Sunday, January 31, 2016

'Salt-Sea Mastodon' Masterpiece, Navy Legacy

By Bill Doughty

Herman Melville's genius was not recognized widely during his lifetime. Today, his novel "Moby-Dick" about one man's obsession with a great white whale – and the call of the sea to sailors – is considered universally as one of the greatest novels of all time. What makes it so great?

Herman Melville
"A gripping adventure, rich allegory, and technical tour de force, the novel draws on Melville's own seafaring experience," including in the South Pacific, according to Caroline Kennedy.

One hundred and seventy five years ago this month Melville set sail aboard the whaler Acushnet, sailing from Massachusetts around Cape Horn and into the Pacific Ocean. (He said his life began when his ship sailed in January 1841.)

Melville's real-life adventure included living in the Marquesas Islands with Typee natives, purported cannibals. He served on other whalers and traveled through Polynesia/Tahiti, ending up in Honolulu before signing on as an "ordinary seaman" to work on the frigate USS United States, which returned to Boston, Massachusetts in the fall of 1844.

To appreciate Melville's literary skills at painting pictures with words, read his somewhat fanciful description of the insulated island culture that was Nantucket in the 1800s. Nantucketers – owners of the sea – more comfortable aboard ship that on land. For a time, Nantucket was America's center for hunting the "salt-sea mastodon" nearly two centuries ago:

Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse. Look at it - a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background. There is more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper. Some gamesome wights will tell you that they have to plant weeds there, they don't grow naturally; that they import Canada thistles; that they have to send beyond seas for a spile to stop a leak in an oil cask; that pieces of wood in Nantucket are carried about like bits of the true cross in Rome; that people there plant toadstools before their houses, to get under the shade in summer time; that one blade of grass makes an oasis, three blades in a day's walk a prairie; that they wear quicksand shoes, something like Laplander snowshoes; that they are so shut up, belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded, and made an utter island of by the ocean, that to their very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering, as to the backs of sea turtles. But these extravaganzas only show that Nantucket is no Illinois.

Look now at the wondrous traditional story of how this island was settled by the red-men. Thus goes the legend. In olden times an eagle swooped down upon the New England coast, and carried off an infant Indian in his talons. With loud lament the parents saw their child borne out of sight over the wide waters. They resolved to follow in the same direction. Setting out in their canoes, after a perilous passage they discovered the island, and there they found an empty ivory casket, – the poor little Indian's skeleton.

What wonder, then, that these Nantucketers, born on a beach, should take to the sea for a livelihood! They first caught crabs and quohogs in the sand; grown bolder, they waded out with nets for mackerel; more experienced, they pushed off in boats and captured cod; and at last, launching a navy of great ships on the sea, explored this watery world; put an incessant belt of circumnavigations round it; peeped in at Behring's Straits; and in all seasons and all oceans declared everlasting war with the mightiest animated mass that has survived the flood; most monstrous and most mountainous! That Himmalehan, salt-sea Mastodon, clothed with such portentousness of unconscious power, that his very panics are more to be dreaded than his most fearless and malicious assaults!

And thus have these naked Nantucketers, these sea hermits, issuing from their ant-hill in the sea, overrun and conquered the watery world like so many Alexanders; parcelling out among them the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, as the three pirate powers did Poland. Let America add Mexico to Texas, and pile Cuba upon Canada; let the English overswarm all India, and hang out their blazing banner from the sun; two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's. For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires; other seamen having but a right of way through it. Merchant ships are but extension bridges; armed ones but floating forts; even pirates and privateers, though following the sea as highwaymen the road, they but plunder other ships, other fragments of the land like themselves, without seeking to draw their living from the bottomless deep itself. The Nantucketer, he alone resides and riots on the sea; he alone, in Bible language, goes down to it in ships; to and fro ploughing it as his own special plantation. There is his home; there lies his business, which a noah's flood would not interrupt, though it overwhelmed all the millions in China. He lives on the sea, as prairie cocks in the prairie; he hides among the waves, he climbs them as chamois hunters climb the Alps. For years he knows not the land; so that when he comes to it at last, it smells like another world, more strangely than the moon would to an Earthsman. With the landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows; so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.

The preceding excerpt from Chapter XIV of Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick" is published in Ambassador Caroline Kennedy's "A Patriot's Handbook," reviewed Jan. 24. Melville's description of Nantucket is a nice companion piece to a Navy Reads review last month of Nathaniel Philbrick's "In the Heart of the Sea."

Melville had a lasting legacy on the Navy.

He achieved his greatest success with his novel "Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life." In addition to "Moby-Dick," he wrote "Billy Budd, Sailor" and "White Jacket" or, "The World in a Man-of-War." The latter was read by members of the U.S. Congress and is considered by historians to be instrumental in abolishing flogging in the U.S. Navy.

From Naval History and Heritage Command's "Brief History of Punishment by Flogging in the U.S. Navy":

"Meanwhile in March 1850 Herman Melville's novel, White-Jacket, or The World in a Man-of-War was published. It contained a chapter on flogging and others on its evil effects and unlawful use. He called for its abolition. Some naval officers took exception to Melville's remarks and wrote rebuttals, a few of which were published in newspapers or pamphlets. The document reproduced above, A Plea in Favor of Maintaining Flogging in the Navy, may have been inspired by Melville's novel, by the action of Congress, or by the campaign of some officers and civilians to restore the practice of flogging. This effort was decisively defeated after a speech in the Senate in 1851 by Senator Robert F. Stockton of New Jersey, a former Navy captain. Naval officers had to adjust to new conditions, and there was increased pressure on Congress to enact new regulations. In March 1855 Congress passed a law for the more efficient discipline in the Navy. This established a system of summary courts martial for minor offences. It could sentence guilty men to a solitary confinement, with or without single or double irons, and/or a diet of bread and water for a limited time. It could also give bad conduct discharges. In 1862 Congress gave the force of law to a major revision of all Navy regulations that reflected a more progressive view of discipline."

Melville's work had a lasting influence on the Navy, literature and history. But unfortunately, according to Ambassador Kennedy, "Melville died in poverty; 'Moby-Dick' was not recognized as a literary masterpiece until the 1920s."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Heritage and Patriotism: Start the Conversation

Review by Bill Doughty

What do these people have in common: John McCain, Richard Nixon, Robert Kennedy, Betty Frieden, Langston Hughes, Henry David Thoreau, Sojourner Truth, Mark Twain, Joni Mitchell and the Grateful Dead? Patriots all, according to Caroline Kennedy, editor of "A Patriot's Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love" (Hyperion 2003).

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy is the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. At the time this book was written she was vice chair of the Fund for Public Schools in New York City and president of of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. 

"The best part of putting it together..."
"Ultimately, this is a personal selection, but one that I hope will encourage others to create similar collections of their own. The best part of putting it together was researching the myriad possibilities; the difficult part was deciding what to leave out. I read new works, as well as old favorites ... focused on the ideal of America ... In the process I rediscovered how many gifts we are given as Americans. Among the most precious are the freedoms we cherish yet sometimes take for granted, the diversity of heritage and experience that strengthens us, a society that celebrates tolerance and community, and a belief in the power of words to change the world. This country was founded on ideas – freedom, equality, the pursuit of happiness – and the fact that we have the oldest written Constitution in the world is proof of the enduring power of these principles. Those words and ideas have drawn millions to this country in search of the American dream. In order for our democracy to thrive, each of us must give something back. We must make a commitment not just to vote, but to be engaged, to understand the sources of our rights and freedoms and the struggles of those who fought and died to preserve them. Our nation celebrates the individual, and just as it provides for us, so it expects of us. America has given us her best. Now it is our turn."
Kennedy presents McCain with Profile in Courage Award.
One of the first essays is by Sen. John McCain. He tells the story of the importance of Old Glory and what the flag meant for a Prisoner of War during Vietnam in "The Mike Christian Story" from McCain's "Flags of Our Fathers." McCain concludes: "Duty, Honor, Country. We must never forget those thousands of Americans who, with their courage, with their sacrifice, and with their lives, made those words live for all of us."

In another excerpt, "On the Rainy River," from the masterful "The Things They Carried," Tim O'Brien shows an individual at war with himself over how to respond to a draft notice in the summer of 1968. Was Vietnam a righteous war? What constitutes courage? "The only certainty that summer was moral confusion."

President Richard M. Nixon, who initially escalated then ended the Vietnam War, will likely be best known in history for rapprochement with China in early 1972. Returning from the People's Republic of China and reporting on the agreements reached, including opening of trade, Nixon said, "peace means more than the mere absence of war."
"Most important, we have agreed on some rules of international conduct which will reduce the risk of confrontation and war in Asia and the Pacific. We agreed that we are opposed to domination of the Pacific area by any one power. We agreed that international disputes should be settled without the use of the threat of force and we agreed that we are prepared to apply this principle to our mutual relations."
Kennedy's compilation is filled with song lyrics, poems, photos, snippets from novels, essays, court decisions and speeches.

She reprints Judge Learned Hand's address "The Spirit of Liberty," delivered at "I Am an American" Day in Central Park, New York during World War II, May 21, 1944. Judge Hand expressing the devotion of a nation of immigrants: "We sought liberty; freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves."

President Harry S. Truman addressed the nation on April 11, 1951 about U.S. and UN involvement in South Korea and an effort to repel North Korean invaders without starting another world war with communist nations at the peak of the Cold War.
"If history has taught us anything, it is that aggression anywhere in the world is a threat to the peace everywhere in the world. When that aggression is supported by the cruel and selfish rulers of a powerful nation who are bent on conquest, it becomes a clear and present danger to the security and independence of every free nation. This is a lesson that most people in this country have learned thoroughly. This is the basic reason why we have joined in creating the United Nations. And, since the end of World War II, we have been putting that lesson into practice."
On September 20, 2001, President George H. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress to condemn al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks on American soil, reminding Americans of the terrorist network's attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa and the bombing of USS Cole.
"The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them ... They hate our freedoms ... These terrorists kill not merely to end lives but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us because we stand in their way."
Diverse voices in this nearly 700-page book include James Baldwin, Cesar Chavez, Amy Tan, Harper Lee, Huang Zunxian, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan.

From 1887 comes this simple but beautiful Navajo verse from the "Twelfth Song of the Thunder," part of the ancient Navajo Mountain Chant:

The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice above,
The voice of the thunder
Within the dark cloud
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land.

The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice below,
The voice of the grasshopper
Among the plants
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land.

Writing styles range from the poetic to the pedantic. In 1971 a "pioneering women's rights attorney," Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who would become the second female Supreme Court justice in 1993), wrote a decision upholding a claim of gender discrimination in Frontiero v. Richardson, on behalf of Air Force Lt. Sharon Frontiero, awarding spousal support benefits to married women serving in the military. Ginsburg wrote:
"...we can only conclude that classifications based upon sex, like classifications based upon race, alienage, or national origin, are inherently suspect, and must therefore be subjected to strict judicial scrutiny. Applying the analysis mandated by that stricter standard of review, it is clear that the statutory scheme now before us is constitutionally invalid."
Plenty of conversation starters. Here's a nugget from Thomas Alva Edison, written in 1921:
"Grouches are nearly always pinheads, small men who have never made any effort to improve their mental capacity. The brain can be developed just the same as the muscles can be developed, if one will only take the pains to train the mind to think ... The man who doesn't make up his mind to cultivate the habit of thinking misses the greatest pleasure in life. He not only misses the greatest pleasure, but he cannot make the most of himself. All progress, all success, springs from thinking."
The book closes with Katharine Lee Bates's "America the Beautiful" (1893) and Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" (1940). Caroline Kennedy's compilation encourages readers to consider the patchwork quilt of America and contemplate the meaning of patriotism.

" a nation, there is more that unites than divides us."
"Understanding and renewing our commitment to our fundamental civic values is a process of turning and returning to the words that defined the challenges of the past, inspired generations before us, and offer renewed insight for our own time. The words and images in this book are for sharing, as a conversation helps make the ideals our own. As I researched the selections, I was struck by the fact that we often talk with friends about movies, sports, or TV, but less often about patriotism, although being an American is one of the most profound experiences that we share. I hope that making these documents more accessible will make it easier for these conversations to occur. Of course, there are many varied realities within our society, but as a nation, there is more that unites than divides us. One of the ways we come to understand something is to compose our own narrative. Each person's story may be different, but in the process of assembling it, we can discover themes that connect us. As this books is intended for families, I have tried to include selections for all ages, songs and poems that appeal to children, speeches that helped turn the tide of history, judicial opinions that transformed our society, images that capture American's sense of self at a particular time, and expressions of personal yet universal truths.
Today, Caroline Kennedy serves as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

150611-N-EC644-103 MISAWA, Japan (June 11, 2015) U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy speaks with Sailors during a tour of one of the Navy's newest maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, attached to the Pelicans of Patrol Squadron (VP) 45. Kennedy spoke with U.S. military members and their families and took tours of U.S. Navy aircraft while visiting Misawa Air Base. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ryan C. Delcore/Released)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

What Ron Garan Saw in Space

Review by Bill Doughty

Former Air Force pilot Col. Ron Garan was one of the astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery as former Navy aviator Capt. Mark Kelly maneuvered and docked the craft with the International Space Station (ISS) in the spring of 2008.

A few days later Garan stepped into the "vacuum of space" after listening to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" and Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."

What Garan found and what it means for the rest of us is revealed in "The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles" (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015)
"As I looked back at our Earth from the orbital perspective, I saw a world where natural and human-defined boundaries shrank. I saw a world becoming more and more interconnected and collaborative – a world where the exponential increase in technology is making the "impossible" possible on a daily basis. Thinking about the next fifty years, I imagined a world where people and organizations set aside their differences and their destructive competitive inclinations – such as striving to maximize economic growth at all cost, or pillaging society for the personal gain of a few – and instead work together toward common goals. After all, we are all riding through the universe together on this spaceship we call Earth. We are all interconnected, we are all in this together, and we are all family."
For most of history, people generally thought that stepping onto the moon was impossible. But Navy veteran President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans in September 1962 to "look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond."

Under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon (both also former naval officers), JFK's challenge was achieved within seven years. As to who "won" the space race, Garan makes a case that the world won and is still winning.

The International Space Station. NASA.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia have worked closely in space: Apollo/Soyuz, Mir/Freedom/Atlantis and now the International Space Station.

Fifteen nations collaborated to build and support the ISS, which is as big as a football field and surely one of the great human-built wonders of the world. ISS became a reality because of an agreement in June 1992 signed by President George H.W. Bush (another Navy veteran) and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

How did cooperation overtake competition in space?

Both sides replaced attitudes of superiority, condescension and belligerence with humility, respect and understanding. Trust, openness and a willingness to learn led to "extended empathy" and "effective collaboration" – ideals Garan examines in this book.
"Collaboration begins with mutual understanding and respect ... One major problem in the early U.S.-Soviet/Russian collaboration was misunderstanding on both sides. Whether it was a language barrier, an unfamiliar way of doing things, or an underestimation of the other side's abilities, overcoming such misunderstandings required both sides to move outside their comfort zones and to really absorb another culture. There was a need on both sides to understand a style of communication that sometimes was very different, in addition to the language itself, and to respect others' limitations in these areas."
Photo by Col. Ron Garan, NASA.
Different, he says, does not mean inferior.

Does Garan's optimism sound naive? Not if you've seen the world from his "orbital perspective."
"To say the view was breathtaking would be an understatement. The first thing that struck me was how thin the atmosphere appeared, as if the entire planet were wrapped in a paper-thin blanket. And in that moment, I was hit with the realization that this delicate layer of atmosphere is all that protects every living thing on Earth from perishing in the harshness of space. So, although this was an incredibly overwhelming visual experience, it also was much, much more than just a visual experience. For me, it was a profound feeling of detachment, with a simultaneous connectedness. I felt a visceral, physical separation from the only world I had known since birth, while at the same time i was able to see that world with my own eyes."
Years later, Garan's friend Wasfia Nazreen climbed Mount Everest as a part of a campaign to raise awareness of women's rights issues. Her perspective – an overriding feeling of gratitude – was one Garan shares: "immense gratitude" that leads to a sense of responsibility to act responsibly as part of a collaborative community: "a community of trust working together with a shared purpose – and a philosophy of contribution."

The goals are tangible and interrelated: clean water, renewable energy and elimination of poverty, which in turn reduces regional conflicts. The tools include innovation, communication, education and empowerment.

Garan, an avid photographer, caught a Perseid meteor shower from above. NASA.
Garan gives examples of how people can work together to achieve a common goal, including in crises. Orbital perspective can be achieved from above, on or beneath the Earth.

When 33 Chilean miners were trapped for 69 days in 2010, the world focused on a common goal: rescue. Campo Esperanza ("hope") was set up, and NASA and the international community responded. The Chilean navy – with help from NASA – designed the extraction device.
"In all cases, people rallied around the common cause. The overarching goal united people from around the world into a community with a shared purpose and motivated diverse groups to work together systematically and selflessly toward the rescue of the men. In short, the effort represented collaboration from an orbital perspective."
Garan's experience with ISS inspired him to start Impact CoLab to help "propel the good that others are doing."

Astronauts Scott Kelly, Ron Garan and Mark Kelly.
"The Orbital Perspective" follows in the path of works by Buckminster Fuller and Carl Sagan, both of whom are quoted by Garan. Can we see the "big picture," work together and find hope for the future of our planet? Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus (who received the prize with Malala Yousafzai) writes the preface of the book and challenges readers to use the perspective and commit to solving seemingly impossible problems.

At one time it seemed impossible to go to the moon or to prevent another World War. Today it may seem impossible to prevent the effects global climate change, deal with terrorism by radical extremists, or colonize Mars.

But as JFK said in September 1962 – speaking of space: "... we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding."

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Reading China's Big Changes in 'Little Rice'

Review by Bill Doughty

Shanghai at night.
Like his landmark "Here Comes Everybody" (Penguin Press, 2008), Clay Shirky begins "Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the Chinese Dream" (Columbia Global Reports, 2015) with a story about searching for a phone.

This time Professor Shirky is the one looking. What he finds in a Shanghai subway station mall – and the discoveries it reveals – are captured in this slim book about China, a country "open to business but closed to criticism."

Xiaomi (pronounced "show" as in "shower" and mi as in "me") makes smartphones and is compared by some as the Apple of China. How do smartphones, social media and access to information mesh in the "Middle (Central) Kingdom"?

Using Xiaomi and the phone as a platform, Shirky writes about China's evolution especially since the passing of communism and rise of autocratic capitalism. "Beijing wants a country whose citizens enjoy a high degree of economic freedom, a high degree of personal freedom, and a low degree of political freedom."

Using the market, Deng Xiaoping led China away from the devastating policies of Mao Zedong, in which tens of millions of Chinese died from famine. Poverty "plummeted in a single generation, from 84 percent in 1981 to 13 percent by 2008," from "bare subsistence to broad comfort."

President Xi Jingling during a summit visit to Washington D.C. in September 2015.
In the face of growing wealth and income inequality President Xi Jinping oversees the current Chinese Dream, Shirky writes. The dream is tied to better communication, transportation and housing, "very much like the American one," where "if you work hard, your life will improve, and that improvement will include material comfort of a home and a car."
"This market-supported bargain has worked better than almost anyone expected, but the days when the rising tide really did lift all boats, and where the economic tide was rising consistently quickly, are now ending. The Chinese Dream is Xi's attempt to deal with the end of the easy growth. The moderately prosperous society he is proposing to (comprehensively) build is a way of trying to deflate the rising expectations of the middle class for both marked economic and political improvement. These are all entries in his longer-term goal of bringing China's single-party system into some sort of self-governing norm, while at the same time convincing the Chinese masses to accept a slowing economy and significant income inequality."
Clay Shirky at a TED Talks presentation.
Shirky's "Little Rice" (the literal definition of Xiaomi), follows insights he revealed in "Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity In a Connected Age" (Penguin Press, 2010) about collaboration, innovation, intrinsic motivation and civic engagement.

Shirky riffs on human nature, a new drive for quality and innovation in China, and the role of smartphones in society.
"Xiaomi also means something for how the world will get connected. Mobile phones are the most broadly desired category of complex goods in the world, beating out their only rivals, cars and televisions, by a country kilometer. The mobile phone is also becoming the universal source of connectivity for most of the world's population, increasingly the gateway to every form of content other than paintings, and to every form of commerce other than haggling. Thanks to the mobile phone, the developing world, and therefore a majority of the human population, has gotten connected in the last twenty years. In the next ten, a majority of them will move from simple phones to real networked computers. Though Apple invented the smartphone, and Samsung spread it, it is Xiaomi who showed the world how to create a defensible market between luxurious and crappy, and to scale up to meet the rising demand of the rapidly expanding and increasingly global middle class."
New York University library in Shanghai.
Shirky, who teaches at New York University, Shanghai, says we are experiencing a "golden age of writing about China." He provides a list of "further readings" at the end of "Little Rice."

Evan Osno's "Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China" (FSG, 2014). "This is simply the best book on China today."

Peter Hessler's "Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present" (Harper, 2006) and "Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory."

James Fallows's "Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China" (Vintage, 2008) and "China Airborne" (Pantheon, 2012).

Ezra Vogel's "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China" (Belknap Press, 2011).

Jonathan Spence's "The Search for Modern China" (Norton, 1990).

Harvard University's ten-part online class by professors Peter Bol and William Kirby, and narrated by Christopher Lydon, "China" available at

Shaun Rein's "The End of Copycat China: The Rise of Creativity, Innovation, and Individualism in Asia" (Wiley, 2014).

Edward Tse's "China's Disruptors: How Alibaba, Xiaomi, Tencent, and Other Companies are Changing the Rules of Business" (Portfolio, 2015).

Susan Shirk's "Changing Media, Changing China" (Oxford University Press, 2010).