Saturday, November 22, 2014

State of the Navy: New Jersey

Review by Bill Doughty

Every state in the Union has some tie to the Navy. New Jersey's connections include people like George Washington, Adm. "Bull" Halsey, Cmdr. Joy Bright Hancock, Ruth Cheney Streeter and Medal of Honor recipient Marine Sergeant John Basilone and places like Asbury Park, Camden, Princeton and Naval Air Station Wildwood.

Henry Schnakenberg's "Indians Trading with Half Moon," Fort Lee Post Office.
"New Jersey: A History of the Garden State," edited by Maxine N. Lurie and Richard Veit (Rutgers University Press, 2012), is a history of the Garden State beginning with a "12,000-year odyssey" of archeology and discussion about the Delaware or "Lenni Lenape" Native Americans of the region.

Populated by the Dutch, Swedes, English and other Europeans, New Jersey has always been in the shadow of its neighbor colonies/states New York and Pennsylvania. Overlooked, according to the authors, is the state's diversity and complexity, even early on as immigrants first arrived. "The 'Dutch' themselves were of many nationalities, including French, Walloon, Scandinavian, Pole, Hungarian, Italian, German, and Finnish."

Emanuel Leutze's depiction of Washington crossing the Delaware, 1851.

A chapter by John Fea, "Revolution and Confederation Period," gives a succinct history of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War, including the pivotal year 1776. The British Navy attacked Gen. George Washington's Army in the northern part of the state. Washington's forces used the littorals – Delaware and Hudson rivers – and fought against British troops at Staten Island and Sandy Hook.

The Revolutionary War sparked support for abolition of slavery, especially in Monmouth County after the Battle of Trenton, according to Fea. 

In the Wake of the Continental Congress, New Jersey feared domination by larger states but eventually signed the Articles of Confederation 236 years ago, November 20, 1778.
"Some of the more thoughtful of New Jersey's citizens wondered how the new Confederation would foster a sense of national unity and common purpose. An unstable economy and an increase in popular participation in government was a recipe for individuals to place self-interest over the public good. Many of these observers knew that in order for a republic to survive, the people needed to be willing to sacrifice their own interests for the success of the republic whenever the two came into conflict. Calls for virtue were quite common in the 1770s and 1780s. In an August 7, 1776 address to the citizens of Cumberland county, Jonathan Elmer told his audience that a 'new era in politics had commenced.' The American Revolution would be successful in the long run only if the people were 'actuated by principles of virtue and genuine patriotism' and would agree to 'make the welfare of our country the sole aim of all our actions.'"
Other authors walk us through American history milestones as experienced in New Jersey, including women's suffrage and other civil rights, Civil War, the Industrial Revolution (and Thomas Edison's role), the Progressive Era and Great Depression and War. Like the rest of the nation, New Jersey was torn between isolationism and the need to prevent Hitler's violent subsumption of Europe.
"Despite America's worsening relations with Germany and Japan, New Jersey residents were stunned when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Fears of sabotage led state and federal authorities to take measures to protect key facilities and transportation centers throughout New Jersey. Army soldiers, members of the recently organized state guard, and state police troopers guarded key bridges, tunnels, and other vital facilities. An elaborate civil defense network staffed by thousands of volunteer air raid wardens prepared for possible attack from enemy bombers. Residents were urged to cover windows and municipalities initiated blackout drills. To prevent the landing of saboteurs, the United States Coast Guard instituted foot patrols of the Jersey coastline."
F4U-1A Corsair of VBF-4 at NAS Wildwood 1945.
German submarines patrolled off the coast, according to G. Kurt Piehler, who reveals the strong connections between the Garden State and the Navy, Marine Corps and other services:  Fort Hancock and Cape May were set up as locations for artillery batteries, Atlantic City and Asbury Park hotels were converted into barracks and later as hospitals for wounded warriors, and Naval Air Station Wildwood and Millville Army Airfield in South Jersey were used to train pilots. 

Camden was a center for industrial support to the military. New York Ship Building in Camden built 29 major capital ships including air craft carriers, battleships and cruisers. [Although built in Philadelphia, the battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) would become the flagship for Adm. Halsey in 1944.] Campbell Soup, headquartered in Camden, produced millions of ready-to-eat meals. In Paterson, Curtiss-Wright Corporation manufactured nearly 140,000 airplane engines. Labor surged, housing was built, and citizens stepped up to support the war effort both indirectly and directly:
GySgt. Basilone by C.C. Beall

"More than 560,500 men and women from New Jersey served in all branches of the armed forces and virtually every corner of the world. Of those who served, 13,000 were killed and an even higher number wounded. Navy Admiral William F. Halsey was perhaps the most prominent senior commander with ties to New Jersey, and he scored an impressive number of victories in the Pacific against Japanese naval forces. Seventeen residents won the Medal of Honor. The most famous was Marine Sergeant John Basilone of Rariton, who earned the award for gallantry while fighting the Japanese at the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. Like other war heroes, Basilone was brought home to aid the war effort by touring the country and urging Americans to buy war bonds. More than 30,000 people turned out for one rally at Doris Duke's estate in Somerville. At his own request, Basilone was reassigned to the combat ranks and later killed during costly assaults agains the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima in February 1945. In contrast to earlier wars, women served in the armed services in unprecedented numbers – more than 10,000 enlisted from New Jersey. Ruth Cheney Streeter of Morristown served as head of the U.S. Marine Corps Women Reserves, and Joy Bright Hancock of Wildwood rose to the rank of commander in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and played an instrumental role in convincing the Navy to train women in aircraft maintenance and other technical positions."
Piehler shows how World War II transformed society in New Jersey thanks to industrialization and the effects of the GI Bill. "Ideologically, the war fostered important shifts in attitudes toward race and ethnicity. Supporters of American intervention prior to Pearl Harbor argued that the United States must enter the conflict in order to preserve human rights."  FDR's "four freedoms" speech in 1941 – universal rights to freedom of/from religion, speech, want and fear – helped ignite protests against discrimination and segregation.
"Pressure on the Roosevelt administration forced the Marine Corps to accept African Americans in its ranks for the first time, pushed the Navy to commission the first group of black officers, and led to the eventual desegregation of officer training in all branches of the armed forces. The latter reform had important implications for Princeton University. During the war years there emerged an intense debate among students, faculty and administrators over the wisdom of continuing to bar African Americans from the undergraduate student body. In 1945 the Navy forced Princeton to admit four black students sent there under the Navy V-12 Program, and one of them became the first African American to earn a B.A. from this Ivy League institution. In 1945 New Jersey was the second state, after New York, to pass a statewide fair employment act barring discrimination by employers on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion."
Readers interested in post-WWII contemporary history of the state may be hungry to learn more about the state in the decades since, though the book does go into some detail about the suburbanization of the state and the ongoing effects of immigration.

Other states can claim more ties to the Navy and naval history, no doubt. California, Virginia, Massachusetts, Florida and Hawaii come to mind. But this book shows connections between New Jersey and the Navy from the beginning of the nation's history and during the most pivotal international event for America in the 20th century, World War II.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Excerpts Like a Vegas Buffet

On this "Day of the Dead" reading books is still alive and well. Recent Navy Reads posts about Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Paine and Craig Venter – and on subjects like Jihad-Fatwa, hope vs. fear, the meaning of life, and history in context – led to the discovery of these delectable excerpts from related reads.

from "Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America" by Ranya Tabari Idliby:

"Fear is not the American way, I remind my children. So although feel America's fear, and on some days even share its contempt or disdain, I do not believe that doing so reflects America at its best. As we strive for a better American union, it is knowledge and compassion, rather than fear mongering and ignorance, that must reign supreme. Today more than ever, America's hope, vision, and exceptionalism are needed as an inspiration for those who are aspiring and struggling to gain the freedoms and rights we already have. Banning imagined threats such as Sharia in an America that has had centuries of safeguarded and absolutely secular courts only serves to infringe on the equality and rights of Muslims as Americans, making them feel targeted and persecuted. It reflects a less than honest America, lacking in confidence, insecure in its mission. Let our conviction not be fear but knowledge and power – this has always been the American Way..."

from "The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation" by Matt Ridley:

"The roots of social order are in our heads, where we possess the instinctive capacities for creating not a perfectly harmonious and virtuous society, but a better one than we have at present. We must build our institutions in such a way that they draw out those instincts. Pre-eminently this means the encouragement of exchange between equals. Just as trade between countries is the best recipe for friendship between them, so exchange between enfranchised and empowered individuals is the best recipe for cooperation. We must encourage social and material exchange between equals for that is the raw material of trust, and trust is the foundation of virtue."

from "The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan" by Jenny Nordberg:

"Perhaps someday in our future it will be possible for women everywhere not to be restricted to those roles society deems natural, God-given, or appropriately feminine. A woman will not need to be disguised as a man to go out, to climb a tree, or to make money. She will not even need to make an effort to resemble one, or to think like one. Instead, she can speak a language that men will want to understand. She will be free to wear a suit or a skirt or something entirely different. She will not count as three-quarters of a man, and her testimony will not be worth half of a man's. She will be recognized as someone's sister, mother and daughter. And maybe, someday, her identity will not be confined to how she relates to a brother, son, or father; instead, she will be recognized as an individual, whose life holds value only in itself. It will not be the end of the world, the nation-state, or sexuality. It will not solve all the world's problems. But it is an exciting promise of how we might continue to evolve, through small bursts of individual greatness alongside a slow overhaul of civilization."

from "The Meaning of Human Existence" by Edward O. Wilson:

"The advances of science and technology will bring us to the greatest moral dilemma since God stayed the hand of Abraham: how much to retrofit the human genotype  Shall it be a lot, a little bit, or none at all? The choice will be forced on us because our species has begun to cross what is the most important yet sill least examined threshold in the technoscientific era. We are about to abandon natural selection, the process that created us, in order to direct our own evolution by volitional selection – the process of redesigning our biology and human nature as we wish them to be."

"Science and the humanities, it is true, are fundamentally different from each other in what they say and do. But they are complementary to each other in origin, and they arise from the same creative processes in the human brain. If the heuristic and analytic power of science can be joined with the introspective creativity of the humanities, human existence will rise to an infinitely more productive and interesting meaning."

from "The Origins of Crowd Psychology: Gustave Le Bon and the Crisis of Mass Democracy in the Third Republic" by Robert A. Nye:

"The great historian of Victorianism G. M. Young has written 'The real, central theme of history is not what happened, by what people felt about it when it was happening.' No doubt Young does not mean to say that what happened has no bearing in assembling a version of the historical past; but he hopes to stress that contemporaries in any epoch only rarely grasp the nature and significance of the historical forces shaping their lives. Marx, Tocqueville, Weber, and other giants of nineteenth-century social thought notwithstanding, it seems safe to say that most observers of the process and consequences of European industrialization and urbanization suffered from a manifest incongruence between what actually occurred and how they perceived it. And it seems equally safe to say that very often the illusory perception of a generation will refuse to die with it, but will live on, barely transformed, to haunt later generations. It follows that the historian must take these perceptions seriously insofar as they served as truisms that influenced men and women's attempts to make sense of a complex social reality."

from "Conversations with Kennedy" by Benjamin C. Bradlee:

"The helicopter took off in a dark overcast for the jump across the bay. Halfway across, the president spotted the crew of a carrier lined up at attention along the deck, presumably in his honor, and asked the chopper pilot to circle low over the carrier to show that he was aware and appreciative of their respect. The Navy has a special hold on him, irrespective of his rank as commander in chief. We landed on the lawn of Hammersmith Farm, in a scene that was half space-age pomp and half 'Wuthering Heights.' The wind whistled from the helicopter blades, but the light was that dark yellow light of a New England fall evening, and that barn of a house could have been brought over intact from the Bronte moor.  This was the first time we had seen Jackie since the death of little Patrick, and she greeted JFK with by far the most affectionate embrace we had ever seen them give each other. They are not normally demonstrative people, period."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tin Can Sailor Ben Bradlee Remembered

by Bill Doughty

Lt. j.g. Bradlee, courtesy USNI
Long before he became the legendary executive editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee was in his early twenties in World War II, where he served as a Command Information Center officer aboard USS Philip (DD 498) in the Pacific. He deployed from Pearl Harbor in 1942 through 1944, and was involved in landings in the Solomons and Marianas, then as an expert advisor/trainer in CIC sent aboard 19 destroyers in and around the Philippines, Okinawa and near mainland Japan.

Bradlee, who died last week at 93, said in his 1995 autobiography, "A Good Life," that his experience in "the Tin Can Navy" aboard USS Philip were "certainly the most important two years of my life, then and maybe now."

He admits to enjoying his experience in the war in a chapter titled "Navy":
"My regular non-battle job involved communications, the care and feeding of the machines which provided raw information to the ship, and of the men who operated and maintained those machines. This responsibility was more educating than Harvard, more exciting, more meaningful than anything I'd ever done. This is why I had such a wonderful time in the war. I just plain loved it. Loved the excitement, even if it was only getting from Point A to Point B; loved the camaraderie, even if the odd asshole reared his ugly head every so often. For years I was embarrassed to admit all this, given the horrors and sadness visited upon so many during the years I was thriving. But news of those horrors was so removed in time and distance. No newspapers, no radio even, except Tokyo Rose, and of course there were none of television's stimulating jolts. I found that I liked making decisions. I liked sizing up men and picking the ones who could best do the job. Most of all I liked the responsibility, the knowledge that people were counting on me, that I wouldn't let them down."
He describes life on a destroyer as "intimate, noisy, informal, boring, exciting, dangerous, arduous, crowded, scary, and boring again."
"Three hundred and thirty men jammed into a 2,100-ton ship shaped like a steel greyhound. Long (380 feet), or longer than a football field. Narrow (32 feet, about as wide as an 18-wheel truck is long). And fast (36 knots, or 40 miles an hour). In a heavy sea, a destroyer can easily role as much as 90 degrees – 45 degrees to either side. Handles were welded to bulkheads everywhere, to be grabbed during heavy rolls. And the decks bristled with a variety of offensive weapons. Five 5-inch guns, roughly equivalent to 105mm howitzers. Eight torpedoes, in two four-torpedo mounds amidships. A pair of four twin 40mm anti-aircraft guns, plus another eight 20mm AA guns. And a dozen depth charges in racks along either side of the stern."
In "A Good Life" Bradlee considers himself lucky for surviving polio after being temporarily paralyzed after an epidemic hit his high school. He writes about his good fortune to serve and survive in the Pacific during the war and of his later success in business and life.

The Navy empowered and educated him as a leader at a very young age: "Each day of my naval life I had been learning perhaps the most important lesson of my life: You can't do any better than surround yourself with the best people you can find, and then listen to them. And I had done that."

He describes working "under the overall command of the flashy, charismatic Admiral William Halsey, or the brilliant, self-effacing Admiral Raymond Spruance, the admirals who taught our generation the art of 'calculated risk.' (We all preferred Spruance)," Bradlee writes.

He recalls action in The Slot from Rabaul.
"We worried more about the Japanese torpedoes, fired from ships or submarines. Our torpedoes were nowhere near as good. Rabaul is the island that a young congressman, somehow a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve, flew over one night as an observer, and flew back to Washington immediately. Got himself a [Silver] Star for that single flight, as the world would learn later. His name was Lyndon Baines Johnson."
He interacted with heroic Australian and U.S. Marine forward area observers and spotters in CIC, often helping direct barrages of the ship's 5-inch guns. A constant threat were Japanese submarines and ships and, later in the war, Kamikaze attacks. 

Bradlee remembers reading books during the war like James Boswell's, "Life of (Samuel) Johnson," Philip Wylie's "A Generation of Vipers," David L. Cohn's "Love in America," and Gladys Schmitt's "The Gates of Aulis." He also read Time, Newsweek and The New Yorker magazines and other Reader's Digest-sized publications. 

And he referred to the Encyclopedia Britannica in the ship's library when he had to help the Captain explain to the crew what had happened after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
"Without knowing a thing, we sensed that this event was going to rival December 7, 1941, in importance to all our immediate futures. Was this the first time I wrote in ignorance? Knowing way too little about my subject? Or the last? I wish."
"A Good LIfe" reads like an honest, fearless, open, self-effacing account of the amazing history Bradlee saw and communicated: Vietnam, Watergate, Cold War, violence, CIA and D.C. politics, and of course JFK, a fellow Navy veteran.

The Bradlees were neighbors, "only a few doors away," of Senator and Mrs. John F. Kennedy in Georgetown.

In 1963 Kennedy, Niven and Bradlee shoot skeet as a petty officer assists.
After Kennedy became President they remained friends, though their relationship was complicated, thanks to Bradlee's association with the "Fourth Estate." Bradlee recalls yachting, skeet shooting and swimming with JFK and actor David Niven at Camp David in May, 1963, six months before the president was assassinated in Dallas.

Bradlee shares his deep appreciation of JFK and reflects on the "awful grief" that gripped the nation and that Bradlee tried to express in his elegy/eulogy at the time.

This autobiography, subtitled "Newspapering and Other Adventures," takes us into the newsroom with Woodward and Bernstein, among others. We get Bradlee's perspective on journalism, family and friendship as well as leadership formed in naval service.

(Recommended read: an interview by Fred Schultz with Bradlee from 1995 recently reposted by U.S. Naval Institute from Naval History magazine. Bradlee goes into more detail about his perspective on Halsey and Spruance, Vietnam and the post-Watergate era, with new insights about JFK and PT-109, race relations, the women's equality movement and all-volunteer service, among other topics.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Vietnam, Suicide and Choosing Life

Review by Bill Doughty

My preteen grandkids know who Thomas Edison is. Their grandkids will know, in the same way, about J. Craig Venter.

Venter is a Navy Vietnam Veteran who faced challenges in life, made mistakes in and out of uniform, turned his life around, and eventually became one of the foremost experts in genetics. He mapped the human genome, created synthetic life in this century and is now working on ways to support life on Mars.
I read a passage to my grandsons from a chapter in Venter's autobiography, "A Life Decoded - My Genome: My Life" called "University of Death." The boys were fascinated by his capture of a deadly poisonous snake while Venter swam in the warm waters off China Beach. Two species of poisonous snakes in the South China Sea, Venter says, "travel in large herds measuring miles long and up to a half-mile wide."

Venter, a former Navy Corpsman who spent a lot of his off time swimming in the sea, felt the snake bump into his leg and reached down to grab it, fortunately getting it near the head and not the flattened tail:
"I knew I could not let go. Its jaws were wide open, and it was trying to bite. Sea snakes are strong swimmers, and it was all I could do to hang on. Swimming with one arm while being tumbled by ten to twelve-foot waves and holding on to a writhing snake is not something I would recommend. Finally I was able to stand and started to run but was knocked down by a wave once more. Stumbling breathlessly toward the beach I saw some driftwood and used it to hit the snake on the head until it stopped moving. A friend took a photo of me holding my trophy, recording one of those crossroads in life that, with the wrong luck, could easily have led to death. I did not want to forget what had just happened. I took my knife, skinned my attacker, and back at the hospital, pinned it with hypodermic needles to a board to dry in the sun. I still have the snake skin hanging in my office as a reminder of the encounter."
Venter, who says he always felt a need to race – bicycles, boats, people – and take chances, describes his childhood and early adulthood in "A Life Decoded" through a deep understanding of the mind and effects of the Y chromosome, now that he's literally in touch with his genes.

I didn't read to the grandkids about his suicide attempt (which also involved the sea) or the time his girlfriend's dad held a gun to his head or some of his other risk-taking behaviors.

A turning point came from an English teacher in high school who introduced him to "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger, but Venter admits to being a lousy student overall. A major turning point came in the mid-60s when he was drafted.
"I was very conflicted. I was personally against the war but had a long family history of military service. One ancestor was a fifer and medic during the Revolutionary War. My great-great-great-grandfather served in the cavalry during the War of 1812. My great-grandfather was a sharpshooter in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. My grandfather was a private in World War I, serving in France, where he was badly wounded and had to crawl for miles to safety. And, of course, both my parents had been Marines."  (Venter's parents were in the Marine Corps in World War II, serving on "different shores of the Pacific." They met at Camp Pendleton, California.)
Venter, front row, fourth from left, on his high school swim team.
Venter chose the Navy rather than be drafted into the Army. He hoped to be named to the Navy Swim Team, but those hopes were dashed when President Johnson amped up American involvement in Vietnam and Venter got his orders.

As a skilled corpsman he faced war and devastation in Da Nang, caring for injured Marines, civilians, enemy soldiers and other casualties of the war in a Quonset hut intensive ward. He helped at an orphanage, and he provided triage during the TET offensive of 1968.

"Vietnam would teach me more than I ever wanted to know about the fragility of life," he writes. "Death is a powerful teacher." No doubt the snake skin reminds him of overcoming fear, facing death, choosing to live and dealing with snakes along the way.

Venter is lauded by Clinton in 2000.
In "A Life Decoded" Venter lays bare the science, politics, setbacks and glorious achievements in his life and the various human egos he encounters as a scientist. He tracks in detail his race to understand the building blocks of life and his pursuit of the human genome. But the narrative returns to the biggest turning point and moment of insight: Vietnam.

After Venter mapped the human genome, he was invited to the White House June 26, 2000 by President Bill Clinton. Clinton compared the human genome map to the Thomas Jefferson-commissioned map by the Lewis and Clark expedition that "forever expanded the frontiers of our continent and our imagination." Clinton called Venter's and others' work "the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind."

"Decoded" includes Venter's remarks from that day, as well as the deep emotion he felt as his watershed discovery was explained to the world.
"... in Vietnam I learned firsthand how tenuous our hold on life can be. That experience inspired my interest in learning how the trillions of cells in our bodies interact to create and sustain life. When I witnessed firsthand that some men lived through devastating trauma to their bodies, while others died after giving up from seemingly small wounds, I realized that the human spirit was at least as important as our physiology. We're clearly much, much more than the sum total of each of us. Our physiology is based on complex and seemingly infinite interactions among all our genes and the environment, just as our civilization is based on all the interactions among all of us. One of the wonderful discoveries that my colleagues and I have made while decoding the DNA of over two dozen species, from viruses to bacteria to plants to insects, and now human beings, is that we're all connected to the commonality of the genetic code in evolution. When life is reduced to its very essence, we find that we have many genes in common with every species on Earth and that we're not so different from one another."
Venter transcended and redeemed himself after his near-death experiences. "Life was my gift," he writes. He chose to understand life at the most fundamental levels. Today, he chooses to make a profound difference to help others. "We're all connected." A good lesson for everyone's grandkids.

(This is part I of essentially a two-and-a-half-part series of posts related to the life and work of Dr. Venter, the Thomas Edison of our time.)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Navy Corpsman Transforms Science ... and Life

Review by Bill Doughty

J. Craig Venter is transforming our understanding of the world and life itself.

The man who mapped the human genome first became fixed on understanding life at the cellular level (and beyond) as a Navy Corpsman in Vietnam. In 2013's "Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life," he writes:
"As a young corpsman in Vietnam, I had learned to my amazement that the difference between the animate and inanimate can be subtle: a tiny piece of tissue can distinguish a living, breathing person from a corpse; even with good medical care, survival could depend in part on the patient's positive thinking, on remaining upbeat and optimistic, proving a higher complexity can derive from combinations of living cells."
The book follows "A Life Decoded" and continues to explain how the field of genomics is "blending biology and engineering approaches" in gene-splicing, recombinant DNA and creation of synthetic life. Venter explains how and why he continues his "empowering extraordinary journey," including when he and his team announced the first functioning synthetic genome, May 20, 2010:
"We also discussed our larger vision – namely, that the knowledge gained in doing this work would one day undoubtedly lead to a positive outcome for society through the development of many important applications and products, including biofuels, pharmaceuticals, clean water, and food products. When we made the announcement, we had in fact already started working on ways to produce vaccines and create synthetic algae to turn carbon dioxide into fuel."
Venter says his team's work was built "on earlier work and ideas that had originated from a range of talented teams, stretching back over many decades."

In "Life at the Speed of Light," he carefully maps the history of his science, starting with a seemingly simple question posed by the father of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrödinger: "What is Life?"

He explains the work of James Watson and Francis Crick, Motoo Kimura, Lucy Shapiro, Barbara McClintock, Robin Hook, Frederick Sanger, Arthur Kornberg and dozens of other scientists, all within the context of thinkers and philosophers like Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Descartes, Erasmus and Charles Darwin, Pasteur, Einstein and Isaac Asimov.

Venter reminds us of when the first DNA virus was sequenced and artificially copied and activated by Kornberg, recognized publicly in 1967 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who said the work, "unlocked a fundamental secret of life ... It opens a wide door to new dimensions in fighting disease, in building much healthier lives for all human beings."

Venter missed the quote and the news at the time because he was serving in Da Nang, Vietnam. That was nearly 50 years ago.

After Vietnam, Venter "became convinced of the direction my future my life should take," as he writes in "A Life Decoded." He used the G.I. Bill to pursue his education and he has not looked back.

In fact, he has continued to look within – literally examining his own life. And he has looked forward into the future: considering metagenomics, biological teleportation and support for life on Mars.

He promises the future "will be as empowering as it is extraordinary." The dawn of digital life, he says, has the potential for unlocking evolution and creating "a new era of biological design," where vaccines can be sent anywhere in the world at the speed of light during a pandemic and where climate change and other manmade problems can be countered with help from artificial and enhanced intelligence.

(I became interested in reading more by and about Dr. Venter after reading "Abundance" by Diamandis and Kotler.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Reason for Hope in 'Abundance'

Review by Bill Doughty

In the face of Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS), ebola, overpopulation, poverty and global climate change is there reason for optimism? Yes, according to the authors of "Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think."
The first thing to do is determine how far we've come – from the stone age to what Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler call the new "Cooperation Age": from millions of years as hunter-gatherers and nomads – to thousands of years as farmers – to hundreds of years in the industrial age – to decades in the information age – to now, a new age of cooperation.

The book opens with "The Lesson of Aluminum" and the recounting of a story by Pliny the Elder (b. AD 23 – d. AD 79). Pliny was a naval and army commander in the Roman Empire who became a philosopher and author of "Naturalis Historia." He tells about a goldsmith who presented Emperor Tiberius with an unnaturally light and shiny plate that had been extracted from plain clay (bauxite) through a secret technique known only to himself and the gods:
"Tiberius, though, was a little concerned. The emperor was one of the great generals, a warmonger who conquered most of what is now Europe and amassed a fortune of gold and silver along the way. He was also a financial expert who knew the value of his treasure would seriously decline if people suddenly knew the value of his treasure would seriously decline if people suddenly had access to a shiny new metal rarer than gold. 'Therefore,' recounts Pliny, 'instead of giving the goldsmith the regard expected, he ordered him to be beheaded.'"
Of course, aluminum would be rediscovered and, through technology, would become plentiful and cheap, certainly nothing to lose one's head over. 

Times have changed, at least in most parts of the world.  Over time people have become, in general, less superstitious, more accepting of new technology and more willing to cooperate. Can we continue to evolve beyond our reptilian amygdala part of the brain and move away from cognitive biases of the mind?

The authors of "Abundance" think so, despite obvious challenges.

Diamandis and Kotler show in dozens of charts and through examples from Ray Kurzweil, Google and the U.S. Air Force that the rate of change in the world is moving exponentially.

Some examples of future technology or innovation changing the world: artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, 3D printers, genetic engineering, the Cloud and smartphones.
Venter is awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama
Energy: Craig Venter, the scientist who sequenced the human genome, created synthetic DNA and hopes to create a new kind of algae that can make fuel from carbon dioxide and water.  Venter served a tour of duty as a Navy Corpsman in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 before beginning his formal education at the University of California at San Diego.

Water: Self-taught physicist and entrepreneur Dean Kamen developed a distiller capable of recycling its own energy. "The current version [of Slingshot] can purify 1,000 liters (250 gallons) of water a day using the same amount of energy it takes to run a hair dryer."

Communication and connectivity: Vint Cerf, a father of the internet, foresees a future of networks and sensors that will be a "central nervous system for the planet."

Food: Former futurist Sir Winston Churchill foresaw synthetically grown food:
"In 1931 Winston Churchill said, 'Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.' As it turns out, it took a few extra decades for biotechnologists to deliver on Churchill's promise, but more and more, it looks like it was worth the wait. Cultured meat (or in-vitro meat, as some prefer) is meat grown from stem cells."
The U.S. military pioneered modern development of hydroponics at the end of World War II on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, later on Iwo Jima and in Chofu, Japan in the western Pacific, and even in Iraq and Bahrain in the Middle East, where troops guarded the oil supply. The idea was to grow food locally regardless of the availability or viability of soil and not to have to rely on transportation logistics.

The future of agriculture lies in rediscovering hydroponics, refining aquaculture, using aeroponics and developing vertical farming, including extensively in cities.

Hackers, do-it-yourselfers, garage biologists and techno-philanthropists – people inspired by the counter-culture movement of the 60s – are sharing ideas for how to tackle problems. They are committed to a world of sustainment, cooperation and hope and away from consumption, destruction and greed.

As always the key to the future lies in education and freedom, which is "both an idea and access to ideas." The authors postulate that freedom and the need to make a difference is at the hierarchy of needs for people. Freedom to educate and be educated is tied to good health:
"Recent research into the relationship between health and education found that better-educated people live longer and healthier lives. they have fewer heart attacks and are less likely to become obese and develop diabetes. We also know that there's a direct correlation between a well-educated population and a stable, free society. The more well educated the population, the more durable its democracy. But these advances pale before what's possible if we start educating the women of tomorrow alongside the men."
Two-thirds of the 130 million children who are not in school are girls. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) concludes that educating these girls is "the key to health and nutrition; to overall improvements in the standard of living; to better agricultural and environmental practices; to higher gross national product; and to greater involvement and gender balance in decision making at all levels of society." 

A quality education empowers women and reduces fear, poverty and birth rates.

Last Friday, Malala Yousafzai, 17, became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala, a muslim from Pakistan, along with children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, a hindi from India, were awarded the prize.  According to "The Nobel Peace Prize 2014 was awarded jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."

"Abundance" presents the ideas of dozens of thinkers, inventors and philanthropists, including Arthur C. Clarke, Stewart Brand, Margaret Mead, Catherine Mohr, Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Salman Khan (Khan Academy), Matt Ridley, Bill McKibben and Ray Kurzweil: "Kurzweil learned that human ideas were all powerful. DaVinci's ideas symbolized the power of invention to transcend human limitations. Hitler's ideas showed the power to destroy."

In WWII, the free world cooperated to defeat Imperial Japan and fascist Germany. Both nations are now globally connected democracies, educated and free. Of note, the nation's Maritime Strategy for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard is called "A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower."

The idea of cooperation growing in an interconnected world comes together in a chain equation: new technology creates specialization that increases cooperation that leads to more capability that generates more technology, and the cycle continues – an engine of change and a reason for hope and optimism in "Abundance."

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Farragut 'Touched by Fire'

by Bill Doughty
Admiral David G. Farragut (art by Antonio Verceluz)

Strong Confederate forts. Batteries of guns. Torpedo mines. The iron-clad "ram" CSS Tennessee. All these and more faced the Union Navy led by Adm. David Glasgow Farragut in Mobile Bay in August 1864, 150 years ago this past summer.

The intrepid hero of New Orleans/Mississippi sailed his wooden ships within range of the forts, as described by Farragut contemporary First Lieutenant John Coddington Kinney:
"The central figure was the grand old admiral, his plans all completed, affable with all, evidently not thinking of failure s among the possibilities of the morrow, and filling every one with his enthusiasm. He was sixty-three years old, of medium height, stoutly built, with a finely proportioned head and smoothly shaven face, with an expression combining overflowing kindliness with iron will and invincible determination, and with eyes that in repose were full of sweetness and light, but, in emergency, could flash fire and fury."
Kinney's is one of dozens of first person accounts and memoirs originally published in 1881 by "The Century" magazine and now part of a terrific compilation from 2011, "Hearts Touched By Fire: The Best of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War," edited by Harold Holzer. The book is divided into five parts, each for a year from 1881 through 1885.

In the introduction to "1864," historian Joan Waugh sets the stage:
"Two Federal naval victories in 1864 mitigated the disappointment of the seemingly endless ground campaigns. On June 19 the war sloop USS Kearsarge defeated the famed Rebel raider CSS Alabama off the coast of France in the Battle of Cherbourg. Writing for Battles and Leaders, the Union ship's surgeon, John M. Browne, recounted the war of wits ..."The second Union naval success carried an even greater lift for Northers at a critical time. On August 5, Admiral David G. Farragut seized control of Mobile Bay in Alabama, bringing an end to Confederate shipbuilding in that city and disabling the port's ability to offer a friendly harbor for Southern ships avoiding the Union blockade ... Farragut's triumph closed the last remaining major Confederate port on the Gulf of Mexico and boosted Lincoln's prospects for a fall victory."
Navy Reads contributor Craig Symonds does a masterful introduction for "1861" helping foreshadow the "horrible slaughter and wholesale destruction that would follow" the early months of the war.

The story of how the first compilation came to be published by "The Century" in 1881 involves some intriguing negotiation with President U.S. Grant after the Civil War. The editors ensured we get an accurate portrayal told in real and vibrant prose, not just dry war plans and reports. Illustrations from the time – paintings and etchings from both the Union and Confederacy perspective – are included.

In "Farragut at Mobile Bay" Kinney describes the fire and smoke of battle where "every minute seemed a second." Admiral Farragut climbed the rigging to get better command and control. He damned the torpedoes, faced and ordered broadsides and took his wooden ships into close battle with the enemy. We can almost hear and feel the wooden Hulls scraping and crashing against the iron-clad Tennessee that had been "strengthened by an artificial prow."

Kinney writes of a brief lull in the action:
"The thunder of heavy artillery now ceased. The crews of the various vessels had begun to efface the marks of the terrible contest by washing the decks and clearing up the splinters. The cooks were preparing breakfast, the surgeons were busily engaged in making amputations and binding arteries, and under canvas, on the port side of each vessel, lay the ghastly line of dead waiting the sailor's burial. As if by mutual understanding, officers who were relieved from immediate duty gathered in the ward-rooms to ascertain who of their mates were missing, and the reaction from such a season of tense nerves and excitement was just setting in when the hurried call to quarters came and the word passed around, 'the ram is coming.'"
Kinney takes us back into the intense fighting as Farragut and his fleet focused on what was thought to be the strongest vessel afloat, "virtually invulnerable." 

"The Tennessee now became the target for the whole fleet, all the vessels of which were making toward her, pounding her with shot, and trying to run her down," he writes. Lashed to the rigging, Farragut directed the battle as his sailors and marines continued the attack, with side-by-side bombardments and fearless full-speed attacks and cannon barrages leading to the enemy's surrender and a Union victory.

"Hearts Touched by Fire" is a fascinating you-are-there set of memories from the soldiers, sailors, leaders and citizens affected by that pivotal war that ended slavery and kept the states united.

(See the Navy Reads post about the Adm. Farragut, the U.S. Navy's first Hispanic admiral, from 2011, "Damn the Torpedoes." Hispanic heritage is celebrated in the United States from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The Navy Birthday is Oct. 13, 1775.)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Captain John Paul Jones – Conflicted

by Bill Doughty

When Thomas Jefferson's letter to Captain John Paul Jones arrived asking him to lead an expedition against Islamic Barbary Pirates in North Africa it was too late. Jones had died days before the letter arrived.

No doubt John Paul Jones would have jumped at the chance to deploy and fight again. After all, he had earlier taken Jefferson's advice to become an admiral in the Russian Navy and serve under Tsarina Catherine in the Black Sea. Two decades earlier he had served under George Washington and other Founders in missions attempting to rescue prisoners of war, even deploying forward into the littorals of England, Ireland and his native Scotland.
Mutinous crews, weather, political circumstances and Jones's own ego often hampered the ship captain's success, however, according to biographer Evan Thomas in "John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy."

David McCullough, author of "John Adams" and "1776," endorses Thomas's book, and that's high praise. "Evan Thomas captures all the incongruities, vanities, blazing ambition, and phenomenal courage of his subject. And, importantly, he writes with vigor and a sailor's knowledge of the sea. The accounts of Jones's historic triumphs in battle and of one terrible storm are brilliant, unforgettable."

Thomas describes life in the age of sail – the stink, disease, rum allowances, cruelty of the lash and close combat. 
Two hundred and thirty-five years ago this week (Sept. 23, 1779) aboard the merchantman Bonhomme Richard, Jones achieved immortality in his seemingly hopeless battle against the larger Royal Navy HMS Serapis, cannons muzzle-to-muzzle, a "battle of the tops" – snipers on the sails, cutlasses in hand on deck, Jones standing in the face of fire, fearless, unwavering, victorious.

Born from a fleet of privateers the new American navy was a handful of sailing ships whose mission was to intercept British ships. Jones was a gifted seaman, navigator and commander. His patron in the Continental Congress, Robert Morris, saw in Jones "a quality that was utterly missing from the minds of most men of the new Navy." Jones was a "strategic seer."
Jones was effective despite veins of bad luck and occasional bad behavior running through his life. Among the author's descriptions of the great captain/commodore: "thin skinned," "far-sighted but with resentments," "lover of poetry," "whose highs and lows bordered on the manic," "futurist," "shrewd and prescient," "self-centered," "resilient," "articulate," "fastidious," "demanding and brooding," "always keen to burnish his reputation," and "tactless, vain and selfish."
"All through his life, Jones struggled to put forth his more virtuous ... self, his capacity for self-sacrifice and noble-mindedness. But his anger and insecurity eventually showed through. He would have had faster and better ships to sail in harm's way if he had followed Franklin's advice and shared credit more generously and if he had been less prickly and pushy with his superiors. Jones was sufficiently self-aware to know what to do, but tragically incapable of doing it. His ambition rendered him both gullible and self-absorbed. His sarcastic asides and demanding perfectionalism often defeated his efforts to show 'cheerful ardor' and reach out to colleagues. And, yet, his pride masked sensitivity and a longing to be loved and forgiven ... If only Jones had been able to take his own advice and hid his contempt for others, they might have forgiven him. But he could not, and they did not."
Roosevelt speaks at a Jones commemoration at the Naval Academy, 1906.
Jones had busts of himself made in the later years of his life (the ultimate 3D selfie) and sent them to Washington, Adams, Jefferson and other statesmen. He "rarely conceded error," according to Thomas, and "His sense of grandeur, his belief that he strode on a great stage, allowed him to appreciate the larger stakes."

Jones's self-awareness helped him sense change and purpose in the world in the wake of the Enlightenment. He was a true patriot fighting for freedom and against despotism. A contemporary of Thomas Paine, Jones said, "I have drawn my sword in the present generous struggle for the Rights of Men."

Reading about Jones's ego makes a quote that opens the Thomas book all the more poignant. It's from 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, a man who had a similar driving personality and, as revealed in the recent Ken Burns series on PBS, "The Roosevelts," plenty of personal demons to outrun. Roosevelt, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, said, "Every officer in our navy should know by heart the deeds of John Paul Jones."

Another book about the deeds and the man – not the myths – was written by the great naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison. He received the 1959 Pulitzer prize for biography for "John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography." Like Thomas, Morison looked behind the curtain of fabrication and fiction to reveal the complicated character of the naval hero.
In 1792 Thomas Jefferson, who dealt with his own character inconsistencies as a slaveowner, wrote to ask John Paul Jones to deal with Islamic states and Barbary pirates in North Africa who had captured American sailors and held them for ransom. Thomas writes:
"For years, Jones had been corresponding with Thomas Jefferson about the fate of 'our poor countrymen' imprisoned by the Dey of Algiers. Jones had been all for raising a fleet to put down the Barbary Coast pirates (hearing of Jones's agitation and employment with the Russian infidels, the Dey had put a price on Jones's head). Lacking the will or funds, Congress had dawdled. But now some thirteen American prisoners, sailors seized from merchantmen and thrown in grim cells of Algiers, were writing pleading letters, saying they would have to covert to Islam if help did not come soon. In the late spring of 1792 Congress was at last moved to create a delegation to negotiate with the Dey. Remembering Jones and his deep concern for the fate of prisoners, Jefferson, the first American Secretary of State, appointed Jones to lead the American delegation. But Jones was dead by the time his commission and instructions reached Paris at the end of July."
Jones died at the age of 45. Congress authorized payment of "tributes" as ransom to Barbary Coast Pirates. But, when more tributes were demanded, Jefferson called for a strong naval response, which led to the First Barbary War in 1801.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Thomas Jefferson Calls for Submarines

by Bill Doughty
The third president of the United States was the first to expand into the American West, combat religious fundamentalism and terrorists abroad, and think about the future of naval warfare: using submarines and surface ships to provide defense of the States and forward-deploying forces for maritime security. He foresaw peace through global commerce between nations – globalization.

In "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power" Jon Meacham explores the complicated way Jefferson combined pure reason with muddy politics as Governor of Virginia, congressman, Secretary of State, President, diplomat in France, and as statesman and philosopher, always trying to achieve "the Founders' dream of a nation beyond partisanship."
Battle of Tripoli Harbor, Aug. 3, 1804
Facing bitter opposition, Jefferson called for naval power against a Muslim caliphate in the Barbary states (Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli). Barbary pirates had harassed and kidnapped merchants and captured an American ship. Rather than paying ransom, Jefferson, in a letter to James Monroe, suggested a reasoned approach with hard consequences.

Jefferson wrote, "Would it not be better to offer them an equal treaty? If they refuse, why not go to war with them? ... We ought to begin a naval power, if we mean to carry on our own commerce. Can we begin it on a more honorable occasion or with a weaker foe?"
According to Meacham:
"On Saturday, August 1, 1801, Andrew Sterett of the Enterprize (Enterprise), who was serving under [Commodore Richard] Dale, defeated the Tripolitan vessel Tripoli near Malta. 'Too long ... have those barbarians been suffered to trample on the sacred faith of treaties, on the rights and laws of human nature,' Jefferson told Sterett. 'You have shown your countrymen that that enemy cannot meet bravery and skill united.'"
Meacham judges Jefferson as "more of a chess player than a traditional warrior."

"The Art of Power" is carefully researched and backed up with good source material on both sides of the Atlantic, including unpublished papers. Unfortunately there's not much more discussion about Jefferson's complicated views about developing a Navy. Meacham piques our interest in other writings by Jefferson. 
In a letter published in a collection by the Library of America, "Writings: Autobiography, Notes on the State of Virginia, Public and Private Papers, Addresses, Letters," and written in 1807, President Jefferson communicates his views about naval strategy with Robert Fulton, inventor of the steam engine. Jefferson discusses use and limitations of torpedoes (mines), which would be used extensively a few years later in the War of 1812, and half a century later in the Civil War by Cmdre. David Farragut in the Battle of New Orleans.

In his letter to Fulton, Jefferson calls for more commitment to developing and employing submarines. And he floats the idea of creating a corps of submariners.
"I consider your torpedoes as very valuable means of defence of harbors, & have no doubt that we should adopt them to a considerable degree. Not that I go the whole length (as I believe you do) of considering them as solely to be relied on ... But I have ever looked to the submarine boat as most to be depended on for attaching them [torpedoes], & tho' I see no mention of it in your letter, or your publications, I am in hopes it is not abandoned as impracticable. I should wish to see a corps of young men trained to this service. It would belong to the engineers if at land, but being nautical, I suppose we must have a corps of naval engineers, to practise & use them. I do not know whether we have authority to put any part of our existing naval establishment in a course of training, but it shall be the subject of a consultation with the Secretary of the Navy. Genl Dearborne has informed you of the urgency of our want of you at N Orleans for the locks there. I salute you with great respect & esteem."
Jefferson's views of the Navy seem to have evolved over time. Earlier writings in the 1780s questioned the need for a naval force to compete with European powers. (Eventually, though, especially in response to the Barbary threats, Jefferson understood the need for a strong means to back up peaceful intentions.)

In Query XXII of his "Notes on the State of Virginia" written in 1781-1782, Jefferson offers predictions that have been realized centuries later after wars against Britain, Japan and Germany – cooperative interaction with other nations:
"It should be our endeavour to cultivate the peace and friendship of every nation, even of that which has injured us most, when we shall have carried our point against her. Our interest will be to throw open the doors of commerce, and to knock off all its shackles, giving perfect freedom to all persons for the vent of whatever they may chuse to bring into our ports, and asking the same in theirs."
Jefferson's own words, found in separate collections, help expand revelations in Meacham's biography, which in words and impressive artwork shows many of the key people in Jefferson's life.
Jon Meacham
Meacham's work is personalizing. It focuses on many of Jefferson's relationships, including  with John Adams, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Sarah "Sally" Hemings, Thomas Paine and Patsy Jefferson Randolph. Meacham writes about Jefferson's friendships, loves and rivalries. Unlike other Founders, Thomas Jefferson did not succumb to bitterness. He took on a recalcitrant Congress and achieved his strategic goals.

The dustcover of Meacham's book proclaims:
"The father of the ideal of individual liberty, of the Louisiana Purchase, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the settling of the West, Jefferson recognized that the genius of humanity – and the genius of the new nation – lay in the possibility of progress, of discovering the undiscovered and seeking the unknown. From the Declaration of Independence to elegant dinners in Paris; from politics in Philadelphia and New York to the capital on the Potomac; from his complicated life at Monticello, his breathtaking house and plantation in Virginia, to the creation of the University of Virginia, Jefferson was central to the age."
Jefferson's passion and courage gave us the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. Some could say Jefferson's foresight and commitment to progressive development gave us the birth of maritime strategy. And one could even say his expansion of the American West – eventually through Colorado to Washington State – led directly to this weekend's NFL rematch between Peyton Manning of Denver and Russell Wilson of Seattle.