Sunday, June 28, 2015

Arctic Adventure: Sides with Science

Review by Bill Doughty

A good Navy read during hot summer months is the chilling true tale by Hampton Sides, "In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette" (2014, Doubleday).

Sides, author of "Ghost Soldiers," takes us to the late 19th century when science was still revealing the truth about earth's geography.

Explorers like Hudson, Barents and Barrington believed in an open polar sea. They sought to find warm currents and a temperate land beyond the ice. Navy charts at the time were incorrect.

Vain efforts to prove an open sea at the North Pole were fueled by assumptions of a deranged German mapmaker named August Petermann. He's just one of the interesting characters in the drama. 

Another is newspaper magnate James Gordon Bennett Jr., the obscenely wealthy owner of "The New York Herald." The eccentric newspaper publisher capitalized on strong feelings of nationalism and saw rich profits to be gained by backing a voyage to the Arctic. Bennett funded a U.S. Navy public-private venture to discover something that didn't exist.

This is a tale of life and death, courage and resilience.

The Navy's maps indicating a "supposed open polar sea" were developed by a naval officer respected for his oceanography, Silas Bent, who had previously served as flag lieutenant under Commodore Matthew C. Perry aboard USS Mississippi.

The Jeannette mission to the Arctic was launched in early July 1879, just 27 years after Perry sailed his "black ships" into Japan, 14 years after the Civil War (in which Silas Bent would resign his commission to side with the Confederacy) and 20 years before the Navy established a base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 

Parts of the world were still being opened to trade, ships were just being converted from canvas to steam, and Thomas Edison was about to light up entire streets with his greatest invention.

One hero of the voyage is captain of the USS Jeannette, Lt. Cmdr. George Washington De Long of New York.

De Long became captivated by the Cold North on an earlier journey up "the ragged west coast of the world's largest island, Greenland."
"De Long's disdain for the polar landscape soon wore off ... something began to take hold of him. He became more and more intrigued by the Arctic, by its lonely grandeur, by its mirages and strange tricks of light, its mock moons and blood-red halos, its thick, misty atmospheres, which altered and magnified sounds, leaving the impression that one was living under a dome. He felt as though he were breathing rarefied air. He became intrigued by the phenomenon of the "ice blink," the spectral glow in the low sky that indicated the presence of a large frozen pack ahead. The scenery grew more impressive: ice-gouged fjords, towering bergs calved fresh from glaciers, the crisp sound of cold surf lapping against the pack ringed seals peeking through gaps in the ice, bowhead whales spouting in the deep gray channel. This was the purest wilderness De Long had ever seen, and he began to fall in love with it."
Sides describes De Long as frustrated by Navy bureaucracy and red tape yet fully embracing the stern, disciplinarian style of shipboard leadership, quoting a contemporary of his, Mark Twain. According to Sides:
"De Long blamed the Navy for some of his worst traits. He once wrote, 'Ship life is a hard thing on the temper. Mark Twain in his Innocents Abroad says that going to sea develops all of man's bad qualities and brings out new ones that he did not suppose himself mean enough for. I wonder if that accounts for all the rough edges of my character.' He admitted that he could be 'hard on men,' but such was the nature of a naval officer's life. 'I can only say I never allow any argument,' De Long once wrote. 'It is my office to command and theirs to obey.''"
Prior to heading north, De Long brought USS Jeannette to the Mare Island Shipyard where double trusses, new iron beam reinforcement and extra pitch were installed and applied. Mare represented the nation's original "rebalance" to the Pacific and was considered a "western outpost of America's burgeoning might."

The Navy's Chief Engineer at the turn of the 20th century, George W. Melville
Another hero of the voyage is innovative engineer George W. Melville. Years later, Melville would become chief engineer for the Navy, earning the rank of rear admiral. As the 20th century dawned, Melville "presided over an expansive redesign of the fleet, largely completing its conversion from wood to metal, and from wind to steam power.  When he retired, in 1903, the U.S. Navy boasted one of the most powerful modernized fleets in the world."

Sides, known for revealing the personalities of long-dead characters, excels here in describing more than a dozen men of De Long's ill-fated mission.  The author shows the hard choices the sailors and civilians faced so they could survive: ice or sea, boats or sleds – which dogs to cull – what to eat.

Arctic-bound USS Jeannette becomes icebound.
Books were an important part of the mission, as inspiration both before and during the months at sea: books by Twain, Stephen Crane, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley and Frederick Marryat, of the British Royal Navy, whose swashbuckling tales ignited in De Long "a profound desire to enter the Naval Academy."

"Kingdom" is a fascinating book, recommended by retired Adm. James Stavridis and another favorite Navy Read author, Nathaniel Philbrick, who calls this book a "dazzling page turner ... full of unforgettable characters and vividly described scenes." For example:
"Much of their journey seemed like a dream, a long whiteout of undifferentiated days punctuated by a few moments of haunting clarity: A snowy owl staring at them. A pile of decrepit sleds they smashed up for firewood. The corpse of a native buried in a box on a hill. A crow, circling and circling and circling."
Hampton Sides used original documents and reports from the voyage, coupled with contemporaneous newspapers and letters, including some heartbreaking correspondence between De Long and his wife Emma – featured in each chapter. The author's notes and selected bibliography span 34 pages and more than 140 years.

Pick up "In the Kingdom of Ice" to read more about De Long and Melville's daring adventure, the entropy of their mission in search of the open polar sea, and the revelations found in the frozen and unforgiving Arctic. Some survived. Others perished. Those who did not return alive were called by the Secretary of the Navy, "martyrs in the cause of science."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Charleston Shows a Better Way

by Bill Doughty

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston is about six miles down the same peninsula as the former Charleston Navy Yard.

The church is site of the vicious murder of nine African Americans by self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof.

John C. Calhoun, 1849 (photo by M. Brady)
Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is located on a street bearing the name of former Vice President and Secretary of War (Defense) John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was a powerful voice promoting the United States military in the War of 1812. 

Unfortunately, John C. Calhoun was also an avowed segregationist who was pro-slavery to the point of threatening civil war.

Early in James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era" (Oxford University Press, 1988) the author shows how Calhoun fanned glowing embers of the growing secessionist movement, leading to the war between North and South – over states' rights to own slaves.
"In February 1847, Senator John C. Calhoun introduced resolutions denying the right of Congress to exclude slave property from the territories. 'Tall, careworn, with fevered brow, haggard cheek and eye, intensely gazing,' as Henry Clay described him, Calhoun insisted that territories were the 'common property' of sovereign states. Acting as the 'joint agents' of these states, Congress could no more prevent a slaveowner from taking his human property to the territories than it could prevent him from taking his horses or hogs there. If the North insisted on ramming through Wilmot Proviso, warned Calhoun in sepulchral tones, the result would be 'political revolution, anarchy, civil war."
Northern congressmen voted for the Wilmot Proviso calling for prohibiting slavery or "involuntary servitude" in new territories – including in the expanding West. They passed a resolution calling for abolition of the slave trade in the nation's capital. "These actions enraged southerners, who used their power in the Senate to quash them all." McPherson writes.
"A southern caucus asked Calhoun to draft an 'Address' setting forth the section's position on these iniquities. The South Carolinian readily complied, sensing a renewed opportunity to create the Southern Rights party he had long hoped for. Rehearsing a long list of northern 'aggressions' – including the Northwest Ordinance, the Missouri Compromise, state personal liberty laws that blocked recovery of fugitive slaves, and the Wilmot Proviso – the Address reiterated Calhoun's doctrine of the constitutional right to take slaves into all territories, reminded southerners that their 'property, prosperity, equality, liberty, and safety' were at stake, and warned that the South might secede if her rights were not protected."
SECNAV Gideon Welles
McPherson shows how the north fought to keep slavery from expanding into Texas, New Mexico and California 160 years ago in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. One of the northern congressmen who took a stand was Connecticut's Gideon Welles:
"'The time has come,' agreed ... Welles, 'when the Northern democracy should make a stand. Every thing has taken a Southern shape and been controlled by Southern caprice for years.' We must, Welles concluded 'satisfy the northern people ... that we are not to extend the institution of slavery as a result of this war.'"
Welles would become President Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy 15 years later.

In 1858 the Charleston Mercury newspaper published this: "On the subject of slavery, the North and South ... are not only two Peoples, but they are rival, hostile Peoples."

The editor and founder of the Charleston Mercury was South Carolina Representative Henry L. Pinckney. 

Pinckney, served as Mayor of Charleston and was son of Charles Pinckney, a signer of the Constitution and a slaveowner who introduced the Fugitive Slave Clause. Charles Pinckney owned slaves in Beaufort in what is now the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, where once the Pinckney plantation stood.

South Carolina State Representative Clementa Pinckney's empty desk last Friday.
South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, whose family on his father's side originated in Beaufort, South Carolina is likely a descendent of slaves owned by Charles Pinckney. Rev. Clementa Pinckney was among those murdered last week. He was senior pastor at Mother Emanuel AME church. 

Emanuel AME church was founded in 1816 by African Americans at a time when black literacy was prohibited. The church on Calhoun Street was the target of intolerance, segregation and hate for decades. But today it is also a place of Christian faith, hope and the power of love.
Left to right top: Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders.
Left to right bottom: Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons Sr
In the face of gun violence and in a state that flies the Confederate battle flag and where the streets are named for heroes of the Confederacy (as John Stewart* points out), the families of the victims of homegrown terrorism showed remarkable grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Instead of cynicism and calls for revenge and more violence, loved ones in Charleston are calling for "understanding," "unity" and "love." Church services today demonstrated an infinite capacity for human resilience.

Compared with a history of intolerance, racism and violence against people of African ancestry, Charleston shows us a better way today.

*Stewart provided a powerful monologue in the immediate aftermath of the assassination in Charleston before introducing his interview guest, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and gun violence victim Malala Yousafzai.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Mark Twain's Colors II: Thug Life

Review by Bill Doughty

The original Thugs killed for the joy of taking lives, according to Mark Twain, author of "Following the Equator." One sees parallels with the self-proclaimed Islamic State or "Daesh" (aka ISIL/ISIS).

Indian "thugs" from around 1865 in Peshawar, now part of Pakistan. (Photo from NPR)
The word "thug" comes from an actual sect of religious extremist terrorists – the Thugee – who strangled and robbed men, women and children two hundred years ago in India. Murders were often carried out after the Thugs had gained the trust of their victims.

Twain first heard about the Thugs in the mid 1800s and read and wrote about them when he visited Bombay (Mumbai) in 1896.
"Fifty years ago, when I was a boy in the then-remote and sparsely peopled Mississippi valley, vague tales and rumors of a mysterious body of professional murderers came wandering in from a country which was constructively as far from us as the constellations blinking in space – India; vague tales and rumors of a sect called Thugs, who waylaid travelers in lonely places and killed them for the contentment of a god whom they worshiped; tales which everybody liked to listen to and nobody believed..."
Twain devotes more than two chapters of his "Following the Equator" (Volume II) to discussing the Thugs, referencing a government report printed in Calcutta in 1840.

Thugee belief: gaining trust, distracting victims, then striking from behind.
He describes the report by Major Sleeman, of the British Indian Civil Service, as "a clumsy, great, fat, poor sample of the printer's art, but good enough for a government printing-office in that old day and in that remote region, perhaps."
"The Thugs were worshipers of Bhowanee; and to this god they sacrificed anybody that came handy; but they kept the dead man's things themselves, for the god cared for nothing but the corpse. Men were initiated into the sect with solemn ceremonies. Then they were taught how to strangle a person with the sacred choke-cloth, but were not allowed to perform officially with it until after long practice ... the expert's work was instantaneous: the cloth was whipped around the victim's neck, there was a sudden twist, and the head fell silently forward, the eyes starting from the sockets; and all was over. The Thug carefully guarded against resistance. It was usual to get the victims to sit down, for that was the handiest position for business."
Mark Twain aboard USS Mohican, 1895. (PBS)
Twain became captivated with learning more about the cult, which included teenage boys and elderly men. He lauded Britain's "noble" task to remove them. And he saw parallels in other cultures. Twain asks about The Why – "what was the impulse?" Then he draws a surprising conclusion:
"Apparently, it was partly piety, largely gain, and there is reason to suspect that the sport afforded was the chiefest fascination of all ... That must really be the secret of the rise and development of Thugee. The joy of killing! the joy of seeing killing done – these are traits of the human race at large. We white people are merely modified Thugs; Thugs fretting under the restraints of a not very thick skin of civilization; Thugs who long ago enjoyed the slaughter of the Roman arena, and later the burning of doubtful Christians by authentic Christians in the public squares, and who now, with the Thugs of Spain and Nîmes, flock to enjoy the blood and misery of the bull-ring. We have no tourists of either sex or any religion who are able to resist the delights of the bull-ring when opportunity offers ..."
Beautiful "splendid" colors then and now in India. (Photo from PBS)
Twain also looks disapprovingly on the 19th century big game hunters in India who killed tigers and elephants – not for meat or out of necessity, but for the "sport" and joy of killing. He shines a harsh light on human nature, but sometimes his light reflects beauty in fiery spectacle.  

"Following the Equator" sings with colors, especially during Twain's visit to Bombay. Here is part of his description of the trip to Gallé Face by the seashore:
"What a dream it was of tropical splendors of bloom and blossom, and Oriental conflagrations of costume! The walking groups of men, women, boys, girls, babies – each individual was a flame, each group a house afire for color. And such stunning colors, such intensely vivid colors, such rich and exquisite minglings and fusings of rainbows and lightnings! And all harmonious, all in perfect taste; never a discordant note; never a color on any person swearing at another color on him or failing to harmonize faultlessly with the colors of any group the wearer might join. The stuffs were silk – thin, soft, delicate, clinging; and, as a rule, each piece a solid color: a splendid green, a splendid blue, a splendid yellow, a splendid purple, a splendid ruby, deep and rich with smoldering fires – they swept continuously by in crowds and legions and multitudes, glowing, flashing, burning, radiant; and every five seconds came a burst of blinding red that made a body catch his breath, and filled his heart with joy. And then, the unimaginable grace of those costumes! Sometimes a woman's whole dress was but a scarf wound about her person and her head, sometimes a man's was but a turban and a careless rag or two – in both cases generous areas of polished dark skin showing – but always the arrangement compelled the homage of the eye and made the heart sing for gladness."
What happens next in the parade of colors – breaking Twain's revery – is jarring and insightful, contrasting cultures, appreciating diversity and showcasing Twain's laugh-out-loud sense of humor. A recommended read.

Twain's "Following the Equator" was suggested in 2012 by Rear Adm. John Kirby, former U.S. Navy Chief of Information and former Pentagon spokesperson, now State Department spokesperson.  "Twain has always been my favorite author. I love his humor, his wit and the ease and simplicity of his writing. 'Following the Equator' captures his essence best, in my view," Kirby wrote.

Twain captures the common shared values of humanity, good and bad – including Thug Life in India two centuries ago. Read our first installment of "Mark Twain's Colors" published last year on Navy Reads  here.

As for the original 'gees – Thugees – read a fascinating post by Lakshmi Gandhi at National Public Radio. Gandhi ties in other aspects of American culture, including thuggish-ruggish music and a new genre of literature known as thug-lit. The big revelation: how the term "thug" has been misused but is being reshaped, especially considering the original murderous group from which the word originates.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Equator, Climate, Weather – Plans & Action

Solar filament. (Photo from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Solar Dynamics Observatory)

Two separate studies by the journal Science report that global climate change and specifically warmer water in the world's ocean ecology is pushing ocean life and habitats away from the equator and toward the poles; fish are migrating and coral is being displaced by a warmer climate.

Coral near Australia (Queensland Museum)
A study from the University of Washington, Seattle studied affects in the Atlantic Ocean on the metabolism of several species of fish and crab. Researchers in Queensland, Australia are showing that corals may be forced to shift toward the poles as a result of global warming, but their ability to do so may be limited by a variety of factors.

Like a changing climate, changing weather can alter reality and plans. The sun-powered, no-fuel Solar Impulse 2 airplane, making a journey around the world had to make an unanticipated stop in Nagoya, Japan on its way from Nanjing, China across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii.

Solar Impulse 2 flies, powered by the sun and PV panels across its wingspan. (SI2)
Wind caused some damage to the plane's wing in Japan, causing a delay in plans to fly to Hawaii, according to Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg.

The flight originated in Abu Dhabi, and the plane has made stops in Oman, India, Myanmar, China and now Japan. The longest-leg flight across the Pacific to Hawaii – "following the equator" – is considered the most hazardous.

Meanwhile, in Kauai, Hawaii, changes in weather are hampering another mission in the sky. Weather has caused delays this week in NASA's "Flying Saucer" test – the launch of the "Mars Lander" Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) aboard a high-altitude balloon. The overall window is through June 12, with another attempt Monday, June 8. The Navy is supporting the mission from Pacific Missile Range Facility and Navy Region Hawaii (see photo below).

According to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and California Institute of Technology site, "This week offers up another opportunity to witness an important milestone in experimental flight tests. NASA's LDSD project will beam back to Earth live imagery from a supersonic, edge-of-atmosphere test of braking technology for Mars."

Learn more here...

And here: Check out this great NASA blog by Laura Faye Tenenbaum, "Earth Right Now – Your planet is changing. We're on it."

Back across the Pacific, straddling the equator, lies the island nation of Kiribati. The Joint High Speed Vessel USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3) is visiting the Independent Republic of Kiribati as the first mission visit of Pacific Partnership 2015. At the same time, south of the equator, USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) is in another island country, the Republic of Fiji, where healthcare providers are helping people and Seabees are building schools. Pacific Partnership is the world's largest multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission, providing training, outreach and civil infrastructure assistance in Indo-Asia-Pacific. It is a summer-long mission led by Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

150527-N-DT805-011 KAUAI, Hawaii (May. 27, 2015) Sailors assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 Explosive Ordnance Detachment conduct a safety walk-through in preparation for recovering the test vehicle for NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) off the coast of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. NASA's LDSD project is designed to investigate and test breakthrough technologies for landing future robotic and human Mars missions, and safely returning large payloads to Earth. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist John M. Hageman/Released)

150604-N-HY254-204 TARAWA, Kiribati (June 4, 2015) Musician 3rd Class Brian Mathis, assigned to the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band, plays tambourine with children at a concert in Bairiki Square during a Pacific Partnership 2015 visit to the Independent Republic of Kiribati. Now in its 10th iteration, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jonathan R. Kulp/Released)