The New East-West Divide

When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire” he defined the East-West dichotomy that confronted the world: freedom, individual rights and respect for human life on one hand, collectivization, repression and the total lack of human rights on the other. When the Soviet Union imploded and finally collapsed in 1991, not with a bang but with a whimper, the event was greeted with a very muted response from the West. The end of the Cold War, the demise of communism and the lifting of the Iron Curtain were met by a collective shrug of shoulders and a “so what?” More enthusiasm was generated at the Tour de France or at the three- legged races in Timbuktu.

 The West should have celebrated loudly and joyously because the Cold War was a confrontation between Western Civilization and its values and an ideology responsible for far more deaths and suffering than the monstrous Nazi machine; yet, it did not. Rather, it stood not as a victor, but in the neutral new parlance of the public relations practitioners, as a “non-loser”

 The reality was that the collapse of the Soviet empire came about because of its own internal contradictions -oh how they loved to use that phrase in reference to the West!- and also because its last Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, refused to employ the brutal repressive tactics of his predecessors. He actually believed the system would function, if only applied properly; unfortunately for him, without the terror, the purges and the gulags, the system simply did not work.

 You cannot engage a brutal enemy in a fight for survival without inadvertently becoming a mirror image of your adversary; it happened during the Crusades, it happened in Spain during her long and arduous reconquest from the Moors, and it happened in the West during the Cold War; as the Soviet empire broke asunder in waves of secessions and nationalistic rebirths, the West embraced the idea of a European Union that obliterates national borders and cultural divides and imposes a politically correct ideology on its members and tries to stymie non-members who implement policies they consider to be beneficial to their survival, as in the case of Switzerland imposing immigration restrictions Of course, this not the iron fist of the Kremlin but rather, the “velvet glove” of Brussels. Iron or velvet, the effects are similar. Has the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics been replaced by the “European Soviet Socialist Union”? If you think that Western Europe has not embraced socialism, think again. And add one more thing to your smoking pipe: this is the model they want the US to embrace.

 There has always been an East-West divide since the days of the Roman Empire for a myriad of reasons; in the years following WWII, we in the West, and particularly in the US, have prided ourselves in our respect for human rights, the sanctity of life and individuals and contrasted it against Soviet brutality, genocide and repression. The Soviet Union is no more; the glue that held it together, communism, proved to be just a tragic aberration that cost close to 100 million lives; in its place, there is a Russian Federation that may, or may not, reconstitute the Russian Empire as it was in the days of Tsar Nicholas II.

 On September 19, 2013, Vladimir Putin addressed the Valdai International Discussion Club in the Novgorod Region and presented some of the following thoughts:

We have left behind Soviet ideology and there will be no return”

Every country has to have military, technological and economic strength, but nevertheless, the main thing that will determine success is the quality of its citizens, the quality of society: their intellectual, spiritual and moral strength”

And the next quote, the one that sent me out to the balcony to see if the world had come to an end while I was not looking:

We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same sex partnerships, belief in God with belief in Satan”

 Does this mean that Putin is one of the good guys? Not really. He is an autocrat from a land that has always been ruled by autocrats and in that respect: what else is new?

What is new is that the old doctrine, communism, is dead, gone, finito, kaputt, buried alongside its stable mate and close kin, nazism. However, what stands is our rejection of what made the West the greatest civilization ever; now, anything goes and everything is equal to everything else, and right and wrong are just relative terms, as the marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism  dictates. That is why there was no uproar when the story of aborted babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals broke.

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Titanic’s Perfect Storm

On the night of April 14 1912, Frederick Fleet, on the crow’s nest of  RMS Titanic of the White Star Line, strained to keep a sharp lookout for the possibility of ice ahead. There was a flat calm, no wind, no swells, a perfectly clear, moonless night; any of these conditions would have been unusual in the North Atlantic, but to have them all together was extremely rare. The air was very cold, with temperatures near 27 degrees. Because of a mix up at Southampton, the binoculars he would normally have been issued were nowhere to be found; since there was no moon that night, the only source of illumination was starlight; ahead, Fleet could see a faint haze on the horizon, under a blanket of stars.

Titanic continued to steam ahead at 22 knots. She had received warnings of ice packs forming ahead and of drifting ice in the area of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland but as it was the custom of the day, she did not reduce speed; after all, the ocean liners were the equivalent of the 747s and 777s of the times; the passengers they carried expected to be at their destination as scheduled and the mail they delivered was not to be delayed. Close calls were common and even collisions with icebergs were not unknown. In 1907, the SS Kronprinz Wilhelm, a German liner, had rammed an iceberg but had been able to complete her voyage. It was generally believed that ice did not pose great danger to large vessels.

In the crow’s nest, Frederick Fleet continued his sharp lookout. The haze on the far horizon remained unchanged; at the same time, the SS Californian, of the Leyland Line, encountered a large ice field and at 22:20, her captain, Stanley Lord,  decided it would be prudent to stop and wait until morning to proceed. As the vessel came to a stop, he saw a ship’s lights approaching.

The temperature continued to drop as Fleet scanned the sea ahead of the ship. Ice was beginning to form, but it represented little danger to Titanic, the largest ship of his class afloat; then, at 23:40, he suddenly saw a gigantic white mass coming out of the haze. Immediately he rang the ship’s bell three times and picked up the telephone to the bridge and shouted “Ice dead ahead!” . In the bridge, first officer William McMaster Murdoch immediately shouted “Hard a-starboard!” (steer left) followed by “Full speed astern!” (reverse engines); 37 seconds after Fleet’s warning, Titanic swung 2 points (22 1/2 degrees) to port (left) and for an instant, it seemed she would miss the iceberg altogether, but at the last moment, her starboard side scraped the iceberg under the water line and buckled 5 of her 16 watertight compartments. By 2:20 on the morning of April 15 she broke apart and foundered; two hours later, the Cunard liner RMS Carpathia arrived at the scene and rescued 705 survivors out of the 2224 passengers and crew. Titanic entered the world of legend and ignited a controversy that continues today, 102 years after the tragedy.

Carpathia, after a difficult sailing around icebergs, arrived in NY on the evening of April 18, 1912 at 21:30. The news of the sinking ofTitanic preceded her arrival; she first sailed to Pier 59, reserved for the White Star Line to unload Titanic’s empty life boats and then proceeded to Pier 54, Cunard Line’s own; an estimated 2,000 people already crowded the pier, with an additional 30,000 in the immediate vicinity plus another 10,000 lined at the Battery; Carpathia’s passengers disembarked first, followed by Titanic’s survivors; only then did the magnitude of the disaster become apparent and the crowd let out loud moans and cries. The mood changed rapidly from one of shock and disbelief to one of anger as the details of the disaster filtered out and became public. Newspaper reporters hounded the survivors in search of sensational stories and they found them in the lack of enough lifeboats for all passengers and the fact that J Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line was among the survivors. It was played for all it was worth. Ismay was branded a coward and Titanic’s captain, Edward Smith  was labeled a hero because he had gone down with the ship.

The inquiry held by  a subcommittee of the US Senate Commerce Committee was very critical of Titanic’s emergency preparations and evacuation procedures, the lack of enough lifeboats to accommodate all passengers, the fact that the safety equipment had never been tested and that the lookouts were not equipped with binoculars. Titanic’s captain, Edward Smith, came in for his share of criticism for having shown “indifference to danger that was one of the contributing causes of the tragedy”

There were many contributing causes of the tragedy and some of them are not as obvious as others 

Titanic was trying to set an Atlantic crossing speed record. The fact was that she was doing nothing of the sort. The White Star Line had already conceded the speed crown to its rival Cunard and concentrated instead on size and comfort. Titanic and her sister ship, Olympic, were dubbed floating palaces, and indeed they were; additionally, the huge engines needed to power these behemoths to anything near record speeds would have created uncomfortable and unwanted vibrations, which indeed plagued Cunard’s record holder Mauretania. Titanic’s average cruising speed was 21 knots. In the early 1900s, ocean liners criss-crossed the North Atlantic at record or near record speeds. Close calls, either from ice or from other ships were considered to be part and parcel of the Atlantic trade and no one thought of those as valid reasons to reduce speed.

Titanic did not carry enough lifeboats to accommodate all passengers. The British Board of Trade regulations of the time required vessels of over 10,000 tons to carry 16 lifeboats for 990 occupants. No one had envisioned ships such as Titanic, 5 times the tonnage of the Board’s requirements. Titanic carried 20 lifeboats (14 standard Harland and Wolff lifeboats with a capacity of 65 people each, 4 collapsible boats (with wooden bottoms and canvas sides with a capacity of 47 people each) and 2 emergency cutters with a capacity of 40 people each. Thus, she carried more lifeboats than required. Still, only enough for 1,200 passengers. In 1912, the belief was that, given the traffic density in the North Atlantic (comparable to today’s air traffic over the same region) chances were that, in the unlikely case of a ship needing assistance, there would be another vessel always in the vicinity and thus, lifeboats would only be used to ferry passengers from one ship to another. That lifeboats would be used by survivors of a foundered ship to stay afloat for hours or perhaps days, was never envisioned.

Titanic was unsinkable The White Star Line never referred to Titanic as “unsinkable”. Because she had a double bottom and 16 watertight bulkheads which could be operated individually or simultaneously by an electric switch from the bridge, the trade magazine “Shipbuilder”, in a special issue dedicated to the Olympic class ships, referred to them as “practically unsinkable”

There were serious design flaws Though Titanic was hailed as the greatest ship at the time, she was not as innovative as Cunard’s ships were. Harland and Wolff, the builders, used the tried and true technology available . The hull and the rivets failed because they became brittle in the cold water and fractured. Titanic steel showed a high content of both oxygen and sulphur, higher than what was common at the times. Vicky Basset, in a paper called Causes and Effects of the Rapid Sinking of the Titanic”, shows that the transition temperature from ductile to brittle of the Titanic steel was 25 to 35 degrees F. The water temperature that night was 28 degrees F, the freezing temperature of salt water; the rivets of wrought iron also failed because of brittle fracture caused by the high impact of the collision.

The 16 watertight bulkheads that earned the “practically unsinkable” endorsement from Shipbuilder magazine were only watertight horizontally; the walls rose a few feet above the waterline and did not reach the top. The collision had damaged 5 of the 16 compartments and as the bow started to go down, the water from one would spill over to the next, much as water in an ice cube tray does. If there had been no compartments, the flood water would have spread out and kept the ship horizontal, delaying the sinking for probably six hours, enough time for other ships to arrive and rescue the passengers. Olympic’s compartments were refitted after the Titanic disaster.

And now, the closing act of the tragedy The questions first raised during the Senate inquiry that are still raised today: why did the lookouts failed to spot the iceberg sooner than 37 seconds before the collision? The night was clear and bright, even without the moon. The iceberg should have been visible on the horizon against the backdrop of stars. And why did the Californian, which the inquiry established  was a mere six miles north of Titanic failed to render assistance? Had she done so, most, if not all, of Titanic’s passengers could have been saved. Were the two related? According to Titanic expert, historian and author Tim Maltin, they were.

The night of April 14 was beautiful, clear and very, very cold; as the cold water from the Labrador current merged with the warmer current of the Gulf Stream, warm air hovered over the cold  Labrador water creating a temperature inversion, ideal conditions for a cold water mirage. In the desert, because the surface is very hot, light bends upwards and reflects the sky on the ground, which looks like water. But when the surface of the earth is very cold, the opposite happens. Light bends downwards around the curvature of the earth, which raises a false horizon, called a “superior image”; at night, it would look like haze, shielding whatever is behind it. That is precisely what the lookouts on the Titanic saw. The same conditions affected the crew of the Californian; they testified later that they were not sure of what they were seeing.

During cold water mirages, the appearance of objects becomes severely distorted. To the end of his days, Captain Lord maintained that the ship whose lights were visible that night was too small to have been the Titanic and that there was a third ship present in the vicinity. This gave rise to the theory that the phantom ship was a Norwegian vessel illegally hunting seals and that was the reason it skedaddled out of the area. According to Tim Maltin, what he saw was an image so distorted by refraction that he could not have an accurate perception of either size or distance and what appeared as near was in  reality, much further away.

Titanic tried to raise the Californian via wireless but her lone telegraph operator was asleep. The two ships exchanged Morse code using lanterns, but again, neither ship’s crew was sure of what they were seeing. Titanic then fired rockets. In 1912, it was agreed that distress rockets were to be fired at one minute intervals, but Titanic fired hers at haphazard intervals; again, the refraction in the air may have made the rockets appear low in the horizon and thus more distant.

At 4:20 am on April 15 Carpathia appeared on the horizon. Titanic had sunk two hours before, taking over a thousand souls down with her. Captain Rostron described the place as an ice field that included some 20 icebergs, some measuring close to 200 feet high, numerous smaller ones and ice floes as well. At first light, Californian turned her wireless on and learned of the sinking ofTitanic; immediately she offered assistance. She was told that all that could be done had already been done. For the rest of his life, Lord maintained that the ship whose lights he had seen that night could not have been Titanic. He died in 1962, aged 84, unable to clear his name.

Many factors contributed to Titanic’s tragedy. Could it have been avoided had any one of them been different? It is tempting to think so. Construction of Titanic was delayed because Bruce Ismay insisted on design changes to enhance the luxury of the ship; otherwise she would have been finished some three weeks earlier. At the start of her only voyage, at Southampton, as she sailed past the berthed Olympic and New York, her wake caused the smaller New York to break off her moorings and come perilously close to Titanic. Captain Smith ordered hard astern and avoided a collision by about four feet. By the time New York was secured, Titanic was an hour behind her scheduled departure time. Would that hour have made the difference between life and death for 1500 people? Only God knows the answer.


How to Engineer Opinion

How much of what we buy at the supermarket or clothes stores really reflects our individual tastes and preferences and how much simply because we have been told that is what we really want? Of course, no one pops out on the TV screen or radio yelling “Buy this, comrade, or it’s Siberia for you!” The process is so subtle that it is undetectable but its effects are permanent. How do you change the breakfast habits of an entire nation? Or persuade women that smoking is a symbol of freedom? Or, for that matter, convince an overwhelmingly isolationist public that it was not only their duty but their moral obligation to participate in the trench carnage taking place in Europe during WW I? All this was the work of one genius: Edward Bernays
Edward Bernays was born in Vienna, then the capital of Austria-Hungary, in 1891. His maternal uncle was no other that Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, who was to have the most profound and lasting influence throughout his life. In 1892 his family moved to New York City, where he attended De Witt High School and eventually graduated from Cornell University with a degree in agriculture but decided instead on journalism as a career. He met Doris Fleischman and married her in 1922. He joined the Wilson Administration and became a member of the US Government Committee on Public Information (CPI), along with Walter Lippman. The CPI was the instrument President Wilson employed in his attempt to convince the American public, which was firmly isolationist, to join the war effort against Germany. Bernays combined the ideas of social psychologists Gustave Le Bon (the originator of crowd psychology) and Wilfred Trotter (author of “Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War”) with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle Sigmund to come up with the slogan that America’s war effort was solely aimed at “bringing democracy to Europe” and to “make the world safe for democracy”. His campaign was so successful in swaying the American public into supporting the war that he started to think that the same propaganda template could also be used in peacetime.

Because the Germans had used it so extensively during the war, the word “propaganda” -which originally had merely meant information- had fallen into disrepute. He therefore originated the term “Public Relations” He also developed the notion, along with Walter Lippman, that the public’s democratic judgement was not to be trusted. The American public could easily vote for the wrong person or back the wrong idea, so it had to be guided from above, but quietly, by the enlightened minority he came to call “the invisible government” (“Propaganda“, 1928)
Although he was not the inventor, Bernays refined and popularized the technique of the “press release” Ever wonder why bacon and eggs came to be “the American Breakfast?” In the 1920′s the Beech-Nut Packing Company experienced a drop in the sales of their pork products; to reverse the trend, they hired Edward Bernays to do “public relations” for the company. He immediately went to the company doctor and posed this question to him: “is a hearty breakfast better for good health than a light breakfast?” Bear in mind that at the time the breakfast fare of most Americans consisted of coffee or tea, and toast. This was a carry over from the times of Andrew Jackson, when simplicity was stressed and gluttony, as exemplified by big meals of any kind, was considered a sin. When the doctor dutifully answered that a hearty breakfast was better for overall good health, he asked him if he would write to 5,000 other doctors and ask the same question. When the answers came back, all affirmative, Bernays then asked this roundabout question: “Is a bacon and eggs breakfast a hearty breakfast?” The doctor again answered “yes” and the campaign was born. Bernays issued a “press release” stating that 5,000 doctors said that bacon and eggs for breakfast were important for the overall good health of America. The image of a doctor, dressed in white endorsing bacon, became the symbol of a good breakfast. Bacon sales not only recovered, but broke previous records and the breakfast habits of the nation changed radically.

In the 1920′s Bernays came up with a legendary publicity campaign to overcome a major social taboo: women were then only allowed to smoke in designated areas; those caught smoking in public would have been arrested and fined. While working for the American Tobacco Company, Bernays staged the 1929 Easter Parade in New York City and hired models to be part not only of the parade but also of the public, all holding lit Lucky Strike cigarettes, which he called “torches of freedom” He followed it with a “press release” which brought the event to the pages of every newspaper. The resulting publicity started women smoking more than ever before and women’s smoking habits became socially acceptable.

Another of his clients was the Aluminium Company of America, ALCOA, which had a problem with a waste by product of its operations: fluoride, which in sufficient quantities can be toxic. By the happy coincidence of stained teeth in Colorado, caused by the fluoride in the water supply and the fact that those teeth were shown to be resistant to caries, the conclusion was reached that ALCOA’s waste product was a tooth saver. Bernays convinced the American Dental Association and obtained their coveted endorsement for the concept of adding fluoride to the water supplies of almost every city in America, an effort which continues to this day. He designed the Proctor and Gamble campaign to convince the American housewife that Ivory Soap was medically superior and pure because it floated -the bars were injected with air bubbles during manufacturing. He also helped persuade consumers that Dixie Cups were preferable to the shared water glasses common in that era.

It was Bernays’s public relations efforts that popularized Freud’s theories in the US. He combined them with Le Bon’s theories on crowd psychology (The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, Gustave Le Bon, 1895) and used the combination to design his public persuasion campaigns. He was the first to employ what is today a common technique. In the past, an entrepeneur would recognize a need and manufacture a product to meet the need; but what happens to a product for which there is no need? The answer? Create a need, convince the public that their lives, health and welfare all depend on the acquisition of what was up to then an unwanted object or service. Behind all this, there was the notion that the public’s dangerous and libidinal tendencies could be controlled and channelled by a corporate elite. He recognized that one of the by products of universal education and suffrage was the creation of an anonymous mass with primitive power and little discernment besides of what was immediately in front of it and that its irrational desires and wants could be used to secure a niche in the mass production economy; a side benefit of placating the masses’ dangerous urges was the avoidance of the stresses that threatened to tear societies apart.

None of this could be accomplished without Bernays’s “Invisible Government”. We see the trend setters, the opinion makers and the many leaders of institutions that influence us, but they are not this invisible government. Who influences the influencers? The almost anonymous (at least to the vast majority) fashion designer from whichever city holds the fashion crown at the time? The “public relations” person who plants “suggestions” in the ears of presidents, senators, congressmen and such perceived leaders?

Bernays’s idea of “the manipulation of the masses as a necessary and natural feature of a democratic society” created a two-faced creature; on the one hand, there was the intrinsically harmless promotion of soap, Dixie Cups, water fluoridation and breakfast bacon. On the other, there was the women’s smoking campaign, which he came to regret later in life, after his wife died of lung cancer. The darkest facet of this manipulation of the masses took place in Germany, where Joseph Goebbels applied its principles to secure the Nazi rise to power; when he launched his destructive anti-Jewish propaganda, he used Bernays’s “Crystallizing Public Opinion” as the basis for his campaign.

The 20th century became the Age of the Masses, aimless and powerful; whatever we may think of Bernays’s methods, he recognized the phenomenon and formulated the means of channelling its energies; in this, he was not alone. Others had already written about it, but it was Bernays who put the principles in a coherent and rational manner. The principles he used were neither good or evil by themselves; the same principles that launched a smoking campaign were used on behalf of the NAACP to combat racial discrimination.
Edward Bernays died in 1995, in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the age of 103. His name has fallen off the mainstream consciousness and is remembered mainly in the advertising circles, but his influence is pervasive in our society. Just look at the constant barrage of entertainment aimed at a passive public, our political discourse changed from comprehensive debate to Q and A sessions where candidates have 2 minutes to answer complex questions, political campaigns consisting of quick and snappy slogans and speeches long on words and short on meaning.

Edward Bernays surely deserves to be enshrined in the American pantheon of genius.