Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ur-Fascism: The Signs

Review by Bill Doughty

In Umberto Eco's "Five Moral Pieces" (RCS Libri / Harcourt, 1997) we get five short dense essays with a scholarly perspective on Clausewitz and war, media responsibility, emergence of the "Other," migration vs. immigration, and the signs of eternal fascism ("Ur-Fascism").

Eco, who died in 2016, was professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna – a deep thinker who used history, psychology, literature and philosophy to analyze the world and predict the future.

Haitians get shelter material from DOD and International Organization for Migration in 2010 after an earthquake. (DVIDS)

His conclusions can be uber-controversial, such as this one in his essay "Migration, Tolerance, and the Intolerable":
"...[M]igration is certainly different from immigration. We have only immigration when the immigrants (admitted according to political decisions) accept most of the customs of the country into which they have immigrated, while migration occurs when the migrants (whom no one can stop at the frontiers) radically transform the culture of the territory they have migrated to."
He examines both tolerance and intolerance using examples such as (actual) witch hunts, tattoos, American political correctness, Hitler and Mein Kampf, anti-Jacobin theories of Jewish conspiracy, and immigration/migration.

Eco says when intolerance becomes not only inculcated but "uncontrolled," thinking people face a "pure unthinking animality." Then it may be too late, and intellectuals themselves become targets. "It is too late when war is waged on doctrinal intolerance, for when intolerance is transformed into doctrine the war is already lost, and those who ought to fight it become the first victims."

"Therefore," Eco writes, "uncontrolled intolerance has to be beaten at the roots, through constant education that starts from earliest infancy, before it is written down in a book, and before it becomes a behavioral 'skin' that is too thick and too tough."

Mussolini's headquarters in 1934.
Studying and understanding fundamentalism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism can prevent the rise of Fascism, which Eco experienced personally as a boy in Italy during the rise and fall of Mussolini.

His essay on Ur-Fascism comes from a speech Eco gave at Columbia University, April 25, 1995, in commemoration of the liberation of Europe – made possible by the United States military.
"However, it should be borne in mind that the text was conceived for an audience of American students and the speech was given in the days when America was still shaken by outrage over the Oklahoma City bombing and by the discovery of the fact (by no means a secret) that extreme right-wing military organizations existed in America. The anti-Fascist theme, therefore, took on particular connotations in that context, and my historical observations were intended to stimulate reflection on current problems in various countries..."
Eco reveals the signs of Fascism, a movement defeated by the Allies in World War II but unfortunately making a comeback 24 years later. Madeleine Albright calls it the F-word. Today we see totalitarian leaders as well as deranged movements, including white nationalism, rising in Europe and the United States – flirting with Fascism.

Here are the signs:

1. "The first characteristic of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition." No open-mindedness, no advancement of learning, and reliance only on traditional thinking.

The spirit of 1776 and 1789 is rejected by Ur-Fascists.
2. "Rejection of the modern world" that rejects the spirit of 1789, 1776, The Enlightenment and the Age of Reason.

3. "Suspicion of intellectual life," where thoughtless "action for action's sake" is valued and elite thinking is not.

4. No dissent. "For Ur-Fascism, dissent is betrayal."

5. Fear of difference. "The first appeal of a Fascist or prematurely Fascist movement is a call against intruders." This would include a perceived invasion of migrants.

6. "Ur-Fascism springs from individual or social frustration, which explains why one of the characteristics typical of historic Fascist movements was the appeal to the frustrated middle classes."

7. Nationalism and xenophobia. "At the root of Ur-Fascist psychology lies the obsession with conspiracies..." both international and "from the inside," as in an imagined "deep state."

8. Humiliation. "The disciples must feel humiliated by the enemy's vaunted wealth and power" – showing both fear and disdain, victimization and superiority.

9. An "Armageddon complex" and "permanent war." "...There must be a last battle, after which the movement will rule the world."

10. "Scorn for the weak." Power taken and enforced by force is based on a "weakness of the masses." Under an authoritarian hierarchy "each subordinate leader looks down on his inferiors, and each of his inferiors looks down in turn on his own underlings. All this looking down reinforces the sense of a mass elite."

Orwell (top right) served in the British Home Guard during WWII.
11. A "cult of heroism" closely aligned to a "cult of death." "The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, it should be noted, he usually manages to make other die in his place."

12. Sex as a power issue. "This is the origin of machismo (which implies contempt for women and a non-conformist sexual habits...)" Think antifeminism and a woman's right to choose as well as LGBTQ persecution.

13. Populism over democracy. "Every time a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament (Congress) because it no longer represents 'the voice of the people,' there is a suspicion of Ur-Fascism."

14. "Ur-Fascism uses newspeak." Coined by George Orwell in "1984," newspeak describes the language used by dictatorships to create distrust and mistrust. "All the Nazi and Fascist scholastic texts were based on poor vocabulary and elementary syntax, the aim being to limit the instruments available to complex and critical reasoning." Newspeak can be uttered by a leader or by state media, even in the "innocent form of a popular talk show."

Eco had two homes, one with 20,000 books and another with 30,000.
These ideas are informed by Eco's life experiences and through his collection of 50,000 books.

Interestingly, a scandal hit the authoritarian populists in Europe this week. Bloomberg reports on a video sting that caught far-right politicians Heinz-Christian Strache and Johann Gudenus drinking vodka and making deals with a woman they thought was the niece of Russian oil and gas billionaire Igor Makarov. They allegedly tried to bribe her to provide funding to their party and invest in a far-right newspaper. The resulting videos caused resignations and a delay in elections in Austria.

"Nationalist populists often agitate against entrenched, corrupt elites and pledge to drain various swamps," Bloomberg reports. "In the videos, however, Strache and Gudenus behave like true swamp creatures, savoring rumors of drug and sex scandals in Austrian politics and discussing how to create an authoritarian media machine like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s."

Nevertheless, far-right leaders, including Italy's Matteo Salvini, France's Marine Le Pen and Holland's Geert Wilders, vow to "change history" in Europe again in this century.

FDR and his secretaries on Nov. 4, 1938.
Eco, who not only studied but also lived history, evaluates the various strains of fascism that arose in Europe in the last century in "Ur-Fascism."

He uses the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at two critical junctures: (September 23, 1944) – "The victory of the American people and their allies will be a victory against Fascism and the blind alley of despotism that it represents." And (November 4, 1938) – "I dare to say that if American democracy ceased to progress as a living force, seeking night and day by peaceful means to improve the condition of our citizens, the power of Fascism would grow in our country."

Can greater democracy, human rights and education provide a wall against Ur-Fascism and a solution to refugee migration?

Haitian women queue to receive plastic sheeting and water in Port-au-Prince. The intergovernmental organization International Organization for Migration passes out supplies Feb. 24, 2010, as United Nations forces from Sri Lanka provide security and prevent refugee migration. The Department of Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development are in Haiti supporting Operation Unified Response, a multinational, joint-service operation to provide humanitarian assistance to Haitians affected by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck the region, Jan. 12, 2010. (DVIDS courtesy photo)

Saturday, May 11, 2019

'Damned' in Hawaii

The Massies (at right) and their alleged co-conspirators.
By Bill Doughty

Any Sailor or Navy family member who wishes to understand the Navy's relationship with the 50th state – even before it became a state – would benefit from reading about the Massie Case.

Sometime after midnight, Sunday, September 13, 1931, Thalia Massie left a "Navy Night" party at Ala Wai Inn on Kalakaua Avenue. She claimed that while walking alone she was assaulted by a group of men known as the Ala Moana Boys. Later she also said she was raped.

Thalia Massie was the wife of Lt. Thomas Massie, a submariner stationed at Pearl Harbor. Thalia was described as a troubled and troublesome woman known for excessive drinking and flirtatious behavior. She identified native Hawaiian Joseph Kahahawai as the alleged rapist. A trial of the Ala Moana Boys resulted in a hung jury due to insufficient evidence and Thalia's questionable account.

That's when the Lt. Massie, along with Thalia's mother Grace Fortescue and several Sailors from Pearl Harbor, took the law into their own hands. They abducted and  interrogated Kahahawai, who maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal. The group then shot Kahahawai and were caught trying to throw his body in the ocean.

Defending the accused murderers who plotted the death of Kahahawai was retired lawyer of renown, Clarence Darrow, known as "attorney for the damned."

Two books worth reading about the Massie case are "Honor Killing: How the infamous 'Massie Affair' Transformed Hawaii" by David E. Stannard (Viking, 2005) and the more recent "A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow" by Mike Farris (SkyHorse, 2016).

Stannard's book reads like a mystery novel. The author, a University of Hawaii professor, knows the local culture and presents the case intimately from all sides. Understandably but unfortunately, his presentation relies on conjecture and what Farris calls outright "fiction."

Farris is a commercial litigator and entertainment lawyer based in Dallas, Texas. He, like Stannard, tries to present the case as a novel, admitting he took "some liberties with dialogue in scenes..." Those "liberties" detract from an otherwise fascinating presentation of the case, thanks to Farris's extensive sources that include trial transcripts, law school collections, Hawaii State Archives, newspaper reports and a number of books, including the well-written biography "Attorney for the Damned: Clarence Darrow in the Courtroom" edited by Arthur Weinberg (The University of Chicago Press, 1957).

Rear Adm. Yates Stirling
Another Farris source is the autobiography of the Navy admiral who commanded the 14th Naval District (Hawaii), "Sea Duty: The Memoirs of a Fighting Admiral" by Rear Adm. Yates Stirling (Putnam, 1939).

Stirling was an otherwise brilliant naval strategist in the mold of Mahan, but Farris calls him "arguably one of the villains in the whole affair." About Stirling, Farris writes:
"A noted racist, he viewed events through the prism of that racism. When first told of the alleged assault on Thalia, he said, 'our first inclination is to seize the brutes and string them up on trees.' He believed that the hung jury in the rape trial was a miscarriage of justice 'which could have been avoided if the Territorial Government had shown more inclination to sympathize with my insistence upon the necessity for a conviction,' and he justified the killing of Kahahawai by stating that "[t]he dark-skinned citizens have been taught how far the American white man will go to protect his women from brutal assaults by them.'"
From the evidence provided by Stannard and Farris. justice was far from colorblind in Hawaii nearly 90 years ago.

Darrow being treated to an outrigger canoe ride by Duke Kahanamoku and Waikiki Beach Boys.
Clarence Darrow's role as defense attorney was conflicted. Rather than taking the side of the underdog – the local men who were likely falsely accused – Darrow sided with the Massies and the Navy.

Darrow was treated like a celebrity in Hawaii. While in Waikiki he was the guest of Duke Kahanamoku and taken on an outrigger canoe ride in the surf by Duke and the Waikiki Beach Boys.

Why did Darrow come out of retirement at age 74 and travel to the middle of the Pacific to take a case where there was clear evidence against the defendants? Farris contends that Darrow accepted the job because he needed money after the crash of the stock market and his loss of savings.

According to John A. Farrell in "Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned," "Darrow ultimately agreed to go, he told himself, because he might bring healing to the troubled islands. And because he had always wanted to see Hawaii. But most of all he took the case because he needed money."

Farrell writes: "The navy and the Hawaiians had an uneasy relationship, dating back to America's seizure of the islands in the 1890s." The Massie Affair quickly became a national story with racist overtones:
"When five Hawaiians were arrested and charged with Thalia's rape, the news sent navy officials, members of Congress, and many of their constituents into an ugly fury. The islands were portrayed as a steamy hell where brown savages preyed upon the wives and daughters of American servicemen. Naval officials threatened to pull the fleet from Pearl Harbor, a move that would devastate the local economy. In Washington, Admiral William Pratt, the chief of naval operations, declared that indolent Hawaiian officials had sanctioned a plague of sexual assaults on white women..."
Darrow's decision to go to Hawaii "triggered a debate in the civil rights community," Farrell said. Darrow, after all, served on the board of the NAACP.

How the case played out is worth a read by anyone interested in the Navy's early history in Hawaii as well as in the evolution of criminal justice. We see the flaws in otherwise distinguished men like Stirling and Darrow, and we are reminded no one – even an icon – is perfect. We come face to face with racist attitudes in the 1930s and we confront the reaction to allegations of sexual assault. Finally, we see the need for a commitment to civil rights in the decades that followed. Perhaps most important, we see how far we've progressed toward tolerance and "aloha."

Darrow's own recounting of the case in his memoir "The Story of My Life" seems to shade some truth and contort reason, especially in light of the well-researched accounts by Stannard, Farris and Farrell. These books are recommended reads for any Sailor, Navy civilian and Navy family member living in Hawaii, as is Darrow's own "Story."

Monday, May 6, 2019

Clarence Darrow's Love of Life, Sea, Liberty

Clarence Darrow
Review by Bill Doughty

Read Darrow's autobiography, "The Story of My Life" (Scribner, 1932), and you can see the great attorney's love for life, critical thinking, and the sea.

Darrow, famous for his courtroom oratory on behalf of (usually) the underdog or "the damned," was a complicated and compelling figure and a deep thinker.

Early in "Story" he contemplates the difference between youth and old age, using some nautical themes:
"The young man's reflections of unfolding life concern the future – the great, broad, tempestuous sea on whose hither shore he stands eagerly waiting to learn of other lands and climes. The reactions and recollections of the old concern the stormy journey drawing to a close; he no longer builds castles or plans conquests of the unknown; he recalls the tempests and tumults encountered on the way, and babbles of the passengers and crew that one by one dropped silently into the icy depths. No longer does the aging transient yearn for new adventures or unexplored highways. His greatest ambition is to find some snug harbor where he can doze and dream the fleeting days away. So, elderly men who speak or write turn to autobiography. This is all they have to tell, and they cannot sit idly in silence and wait for the night to come."
Darrow the philosopher sounds like another reasoned thinker, Richard Dawkins, in finding a humble perspective as he introduces his autobiography:
"Doubtless a certain vanity has its part in moving me to write about myself. I am quite sure that this is true, even though I am aware that neither I nor any one else has the slightest importance in time and space. I know that the earth where I have spent my life is only a speck of mud floating in the endless sky. I am quite sure that there are millions of other worlds in the universe whose size and importance are most likely greater than the tiny graveyard on which I ride. I know that at this time there are nearly two billion other human entities madly holding fast to this ball of dirt to which I cling. I know that since I began this page hundreds of these have loosened their grip and sunk to eternal sleep. I know that for half a million years men and women have lived and died and been mingled with the elements that combine to make our earth, and are known no more. I know that only the smallest fraction of my fellow castaways have even so much as heard my name, and that those who have will soon be a part of trees and plants and animal and clay. Still, here am I sitting down, with the mists already gathering about my head, to write about the people, desires, disappointments and despairs that have moved me in my brief stay on what we are pleased to call this earth."
1917 recruiting poster, courtesy NHHC
In a later chapter, Darrow writes this about our collective journey through life: "We are like a body of shipwrecked sailors clutching to a raft and desperately engaged in holding on ... The best that we can do is to be kindly and helpful toward our friends and fellow passengers."

Darrow's self-deprecation and sharp wit are revealed periodically. About his first name, Clarence, which he considered his "cross" to bear, he reveals: "The one satisfaction I have had in connection with this cross was that the boys never could think up any nickname half so inane as the real one my parents adorned me with."

He discusses books, reading and education; fundamentalism and science; free will and justice; inequality in society; civil rights and the Ku Klux Klan; prohibition; cause and effect; capital punishment; religion; and war, especially the First World War. WWI was thought then to be the war to end all wars.

In analyzing the "Great War" and its causes, Darrow understands Germany's desire for expansion and access to the Atlantic as well as England's desire for superiority in controlling the seas. "England wished to own the seas, because to control the seas meant to control the lands."

Darrow believed in building toward and sustaining peace, but his pacifism turned quickly to support for U.S. involvement after Germany invaded Belgium. "I discovered that pacifism is probably a good doctrine in time of peace," he wrote, "but of no value in war time."

Darrow and his nemesis William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Trial
His personal lifetime war was against intolerance, greed, injustice and hate. He shows sharp wit in describing one of his chief adversaries, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan was the attorney who prosecuted John T. Scopes in the "evolution case" in Dayton, Tennessee but who was trumped by Darrow. Here's Darrow's no-holds-barred description of Bryan, who he said "represented the spirit of intolerance":
"He had greatly changed in recent years. The one-time sense of humor that softened his nature had been driven out by disappointments and vain ambitions. In his last days he had the appearance of one who felt the injustice of many defeats and welcomed the chance to get even with an alien world. He did not grow old gracefully. Instead of disarming the enemy with a smile and a joke as once was his wont, he now snarled and scolded when any one stood in the way of his dreams ... The merry twinkle had vanished from his eyes, his head was entirely bald save for two tufts of bristles back of the ears, his thin lips set in a long straight line across his face, his huge jaw pushed forward, stern and cruel and forbidding, immobile and unyielding as an iron vise. His speculations had ripened into unchangeable convictions. He did not think. He knew. His eyes plainly revealed mental disintegration. He had always been inordinately conceited and self-confident, but he had not been cruel or malignant. But his whole makeup had evidently changed, and now he was a wild animal at bay. I told my associates that I could see the rapid decay that had come upon him. He had reached a stage of hallucination that would impel him to commit any cruelty that he believed would help his cause. History is replete with men of this type, and they have added sorrow and desolation to the world."
Daguerrotype of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Darrow shows his own patriotism and strong faith in America as well as his love for liberty and the Constitution in references throughout this book, including this one:
"Emerson long ago said that a good citizen should not be too obedient of the law. Men came before laws, and will be here after laws are in limbo. Nothing is so loved by tyrants as obedient subjects. Nothing so soon destroys freedom as cowardly and servile acquiescence. Men will never have any more liberty than they demand and are ready to fight and preserve."
He condemned prohibition, comparing the Eighteenth Amendment to the alien and sedition laws that were passed under President John Adams but opposed by "the giant figure and vigorous intellect of Thomas Jefferson." When Jefferson became president he demanded Congress repeal the alien and sedition laws, which Congress, as the co-equal branch of government, did. "The statesman knows that laws should be like clothes, made to fit the citizens that make up the State," Darrow said.

Multilateral operations in the Mediterranean Sea ,March 26, 2019. (MC2 Krystina Coffey).
In chapters "A Year in Europe" and "Learning to Loaf," Darrow waxes about his travels in Great Britain, France and Switzerland. He name-drops meeting W. Somerset Maugham and H. G. Wells among other notables of the time. And he offers this nautical reflection about one of the Seven Seas of the Middle Ages:
"As a rule, I am not given to sentiment over inanimate things or historical events. But, somehow, I could never think of the Mediterranean Sea, much less look at it, without being profoundly moved by its remarkable story. The earliest, and even the latest civilization was closely hugged her shores. The first knowledge we have of man's origin and development clings to its blue waters. The first ships of which we have record sailed those beautiful waters. One after another, nations and civilizations have risen and vanished around the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt, Asia Minor, Arabia, Syria, Greece, and the Roman world; Spain, Italy, France, all have been washed by this sea. The Pharaohs, Caesar, Pompey, Hannibal, Anthony and Cleopatra, too, made the Mediterranean immortal in history, song and story. Even now it lies in the heart of the civilization of the world. Most of the history of the Western world has been written there, and no other body of water anywhere near its size has the same importance in the world."
Darrow's worldview is understandably Western-oriented. No doubt, he would have benefited from travel and more exposure to Asia. Nevertheless, he experienced and appreciated his Hawaii when he visited in the early 1930s. Then and now, Hawaii is a melting pot of East and West.

A view of Diamond Head Crater from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, "Punchbowl" in August 2017. (Master Sgt. Kendra M Owenby)

Darrow closes his book with this passage, reminiscent of Mark Twain's love for the Hawaiian Islands, again with a maritime perspective:
Oahu (NASA)
"[F]rom the morning when I opened my eyes to see Diamond Head towering from the soft South Seas, standing guard, with its huge light at its pinnacle, over this picturesque place, to the afternoon when I slowly floated away, watching Diamond Head fade from my sight, lost in the mist, I loved Honolulu and the island that it adorns. I realize that many things enter into one’s likes and dislikes of people and places, and I am aware that everything somehow seemed to conspire to impress me with the beauty and charm of this land; somehow, I have never seen such a gem as Oahu, rising from the mighty ocean that rolls over the coral reefs, to wash the shores of that fairyland. Her gentle mountains, her tropical forestry, her warm, hospitable people, and the perfume of flowers in varieties unlike anything I have found anywhere else will be among my most lasting and pleasing memories. How kind and friendly people were! I dare not attempt to speak of them individually, for it is not easy to say that one impressed me more than another; but some portraits are indelibly etched upon my brain, and some pictures will reappear and delight me to the last of my days. I would like very much to go back, to see and enjoy it all once more, as it is. And I should like to find it still more enchanting in that Nature specially fitted this magic spot to help work out the old problem of race with its loves, its hatreds, its hopes and fears. It seems fit that the Hawaiian Islands, basking in the great sea between the oldest and newest civilizations of the world, might one day lead the union of the diverse races of man. I would like to believe that this favored land might prove to be the place where the only claim to aristocracy would be the devotion to justice and truth and a real fellowship on earth. Perhaps I am only dreaming about Honolulu. But whether asleep or awake, I trust I may see it all again ... away from the stress and strain of court and contention to rest and talk, and even listen, about the endless problems that have ever been too deep and complicated for the minds of men. From there, I would like to gaze again upon those wonderful waters that have come almost a third of the distance around the earth to greet and charm me. I would like once more to watch the rows upon rows of waves as they dash into foam and iridescent colors over the coral reefs that protect the shore... I hope I shall see Honolulu again, its palms, its Pali and Diamond Head, its flowers and friends – and if I weary of too much beauty and joy, I may steal, once more, to the shelter of that veranda beside the sea for a still longer siesta in the shade of the cocoanut (sic) trees, close my eyes to all else, rest my mind from thinking, let the lull of the salt breeze soothe my senses, and mayhap sweetly dream that I am softly sailing out over the languorous Pacific, midst showers of 'liquid sunshine' – surrounded by daylight and moonlight rainbows – never to come back again."
Writing at 75, Darrow also expressed a longing to revisit Europe and see the Mediterranean once more, traveling across the Atlantic by ship, and seeing that voyage again as a metaphor to life's journey. How we plan and conduct our lives requires flexibility and resilience: "The mariner who steers his ship across the sea does not fasten the rudder so that he will straight ahead; the best he can do is to change his course according in time and tide and wave and wind, keeping in view only the general direction and the journey's end."

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Only Thing We Have to Fear

Reviews by Bill Doughty
Middle Age artist Hieronymous Bosch evoked fear and evil in his art hundreds of years ago.

Fear is corrosive. It eats away at a democracy. It feeds anger and hate. Sometimes it's necessary, but often fear is overhyped and misplaced, according to evidence provided by such critical thinkers as Steven Pinker, George Will, Bill Nye, Tom Hanks and Barry Glassner.

Fear is appealing and easy to access; the amygdala is immediate. The news media are rewarded by hyping fear: "If it bleeds, it leads." Autocrats foment fear to gain support. Fear works. 

Author Glassner reminds us in "The Culture of Fear":
"Samuel Coleridge was right when he claimed, 'In politics, what begins in fear usually ends up in folly.' Political activists are more inclined, though, to heed an observation from Richard Nixon: 'People react to fear, not love. They don't teach that in Sunday school, but it's true.' That principle, which guided the late president's political strategy throughout his career, is the sine qua non of contemporary political campaigning. Marketers of products and services ranging from car alarms to TV news programs have taken it to heart as well."
Glassner's national bestseller, featured in "Bowling for Columbine," is "The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things: Crime, Drugs, Minorities, Teen Moms, Killer Kids, Mutant Microbes, Plane Crashes, Road Rage, and So Much More" (Basic Books/Perseus, 1999). [Note: I pulled this book of the shelf to see how it could add context to the review of "Enduring Ideals," which follows this review; Glassner recently updated his work, and I'm looking forward to seeing his perspective twenty years later.]


Don't Believe the Hype

If people are afraid of the "wrong things," constantly sensationalized in the media and by some self-serving politicians, what are the "right things?" 

In "The Culture of Fear," Glassner tries to answer two questions: "Why are Americans so fearful lately, and why are our fears so often misplaced?" He concludes that instead of worrying about statistically minuscule threats, we should take "decisive action to quash – problems such as hunger, dilapidated schools, gun proliferation, and deficient health care for much of the U.S. population."
"Will it take an event comparable to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to convince us that we must joint together as a nation and tackle these problems? At the start of the new century it ought to be considerably easier for us to muster our collective will and take decisive action than it was for our own parents and grandparents six decades earlier. This time we do not have to put our own lives or those of our children at risk on battlefields halfway around the globe."
It's interesting to read Glassner's perspective, published two years before 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Iraq.

He looks back to 1938 and the famous Orson Welles broadcast of an adaptation of H.G. Wells's "War of the Worlds." The broadcast created panic in New Jersey because of it's hyper-realistic presentation of actual "fake news." Glassner contrasts the hyper-fear of a Mars attack with the actual dangers of the rise of fascism in Europe at the time.


Commitment to Freedom

Meanwhile, nearly 80 years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was alarmed – but not fearful – about the rise of Fascism, especially the threat of Nazism to Western democracies, as well as the militarization of Imperial Japan.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

On January 6, 1941, eleven months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR gave his Four Freedoms speech. An examination of the speech's concepts is presented in a stunning coffee-table book, "Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms" (Abbeville Press Publishers, 2018).

The book offers beautiful art by Norman Rockwell and other contemporaries, especially from World War II, as well as photos, sketches, source material and reimagined art inspired by the concepts of liberty that could be guaranteed by democracy.

Along with the finely reproduced art are insightful essays to give context and history.

William J. Vanden Heuvel, former deputy U.S. representative to the United Nations, writes:
"(In) the address to the United States Congress that history knows as the Four Freedoms speech ... the president asked not only his countrymen and women but also the people of the world to understand that the terrible scourge of war could be justified to our children's children only if we in faith and honor determined to create a different world to assure the peace of humankind. That world, Roosevelt proposed, should be based on the Four Freedoms – freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. In the world of the time of the president's speech, however – beset by war, oppressed by Nazi domination, brutalized by racist thugs – every tenet of democracy was threatened and ridiculed."President Roosevelt's power as a speaker lay in his ability to present profound ideas in simple language."
Clockwise from top left: Freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Rockwell's power as an artist transformed Roosevelt's words into pictures, even if the artist's paintings were imperfect in capturing the diversity and potential of America then and especially now. Rockwell hired people to pose and painted from staged photographs, so his realism wasn't quite real, and his staging might be considered hokey and corny in a post-Vietnam War and post-9/11 America.

Nevertheless, according to another essayist in this volume, Mark Shulman, "Rockwell translated FDR's lofty language into imagery that appealed to Americans' better angels and inspired the kinds of sacrifice necessary to fund the (Second World) war, to fight it, and to persevere in the face of horrifying adversity." 

In the wake of the First World War and the Great Depression – and in the growing shadow of an approaching WWII – FDR succeeded in coming to the aid of Great Britain.

Roosevelt and his team negotiated the U.S. Navy destroyers-for-bases initiative and lend-lease act while prying Americans, influenced by Charles Lindbergh, away from isolationism in the America First movement. 

Essayist Stephane Grimaldi writes, "Norman Rockwell embodied the American people who had to resign themselves to the need to defend the universal ideals of justice, peace, and prosperity. But President Roosevelt had to convince citizens that a foreign war was necessary. After all, aren't oceans the last bastion against tyranny?" Not really.

Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and other parts of Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941 forced the nation to confront the realities and dangers of foreign threats in the Pacific and Europe. Rockwell's paintings, produced in 1942, were in part a mission statement outlined by Roosevelt for the United States and its Allies.

Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter, part woman, part man.
Essayist Jan Eliasson writes, "...while oceans may separate people, there is not that much that sets hopes and dreams apart."

This book blends history and shows the power of art, including in shaping public opinion. Some surprises included in this book:
  • Rockwell's portrait of tough and gritty Rosie the Riveter, literally transgender because Rockwell used a woman's face and a man's body as real-life models; 
  • Rockwell turning down a request to paint recruiting art during Vietnam;
  • an interview with Ruby Bridges (the black girl in the iconic and powerful 1963 Rockwell painting "The Problem We All Live With") revealing that her father fought and was wounded in the Korean War; 
  • the effects of Rockwell's art on Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the United Nations; 
  • how FDR, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, was inspired by President Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address in developing the four freedoms concept; and
  • Eleanor Roosevelt's role in translating FDR's mission statement into a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Commitment Against Fear

Essayist Allida Black insists we recognize the role FDR's widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, played after WWII in perpetuating the concepts and ideals of the four freedoms. Black shows Ms. Roosevelt's "concrete" achievement in putting the four freedoms into action:
"If FDR gave us the vision that Rockwell immortalized on canvas, ER insisted that American's recognize what it meant. 'It is not only in war ... that we fight for freedom,' she wrote, shortly after Rockwell's paintings appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. 'When the war is over, the four freedoms will not have been won, we shall simply have dominated their more aggressive enemies. At all times, day by day, we have to continue fighting for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from fear, and freedom from want – for these are things that must be gained in peace as well as in war.'"
"Ultimately," Black writes, "Eleanor Roosevelt's commitment changed the world." The same can be said, to a degree, about Norman Rockwell who confronted fear in various forms before and after the war.

But fear, according to essayist Daisy Rockwell, the artist's granddaughter, "is now threatening all four of the freedoms Norman Rockwell enshrined."

Daisy Rockwell contends, "Since 2001, Americans have in fact been encouraged to live their lives in fear." She says, "A terrorist, by definition, is someone whose goal is to incite fear. Fear leads to chaos."

It can be argued that the attacks of 9/11 and Russian attacks on our political system and culture are forms of terrorism designed to cause fear and division leading to an erosion of freedom and unity.

As usual, the antidote to the corrosion of fear is found in education and critical thinking. So is art. "If you see something, say something" becomes, according to Daisy Rockwell, "see something, paint something.

Bill Nye says, "see something, think something."

Hieronymous Bosch's weird and fearful Vision of Hell.
Norman Rockwell's concept of the Golden Rule, a core concept for the Four Freedoms – universally applied.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Bill Nye Wants Your Help




Review by Bill Doughty

Nye reflects on the "overview effect" in his mind-opening "Everything All at Once," (Rodale, 2017). He offers a cool perspective on how we can help heal the world. That perspective comes from space, from inside the human psyche and the down-to-earth reality of the greatest threat facing our planet.

Nye is another critical thinker who calls for a Green New Deal for current and future generations: infrastructure and support for renewable energy, clean water and internet connectivity. Last month he formally endorsed the idea at SXSW.

"Everything All at Once" is a good Earth Day read with some strong Navy ties and with a fascinating insight on how his father survived as a prisoner of war in WWII.

Bill Nye's mom, Lt. Jacquie Jenkins, served in WWII.
In remarks at the Reason Rally in Washington D.C. in the late spring of 2016 he reminds us what the Second World War generation achieved:
"To those who think we can't get renewable sources in place quickly enough, I give you this response ... Both my parents were in World War II; their ashes are interred across the river from here (the Lincoln Memorial) in the Arlington National Cemetery. My father survived nearly 4 years as a prisoner of war captured from Wake Island. My mother was recruited by the U.S. Navy to work deciphering the Nazi Enigma code. They were part of what came to be called the Greatest Generation, but they didn't set out to be great. They just played the hand they were dealt. In barely 5 years, their generation resolved a global conflict and started building a new, democratic, technologically advancing world. With and emphatic sense of purpose, they embraced progress."The current generation must employ critical thinking and our powers of reason just as they did. This time, the global challenge is climate change. We also must play the hand we have been dealt and get on with it. Together we can change the world."
Self-described nerd, Bill Nye, also offers pun-ishing humor throughout, balancing irony and serious reality. He writes with a light yet respectful touch, open to other voices, always seeking to understand.

Nye shows the power of strong parents instilling core values, including honesty, courage and commitment. He notes, "there are such things as inviolable truth and facts."

His father, Ned Nye, and his dad's fellow prisoners witnessed a sailor "beheaded with a sword in a weird reenactment of a 17th-century Edo ceremony, just to show the prisoners that their captors meant business." 

How did the prisoners deal with physical and mental abuse? He writes, "Every day these guys were subjected to beatings. Every day they were hungry. Every day they were exhausted. In summer, they worked in oppressive heat. In winter, they were chilled to the bone." The prisoners created a fake language they called "Tut" to communicate privately. 

The prisoners found pleasure in recognizing and highlighting the absurdity of their situation, including the actions of a swaggering martinet in their own ranks who tried to impress them by "peppering his sentences with the term 'disirregardless.'" Being able to self-reflect, shift perspective and find humor in any situation helped is dad survive as a POW. The nonword "disirregardless" became an "essential distraction" and part of Nye family lore that lives on to this day for Bill and his sister. When a pompous leader takes himself too seriously and loses humanity he can become the butt of a joke.

But Nye says the threats to our climate are no joking matter.

As far back as the nation's first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, Nye was motivated. "I was convinced that we were headed for trouble as a species," he writes, "unless we could start using our brains more rationally, and it shaped how I approach my own environmental impact and goals for the future."

Bill Nye (The Science Guy) talks about the LC-130 with its navigator, Air Force Maj. Amanda Coonradt, during a visit to Antarctica. (Photo by Katie Lange)
Nye reflects on the global commons, the fact that Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, Carl Sagan's warning of a "nuclear winter," the human impact to the planet as shown in Kentucky and Greenland, and the fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere moved beyond 400 parts per million in 2016.

He calls for shared action to address the dangers of global climate change. "To save the planet for us humans, we have to pay attention to our shared interests rather than stumble into chaos as unconnected, self-interested individuals. We have to harness both knowledge and responsibility," he advises.

"Everybody knows something you don't," he says. It's a profound and humbling concept. And it's a call for cooperation.

Finding answers in a collective consciousness, he says, helps us design practical solutions to face fear and confront challenges, including climate change.
"Instead of running around in circles, waving our arms – or, worse, going about our business in willful ignorance – we could get to work know. We could erect wind turbines off the east coast of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. We could install photovoltaic panels practically everywhere the Sun shines. We could heat and cool a lot of our dwellings, offices, and factories using geothermal sources. We'd create jobs, boost the economy, clean the air, and address climate change. If you really want to make America great (and the rest of the world, too), these are the main things you, I mean we, need to do. It sounds like an enormous undertaking, and it is, but we've seen again and again, the enormous ones begin with small perceptual shifts."
The blueprint for coming together to create and sustain a better world for children and grandchildren occurred in Europe and Asia/Pacific in the last century:
"World War II showed the terrifying possibility of global self-destruction; its aftermath inspired new institutions to promote constructive collaboration on a world-wide scale. Some of it appeared in the form of international treaties. Some of it appeared as networks of related science, technology, and environmental-research programs. The United Nations, despite its limits and shortcomings, provides a forum for international discussion and decision-making. Doctors Without Borders engages physicians from all over to provide medical services to those in need. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and Conservation International work to stop poaching and conserve threatened species. The Conference of Parties in Paris in 2015, known as COP21, produced the most meaningful international agreement yet on reducing greenhouse gases."
Even if progress is not linear or the horizon seems too far, "The longest journey begins with but a single step," Nye says.

How big a nerd is he? Bill Nye gets tied in knots in his excitement about knot-tying, and gives an interesting twist on the joys of physics. He speaks of the joys of the square knot, the square bow, two half-hitches, bowline, clove hitch and sheepshank, among others.

Bill Nye talks with 14-year-ole Joey Hudy about his Extreme Marshmallow Cannon at
a science fair held at the White House on Feb. 7, 2012 (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
This book is a treasure-trove for critical thinkers and nerds, with discussion on the scientific method, Occam's razor, entropy, anti-vaxxers, high school physics, electric vehicles, James Cameron, GMOs, the National Archives, and confirmation bias – "the tendency to confirm our our assumptions as valid and true."

Nye relates a wonderful story about a flight attendant and an unruly passenger; it's another call for shifting perspective and showing respect for one another. He reflects on what it was like working at Boeing, tells how he helped his parents quit smoking (using exploding cigarettes), writes about his grandfather fighting (on horseback) in the World War I, and challenges us to rediscover missions in space, including a possible journey to Europa and continued journeys to Mars.

Curiosity journeyed to Mars. Another more advanced rover is planned in the months ahead. (NASA)
With respect and awe, Nye writes about how the scientists at NASA created previous Mars rovers, especially Curiosity. NASA teams are working to send an "even more advanced rover, currently called Mars 2020. Both rovers are about the size and mass of a Chevrolet Spark automobile. So how are they going to do it?"
"If you have the naive confidence of a budding engineer, you might think, 'It can't be all that hard. We just have to slow down enough to roll or skid to a stop. We land airplanes all over the place every day. We landed all sorts of things on the Moon.. Surely we've got the basics of that figured out by now.' In other words, you'd start with the problem you know ... But it turns out that this business of setting down intact on the surface of Mars is some kinda crazy complicated. On Earth you have a lot of air to work with, and even the fastest fighter jets are dealing with much, much lower speeds. When the probe carrying the Curiosity rover approached Mars, it was moving at more than six times as fast as an F-35, with the throttle at the firewall – going all out. That's a lot of energy to dissipate."
Tackling problems starts with good design, ideals and values. That includes running a government. Nye shows reverence to the canon of our nation in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Notably, these founding documents are in the Canon of the CNO's Professional Reading Program.

Our founders, he says, put us on a path toward a more perfect union. "Just as science doesn't claim to attain absolute truth, the Constitution does not claim to achieve the utopian ideal of government," Nye writes. "Fortunately, the founders embraced a never-ending search for better ideas and better solutions."

This review of "Everything All at Once" just scratches the surface of what is a fun, thoughtful and compelling read, especially for Earth Day. Highly recommended.



Bill Nye, left, executive director of The Planetary Society, and science educator, gets excited as the Chief of Naval Research Rear. Adm. Nevin Carr presents him with a powered by Naval Research pocket protector during the Navy Office of General Counsel Spring 2011 Conference. (Photo by John Williams)