Gone full productivity nerd, also a review of Hitler’s Commando

Hello friends, I've gone full productivity nerd. It's a bit of a problem! Around the same time I started doing nerdy things like installing Typora, switching to windows, and cataloguing all my books, I also installed a note taking system called obsidian. Like Typora, obsidian is markdown based, which means you're more "future-proof" than when you use a proprietary format like apple notes. You can just read the notes with your bare eye. Markdown also allows you to do all the formatting without your fingers ever leaving the keyboard. Yea it's really cool (for nerds).

Anyway it started innocently enough when I started looking into the world of obsidian plug-ins, which include numerous little apps and tricks to optimize and customize your obsidian experience.

Then I got really into the idea of the daily note. See every day you have a note. You put observations and scraps of writing into the day's note. Then you put in links to other notes where you collate that information. You have another page that scrapes information from all your daily notes and aggregates all the tasks you've set yourself. It is madness.

And now we've gotten to the point where I am writing this blog post inside my daily note. I figure that I can do a lot of my random writing inside the daily note and then whenever something gets big enough, I can put it into its own note. It's a productivity system, hence me being a nerd.

However because I am a wise productivity nerd, I know that the end is really the system itself. If you want to produce something, you usually just sit down and produce it. Creating a lot of scaffolding just creates extra work and creates an impediment to doing the actual thing you need to do.

But the extra work / impediment are fun in themselves and that is why we do them. And so it goes.

I've often wanted to have a daily journal where I keep a record of happenings in my life. But I usually run into two problems:

  1. nothing interesting ever happens to me; and
  2. if something interesting does happen, I bore myself trying to write it

I've reluctantly come to realize that most of my emotional life is completely mental. It doesn't take place in the real world. There are no events, no characters, no places. It's all essentially a day-dreaming (and a very boring sort of daydreaming at that, since I'm an adult and don't really let myself cut loose)

For instance I've been listening to The History of England's William the Marshal podcast, which is all about this influential courtier during the reigns of Henry I and King Richard and King John, and I just thought, you know, life then seems pretty exciting. It's like a social life, with swords. You just sit around castles, arguing about what to do next, and sometimes you have to fight. It's like I heard in a recent article: "the only way to make sex interesting again would be to punish it by death". Being a medieval knight is a lot like that: it's like a modern social life, but the penalty for annoying someone is they kill you (or impoverish or imprison you).

I've always been led to believe that fiction is about concrete details: sights, places, hurts in tummies, tears in eyes, biting winds, smelly farts, and, most importantly, the specific names of whatever flowers you might happen to come across (what is a jacaranda? What is a bougainvilea? I have no idea!)

But none of those things really create a genuine emotional response in me or, I think, in most readers. So what is to be done? I guess the only solution is to pay close attention to what actually provokes emotions, even if that thing seems recondite or illusory.

In other nerd news, I've been experimenting with using the 'content server' function of calibre, the software I use to organize my ebooks and digital comics. This lets me access my ebooks anywhere in the world just through the browser.

I have a lot of eccentric ebooks because at some point I got very into daily deal newsletters--I eventually weaned myself from the habit but not before accumulating about a thousand ebooks thatre pretty far outside what I'd normally buy.

In my calibre content server, there's a "random book" function, and the other day this tossed up a book called Hitler's Commando--the memoir of a Nazi SS officer named Otto Skorzeny. This is a name that'll probably be meaningless to most people, but when I was a kid I really liked those Harry Turtledove [alternate history novels][] where aliens invade in the middle of WWII and the Axis and Allies have to join forces to beat them. And in these books Otto Skorzeny is one of the main characters.

In actual life, he essentially invented the German special forces, and he was personally responsible for two of Germany's most notorious exploits: the 1943 rescue of Mussolino after he was arrested by the King of Italy; and the 1944 capture of Hungarian regent Admiral Horthy when he was on the verge of abandoning the Axis.

I decided to give the book a try and found it engaging. It reminded me of this quote from another book I've been reading, Nietzsche's Gay Science:

I prefer to understand the rare human beings of an age as suddenly appearing, late ghosts of past cultures and their powers: as atavisms of a people and its mores – that way one can really understand something about them! They now seem strange, rare, extraordinary; and whoever feels these powers in himself must nurse, defend, honor, and cultivate them against another world that resists them: and so he becomes either a great human being or a mad and eccentric one, unless he perishes too soon. Formerly, these same qualities were common and therefore considered ordinary: they weren’t distinguishing. They were perhaps demanded, presupposed; it was impossible to become great through them, if only because there was also no danger of becoming mad and lonely through them.

Skorzeny is certainly one of the human beings of an age. He is a meticulous planner, but he also takes outrageous risks. His Mussolini operation is only possible because he counts on the Italian troops to be too surprised to fire back when his gliders land at the remote mountain hotel.

His voice in the memoir is brisk. His life before and after the war are given no shrift. He focuses on what's of interest to his audience. Mussolini, Hitler, Kaltenbrenner, Himmler, Goering, Goebbels and a host of other war criminals stumble into and out of his narrative, but they're always startling when they appear, because the prime aim of the memoir is always the details of his military operations.

He doesn't acknowledge Nazi war crimes in the slightest. Later on he professes to be horrified when Germany is accused of executing American prisoners of war during the Battle of the Bulge: German honor would never allow such a thing!

Particularly galling is the Hungarian operation. Horthy, although a fascist, had resisted the deportation of Hungary's half million Jewish people. Once he was out of power, the Nazi puppet government viewed deporting these people to concentration camps as their first priority. The main crime for which Eichmann was tried and convicted was his role in organizing this immense operation. Without Skorzeny's operation, those people very likely would have survived the war and likely would've constituted the largest surviving population of European Jewish people. It really is that close. If Horthy had managed to retain control of Hungary, half a million people would've survived the Holocaust instead of being gassed in Auschwitz. Not a word of this is mentioned in the book.

Skorzeny genuinely doesn't care. Later on, he's perplexed that the Allies insist that Germany and Austria separate again. He says that the future of Europe lies in dismantling national borders, not creating them. He doesn't understand that nobody trusts his people.

One gathers that if the Nazis had won, he wouldn't have felt anything but pride. To me, he represents the average German in WWII--perhaps he didn't actively commit war crimes, but he certainly wasn't against them. (Not mentioned in the memoir, which only covers his war years, is that later in life Skorzeny allegedly worked for Mossad and killed German-born Egyptian rocket scientists on their behalf.)

However was he really that different from William the Marshal? The latter also earned a reputation for feats of outstanding courage and for his outstanding loyalty to the kings that he served. The latter was also essentially a henchman to a succession of powerful men. As in the Nietzsche quote, Skorzeny just seems like a modern version of a very ancient type.

Finally, I really don't want to move to substack, both because I don't love the interface and because the platform caters to transphobes, so I'm tryna do a half blog / half newsletter deal. That means I'm gonna be adding the following annoying subscription widget to all my posts. Enter your address and you'll be emailed all my posts! This seems like an absurd thing for anyone to want (why would a person want more emails?), but I guess with the demise of RSS readers, this is how people read these days!