Fantasyland: Transforming Belief Into Truth

A review of Fantastyland – How America Went Haywire – A 500-Year History, Kurt Andersen, Random House, 2017.

Where to begin and end? As a pal in my book club put it, this book is “so rich” with content we may need two meetings to discuss it.

From 1517 to the present time, the author relentlessly exposes how and why Americans tend to believe what we want to believe, regardless of the facts. Americans, free and independent, have built a nation in many ways on a foundation of fantasy – Fantasyland.

The author doesn’t conclude that all beliefs, conspiracy theories and dreams are irrational, just the ones that go “…overboard, letting the subjective entirely override the objective, people thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings were just as true as facts.”

From beliefs in recent trips to and from Heaven to government conspirators hiding all manner of truths and conspiracies from us; from Satan on Earth today to real estate prices that would always increase; from believing risky debt isn’t risky to extraterrestials among us; from the dangers of vaccines to life’s creation several thousand years ago; from the phony moon landing to the government’s 9/11 plot; from hoarding firearms to thwart thugs and terrorists to the origins of AIDS; from pretending we’re soldiers “…or elves or zombies….” to sitting at our personal computers to engage in virtual battles; from believing the vapor contrails formed by aircraft at altitude are really secret gasses emitted to control us to believing Satan recruited Indians from Asia to North America to impede Christianity – in Fantastyland many have believed all this and more, and in some cases still believe, therefore it’s true.

In a footnote on page 7 the author discloses the source of survey data that tell us only a third of us believe emissions from cars and factories are causing global warming; only a third of us don’t think telepathy and ghost are real; a fourth of us believe Donald Trump won the popular vote in 2016; a third of us believe the government is keeping natural cures for cancer a secret so “Big Pharma” can make more money – the list goes on.

We have facts and access to facts in America, but in many aspects of our lives we are exposed to misrepresentations, made-up stuff, spins, alternative facts, misdirection, and outright lies, and we’ve had all of it in varying degrees since the first “settlers” arrived.

In its 462 pages, including an index, this book offers an opportunity to discover how the differences between opinion, belief, and fact all got blurred in America from the very beginning of the country, and how by now have all but disappeared.

“You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan

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10 Weeks a Russian – Addendum 1

A few messages have arrived telling me the photos didn’t come through well or didn’t come through at all. I’ll try to fix that, but if I can’t get the job done on WordPress and you’d still like to see the photos, send me an email (ejb240@gmail.com) and I’ll send them to you.

Some have asked for a few more interesting things that happened on the trip and about whether my family and friends had a lot of questions.

For a few weeks I was invited to make presentations to a few service clubs (Rotary, Optimist, Kiwanis); my 15 minutes of fame. As for family, they seemed happy that I’d managed to return home. My Lew Wallace H.S. Russian language students in Gary, Indiana, were very energetic with their questions and interest in the souveniers I brought home.

One of the best in my souvenier collection was a set of copies of a book titled “Kartinny Slovar,” Cartoon Dictionary, which contained what the title suggests: lots of drawings of different situations with captions in Russian. For example, a drawing of a youngster asking a policeman for directions. In that example, the caption contained a brief conversation between the two. Seeing “lessons” in a form that was almost a comic book was no small attraction for high school students.

As for other interesting things, imagine seeing former Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev walking by the displays from the World Fair held in Moscow when Nixon was President. He was by himself, without any entourage, smiling and waving to everybody; just another Muscovite out for a stroll on a pleasant August afternoon.

And the books; everywhere books. Book stores, book kiosks, sellers pushing carts loaded with books; everywhere books, and everywhere people reading books. All in Russian, of course, and all remarkably inexpensive. At a time when a hard cover book in the US was priced around ten dollars, a similar book in the USSR was two or three dollars.

And the omnipresent “babushkas,” middle aged to elderly Soviet women, who admonished anyone who threw away anything any place other than in a proper trash container and gave other directions and motherly advice without hesitation; for example, telling me it was too chilly to be without a sweater one morning.

And the streetcars, buses, and subways, where one got on board and placed the correct amount of money in the proper container without any involvement or supervision from the drivers and other staff. The Soviet public transportation Honor System. And if you didn’t have the money, no one said a word, not even the babushkas.

And the vending machines on the sidewalks dispensing “gazirovnaya voda,” the Soviet equivalent of a carbonated soft drink. There was one glass. You turned the glass upside down over a shelf in the front, pressed a button, and a spray of water rinsed the glass. You turned the glass over, inserted the coin, and a drink was dispensed. You drank it, repeated the rinsing, and replaced the glass for the next person. The waste water ran down the sidewalk to the street. It truly was 1965.

And when we checked out of a hotel and boarded our bus, the bus didn’t move until someone from the hotel appeared and gave the driver approval to depart. Our supervising professor from Indiana University (IU) told us the bus didn’t leave until the rooms were checked to make sure we didn’t take anything we shouldn’t have taken. Fortunately our IU advisors had also warned us about taking hotel souveniers and our bus always got the go-ahead sign.

If I remember any more, I’ll peck out another addendum…..

George Washington on Political Parties

From President George Washington’s Farewell Address, referring to political parties:

“However combinations or associations of the above description (of political parties) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Those Colonial graduates sure knew how to use the English language, and predict the possible dangers inherent in our political system…..

Study the Past….

	A postal inspector in Baltimore noticed fluid leaking from a package addressed to a 
federal judge.  Then he noticed that the fluid had burned a hole in the package.  The 
Baltimore Police Bomb Squad was summoned and the U.S. Department of Justice was 
contacted.
	At the end of the day thirty-four bombs were discovered, addressed to people in 
government and industry whose work involved immigration.
	This all happened almost a hundred years ago, right after World War I, also called 
“The Great War” and “The War To End All Wars,” was over. The U.S. was rife with 
discontent, often violent, aimed at Germans, Russians, Bolsheviks (called “Bolshies”), 
anarchists, people of color – in short, anybody who didn't look or act like “an American” or speak English.
	One of the tragic results of the hatred so rampant in those days was a police strike in Boston.  Two books to read if you'd like to learn more and quite possibly once again 
realize change is never easy or quick: Dennis Lehane's novel “The Given Day” and 
Francis Russel's (non-fiction) “A City In Terror,” both readily available on Amazon 
(e-book or traditional form).
	Compare what is described in those books with what today's “angry voters” have to say. 
	The stone work at the left and right sides at the entrance to our National Archives 
building in Washington read: “Study the Past” and “The Past is Prologue.”

Learning Windows 10 DIY

Whew! What a relief! My copy of “Windows 10 FOR DUMMIES” arrived in yesterday’s Amazon package.

But wait! It weighs a little less than a 5-pound bag of sugar and sports a beefy read of 952 pages, counting the index. At my age, I’m certain it would not fit under my feet if I jumped as high as possible.

I deserve this punishment. I’ve had Windows 10 for a month and am still using the new laptop it came with – wait – it’s the other way around: the new laptop came with Windows 10. Anyway, I’m still using the new laptop as though it were my old laptop; namely, using the Windows 10 features that let you use it without using Windows 10. I’m hoping that last sentence was actually a sentence.

On to the first chapter. Sometime in April of 2016 I’ll be finished with the book and achieve entry-level capability. At my age, and I am not able to emphasize how I hate using that phrase so often, the learning curve is steep. By May of 2016 I will try to let you know how it went.

A Pledge of Silence – Wonderful Novel!

“A Pledge of Silence,” by Flora J. Solomon, is historical fiction based on the true story of nurses in the U.S. armed forces captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II.

From a small Michigan town near Ann Arbor to Manila and back, Margie Bauer survives four years of war. She treats her patients first at Sternberg Hospital in Manila, then for a time in open-air field hospitals in the jungles of Bataan, then in the caves of Corregidor, then in a Japanese prison camp.

After enduring little or no nutrition, the ever present danger, deaths of loved ones, and little news of the war or from home, Margie and the other nurses are liberated after three years. But freedom comes with a price and other battles for Margie to confront.

The story of the first U.S. military women to become prisoners of war is a story that is at once horrible but forever worth knowing about and acknowledging their sacrifices.

An entertaining and thought-provoking read – you’ll want more!

The book is available in hard copy and electronic versions at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Also see: http://www.apledgeofsilence.com

Joseph P. Kennedy, 1888-1969

The book, a Christmas present from younger son Ted, is The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, David Nasaw, 2012, The Penguin Group.

Mr. Nasaw furnishes us a glimpse into the inner world of one of the 20th Century’s most influential men: his struggle to overcome the handicap of being an Irish Catholic in America, his intriguing family and business lives, his politics, the parts he played before, during and after World War II, some of the popular myths about how he became one of the wealthiest men in America, and more.

It is a detailed and entertaining account of a man, his career, and most of all, his devotion to family.

It is the story of how Joseph and Rose Kennedy lost three of their four sons and two of their five daughters to war, assassination, accident, and mental illness. That they could endure such grief will always be a source of wonder to me.

It paints a picture of a bright and talented young man who made his way and his fortune in business, the stock market, the film industry, and real estate. Despite attempts to portray Kennedy as a bootlegger during Prohibition, the author states: “Not only is there no evidence of Kennedy’s being a bootlegger, but it flies in the face of everything we know about him. As an East Boston Irish Catholic outsider struggling to be allowed inside, he was willing to take financial risks, but not those associated with illegal activities such as bootlegging.” (page 80)

In a twist of irony that would make for great fun in a stage play, as the first Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission Kennedy put in place rules that, had they been in effect while he was making a great portion of his fortune in the stock market, would have made his methods illegal.

As Ambassador to the Court of St. James (Great Britain) up to and during World War II, Kennedy never stopped insisting that American participation in the war would be a waste of lives and money. He favored negotiation to avoid war, much to the indignation of those is charge; e.g., President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. He called Britain’s coming to the aid of Poland, thereby igniting World War II, one of the greatest mistakes ever made. Hardly anyone in a position of influence at the time agreed with him, then or now.

Accused of buying his son Jack’s elections to Congress and later to the Presidency, Kennedy provided his son with a wonderful opportunity to do one of the things Jack did best: defuse criticism with humor. While running for president, Jack stood before the Gridiron Club in Washington and began his speech by reaching into his suit coat pocket to withdraw a fake telegram from his father telling him not to buy one more vote than necessary. He read that his father was willing to finance his campaign, but that he would not pay for a “landslide.”

Many thanks to David Nasaw and all the authors of history whose works preserve the past, and if read and heeded, just might also help preserve the future.