Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Write Stuff: 'Endurance'

Review by Bill Doughty

Scott Kelly, Christmas photo aboard ISS in 2010.
As a young man, future naval aviator, Navy captain and American astronaut, Scott Kelly was on his way to becoming a failure – unfocused, undisciplined and underwhelmed with the future. His only motivator was taking risks. Then he found a passion for a time as an EMT.

But the real ignition in his life came from a book: Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff." Kelly writes in his own book, "Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery" (Knopf/Borzoi 2017):
"I was captivated by the description of the Navy test pilots, young hotshots catapulting off aircraft carriers... This wasn't just an exciting adventure story. This was something more like a life plan. These young men, flying jets in the Navy, did a real job that existed in the real world. Some of them became astronauts, and that was a real job too. These were hard jobs to get, I understood, but some people did get them. It could be done. What drew me to these Navy pilots wasn't the idea of the 'right stuff' – a special quality these few brave men had – it was the idea of doing something immensely difficult, risking your life for it, and surviving. It was like a night run in the ambulance, but at the speed of sound. The adults around me who encouraged me to become a doctor thought I liked being an EMT because I liked taking people's blood pressure measurements, stabilizing broken bones, and helping people. But what I craved about the ambulance was the excitement, the difficulty, the risk. Here, in a book, I found something I'd thought I would never find: an ambition. I closed the book late that night a different person."
Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords meet Tom Wolfe in May 2016.
But then 18-year-old Scott had to turn ambition into action. As a college student he needed a boost from his twin brother, Mark, in the form of blunt advice: choose to study instead of party; aim for excellence. "That phone call with Mark was almost as pivotal a moment in my life as reading 'The Right Stuff.' The book had given me a vision of who I wanted to be; my brother's advice showed me how to get there."
Scott and Mark Kelly

Scott and Mark, who grew up in New Jersey, took separate and sometimes circuitous routes to becoming Navy pilots and astronauts, but their future seemed predestined. Their grandfathers were veterans of sea service in World War II, one serving on a destroyer in the Pacific and the other as a Merchant Marine officer. Scott and Mark were both attracted to service and adventure and the opportunity to make a difference.

In Scott's case he earned his U.S. Coast Guard license and participated in ROTC training on a Navy ship from California to Hawaii. With the ROTC he became acquainted with surface, submarine and SEAL training, but found his calling in naval aviation.

USS Eisenhower (CVN-69)
He describes landing on the training carrier USS Lexington (CV-16) and later on USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) in the Arabian Sea during Operation Desert Shield – on the outskirts of a sandstorm with low visibility. Scott boltered several times – failed to catch the arresting wire with his F-14's tailhook – before safely landing aboard Ike. He learned more about risk management and was reminded of "a saying in the Navy about mistakes: 'There are those who have and those who will.'"

With NASA, Scott enjoyed training with Russians, Germans and Japanese, finding value in diversity and gaining "a profound respect for scientific knowledge."

Much of "Endurance" is about Scott's life as an astronaut, of course, especially his 340 consecutive days in space on a mission considered vital to understanding the effects of living in space for an eventual mission to Mars. He calls the International Space Station "a foothold for our species in space." Toward that end, he participated in scientific studies with his identical twin brother, Mark, "at the genetic level."

Kelly and Obama.
Scott shows what it's like to: grow zinnias in space; live and work with Russians; tweet of speak with presidents, including Obama and Putin; eat burritos; watch CNN and the film 'Gravity'; urinate and draw blood; battle high levels of carbon dioxide; and listen to Pink Floyd, Jay-Z and Coldplay inside the ISS.

In space, Scott read Alfred Lansing's "Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage" about the Irish adventurer's exploration of the Antarctic. One of Shackleton's voyages was aboard the ship Endurance. Kelly chose "Endurance" as the name of his book, with the subtitle "A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery." (Interestingly, "Discovery" was the name of the ship Shackleton took on a voyage at the very beginning of the 20th century.)

Remembering Challenger: El Onizuka, Mike Smith, Christa McAuliffe,
Dick Scobee, 
Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik and Ron McNair. (NASA)
Scott gives special tribute to the Columbia and Challenger tragedies, eulogizing the astronauts lost, including some close personal and professional friends. The reader gains an even greater appreciation for the bravery of the explorers of space and human endurance.

Throughout the book we go deep into some personal territory: Scott's divorce, his love for fiancé Amiko Kauderer, his bout with prostate cancer, and how he and Mark dealt with the tragic shooting of his sister-in-law, then Representative Gabby Giffords, and others in Tucson, Arizona. Scott was in space on January 8, 2011 when he received notice of the shooting. He was offered an opportunity to address the nation.

He said, in part:
"'These days, we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another. Not just with our actions, but with our irresponsible words. We are better than this. We must do better. The crew of ISS Expedition Twenty-six and the flight control centers around the world would like to observe a moment of silence in honor of all the victims, which include my sister-in-law, Gabrielle Giffords, a caring and dedicated public servant...' Those of us who have had to privilege to look down on the Earth from space get the chance to take a larger perspective on the planet and the people who share it. I feel more strongly than ever that we must do better."

Scott shares what it's like to see Earth from space, including while on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station:
"The color and brilliance of the planet, sprawling out in every direction, are startling. I've seen the Earth from spacecraft windows countless times now, but the difference between seeing the planet from inside a spacecraft, through multiple layers of bulletproof glass, and seeing it from out here is like the difference between seeing a mountain from a car window and climbing the peak. My face is almost pressed against the thin layer of my clear plastic visor, my peripheral vision seemingly expanding out in every direction. I take in the stunning blue, the texture of the clouds, the varied landscapes of the planet, the glowing atmosphere edging on the horizon, a delicate sliver that makes all life on Earth possible. There is nothing but the black vacuum of the cosmos beyond."
Scott and Amiko
Toward the end of his nearly one year in space, Scott reflects on the "whole arc of my life that brought me here, and I always think about what it meant to me to read 'The Right Stuff' as a young man."

On "a quiet Saturday afternoon" passing over the Indian Ocean, Scott calls Tom Wolfe and talks about communication, books and writing, among other things. And Scott thanks him.

"Endurance" is a terrific biography of a quiet American hero. Kelly credits Margaret Lazarus Dean for assisting with the book. There are laugh-out-loud moments, especially about lost-in-translation Janglish on a dessert truck labeled "Marchen & Happy for You." There are private and sad passages. And there are inspiring keepsakes, like Amiko's advice: "Teamwork makes the dream work" – and this found haiku by Scott about what he learned in life:

I've learned that grass smells
great... wind feels amazing... rain
is a miracle

In an interview with "The Costco Connection" published this month Navy Captain (ret.) Scott Kelly discusses how his nearly year in space affected him. "I think it gives you more empathy for Earth and its inhabitants, and the planet itself, when you are detached from it for a long time. It definitely makes you appreciate everything Earth has to offer, which is everything. As humans, this is where we live and where we evolved, and everything is basically here. So not having most of that makes you definitely appreciate what we have – and what I have."

Reed Warrick gets a high five during his book signing at Costco in Kirkland, WA.
Phots by Kailan Manandic, courtesy Kirkland Reporter
We can imagine a young man or woman somewhere picking up this book and finding a path to purpose, endurance and discovery.

As Kelly says, "I would like people to think, whether they're younger or older, 'I can do more than I think I'm capable of. More than my experience base, education, background would let me think is possible.' ... You can always learn from your mistakes. You can always do better."

In his acknowledgements, Kelly thanks Amiko, Mark and other family members and professionals, and he concludes with: "And finally, I have to thank Tom Wolfe for his early inspiration. I truly believe if I had not read "The Right Stuff" as an eighteen-year-old, I would not have written this book or had the privilege of flying in space."

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Kowtowing to China

Review by Bill Doughty

Hawaii's King Kalakaua
In 1881, Hawaii's King Kalakaua "issued an urgent warning to the Chinese about the coming Western-led global transition that he believed threatened to devastate the peoples of Asia, make it imperative that they unite," according to reporter/historian Howard W. French. 

Kalakaua, who had been received in Tokyo with "pomp and circumstance," made his argument to China based on race: we, like you, are the same as Asians. The Qing dynasty and its representatives, however, were shocked that Kalakaua would consider the "morally superior race" of the Chinese to be thought of as equals.

Condescension to outsiders was expressed in the Central Kingdom's demand for tribute from other countries and territories, including Japan's Ryukyu Islands, European explorers and traders on the Silk Road, and the "barbarian southern others" of Southeast Asia, among others.

In his thought-provoking "Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017) Howard W. French shows how kowtowing to the leaders of China has been expected for centuries.

In 1793 Qing emperor Qianlong granted an audience with Lord Macartney, envoy of the British monarch, George III, in hopes of developing greater trade. "The English envoy plied his host with six hundred crates full of gifts, all carefully chosen to impress." Macartney, however, "had declined to perform the 'full' kowtow while presenting himself before the Chinese throne, meaning kneeling three times and prostrating oneself nine times, taking care to touch the forehead to the ground each time, according to the standard of ritualized submission demanded by Chinese protocol under 'tian xia.' [China-centric worldview)."

A depiction of Lord MacArtney's meeting with the Qing emperor and failure to properly kowtow.
A letter from Emperor Qianlong back to the British king is fascinating in its tone and meaning. Rejecting the petition for greater trade, the letter begins, "You, O King, from afar have yearned after the blessings of our civilization and in you eagerness to come into touch with our converting influence had send an Embassy across the sea..."

China thumbed its nose at the proposal as "not consistent with our dynastic usage," adding "our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its own borders." The letter closes with an ancient tweet-like threat to "barbarian merchants" to leave China alone. "Do not say that you were not warned in due time! Tremblingly obey and show no negligence! A special mandate!"

The idea of a special heaven-sent mandate, or "manifest destiny" by another name, was not new in history or human nature, but for centuries China's turn inward, coupled with its disdain for anyone non-Chinese and constant demand for outside tribute, caused a gradual  internal weakening.

Depiction of Admiral Zheng He.
For a time China embraced trade and exploration, from the Song dynasty to the Ming-backed voyages of Zheng He in the 15th Century.  But In a "China first" attitude, the Chinese word for civilization was synonymous with being Chinese, and the narcissistic view was that the Chinese empire was the center of the world.
"China began its career as an energetic oceangoing nation under the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), and in historical terms that career was very brief, as was its period of serious engagement with the much-disputed waters of what is known today as the South China Sea. This history is critical nowadays not just to the Chinese Communist Party's expansive claims of having controlled the entire region enclosed by its nine-dash line 'since time immemorial' – which can easily be refuted – as official propaganda holds, but also in order to comprehend the emergence over time of what would become a remarkably consistent Chinese worldview, based above all on notions of centrality and superiority. Under the Ming dynasty three centuries later, when the Chinese were confronted for the first time with a European-drawn map of the world, in 1584, the 'mappa mundi' produced by the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, they were astonished to find their empire positioned at the eastern end of the Eurasian landmass. Out of deference, Ricci drew another map for his hosts placing China at the center."
In "Everything Under the Heavens" French examines China's historical ties with other states expected to kowtow and pay tribute, especially in Asia: Japan and its territories, Vietnam ("Annam"), Cambodia, the Philippines and Korea.
"This pattern is as evident on the Korean Peninsula as it is in Southeast Asia. China would prefer even an extremely nettlesome client in North Korea to any plausible alternative, and hence goes to great lengths to shield it from international pressure over its nuclear weapons program. A testy Pyongyang not heeding advice is better, in China's eyes, than a united Korea linked with the United States. Beijing simultaneously pressures South Korea, whose economy has become increasingly dependent on trade with China, against reinforcing its alliance with the United States, warning in 2016, for example, that if Seoul accepts the installation of sophisticated anti-ballistic missile systems to protect itself from North Korean attack, this could 'destroy bilateral relations' with China. In July 2016, the United States and South Korea announced their decision to deploy the missile defense system over China's strong objections..."
If China has a world view of self-righteous superiority, with China at the top of a global hierarchy, what does that portend for the region?

Five hundred years after Zheng He's gunboat diplomacy and Chinese dynasties' demands for tribute, China, under President Xi Jinping, is embracing globalization, a cooperative approach to confronting climate change, and partnership-building with his neighbors. 

But French points out that at a Central Committee "work forum" on diplomacy, Xi spoke "not only about the use of carrots and sticks with other countries, but also about the need to build the case for Chinese 'righteousness' and to reinforce Beijing's moral authority in the world."

Will China demand that the world's maps be centered on the kingdom "under the heavens"? Will China continue "stealthily tightening its grip on the surrounding seas to the east and especially to the south" through its New Silk Road Initiative? Will China continue to attempt "turning the South China Sea into a 'Chinese lake'" with its nine-dash line? 

French notes: "Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said one would 'have to believe in a flat Earth' not to grasp that China's goal was to 'achieve hegemony in East Asia.'"
Sonar Technician (Surface) SA Rodolfo Melo, USS Chafee (DDG 90), handles line as
Chafee departs Hong Kong, China Oct. 6, 2017. (Photo by MC1 Benjamin A. Lewis.)
Yet China has significant challenges, according to French, not the least of which are an aging population, a slowing economy, unpredictable effects of nationalism, and competing, sometimes angry, neighbors. And "the more China subjects itself to its sharp elbows the more others will naturally band together to defy it, as the last few years have already shown, while clamoring for the United States to stand with them."

Meanwhile, at least historically, the United States has been a beacon of values: freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, among others. "China today is a country virtually without allies," French writes, "whereas America has a globe-spanning network of formal alliance relationships and a set of fundamental values – based on participation, openness, democracy and human rights – that constitute a tremendous appeal for peoples all over the world, often including citizens of unfriendly states and outright foes."

On the U.S.'s role and possible limiting of China as a competing superpower, French reappraises the rebalance to the Pacific that President Obama initiated:
"A country of China's size cannot be contained, and any effort to do so would be strongly counterproductive. Rather than containment, what is going on is a process whereby Washington is steadily raising the costs for China by repositioning 60 percent of its naval assets to the neighborhood and upgrading military cooperation with its allies, Japan, the Philippines and others, while helping medium-sized powers like Vietnam ... The most salient U.S. goal, as I've written elsewhere, is 'thickening the web among China's wary neighbors, who have a shared interest in keeping China from using force to upend the existing order. Japan excepted for the time being, none of these countries has any prospect of prevailing toe-to-toe with China, and some of them are frankly Lilliputian. In concert, however, even if not in outright alliance, they may be able to effectively tie down the giant and constrain it to a mutually acceptable set of international rules.'"
How would the world and history be different if, in the late 19th century, a narcissistic China had not practiced racial animus and a transactional foreign policy? What if instead China had openly embraced international trade, cooperation and commerce? What if China had not demanded kowtowing – and instead embraced King Kalakaua of Hawaii.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Good Leadership at the Top

Review by Bill Doughty

Walter Isaacson distills the qualities that make a good leader in "Profiles in Leadership: Historians on the Elusive Quality of Greatness" (W.W. Norton, 2010), featuring essays from writers including Evan Thomas,  Alan Brinkley, Glenda Gilmore, Robert Dallek and David M. Kennedy.

The "toughest part of political leadership," he contends, "is knowing when to compromise versus when it is necessary to stand firm on principle."

An advisor to presidents, Benjamin Franklin, 81 years old at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, proposed a compromise between small and large states: "a House proportioned by population and a Senate with equal votes per state." Franklin united the convention and nation with his compromise.

Isaacson writes, "Compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies."

Unfortunately, Franklin also compromised on the issue of slavery, a position that "soon haunted him" and propelled him to become an abolitionist.
"He realized that humility required tolerance for other people's values, which at times required compromise of one's own; however, it was important to be uncompromising in opposing those who refused to show tolerance of others."
In an essay perfect for Veterans Day, Sean Wilentz reintroduces us to Ulysses S. Grant, who as a former Union general and U.S. president visited Berlin, Germany in 1877 and met with Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant
In conversation with Bismarck, Grant corrected the perception that America's Civil War was fought only to save the Union. Grant told him, "As soon as slavery fired upon the flag it was felt, we all felt, even those who did not object to slaves, that slavery must be destroyed. We felt that it was a stain to the Union that men should be bought and sold like cattle."

According to Wilentz, Grant, who, like Washington and Jefferson, had his own complicated history as a slaveowner, had to clean up "the mess left behind by the pro-southern obstructionist president Andrew Johnson." Grant eventually strongly opposed Johnson when Johnson "hardened his defense of white supremacy and obstructed congressional efforts to guarantee the civil and political rights of the ex-slaves."

During Reconstruction and the years that followed, Grant took on the Ku Klux Klan and "subterfuges that might disqualify black voters" and intimidation "with the express purposes of scaring black voters from the polls." But President Grant, "as a career military officer, was particularly sensitive about any display of executive power that might be interpreted as the actions of a would-be Caesar."

Like every leader, Grant had blemishes, but his achievements should be recognized and appreciated, according to Wilentz.
"Grant left behind the most admirable and politically courageous record on race relations of any president from Abraham Lincoln to Lyndon B. Johnson. For that leadership, he sustained broad approval among the American people – but he earned the enmity of southern racists and northern 'liberal' reformers of his own time and then earned, from generations of later historians, a lasting reputation for incompetence and worse. It is long past time that the reconstruction of our understanding of Reconstruction came to include President Ulysses S. Grant."
The essay writers in "Profiles in Leadership" examine a diverse groups of leaders and influencers including, among others, George Washington, Pauli Murray, Charles Finney, Chief Joseph, W.E.B Dubois, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie and Dwight Eisenhower.
"Wendell Willkie is an interesting, and overlooked, case of a leader who was both principled and willing to seek common ground with his political opponents. As David Levering Lewis explains in his essay, when Willkie won the 1940 nomination of the Republican Party, his best political strategy would have been to embrace the prevailing isolationist Republican sentiment and oppose any intervention in what was to become World War II. But Willkie followed his own principles and supported a consensus approach on foreign policy. After his loss Willkie helped devise, with great clarity of vision, a Republican internationalism."Eisenhower was also good at eliciting consensus, as David Kennedy points out in his essay. When given a clear mission, he was able to bring people along and nurture a practical optimism. He did this not by being assertive. He never bought the notion that bullying and leadership were synonymous. But he was bold in his conduct of war because he was given a clear goal. Eisenhower was less effective, however, when he had to develop his own sense of mission and his own moral vision. That is why, Kennedy argues, he was timid on the race issue. He also valued comity over disruptive crusades for social justice. Added to that, I think, was that Eisenhower, like many people in the [1950s], did not believe integration was something that should be rushed."
Dwight D. Eisenhower
"Justice too long delayed is justice denied," Martin Luther King Jr. would write a decade later in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" when he was imprisoned in Alabama.

While Eisenhower, who David Kennedy calls "no bigot," showed tolerance for integration to a point, including finishing what Truman started with integration of the military, he failed to call for integration on the national stage and he stalled legislation for civil rights.

"The walls have ears."
He also did not condemn the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till or other acts of violence and discrimination against blacks, offering no opinion on the subject of racial justice. His armed intervention in the face of riots in Little Rock, Arkansas was based, he said, on "his duty to maintain order and respect for the directives of the federal courts."

Isaacson, author of "The Innovators" and biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs, recently published what promises to be a fascinating study on Leonardo da Vinci.

Isaacson sees patterns and context in history, creativity and leadership. He commends humility, integrity, commitment and the courage of one's convictions – all important leadership qualities.

He concludes, "The history of a nation is probably best served by a mix of leadership styles over the years, sometimes creating a pattern of reactions and then counterreactions to what went before ... The greatest challenge of leadership is to know when to be flexible and pragmatic, on the one hand, and when it is, instead, a moment to stand firm on principle and clarity of vision." Like a lot of things in life, it's 'the wisdom to know the difference.'"