Weekend Links

What seemed impossible is actually possible…the Holocaust was even worse than any of us thought, according to new research from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Thirteen years ago, researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum began the grim task of documenting all the ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and killing factories that the Nazis set up throughout Europe. What they have found so far has shocked even scholars steeped in the history of the Holocaust. The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945. The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington…The documented camps include not only “killing centers” but also thousands of forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named “care” centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel….The numbers astound: 30,000 slave labor camps; 1,150 Jewish ghettos; 980 concentration camps; 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps; 500 brothels filled with sex slaves; and thousands of other camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm, performing forced abortions, “Germanizing” prisoners or transporting victims to killing centers. In Berlin alone, researchers have documented some 3,000 camps and so-called Jew houses, while Hamburg held 1,300 sites. Dr. Dean, a co-researcher, said the findings left no doubt in his mind that many German citizens, despite the frequent claims of ignorance after the war, must have known about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps at the time.

Van Cliburn, the extraordinary American pianist and Cold War cultural icon, died Wednesday in Fort Worth from bone cancer.

It was April 1958, only six months after the Soviets had flaunted their technological might by launching the first Sputnik satellite; the Tchaikovsky competition was supposed to display their cultural superiority as well. Cliburn, 23 at the time, came, saw and, against all odds, triumphed. His performances of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto and the Rachmaninov Third Concerto at the competition finale earned him a standing ovation that went on for nearly 10 minutes. When it was time to choose a winner, the judges were obliged to ask permission of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to award the first prize to an American. “Is he the best?” Khrushchev asked. “Then give him the prize!” Cliburn’s victory, trumpeted across the front pages of newspapers across the U.S., made him an instant folk hero and, some said, helped usher in perestroika decades later. The pianist returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the only time such an honor has been given to a classical musician. He was received at the White House by the Dwight D. Eisenhowers. A cover story in Time magazine anointed him “The Texan Who Conquered Russia.” He garnered mountains of publicity and his fee took a mountainous jump as well. RCA Victor quickly signed him to an exclusive contract, and his subsequent recording of what was to become his signature piece, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, was the first classical LP to go platinum. It has since sold more than three million copies.

Charles Dickens’ enduring insights on early human loss and suffering, inspired by the early death of his beloved sister-in-law Mary Hogarth and captured in The Old Curiosity Shop.

The great theme of The Old Curiosity Shop is early death. As Dickens’ biographers explain, the book was written over the year 1840, three years after the death of 17-year-old Mary Hogarth, the younger sister of Dickens’ wife. Dickens – then only 25 himself – had developed an intense devotion to Mary. (Although Dickens would later be flagrantly unfaithful to his wife, none of the biographies I’ve read suggests that Mary and Dickens consummated a love affair.) Mary’s loss devastated Dickens. Characters based upon Mary Hogarth show up in many of Dickens’ early novels. His actual wife – who bore him a dozen children – seems to have made no impression on his art at all. Dickens being Dickens, the death of Mary Hogarth did not drive him to record only one girl’s fate. It open his eyes to the all-pervading fact of early death in industrializing Britain.

President Obama lost all his nerd cred yesterday when he used the phrase, “Jedi mind-meld,” conflating Star Wars and Star Trek and breaking the hearts of millions of Americans.

When and why did the “c-word” become so offensive?

In Middle English the word could be used as a standard term for the female genitalia, in a manner that was quite matter-of-fact…The word became more offensive over the next few centuries…If in Shakespeare’s time the word was becoming too obscene to utter in public, by the end of the 18th century it was truly taboo…By the early 20th century, cunt had begun to be used as an insult, and it was also around this time that language taboos shifted from religious profanity to vulgar sexual and scatological language…Why has cunt become so much more taboo than, say, snatch or pussy? The main reason may simply be that it’s blunt. Linguists note that, unlike those other words for the female genitalia—whose origins are all Latinate, euphemistic, or diminutive—cunt is plain and Anglo-Saxon. There is also the sound of the word. Many of the most taboo words, in addition to generally being Anglo-Saxon in origin, are monosyllables with short vowels, such as shitpiss, fuck, and cock.

The hands down, best ever guide to visiting my hometown, Chicago.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Anyway, here a couple of my favorite tips from the article:

If you take a cab from the airport to downtown you’re a coward. Get on the El. Smell public transportation, you baby…The shortcut to all your Chicago meat needs is Portillo’s. I know what you’re thinking: did this guy who can’t stop being a prick to me just tell me to go to a chain? First off, it’s no chain you ever heard of so put your dick away. Second, go ask around about Portillo’s and see what kind of reaction you get. Portillo’s is like the only popular thing Chicagoans like that’s not named Derrick Rose.

Al-Qaeda has published a “Wanted: Dead or Alive” list with the subtitle, “Yes We Can: A Bullet a Day Keeps the Infidel Away.” Salman Rushdie is, of course, on the list, the poor man can just never catch a break.

24 fantastic tributes to Hogwarts. The matchstick replica and the Lego replica are absolutely amazing.

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