Baddies in books: Captain Ahab, the obsessive, revenge-driven nihilist

Chris Power in The Guardian:

AhabThe villain in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick isn’t the monstrous White Whale, but the man that wants to kill him: Captain Ahab. Melville withholds Ahab’s appearance for well over 100 pages of his novel. At first he is only a name, then a sailor’s story, then a brooding but unseen presence, shut up in his cabin, as the Pequod sets sail from Nantucket on Christmas Day and strikes south for the whaling grounds of the Pacific. The Pequod’s shareholders are hoping for a great profit, but Ahab is only interested in a single whale among the multitudes: Moby Dick.

Ahab is an enigma whose “larger, darker, deeper part remains unhinted”. What can we say we know about him? That he is a “grey-headed, ungodly old man”. He has eyes “like powder pans”. His crew say he never sleeps, only tosses in bed. Dough-Boy the steward tells Ishmael that every morning: “He always finds the old man’s hammock clothes all rumpled and tumbled, and the sheets down at the foot, and the coverlid almost tied in knots”, and Ahab’s pillow hot to the touch, “as though a baked brick had been on it”. He has a scar, too, a “slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish”, running from head to toe. None of the crew knows where he got it, but they all know how he lost his leg. In the Pacific, a year before the events Ishmael describes in the novel, Ahab found himself surrounded by “the chips of chewed boats, and the sinking limbs of torn comrades”, all churning in the “white curds of the whale’s direful wrath”. Moby Dick took Ahab’s leg, “as a mower a blade of grass in the field”, and now the captain uses a peg leg carved from whalebone.

More here.

How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men

Deborah E. Lipstadt in The New York Times:

NaziIn the wake of World War II, America recruited a few leading German scientists in order to advance our space and military programs and to keep these valuable assets from falling into Soviet hands. This is the broadly accepted script about Nazis in America. In fact, as Eric Lichtblau, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times, relates in “The Nazis Next Door,” we welcomed approximately 10,000 Nazis, some of whom had played pivotal roles in the genocide. While portions of this story are not new — see Annie Jacobsen’s book “Operation Paperclip,” for example — Licht­blau offers additional archival information in all its infuriating detail. (He conducted some of his research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, on whose supervisory committee I serve. I had no role in his selection as a fellow at the center.)

America began reaching out to leading Nazis months before the Germans surrendered. In March 1945, while the war still raged, the American spy chief Allen Dulles conducted a friendly fireside chat in the library of a Zurich apartment with the Nazi general Karl Wolff, the closest associate of the SS leader Heinrich Himm­ler for much of the war. The Scotch-­lubricated conversation convinced Dulles that Wolff, despite his ties to Himmler and his role as a leader of the Waffen SS, was a moderate who deserved protection. When prosecutors sought to try Wolff, one of the highest-ranking SS leaders to survive, at Nuremberg, Dulles worked to have his name removed from the list of defendants. While Wolff was in Allied custody, he was permitted to take a yacht trip, spend time with his family and carry a gun. Nonetheless, he complained that what he endured was “much more inhumane than the extermination of the Jews.” He said the Jews had been gassed in a few seconds, while he did not know how long he would be held. (His imprisonment lasted four years.) While Jews languished in the camps after Germany’s defeat (“We felt like so much surplus junk,” one survivor said), the United States gathered up Nazi scientists. Had only leading scientists been enlisted, it would have been distasteful if understandable. But of the more than 1,600 scientists brought over, some had pedestrian skills. Others had developed the chemicals for the gas chambers, or conducted experiments on concentration camp prisoners. Even the State Department protested. But we did not stop with scientists. The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. sought out spies and informants who had participated in genocide.

More here.

Sex is Serious


Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig in Boston Review:

It is a strange season when culture warriors and women’s studies departments find common cause, though not unheard of—think pornography. But while Gail Dines’ Pornlandwon acclaim from The Christian Post, conservative Christian sex ethics and feminist sex ethics maintain disparate opinions of sex itself. For the conservative Christian, sex has always been a matter of the most sincere gravitas, the ultimate (and sometimes sacramental) union; feminist sex ethicists have a more liberal view of the matter, favoring personal experience over some sublime essence. In other words, the two don’t seem to share a conception of the kind of thing sex is.

This gap appears to be closing.

In late August, the California legislature passed bill SB 967, a bundle of regulations pertaining to educational institutions receiving public funding. Most notably, it enforces a standard of ‘affirmative consent’ in sexual assault proceedings. Roughly a month later, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law. According to the text of the law, a standard of affirmative consent

means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.

No, in other words, means no. But nothing also means no, and a variety of intermediate expressions between perhaps and absolutely now must also be presumed to mean no, and body language is also no longer sufficient to communicate consent.

More here.