Carl Sagan’s “foreboding” of a dumb America; too late to stop it?

August 9, 2017

NASA photo of Dr. Carl Sagan with a model of the Mars Viking Lander, in Death Valley, California. Or was it taken on Mars? How could we tell, if we lacked sharpened and practiced critical thinking practices?

NASA photo of Dr. Carl Sagan with a model of the Mars Viking Lander, in Death Valley, California. Or was it taken on Mars? How could we tell, if we lacked sharpened and practiced critical thinking practices?

Are we already too late?

In The Demon-Haunted World in 1995, astronomer and thinker Carl Sagan worried about the directions America was heading, intellectually, and what it could mean for the future. He wrote:

Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

Sagan had hope. His book’s full title is The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a candle in the dark.

Should we hold that hope today? Elections in 2016 demonstrated that false news does sway the electorate, superstition can overcome knowledge. Worse, too many Americans cannot tell the difference. In a time when millions of Americans profess to work to find “the way,” we confront those same people wandering aimlessly through American culture, apparently with little clue as to how far off the path of reality they are, or any real understanding of what “the way” would even look like. Their compasses operate on faith, not magnetism; their compass needles point whichever way they want them to point, with no fixed power to guide them.

Sagan didn’t write that long ago. A child born in 1995 just voted in her first national election — we hope. Perhaps she didn’t bother to register, and did not vote. What causes our national lack of motivation to even vote, to push our government in the directions we think it should go?

How do we remove the barriers to that motivation? is a more important question.

Was Sagan right? Are we doomed?

We have cause to worry, I think.

  • 58% of Americans eligible to vote, voted in 2016. While that’s near a recent high-water mark, it’s a paltry percentage compared to other democracies in the world. Apathy was highest in key states Donald Trump carried; Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but trailed President Barack Obama’s 2012 totals by 2 million votes, in those key states. 2016’s election was decided by people who did not vote.
  • While tensions run high in the Korean Peninsula, only about 36% of Americans can find Korea on a map. Most of those who can find Korea favor diplomacy to resolve tensions, not war. Who was the wag who said God gives us wars so Americans learn geography? (It was Rose-Belford’s Canadian Monthly in 1879, rephrased and repeated dozens of times by others.)
  • Flat Earthers? Oy.
  • Anti-vaccine movement. Chem-trails fearfuls. Climate change dissenters. Creationists. Moon-landing deniers. Racists. So-called non-racists who oppose immigration completely. Republican senators who imagined a tax cut for the wealthy would help working and poor Americans have better health. DDT advocates. “Libertarians” and so-called conservatives who fear “socialism” of the economics of John Maynard Keynes, one of the foremost capitalism defenders in economics.
  • Cuts to education. As a barometer, consider Texas, where 25 years ago the state provided 67% of funding for public schools. After decades of cuts, the state provides only 38% of public school funding in the 2017-2019 budget. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick touts the total as an increase.
  • Cuts to science. Trump administration proposals slash all science research dramatically, as if we already have cures for cancer and the common cold, and Alzheimer’s disease.

To be sure, we can find pockets of hope. Girl Scouts demonstrate great success with new programs to attract girls to careers in science, with special camps for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Boy Scouts have their own initiative. But the Texas legislature cut back on math, science and geography requirements for graduation. For every hopeful sign, there’s another sinister sign.

How can we tell civilization, and humanity, gain ground?

 

Pollsters for the New York Times asked 1,746 Americans to locate North Korea on a map. 36% could do it; many of the guesses are troubling, if not downright shocking. In the map above, from the New York Times, correct answers are marked in red, incorrect in blue.

Pollsters for the New York Times asked 1,746 Americans to locate North Korea on a map. 36% could do it; many of the guesses are troubling, if not downright shocking. In the map above, from the New York Times, correct answers are marked in red, incorrect in blue.

“Science as a candle in the dark” is a good image.

How can we provide light in the darkness, if we don’t have a candle, and we can’t find matches?

More:

The Tweet that piqued my interest tonight:

 

 

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53 years ago: August 7, 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

August 7, 2017

August 7 is the 53rd anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the resolution which authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to move troops into South Vietnam to defend U.S. interests.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

The resolution passed Congress after what appeared to be attacks on two U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.  At the time, and now, evidence is weak that such attacks took place.

Most historians today think the evidence for the attacks is inconclusive; many argue it is unlikely North Vietnamese gunboats would have opened fire on a vastly superior U.S. Navy warship. Debate is complicated because the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution effectively substituted for a declaration of war, in a war the U.S. arguably lost, which divided Americans as rarely before, and which cost more than 58,000 soldiers and civilians their lives.

How will we view the Tonkin Gulf resolution in 50 years, with the history of two much longer wars in the Middle East factored in? What do you think?

Quick summary from the National Archives:

On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that two days earlier, U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin had been attacked by the North Vietnamese. Johnson dispatched U.S. planes against the attackers and asked Congress to pass a resolution to support his actions. The joint resolution “to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia” passed on August 7, with only two Senators (Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening) dissenting, and became the subject of great political controversy in the course of the undeclared war that followed.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution stated that “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repeal any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression.” As a result, President Johnson, and later President Nixon, relied on the resolution as the legal basis for their military policies in Vietnam.

As public resistance to the war heightened, the resolution was repealed by Congress in January 1971.

Santayana’s ghost looks on in wonder.

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache's Place

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache’s Place

Considering its powerful effect on American history, the document is very, very brief.  Here’s the text [links added]:

Eighty-eighth Congress of the United States of America
AT THE SECOND SESSION

Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the seventh day of January, one thousand nine hundred and sixty-four

Joint Resolution
To promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia.

Whereas naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam, in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United Stated naval vessels lawfully present in international waters, and have thereby created a serious threat to international peace; and

Whereas these attackers are part of deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom; and

Whereas the United States is assisting the peoples of southeast Asia to protest their freedom and has no territorial, military or political ambitions in that area, but desires only that these people should be left in peace to work out their destinies in their own way: Now, therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions. (image from Wikipedia map 8/2017)

Section 2. The United States regards as vital to its national interest and to world peace the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia. Consonant with the Constitution of the United States and the Charter of the United Nations and in accordance with its obligations under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, the United States is, therefore, prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.

Section 3. This resolution shall expire when the President shall determine that the peace and security of the area is reasonably assured by international conditions created by action of the United Nations or otherwise, except that it may be terminated earlier by concurrent resolution of the Congress.

[endorsements]

And on that authority, “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression,” the U.S. spent the next 11 years in all-out warfare in Vietnam, with up to 500,000 military troops in the conflict, and losing the lives of more than 58,000 men and women. Can we ever know what really happened, or what motivated President Johnson to ask for the resolution, or what motivated Congress to pass it?

U.S. engagement in Vietnam continued well after the repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1971.  In 1973 a peace treaty was signed between the U.S., North Vietnam and South Vietnam.  The provisions of the treaty did not hold; a final North Vietnamese military push in April 1975 crumpled the South Vietnamese government and army.  The few remaining U.S. forces made an emergency withdrawal as Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon.  Vietnam was reunited by force, under a communist government.

Attacks on the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy — if they occurred — took place early on August 4.  President Johnson might be excused for having done nothing on the issue at the time.  That was the same day that the bodies of three civil rights workers were discovered by the FBI, murdered by a pro-segregation mob with clear ties to the local Ku Klux Klan.  Either event, the Gulf of Tonkin, or the Mississippi civil rights murders, could be a major event in any presidency, testing to the utmost the leadership and peace-making abilities of a president.  Johnson dealt with both events at the same time.

Three American civil rights’ workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, were lynched on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County‘s Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the “Freedom Summer” campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.

On a commission from the Dallas Symphony, composer Stephen Stucky composed a piece during the Lyndon Johnson Centennial in 2008; Kathryn and I heard the world premiere of August 4, 1964, on September 18, 2008.  Stucky’s piece (with libretto by Gene Scheer) is the only place I know where anyone has seriously considered the nexus between these two, opposite-side-of-the-world tragedies, and how they set the stage for the rest of the 1960s decade.   The piece has been recorded by the Dallas Symphony.  I highly recommend it.

Here’s a video from the Dallas Symphony on the piece:

What have we learned from this bit of history? What should we have learned from it?

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Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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August 6, 1945: Remembering Hiroshima in 2017

August 6, 2017

Mostly an encore post.
Toronto Star version of a Japan News story on Hiroshima's prayers for peace in 2016:

Toronto Star version of a Japan News story on Hiroshima’s prayers for peace in 2016: “Children pray as lanterns float on the river during Saturday’s 71st anniversary activities, commemorating the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. (Yuya Shino)”

Say a prayer for Hiroshima, today.

Then repeat it, for the rest of the planet.

72 years ago, U.S. military action brought a quick close to hostilities without an invasion of Japan, with the detonation of two atomic bombs, one over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and one over Nagasaki on August 9.

Events marking the anniversary now carry the spectre of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which experienced core meltdowns in reactors as a result of a tsunami in 2011.  Anti-nuclear activists in Australia note similarities between the bombs ending the war, and the disaster at Fukushima.

In Hiroshima on August 6, then in Nagasaki on August 9, Japanese citizens soberly and somberly observe the anniversaries, and pray for an end to nuclear weapons. As the only cities ever bombed with atomic weapons, they have special experience, a special pleading to which we should all listen.

Daily Yomiuri Online carried a description of memorial events in Hiroshima in 2008, from Yomiuri Shimbun:

NAGASAKI–The Nagasaki municipal government held a ceremony Saturday marking the 63rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city, at which participants called for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

A total of 5,650 A-bomb survivors, representatives of victims’ families from around the nation and Nagasaki citizens participated in the ceremony. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda also attended the ceremony, which was held in Nagasaki Peace Park near ground zero.

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue read out the Nagasaki Peace Declaration, which urges the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons.

“Human beings have no future unless nuclear weapons are eliminated. We shall clearly say no to nuclear weapons,” Taue said.

The ceremony started at 10:40 a.m. Three books listing the names of 3,058 people confirmed to have died as a result of the bombing in the past year were placed inside a memorial box in front of the Peace Statue.

The total number of books listing the names of the deceased is 147, and the number of names is 145,984.

Representatives of surviving victims, bereaved families, the prime minister and Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba placed flowers at the site.

At 11:02 a.m., the time the atomic bomb struck, ceremony participants offered a silent prayer. At the same time, local high school students rang the Bells of Nagasaki.

In the peace declaration, Taue read from an academic paper written by four people, including a former U.S. secretary of state, which promoted a new policy for developing nuclear weapons. The proposal encouraged countries to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The mayor said world nuclear powers “should sincerely fulfill their responsibility of nuclear disarmament,” and urged the government to pass the three nonnuclear principles into law.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Takashi Nagai, a medical doctor who helped rescue of victims after the bombing.

The mayor referenced one of the doctor’s remarks, saying: “There are no winners or losers in a war. There is only destruction.”

Shigeko Mori, 72, representing survivors of the bombing, read out an oath for peace that said Japan should promote its Constitution and the three nonnuclear principles to the rest of the world to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Fukuda gave a speech, saying, “Japan should play a responsible role in the international community as a nation cooperating for peace.”

(Aug. 10, 2008)

As a Utah Downwinder, these dates push me to depression. We just saw atomic fallout (thought, from more more than 100 bombs), and many of us escaped with no significant physical injury. I cannot imagine the pain of survivors in Japan.

I can imagine what could happen, if we do not join them in calling for reining in of nuclear weaponry.

Other information:

Other related posts at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

Remembering that U.S. involvement in World War II as a combatant came after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, one may respect and appreciate the Japanese national desire to commemorate the brutal end of the war with conversations about peace and how to achieve it.  The film below is a short, touching introduction to the Hiroshima Peace Museum website:

Related articles, 2012:

A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japan

A-Bomb Dome at Ground Zero, Hiroshima, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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August 4, 1944: Germans capture Anne Frank and her family

August 4, 2017

Image and Caption from CNN: A handwritten page of Anne Frank's diary includes photos of herself on the beach during a holiday with her sister, Margot. The two sisters would live hidden in the annex with their mother, Edith; father, Otto; and another family.

Image and Caption from CNN: A handwritten page of Anne Frank’s diary includes photos of herself on the beach during a holiday with her sister, Margot. The two sisters would live hidden in the annex with their mother, Edith; father, Otto; and another family.

When I look at the time line, I feel frustrated and angry.

On August 4, 1944, the German Army in the Netherlands raided the warehouse where Anne Frank’s family hid from the Nazis since 1942.  As you know, Anne died in a concentration camp shortly after — only her father survived from her immediate family.

History students will recognize that this was nearly two months after D-Day, the Invasion of Normandy that set off the events leading to liberation of Europe from Nazi rule and the collapse of Hitler’s grand visions of conquest.  How could Nazi minions not know their time was limited, and oppression ultimately futile?

Germany surrendered in May 1945.  In nine months, the Frank family would not need to hide.  Anne died in March 1945, less than eight weeks before the surrender of Germany.

1980s postage stamp from the Netherlands, honoring Ann Frank's memory.

1980s postage stamp from the Netherlands, honoring Ann Frank’s memory.

More:

Photos from the liberation of Amsterdam, which occurred on May 6, 1945:

This is an encore post.

This is an encore post.

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History and art: Lyndon Johnson, Civil Rights, Vietnam, Stephen Stucky, the Dallas Symphony, and “August 4, 1964”

August 4, 2017

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jaap van Zweden, presents the premiere of Steven Stucky's oratorio

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jaap van Zweden, presents the premiere of Steven Stucky’s oratorio “August 4, 1964,” with soloists, from left, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, soprano Laquita Mitchell, tenor Vale Rideout, and baritone Robert Orth. Photo from the National Endowment for the Arts, Jason Kindig

In an era when our president and Congress appear unable to deal with one issue on a good day, it may be instructive to look back to a day upon which one U.S. President handled a lot, all at once.

On August 4, 1964, President Johnson awoke to the news that two U.S. Navy ships cruising in the Tonkin Gulf had been fired upon by North Vietnamese Navy gunboats; then the FBI called and announced that the bodies of three civil rights workers had been found, young men registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.  Both of these events rumble through history like a Rocky Mountain avalanche to today; either was a make-or-break event for any presidency.  

Lyndon Johnson dealt with them both, the same day. And though Vietnam did not turn out for the best, it’s useful to note that Johnson’s call for Congress to grant authority to act on the Tonkin incident got results just three days later.

Sadly we note that Stephen Stucky, the composer of this great piece, died of brain cancer on February 14, 2016.

“August 4, 1964,” is an oratorio covering a remarkable and fantastic coincidence in the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.  On that day, the bodies of three civil rights workers who had been missing for nearly seven weeks, were found in shallow graves near Philadelphia, Mississippi — they were the victims of violence aimed at stopping blacks from voting.  The incident was a chief spur to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

And also on that day, the U.S.S. Maddox reported it had been attacked by gunboats of the North Vietnamese Navy, in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the authority to expand and escalate the war in Vietnam, which he did.

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony's performance of Steven Stucky's

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony’s Grammy-nominated performance of Steven Stucky’s “August 4, 1964,” Jaap van Zweden conducting.

The Dallas Symphony commissioned the work, from composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer, in commemoration of President Johnson’s 100th birth anniversary — he would have been 100 on August 27, 2008.  The works were premiered in Dallas in 2008.

The music is outstanding, especially for a modern piece.  The Dallas Symphony played at its flashiest and most sober best, under the baton of new conductor Jaap van Zweden.  It was a spectacular performance.  According to the New York Times:

Mr. van Zweden, hailed in his debut as music director a week before, scored another triumph here. And the orchestra’s assured and gritty performance was rivaled by that of the large Dallas Symphony Chorus, both corporately and individually, in shifting solo snippets charting the course of the fateful day.

The strong cast, mildly amplified, was robustly led by the Johnson of Robert Orth, last heard as another president in John Adams’s “Nixon in China” in Denver in June. Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Conner, wearing period hats, were touching as Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman. Understandably, the taxing role of a high-strung McNamara took a small toll on the tenor of Vale Rideout in his late aria.

The entire thing deserves more commentary, perhaps soon.  There is stellar history in the choral piece.  And there is this:  Consider that Lyndon Johnson, the best legislator and second most-effective executive we ever had as president, got hit with these two crises the same day.  On the one hand the nation got the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, executive orders and government support to end segregation and the evils it created.  On the other hand, we got stuck with the disaster of the Vietnam War.

How would the nation fared had a lesser person been in the White House on that day?

(August 4 is a busy, busy day in history; much to think about.)

More: 

This is an encore post.

Much of this is an encore post.

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2nd Amendment? Don’t forget Article III, section 3; treason still a crime

August 3, 2017

Constitution Article III section 3; image origin unknown

Constitution Article III section 3; image origin unknown

Second Amendment fanatics (distinguished from Second Amendment scholars) often claim a right to overthrow the U.S. government by force, and use that as justification for complete, unbridled rights to own guns and threaten neighbors, city governments, state governments and federal government with violence.

Regardless the history of the Second Amendment and what it was intended to say, no scholar I can find argues that it vitiates or even touches Article III’s provisions against insurrection and violence against the government and government officers.

It may be good simply to review what that clause says.

Article III, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

No commentary I can find suggests the Second Amendment confers a right to rebellion, a right to revolution, or any exemption from Article III treason.

What do you think? Comments open.

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Colorado Day 2017! Coloradans fly the flag for statehood

August 1, 2017

U.S. flag on American Flag Mountain, near Taylor Park, Colorado. Photo from Hobo Jeepers.

U.S. flag on American Flag Mountain, near Taylor Park, Colorado. Photo from Hobo Jeepers.

August 1 is Colorado’s statehood day. Unlike many other states, Colorado actually celebrates the day.

More accurately, people of Colorado celebrate the day. It seems most Colorado residents are happy to be there, and take any excuse to celebrate their good fortune.

#ColoradoDay even trended on Twitter for time today.

Under the provisions of the U.S. Flag Code, residents of a state are invited to fly the U.S. flag on their state’s day of statehood. Colorado came into the Union on August 1, at the declaration of President U. S. Grant, in 1876. People of Colorado tend to favor Colorado’s flag for most displays, on Colorado Day.

How are others celebrating? Free admission to Colorado State Parks, for one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, yes, every other state has a statehood day, but don’t look for this effusive outpouring of state pride for many others, including Texas.

 

 

 

 

 

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