Stabs In the Back and Big Lies

Stab-in-the-back PostcardBy the end of September 1918, the Germans were beaten.  Earlier that year Chief-of-Staff Erich Ludendorff commanded the “Kaiserschlacht”  offensive that briefly seemed to turn the tide, but the Germans lacked the resources to support the effort. Ludendorff himself told the Kaiser and Germany’s Chancellor to ask for a ceasefire on September 29th.

But the myth that Germany’s civilian leaders betrayed their military started to spread before the Treaty of Versailles was completed.  It said that the army had won but was forced to surrender by Jews, or Bolsheviks, or Socialists. This story later became known as the Dolchstoßlegende, the “stab-in-the-back myth,” after Ludendorff said that the civilian government in Germany “stabbed him in the back”. Despite the fact that he had admitted defeat, and later recommended accepting the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles.

This myth is no small thing. It’s not “spiders eggs in Bubble-Yum” or “Paul is dead”. Even “FDR knew Pearl Harbor was coming” is trivial compared to this one. It was a central belief of the Nazi Party, and I’m sure you noticed the part about Jews being behind it. Ludendorff himself, who obviously knew it was false, went on to support Hitler.

The myth is strong enough that still around today. I’m not going to link to the sites, but a search yields a few “truther” sites that blame it for just about everything bad that’s happened since 1918. Which of course means that, you guessed it, the Jews are responsible. Think about it: if you believe this myth you can draw a straight line from the end of World War I to 9/11. Or, if you believe 9/11 was a conspiracy than this myth is a no-brainer. (Literally.) I’m sure there are more than a few people that hang out at Trump rallies that are very familiar with the Dolchstoßlegende.

There is, of course, absolutely no historical basis for it. I’m not going to bother debunking it any further. It’s just bullshit.

The stab-in-the-back myth is hardly the first big lie, and it’s certainly not the last. Today we have Muslims celebrating 9/11 in Jersey City, Benghazi, Obama the Muslim, and the murder of Vince Foster, to just name a few. There’s even a modern variation of the stab-in-the-back myth for Vietnam.

My book deals directly with the stab-in-the-back myth. The antagonists are right wingers that will eventually become prominent members of the Nazi Party. They believe the myth, or at least contribute heavily to spreading it. Even though I based the characters on real people, I’ve struggled a bit with bringing them to life. It’s tough to write someone who believes these things without making them seem like a cartoon character.

But today’s current events remind me that sometimes cartoon characters come to life. I can usually pick up some inspiration by checking the day’s current events.

Sigh.

How Steely Dan Wrote “Deacon Blues,” the Song Audiophiles Use to Test High-End Stereos

A fascinating look into one of my favorite songs.

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Every Steely Dan fan remembers the first time they listened to their music — not just heard it, but listened to it, actively taking notice of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s complexly anachronistic lyrics (long scrutinized by the band’s exegetes), jazz-and-rock-spanning compositional technique, ultra-discerning selection of session musicians, and immaculate studio craft which, by the standards of the 1970s, raised popular music’s bar through the ceiling.

Often, that first real listening session happens in the neighborhood of a high-end stereo dealer. For me, the album was Two Against Nature, their turn-of-the-21st century comeback, but for many more, the album was Aja, which came out in 1977 and soon claimed the status of Steely Dan’s masterpiece. At the end of side one comes “Deacon Blues,” one of their best-loved songs as well as a production that puts audiophile listening equipment to the test. You can see a breakdown of what went into it in Nerdwriter’s new video “How Steely Dan Composes a Song” above.

“There’s a reason why audiophiles use Steely Dan records to test the sound quality of new speakers,” says host Evan Puschak. “The band is among the most sonically sophisticated pop acts of the 20th and 21st centuries,” in both the technical and artistic senses. He goes on to identify some of the signature elements in the mix, including something called the “mu major cord”; the recording methods that allow “every instrument its own life” (especially those played by masters like guitarist Larry Carlton and drummer Bernard Purdie); the striking effect of “middle register horns sliding against each other”; and even saxophone soloist Pete Christlieb, whom Becker and Fagen discovered by chance on a Tonight Show broadcast.

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Puschak doesn’t ignore the lyrics, without a thorough analysis of which no discussion of Steely Dan’s work would be complete. He mentions the band’s typically wry, sardonic tone, their detached perspective and notes of uncertainty, but in the case of this particular song, it all comes with a “hidden earnestness” that makes it one of the most poignant in their entire catalog. “‘Deacon Blues’ is about as close to autobiography as our tunes get,” admits Fagen in the television documentary clip just above, which puts him and Becker back into the studio to look back at the song track by isolated track.

“We’re both kids who grew up in the suburbs. We both felt fairly alienated. Like a lot of kids in the fifties, we were looking for some kind of alternative culture — some kind of escape, really — from where we found ourselves.” Becker describes the song’s eponymous protagonist, who dreams of learning to “work the saxophone” in order to play just how he feels, “drink Scotch whiskey all night long, and die behind the wheel,” as not a musician but someone who “just sort of imagines that would be one of the mythic forms of loserdom to which he might aspire. Who’s to say that he’s not right?”

You can learn even more about the making (and the magic) of “Deacon Blues” in Marc Myers’ interview with Becker and Fagen in the Wall Street Journal last year. “It’s the only time I remember mixing a record all day and, when the mix was done, feeling like I wanted to hear it over and over again,” says Becker. “It was the comprehensive sound of the thing.” Fagen acknowledges “one thing we did right” in the making of the song: “We never tried to accommodate the mass market. We worked for ourselves and still do.”

Related Content:

Producer Tony Visconti Breaks Down the Making of David Bowie’s Classic “Heroes,” Track by Track

The Distortion of Sound: A Short Film on How We’ve Created “a McDonald’s Generation of Music Consumers”

Neil Young on the Travesty of MP3s

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Steely Dan Wrote “Deacon Blues,” the Song Audiophiles Use to Test High-End Stereos is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

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Mesmerizing Animation, Made of Photos from Early-1900s America, Lets You Travel in a Steampunk Time Machine

Very cool!

Surely you remember Cheers, if only from the sitcom’s syndicated reruns ceaselessly aired around the world. And if you remember Cheers, you’ll remember no part of it more vividly than its opening credits sequence, which broke from the well-established tradition of showing the faces of the series’ cast members.

Instead, writes Stephen Cole at Fonts in Use, the studio charged with creating the sequence “collected archival illustrations and photographs of bar life, culled from books, private collections, and historical societies. They hand-tinted the images and paired them with typography inspired by a turn-of-the-century aesthetic.”

The Old New World

As fondly as we remember their work, the art of bringing turn-of-the-century photos to life has come a long way indeed since Cheers debuted in 1982. Take, for instance, the short above: The Old New World by Russian photographer and animator Alexey Zakharov, who in just over three and a half minutes takes us right back to early-1900s America. “The photos show New York, Boston, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore between 1900 and 1940, and were obtained from the website Shorpy,” writes Petapixel’s Michael Zhang, quoting Zakharov’s own description of the work as a “photo-based animation project” as well as a chance to “travel back in time with a little steampunk time machine.”

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You can see a gallery of more of the materials that went into The Old New World at Behance. Just as those Cheers opening credits evoked the conviviality of old-time tavern culture, Zakharov’s film evokes what it meant — or at least, to all of us currently alive and thus without any living memory of that era, what we think it meant — to live in the headiest cities going in the headiest country going, places whose booming industry and culture held out seemingly infinite promise, even on quiet days.

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Should Netflix picks Cheers as their next beloved sitcom to revive, they might consider going to Zakharov for a new title sequence. He’s certainly got all the pictures of Boston he’d need.

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via Petapixel

Related Content:

Download 2,000 Magnificent Turn-of-the-Century Art Posters, Courtesy of the New York Public Library

The Oldest Known Footage of London (1890-1920) Shows the City’s Great Landmarks

London Mashed Up: Footage of the City from 1924 Layered Onto Footage from 2013

James Joyce’s Dublin Captured in Vintage Photos from 1897 to 1904

Watch 1920s “City Symphonies” Starring the Great Cities of the World: From New York to Berlin to São Paulo

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Mesmerizing Animation, Made of Photos from Early-1900s America, Lets You Travel in a Steampunk Time Machine is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

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The Media Has Reached Full Whine Over Peter Thiel

tdy_take_hogan_160324.nbcnews-ux-1080-600The media whinging over Peter Thiel’s bankrolling of Hulk Hogan’s suit against Gawker is starting to make me nauseous.

And now here’s the Post, trying to double down by linking Peter Thiel and Congress’ investigation Facebook and their trending links.

What do we need more, a refresher on the First Amendment or a refresher on what journalism is?

Posting a video against someone’s will of them having sex is not “free speech.” Especially when they tell you to take it down and you refuse to. It doesn’t matter if they are assholes. It doesn’t matter if the use the N-word. It doesn’t matter if they played the part of person who has a lot of sex. (Wrestling is fake, BTW.) What you did is probably illegal and definitely worthy of a civil suit.

You may even be sued out of business. The fact that you made some rich enemies by doing similar things to them and now they want to help sue you isn’t a scandal, a journalism apocalypse, or even surprising. It’s karma.

That’s not to say that what happened to Gawker is O.K. because they’re scumbags. The fact that they’re scumbags is irrelevant. It’s OK because that’s how things work.

The primary purpose of the First Amendment is to protect speech from the government. Peter Thiel is obviously not the government. He’s a rich guy, he’s pissed off at Gawker, and whether or not he has the right to is not the point. He saw a suit that they were likely to lose (because they finally went too far against the wrong person,) he invested, and as of now, it looks like it it was a good investment.

Meanwhile, Facebook’s trending links are not journalism. It’s already an old joke by now, but if your primary source of news is Facebook, you’ve got problems. Outrage and shock over the fact that they were curated by hand and curated with bias — whether it’s a bias for liberals, kittens, or bratty reality stars — is woefully misplaced. Facebook is not a news company.

But, more importantly, Congress has no business “investigating” Facebook whether they are a news company or not. Nothing compels Facebook, Fox News, or even gasp, the New York Times to be “unbiased.” Which is a good thing since the meaning of the word “bias” is difficult to pin down.

The Congressional investigation is nothing more than a dog and pony show. It’s happened before, and it’s worth pointing out, repeatedly, that they have better things to do. Like breaking the previous congressional benchmark for inactivity. As the article says:

“Congress has a history of investigating content that it can’t legally control,” Paulson said. “That’s why we’ve had hearings on video games, rock and rap music, and comic books. We need to be vigilant about regulation through intimidation.”

The Post article is about intimidation. It tries to create a false equivalence between Congress’ intimidation and Thiel’s intimidation. Government intimidation of journalists is a real thing. It happens all over the world and here in the U.S.

But we’re supposed to believe that Thiel’s involvement in the Hogan suit will have some kind of a chilling effect on journalism. You see, we shouldn’t sue news organizations because suing them might hurt them.

Hopefully it will have a chilling effect on posting unwanted videos of people having sex. Hopefully the next time someone gets a video of a celebrity having sex they’ll say “Let’s not use this, that’s stupid, and it can get us sued.”

Maybe it will have a chilling effect on outing gay executives that want to stay closeted too.

That would be a tragedy.

Will this “chilling effect” spread to other, more news-like news topics? I don’t see how. Can you think of a legitimate news story that can also land you in a civil suit?

It’s discomforting to hear that Thiel has lawyers soliciting people to sue Gawker with his wallet. But the thing is, the suits have to be able to go somewhere. Poynter talks about how it can be a strategy to bury Gawker in legal fees – that’s not what’s happening here. It’s one suit, they lost, and it’s the damages that are killing them.

Don’t post sex videos as news and this won’t happen to you. If you’re really intimidated, stay away from tech billionaire’s sexual preferences too. I know it’s going to be difficult, but maybe western civilization will survive.

But don’t conflate a civil suit over a sex tape with government intimidation of journalists. It’s dishonest and risks taking our eyes off the real problem.