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Our National Insanity

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

Published as the students from Marjory Stoneman Johnson are speaking in Tallahassee FL.

Previous related posts: Feb. 14, Feb 15, Feb. 17 (two posts)

Today is one week out from the massacre at Parkland, Florida.

In the last 48 hours came two items that especially drew my attention. There are many, many more such items, granted, but I’d recommend these two:

1. The Washington Post (WaPo), on Monday morning, simply listed the names of those killed in mass shootings in the United States since Columbine, April 20, 1999. I hope you read it, here.

But only one week after the carnage in Parkland, FL, on Valentine’s Day, we seem generally back to our “normal”: A kind of national insanity, hopelessness. Outrage replaced by resignation…except for a few very brave souls.

2. Then there’s the plague of misinformation: Newsweek Online, scroll down to the article “The social media psy op that took down Al Franken“. These days it is hard work to decide what to believe. Is everything “fake news”. No longer is it a foolish question. Can I even trust “Newsweek”?

Newsweek. I subscribed to Newsweek for many years, at minimum through 2004 (I have hard evidence of such here in my home office). But Newsweek the magazine no longer even exists. Thankfully there’s a wiki article about Newsweeks changes in recent years.

WaPo, too, has gone through major changes in ownership. Washington Post is a part of the Amazon empire.

Then there are local entities, like the Minneapolis Star Tribune, to which we have long subscribed, but which I rarely read these days. It is a shell of its former self, and the most recent years ownership reflects a different ideological slant from years ago, when I was first subscribing.

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And how about your social media choices? As we are learning through the Russia indictments (and the Franken gambit, above referenced), social media is a major problem. We are living in the “wild west”, open to being duped. No one can blame anyone else for their personal gullibility. We need to be our own gatekeepers, when responsible gatekeepers are few and far between.

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How to be an “informed citizen”?

It is one thing for a “tweet” to reflect the tweeters own “truth”, which may or may not have a shred of truth within. A tweet is a headline with no content, no substance. Gullible consumers can take that tweet, etc., and create their own fantasy reality.

As a society, today we are in very, very dangerous territory. We are susceptible to addiction to deliberately false misinformation.

Informed and engaged are ever more essential. Like most everyone, it is easy for me to become almost paralyzed by the blizzard of information (and, especially) mis-information swirling around. There is no more important task, now, than to stay on the court.

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I come from an era where there was a reasonably safe presumption that your “mainstream” print media gave a reasonably decent shot at “fair and balanced”, or at least was basically truthful (in the religious sense – lying was once a big deal).

I recall touring Harry and Bess Truman home in Independence MO with my Dad, in 1983. The guide pointed out the kitchen table where Harry read – if I recall correctly – 5 newspapers every day, including the local Independence publication.

There was a television in the living room. Harry died in 1972, Bess in 1982, and the best guess is that neither spent much time in front of the tube whose programming was, then, very unsophisticated compared with today.

(If you’re in the Twin Cities make it a point to see “1968” at the Minnesota History Center. It will give you a window into communication and events of that watershed year in our history as a nation. You have 11 months, still to see it. It is very worthwhile as a thought-provoking place.)

I didn’t see television until my junior year in high school, 1956, and then it was a single channel with awful reception on only during the daytime and early evening.

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As for today, watch very carefully your own choice of “news” tomorrow. I don’t care your ideology. Watch it carefully. If you’re one of those who still get newspapers, note what you read. Note what it includes, and by extension what it excludes.

If your major source of news is other media, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or similar, notice what you choose to open. What do you know about the source of that news, if anything? What do your choices say about you?

Not all of you are on Facebook. Daughter Joni’s post on Thursday (here) has received a lot of attention. Yesterday, came another Facebook post from Joni, referencing something which had moved and inspired me many years ago.

Double click to enlarge the screen shot. Here’s the pdf: Joni on Risk003

As best I can discover, this inspirational saying is attributed to William Arthur Ward.

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Always informative: Just Above Sunset for today: “On Being Oblivious to Humiliation“. Consider subscribing. The price is right: free.

POSTNOTE: As I’ve previously noted (Feb. 15), I was more than a far-away spectator of Columbine High School, April 20, 1999. Little did we know, then, the future. Yes, there were outrages before: the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City by white anti-government types April 19, 1995, comes immediately to mind.

Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Johnson HS has much more potential for long term action than the earlier Columbine. For one thing, communication means are now universal. Columbine was before iPhones (2007); as well as the other technologies previously mentioned (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter).

Columbine could reasonably be viewed as an aberration at the time. No longer.

I applaud the kids who are getting in action. And everyone else who has the courage to speak out.

On Losing Hope…Don’t….

Monday, August 14th, 2017

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going”
(Proverb, uncertain origin)

As the awful days of 2017 drag on, I am very tempted to give up. Why bother? There seems little reason to hope for any improvement in our increasingly awful status quo – a fate we freely chose last November. If you watch the news only a little, you know what I mean. Here’s a longer version of the most recent, Charlottesville. Scroll down to the quote from “Daily Stormer”, the modern voice of the Nazis.

from Carol: a two minute film from 1943

The reason for my malaise is our national leadership – our President – and a largely cowardly “win at all costs” far Right government leadership who considers people like me the enemy.

But becoming paralyzed is not good for this country. I march on.

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In my now long life, I have always emphasized personal optimism: that however bad things were, there was hope for a better future.

A friend once asked me how I came to this positive philosophy. The answer came to mind quite easily. Very early in my adult life, the short two year marriage of my wife and I ended with her death from kidney disease; and I was left with a 1 1/2 year old son, and truly insurmountable debts, mostly from medical costs.

Barbara was 22. We were in a strange place, surrounded by strangers. I was flat broke.

It was 1965, and survival was the essential; everything else was a luxury.

I didn’t give up, and with lots of help from some relatives and new friends and society in general (North Dakota Public Welfare in particular), things turned around, albeit slowly. I’ll never forget 1963-65.

Later perspective came from a career where my total job was attempting to help solve problems between people, not to make them worse.

It was a difficult job. Sometimes I feel I did okay; sometimes I was not so sure. But I gave a damn, and knew the difference between “win-win” versus “win-lose”. In “win-lose” everybody loses…. We have long been mired in “win-lose” in this country of ours.

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So, I seek optimism even in the worst of times.

A few days ago I did a blog about Al Gore’s new film on Climate Change: “Inconvenient Sequel Truth to Power“, and highlighted a long and what I felt was a very positive interview with Vice-President Gore on Fox News a week ago; and then noticed on the jacket of his 2006 “An Inconvenient Truth” the highlighted recommendation, from Roger Friedman of FOXNEWS.com. Fox News? Yes.

Yesterdays Minneapolis Star Tribune had an Opinion written by the newspapers publisher, billionaire businessman and former Minnesota legislator Glen Taylor. You can read it here.

I sent the column to a former work colleague, now in Michigan, who knew Taylor in the 1980s when he was an up and coming business man, and who, herself, successfully used “win-win” in contract negotiations. She read the column and said, “He is so correct in his observations. For one thing, this approach is less likely to produce unintended consequences that can hurt either party. Because the potential solutions are freely discussed, those potential problem areas are more likely to be seen and avoided before they happen.”

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“Win-Win” is not part of the current American environment.

But it is not time to quit. Just yesterday I was at a gathering where a current member of the U.S. Congress spoke, and he said that next week, August 21 to be precise, is when Trump has to make a crucial decision on CSR under the Affordable Care Act. “CSR”? More here about CSR and the implications of next week. Several times Cong. Walz said, yesterday, August 21 is very important. Express your opinion to your Congressperson and Senator.

Cong. Tim Walz, MN 1st District, at DFL Senior Caucus Picnic Aug. 13, 2017

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Finally, the matter of “news”, generally, and what can one believe these “fake news” days, especially from the President of the United States? There is truth out there, but it takes effort to find it, especially now. I think it is prudent to believe nothing this President says; only what he and his lieutenants do, have done, and will do, and not as reported by him, either.

Facts are complicated. A couple of days ago my long time friend Michael sent an article from a technical publication about the N. Korean ICBMs. The article, here, is difficult, and it is technical, but was reassuring in that it came from someone who I’ve known for years to be not only a PhD, but a straight talker. We all know people like Michael. Value them. Here is how Michael introduces the article: “if moral analysis does not move you, maybe technical aspects can. Ted Postol [and others have] a super essay in today‚Äôs Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about the latest NK missile launches of Hwasong 14, probably not quite ICBM missiles.”

N. Korea is a very dangerous situation, but consider the source for any information you see or hear about it. There are “facts” out there.

Here’s my Korea Peninsula region map, once again.

Personal adaptation of p. 104 of 7th Edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World

COMMENTS
from Fred: An excellent piece, Dick. In challenging times it is tempting to withdraw, hang on and hope for the best. We need to remember that the future is not linear; its unpredictably is about all we can safely predict. Of course, that can mean even more difficult days are in our future. You’ve reminded me that a pragmatic and persistent approach in working for positive change is a most worthwhile option.

Dick Bernard – An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Friday, August 11th, 2017

Minneapolis-St. Paul area: Here are the film showtimes for Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

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We went to see Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power on Wednesday afternoon. Climate change is a topic that has long been of concern to me, and I have written about it before, here, and followed it quite actively since we saw Al Gore in person in St. Paul in 2005, and then saw the original An Inconvenient Truth: A Global Warning in 2006.

What a difference ten years make; what a difference ten years has made….

First, the bad news: Out of the gate, the film as measured by box office, as Fox News proclaimed, “bombs at the box office”.

But there are other opinions “headlined” on the internet search I did on Thursday: here, and here. And if you take the time to view the Fox News piece above, it is a ten minute segment featuring Al Gore on Fox News just days ago.

What difference does ten years make? While acknowledging his own dark times, Mr. Gore points out the huge successes, not the least of which is the COP21 in Paris, where 193 nations signed on.

“Don’t judge the book by its cover”.

Wednesday, there was only a single theater in the Twin Cities showing the film – the Uptown at 28th and Hennepin. It is an “inconvenient” place to see a movie. We were going to see the film Sunday, but streets were blocked by the annual Uptown Art Fair which basically surrounds the theater. Even in the middle of a rainy day, parking was an issue. I was actually surprised that there were perhaps 50 of us in the Theater for the 2 p.m. show.

On the other hand…Inconvenient Sequel is a film of substance. If you care at all about the future in environmental terms, the film is much more than worth the time. See it in person if you can. My high spots: the story of Discovr (not misspelled); and crucial parts of the ‘back story’ about the Climate triumph at COP21 in Paris in 2015. Mr. Trump may feel he’s dissing President Obama when he refused to sign for the U.S. as the pact continues. Rather, I think, he is dissing us all, including American business.

While there is a long, long, long ways to go, the movement to build awareness of the climate change issue is very much alive and well, and change is possible.

Inconvenient Sequel, more than anything, gives a sense of empowerment to “we, the people”, going forward. The future rests with us.

Take the time to see the film, and spread the word.

POSTNOTE:

In 2006, I purchased ten copies of the DVD, An Inconvenient Truth. I still retain one. As I have related before, we saw Mr. Gore in person in St. Paul a year before the film came out, and we were in the front row of a packed Woodbury theatre a year later to see the first run, and my wife almost yelled, “that’s me!” when she saw herself on the big screen, going up to shake Al Gore’s hand. It’s still there, less than five minutes into the film.

(click to enlarge)

As I was scanning the cover jacket above, I noticed for the first time the quote at the bottom of the illustration, by Roger Friedman, FOXNEWS.com. In the above segment with Chris Wallace on Fox News a few days ago, Wallace says that it is the first time in 17 years that he’s interviewed Gore. He says in the recent interview, let’s not wait 17 years for the next visit….

There is possibility out there. Go for it!

#1280 – Dick Bernard: “Age of Anger, A History of the Present”

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

Some weeks ago a long-time friend told me about the book, “Age of Anger…”, which I briefly introduced in this post on July 21st.

The book was my vacation project this past week. I found it to be highly informative, and highly recommend it for book club discussion, or simply for individual reflection on the nature of human beings, ourselves, our systems, nations…. Marie, the friend who had recommended the book to me, said the book was being passed around among her siblings in various parts of the country.

There are many reviews of the book. Here are some.

The book has a very large “cast of characters”. After reading, I took an informal “census” in the index, and found about 380 characters in all, most of them actors with influence roughly within the 200 years between 1700 and 1900 [See Postnote 3]. Many have immediately recognizable names. Most, like the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio who leads the book, are more obscure, but nonetheless very influential, influencing later tyrants. Most of the key characters are men. The frame seems the philosophical differences between Francois-Marie Aroust (nom de plume Voltaire, 1649-1722) and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).

Of the characters, only about 20 are women.

Tim McVeigh is in the spotlight in more recent history. ISIS makes the cut.

Before he is executed for his crime, McVeigh ends up as next door neighbor in a Colorado super-max prison to Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the architect of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. After McVeigh’s execution, Yousef says “I have never [known] anyone in my life who has so similar a personality to my own as [McVeigh].” (p. 288) In 2001, Yousef’s uncle “completed what [Yousef] had started: the twin towers’ destruction. [That Uncle, Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed, is now known as the chief architect of the 9/11 attacks….” (p. 285)

The cast of Age of Anger seems to center on characters who came to be of influence in 1700s France, then England, then the U.S., with many other important players, mostly leaders in places like Russia, Germany, India, Turkey. As we know, “countries” are basically personified by larger than life individuals who for good or ill are installed and enabled by their subjects. Our own country, today, is an example.

Reading Age of Anger helped me to fill in blanks in my own knowledge of historical events. “Ressentement” (resentment) is an important and oft repeated word, as is Individualism.

My opinion, typically – perhaps a human trait – we blame somebody, say Hitler, for the resulting disaster that befalls us. But it always comes back down to all of us who, in various ways, enable and indeed encourage the leader behavior which ultimately does us in. This is especially true in societies like our own, where we freely choose our own leaders, by our action (or inaction – non-involvement).

As I read, I kept looking for my favorite commentator on human insanity: George Orwell in his classic, 1984. Near the end of the book came a quote about the “Proles” (ordinary people) on page 325 (see postnote). The Proles of all ages, ourselves, in my thinking, have always been the enablers, the kindling wood and the cannon fodder for the assorted pretenders to greatness, the folks like Napoleon, Hitler and all their similar ilk. We meet the enemy; and it is ourselves.

The end result always, for even the most charismatic ideologues, regardless of ideology, seems constant and universal: defeat, often disaster. It is often the angry, dispossessed and impressionable young who are enlisted to do the dirty work in wars or whatever – look at the composition of our military, of gangs….

The Age of Anger is very well worth your time.

For me, I find myself thinking about how the book challenges me to do what I can to change for the better the tiny portion of the world in which I live. Our America – my America – seems to have had an exceptionally good and exceptionally long run. But the storm clouds, literal and figurative, are gathering.

Where do we fit in all of this.

POSTNOTE: p. 325 of Age of Anger: “So long as they [the Proles] continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern… Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”

In my recollection, Orwell leaves to our imagination the end of his story (published in 1949), which is set in England, but pretty clearly modelled on a totalitarian society.

Then, while technology was improving, no one could really imagine the presence days means of communication and thought and action control of ourselves, unless we take command of our own lives.

Absent our own actions, as individuals, our world will not end well.

Where do you fit in as the solution to our problems?

POSTNOTE 2: After publishing this post I read the Opinion section of today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. This commentary by firefighter Peter Leschak seems pertinent to the conversation.

POSTNOTE 3: As I read, my own ancestry (French, English, Irish, German) came unexpectedly into more focus. My French-Canadian ancestors, all of them, arrived in what is now Quebec between 1618 and 1757, mostly missing the continental impact of the Enlightenment in France and England. As to the German ancestry, I knew for a long time of the German revulsion towards France, largely due to Napoleons adventure. My great-grandfathers brother, Herman Heinrich Busch, born 1852 in Westphalia, migrated to the U.S. in early 1870s, wrote back to the old country Feb. 14, 1924, about remembrances of his grandmother of Napoleon’s occupation of what is now Germany. He said, in part: “France’s history has always been full of war and revolution for the last three hundred years and Germany was always the oppressed, if they will ever become peaceful.” (p. 279 of Pioneers, The Busch and Berning Families of LaMoure County ND.). I knew Great-Grandfather Busch, first to come across, had migrated to the United States about 1870, the story was, for health reasons and to escape war. He was about 22, and his handwriting and text was extraordinarily fine and literate, though he was a farm kid. Age of Anger identifies 1870 as the formation of the Second Reich by Kaiser Wilhelm II (The First Reich is commonly considered the time of the Holy Roman Empire 800-1806). Part of the early Second Reich involved Germany’s temporary subjugation of France…. One chapter of history ends, and another begins.

#1248 – Dick Bernard: A bit of nostalgia; and “fake news”

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

This afternoon was picture perfect in my town. It was too nice to stay indoors, so I decided to take a short trip down the old Military Road, ending up at Old Cottage Grove, in front of the Boondocks bar (which, from appearances, seemed to be closed….)

(click to enlarge)

Old Cottage Grove MN April 1, 2017

It wasn’t a long trip – 8 miles – but going there is very much off the beaten path for most of us in this bustling suburb of over 60,000 in which we live.

Down the street from the Boondocks is the John Furber Farm</a> (7310 Lamar in Cottage Grove) and back a couple of miles is the old Cedarhurst Mansion (6940 Keats Ave) which was a very fancy country house back in the day. Both the Furber barn and Cedarhurst house are now used for fancy weddings and parties. People pay for nostalgia. (The places can be seen here.)

Cottage Grove goes way back (for this area). The sign a few blocks from the Furber barn gives the thumbnail history:

Old Cottage Grove sign, corner of 70th and Lamar.

I got to thinking about these places long ago. Cottage Grove, the sign said, was founded in 1843, the town platted in 1871. St. Paul began its life as a distinct place in 1841 – it just celebrated its 175th. In those days, communication was serious business. There was no such thing as express mail, or computers, or tweets. The telegraph didn’t exist until 1861. Literacy spotty, and bare basics.

It cause me to think back to a week ago, watching the segment on “Fake News” on CBS’ 60 Minutes. It was an excellent segment, perhaps still available, though the basics are very simple. Anyone who believes anything that comes from anywhere is taking a leap of faith, including the claims of how many people actually passed something along. We’re in the age where, ironically, we are probably much less likely to get the straight story, than were the folks who lived on the Furber Farm and at Cedarhurst way over 100 years ago.

A little earlier I had checked the stats page for this blog on my home computer, and found something curious. Someone had linked to some very ordinary photo I’d included in a post two years ago. Of course, I can’t answer the “why” question. I’ve heard (tell me I’m wrong) that every photo also has its own signature, and if pirated can be misused, perhaps as a fictitious tweet? Whatever the case, the old phrase, “caveat emptor”, comes to mind. “Let the buyer beware.” There is a great plenty of “fools gold” out there masquerading as the real deal.

Back home, I checked the phone and there was one message from a friend whose career has been as a voyageur, though he was gifted enough with the horn to be part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

He had an offer I couldn’t refuse.

We chatted a bit. He doesn’t do e-mail, but his daughter keeps up a website for his publications. It is here. I gave him my e-mail address to pass along to his daughter, and told him I’d send her a note at the website. Went there right away, but there is no “contact us” tab. Perhaps he doesn’t know that…or maybe it is his rejection of the modern technology. You can write him a letter, it appears, with a real stamp!

We joshed a bit, back and forth. In the Voyageur days, back in the 1600s, we wouldn’t be chatting by telephone! Even Luddites have their limits.

I can vouch, he does very good work. Very interesting.

And I think I can trust his scholarship much more than the next tweet or forward that I receive over the ‘net.

Have a great day.

Dick Bernard: Changing a Light Bulb

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Minnesota State Capitol February 10, 2017

Two weeks ago we toured the newly renovated Minnesota State Capitol building. Renovation of the now 112 year old facility had been needed for years. Of course, renovation costs money, which means politics, which means delays, which means higher costs, which mean political advantage (or disadvantage). But that’s another story.

This is about a light bulb.

We entered the Minnesota Senate Chamber to see a “drama-in-progress” (photo below, click to enlarge).

A workman was replacing a light bulb in the rotunda of the Chamber.

(click to enlarge the photos)

Minnesota Senate Chamber February 10, 2017

I can’t speak for my fellow visitors, but I hardly noted the excellent guide and her associate, a current Minnesota legislator, as they talked about the newly refurbished chamber.

I was watching this skilled workman, and his “sideman” off to the left, as the bulb was removed, and then replaced.

As easily noted, one missing bulb stands out.

Of course, this brought to mind one of the variations on the very old joke: “how many [government employees] does it take to replace a light bulb?” Well, in this case, two were visible.

But where in the wings are the others? The people who ordered the light bulbs, who stored them, who make decisions about them – on and on.

I sent the photo to three friends who are engineers, corporate types, and, of course, I got the expected responses (they know I’m a retired “union thug”).

We had a little bit of fun with this. One of them wondered if these bulbs were energy efficient LED bulbs. Well, from my perspective on the floor, I didn’t know. And it hadn’t occurred to me to ask the question. Just watching these guys work was a great plenty for one day! I was glad I wasn’t on the ladder.

But, I’ve always been curious about such things, so the question nagged at me. I couldn’t find the answer in the routine ways, so the following Friday I went back over to the capitol, and asked the people staffing the capitol tour desk.

The quick answer was, yes, that the bulbs were in fact LED. Of course, they are ordered in large quantities, and on occasion there is a bulb that is defective. It may work, but might be a bit quirky, perhaps flickering.

The staff member also mentioned that the bulbs, which occupy the same spaces as their predecessor bulbs for all these years, were too intense, if at full wattage, so much like the dimmer switch at home, the power is tamped back a bit.

He also volunteered that there remain other examples of lighting in the Capitol which are not amenable to LED. Some fixtures still use fluorescent, he said.

So…I ask myself…were we looking at government waste, or efficiency, that February day? Or does it really matter. Down below that rotunda a large number of committed citizens, State Senators, debate the large, and sometimes very small, issues of the day and help make our state one that works pretty well, mostly, including through power shifts.

So, “how many [people] does it take to change a light bulb?”

I would say, all of us.

Have a great weekend.

On to the next bulb, Feb. 10, 2017

The occupants of the State Senate Chamber, 2017 session of the Legislature.

#1195 – Dick Bernard: Hacking my Facebook, and the Tweet Dilemma, and a special guest.

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

A few days ago I got several e-mails reporting that my Facebook account had been hacked. There is something humiliating about such a violation of boundaries, but it happens. I changed my password (a story in itself), but decided not to close down and start over. I know, now, how to shut it down if need be.

We live in a world with plenty of evil actors, and not all of them are dictators in countries which we find hard finding on a map. They live among us, in our own towns, and in this increase to the wild west, they can be shameless, indeed become folk heroes to some. In a sense, we’re experiencing a pandemic disease, crossing borders with impunity, silent, invisible, until they elect to expose themselves.

Disease pandemics kill people; technology pandemics perhaps ultimately will be even more destructive in our thoroughly wired society. Most communications right now is on those little iPhone or similar screens. We are a computer driven society. If the network went down, we as a collective society wouldn’t have a clue what to do. Losing the technology grid would be as bad or worse than losing the electrical grid, where whole states go black.

I’m not telling state secrets: nefarious types probably have the technological ability to shut us all down, and we will be clueless as to how to get back on-line.

Learn how to handwrite again, and prepare for a day when even the postal service is disabled and we’re back to communicating as we did 100 years or more ago. Real envelopes, pencils and paper, real stamps, dealing with communication as if the recipient won’t see what you wrote for a couple of weeks, if ever.

Then there’s Twitter.

We both have the (I guess) antique “flip phones” which we thought were high-tech when we got them.

Nowadays I get occasional tweets – they come in with a distinctive “ring” – and I’ve figured out how to read them, but if they direct me to a link, I can’t go there; nor can I reply.

For me, at least, they’re simply a useless annoyance. Maybe a better tweet than “today is Dick’s birthday” might be “call your mother!”

The even more crucial issue is privacy. There is none. Get over it. It’s every bit as public as these few words on a public screen. A good friend of mine, 90, was incredulous that her young professional relative in another country, had a complimentary message for his ladyfriend, who sent a half-naked Facebook post. She couldn’t believe it.

Well, here we are.

COMMENT:
From Bruce: My facebook account has been hacked many times. I also see that many of my friends are hacked several times, too. The first time I saw a fake friend request “friendship”, I accommodated. Now that I’m familiar with it I just let it be. I guess being active is an inoculation against that sort of hacking.

POSTNOTES:
1. Comedy Centrals Trevor Noah did a long interview with President Obama on December 12. Here’s the link. You’ll have to watch a few commercials and its in three segments, but it is inspiring if you respect the President.

2. If you need recharging of inspiration, check out Paul Rogat Loeb’s books. They can inspire you. Here’s how to access.

3. Note to Minnesota readers re Monday Dec. 19, from Madeline: “Considering the extreme cold Sunday, I’m planning to attend this one on Monday–be warmer inside at this one too:

“Join us as we support Representative John Lesch at 11 am on Monday, December 19, in State Office Building Room 181 for a press conference announcing a National Popular Vote bill for Minnesota. This is right next to Leif Erikson park, and directly across the street from the Minnesota Senate Building where the 12 noon Electoral College vote will take place.”

Many thanks if you think you can join us!

#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.

.

#1149 – Dick Bernard: The Maestro gives a Shout-out

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

POSTNOTE JULY 23: Munich.

My plan a few days ago was to watch the Republican Convention on TV… (continued after “shout-out”)

The Shout-out.

Two weeks ago, Saturday July 9, we took Don, our neighbor across the street, to Sommerfest at Orchestra Hall.

The hall this particular evening seemed packed, even though the featured soloist on piano, Andre Watts, had to cancel due to a back injury. Conductor and long-time Sommerfest Artistic Director Andrew Litton, did his expected magic; and substitute pianist Zhang Zuo was wonderful with Beethoven’s Concerto No. 1 in C major for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 15.

After intermission came a full hour of Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Opus 27”.

Sommerfest tends to be more a casual than formal event, though the quality of music is always the same: first rate.

Before beginning, Maestro Litton, gave us an impromptu recollection from his own life.

He began with piano at age 5, he said, and at age 15, in 9th grade, in 1975, something happened in class that triggered a response from his teacher. (We’ve all been teenagers…we can imagine….)

The next day the teacher brought Andrew a vinyl recording of the Rachmaninoff symphony and suggested the youngster listen to the third movement, which became the basis of the popular song “Full Moon and Empty Arms” (many renditions are on YouTube); and which Litton has conducted many times in his career.

Quietly and offhandedly, Andrew Litton made two points for us that stuck with me: the teachers class was 9th graders; and the teacher was African-American.

Neither sub-point was necessary or dramatized, but in a short phrase Andrew Litton spoke volumes to all of us: The African-American teacher made a big difference in his life.

The single quiet encounter in a real sense helped inform his life to follow.

But there was more:

For myself, listening, I thought of the ongoing tensions related to shootings and race. Indeed, just a few short walking blocks from Orchestra Hall, some protestors were gathering in a continuing response to the Philando Castile shooting 3 days earlier in nearby Falcon Heights, his apparent crime, “driving while black”.

Castile was a highly respected cafeteria worker in the St. Paul public schools. As any teacher would attest, school employees like Castile are teachers of children in all senses.

Andrew Litton, before turning to the Orchestra to raise his baton, was, I think, saying “thank you” to a teacher, an African-American teacher, from his youth.

And perhaps causing more than just myself to think about who we are, really, people together, here to occupy the same space for a short amount of time. Included, not excluded, or singled out….

Thank you, maestro. More on Castile et al after the following on the RNC.

*

The Republican National Convention (continued)
…I didn’t have the stomach for watching the RNC. The speakers and particularly the delegates I saw were angry at, terrified of, and despise people like me. (I am sure that there were delegates in that hall who felt extremely uncomfortable with the actions of the speakers and the people around them, but who would have the courage to say anything, either at the time, or publicly afterwards.) For the time being, it is the Trump Party, not the Republican Party, that is holding sway.

I wrote once about the Convention, “The First Night of the RNC”, Jul 19.

Since, I have chosen to read about each day through my favorite blogger. Here’s my choice, if you wish, for your weekend:
“The One Man” (Jul 21);
“Another Opening, Another Show” (Jul 18);
“Closing the Deal” (Jul 19);
“The Cruz Missile” (Jul 20).
I highly recommend this blog. Mostly, I recommend getting on the political court in the numerous ways available to each and every citizen.

Nobody, even his worshipers, deserves Donald Trump as President of the United States.

The 2016 RNC was no usual “political cheerleading”. Most of the delegates were willing participants in what was a hatefest.

We are better than this; and our country stands to be much worse off should he succeed, and his main victims will be the dispossessed who support him and who think he’ll make THEIR OWN LIVES “great again”, when the opposite will more likely be true.

*

Which brings me back to Castile and “Black Lives Matter”

Much is made of the protests in the wake of the tragedies of recent weeks, including those in support of Philandro Castile.

It is a difficult issue to talk about, across racial bounds. But the efforts are important.

I have noticed some things:

I was 27, teaching in suburban Blaine MN, when the 1967 Minneapolis North Side riots occurred; I drove through part of Washington DC after the 1968 riots there. I watched, with most everyone else the 1992 Los Angeles riots after Rodney King was beaten.

What has truly struck me in the recent events is that the African-American community has, with very few individual exceptions, avoided the violence of the past.

Even the most horrific circumstances, like the killing of the nine South Carolinians in a church by a white man, did not bring an explosion of vengeance.

There is a change of tone by the body politic at large, that is very refreshing, a sign to me of hope that there is progress. While there is a very long way to go, and we’ll probably never truly get there – we are, after all, a slave nation to our roots, and we can never deny that – in individual and group ways we seem to be turning a corner – which some find very uncomfortable. Violence, after all, sells.

(The night that maestro Litton gave his little talk from the stage at Orchestra Hall, a demonstration was gathering a few blocks away at Loring Park. I wondered if it would wander our way to make a point. It did not.)

Change is happening.

*

But nothing is easy.

Except for occasional disastrous happenings, we live in relatively peaceful and, in America, prosperous times.

The current and continuing disaster in the Middle East was largely created by ourselves (through the Iraq War). That will never be admitted. That same war caused the near collapse of our economy, which at this moment, eight years later, is robust. Eight years ago I could not have imagined how thoroughly we have recovered.

We would be further along had not the Republicans chosen to make sure President Obama would not succeed.

There have always been and there will always be disasters, and people to exploit them. Now we hear about them instantly, and endlessly, and they stoke our most dire imagination of what they might mean to ourselves.

Recently, it is France that has borne the brunt, it seems, of the ad hoc killings: the disasters in Paris; and most recently the horrific carnage on Bastille Day in Nice come to mind.

There are nearly 70,000,000 people in France. No, France is not going up in flames.

In mid May a plane enroute from France to Egypt went down in the Meditterranean Sea, and the suspicion immediately was terrorism, though no one has taken credit for such. The cause of the crash remains unknown. The black box has been recovered, and to my knowledge there has been no report, still, on what happened aboard that plane.

In our own country (which is more violent than most), an apparently lone wolf vigilante from Kansas City killed policemen in Baton Rouge; similarly, another lone wolf gunned down policemen in Dallas. In some quarters, race was made to be a matter in both.

We will never rid ourselves of these probably planned but still random acts of violence.

We cannot govern our lives by these kinds of possibilities.

*

Now comes the Democrats National Convention, and Hillary Clinton

I have long been a very public supporter of Hillary Clinton. In 2008 I thought she was the best person for the job of president. She is far more qualified now, than she was then.

She has been the subject of demonization by her enemies for over 20 years. None of us could survive such personal attacks as she has had to endure. It is bullying and character assassination on steroids, masquerading under the guise of “just politics”.

I will have more to say about her, and that, after her expected nomination.

*

Thank you for reading. I welcome comments at dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom. This screen will be dark until July 30.