Social media distancing

This week one of my cousins sent me a message on Facebook, commenting that I have been quiet lately and asking if everything is all right. I waited a couple of days, then replied to her message, saying that I have been spending little time on Facebook recently. I proceeded to suggest that avoiding Facebook was good for my blood pressure.

I was tempted to go on to say that avoiding Facebook is also good for handling anxiety and depression and maintaining sobriety, but I didn’t want to concern her.

Actually, I have been lurking on Facebook, just not posting or commenting or even liking posts. When I feel my patience dwindling, I quickly turn off Facebook and visit somewhere else. Another of my cousins posted a link to the news story about the five hundred children from Mexico who were taken to the US border and left unclaimed; their parents still cannot be located. This cousin proceeded to say that anyone who still supports President Trump should unfriend him immediately. I was tempted, but I neither unfriended my cousin nor commented on his post. It is better to ignore such provocations and move on than to get involved in ugly political debate.

I am looking forward to election night—partly because of my ongoing interest in national politics, and partly in hope of a sense of closure for the year’s ugliness. I realize that I will probably go to bed that night not yet knowing who won the election—in fact, it might take days to count all the votes and declare a winner in the “swing states.” The media outlets that constantly remind us how far ahead Candidate Biden is in the polls and how desperate President Trump’s campaign must be feeling will have egg on their faces again next month, as the polls once again fail to judge correctly which Americans bother to vote and which have an opinion which they will not express with their ballots. Voter turnout will be key; President Trump motivated many citizens who do not usually vote to take part in the process four years ago. With the help of the national media, he may be drawing those same voters—who did not vote in 2018—to cast their ballots once again in his favor.

Last night during the debate, President Trump predicted not only that he will win the election but that Republicans will again reclaim the House of Representatives. Obviously, for President Trump that is a best case scenario. The national media not only expects the Democrats to keep the House but thinks that they might gain a narrow majority in the Senate as well. Once again, voter turnout will be the key. The campaigns and their advertisements are no longer designed to win over undecided voters; their purpose at this point is to motivate voters and persuade them to express their feelings with their votes.

Last night’s debate presented the President Trump that the Republicans want voters to see and also the Candidate Biden that Republicans want voters to see. Citizens who watched the debate saw a President who is in control, understands the issues, and has answers for the empty rhetoric of his opponent. They also saw a candidate who hesitates and stammers under pressure, who renounces several of the passions of his base supporters, and whose motivational campaign statements are becoming increasingly tired and worn.

We are still at the point where anything can happen. When the election results are announced, many people will be unhappy. My family is preparing as if for a winter storm, making sure we have enough supplies to shelter in place for several days in November. Somehow, by God’s grace, we will get through this together, and when the smoke clears, we will still have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. J.

Science fiction got it right

Last night I finished rereading a science fiction novel from the late 1960s, one that I first read when I was a boy, about twelve years old. The novel is oddly prophetic of some aspects of our current political situation.

I have always been a voracious reader. My mother used to say that she taught me how to read when I was four so she had time to do housework and other tasks instead of always reading to me. The public library was not far from our house; I could walk there and back without crossing any streets, which was a blessing, since I often read while walking home from the library. I regularly won the summer reading competitions sponsored by the library for children; some of my friends tried to keep up with me by checking out books and returning them unread, but my proximity to the library kept me ahead of their pace. By the time I was twelve, I had exhausted the children’s section of the library and was exploring the larger collection. My attention was drawn to a display of paperback science fiction novels. I met the great science fiction writers there: Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, and others. I also read books that had no hope of becoming classics. Three books in particular were favorites; in the last five years, I have managed to acquire copies of all three—one because it is back in print, one that I found in a used book sale, and one that my daughter the librarian tracked down for me even though I could not remember the name of the author or the title of the book.

Bug Jack Barron, by Norman Spinrad, is the book I finished last night—the one that is back in print. Frankly, I’m surprised that I was allowed to read that book at that age—my parents must have trusted the library staff; either the library staff trusted my parents to oversee my reading, or they did not know what some of their novels contained. Bug Jack Barron has pages that would make Henry Miller blush. (When I, as an adult, read Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, I wondered at first what the fuss was about, since I had read dirtier work in my younger and more impressionable years.) Because of those selections, I cannot recommend the book to most readers. Still, the plot and characters remained vivid in my mind over all these years, so the book contains some literary value.

Bug Jack Barron is copyright 1969, but it clearly was written a year or two earlier. It is set in a near future—no year is specified. Telephone communication largely includes video as well as audio material. Marijuana has been legalized and is commercially available. A third political party, the Social Justice Coalition, has formed out the Civil Rights Movement. Although the SJC has elected some African Americans to state offices and into Congress, it has not resolved the larger racial inequalities in American society.

The title character, Jack Barron, is a television personality. He has a call-in show: viewers call to “bug” him with their problems, and he uses his prominence and celebrity to help solve those problems. At this time, the Democratic Party has a stranglehold on Congress and the White House. At one point, Barron comments on that fact that, over the course of many years, the Republicans had nominated only two men capable of claiming the presidency: Eisenhower and Reagan. But now a coalition of SJC and Republican leaders wants to nominate Jack Barron, knowing that his television personality is popular enough to defeat any likely Democratic candidate.

The bulk of the story revolves around a multi-billionaire whose medical researchers are unlocking the secrets of human immortality; much of his funding comes from people whose bodies are frozen at death and stored until their fatal conditions can be medically cured in the future. All of Spinrad’s characters have a deep fear, even revulsion, toward death; no mention of religious hope or comfort ever appears in the novel.

The most interesting aspect of the novel, though, is Barron’s realization that he can control his opponents through his television show, editing what they say to show them at their worst while enhancing his heroic stance. On his own, Barron has discovered what we now call “fake news,” and with that tool he plans to seize and hold power. I wonder how Mr. Spinard is reacting to our politics of 2020. J.

Debate analysis

The setting for last night’s presidential debate was wrong. Donald Trump and Joe Biden should not have been standing at lecterns in a sterile auditorium. They should have been seated on stools at a bar. The moderator should have been serving them each a mug of beer every thirty minutes. The conversation, rhetoric, and debate would have sounded much the same, but the setting would have been more natural—two elderly white men discussing politics, sharing their opinions and perceptions, interrupting each other—a classic American scene.

President Trump was able to use the debate to make a few statements that have been ignored and unheard over the last several weeks. He was finally permitted to explain to the American people the distinction between solicited absentee ballots cast by mail and unsolicited ballots mailed out by the thousands. He had the chance to point out that worldwide figures for COVID cases and deaths are probably not reported equally—that many more cases may exist in China, Russia, and India than have been reported. He also indicated that the harm caused by the economic shut-down—as measured in drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, suicide, and depression—offsets the lives that may have been saved through the shut-down.

At the same time, Candidate Biden was able to appeal directly to the American people, repeatedly begging them to participate in the election. This reflects the concern of Biden and his supporters that Trump is more effective in motivating people to vote, while many of those who prefer Biden to Trump might not have the zeal to cast their ballots in this election. For that reason, Biden several times looked straight into the camera and addressed the voters at home, calling upon them to be sure to vote.

Some questions went unanswered. Did Donald Trump enter office following the slowest economic recovery since 1929 and turn the country around so that (before the COVID shutdown) it had its strongest economy ever? Or did the Obama administration begin an economic upturn that continued into the Trump years but was ultimately bungled by the Trump administration?

I found the segment on climate change particularly interesting. President Trump blamed the fires in California on poor forest management and refused to address the matter of climate change causing or worsening fires. Candidate Biden insisted that building new factories with lower carbon emissions would result in fewer storms and floods, ultimately saving money. In these examples, I believe that Trump’s statements were more scientifically valid than Biden’s statements.

If the format of the debates will continue to include two uninterrupted minutes from each candidate, followed by conversation, then the moderator ought to have a cut-off switch for both microphones to enforce that two-minute rule. Donald Trump and Joe Biden will continue to pepper each other with “that’s not true” and other exclamations; neither of them is going to change style at this point in the campaign. Enforcing the two-minute rule with muted microphones, applied equally to both candidates, might benefit the production.

On the other hand, serving beer and putting the candidates on barstools would also help define the nature of these presidential debates. J.

On dying for your country

The movie Patton (1970) begins with a monologue by General Patton which is composed of statements he made at various times in speeches and letters. The movie makers combined these statements into a single speech to introduce the character of the general to the movie audience. One of Patton’s statements included in the monologue is, “I want you to remember that no [soldier] ever won a war by dying for his country. They won by making the other poor dumb [soldier] die for his country.”

President Trump appears to agree with General Patton regarding which soldiers are most successful. In fact, I strongly suspect that the President once quoted that line from the movie in the presence of some person or persons who misunderstood the context of the quote and exaggerated its impact when they repeated the line to a reporter. People who know the President insist that he did not make such a statement under the circumstances that have been reported. Even if, at some time, President Trump did speak those words that came from General Patton, such a statement would not have been meant as an insult to American soldiers who fought for their country and lost their lives on the battlefield.

Ideally, the armed forces of the United States should be so powerful and so respected that they do not have to fight. No other country would dare challenge our nation militarily. As President Theodore Roosevelt said, we should “speak softly and carry a big stick.” For that purpose, the United States trains and equips the members of our Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard so they can do their best, not only in wartime conditions but also in every other task that is required of them. Nevertheless, they risk their lives by doing their duty. We thank them, honor and respect them for their service to the country, and support them as well as we can both while they are in uniform and when they are veterans. We also honor those who lost their lives. We wish they had not died, but we honor and respect them and are grateful for their sacrifice.

President Trump frequently says things that jar the sensibilities of his audience. He did so long before entering politics; this tendency is part of the image he created and marketed, and his supporters expect him to continue speaking this way. When he quotes movies, his witnesses should at least have the presence of mind to know the origin and context of the quote. Failing that basic knowledge, they do not need to be telling reporters what the President said and what he meant when he said it. J.

Do you remember the Pepsi Challenge?

In the late 1980s, competition between the two largest brands of cola was fierce. Pepsi Cola ran a campaign they called “the Pepsi Challenge.” Their workers set up booths in public places and invited passerbys to taste two colas—Pepsi and Coke. The labels would be hidden, so samplers would not know which cola was which. They would take a sip of each cola and report which they preferred. According to Pepsi, a large majority preferred their product to that of their rival, Coca Cola.

I took the Pepsi Challenge once at the DuPage County Fair. After tasting both samples, I truthfully told the worker that they tasted the same, that I had no preference. However, I also stood by and watched them work. Each time someone agreed to take the challenge, the worker would pour about an ounce of cola from bottle A into a cup, then would pour the same amount from bottle B into another cup. The worker would then hand the cup from bottle B to the sampler, and after he or she had tasted that cola, he or she would receive the sample from bottle A.

No wonder more people thought they preferred Pepsi! Invariably, bottle A was Coca Cola and bottle B was Pepsi Cola. The Pepsi sample would always be fresh from the bottle still bubbling, while the Coke sample would have had a little time to go flat. The contest was rigged; yet, most people who took the challenge probably left the booth convinced that Pepsi tasted better than Coke because of that single experience.

People are easily fooled. Studies and surveys and polls offer copious amounts of information, but often they are skewed by procedures as subtle as the Pepsi Challenge. Average people are not often able to observe the way information is gathered the way I was able to observe the Pepsi Challenge. Professional surveys contain many kinds of data that help a person to determine the reliability of the results, but that data is not distributed as widely as the results themselves. Without that data (and knowledge of how to interpret it), a person has little chance to know which surveys and studies are accurate and which are rigged. Healthy skepticism is always recommended. J.

The oxymoron of subatomic particles

Science, like money, is a human invention that is very useful when used properly and very dangerous when misused. Both money and science can be very useful; on the other hand, a lack of either can be very problematic. Neither science nor money has the strength and significance to be the foundation of a person’s life. A human life based only on science, like a human life based only on money, is sadly crippled and unable to handle the crises that can strike a life emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

One of the strengths of science is also one of its weakness: science continually changes. The more effort people put into studying the world, observing the world, experimenting with things in the world, and making predictions based on those experiments and observations, the more likely it becomes that new theories will shape science and direct scientific inquiry on paths that, until that time, were unexpected.

Science was practiced in ancient Egypt, Babylon, India, and China, developing differently in different places. Western science (which drew upon scientific observations and theories from Egypt, Babylon, and India) began roughly twenty-four centuries ago with the philosophers of ancient Greece. Among their efforts was an attempt to determine the basic building blocks of the physical, or observable, world. One early philosopher suggested that everything material is made of water—a reasonable guess, since water can assume so many forms, from ice and snow to liquid water to vapor. Others suggested different basic materials rather than water. Pythagoras and his followers proposed that everything observable consists of numbers. Greek philosophers tended to seek internally consistent explanations of the world, even when those explanations seemed contrary to observation. One group, for example, insisted that motion is logically impossible and is only an illusion—that the true universe is stable and unchanging. Until the invention of calculus many centuries later, scientists and philosophers were not equipped to refute the logic that suggested that motion cannot happen in the world.

A basic teaching of western science since Greek times has been the assumption that all physical items consist of tiny unbreakable pieces. These were named “atoms” from the Greek word for “unbreakable.” For many centuries, most western scientists considered four elements to be represented among the atoms: water, earth, air, and fire. Alchemy—the predecessor to modern chemistry—observed and experimented with physical items with the assumption that all such items consist of tiny unbreakable pieces of water, earth, air, and fire. Modern western science would never have developed without the alchemists of medieval Europe. Far from living in “the dark ages,” the medieval alchemists were at the forefront of science, culture, and civilization.

Chemists eventually demonstrated the existence of far more than four elements—for example, that water is not a basic building block, but water can be divided into hydrogen and oxygen. As they continued to experiment and observe, chemists developed a series of mathematical relationships among the elements, re-suggesting the possibility that number is the most fundamental building block of the universe. Modern physics grew out of modern chemistry; roughly one hundred years ago, western scientists began to find particles that seemed to be building blocks even of atoms.

Understand that subatomic particles are an oxymoron. Atoms are supposed to be unbreakable—the word “atom” was created to communicate that important idea. Finding that atoms contained protons, neutrons, and electrons changed the rules of science; evidence of quarks and other subatomic particles continued the process of demonstrating that atoms, though important, are among the worst-named ideas in all of science.

Huge powerful machines have been built to study the tiny pieces of atoms. Smashing atoms to observe their particles has been compared to smashing an old-fashioned watch to try to guess how it functions. One scientist, Leon Lederer, joked that God “seems to be making it up as we go along,” since every layer of discoveries suggests a new layer of tiny pieces even smaller than those already demonstrated.

Scientists continue to study the world, to try to understand how things work. They observe and experiment, not only with subatomic particles, but with viruses and other disease-causing agents, medicines, genetics, and the climate of the planet. Sometimes most scientists agree with each other about how things work; other times their research seems to contradict the research of their peers. We are all familiar with the constant revision of nutritional studies—first eggs are good for us, then they are bad for us, then they are good for us again. The old tradition of individual scientists plugging away in their laboratories to manage great discoveries has long been supplanted by teams of scientists funded by government grants and by corporate investments. Political agendas and the hope to generate a financial profit inevitably shape the work of today’s scientists. Their work is important and should not be curtailed; but every scientific discovery must also be accepted with the proverbial grain of salt. That salt is as important an ingredient as any other contribution to scientific investigation. J.

Free cities–what would change?

How would American politics change if our largest cities became separate states?

This month I’ve been reading the Federalist Papers. I didn’t exactly plan to read these important political documents just before the election; they are part of a multi-year chronological reading through my library of philosophers, and they just happened to land in this summer’s reading. This weekend I covered the chapters where James Madison compares the new republic of thirteen states to some of the republics of earlier history (chiefly in Greece and Rome) and some of those that existed at the time in Europe (including Switzerland and the Netherlands). Speaking about what was then the Holy Roman Empire, Madison referred to “free cities” within the empire. That sent my mind down a rabbit hole, wondering what would happen in the largest cities in the United States became “free cities,” separated from the states to which they now are attached and treated as distinct states.

We know that a massive political divide exists between rural votes and urban voters. Many of the former prefer Donald Trump and the Republican Party; many of the latter prefer Joseph Biden and the Democratic Party.  I asked myself, would the national electoral and political scene be much different if the largest cities were “free cities” in the sense that they became their own states?

Before looking at any maps or population numbers, I arbitrarily chose the round number of one million residents for separating cities from their states. As a result, nine cities became free states: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, and Dallas. Texas, then, would lose three cities, California would lose two, and New York, Illinois, Arizona, and Pennsylvania would each lose one city.

Legislatively, the House of Representatives would remain largely unchanged, although redrawing congressional maps to keep them inside or outside these nine cities would be a major project. Meanwhile, the United States Senate would gain eighteen new Senators, nine from each city. The electoral college would also increase by eighteen voters. New York City would have fourteen electoral votes; Los Angeles and Chicago would each have six; Phoenix, San Diego, Philadelphia, and Houston would have four; and Dallas and San Antonio would have three.

I then studied the electoral map for the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton would have won eight of the nine free cities, losing only Phoenix; however, Donald Trump would have gained fourteen electoral votes from non-Chicago Illinois. The final result of the election would be unchanged.

I also looked at the electoral map for the 2000 presidential election. Al Gore won the largest cities—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia—but he trailed in the other five. Moreover George W. Bush would have gained electoral votes in both Illinois and Pennsylvania, making the cliff-hanging results in Florida far less significant.

I also looked at Senatorial elections for the past three cycles. The Senate appears to be evenly split in this new arrangement, with a slight advantage to the Democratic Party—sixty Senators to fifty-eight for the Republican Party.

Clearly election campaigning would be different under this system. Presidential candidates would have to refocus their attention; campaigns for the Senate would be very different in these nine cities and in the six affected states. Altogether, though, I was surprised to discover how little the outcomes changed with this major reshaping of the political system. My weekend in the rabbit hole did not turn the country upside down. J.

Science: likable, but limited

I like science. All through school, I got As in science classes. My book collection has several books on science.

Granted, some of those science books are old… nearly as old as I am. Back in the 1960s, my parents collected the Time/Life collection of books on nature and on science. I was later able to acquire a copy of the same collection. While their information is not up to date, the books are valuable to me for three reasons: they make an attractive display on the living room shelves, they bring back childhood memories, and they allow me to compare current scientific statements with those made a generation ago. The history of science can be as enlightening as its current status.

My library has more recent scientific books. When I see news stories about scientific topics, I click on their links to the source papers behind those articles and read the summaries that the scientists themselves published. I believe that my understanding of science is equal to—and probably greater than—that of the average American citizen.

I dislike seeing science (and accusations of being “unscientific”) used as a political weapon. I dislike seeing science (and accusations of being “unscientific”) used to control conversations about religion and about morality. Science observes the world around us, experiments with elements of that work, and seeks to understand what the world contains and how its contents work. Science cannot measure or evaluate anything outside the material world. Science cannot make ethical decisions about how data regarding the world is used. Science tells people how to create bombs; science cannot tell people whether they should use those bombs.

Science cannot tell us whether we exist in a computer simulation rather than what we would call “reality.” Nor can science tell us whether our lives and surroundings are elements of someone’s dream. Using the scientific method, people measure the world around them. They assess changes in that world. They seek rules to explain those changes. They make predictions about the future, based on those rules, and the accuracy of their predictions measures the accuracy of their rules. Science is based on observation, experimentation, and careful consideration of what has been observed. Considerations of what is right and what is wrong can be based on scientific observations, but those moral considerations are not, themselves, scientific.

Science changes. Scientific rules are adjusted based on new information, new observations, and new experiments. Flexibility is a strength of science. It allows knowledge and understanding of the world to grow and to become more accurate and more helpful. But flexibility is also a weakness of science. People cannot make science the foundation of their lives, the source for meaning of their existences, precisely because science is constantly changing, adjusting, and reacting to new information and new interpretations of information.

Therefore, calling a person’s religious beliefs or political beliefs “unscientific” is pointless. Using science as a measurement of truth or of value is unscientific—using science for those purposes is an act of faith, not an act of science. People who trust science to lead them to all truth have made science the center of their religion; they are no longer thinking and acting scientifically. People who judge the opinions and beliefs of their neighbors according to scientific measures of the world are not acting like scientists. Putting faith in science alone is the kind of intellectual suicide which some devotees of science accuse religious people of committing.

I like science. I enjoy technology, medicine, and other benefits that have come from science. I am grateful to have a scientific understanding of the world in which I live. But my faith is not in science. My faith is in the God who create those things that science studies. My faith is not limited by science; my faith transcends the limits that science cannot break. My world is larger than the world of those who limit themselves to what science and measure and observe. For that I am also grateful. J.

The “what if?” game

Every four years, they tell us that the upcoming election is vital—that the future of the nation and of the world depends upon the choices made by the voters. Every year a choice is made, and “time keeps on slipping into the future.” But, while historians tell us what happened and why and what it means, greater fun comes from finding answers to the question, “What if?” What if some of the key elections of the recent past had gone the other way? How would our nation and our world be different today?

What if Thomas Dewey had been elected President in 1948 instead of Harry Truman? What different courses might the Cold War have taken under Dewey’s leadership? How would Dewey have handled Korea? Would the 1950s economy have been robust with Dewey in the White House at the beginning of the 1950s? Would television have developed differently in the Dewey administration? What about rock and roll?

What if Richard Nixon had been elected President in 1960 instead of John Kennedy? How would Nixon have handled Cuba and Vietnam? Would civil rights have been approached differently by the Nixon administration? How would Nixon’s personality as President have been different if he had not been shaped by losses to President Kennedy and Governor Brown, let alone by the turbulence of the 1960s?

If Albert Gore had been elected President in 2000, how would he have handled the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? What kind of war on terror would Gore’s administration have pursued? What national policies would Gore have stressed that were not stressed or contemplated under President Bush?

If Hillary Clinton had been elected President in 2016, would the economy have done as well in 2018 and 2019? How would her administration have handled the virus crisis of 2020? Would the mood of the nation be more calm, less calm, or about the same this summer with President Hillary Clinton in the White House seeking reelection?

How many international events would have been exactly the same under any President? How many presidential responses, beginning with the same events, have taken different paths? Is there a “deep state” that oversees national policies and decisions no matter who is said to be in charge of the country? Or does divine power speak through the voice of the people, raising certain leaders to power at particular times to handle the circumstances that God foreknows?

Historians study and describe the things that have happened. That information is exhausting already; it does not provide much left-over time to play “what if?” Trying to imagine the divergent paths of recent history, though, helps the rest of us to see the significance of the choices that voters face this year. Assuming that two roads diverge, and we can only travel one of them, does the path we choose really make all the difference? J.

These are not your grandparents’ Sixties

I suppose you could call me a child of the 1960s. I was born in the early 60s, too young to remember the assassination of President Kennedy or the start of Beatlemania, although I have studied both extensively. I remember watching on television as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. I remember classmates upset when they heard that the Beatles were breaking up. I also remember hearing something about a hippie concert in New York. (That summer I saw my first hippies. Several of them were in a car that drove down the road—long hair, colorful clothes, the car may have been a VW bug. One of them flashed a peace sign at me… a little short-haired boy standing in the front yard of his grandparents’ house.)

Last night I experienced two hours of that hippie concert in New York, thanks to a DVD player and a flat-screen stereo TV. Woodstock marks a high point for 60s nostalgia, combining peace, love, rock-and-roll, young people, drugs, sex, and politics. Plenty of timely idealism was on hand, as the organizers, musicians, and attendees showed that they could have a peaceful gathering to celebrate their culture (or counterculture, as the case may be). Yet the gathering also revealed contempt for authority (parents, police officers, and elected officials, among others), deliberate lawlessness (though it was nonviolent), poor management of the environment, and the arrogance of thinking that they were right and everyone else in the world was wrong. On the bright side, much of the music of Woodstock was epical and some was even profound; and the reaction to inconveniences of crowding, rain, and mud were largely hopeful and humane. On the dark side, much of the music of Woodstock was poorly performed due to poor planning and less than optimal conditions; and most of the investors lost money on the concert (except for those lucky enough to include recordings and the filmed documentary in their investment).

Some people older than me seem to want to bring back the 1960s in the summer of 2020. Many people younger than me seem to want to recreate the 1960s in the summer of 2020. Both groups are misguided. Donald Trump is neither Lyndon Johnson nor Richard Nixon. Nothing happening this summer compares to the Vietnam War. Rioting and violence are as counterproductive now as they were back then. From Birmingham to Ferguson, American citizens have gathered to protest racial inequality and injustice. When these gatherings are hijacked by vandals, arsonists, and looters, the protestors’ message is distorted and justice does not prevail.

Street protests did not end the Vietnam War. If anything, they lengthened the war, as the communist government of North Vietnam stalled negotiations to end the conflict, hoping that America would lose the will to fight and would withdraw unitarily. President Nixon brought an end to the war, keeping his promise to provide peace with honor, but serious negotiations only happened after his prospects for reelection became obvious in the summer of 1972, and they were concluded only after his determination to prevail was tested following the election late that year. Tragically, the United States Congress handed victory back to North Vietnam in the 1970s by refusing to enforce the treaty agreements that ended fighting in January 1973.

Fighting in Vietnam was part of the Cold War, pitting capitalism and freedom in the West against communism (actually socialism) and totalitarianism in the East. Both sides fought militarily, economically, and intellectually for decades, trying to prove that their way was right and the other way was wrong. Socialism and communism received support from many people in the United States in the 1960s, principally those who were also rallying under the banners of civil rights, anti-war, and rock-and-roll. Only one side in the Cold War had to build walls and guard borders to prevent its citizens from escaping. Over a twenty-four month period in 1989 through 1991, the Cold War ended, due to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Ironically, in 2020 some prominent Americans are speaking in support of socialism and of stricter government controls over the population, even though the bankruptcy of those ideas was clearly demonstrated thirty years ago.

Many of my favorite songs were written and recorded in the 1960s. I regularly feed my nostalgia for that time, the years of my childhood. But the legend of the 1960s created by our entertainment industry exaggerates the peace and love and artistry of those times, minimizing the fear and hatred and violence that also characterized those same years. The same entertainment industry wants to topple our present government. Again and again it insists that capitalism is bad, that freedom belongs only to the oppressed (and those who can identify themselves as oppressed), and that free speech belongs only to people who say the right things. Their arrogance resembles that of the Woodstock generation. Their legacy will be equally ephemeral. J.