valid issues, although Apple has acted squarely within the law,” he wrote. “The law itself is fucked up. But I don’t think you can underestimate the difficulty of his decision or how tone deaf that argument would be today.”

The other editorial employees on the list were surprised by the response. It was an internal listserv for writers and editors, and the staffers didn’t realize that Hughes, who had relinquished his title as editor-in-chief when he installed Vidra, was on it. MacGillis responded by saying that he would hold off on writing, but added, “Just for the record, though, it is not so clear that Apple acted squarely within the law. The law’s a mess, but Apple pushed the bounds of it more than anyone.” He pasted text from a piece in the Times that questioned some of Apple’s practices.

“I’m confused,” Hughes wrote back. “Has anyone, including this article, said what they did was illegal? Companies have an obligation to their shareholders to maximize shareholder value, including through strategic tax planning.”

When the whole thing was over, Hughes was genuinely surprised. One ex-staffer said, “He was shocked. And I’m kind of shocked that he was shocked.” Hughes had no problem with New Republic being a money loser so long as he was having fun with his new toy. But that could only last so long. Rather than flattering him, people like Alec MacGillis were saying things that indicated that maybe they disagreed with his outlook on life. So New Republic quickly became just another investment. And that meant that it needed to make money! Of course, Chris Hughes doesn’t have a clue how to actually make money other than to hire people who speak the same incoherent language that he does.

If we had a just society, Chris Hughes would die soon, alone, and broke. But no one with a half billion dollars is ever allowed to fail in our society. So Chris Hughes will always be successful in the only way that matters to him: financially. But I do hope that liberals will finally wake up to the fact that Chris Hughes and all the other billionaire “liberals” are anything but actual liberals. They are, in fact, a great impediment to making social progress. We need to elect a president who would never take a call from the likes of the crybaby billionaire class. They only harm society.

Update (14 December 2014 10:14 am)

I haven’t read it yet, but the subtitle to Thomas Frank’s column today is, “Zillionaire new media barons think themselves geniuses, not say, really lucky to’ve been Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate.” It appears great and middling Franks think alike.

America Is Falling Apart

Noam ChomskyObama virtually nationalized the auto industry. It was collapsing, so it had to be kind of built up by the taxpayers. So he took over most of the auto industry. There were a few possibilities. One possibility, of course, was the one that was followed. Bail out the owners, bail out the banks, give it back to the same people, or other people with different faces but essentially the same roles in society, and have it continue to produce what it had always been producing — automobiles. There was another possibility.

Give it to the work force. Subsidize them to develop and have it produce what we need. What do we need? I can give you a personal example.

My wife and I came to New York by train from Boston. The train took only an hour and a half longer than when I took it in 1950 for the first time. Either it was standing still or it was going slower than the trucks on the Connecticut Turnpike.

There isn’t a country in the world where this happens. And that’s just a symbol of the country. This is the richest country in the world that has incomparable advantages and it’s just falling apart.

—Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky Talks US Militarism and Capitalism, at Home and Abroad

Zulu and the Politics of Power

ZuluLast night, I watched the 1964 classic, Zulu. I’ve always really liked the film, but it also seems somehow racist. I add the modifier there, because the film goes out of its way to portray the Zulu with a great deal of dignity. And having watched the film again, I am of the opinion that it isn’t racist, although it is Anglophilic: it tells the story entirely from the standpoint of the British. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that — especially given when the film was made. What I think is most interesting, however, is that an equally great film could be made entirely from the Zulu perspective.

I love the stories of family squabbles, especially when they have consequences far outside the family. Cetshwayo kaMpande, the king of Zululand, was a good ruler. The British were the aggressors in the Anglo-Zulu war. And overall, the Zulu were doing quite well. But Cetshwayo was not out to create a new empire. He was just trying to hold onto to his own kingdom. Even after his success at the Battle of Isandlwana (the subject of the mediocre film Zulu Dawn), he wanted to make peace with the British. And he might have been successful if it weren’t for his half-brother, Dabulamanzi kaMpande.

It was Dabulamanzi who instigated the Battle of Rorke’s Drift — the subject of Zulu. Rorke’s Drift was outside of Zululand and Cetshwayo did not want to attack outside of his own land. That’s not to say that Dabulamanzi was disloyal. In fact, he was very loyal. He was just younger and less wise. It’s not clear what he really thought to accomplish at Rorke’s Drift. A victory would have meant nothing compared to the victory at Isandlawana. As it was, the British didn’t win the battle so much as survive. That brings up the important point about the ending of Zulu.

The most beautiful part of the film is where the Zulu sing a song in preparation for a huge attack. In response, the British sing, “Men of Harlech.” It is a beautiful moment that has no historical basis. But who cares? It is followed by the Zulu attack. The British fall back and form three lines of fire. And after much sound and fury, the British are left standing in front of a sea of death Zulu warriors. It is an amazing bit of filmmaking, switching from the lyricism of the singing scene to the brutality of the attack.

After this, the film cuts to three hours later where we learn that the Zulu have not attacked again. Then the Zulu appear on the hillside — thousands of them. The British don’t even try. It is over. But instead of attacking, the Zulu sing a song honoring them as fellow warriors. And then the Zulu go on their merry. It works rather well as an ending to the film, but it isn’t what happened. In fact, the Zulu just disappeared because they were short on supplies, with many wounded, and far from home.

But Rorke’s Drift had great public relations benefit for the British. I question whether the British would have continued on with the Anglo-Zulu War without this “victory” — especially with Cetshwayo’s attempts to broker a peace. But it’s hard to say. In terms of imperialism, the British were not nearly as bad as many. But that’s just a function of how bad others — notably my own Portuguese ancestors — were, and not of the British being great.

Another interesting thing about the battle is what happened to the British soldiers who fought in it. Most of them died quite young. Lieutenant Bromhead, for example, died of typhoid fever at the age of 45 while serving in India. But the situation was much worse for lower ranks. One of the men, William Jones, ended up pawning his Victoria Cross. He died in a workhouse. But in some ways, he was lucky — living into his 70s. The most extreme case was that of Ferdinand Schiess. He couldn’t find work — a common situation for the men who fought at Rorke’s Drift. A few years after the battle, he was discovered by the Royal Navy on the streets of Cape Town — starving. They saved him, but he died on the journey back to England. He was 28 years old. (That is the age that the hero dies in Jude the Obscure — written around the same time.)

I bring this up because it shows the way that the powerful treat the people. It doesn’t matter if they are enemies (reluctant though they may be) or friends — even heroes. They are all expendable.

Tom Verlaine

Tom VerlaineThe great musician Tom Verlaine is 65 today. He was the founder of the early punk band Television. If that is the right word. Those early bands like Television and Ramones are hard to classify. But Television was an amazing band. Verlaine originally started the band with Richard Hell. But eventually Verlaine kicked Hell out of the band, supposedly for his poor musicianship and his odd behavior. I think it was actually just a personality conflict. For one thing, Hell was actually a rather good bass player. But more important, Verlaine is very laid-back on stage and Hell was spastic. It was probably for the best. Hell really needed to be a solo act, and his material didn’t fit in that well with Television.

Television didn’t stay together that long. I’m not counting how they later got back together like just about every other punk and post-punk band. They only released two albums during that period. But they are both classics: Marquee Moon and Adventure. And then, Verlaine went on to have arguably an even more successful solo career. In addition to his excellent songwriting, he is one of the great guitarists that rock has produced.

There isn’t a lot of great video of Verlaine online. There is currently the whole Marquee Moon on YouTube. But the best thing I can find is the same thing I posted last year of him solo performing in Madrid. But this is a playlist of the entire performance:

Happy birthday Tom Verlaine!