Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Legacy Unearthed: Richard Bong’s "Marge" Has Been Found

Fighter pilot Richard Bong
repeatedly put his 
life on the line.
On Thursday, May 23, researchers announced from Papua, New Guinea’s Madang Province that they had found the wreckage of one of World War II ace Richard Bong's planes in the South Pacific. This plane, that he had named “Marge,” wore nose art featuring a photo of the sweetheart he would later marry before the end of the war.

The announcement of the find was made via a video news conference to journalists around the world, including a roomful at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Center here in Superior, Wisconsin, where Bong’s 99-year-old sister Gerry Fechtelkotter sat enthusiastically absorbing the news.

 

The press conference began with introductory remarks by John Gidley, Executive Director of the Bong Veterans Center. The mission, Gidley stated, was straightforward. “Whatever became of Richard Bong’s P-38 named Marge which crashed on March 24, 1944, in Papua, New Guinea?” 

 

Medal of Honor recipient and WW2 Top Gun 
with bride to be and inspiration, Marge.

Briana Fiandt, Curator of Collections and Exhibits, shared why this was such an iconic plane. Richard Ira Bong was one of the most decorated American fighter pilots in history and the country's top flying ace. A U.S. Army Air Forces major and Medal of Honor recipient, Bong has been credited with shooting down 40 Japanese aircraft, all with the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter. 

 

Bong himself was not flying the plane the day it crashed in March 1944. Rather, it was being flown by another pilot, Thomas Malone. Bad weather and mechanical issues forced Malone to bail out, so the plane was lost. “Its discovery is a significant historical find,” Fiandt said. 

 

The expedition to find Bong’s plane—code name Mission: Marge—was undertaken as a partnership between the Veterans Center and a non-profit organization called Pacific Wrecks. The mission of Pacific Wrecks has been to chronicle, investigate, and safeguard the history of military aircraft wreckages and crash sites, mainly from the Pacific Theater during World War II. The organization has been vital in capturing and sharing the narratives behind these wrecks, paying tribute to those who served, and informing the public about the war's events and sacrifices.

Fiandt then introduced the team, streaming live from Papua where it was 4:00 a.m. The two chief spokespersons were Steve Kleiman, project manager for the expedition, and Justin Taylan, founder of Pacific Works and team lead. They were joined by Norman Nayak of the Madang governor’s staff, and team photographer Joe Carillet.


Seated on a couch with three of his compadres, Steve Kleiman began, “Hello, Wisconsin, from Nadang!”  

 

Justin Taylan opened his remarks by thanking the Bong Center, and especially Briana Fiandt, for setting the project in motion. The team had come to locate one of the most important crash sites of World War II and it was a success. “Marge” was Bong’s first and most famous plane, in part because of the larger-than-life portrait of his sweetheart on the fuselage, and also because of the distinctive red wingtips and other painted embellishments. While flying this plane he notched three of his record-setting 40 aerial kills. 

 

“It was an amazing find,” said Taylan. 

 

When they located the crash site the engines were buried, but the red paint on the wingtips was still visible. Upon reaching the Marge they located the serial number and confirmed the find. All members of the team touched her. “Mission accomplished.”

 

“It was quite emotional,” Taylan added.

 

Nayak said, “Hooray” and Carillet concurred. “I was in the midst of history,” he said.

 

Richard Bong's 99-year-old sister Gerry
was present for announcement of find
.* 
During a Q&A they were asked how they found the plane. Using historical references, Pacific Wrecks spent more than two years researching. “There are thousands of wrecks there.” 

The first plane they found there was a Japanese aircraft. When it was learned that this was not the Bong plane, the locals said there was a second plane near the plantation. This second plane was The Marge.

 

An old logging road nearby gave them access to the vicinity of the crash site. Even so, to reach the site they were supplied with 16 locals who carved a trail and helped carry their gear. Taylan said they were lucky this forest had not been logged or the plane would likely have been lost forever.

 

For history buffs it’s noteworthy that approximately 10,000 Lockheed P-38 Lightning aircraft were produced, serving in the European, Mediterranean, Pacific, and China-Burma-India (CBI) theaters. Of these, around 1,800 were lost in combat or accidents. This figure includes aircraft lost due to enemy action, mechanical failure, pilot error, or other factors. 

 

Major Bong’s last flight took place on August 6, 1945, the same day the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. During a test flight while piloting a P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter the aircraft's engine malfunctioned shortly after takeoff. Bong attempted to eject but was unable to do so in time, resulting in his fatal crash in Burbank, California. He was just over a month shy of his 25th birthday.

* * *   

Originally published May 30, 2024 in Duluth's Reader Weekly

Related Link
Industry Veterans Bill Rebane and Robert Wilhelm III in Superior to Shoot First Episode of Masters of Valor

* Photo Caption: Bong’s 99-year-old sister Gerry Fechtelkotter, center, was in attendance at the Bong Center on May 23 for the announcement that searchers found the fighter plane Bong had named after his future wife while serving in New Guinea in 1944.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Vaclav Smil's Made in the USA: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing Is A Humbling Warning

The 20th century has been proclaimed by many to be "The American Century" because of its surprisng rise as a powerhouse in the wake of Britain's decline after 300 years of global dominance. For many, this premise is unchallenged, accepted as fact. And many see the next 100 years as more of the same, with the U.S. remaining on top of the heap as the world's top dog. 

Vaclav Smil sees things differently, hence ths book about what he calls as The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing.,the subtitle of his 2013 assessment of the USA today. 

It's easy to see how America became a manufacturing powerhouse after WW2. Our competitors' industrial capabilities, infrastructure and populations were decimated by that war, and many had not yet fully recovered from the earlier global conflict.

For Smil, America's ascent began with the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. Advancements in technology, infrastructure, and workforce skills turned the U.S. into a manufacturing powerhouse. These advances were mega-amped by the rise of mass production techniques (hence Huxley's A.F. in Brave New World) that boosted productivity and economic growth. 

However, from the late 20th century onward, several factors contributed to the sector's decline. (1) The rise of global competition (esp. Japan, China and Germany) eroded the U.S. manufacturing base. (2) Many American companies relocated production to countries with lower labor costs. This outsourcing lead to job losses and deindustrialization in the U.S. (3) Automation and advancements in technology reduced the need for manual labor, changing the nature of manufacturing jobs. 

And how has this played out?

Smil shows how the loss of manufacturing jobs contributed to economic inequality, regional disparities, and the decline of the American middle class. The shift away from manufacturing has also affected communities that were once heavily reliant on factory jobs (eg. Detroit) leading to social challenges such as unemployment and declining living standards.


Surprisingly, Smil still expressed cautious optimism about the future of American manufacturing, arguing that the sector can be revitalized through strategic investments in innovation, education, and infrastructure. Key recommendations include reindustrialization, advanced manufacturing and sustainable manufacturing practices to address environmental concerns and improve efficiency.


I find it interesting that some critics considered the book too pessimistic. I find it overly optimistic. Is the glass half empty or half full. We'll eventually find out.


Smil makes a solid case for the importance of manufacturing. Yet here in Northern Minnesota there is very little being done to incentivize it, even though we are rich in natural resources. Our economic base has flipped, away from manufacturing to a service economy. The biggest employers are universities, hospitals and our tourism related services. I don't see evidence of this turning around. Do you?

Saturday, June 8, 2024

An Overview of Glenn Greenwald's "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State"

One of my ongoing areas of interest has been the issue of free speech and free thought. I've written numerous times about Bertrand Russell's 1922 lecture on this topic, and frequently warned about the  government's use of propaganda to persuade (manipulate) the masses. It is for this reason I have been interested it the stories of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. 

This blog post will explore Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, a compelling exposé on the expansive surveillance practices of the National Security Agency (NSA) revealed through the whistleblower Edward Snowden. Published in 2014, the book is a detailed account of Snowden's disclosures and the broader implications for privacy, democracy, and government accountability. After the overview I will share what some of Greenwald's critics have said.

* * * * * 

No Place To Hide has five sections. The first details how Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald became involved with bringing Snowden's revelations to light. The meticulous planning and risks involved have the feel of a Mission Impossible flick. It soon becomes apparent why bringing to light these "dark secrets" was such a big deal.

Section two details the scope of NSA surveillance. Americans have generally assumed that there were laws restricting what the NSA, CIA and other agencies have authority to do. Snowden's experience showed him how these agencies have gathered extensive data on American citizens and international targets alike. (They don't call them "spooks" for nothing.)

Greenwald provides examples of various programs, such as PRISM and XKeyscore, which enabled the government to intercept communications and gather metadata. According to Greenwald and Snowden, these agencies were scraping info about us from the biggest social media platforms including Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and Skype. 

One of the first stories the Guardian published was how during the Obama administration the NSA was collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers. The White House, once this was exposed, defended this mass surveillance of U.S. citizens as necessary for our safety from homeland threats.

Part three lays out the rationale for exposing these government actions, how mass surveillance erodes civil liberties and creates a chilling effect on free speech and dissent. He highlights the constitutional and ethical concerns of pervasive government monitoring, contending that it undermines the principles of a democratic society. (Yes, this is 1984 revisited, in real life.)

Part four goes into detail about media complicity, all the various media players and and other players who willingly participated. Greenwald also discusses the challenges he faced in publishing the Snowden revelations and the broader issues of journalistic integrity and
independence.

The last section is a call to action. Greenwald concludes with an appeal for increased transparency, legal reforms, and public awareness to combat unchecked surveillance. He emphasizes the need for collective action to protect individual privacy and civil liberties.

* * * * *

As you can imagine, not everyone feels the same regardng this book or the actions of whistleblowers like Edwad Snowden. Here are the pros and cons.


POSITIVE REMARKS

Supporters laud Greenwald for his courageous journalism and commitment to transparency. They argue that No Place to Hide sheds light on the extent of government overreach and the importance of protecting democratic freedoms. The book is praised for its meticulous documentation and compelling narrative, which brings crucial issues to the forefront of public discourse.


Many view Greenwald's work as a vital defense of privacy in the digital age. By exposing the NSA's surveillance tactics, the book underscores the need to safeguard personal information from unwarranted government intrusion. Advocates for privacy rights see the book as a critical reminder of the threats posed by mass surveillance.


The book is credited with sparking significant public debate and policy discussions around surveillance and privacy. Snowden's revelations contributed to legal challenges and calls for reform, highlighting their influence on both public opinion and legislative action.


CRITICAL VIEWS

Perhaps the biggest issue has to do with concerns over national security. Critics argue that Greenwald's disclosures, and those of Snowden, compromised national security by revealing classified information. Such leaks endanger intelligence operations and international relations, making it harder for agencies to protect against genuine threats.


Some detractors question Greenwald's objectivity, suggesting that his staunch advocacy for privacy rights and criticism of government overreach may skew his analysis. They argue that his portrayal of the NSA and its activities lacks nuance and fails to adequately consider the complexities of intelligence work.


In light of the above, the book's sympathetic portrayal of Snowden is controversial. While some view Snowden as a hero, others see him as a traitor. Critics argue that Greenwald's narrative may romanticize whistleblowing without fully addressing the potential legal and ethical ramifications.


Bottom Line

It's an enlightening read even if we already knew that our privacy is being violated. The extent to which our personal info is being gleaned is out there in other books like Bob Hoffman's BadMen: How Advertising Went From A Minor Annoyance To A Major Menace. The degree to which our own government has been active in this, however, is disturbing, even scary. If you're unfamiliar with the Snowden story, this is probably a good place to start. 

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Media-Perpetrated Illusions: Crafting Perceptions and Shaping Realities

Can you believe your eyes?
The line segments are identical.


Amazing how perceptions are distorted by contexts.
The middle circles are the same size.

In today's world, the media holds unparalleled influence over public perception and opinion. The power of the media to shape narratives and construct realities can be both enlightening and deceptive. (And smetimes deoressing.) Media-perpetrated illusions refer to the deliberate or unintentional crafting of misleading or distorted representations of reality. These illusions can have profound effects on societal beliefs, behaviors, and decision-making processes.

One of the most common methods through which media perpetrates illusions is through framing. Framing involves presenting information in a particular way to influence how it is interpreted. It happens all the time.

Selective reporting, or the emphasis on certain stories while ignoring others, is another way the media creates illusions. By choosing which events to cover and which to omit, media organizations can steer public attention and concern. Even though I'm only an occasional listener I've noticed that not a day goes by without NPR broadcasting a story about climate change, always underscoring the impending doom that lies ahead if we fail to take drastic action immediately. Seldom will you hear about the risks or consequences of taking many of those drastic actions. 

Illusion on the floor of the Florence Cathedral
Media can also create the illusion of consensus, where a particular viewpoint is presented as overwhelmingly accepted, even if there is significant opposition or debate. How many times do we hear that "a majority" of women or blacks or Republicans or Red State voters are in favor of this or that. It may only 51% but it is a majority. Never mind that had the question been asked differently, the majority would have supported a contrary position.

Most issues are more nuanced than presented. But you'd never know it the way some issues are discussed, whether it be renewable energy, illegal immigration, poverty, crime, EVs or late-term abortion.

It's no wonder that the masses are uninformed or misinformed, especially when we repeatedly hear or read discredited fake news. I long ago concluded that the real conflict today is the clash between narratives, hence my essay "He Who Controls the Narrative Controls the People." 

It takes work to stay informed and none of us can say we're up to speed on every issue in every field of study. The world is far too vast for that. And, as with the visual illusions at the top of this page*, sometimes we can't even trust our own eyes. 

* * *
*Source: Vaclav Smil's Size: How It Explains the World

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

My Skunk Joke Stinks But It Makes A Point

This is a joke I heard when I was young. It's not the greatest joke in the world but it came to mind while reading a quote Eugene V. Debs.

A mother skunk had two kids that she named In and Out. Whenever In was in, Out was out. And whenever In was out, Out was in.

One day Out was in but she couldn't find In anywhere. She looked everywhere for In; up, down, left, right, but she could not find In. Finally she asked Out to find In, and Out went right to where In was hiding. 

When the mother skunk asked Out how he knew where to find In, he replied,
"Easy. Instinct."

Here is a paraphrase of the Debs quote that brought this joke to mind:

"The rivalry between the Republican and Democratic parties is a mere facade; both cater to the interests of the capitalist class... I have never heard anyone convincingly argue that these corrupt parties are different. Have you? Essentially, one party is in power and the other is striving to take over, and that is the only real difference between them." --Eugene V. Debs

It's just like the skunks. When In is out, Out is in. And both stink.

It's no wonder that so many are so cynical about politics today.

Monday, June 3, 2024

What's It All About, Alfie?

This song has been circulating in my brain like an earworm, on and off seemingly forever, but especially lately. "What's it all about, Alfie?" With all the political chaos and myriad varieties of personal life challenges, I'm guessing there are a lot of people wondering the same thing. What's it all about.

The song itself had a specific application in the 1966 film starring Michael Caine in the role of a young, self-centered Londoner whose lifestyle choices make him unhappy. Alfie is basically a womanizer, using women for his own pleasure without emotional involvement. This kind of male appears in a variety of guises in literature and film. I think here of the movie Elegy (Ben Kingsley, Peneope Cruz) or the novel Disgrace by the South African Nobel Prize wnner J.M. Coetzee.

Events eventually force Alfie to question his behavior, loneliness, and priorities, and eventually he begins to question his belief that he should never depend on anyone.

It's good to question one's fundamental beliefs and core values now and then. Our beliefs and values direct our actions. Where did those beliefs come from? I like the way Robert Louis Stevenson puts it: Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”  

So many great lines in this song. What's it all about?

* * *

There are a number of great renditions of this Burt Bachaarach/Larry David song by various female artists. Here is one by Cilla Black that just cuts to the core. The lyrics follow and then four other versions, including Dionne Warwick's, another personal favorite.

What's it all about Alfie?Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all aboutWhen you sort it out, AlfieAre we meant to take more than we giveOr are we meant to be kind?
And if, if only fools are kind, AlfieThen I guess it is wise to be cruelAnd if life belongs only to the strong, AlfieWhat will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there's a heaven aboveAlfie, I know there's something much moreSomething even non-believers can believe in
I believe in love, AlfieWithout true love we just exist, AlfieUntil you find the love you've missedYou're nothing, Alfie
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you'll find love any day Alfie, Alfie
* * * 


Saturday, June 1, 2024

Behind the Shades: A Few Memorable Roy Orbison Anecdotes

This past weekend there was a Roy Orbison tribute at the Greysolon Ballroom here in Duluth. Unfortunately the show coincided with one of our Dylan Fest events, but thinking about it brought to mind a few anecdotes that I was aware of from the life of Roy Orbison.

A lot of people don't realize what a big deal Orbison was in his day. Maybe a few of these vignettes will give you a little perspective.

The first is a story about Bruce Springsteen. When Springsteen was first starting out he was doing a tour with Orbison. This was before the advent of decked out buses and all that have become commonplace today. Springsteen was in the back of a semi for 15 hours with Roy during which time Orbison shared with Springsteen insights about telling stories in song. Springsteen fans will readily recognize how his songs are stories. Credit belongs, in part, to this 15 hour ride in the back of a semi.

* * *

As "In Dreams" was released in April 1963, Orbison was asked to replace Duane Eddy on a tour of the UK in top billing with the Beatles. When he arrived in Britain, however, he realized he was no longer the main draw. He had never heard of the Beatles, and annoyed, asked rhetorically, "What's a Beatle, anyway?" to which John Lennon replied, after tapping his shoulder, "I am."

On the opening night, Orbison opted to go onstage first, although he was the more established act. The Beatles stood dumbfounded backstage as Orbison simply played through 14 encores. Finally, when the audience began chanting "We want Roy!" again, Lennon and Paul McCartney physically held Orbison back. Ringo later said, "In Glasgow, we were all backstage listening to the tremendous applause he was getting. He was just standing there, not moving or anything." 

Through the tour, however, the two acts quickly learned to get along, a process made easier by the fact that the Beatles admired his work. Orbison felt a kinship with Lennon, but it was George Harrison with whom he would later form a strong friendship.

* * * 

The thing that most sticks with me are the tragedies he's endured. Orbison (like Dylan, Brad Pitt and many others) enjoyed a love of motorcycles. In June 1966 Orbison and his wife Claudette were riding home from Bristol, Tenn, when she struck the door of a pickup truck that pulled out in front of her. She was killed instantly.

In 1968, an ever greater tragedy struck. While on tour in Britain his home in Tennessee burned down and his two eldest sons were killed. It's hard to imagine what he must have gone through.

* * *

The payoff from his friendship with George Harrison came with the creation of the supergroup Traveling Wilburys featuring frontmen Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Orbison. You can read here the backstory on how this legendary coming together came about.

* * *

"To Roy."

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