Eagerly beginning the wall to scale,
Using only my hands and feet.
Resolved to follow the hardest trail,
I confidently place my cleat.
Suddenly, there’s no foothold to rest,
Desperately, I cling to the wall.
My heart is pounding in my chest,
My ascent slows to a crawl,
My feet and arms tire and shake,
The safety line invites me to bail.
Should I reach for the line and forego the ache,
Or continue to try, maybe fail?
The voice from below says: “Look to the right”,
I reach and grab a far hold.
Propelling free from my previous plight,
Good advice is more precious than gold.
It’s romantic to view the world as a wall,
Scaled heroically by pure self-esteem.
But in complex endeavors you’re certain to fall,
Without the support of a team.
© Copyright 2011 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.
On February 20, 1939, over 20,000 American supporters of the Nazi party packed Madison Square Garden in New York City. They anxiously awaited the appearance of Fritz Julius Kuhn, the newly anointed Führer of the German-American Bund. The event took place two days before George Washington’s birthday and a 30-foot-portrait of the first president (who was described by Kuhn as the first fascist) hung behind the podium along with Nazi flags and swastikas.
Kuhn entered the arena together with thousands of uniformed Nazi guards. During the rally he and his fiery fellow orators held back no punches, calling President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Franklin Rosenfeld,” and referring to his New Deal as a "Jew Deal."
Being a creature of the night, Kuhn loved nightclubs, drinking, and the company of women (among them his two mistresses, Virginia Cogswell AKA “The Marrying Georgia Peach–on account of her previous seven husbands”, Florence Camp, Frau Hedwig Munx, and others). Just like many petty dictators, he was pompous, dishonest, idiotic, and didn’t understand his own limitations.
Once during a testimony before the Dies Committee, he was asked by Congressman Starnes if the reason why 23 of 71 Bund units concentrated in and around New York City was because the aircraft and naval manufacturing facilities were handy for sabotage. He replied: "That’s the same thing Lipshitz said. You know who Lipshitz is? That’s Walter Winchell [referring to Winston Churchill]. Lipshitz is his real name." No one was amused.
Shortly after his rock concert-like appearance in Madison Square Garden, New York city’s mayor, La Guardia, who was fed up with the constant anti-Semitic and anti-American agitation, started an Al Capone-style financial investigation of the Bund’s taxes.
When asked about his relationship to Florence Camp during his trial, Kuhn denied that he had asked her to marry him and noted that Mrs. Camp was too much of a lady to accept a proposal after just a few days’ acquaintance. Herman McCarthy (the prosecutor) whipped out a Kuhn letter and read it aloud:
"Florence : I am terrible in love with you. I beg you to become my beloved wife. I will always be true to you. . . ."
In another letter to Florence he said that he loved her with his “whole soul and body and was about to have [his] teeth fixed.”
In the course of the trial, it was established that Kuhn had pilfered $14,548 from his organization ($717.02 of it having been spent on moving expenses for Mrs. Camp). Kuhn was swiftly convicted on charges of embezzlement, grand larceny, and forgery and was first sent to Sing Sing Prison. After the war, he was deported to Germany, where he managed to get into trouble again.
In 1949 when he again stood trial in front of a Munich court this time on charges of escaping from jail and being a major Nazi organizer, he claimed that the Bund was strictly "an American patriotic organization," that he had used the swastika only because it was "an old American Indian design," and that he had patterned the Bund’s uniforms after the US National Guard, not the SS. As for his 1944 meeting with Hitler he said:
"It was purely a social call. If I went to England today, I would naturally like to call on King George."
When the US. entered the war, whatever was left of the German-American Bund organization quickly disintegrated, however, that didn’t spell the end of Nazi activity in America. Another high profile organization waiting in the wings was the Steuben Society. In comparison to the Bund which was composed of common National Socialist riff raff, the Steuben Society represented the cream of the crop to the US Nazi aristocracy.
Although Steuben Society members avoided public Nazi displays such as hailing Hitler, the differences between the two organizations were only skin deep. When it came to hard core issues such Nazi ideology, they were indistinguishable.
While visiting the reception room of the Steuben Society in New York, John Roy Carlson observed:
“One could find a large American flag standing in one corner. On the walls were pictures of Von Steuben, Washington, and Lincoln, The Pledge to the Flag and the Bill of Rights hung framed between them. There was also no lack of red-white-and-blue. Patriotism oozed from every crevice in the room.”
True to its nature, the Society published “The Steuben News" a newspaper for Patriotic Americans which described itself as:
. . . a patriotic, civic and educational political society endeavoring to awaken in the hearts and minds of American citizens of German extraction the necessity for taking a more active part and interest in the political affairs of our great country.
Its program demanded "strict discipline" on the part of its members, and rejected "persons who are shifters and trimmers, or who are known to possess no race pride." The Steuben Society strongly emphasized Racial (Aryan) consciousness and political objectives.
In his 1943 investigative book Under Cover, Carlson wrote:
“…The Steuben News reprinted articles from the pro-Fascist Italian daily, Il Progress Halo-Americana. It recommended books by the notorious Ausland Institute and ran many articles by Nazi agents. The Steuben News praised as "extraordinary and valuable" the book Scarlet Fingers published by Flanders Hall, the propaganda mill financed by Nazi agent George Sylvester Viereck. The Steuben News followed the accepted party line of pro-Nazi isolationists. It headlined the speeches of Lindbergh. It championed the late senator Ernest Lundeen-some of whose speeches were written by Nazi agent George Sylvester Viereck-and on one occasion devoted eleven columns to one of his defeatist speeches.
It reprinted from Social Justice and The Herald, American Fascist weekly. It ran large advertisements for the America First Committee, reprinted its bulletins and urged its members to support it financially. The Steuben Society fought desperately all measures to arm those European Democracies which resisted Hitler’s brutality. And it also quoted liberally from the New York Enquirer, published by William Griffin, who was later shown to have associated with Viereck.”
Now, you’re probably thinking: “This is a fascinating piece of history, but what’s the relevance of all of this 1939 Nazi stuff to our current 21st century jet-set life style?” Well, wonder no more.
This past Sunday morning on our way out of our local diner, I caught sight of the newspaper stand in the entrance vestibule. I usually don’t read printed media, but the name of the paper and the motto “A Newspaper for Americans” caught my attention. Curious about how the Steuben Society’s defines “American,” I picked up my free copy and read on.
At the top of the cover page on each side of the title “The Steuben News” were the mission statements: (1) United for Common Interests and Common Needs” and (2) DUTY, JUSTICE, TOLERANCE, CHARITY.
I flipped through and read some of the articles. There was an announcement of a presidential proclamation regarding the German-American Day, a story about the treaty between German settlers of Texas and the native Comanche Indians. My first impression was that it all seemed rather banal. Then I got the last page. Under the calendar of events, I ran into some terminologies like “event sponsored by Unit #998” and “contact Brother Erick or Sister Hildegard.” That seemed a bit cryptic and militant. At the bottom of the page I saw the membership form which prompted an unexpected double-take.
The membership form, unlike any other application I have ever seen, had questions about the nationality of the applicant’s father and mother, political affiliation, and—most surprising of all—about naturalization. For some reason, the Steuben Society (acting in the capacity of a quasi-government organization?) will only issue membership cards after careful evaluation of the applicant’s naturalization certificate, which includes scrutiny of the certificate number and place of origin. (I’m kind of curious to know who at the INS helps them validate these applications.)
From what I can tell, this membership application has remained consistent over the years. After conducting a quick search on-line for similar historical documents, I found one for the Silver Shirts, and as you can see from the contents, not much has changed in terms of drilling down to pedigree and other über eugenics.
When, I checked out the Steuben Society’s website for the name and location of the chapter nearest me, I discovered that they are all named after some distinguished German American figure. I was hoping to find a chapter honoring the likes of von Stauffenberg, but alas, no such luck.
I am not sure what to make of all this. I hold German culture, ingenuity, work ethics, and organization in the highest esteem. I’m an avid admirer of Handel’s music and Nietzsche’s, Kant’s, Goethe’s, and Leibniz’s writings. My family originated from Germany and in my travels there I have found most German people to be kind, polite, friendly, and exceedingly intelligent.
On one hand, it’s laughable that anyone would be willing to complete an application detailing his mother’s nationality or his naturalization number in order to join a civic organization. On the other hand it’s really disturbing that in 2010—the age of the internet—a nationwide fraternity that draws its philosophy from one of humankind’s darkest moments, continues to operate in the mainstream with apparently unrestricted access to leading politicians and public figures.
If you are considering joining an organization such as this, take a breather and dedicate some time to learning the German language, literature, philosophy, and music instead. You will discover that the richness of Germanic culture has a lot to do with individuality and little with purity of blood.
© Copyright 2009 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.
Having kids in elementary school comes with several important parental commitments. Ranking high among these is the participation in the yearly science project. The main objective is to expose kids to the fundamentals of the scientific method. Following the principal of "learning by doing," children, with the assistance of their parents, are required to conduct and showcase a yearly science experiment.
In our school district, exhibition day is a long-awaited, festive event with hundreds of projects being showcased at the school’s gymnasium. It is a great opportunity for families to mingle and view each other’s work. To spice things up a bit, at the end of the event, a panel of teachers selects the top three projects for each grade. The 1st place winners are then entitled to enter their project into the yearly regional competition that takes place at Brookhaven National Laboratory, a much coveted honor.
Although it is a great concept in theory, for some, the yearly science project can become a dreaded event, often testing a family’s procrastination capacity to the limits. On the weekend prior to the project’s due date, it is not unusual to find many agitated parents with kids in tow still scouring craft stores for project display boards and other supplies. In our family, however, we’ve come to view this assignment as an important pedagogical opportunity worthy of careful planning and execution.
I am fan of Richard Feynman, and have enjoyed reading “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”. This book in addition to being an excellent primer for the budding technology hacker, inspired me to instill in my kids the importance of not falling victim to the “Cargo Cult” syndrome, and being honest and original in one’s approach to scientific discovery.
As it turns out, this has been a winning strategy for us. Since we started conducting science projects 4 years ago, we’ve been fortunate to have won several first place awards. Some of our past projects included experiments on bottleneck formation, sound propagation through vacuum, and algorithms and mathematics used by a spider to construct a web.
This year, during a routine morning school drop off, our 4th grader, Sheva, noticed that a traffic bottleneck formed regularly at one of the entrances to her school. After discussing her observations during dinner she proposed to dedicate her project to deciphering it.
Over a period of several days, we examined the traffic patterns, (volume, arrival and departure times, vehicle speed, etc.), but it seemed that there was no single significant cause to which we could attribute the formation of the bottleneck. We were stumped and unsure as to how to proceed. It was during one of the site visits that my daughter noticed a hawk hovering over the area. She commented that it would have been great if we could observe the traffic from above. Well, I thought, we may not be able to fly over the site like a hawk, (it is a residential area so a fly-over in an Ultralight would be out of the question), but we could certainly build an airborne observatory to do it for us.
After considering options, we decided that a fixed winged propeller driven aircraft wouldn’t work because the wind gusts at the area can reach up to 40 mph. Another constraint was that we would need a sustained, 30-minute flight to capture the entire bottleneck sequence which would be prohibitive.
In the end, we decided to build a lighter than air aircraft (Image 1) and after an intense weekend of design and fabrication we had a functional observatory. It took several test runs to get the flight characteristics and image quality right, but by Monday we were ready to conduct our operational flight.
Image 1: ATOS (Airborne Traffic Observation System)
Flight Navigation and Imaging Specifications
- 4′ Chloroprene weather balloon with 1.7 lbs of lifting capacity
- Riveted aluminum base cradle
- Flight control and stabilization via 2 tethers
- Canon FS100 Flash Memory (16 GB) camcorder with image stabilization
- Wireless broadcast via an Amimon’s wireless modem, streaming HD 1080P/24 video at 120 Hz over an encrypted connection to a base station laptop
The first flight of ATOS was smooth, producing an excellent video feed. Back home after evaluating the images, Sheva almost instantly identified the source of the bottleneck.
It was apparent that the two-way traffic at the entrance to school was restricted to only smaller vehicles. As soon as the school buses arrived for their daily drop-off and pick-up, they forced all vehicles into a single file, which resulted in the immediate formation of a bottleneck.
This discovery was somewhat puzzling because, from the ground, the road (which is nearly 31′) seemed wide enough to comfortably support the passage of two side by side buses. So, on our next field trip we decided to measure the gate (Illustration 1) that blocks the entrance in question. Armed with the gate’s measurements, we then consulted the traffic calming section in the NY highway design manual and quickly concluded that indeed the gate was at fault.
So science aside, installing a gate that blocked over 30% of a high traffic thoroughfare was clearly a bad idea, not to mention that it violated numerous design codes. The gate and the fences that are attached to each of its sides also posed a series safety hazard because drivers who were unaware of the obstruction might plow directly into the fence, while still others who miscalculated the gate’s clearance could potentially scrape the posts supporting the gate.
On the day of the science fair, I approached the school principal and inquired about the origin of the gate. I explained that it appears that someone had either made a design or installation error because the gate’s posts should have been placed on the sidewalk curbs, off the driveway. The rationale for this being that when the gate was completely open it would allow for unrestricted traffic. The principal told me that the decision to construct the gate preceded her time in office and it had been influenced by the homeowners just down the street who complained that the traffic had become a nuisance. To reduce the traffic in order to appease the homeowners, the school agreed to install the gate as built.
Not satisfied with this explanation, I proceeded to point out the hazards posed by the gate as it stands and began to enumerate various doomsday scenarios. The principal’s otherwise cheerful demeanor suddenly darkened and after a quick and nervous glance at her watch she said that it was unfortunate that our meeting had to end so abruptly, but that she had to run to an important conference.
On the way home, my daughter who had been standing by me during the entire conversation with the principal asked me if, now that we’ve provided a scientific explanation for the formation of the bottle neck, the school would fix the problem. I thought about it for few minutes and said, "Probably not." She asked “why?”, I said that unfortunately, sometimes in the short term, politics can trump scientific discovery. She was visibly disappointed and said that she worked so hard on this experiment and it all turned out to be a complete waste of our time. I told her that even though we didn’t win, we still conducted a great experiment and independently discovered and solved an interesting puzzle. And by way of analogy, I told her about the Galileo affair and how despite his mistreatment by the inquisition, in the end, his theories eventually won acceptance.
A few days after the science experiment, my wife, while waiting to pickup our daughter from school, struck up conversation with another parent who seemed to be somewhat annoyed. "Why the long face?" she asked. "Well," said our neighbor , "Just a few minutes ago while driving into the school parking lot, I was being polite and making extra room for the car approaching me, but I miscalculated the width of the opening and scraped the side of my van against the gate post." She had carved a deep gauge in right hand side of her van from wheel rim to wheel rim.
That evening during dinner, my wife recounted the story of the accident. My daughter at first thought that my wife was making the whole thing up, but after hearing that it was the mother of one of her classmates, she asked for permission to call her friend to verify the facts. When she got back to the dinner table, she had a look of disbelief on her face. “That’s exactly what we told the principle could happen!” she said. “We sure did,” I said.
She remained silent for few seconds and then I noticed a twinkle in her eyes.
© Copyright 2009 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.