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Dick Bernard: Meeting a Witch.

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

First, a significant program which will be accessible worldwide for the next week, beginning tonight on the National Geographic Channel. Details here. This film, “Before the Flood”, is Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary on Climate Change, on the National Geographic Channel tonight, and gives details on the many free access points for the film on the web for the next few days.
POSTNOTE Sunday evening Oct. 30: I have just watched this film. It is very thought provoking. Excellent.

The Witch

Saturday noon our friend, Don, and I went to the local Dairy Queen for lunch. Just inside the restaurant, we met a nice looking middle-aged lady all dressed up as a witch, tall pointed hat and all black clothing, about to leave.

I made a good-natured crack, and she responded, good-naturedly but with authority, “I am a witch”. There was a small amount of banter, and we were on our respective ways. She was a most pleasant person!

Around us were a few youngsters “practicing” for Monday night, All Souls Day, Halloween. There weren’t any hobgoblins, but the assorted costumes allowed that they were preparing for “trick or treats” a couple of days out (we used to say “money or eats”, too – I wonder….) Our neighborhood lately has been almost devoid of young gremlins, though my wife has stocked up for Monday night since there are a fair crop of new neighbors with kids, including a 7 year old next door. We might get some business.

The little interchange with the witch (I’ll take her word for it), caused me to think.

Witches tend to get a bad rap, which causes them to most often be quiet about their belief system. Our mindset, when “witch” is mentioned, is of people casting spells; the “wicked witch of the west”, “witches brew” and such.

(The witch we met yesterday did a more than reasonable “cackle”.)

There likely is a reputable witch web site that is “fair and balanced”. For the lazy researcher – me – the wikipedia entry seems helpful. You can read it here.

One day a year – tomorrow – the kids come around to stock up on unhealthy food bought by otherwise good parents.

No carrot sticks and celery on Halloween! Apples have a bad reputation…too easy to put sharp things in.

There are other events. A number of years ago I walked in the Mexican Dia de Muertos, “Day of the Dead” in south Minneapolis. It was very impressive. My guess is that it will happen this week as well.

This morning at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis there will be the 22nd annual procession of the Icons, an annual event connected with All Souls Day, always impressive (at 9:30 and 11:30 Mass for any interested).

A few years ago, around Halloween, Nov. 5, 2001, we happened to be at a B&B overlooking a little park in London, England, and at night noticed parents and children were around in the park with little fires, having fun and celebrating something or other. Later I learned it was Guy Fawkes Night, celebrating the day that a militant English Catholic tried and failed to blow up Parliament in 1605.

I don’t know if I actually met a “witch” yesterday, but whoever she was, I’m grateful that she caused me to take a moment to reflect on the humanity of all of us, and the sometimes nonsensical things we do to validate ourselves over others; or just invalidate others….

There’s room for all kinds of people in our society, so long as we deal respectfully with each other.

Have an enjoyable Halloween!

#1169 – Dick Bernard: A 175th Birthday in St. Paul; “In the Beginning, there was a Chapel”

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Yesterday, I took a short trip to St. Paul, to a park at the corner of Kellogg Blvd and Minnesota Street, overlooking the Mississippi River.

(click photos to enlarge)

Site of the original church of St. Paul, built October, 1841, the namesake of the City of St. Paul MN.  Located at Kellogg Blvd and Minnesota Street, St. Paul

Site of the original church of St. Paul, built October, 1841, the namesake of the City of St. Paul MN. Located at Kellogg Blvd and Minnesota Street, St. Paul

175 years ago, in October, 1841, eight French-Canadians, migrants from Red River country, built a log chapel overlooking the Mississippi River at the point marked by the above monument, well hidden in plain sight.

The chapel (seen below as painted by Alexis Fournier) was dedicated to St. Paul, and thus the location once known as Pigs Eye, became St. Paul, and some years later became the Capitol city of the new state of Minnesota.

The simple structure was dedicated November 1,1841, 175 years ago.

fournier-chapel

About two weeks from now, Tuesday, November 1, a special event will mark the 175th anniversary of the little Chapel, which named a city, and became the first of four Cathedrals built in St. Paul.

A special program, sponsored by the French-American Heritage Foundation, will celebrate the anniversary (click here for all information about the program and registration.)

There is limited seating. Reserve soon.

If you haven’t been there in awhile, or ever, take a few minutes to visit the place that gave St. Paul its name, directly across Kellogg Boulevard at Minnesota Street in St. Paul.

There is a lot of history at this small place.

One of the four panels at the site of the monument to the chapel of St. Paul

One of the four panels at the site of the monument to the chapel of St. Paul

The monument looking from Minnesota Street towards the Mississippi River.

The monument looking from Minnesota Street towards the Mississippi River.

Also, FAHF has recently published three books about the French in America heritage in Minnesota. One of these is about the birth of the Cathedral, “In the Beginning there was a chapel”. Here is the link to order any of the books.

Disclaimer: I am a member of the Board of FAHF, and responsible for the three volume “Chez Nous”.

The third new book is “They Spoke French”, a primer about the strong but quiet presence of the French in Minnesota.

All of the books are brand new, very recently released. Each would make excellent holiday gifts.

#1167 – Dick Bernard: The gathering at the Band Shell. Some thoughts before the next political debate, and election day, 2016.

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Thursday morning, as I was leaving Valley City ND, I stopped in at the City Park to take the below photo. It was in this park, at this band shell, that I heard Gov. Nelson Rockefeller speak in June, 1960, as he was seeking the Republican nomination for President.

(click to enlarge)

Band Shell, City Park, Valley City ND Oct 6, 2016

Band Shell, City Park, Valley City ND Oct 6, 2016

I wrote about the event I witnessed that pleasant June day in 1960 at that Band Shell in November, 1996. You can read it below. At the end of the post I explain why I wrote the piece.

Today is a month before November 8, 2016, Election Day in the U.S. (My personal opinion, from Sep. 24, 2016, can be read here.) A follow-up comment following the October 9 debate in St. Louis is here.

*

Politics seems different now, brutal. It has always been hard-nosed, but it seems meaner and nastier today.

Friday of this week, the day after Valley City, I was having the “free breakfast” at a motel in Fargo, N.D. The TV was on droning as usual; and on came, a couple of times, an absolutely hideous political ad painting Hillary Clinton in the most unattractive way possible, doing as designers of these pieces do: picking the worst of the worst, and emphasizing it. Such advertising is said to work, which is sad, since there is no interest in any professional accuracy in articulating differences in philosophy, as we were treated to in June, 1960.

How deep are the depths of public political meanness? We don’t seem to have reached rock bottom yet, but we have to be close. And it doesn’t make for a healthy country.

*

Here’s June 4, 1960 remembered from the vantage point of the election of 1996, respectively 14 and 5 Presidential election cycles ago.

A REFLECTION BY AN AMERICAN PERSON (ONE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE)
by Dick Bernard
November 27, 1996

While observing the often sordid political campaign of ’96, I found myself revisiting in my mind a scene in the Valley City (ND) City Park in the summer of 1960.

I was, then, a 20-year-old college student, about a year from attaining the right to vote. I remember a beautiful sunshiny day, with many people gathered around the bandstand in this small partk, which was bordered on three sides by the beautiful Sheyenne River. This day a high school band was playing. We were waiting for a visit of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, then beginning to seek – unsuccessfully it turned out – his party’s nod for the 1960 Presidential race.

I recall that the governor came, was politely received by all in attendance, gave his speech, and left for his next stop. It was a thrilling day for me, being the first time I had actually seen in person a real national political figure.

My memory of that day carried forward for 36 years. I do not remember the content of the governor’s speech, nor the precise date. What I do remember was the civility and respectfulness of the occasion. It was one of those positive memories we all carry about certain events, with the passage of years perhaps revising the reality of the event.

In my mind, I contasted that gentle day in 1960 with the “slash and burn” disrespect-of-others-as-persons national spectacle presented from 1993 to 1996 by political leaders and their parties, including Ross Perot’s, as well as by many business and labor PAC’s, and others. I labelled may of this year’s actions “character assassination by pious hypocrites”. I think I was accurate.

But did my perception of that 1960 gathering match the reality With profound thanks to Rebecca Heise of the Barnes County (ND) Historical Society, I recently re-visited what really happened that day, June 4,1960″

“The June 3 Valley City Time-s Record reported that the governor, after speaking for about 10 minutes, would spend about 20 minutes shaking hands with North Dakotans following the speechmaking.” The governor and his party were accompanied by “a busload of newsmen and commentators….” and “[t]he Litchville high school band…present[ed] a concert…until the governor [arrived].

So far,so good…. Perception conformed with reality.

The June 5 Fargo Forum reported on Mr. Rockefeller’s speech: “Estimates of upwards of 1,200 persons cheered Rockefeller…in the Valley City park.”

“We, in a free land, often take for granted the many blessings we enjoy,” Rockefeller told the Valley City gathering.

“So it is wonderful to see so many here today to take part in this political rally,” he added.

“It’s too bad so many people say that politics is a dirty business, when in reality it is the life-blood of the American government. When they tell me that politics is a dirty business I tell them ‘who don’t you get into politics then and clean it up’?”

He said that freedom has never been challenged more than it is today.

“This was shown,” he added, “by the wrecking of the summit conference where insults were hurled at President Eisenhower who has dedicated his life, first as a military man, and now as President, working to help this nation through trying times.”

So…in the speech I heard the governor talk about “dirt” and “insults” as a part of the then-political process.

Did this mean that the 1996 campaigns were nothing more than “the same old, same old” of contemporary politics in 1960? I don’t think so.

As months went on in 1960: Governor Rockefeller lost the Republican nomination to Richard Nixon. John Kennedy won both the Democratic nod and the election (I was still not old enough to vote).

Political “dirt” in 1960, in my recollection, was pristine compared to today. John Kennedy’s peccadilloes, reported ad nauseum in recent years, apparently were widely known and considered as private matters by most everyone – press and opposition included – in 1960. If there was a personal “character issue” it never filtered down to the grass roots. Richard Nixon, who might have easily won a 1996-style “personal character” test in 1960, in 1974 resigned the U.S. presidency in disgrace.

Kennedy’s religion – Roman Catholic – was perhaps more exploited as an issue than any other in the 1960 election. TV was a campaign player in 1960 – witness Richard Nixon’s five o’clock shadow and its supposed effect on viewers in the first televised debate ever. But TV news then was not the instantaneous, full color business it is today. Rather, the medium used black and white film, and TV advertising and news were not developed to the extent they are now. A smaller percentage of Americans owned TV sets than now. There were no mute buttons or remotes to use to tune out junk either. But, in 1960, we were spared endless hours of sophomoric attack ads on the tube.

As an electorate, those who voted in 1960 had yet to deal with the harsh reality of President Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, and the battles on many fronts for assorted civil and human rights. Some would say we were naive, then.

In short, the environment Governor Rockefeller described that June day in Valley City was dramatically different from today, eevn though he used rhetoric still familiar to all of us.

Will we ever again approach the relatively innocent and naive days of 1960? I often wonder….

Tabloid journalism has infected today’s mainstream media – sometimes there seem to be too many newspeople and too little news. Many pundits and other media persons are so blatantly partisan – left and right – that their highly polished one-sided arguments merit little or no serious attention. Some have worked in Republican or Democrat administrations as speechwriters of spokespersons.

Much of contemporary talk radio is nothing more than “infotainment” – with credible “info” in very short supply.

Today’s television has in many ways become an Orwellian wasteland in the hand of those who seek to influence political decisions, including religious leaders, commentators and politicians of all persuasions. The airwaves are full of faux-sincerity. Messengers know how to use the medium; how to stay on message; and how to avoid answering touch questions without seeming to avoid those questions. The manipulation of the camera is so universal and so transparent that is it (hopefully) beginning to reduce TV’s impact as a credible medium.

Today ever more complex and advanced technology seems ascendant, with messages, opinions and rumors zapped instantaneously and worldwide via the Internet. Will this, too, suffer from fatal credibility problems when the novelty wears of and use of the medium has been sufficiently abused? What will be the next stage…?

I hope that 1996 was the nadir of sanctioned disrespect of candidates especially at the national level. I cannot see how we an go much lower than we descended in 1996, and still attract candidates who are capable of the immensely complex ob of leading this magnificent country, and who are willing to face the intense, unfair, daily and unremitting scrutiny of their personal lives, and then endless second guessing of their every decision. It is as if a microscope is used to find every flaw, no matter how small, and then each flaw is absurdly magnified.

I wonder what business would succeed if its officers and products were as constantly ridiculed and second-guessed as are political candidates and government these days. I wonder what business would succeed if if its leaders were a polar opposites in philosophy about the product line, and ruled by a “winner take all” credo in Board of Director votes. I suspect business, under current public policy tradition, would be rife with failure – customers would not buy its products. even if the products were highly desirable and essential.

Had Colin Powell run this year, he would have become fodder for the media and for his opposition, and i would not be surprised to learn some day that this was a major factor in his declining to run for public office. There are means, far easier and less humiliating than politics, for him to accumulate money, power and influence. We all – including the general – have “something to hide”. General Powell doubtless knew that in a campaign he would not have been treated deferentially like his predecessor general Dwight Eisenhower was treated in 1952.

How about “we, the [American] people”? Since I earned the right to vote in 1961, I have cast my informed vote, to my recollection, in every election. This makes me feel qualified to spout off to the 50% of the American citizens who did not even vote in November 1996 (and the 60 percent who did not vote in 1994.)

I have personally become sick and tired of the endless analysis of what the “American people” were saying when they voted this Nov. 5. Every imaginable “special interest” seems to have had its own spin” on what “we, the people” decided.

When I stood in line at the polls at 6:45 a.m. that chilly Tuesday, the 30 or so of us waiting to vote didn’t talk about the issues, or look like Republicans or Democrats, or treat each other disrespectfully. We were there as individuals – as “American persons” – to mark our ballots and fulfill our civic duty. I suspect mine was not an unusual polling place.

I admit ambivalence about those who did not vote. Perhaps it is best that they stayed away, if their source of political information was TV ads and the like. Having said that, those who succumbed to cynicism (a hope of those who strategically use negative advertising or rhetoric to encourage people to stay away from the polls) or whose views are so narrow that they could not find the perfect candidate to represent them, do not deserve the respect they seem to demand. They copped out and effectively gave up their right to be credible critics.

Are there any silver linings as this election season ends? I think there are many. More so than I’ve ever seen before, efforts are being made to once again develop an honest an credible political process.

Mr. Rockefeller in June, 1960, said it right: “It’s too bad so many people say that politics is a dirty business, when in reality it is the life-blood of American government. When they tell me that politics is a dirty business I tell them ‘why don’t you get into politics then and clean it up’?”

There is hope for our country’s political system – but only if we get actively involved beginning now. As citizens we need to constructively advise those committed people who are willing to represent us in all levels of government. We need to learn the issues, and develop constructive opinions about these issues. If we identify problems we need to also identify solutions.

This is our country – the richest, most powerful, complex and divers on earth. It needs us and we need it.”

POSTNOTE:
A single event, a last straw, finally motivated me to write about how I saw politics in the year 1996.

I was single, and working, and in those years generally watched CNN for “news”. Sometime in October, 1996, Newt Gingrich was on the tube, looked me straight in the eye (as one does on television), and lied through his teeth about something I knew something about.

It was then I decided to turn off the television, and for an extended period of time, at least months, probably more. I found out that I didn’t miss TV, and when I did begin again to watch it, much more sparsely than before, I noticed things, like the fact that advertising was emphasized far more than programming.

As a nation we tend to be addicted to images on iPhone and Television and the like. It is not healthy for our society.

Personally, I’m interested in how I saw politics in America in 1960, and 1996; and my hopes for the future.

I’ve made my own observations. The reader can as well.

We have work to do.

#1166 – Dick Bernard: The Presidential Debate, and a Look Back at some 1927 Debates in the United States… “And Nothing But The Truth”

Monday, September 26th, 2016

September 27: DID YOU WATCH LAST NIGHT, AND DO YOU HAVE COMMENTS ABOUT THE DEBATE? Let me know. We went to a house party in the area. There were 25 of us, “birds of a feather” I’d guess, all of us serious demeanor and very attentive. I felt Secretary Clinton did a very good job: Mr. Trump was as always; and the audience at Hofstra was relatively well behaved. Lester Holt did the best he could. I still am not sure of the substantive value of political debates as they are now staged. dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom.

Watching the Debate Sep. 26, 2016.

Watching the Debate Sep. 26, 2016.

September 26 Post:

Most likely we will be joining a group to watch the debate tonight. About the only preliminary reading I have done specifically about the debate is here. It speaks for itself.

The “debate” tonight will speak for itself as well.

It seems an appropriate time to recall an interesting round of debates in the year 1927 in the midwest and western United States. The debaters were young graduates of Cambridge University in England. The details follow, if you are interested. The circumstances are a serendipity kind of story.

(click to enlarge)

The itinerary of the Cambridge Union Society debate team, 1927

The itinerary of the Cambridge Union Society debate team, 1927

The teams that they debated against are on page two, here: 1927-debates002

My summary of debater Alan King-Hamiltons Diary of the Debate story is here: 1927-debates003

A photo of the three debaters and their Cambridge Union colleagues is here:

Cambridge Union Society with  committee and two  guest speakers 8 June, 1927. Debaters in America, Fall 1927:  Alan King-Hamilton and H. L. Elvin, front 4&5th from left; H. M Foot, back, 4th from left.   From King-Hamilton's book, "And Nothing But the Truth".

Cambridge Union Society with committee and two guest speakers 8 June, 1927. Debaters in America, Fall 1927: Alan King-Hamilton and H. L. Elvin, front 4&5th from left; H. M Foot, back, 4th from left. From King-Hamilton’s book, “And Nothing But the Truth”.

How this 1927 story came to be:

My father and I and four others traveled to Quebec in 1982, and on one day an English lady joined us for our days excursions. We were all staying at Laval University.

Over the years, Mary and I kept in touch by annual greeting cards. I knew little about her except that she was a dealer in old books.

In November 2001 my wife and I went on a trip to London, and I let Mary know we were coming. She volunteered to show us around. At this point, I didn’t know that her father, then still living, was Alan King-Hamilton, a retired judge of the Old Bailey Criminal Court in London.

I don’t recall the sequence, but we met Judge King-Hamilton in person, a most charming gentleman, well into his 90s; and she also showed us Middle Temple, of which her father was a long-time member.

We went into the library, and I was casually browsing, and noted the spine of a book, And Nothing but the Truth by Judge Alan King-Hamilton QC, her father.

I picked the book up, flipped the pages, and the first stop was page 13 where in mid-page was a comment “Our debating tour took us right down the Middle West, from North Dakota….

North Dakota! That was where I was from. That was where my Dad had planned to go to University in 1927, but had to revise his plans when his Dad’s employer, the flour mill, closed, and the bank that held all their savings also closed within a week of each other.

It all went from there. I received from Mary a book personally autographed by the Judge, and he also privileged me with the 45 page transcript of the diary of he and two colleagues 1927 tour of the midwest and west as part of the Fulbright (then called IIE) exchange program.

Out of the transcript I wrote the summary which you can read above.

There were elements of tonights debate back in 1927, but what was most striking to me is the formality of the competition.

The debaters needed to be completely versed in the affirmative and negative of six potential questions, and weren’t certain of what question they would be debating, whether affirmative or negative, until right before the debate began. Presumably, their competitors were under the same rules, though I’m sure there were temptations to fudge.

Enjoy, and thanks to Alan King-Hamilton and his daughter, Mary, who still lives in suburban London.

ScienceDebate.org: Released today: U.S. President Candidates Respond to Science Questions.

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

NOTE: Set aside adequate time to really closely review this link, released today: U.S. Presidential Candidates Answer ScienceDebate 2016 Questions.

ScienceDebate.org has, since before the 2012 Presidential Election, been advocating for candidates for public office to answer specific questions related to Science and public policy.

The above link is a major and long overdue and very positive development, where several of the candidates for U.S. President publicly answer pertinent questions prior to the 2016 election.

A related post about ScienceDebate co-founder Shawn Otto’s new book, “The War on Science”, on the treatment of science in the public policy debate, past and present, is here.

#1163 – Dick Bernard: 9-11-16, and the dark days of 2001-2009

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

Friday, my wife and I and our 87 year old neighbor Don, went to the local theatre to be among the first to see the new movie, Sully, the incredible story of the emergency landing of an airliner in the Hudson River off NYC in January, 2009. “How can you take a 90 second event and turn it into a 90 minute movie?” my friend asked.

Very, very easily. Take in the film. The basic true story is here.

*

Of course (I’m certain), the movie was timed to be released on the eve of the 15th anniversary of 9-11-01, even though the near-disaster actually happened in January, 2009.

I have feelings about 9-11-01. At the end of this post, I share a few personal links from that period in time. I will always have doubts about certain and substantial parts of the official narrative about what happened that awful day, though that labels me as a “conspiracy theorist” I suppose. So be it.

*

But what occurs to me this day in 2016 came to mind a few days ago when I found a cardboard envelope in a box, whose contents included this certificate (8 1/2×11 in original size).

Notice the signature on the certificate (Donald Rumsfeld) and the date of the form printed in the lower left corner (July 1, 2001). (Click to enlarge).

cold-war-certificate-001

The full contents of the envelope can be viewed here: cold-war-cert-packet003

Of course, people like myself had no idea why the article appeared in the newspaper, or how this particular project came to be.

It is obvious from the documents themselves that the free certificate was publicized no later than sometime in 1999; and the certificate itself wasn’t mailed until some time in 2001 to my then mailing address…. The original website about the certificate seems no longer accessible, but there is a wikipedia entry about it.

When I revisited the envelope I remembered a working group of powerful people called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) formed in the late 1990s.

The group as then constituted no longer officially exists, but had (my opinion) huge influence on America’s disastrous response to 9-11-01 (which continues to this day).

Many members of this select group, including Donald Rumsfeld, and Richard B. Cheney, strategized to establish permanent U.S. dominance in the world, and had very high level positions in the administration of George W. Bush, 2001-2009. PNAC was no benign committee of friends meeting for coffee every Saturday. To cement the notion that to have peace you must be stronger than the enemy…there has to be an enemy. If not a hot war, then a cold war will have to do. Keep things unsettled and people will follow some dominant leader more easily.

Their Cold War ended in December, 1991, as you’ll note, which likely was cause for concern. 9-11-01 became the magic elixir for a permanent war with an enemy….

(I happen to be a long-time member of the American Legion also – the Cuban Missile Crisis and the beginning of the Vietnam era were part of my tour of duty in the Army – and much more recently, the Legion magazine
updated talk about the Cold War, here: America at War001.)

My opinion: there remains a desperate and powerful need by powerful entities to sustain an enemy for the U.S. to fight against and, so goes the story, “win”, to borrow a phrase and “make America great again”. As we learned in the years after 9-11-01, dominance has a huge and unsustainable cost. But the idea still lives on.

The mood of the people of this country is for peace – it is simple common sense – but peacemakers have to do much more than simply demonstrate against war to have it come to pass, in a sustainable fashion.

*

Yes, 9-11-01 was very impactful for me. Here are three personal reflections: 1) chez-nous-wtc-2001002; 2) here; and 3) here: Post 9-11-01001.

I have never been comfortable with the official explanations about many aspects of 9-11-01 and what came after. It is not enough to be ridiculed into silence. Eight years ago my friend Dr. Michael Andregg spent a year doing what I consider a scholarly piece of work about some troubling aspects he saw with 9-11-01. You can watch it online in Rethinking 9-11 at the website, Ground Zero Minnesota. Dr. Andregg made this film for those who are open to critical thinking about an extremely important issue. I watched it again, online, in the last couple of days. It is about 54 minutes, and very well done. Take a look.

Let’s make 9-11-01 a day for peace, not for endless and never to be won war. Humanity deserves better.

(click to enlarge. Photos: Dick Bernard, late June, 1972)

World Trade Center Towers late June 1972, New York City

World Trade Center Towers late June 1972, New York City

Twin Towers from Statue of Liberty, late June, 1972.  (one tower was newly opened, the other nearly completed)

Twin Towers from Statue of Liberty, late June, 1972. (one tower was newly opened, the other nearly completed)

Here, thanks to a long ago handout at a workshop I took in the early 70s, is a more normal reaction sequence to a crisis. As you’ll note, it is useful to allow 9-11-01 to live on and on and on. It is not healthy.

(click to enlarge)

Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

#1157 – Dick Bernard: Two Books Well Worth a Read: Shawn Otto’s “The War on Science”; and Lois Phillips Hudson’s “Unrestorable Habitat”

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Back in January a mysterious e-mail appeared in my in-box from someone named Cynthia. She had googled the name Lois Phillips Hudson to see if anything would come up, and found me. More on Mrs. Hudson’s book, “Unrestorable Habitat“, “below the fold”…

(click to enlarge photos)
SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

A few months later came an invitation to hear Shawn Lawrence Otto read from his new book, The War On Science.

I know of Shawn’s past work, always first rate, and I bought the book, and it made my summer vacation book list.

I read, and learned a great deal from, both books.

They are, on the one hand, very different; but on the other, very similar. One is by an old lady written when she was my age range. Mrs. Hudson, is a retired college professor, quite obviously grieving the loss of her daughter to illness. She writes about the deep conflict she sees between today’s natural world and technology, compared with her youthful days in the midst of the worst of the Great Depression and World War II which followed.

(The retired college professor died before she finished her book, so one has to speculate on what her ending would be, but that actually contributes to the richness of her passionate expression of feelings on her past and present, and our future.)

The other book is by an author who painstakingly and expertly documents not only the very real “war on science”, but on other areas susceptible to manipulation of public opinion. Shawn Otto expertly reviews the problem, and then devotes much of the meat of the book to ways towards solutions.

SHAWN OTTO’S “THE WAR ON SCIENCE”

I highly recommend “The War on Science” to anyone with even a tiny bit of interest in topics like science, marketing, politics, and the incessant manipulation of personal and public opinion (propaganda) in our own country. Get to know the name “Edward Bernays”…. He enters the story by name at page 257.

You don’t need to be a scientist to understand the book, which is a very interesting history of science and its not always consistent position of esteem in our society (thus “war”); in addition, The War on Science is an equally interesting history of propaganda as it has been used in America especially related to marketing of products and ideas going back as far as WWI.

There is so much interesting and well argued information in the book that I would do a disservice by simply doing a once over in a review.

You need to read the book.

Best to take a look yourself. There are many formal reviews of the book at Amazon.com. One of them is mine.

You will see the book is being very well received.

Personally, I found “The War On Science” to be unusual in a couple of respects:
1. It nicks most everyone, including scientists, who get complacent and think they have found and can sit righteously on their own truth, as they define the term “Truth”. The book is heavily footnoted: 59 pages of sources.
2. Most importantly, fully 87 pages of the book discuss ideas for how individuals and groups in our society can move toward solutions to what seem intractable problems.

The War On Science is an excellent basis for book club discussion, as is Lois Phillips Hudson’s Unrestorable Habitat (following). Give both a serious look.

Unrestorable Habitat001

LOIS PHILLIPS HUDSON AND UNRESTORABLE HABITAT (continued)
A few days ago I was at a nearby park, completing “The War on Science“.

This day my phone rang, and on the line was long-time friend Nancy, from Hibbing, calling to comment on Unrestorable Habitat which I had sent her some months earlier and she had set aside and was just getting around to reading.

She had set it aside, but was finding it to be a marvelous book, a strong compliment coming from a retired teacher of English.

Unrestorable Habitat is one elderly woman’s reflections about her life, a certain huge business in her hometown of Redmond WA, some local fish, the loss of ability to imagine, and really, about all of us, everywhere in the so-called “developed world”.

Hudson’s book centers on an issue much on her mind as she grew older: the conflict she saw between salmon and big business in her town with lots of looks back at remembered pieces of richness flowing from her own very real hardships as a farm daughter during the worst of the Great Depression in North Dakota, then in Washington state, and forward into WWII in Washington. (She graduated from Redmond WA high school in 1945.)

Hudson died before she completed her book, but there is far more than sufficient “meat on the bones” to be published exactly as left by her: her opinions about post-9-11-01 contemporary U.S. society.

*

Some years back, I had blogged several times about aspects of Hudson’s 1962 well known book, “Bones of Plenty“, written about the worst of the Great Depression in rural North Dakota, and that is what Cynthia Anthony found in her random internet search. Cynthia, this mystery lady from New York, had become archivist for Mrs. Hudson’s papers, and asked permission to link my posts, “numbers 490, 495, and 565, which reference Lois Phillips Hudson” to her Lois Phillips Hudson Project, a website dedicated to preserving Ms Hudson’s rich but now basically unknown legacy.

It was Nancy who had earlier called my attention to “Bones of Plenty“; and now I was the one who had called Nancy’s attention to “Unrestorable Habitat“.

(Nancy had Mrs. Hudson as a teacher at North Dakota State University 50 years ago, and had vivid memories of her. She was a great teacher, Nancy said. She mentioned one quote by Hudson – at page 24 – that particularly caught her attention: “As..the mother of two daughters and the daughter of a father who frequently assured me that the brightest woman could never be as bright as your average man….” Unrestorable Habitat is peppered with such reflections.)

Once into Unrestorable Habitat, she found the book very interesting and thought-provoking.

Unrestorable Habitat so caught my attention that I purchased and distributed 100 copies, starting about 100 days ago.

Nancy was one of the recipients.

Here is the letter I enclosed with each book: Unrestorable Habitat

*

Let me leave it at that. “Unrestorable Habitat” is worth your time, as is “The War On Science“. Each can encourage you to “Do Something”.

The two books complement each other.

I hope you “take the bait”.

August 21, 2016

August 21, 2016

POSTNOTE:
1. Some readers might say, about “The War on Science“, that I don’t know enough about science to learn.
Not at all true. In my own review of the book (it’s probably the 22nd or so, link above) I acknowledge that I had virtually no science education in the tiny schools I attended growing up. My opportunities to know science were basically ad hoc, like watching Sputnik blink in the North Dakota night sky in 1957, or getting the Salk Vaccine not too long before. “The War On Science” is more than just a primer, but written to an audience who knows nothing about science. It is a learning tool in itself.

2. In the solutions section of “The War on Science“, Shawn Otto has a section entitled “Battle Plan 1: Do Something” (p. 371).

In her own way, Mrs. Hudson in Unrestorable Habitat was (I think) trying to begin a conversation: where can or should the new ways fit with the old, and complement, rather than compete with, each other? She wrote at least some of her draft on a laptop in a coffee shop, so what some might perceive as a rant against technology, at least part of her text was simplified because of the very technology she railed against.

There is room for conversation. She was Doing Something.

Earlier today I was at Mass at Basilica of St. Mary, and afterwards noted again the three trash containers downstairs (photo above).

This experiment goes back a couple of years, when my friend Donna and her committee got a small grant to get recyclable containers for use in the coffee area. They were Doing Something.

The experiment has never worked as it was supposed to. If one looks in the bins, there are admixtures of items, despite the verbiage on the containers. One can say it failed.

But I don’t agree. Who knows, among the hundreds of us who visit that area each Sunday, there is someone who gets an idea for use back home, maybe if only in their own home? Great ideas start with experiments that seem to fail. But to start them, someone has to “Do Something”.

#1152 – Dick Bernard: The Newspaper; Government by Twitter

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Those interested in why I very strongly support Hillary Clinton for President can read my post from Sunday here. The post includes several comments pro and con as well.

Personally, I always find the perspectives of Just Above Sunset informative. The latest is here.

(click on all photos to enlarge)

The Packing Crate, June 7, 2015

The Packing Crate, June 7, 2015

Dubuque paper001

Monday evening came one of those far too infrequent “faceoffs” (as Dad would say) with my cousin and her husband from Winnipeg. We had a too-short but animated visit over dinner in Edina, and covered lots of bases, a small part of which touched U.S. politics, which is a natural point of interest (and concern) for Canadians, who share thousands of miles of border with us.

My relatives, who grew up in the border area just north of the Minnesota/North Dakota border, still speak their native French as first language. At the same time, they are equally fluent in English, and have been dual citizens of the U.S. and Canada for years.

The conversation drifted to Ovila, my Dad’s first cousin, and my cousins father, born in the early 1900s.

How did Ovila learn English in the days before television, living on a farm in a section of Manitoba whose first language has always been French?

The answer to this question is complex, but as I recall, the newspaper was a primary vehicle, and as I recall from my own conversation with him years ago, catalogs, a primary source of information about goods for the farm. He self-taught himself English.

Ovila read every word of the newspaper, as did his neighbors. They were very well informed. Made no difference who wrote what, agree or not, it was consumed.

It caused me to think about my German grandparents, whose now-former farm has been my preoccupation for the last two or three years.

Being male, my focus was on Grandpa. Their country mailbox was full of paper: the weekly newspaper from LaMoure; the Jamestown and Fargo papers; the Farm Journal; catalogs; on an on. And they were religiously read. People like my Mom occasionally contributed a piece of poetry; I have articles Grandpa wrote soliciting membership in the fledgling Farmers Union in 1928. And on and on and on.

Last year, while going through the abundant detritus after my Uncle died, we looked through a well constructed coffin like packing crate obviously used to bring possessions to the North Dakota farm from Wisconsin when Grandma and Grandpa moved there in 1905 (see photos above, and following). Among the precious contents (at the time), Grandma’s wedding dress, and assorted ‘stuff’, then to be saved, now of little interest, except in passing.

The Packing Crate revealing its contents, May 24, 2015.

The Packing Crate revealing its contents, May 24, 2015.

In the box were two crumbling Dubuque newspapers, one in English; the other in my grandparents native German. Probably they had been delivered to the Wisconsin farm, and were handy when they were packing stuff for shipment to ‘Dakota. The articles in the English edition covered the waterfront (photo above); I’m sure the same was true for the German edition. What is certain, every page of each of these newspapers had seen many eyes. (Grandma and Grandpa married Feb. 28, 1905; he, his brother and his cousin came west first to build a house and such; Grandma came about six weeks later. The crate likely carried her belongings.)

Fast forward to today, August 3, 2016.

Those old newspapers, with readers whose education seldom was past 8th grade, were astonishing pieces of literature.

Today’s small town newspapers, like the LaMoure Chronicle, carry on the tradition of the past. They are a treasure to be savored.

But now we’re in the “Twitter Generation”: news by headline. I don’t need to define that any further. We can pick our own particular bias, and pretend that it is not only the only perspective that matters, but that it is the only perspective. We know that’s not true, but…. Our collective narrowness, made possible by infinite organs of “communication”, serve us ill. I think we know that, but it is easy to deny this reality.

Today far too many of us choose, freely, to be uninformed, EXCEPT to confirm our own biases. Our Elders had less means to receive and share communications, but in many ways they were much better informed and prepared to participate in a civil society than we are.

We are not at our best, these days: watch the political polemics. Hopefully we’ll survive our collective and intentional ignorance particularly of other points of view.

.

#1143 – Dick Bernard: WWI, a Dreadful One Hundredth Anniversary, and another Gun Incident Close to Home.

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

POSTNOTE 1 a.m. Friday July 8: When I posted the below less than 12 hours ago, I was hardly aware of the shooting of the African-American citizen in Falcon Heights, a town in which I used to live; at a location I knew well, along a walking route I used to take in the early 1980s.

Eight hours later, I know quite a bit more about the local “tragic incident” in a nearby town, and what is already the spillover effect. If what happened on that street yesterday is not a wake-up call to we Americans, nothing will be. Here’s something else I said in the July 2 blog referred to below: “The notable exception, and it is an important one, is that we in the U.S. are killing ourselves and our fellow citizens with guns at an alarming rate, well over 10,000 U.S. citizens every single year. Here’s one data source that seems credible.”

Get acquainted with the data at the above website, and get to work.

*

My friend, Jeff, reminds me that today is awful anniversary of the terrible battles of WWI:

Jeff: It seems as if things couldn’t be worse, but pause to consider 100 years ago now, two
ongoing battles, ending in stalemate, with 1,200,000 dead on both sides, and another 1.2 million casualties over the 6-8 months each battle lasted.

Seeing the first use of phosgene gas and armored tanks on the battlefield.

Watch here, about Somme; and here, about Verdun.

Germany plays France today in soccer in the semifinals of the European championship. The Brexiters and others in EU wanting separation always underestimate the value of over 70 years of peace between Germany and France (and England) is an exceptional thing given the history of Europe from about 1400 to 2016.

He and I had a brief exchange, as follows:

Dick: Yes, very good.

I tried to point this out, gently, in the July 2 blog (“There are great problems…but this is a pretty peaceful time, at least as far as war is concerned.”), and a friend basically suggested I was a “rose colored glasses” type. [Data here: War Deaths U.S.002

Jeff: It’s true, actually, actual violent death caused by malicious intent is low worldwide. We just hear more about it. Not that its any less devastating.

The randomness of terrorism, and of course what happened in Falcon Heights* [another killing of an African-American by police] last night make it more frightening.

I don’t think you are a rose colored glasses type.

Optimism is a good thing.

* I lived in Falcon Heights in the early 1980s, only several blocks from yesterdays tragic incident. It is a small community, suburban St. Paul, close by the Minnesota State Fair Grounds.

#1138 – Dick Bernard: “Brexit”. Another first rough draft of history.

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

This morning I sent my friend, Christine, lifelong French citizen, this Just Above Sunset blog in the aftermath of the “Brexit” vote in England. The post is excellent and informative; Christine’s comments come a little later in this post.

To me, the most important data comes near the end of the column:
But consider the UK data:
HOW AGES VOTED
18-24: 75% Remain
25-49: 56% Remain
50-64: 44% Remain
65+: 39% Remain
The future electorate of the UK wanted to remain in Europe.

My generation, the youngers parents and grandparents said “we don’t”. Such a division doesn’t augur well.

{June 26, 2016 Minneapolis Star Tribune p. A12: Turnout for the vote “was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting..Leave won by 52 percent to 48 percent.“)

(click on photo to enlarge)

Hawaii state flag, Big Island of Hawaii, Dec. 27, 2015

Hawaii state flag, Big Island of Hawaii, Dec. 27, 2015

There will be endless analyses of what the Brexit vote really means, on many levels. I really knew little about it until it actually happened.

What astonishes me is that this ballot question was apparently a simple “yes” or “no” and, apparently, only advisory – did the voter want Britain to remain in or get out of the European Union? This required no knowledge by the voter, not even any emotion. Just mark “yes” or “no” or not bother to go to the polls at all to answer the single question “yes” or “no”.

While the results apparently are advisory only, they have huge implications for the UK, for the European Union, for the entire world. And virtually nothing seems to have been thought through, by the majority, nor by the people who demanded the vote.

They just wanted “it”, whatever “it” was. Sound familiar?

Essentially, it was virtually “government by twitter”: an utterly brainless affair. How does any supposedly democratic society survive this passivity?

In my opinion, it doesn’t.

I include the odd flag picture at the beginning because, in so many ways, we are twins of England, from the time of our first settlement. I saw this flag on the island of Hawaii in late December, marking an apparent roadside death of someone. I learned later that it was the state flag of Hawaii, and the use of the Union Jack – the British flag – along with the stripes of the U.S. flag was intentional and most interesting.

Here’s the story of the flag.

In the United States we have just completed the Primary-Caucus system where symbolically winners of the Presidential horse-race have been anointed through a hodgepodge of endorsement systems. We are more and more formalizing the “primary” system, but only for President, as if the President of the United States is the only position which matters, and even less formally than in England, we demand the simplest possible commitment to “vote” for the candidate of our choice.

We know little, and we don’t care. Just make it quick and simple.

The question was made simple in England and now what?

After reading the Just Above Sunset, Christine responded (response shared with her permission):
I find this analysis very interesting although I don’t buy the Christians, Jerusalem and religious links around it.

I fully agree with the comment that “Driving the “Brexit” vote were many of the same impulses that have animated American politics in this turbulent election year: anger at distant elites, anxiety about a perceived loss of national sovereignty and, perhaps most of all, resentment toward migrants and refugees.

“There’s a fundamental issue that all developed economies have to confront, which is that globalization and technological changes have meant millions of people have seen their jobs marginalized and wages decline,” said David Axelrod.

I am not expert enough about Trump and American context but it seems to me similar to what I can hear and read here in France.

I don’t believe France or other European countries, although they have populist political leaders too, would follow the UK. Actually we are all frightened, and this earthquake induces a fast reaction amongst the European leaders to reform and strengthen the European organisation as soon as possible.

The very good effect of all this is that EVERYBODY talks about Europe which was not the case earlier.

Europe, for those who thought that they did not benefit from it, now realize how important it is. Even if there is much to say about it, Europe is a great tool to improve and harmonize little silly things like safety regulations. Traveling, or employing all sorts of people (which brings the subject of immigration….), easy for most specialists like medical doctors whose diplomas are recognized, to work wherever they want, schools accepting equivalencies, but also to drive commercial markets in the world, with America, India, China, Russia…and so much more like no boundaries (again immigration is a topic), same money (UK never wanted to leave the Pound)….”

Reader” what is your opinion? At least share it with yourself!

We need to become very engaged as citizens. We must responsibly control our own fate.