Friday, March 10, 2017

One Hope for Science

Review by Bill Doughty

Dr. Hope Jahren asks us to plant a tree while she plants a forest of ideas in this remarkable book. Part autobiography in the very cool shade of science essays, "Lab Girl" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016 by A. Hope Jahren), is a perfect book for Women's History Month.

Michiko Kakutani compares Jahren's style of poetry and scientific imagination to Oliver Sacks and Stephen Jay Gould. I smiled – and laughed – at passages that sounded like Mary Roach. And I read and reread beautiful passages that brought E.O. Wilson and Rachel Carson to mind.

But, to be clear, Hope Jahren is a unique voice, humble but fearless in what she reveals. This book that is ultimately an extended love letter to the world, to life, to "the transcendent value of loyalty," and to her imagined granddaughter.

I enjoy reading short chapters of "Lab Girl" to my young grandkids. Here's an excerpt from her chapter on seeds (and more):
"A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance to take its one and only chance to grow ... Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited."
Anomalocaris pictured in a Cambrian sea.
Here's a passage the kids and I enjoyed that sets the stage for life on earth – before plants. This one sent us to Google for a look-see at Anomalocaris and a sidebar to YouTube to see how the history of the earth can be understood using a football field, thanks to NPR's Skunk Bear. Just sharing.
"For several billion years, the whole of the Earth's land surface was completely barren. Even after life had richly populated the oceans, there is no clear evidence for any life on land. While herds of trilobites wallowed on the ocean floor, preyed upon by Anomalocaris – a segmented marine insect the size of a Labrador retriever – there was nothing on land. Sponges, mollusks, snails, corals, and exotic crinoids maneuvered through nearshore and deepwater environments – still nothing. The first jawed and jawless fishes appeared and radiated into the bony forms we know today – still nothing ... Sixty million more years passed before there was life on land that constituted any more than a few single cells stuck together within the cracks of a rock. Once the first plant did somehow make its way onto land, however, it took only a few million years for all of the continents to turn green, first with wetlands and then with forests."
Gorilla at Monkey Jungle
Dr. Jahren is heart-achingly honest and belly-achingly funny in describing roadtrips, the Monkey Jungle, dancing at a glacier, finding something special in hackberry seeds, finding love, being pregnant, and confronting mortality.

Along most of the way she introduces us to  her fraternal soulmate, fellow scientist and lab partner, Bill. We get a bit of history about Armenia and Norway, as relates to Bill's and Hope's families respectively.
Another theme of this book is self-awareness and self-acceptance, as expressed in this found haiku about her life's confusing and sometimes unstable path toward enlightenment:

being what you are
while knowing that it's more than
people want to see
In advice for any parent, leader, scientist or sailor, Jahren writes, "People are like plants. They grow toward the light."
Her writing is often pure poetry in prose:
"In Minnesota, the spring thaw happens all at once when the frozen ground yields to the sun in one day, wetting the spongy soil from within. On the first day of spring, you can can reach into the ground and easily pull up great, loose clumps of dirt as if they were handfuls of too-fresh devil's food cake and watch the fat pink earthworms come writhing out and fling themselves joyfully back into the hole. There is not even a hint of clay within the soils of southern Minnesota; they have lain like a rich black blanket over the limestone of the region for a hundred thousand years ... but the growing season is short, so there's no time to be wasted."
In "Lab Girl" we travel with indefatigable Jahren to her birthplace in Minnesota to places like California, Alaska, the American South, Maryland, Norway and Ireland, then finally to her new home and lab – often the same thing – at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, where she was a tenured professor when "Lab Girl" ends.

Among her studies and achievements: In 2009 she and her team were in the third year of conducting forensic analysis of chemical aftermath of a terrorist attack. "Our idea was to compare, and perhaps link, the chemical fingerprint of post-blast residue with that of the chemical traces gathered from surfaces where the explosives might have been constructed – a kitchen countertop, for example." She achieved success with "a definite dataset, made with integrity and interpreted honestly."
What makes this book so perfect for Women's History Month is the inspiring story behind Jahren's success as a woman in the traditionally man's world of science. She overcame significant roadblocks and obstacles – with toughness, grit and her namesake optimism.

Jahren writes about being stereotyped and second-guessed – knee-deep in chauvinism in a male-dominated world.
"Public and private organizations all over the world have studied the mechanics of sexism within science and have concluded that they are complex and multifactorial. In my own small experience, sexism has been something very simple: the cumulative weight of constantly being told that you can't possibly be what you are."
Global climate change and the urbanization of the planet is a big concern for Jahren. "Viewed from space, our planet appears less green with each passing year," she warns. And, "Humans are actively creating a world where only weeds can live and then feigning shock and outrage upon finding so many."

Baobob tree at University of Hawaii, Manoa.
In a recent study, Jahren and her team are showing that sweet potatoes can grow larger as carbon dioxide increases as predicted for the next several hundred years. 
"This is not a surprise. We also saw that these big potatoes were less nutritious, much lower in protein content, no matter how much fertilizer we gave them. This was a bit of a surprise. It is also bad news, because the poorest and hungriest nations of the world rely on sweet potatoes for a significant amount of dietary protein. It looks as if the bigger potatoes of the future might feed more people while nourishing them less. I don't have an answer for that one."
Hope Jahren takes a clear-eyed look at the real longterm threats to our world and breathes beauty into the nature of reality (and reality of nature) with practical advice: "plant a tree."

This is another book I heard about on the great podcast, Tom Ashbrook's "On Point."

Monday, February 20, 2017

C2 It: Mattis's Recommendation – Grant

Review by Bill Doughty

Mattis addresses the Naval War College
Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a former U.S. Marine Corps General, is known as a reader, leader and critical thinker – the so-called warrior monk.

Among the dozens of books he recommends as an avid reader, as reported in the Washington Post, is "Grant Takes Command: 1863-1865" (Little Brown and Company, 1968, 1969, and Castle Books, 2000).

Mattis says the book shows the importance of commanders' relationships, even more important than command relationships.

General Ulysses S. Grant, who would go on to become the 18th president, achieved command and control in a fractious environment in what, to date, has been the most fractious time in our nation's history: the Civil War fought to maintain the Union and end slavery in the United States.

General Ulysses S. Grant
On one hand, Grant was challenged with difficult generals such as Banks, Butler, Rosecrans and Thomas. Some of his subordinates were outrageously insubordinate or incompetent. Some went behind his back to members of Congress to complain or spread rumors about their adjutant general.

At the War Department, precursor of the Department of Defense, Grant found "... a crippling knot of jealousy, suspicion and self-seeking ... and furious back biting."

On the other hand, Grand had strong bonds with capable Generals like Sherman, Sheridan and Schofield (among many others) and with Navy Admiral David Dixon Porter, "whom Grant held in high regard." Most of all he had a good relationship with President Lincoln.

Lincoln depicted listening to Generals Sherman and Grant and Adm. Porter.
Catton, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian, shows that "Grant placed a high value on harmony ... and Lincoln placed a high value on Grant."

U.S. Grant, no grandstander or faker, was focused on substance over celebrity or appearance. He personified toughness. In the field, "The man seemed wholly unmilitary, not to say slouchy, and he went stumping about headquarters in an unbuttoned coat an a battered hat, head down, hands in pockets ... worn down by hard service," Catton writes. "Grant was not interested in parades."

Yet, his mind was sharp and focused, as evidenced by his writing and decisions in support of President Lincoln, including his commitment to bring harmony not only in the field but also to the nation. And "Grant was inclined to be optimistic" as he fought for a lasting peace.

Federal volunteers from Ohio form an honor guard.
Grant wrote, "The North and South could never live at peace with each other except as one nation, and that without slavery." He came to support African American Soldiers and integration of his Army, and he demanded equal treatment for prisoners of war, black or white.

Interestingly, "Grant had never been an antislavery man," Catton writes, "but he had said long ago the war for reunion must destroy slavery." The two simple but sublime points demanded by Grant and Lincoln to the South: "that the Union should be preserved" and "that slavery should be abolished."

Grant at City Point, Virginia in 1864.
To his boyhood friend and naval officer Dan Ammen, Grant wrote that any peace with the South must be unconditional: "A 'peace at any price' would be fearful to contemplate. It would be the beginning of the war. The demands of the South would know no limits. They would demand indemnity for expenses incurred in carrying on the war. They would demand the turn of all their slaves set free in consequence of war. They would demand a treaty looking to the rendition of all fugitive slaves escaping into the Northern states, and they would keep on demanding until it would be better dead than to submit longer."

Catton shows how Grant and his generals fought at places like Chattanooga, Spottsylvania/Cold Harbor and Fort Fisher, where the Navy and Army coordinated in amphibious warfare. His writing occasionally becomes almost McCullough-esque when describing Civil War battlefields. For example, at Cold Harbor, which, in the summer of 1864, was neither cold nor a harbor for warfighters:
"The Cold Harbor plain looked empty, and the fact that everybody knew that it ws not empty made it sinister, like the blank face of a dreadful haunted house. The ground was broken here and there by swamps and little ravines, in front of the Federal lines it rose after a few hundred yards to a low chain of flat hills, and all along this higher ground there was a scar on the earth – a trench of freshly turned dirt, zig-zagging in and out, disappearing in thin mist to right and left. It was marked by regimental flags, limp in the windless wet morning, and there did not seem to be anybody in it. Nobody was in the least deceived; and yet, except for the Rebel skirmishers, who were posted far out in front, the advancing Federals could see hardly any of their enemies. They could not see many friends, either, because there were gaps between the army corps, so that each division would have to fight its own battle. No Federal soldier could see more than a fragment of the field."
Battle of Spottsylvania
We see and feel the tension of media coverage during war in how General Meade punished a reporter (with the unfortunate name Crapsey) who misreported with what today are called "fake facts" about leadership in the Cold Harbor battle. Meade had him tied up, set backward on a mule and paraded around the camp wearing a big placard proclaiming him a libeler. In another case, Grant himself had to intercede when General Burnside wanted to shoot another reporter, named Swinton. Grant saved him, and Swinton got a one-way ticket back to Washington. "But (thereafter) neither Meade nor Burnside ever got any favors from the press."

Catton reveals how Grant and Lincoln kept an unswerving focus not on petty concerns but on the bigger picture: unconditional peace and a united nation with no slavery.

When the Confederacy's Gen. Robert E. Lee reached out to discuss ending the fighting, but with conditions, Grant and Lincoln remained resolute and tough. And when peace did come, Grant ensured there was no "poison" of reprisal against Lee and the South.

General Douglas MacArthur and President Harry Truman would take a similar approach with Imperial Japan 80 years, retaining the emperor as figurehead while helping Japan establish a constitutional democracy that embraced human rights and shifting power to the people.

General Mattis visited both Korea and Japan earlier this month to reaffirm U.S. support to both countries.

This book ends with the end of the Civil War and tragic assassination of President Lincoln, setting the stage for General Grant as a "stranger in a strange land," poised to find the next stage in duty to country.

Earlier this month the Associated Press reported that historian Ron Chernow is writing a "painstakingly researched" biography on Grant, due for publication in October 2017. Chernow is the author of "Hamilton," the book that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda's historical and now historic broadway smash of the same name. Chernow's "Grant" is expected to reevaluate the life of the general and president who has been largely misunderstood and under-appreciated.

T.E. Lawrence of Arabia
Other recommended books by Mattis include T. E. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," Stephen Pressfield's "Gates of Fire: Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae," John Hersey's "A Bell for Adano," Bing West's "The Village," Karen Armstrong's "The Battle for God," Reza Aslan's "No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam," Bernard Lewis's "The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror," and Tom Clancy's "Battle Ready."

Mattis's reading lists include several titles by authors familiar to readers of the Navy Reads blog: Robert Kaplan, Thomas Friedman, Bernard Lewis and Peter Bergen.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

'Nuclear Showdown' w/ North Korea?

Review by Bill Doughty

Are we headed to a nuclear showdown with North Korea? Should we negotiate with Kim Jong Un, grandson of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung, son of Kim Jong Il? What's the solution to prevent nuclear conflict?

Perhaps the first step is to try to understand the who, what, when, where and why of the so-called Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Gordon G. Chang's "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World" (Random House, 2006) was published when Kim Jong Il was still alive and president of the isolated and insulated country.

Chang's book opens with a quote from former Vice President Dan Quayle: "People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have tremendous impact on history."

Although written more than 10 years ago, this book is still remarkably timely, and the years have helped temper Chang's perspective and conclusions. The history of the Korean Peninsula and the creation of the DPRK is particularly enlightening, as are his descriptions of the main characters in the real-life North Korean drama, beginning with the founder. Kim Il Sung developed a concept of socialism – more religion than philosophy, called Juche, ironically calling for self-reliance. He adopted aspects of Confucianism and Christianity and modeled a culture similar to pre-WWII Imperial Japan, according to Chang: "No stranger to the tale of Christ, he simply defied himself" and "appropriated elements of emperor worship from the Japanese."
"Kim Il Sung didn't know much about Marx or Hegel, but he understood the psychology of the Korean people, who were more in tune to medieval times than modern ones. For an ignorant, traditional, and abused citizenry, he harnessed the powerful force of nationalism, retained elements of feudal and Confucian society, and employed Leninist and Stalinist techniques of social mobilization and control. Like Hitler, he knew how to manipulate imagery and stir emotions. The society he created, while unfamiliar to the rest of us, made perfect sense to Koreans of that time because it fit in with their conception of the world. The charismatic Kim Il Sung exploited his people so well they did not feel oppressed."
Cult of Kim: Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un
"Kim, with an obsessive thoroughness, built the most repressive totalitarian system in world history," Chang writes.

The DPRK was created in the aftermath of World War II and expanded in the following decade out of what we Americans call the Korean War, "a stalemate from the weaker perspective but a victory in the eyes of North Koreans."
"Americans, of course, do not subscribe to the DPRK's version of history, yet Kim's fabrication, like all good ones, was formed around a tidbit of truth. The Korean was correct in believing he had dealt a setback to the United States in the war. He had, after all, managed to do something that even Uncle Joe Stalin had not accomplished: at the height of the power of the United States he had dented, if not destroyed, the aura of American military superiority. After a magnificent show of determination in Europe during  the Berlin Airlift of 1948 and 1949. American resolve failed in the mountains of Korea in 1950 to 1953."
North Korea calls that war the Great Fatherland Liberation War, started by the North to reunify the peninsula by force. In the next decade, America plunged headlong into another stalemate war: Vietnam. Chang reminds us of two "barbaric" acts of war committed by North Korea during the conflict in Vietnam, one under President Johnson's watch and the other under President Nixon's. Neither president retaliated.
"In January 1968 North Korea captured the USS Pueblo, a reconnaissance vessel, in international waters in the Sea of Japan. It was the first time that a U.S. Navy ship had been taken on the high seas in peacetime in over 150 years. One crew member was killed and several wounded during the seizure. And during the next eleven months, the North Koreans beat Pueblo crew members with lumber, burned them against radiators, and kicked out their teeth. Some sailors were crippled and others almost blinded. The Johnson administration issued an apology to obtain their release. In April 1969 the North Koreans shot down an unarmed Navy EC-121 reconnaissance plane in international airspace over the Sea of Japan. All thirty-one crew members were killed, resulting in the largest loss off U.S. servicemen in a single incident during the Cold War."
Chang concludes, "Through mismanagement and inattention from the Korean War to today, Americans have allowed (the Kimist Regime) to become a grave threat." And North Korea's leaders embrace the idea of perpetual adversaries.

"Totalitarians need enemies in order to stay in power," Chang writes. "The paradox of power is that the most powerful are the most insecure." Nationalism does not equate to patriotism.

In "Nuclear Showdown" we read the history of Rodong and Taepodong missile development and testing, including the time when debris from a test landed in Alaska. Chang warns of North Korea's "power to put plutonium in the paradise of Hawaii."

We get an insight into the nuances of power based on the Kim family's relationship with the military elite and the "three economies" in North Korea: Palace, military and civilian. Guess which two get the most resources.

Chang also gives us a peek into the sad history of abduction of Japanese citizens such as 13-year-old Megumi Yokota by North Korean agents in the 70s and 80s and how DPRK has attempted to blackmail the former Soviet Union, China, Japan and the United States.

Frank Zappa
We get a Kaplan-like perspective on the relevance of geography in the relationship between North Korea and China, with their common border that "both separates and unites." Chang touches on relationships with Pakistan, Iran and Iraq. He includes eclectic quotes from Henry Kissinger, Woody Allen, Francis Fukuyama, Barbara Tuchman, Shintaro Ishihara, Machiavelli, Fareed Zakariah and Frank Zappa.

Zappa gets a chapter quote at the beginning of Chapter 3, "The Pygmalion of Pyongyang": "Without deviation progress is not possible." 

Another Zappa quote, about the possibility of all-out nuclear war, is actually a found haiku:

There will never be
a nuclear war; there's too much
real estate involved

Gordon G. Chang
Chang's conclusion at the end of "Nuclear Showdown" seems muddy, especially with the longview of a decade since its publication. Earlier in the book he says the people of North Korea are itching to embrace entrepreneurial grassroots capitalism, which may eventually lead to rejection of totalitarianism. But, then he calls repeatedly and in the end for American action against the North Korean regime. "There will soon come a point when time is of the essence."
"So there must be a solution. It need not be American, unilateral, or military, but it needs to be near at hand. We can avoid the horror of armed struggle, but only if the world shows determination. And we have to confront reality. The old diplomatic stratagems no longer work. We cannot endlessly repeat them and expect a different result. Now, more than at any other time in history, we have to steel ourselves for war if we don't take great risks for peace."
No walls: President Reagan makes his mark at the Berlin Wall in 1990.
Chang refers to a quote from former President Ronald Reagan. "Reagan's simple answer was that free people always have to tell the truth."

He recalls the famous proclamation to tear down the Berlin Wall – "tear it all down." 

Reagan called for the wall to be brought down 24 years after President John F. Kennedy, former naval officer and World War II veteran, visited Berlin and called for freedom for all Germans and all people.

Chang ends his book with this Reagan quote: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."

Some more recent books on North Korea are worth a read, and I'm working through some of these in more depth:

"The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom" by Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), which also mentions the USS Pueblo incident as it describes the history of the "country of the three Kims." The authors say the United States should try to connect with the people of North Korea, working around the Kim regime as much as possible. According to the authors, there is "faint light at the end of the tunnel" as they present evidence that what people actually believe may not match the behavior they are forced to show in front of others, especially the authoritarian state. They show how the leader's credibility suffers over the years as promises are unfulfilled.

"My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth" by Wendy E. Simmons (RosettaBooks, 2015) is an off-beat collection of photos, insights and quotes from Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Simmons's immunity from propaganda and manipulation, coupled with her self-aware commitment to children and exploration, makes this a fun book to flip through. Simmons managed to tour the country, go to schools, visit the DMZ and crash a wedding. (She said she got "stink eye" from the bride; see the cover of her book.) "All I know is what I saw, and in North Korea, seeing is not believing." Simmons sees hope in the eyes of children despite the lies, hate and fear they are taught, particularly what the people are told about Americans.

"All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea" by Magnus Bartas & Fredrik Ekman (House of Anansi Press, 2011; translation from Swedish by Saskia Vogel, 2015) focuses on the abduction of Hong Kong filmmakers Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok by North Korea's Kim Jong Il, which they call one of many incidents from a list of crimes against humanity. Focusing on moviemaking, the authors show the integration of Korean and Japanese films, themes and concepts, with a fascinating exploration of Japan's Toho Studios and Eiji Tsuburaya, creator of Godzilla, Mothra, Booska and Ultraman. This book concludes with a mention of the United Nations 372-page report from the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK on depraved conditions in the North "carried out during the Kim clan's rule."

"The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project" by Robert S. Boynton (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016) is a fascinating book that delves deeper into the evil abduction of Megumi Yokota (and several other Japanese young people, including some from Europe). The authors touch on the bizarre tale of former Army Sgt. (busted down to Private) Charles Robert Jenkins, who while stationed in South Korea defected to the North during the Vietnam War and was paired with one of the Japanese abductees, Hitomi Soga. They had two daughters. Boynton is a good writer who studies politics, race and ethnicity, and makes this insight about how the concept of "race" has been used to alternately unite and divide Japan, Korea and China. "Though 'race' is a biological fiction, it's power comes from the stories it enables us to tell about the differences between those over whom we feel superior and those to whom we feel inferior."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Believe the Scorpion: 'Winter is Coming'

Review by Bill Doughty

What's the best thing we can do to defeat threats to our nation and world?

Brainy world chess champion Garry Kasparov offers advice, history, analysis and a prescription in his thoughtful "Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped" (PublicAffairs, Perseus Books Group, 2015).

Kasparov challenges us to keep human rights in the forefront – to not look away in the name of political expediency – when dealing with President Putin and his cronies. And deal we must, he says, or risk the appearance (or reality) of appeasement.
"Instead of standing on principles of good and evil, of right and wrong, and on the universal values of human rights and human life, we have engagement, resets, and moral equivalence. That is, appeasement by many other names. The world needs a new alliance based on a global Magna Carta, a declaration of fundamental rights that all members must recognize. Nations that value individual liberty now control the greater part of the world's resources as well as its military power. If they band together and refuse to coddle the rogue regimes and sponsors of terror, their integrity and their influence will be irresistible. The goal should not be to build new walls to isolate the millions of people living under authoritarian rule, but to provide them with hope and the prospect of a brighter future."
Havel (L) and Kasparov (R) meet at Democracy & Security conference, 2007.
Former Czech President Václav Havel is quoted, describing "politicians who kiss and embrace politicians, almost dizzy with the smell of oil and gas." According to Kasparov, Putin's wealth and power are provided by Western companies, especially "energy giants," investing in Russia "as Russian oligarchs spread their wealth."

This book comes with an endorsement from former Navy pilot and Vietnam War POW Senator John McCain (pictured below): "As one of the most influential critics of Vladimir Putin's reign of terror, Garry Kasparov has become a champion for the causes of freedom, democracy, and human rights in Russia."

Written after the invasion of Ukraine but before Russia's foray into Syria, this still-timely book shows how Putin – Time's Person of the Year in 2007 – came to power after Gorbachev and Yeltsin in the pivotal first year of the Millennium. 

Among the events in a tumultuous 2000, a faulty torpedo exploded aboard the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in the frigid Barents Sea, resulting in the death of 118 Russian sailors. That same year Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda targeted USS Cole (DDG 67), killing 17 American sailors.

Terrorism and military tension were once again on the rise in the 21st century, a combustible mix ready to explode in the fall of 2001.

President Putin.
Grandmaster Kasparov explains how history's chess pieces have moved – from Cuba's Bay of Pigs to Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay, from Chechnya to Ukraine – and dozens of other hotspots on the planet, as ideals of freedom and democracy clashed with fascism and totalitarianism, as elections took place or power was seized and consolidated.

North Korea is mentioned several times. In 2001, "the Russian president had already established personal relations with Kim Jong-il and was ready to play a broker role on the Korean Peninsula."

Former North Korea dictator Kim Jong-il and Putin in 2002.
Kasparov describes the nature of a fascist kleptocracy such as Stalin's and Hitler's. "Dictatorships must be feared to survive and so they cannot bear to be mocked." Fear and disinformation are fomented, and freedom of speech is intolerable. 

Are dictators born or raised that way? "As with most nature-nurture questions, it's both in varying degrees of balance."

This book is filled with word gems, like:

  • "If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, compromises on principles are the streetlights."
  • "When Putin loaned the presidency to his shadow, Dmitry Medvedev it should have been clear to all that democracy was dead."
  • "Even after Western firms were repeatedly betrayed, cheated, and threatened by their Russian partners and kicked out of partnerships or the country, they came back looking for more like beaten dogs to an abusive master."
  • "The mullahs, monarchs, and dictators are pushing back against the threat to their medieval ecosystems."
  • "True nature can override logic and self-preservation."

The last bullet above refers to fabulist Orson Welles's story of the scorpion and the frog: 

"The frog carries the scorpion across the river on its back, convinced by the scorpion's logic that it will not sting him because if it does , they will both die. In the middle of the river the scorpion stings the frog, who says, dying, 'Logic? There is no logic in this!' The scorpion replies, 'I know, I can't help it. It is my character.'"

Fortunately, "Few humans are truly scorpions – complete psychopaths."

Kasparov warns, "Don't trust a scorpion because logic and being in the right doesn't help you very much when you're dead."

Dissidents are true patriots, dedicated to higher ideals as espoused in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, according to Kasparov.

"If we rouse ourselves from our complacency and relearn how to stand up to the dictators and terrorists who threaten the modern world we have built, we can alter our course," he writes.

In other words: Read books.

Using Malala Yousafzai as an example of how education threatens fascists but empowers citizens, Kasparov, the chess champion prescribes a solution: "What these thugs cannot abide is the flowering of education, with the noteworthy exception of militant religious-teaching that often closes minds instead of opening them. They despise the possibility of an educated population, knowing it would mean the end of their kind for a generation."
"If there is anything I have learned from my extensive travels all over the world to promote chess in education it is that talent exists everywhere. The question is how to give it the opportunity to express itself and to thrive. This opportunity that education creates is what is lacking in so much of the undeveloped world and in parts of the developed world as well if we are honest – a shortfall that has wide-ranging and damaging effects. Education is the most effective way to address poverty and violence, even to tackle complex issues of terrorist groups and vicious warlords."
"Winter Is Coming" is, of course, a title taken from George R. R. Martin's "Game of Thrones," but Kasparov recommends another author "to understand the Putin regime in depth": Mario Puzo, author of "The Godfather" (a book novel published in 1969 that I read in high school English class, hiding a paperback version behind the assigned Carson McCullers book; sorry, Ms. Baker).

Kasparov advises: "The rise of Vladimir Putin and his St. Petersburg clan has been described as Machiavellian, but it is better described by the achievements of Don Vito Corleone: the web of betrayals, the secrecy, and the blurred lines between what is business, what is government, and what is criminal – it's all there in Puzo's books."

Other authors and works recommended or inspired after reading "Winter Is Coming" include David Halberstam's "War in a Time of Peace," George Orwell's "1984," Hanna Arendt's "Origins of Totalitarianism," and Masha Gessen's "The Man Without a Face."

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Who is President of the United States in 2017?

Review by Bill Doughty

According to Mark Greaney (and the late but immortal Tom Clancy) President Jack Ryan leads the free world in 2017 – as ISIS works through a rogue Saudi, Yemeni and Romanian to allow Islamist militants to target, attack and kill hundreds of Americans in cities across the United States.

The remedy: Arm every off duty service member with military-issued concealed handguns but resist the urge to invade another Middle East country. Also, beef up cyberdefense. Finally, while under attack, keep your cool even in the face of threats to the Constitution and the very existence of the nation.

According to Greaney, speaking through President Ryan in his novel "True Faith and Allegiance" (Putnam, 2016), "People have a reasonable tendency to do one of two things when they listen to someone in government warn them of a threat. They either tune in or freak out."

It's the voice of reason from the fictional commander-in-chief – channeling Peter Bergen. Here's the wisdom of Clancy's and Greany's speaking through their President Ryan:
"Let's keep this in perspective for the average U.S. citizen. It is a sad fact that there were more than fifty shootings in Chicago over the weekend, with seven dead. There exists, quite unfortunately, violence all around us. What is happening with these Islamic State terrorists in our borders is of utmost concern to us, but I would not want the average American citizen to do anything more than report any concerns you may have to your local law enforcement agency."
The president watches as his son Jack Ryan Jr. and his team of quasi-official operatives save the world. No spoiler alert needed.

Tom Clancy gets a brief aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk in 2002. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)
In "True Faith" bad guys get information about military service members and federal civilians from stolen SF-86 e-QIP forms, the 127-page paperwork required to get and maintain a security clearance. They then set out to assassinate and otherwise terrorize in hopes of drawing more radical militants to their cause – and to draw the United States deeper into the Middle East.

The premise is drawn in part from real-life events in June 2016 when hackers stole personal private information about millions of people from the Office of Personnel Management.

Cybercrime + open source intelligence x cyberwarfare = terror.

USS Sampson (DDG 102) operates off the coast of Kaikoura, New Zealand in November 2016.
"Someone was fusing legal data with an illegal theft of data and then weaponizing the results," Greaney writes.

Working with more than forty characters, Greaney never loses the pace, balance or intrigue moving from narrative and dialog, including in White House press conferences, to then unleash the action. And, unlike some other thrillers, there's only a minimal amount of eye-rolling to some pretty unrealistic situations.

For example: The story opens at a Mexican restaurant in New Jersey with a harrowing and seemingly disconnected attack on Cmdr. Scott Hagen, captain of USS James Greer (DDG-102) by a crazed Russian avenging the death of his brother in a Baltic sea battle. (The real DDG-102, by the way, is USS Sampson, homeported in San Diego. Sampson recently assisted New Zealand after an earthquake.)

Iranians, North Koreans, Chinese, Eastern Europeans and various spies of all persuasions make appearances, as do the Peshmerga and their friends.

U.S. Army AH-64E Apache helicopters (Photo by Capt. Brian Harris).
Peppering the narrative are some terrific action scenes featuring U.S. Army Capt. Carrie Ann Underwood copiloting and operating the guns on an AH-64E Apache in northern Iraq. Hornets from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) also make an appearance.

Intended irony? Both the protagonists and evildoers in this thriller are fired up by a desire for "righteous payback."

Fortunately, President Jack Ryan (played in the past by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine and reportedly to be played by John Krasinski fighting ISIS/ISIL in an Amazon TV series) is a voice of relative reason in a dynamic and dangerous world waiting for the better angels of our nature.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (June 15, 2016) Aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) conducts flight operations in the Mediterranean Sea. Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 3rd Class J. M. Tolbert/Released)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Diary of Pearl Harbor Survivor – Navy Chief Al Rodrigues

Review by Bill Doughty

Pacific Historic Parks provides this short book at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, overlooking USS Arizona and "Battleship Row" next to Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.

The cover reads: "A Native Son of Hawaii's memories of the War in the Pacific while on duty during the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor and while serving on the battleship USS Washington in the Pacific Theater."

This is his wartime diary aboard USS Washington (BB-56) as well as his insights and reflections as a volunteer at the Visitor Center, where his message to visitors is: "Freedom is not free."

This enjoyable little book, published in 2014, starts with Rodrigues's recollections as a young boy growing up in Hawaii.

Al was born on the island of Kauai on February 7, 1920. His full name: Alfred Benjamin Kameeiamoku Rodrigues. Al's mother was Hawaiian. She died when Al was only 8, "and I felt like I wanted to die also. I loved her so much." Al's father was of Portuguese descent. He experienced some prejudice growing up in mixed-race family on Kauai.

Kapaa Kauai in 1924, looking away from Lihue and toward "Sleeping Giant" mountain range.
"Kauai is geologically the oldest island of the group of islands and, without any personal prejudice, the most beautiful of all." Al attended Kauai High School in Lihue, where he competed in various sports, when he wasn't surfing or caddying at the Waialua Golf Course (25 cents per bag for nine holes, with usually a ten-cent tip).
"I played football, volleyball, basketball and baseball and was also on the swimming team so kept busy. The only wrong thing I did was take up smoking, so there went my caddy money. I finally quit smoking when I retired from the Navy."
Rodrigues joined the Navy with an ambition to be an engineering, but under the guidance of Navy Chief George Maile, a fellow Sailor from Hawaii, he chose instead to become a storekeeper. "It made a difference on the rest of my career in the Navy."

Gunners aboard USS Ward (DD-139).
He remembers holding air raid drills in November of 1941. "It was an omen that something was to happen," he said.
"On December 7, 1941, I had the four-to-eight watch; and the officer of the deck, who was a quartermaster second class, told me that they had received a message at 3:30 a.m. that our destroyer the USS Ward (DD-139) had dropped depth charges on an unidentified submarine and sunk it."
Al had just put his breakfast tray down when he could hear explosions "in the shipyard area." He and his buddies assumed it was dredging work until he heard the General Alarm. They all ran to the armory where they were issued .30 caliber rifles or .45 pistols. Not much help against the incoming enemy planes, red rising suns on the bottom of their wings.
"They were flying low enough that you could see the pilots' faces. We heard yells to shoot the pilot as they had open cockpits. Hell, it was hard enough to shoot the airplane, much less the pilot. With a rifle of 1941 vintage, you could only shoot one bullet at a time then cock the rifle before shooting the next shot, and by then the plane was out of reach."
Naval Supply Center at Pearl Harbor in the 1940s.
Storekeepers like Al provided supplies and made room "for sailors who lost everything." He worked closely with the Naval Supply Center, now known as Fleet Industrial Supply Center.

This book is filled with tweet-size stories about characters like Sake-Mac, the Chief Commissary man; an unnamed bunkmate accused of murder in New York; and C.B. Wilson, who helped Al sneak out at night for a luau. 

USS Washington (BB-56) in the Shipyard after a collision with USS Indiana (BB-58) in 1944.
Most of "Diary" is in fact a diary, a journal, and a way to keep track of events at a time when news was blocked, letters were censored and information was subject to propaganda and what we'd now call fake news.

Al gives us a feel for day-to-day life during wartime aboard USS Washington and how the enemy was viewed by Sailors and the nation at the time. The cover of his diary was inscribed with some of the locations he visited, including Palau, Gilberts, Nauru, Marianas and Marshall Islands, where his ship's bow was crushed in a collision with USS Indiana (BB-58).

We see how close Al was to his sister, Nani.

Al remembers fondly some time he finagled in New York City, which welcomed service members who had served in the war. After the war he returned to Hawaii.
"The City and County of Honolulu had an ad asking for men to join the police force and I applied. The first thing they did was make me get on a scale and I weighed 149 pounds. The sergeant told me to go home, eat some bananas and come back tomorrow as the minimum weight was 150 pounds. Did that; I ate a few and the next day I was accepted for the next recruit training as I met the correct weight."
Al Rodrigues's diary.
But Al changed his mind and rejoined the Navy, where he served as a Navy Chief at the Yards and Docks Supply Depot.

He married "the cutest local Japanese girl," Ruth, and raised a family – three sons, Kammy, Jay and Ronald. Ronald was born in Yokosuka, Japan when Al was stationed at Naval Supply Depot there.  "In 1960, sometime while stationed at the Naval Ammunition Depot in Lualualei, Oahu, Ruth and I split. We had differences and she eventually married a guy named Pete, who was a Navy friend of mine. It sure is funny how some things just work out for the best – for all concerned."

Pearl Harbor Survivors Sterling Cale and Al Rodrigues meet young visitors in 2009.
Al met his second wife, Louise, who already had four children, Jimmy, Mary, Stella and Fred. "Now with four of hers, three of mine (from my first marriage) plus two of ours (son Kalani and daughter Aulani born at Tripler Army Medical Center) it adds up to nine in the family. And we are still one happy family. It is mine, hers and ours. Nice, huh!"

Today, Al Rodrigues volunteers at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center where he meets people "from many foreign countries and every state in the Union."
"In closing, I want to remind people that we should honor the memories of my generation so that we can pass to future generations the stories of what those brave, heroic men and women of World war II did to preserve our freedom. Freedom is not free."
Thank you to Agnes Tauyan, Director of Public Affairs for Navy Region Hawaii, for recommending this book for a Navy Reads review.