Monthly, 05/24

TL;DR: Working on renovations. Working on projects. Working through “gymnastical boredom”. Absolutely “okay” month.

Summer is slowly approaching, and I haven’t decided how I feel about it. It’s good that the weather reached a point where I don’t have to accept being cold when being out with my regular choice of clothes (a t-shirt and shorts), but it’s a really odd feeling to sleep on top of a heated blanket (in order to make back pain tolerable) while pushing your blanket as far away from you as possible.

I got roped into doing Yoga lessons at a local community college, once a week. This lead me towards making two discoveries, that some parts of me are apparently more flexible than said parts of your average person and that I do not enjoy Yoga. It’s too much activity to relax, and too little activity to be tiring enough to count as sports. Whelp, it’s time with my partner, and that counts.

Aside from that I’m very pleased that I was able to spend more time being productive in May than I did in the last few months.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that I finished any great projects, this means that I was able to spend my time, especially in front of a computer, with things I’d consider meaningful, rather than aimlessly clicking through Youtube and browsing Reddit because I’m unable to come up with anything better to occupy myself. But there are a few things that I started to write about, hopefully being able to finish a post or two for this blog in the coming weeks not so distant future.

I also made great progress with my storage room. I’m not finished, by far not, but I managed to get rid of almost all of the old furniture. Even though I have to admit that I’m stretching the definition of “getting rid” a bit. Significant parts of the stuff are (unfortunately) still in my flat, but disassembled.

I’m hoping to be done with painting the walls by the end of the month, so that I can get around to the fun stuff (aka “buying things”) in July.

With regards to buying I also ended up buying more books, four to be specific. This goes somewhat contrary to my pinky promise of not adding more books to my collection before I completely demolished my stack of unread books that I made to myself in April, but .. oh well. Having visited a local book store I definitely brought this upon myself. But I did also read some books, not just buy ones:

  • A new edition of “Bandit Country” by Toby Harnden was released at the end of April, and the original version - which was, if I remember correctly, released in 1999 - was on my “Yeah, that’s a book I want to read if I happen to be confronted with its existence at the right time and the right place”-list for a while. I’m (almost) always up to read about the history of The Troubles, so I took the chance that presented itself.

    The book mostly focuses on the southern part of County Armagh, which was a special area even by the standards of The Troubles. The Provisional IRA South Armagh Brigade, at certain times de-facto in control of large parts of the county, was allegedly responsible for the death of 165 members of the British security services.

    The biggest surprise for me was when I learned that the Provisional IRA didn’t only stage attacks in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, but that they also ran a “continental Europe”-campaign in the 1980ies, with attacks in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

    Despite having read most of the more well-known books about the conflict, such as “A Secret History of the IRA: Gerry Adams and the Thirty Year War” by Ed Moloney, “Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland” by Patrick Radden Keefe, or “One Man’s Terrorist: A Political History of the IRA” by Daniel Finn, this is (if my memory isn’t cheating me here) the first time that I have ever heard of these attacks, this campaign.

    This was a good reminder to humble myself, proving that I know just enough about The Troubles and the history of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Anglo-Irish relations to know that I know absolutely nothing.

    In conclusion, looking back at the book, it was oddly fitting. A chaotic, fascinating tour through the history of a chaotic, fascinating area.

  • “Abrechnung” by Peter Longerich; While I know the gist and general details of the (misleadingly called) “Röhm-Putsch”, I always understood it as “Hitler using the SS to clean house inside the Nazi establishment”, without bothering to learn more about it - after all, it’s (and I’m aware how morbide that sounds) yet another one of the uncountable numbers of Nazi crimes.

    This book clearly taught me how wrong I was in that understanding, by putting the crime into a wider context of a domestic crisis after the rise to power of the Nazi regime, and tactfully emphasizing that it wasn’t just parts of one Nazi organisation murdering parts of another Nazi organisation. I clearly underestimated the impact the events of 1934 had on wider society in Germany, and how important they were in establishing and securing Nazi rule.

  • “Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944” by Antony Beevor; I think that with this completed, I have worked through most of the author’s books about the Second World War directly. As usual, a good one.

    I’m not a historian, so I’m not going to bother you with a half-correct pseudo-analysis of historical details. Operation Market Garden was a disaster, the Dutch paid a heavy price for their support of the Allied forces (with German reprisals lasting for nearly three months after the operation officially ended), and the fact that all of this could have been avoidable if Montgomery wouldn’t have been so full of shit himself makes it even worse.

  • “Unrestricted Warfare: Two Air Force Senior Colonels on Scenarios for War and the Operational Art in an Era of Globalization” aka “Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America” by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui - I like the original title much more than the edited, sensational title of the English translation.

    This book is .. quite something. It’s a prime example of what my family would call “weird books I read”. Please see its Wikipedia page for details about the content.

    It’s definitely interesting, especially given there are very few English language analytical works about Western militaries, especially the armed forces of the United States of America, by non-Americans. But: The translation is horrible. Some sentences straight up don’t really make any sense. And the foreword of the book clearly states that the publisher doesn’t really know who did the first translation. Oh, and the book cover says “Unrestrected Warfare”. Which is freakin’ hilarious.

  • “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security” by Sarah Chayes helped me better understand how corruption in Afghanistan works, provided me with a better grasp of differences between different types of corrupt societies / governmental systems and ensured that my loathing for mankind was reinvigorated thoroughly. Recommended read.

  • “How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict” by Nina Jankowicz; I didn’t really know what to expect going into the book. The cover, and the entire “vibe” sounded like the book was geared towards an audience that’s beginning to show an interest in the topic.

    Meanwhile the description sounded like a (somewhat) deep dive into European attempts at countering the various nefarious activities towards them by Russian actors.

    What I got in the end was a mixture of both, a “read-friendly deep dive”. I also got a dose of depression, because seeing other European states at least attempting to do something against disinformation (no matter how haphazard or half-assed the attempts) while your own government is content with pretending that things are fine, isn’t exactly uplifting.

  • “Look Away” by Jacob Kushner is unfortunately an excellent example for a German saying that is best translated to “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. I’m glad the the topic of the NSU is approached by someone who isn’t originally from Germany, opening up the subject matter to an international audience by choosing English as a language for their book,

    And the author definitely did mean well, placing a lot of emphasis on the lives of the victims and their families, trying to give them and their suffering much needed room. Too much room in fact, to the detriment of other things that are important as well.

    The colossal failure (or, in some cases, borderline collusion) of the security services, both before, during, and in the aftermath of the spree of crimes perpetrated by the NSU, is talked about woefully little.

    The most likely involvement of other people from various local far-right actors is barely mentioned at all, the murder of Michèle Kiesewetter is given cursory attention at best - which is especially infuriating to me, given that the attack on her and her police partner is surrounded by even more question marks than the other murders of the group.

    The families of the victims deserve all the space they can get to tell their story. But if giving them significant room in your book leads to other, vital parts of the whole story being left out, that’s - in my opinion - a disservice to the victims, not a service.

    On top of that there are issues with some things the author states or claims, such as a fundamental misunderstanding how the secret police, the Gestapo, worked during the Third Reich. Or how the process of the mass extermination of European jews actually progressed. Some of the things the author writes about these things go entirely contrary to what’s commonly accepted in modern research.

    In general the book gave me, during some parts, a glance at how it must feel the people with a cultural background that is not rooted in Central Europe to deal with people talking about their culture without said people truly understanding the culture. I had more than one moment where I went “No .. you’re absolutely misinterpreting the things you are talking about, there is so much context that you are missing here”.

    There are also bits the author drops here and there that are extremely odd to me. I am not a researcher or even a subject matter expert on the NSU and the legal proceedings after the exposure of the group. But I did read every single German language book released on the group, and their network. I read a lot of research, articles and media coverage. Which makes it strange to be confronted with some things that allegedly had happened for the very first time.

    For example, the author states that during the funeral proceedings of one of the victims, a family member received a call from an unknown number, with the caller telling them that the caller had murdered “a turk” and that there “would be more”. The author doesn’t provide any source for that claim, and I was unable to verify it by browsing the net.

    All in all, I have a very hard time recommending the book. If you’re not versed in German, it might be a good start. But in all honesty, the German-language Wikipedia page for the group can easily be machine-translated. Save yourself the money.

At some point during the last month it looked like I was going to finish ten full books in June, but I didn’t quite get there. I’m halfway through a couple of books that I look forward to finishing, especially “The Future of War: A History” (great title by the way) by Lawrence Freedman, which is a linguistically beautiful read.

While I spent most of my “audiophiliac” time (aka “listening to things”) between a host of podcasts and the same old playlist I always use when working out, I ended up with the following (re-)discoveries:

  • I downloaded “Destination Unknown” by Neon Rider purely because I liked the cover art, and expected it to be some form of electronic music. The unexpected Metal I got instead was a surprise, but a welcome one.
  • Death in June, specifically “But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter?” is one of my guilty pleasures I get back to every few months, desperately trying to ignore the weird politics of the artist. But the sound is cool.
  • The cover of “Looking for Tuesday Jones” by The Deep Six looks peak 60ies, and the sound is somewhat matching. I found it to be an interesting mix of “somewhere in the mid-60ies pop” with a pinch of more rock-adjacent sound to pep things up