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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The truth, the absolute truth


“What I’ve always believed is that humanity has the capacity to be kinder, more just, more fair, more rational, more reasonable, more tolerant. It is not inevitable. History does not move in a straight line. But if you have enough people of goodwill who are willing to work on behalf of those values, then things can get better.”

-- Barak Obama, a thought inspired by Genghis Khan and Ozymandias, and the lessons of history

Friday, November 13, 2020

Sea Princess deck officer wins medal for brave rescue at sea


From the BBC

A 24-year-old sailor who showed "incredible bravery" saving three men from drowning has become the youngest recipient of the Merchant Navy Medal.

I remember the incident well, as I was lucky enough to be on board for the 2019 World Cruise.

It was exciting, really.  The captain announced that the ship was reversing her course in response to a distress call from a sinking ship.  And off we raced into the gathering night.  By the time we arrived it was pitch dark, and the light of the rescue boat as it plunged down to the bumpy waves and then up and down on its way to the invisibly sinking ship seemed very small and lonely.  The whole complement on board, I swear, was hanging onto the nearest rail, gazing raptly.  First, we saw the distant, tiny light of the lifeboat carrying the survivors of the foundered craft, and then the nail-biting slowness with which the light of the rescue boat approached.

The two lights merged.  There was a sense of unseen activity, and then the rescue boat was plunging back to the ship.  She arrived, and everyone cheered.  Never had a rescue crew and their saved men received such a welcome, I am sure.

And here is what the BBC had to say about the sailor from Devon who commanded the rescue:

Max Bingle, from Paignton, received the award after navigating rough seas in the Caribbean to help a sinking boat.

He and two colleagues from a Princess Cruises ship carried out the rescue mission in July 2019.

Mr Bingle said saving sailors in distress was part of what he was "trained to do".

After receiving a coastguard distress call, third officer Mr Bingle lowered a fast rescue boat and sailed with his crewmates to reach the three men on the sinking boat.

He took the trio back to the ship he was working on, Sea Princess, where they were given medical care.

'Call of duty'

Mr Bingle said the commendation had come "completely out of the blue".

"Everybody on board acted in the highest maritime tradition by going to the aid of fellow sailors in peril on the sea," he said.

"Saving lives is what we are trained to do as seafarers, and I'm grateful for this recognition."

Another recipient of the medal is Fazilette Khan. Her Green Seas Trust charity works to place nautical-themed recycling bins in coastal towns.

Maritime minister Robert Courts said all the recipients of the award had "gone beyond the call of duty" in service to both their industry and the UK.

He said: "It's a special honour to award the medal to Max, its youngest ever recipient.

"He showed incredible bravery in saving three fellow sailors from drowning in rough seas, and this award is a recognition of his incredible selflessness that night."

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Preparing for a pandemic


When he returned to Washington, he called his top homeland security adviser into the Oval Office and gave her the galley of historian John M. Barry's "The Great Influenza," which told the chilling tale of the mysterious plague that "would kill more people than the outbreak of any other disease in human history."

"You've got to read this," Fran Townsend remembers the president telling her. "He said, 'Look, this happens every 100 years. We need a national strategy.'"

Thus was born the nation's most comprehensive pandemic plan -- a playbook that included diagrams for a global early warning system, funding to develop new, rapid vaccine technology, and a robust national stockpile of critical supplies, such as face masks and ventilators, Townsend said.

The effort was intense over the ensuing three years, including exercises where cabinet officials gamed out their responses, but it was not sustained. Large swaths of the ambitious plan were either not fully realized or entirely shelved as other priorities and crises took hold.

But elements of that effort have formed the foundation for the national response to the coronavirus pandemic underway right now.

"Despite politics, despite changes, when a crisis hits, you pull what you've got off the shelf and work from there," Townsend said.

When Bush first told his aides he wanted to focus on the potential of a global pandemic, many of them harbored doubts."My reaction was -- I'm buried. I'm dealing with counterterrorism. Hurricane season. Wildfires. I'm like, 'What?'" Townsend said. "He said to me, 'It may not happen on our watch, but the nation needs the plan.'"

Over the ensuing months, cabinet officials got behind the idea. Most of them had governed through the Sept. 11 terror attacks, so events considered unlikely but highly-impactful had a certain resonance.

"There was a realization that it's no longer fantastical to raise scenarios about planes falling from the sky, or anthrax arriving in the mail," said Tom Bossert, who worked in the Bush White House and went on to serve as a homeland security adviser in the Trump administration. "It was not a novel. It was the world we were living."

According to Bossert, who is now an ABC News contributor, Bush did not just insist on preparation for a pandemic. He was obsessed with it.

"He was completely taken by the reality that that was going to happen," Bossert said.

In a November 2005 speech at the National Institutes of Health, Bush laid out proposals in granular detail -- describing with stunning prescience how a pandemic in the United States would unfold. Among those in the audience was Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leader of the current crisis response, who was then and still is now the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire," Bush said at the time. "If caught early it might be extinguished with limited damage. If allowed to smolder, undetected, it can grow to an inferno that can spread quickly beyond our ability to control it."

The president recognized that an outbreak was a different kind of disaster than the ones the federal government had been designed to address."To respond to a pandemic, we need medical personnel and adequate supplies of equipment," Bush said. "In a pandemic, everything from syringes to hospital beds, respirators masks and protective equipment would be in short supply."

Bush told the gathered scientists that they would need to develop a vaccine in record time.

"If a pandemic strikes, our country must have a surge capacity in place that will allow us to bring a new vaccine on line quickly and manufacture enough to immunize every American against the pandemic strain," he said.Bush set out to spend $7 billion building out his plan. His cabinet secretaries urged their staffs to take preparations seriously. The government launched a website,, that is still in use today. But as time passed, it became increasingly difficult to justify the continued funding, staffing and attention, Bossert said.

"You need to have annual budget commitment. You need to have institutions that can survive any one administration. And you need to have leadership experience," Bossert said. "All three of those can be effected by our wonderful and unique form of government in which you transfer power every four years."

Bush declined, through a spokesman, to comment on the unfolding crisis or discuss the current response. But his remarks from 15 years ago still resonate.

"If we wait for a pandemic to appear," he warned, "it will be too late to prepare. And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today."

How right he was.  I know that in New Zealand his warnings were kept in mind, which may be much of the reason that the country has fared so much better than the United States, where George W/ Bush's prescience was ignored.

Friday, September 18, 2020

The utter inequality of the inequality of wealth

It seems aeons ago since Thomas Picketty's Capital in the 21st Century drew the attention of the world to the stupefying riches snared by the top 1% of the world's people.  

The situation hasn't changed a whit -- indeed, it has become worse.  As the Guardian states, US billionaires have profited hugely from the pandemic, while ordinary working men and women have lost jobs, are getting no income support, and small businesses are closing down.

Many are household names.  Others have fled to their luxury yachts and boltholes in faroff places, including New Zealand.  Some bolster their image by creating foundations -- feel-good moves that benefit something vague like stamping out malaria, but do nothing to help ordinary citizens in this time of great crisis. 

As the story relates, The already vast fortunes of America’s 643 billionaires have soared by an average of 29% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which has at the same time laid waste to tens of millions of jobs around the world. The richest of the superrich have benefited by $845bn , according to a report by a US progressive thinktank, the Institute for Policy Studies.

The report calculated that 643 billionaires in the US had racked up $845bn (£642bn) in collective wealth gains since 18 March, when lockdowns began across the US and much of the rest of the world. The collective wealth of the billionaire class increased from $2.95tn to $3.8tn. That works out to gains of $141bn a month, or $4.7bn a day. 

Over the same period, more than 197,000 Americans have died from coronavirus and more than 50m Americans have lost their jobs.

Since the start of the pandemic, the wealth of Jeff Bezos has almost doubled, to over 186 billion.  This is because people who are locked down, or afraid of going out, are using Amazon to deliver goods to their doors.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has seen his wealth increase by 84% or $45.9bn to $100.6bn.

Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of electric car company Tesla, has also benefited from the pandemic. His estimated fortune has risen by 274%, to $92bn.

Bill Gates, who has made a vague pledge to give at least half of his fortune to charity and has already pledged a “few billion dollars” to the fight against coronavirus, has seen his estimated fortune grow by 19% to $116bn.

Bernie Sanders and Ilhan Omar, both Democratic senators, have introduced legislation dubbed the “Make Billionaires Pay Act” for a one-off 60% tax on the wealth gains of billionaires between 18 March and the end of the year to help working Americans cover healthcare costs.

Under Sanders’ proposal, Bezos would pay a one-time wealth tax of $42.8bn, and Musk would pay $27.5bn.

Robert Reich, who served as US labour secretary under President Clinton, said “American capitalism is off the rails” and a “wealth tax” was urgently needed to help redress the yawning inequality gap.

“Jeff Bezos could give every Amazon employee $105,000 and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic. If that doesn’t convince you we need a wealth tax, I’m not sure what will.”

As he went on to say, "American capitalism is off the rails."  But not just in America.  The greed of the few has afflicted the entire world.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Extraordinary Story of Survival ... and Leadership

Over the years, Island of the Lost has had some great newspaper and magazine reviews, written by professional reviewers.  That is always very nice, but even better are thoughtful reviews from readers.  This one, which came out yesterday, appealed to me because the reader picked exactly the points I was trying to emphasize in the book.  The Challenge, and the Contrast.  And the ordeal that the castaways went through, at the most basic level of existence.

Reviewed in the United States on September 1, 2020, by Laurie Kelley

Verified Purchase

This is truly a riveting and human story about two terrible shipwrecks really: The Grafton and subsequently, on the same island, the Invercauld. The two stranded parties never met during their time on the islands, but are easily comparable. The Grafton party, under the leadership of Cap. Thomas Musgrave, all survive, thanks to his leadership but also to the incredible teamwork and attitude of the crew. The Invercauld party suffers, and many die, due to the inept leadership of its captain, and its lack of teamwork. Only a lowly seaman shows any spark of leadership. And through their deprivations and sufferings, you learn about leadership: using each individual's skills rightly and to the fullest; the importance of celebrating holidays; keeping a journal; stepping into leadership when the leader (Musgrave) falters (he was prone to deep depression); and the all-important purpose of prayer. It's stunning to watch the evolution of their leadership and teamwork, especially when Raynal creates all the tools needed eventually for the final outcome. Truly extraordinary and superb. This is a page-turning, fantastic read, and powerfully inspiring.

For those animal lovers who rated this book only one or two stars... apparently they have never felt true hunger. I have while on expeditions, where the hunger grips you so badly, down to your cells, you want to eat anything--a wrapping paper, a dribble of honey, a leaf... even my guide's arm, I joked. And that was only for a week. I cannot imagine it daily, over a year! The seals were killed in droves, just as orcas would do when they were hungry. Druett had to include this to show the extreme conditions they battled. The same people who critiqued the explicit killing scenes didn't mention the horrid and explicit suffering the men experienced battling scurvy. Nature cannot be appreciated, understood or respected from your armchair. Hunger and the food chain are part of nature. So kudos to Joan Druett for a spectacular book, that puts a human side to suffering together as a team, and shows that many facets of leadership.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Mystic Maritime Gallery closed

A sad day is here

As a casualty of the COVID-19 crisis and the weakening marine art market, Mystic Seaport Museum has made the difficult decision to close the Maritime Art Gallery.

The Gallery was founded by Rudolph Schaefer III in 1979 as a business venture to support Museum operations and to provide a venue to nurture the careers of emerging artists in the contemporary maritime art field. Many of the leading artists at work today got their start at the Gallery. It has also enabled a deep relationship between the Museum and the American Society of Marine Artists.
This was particularly so for my husband, Ron Druett, who was a proud member of the Society.   Mystic Maritime Gallery was a home-from-home for him, his greatest favorite -- and justly so, because the Gallery featured 50+ Druett artworks, many in the prestigious International, which was juried, with strict standards for entry.
His first showing was in 1988, at the 9th International, with a painting of a whaleship joining the American fleet at Lahaina, on Maui, in Hawaii.

Then there was an evocative scene of the whaleship Tiger at dawn, which was shown not just at the 1989 Internationa, but also in an America and the Sea exhibition.

Whaleships were a feature of the time because Mystic Seaport had published a woman's journal I had edited (and which is held at the Museum Library), called She Was a Sister Sailor, the Whaling Journals of Mary Brewster.  Other kinds of shipping were equally interesting, such as the bark Louisa Craig, which had been prominent in the trans-Tasman trade.

Other water scenes intrigued him, a specialty being his dinghy series.

There was also a stunning scene of the famous Otor-ii Gate at low tide, with people walking about the iconic structure, inspired in part by the crowd scenes of L. S. Lowry.

And so the years rolled on, culminating in his entry for the 29th International, Butler's Flat Light, which is located at the entrance of New Bedford Harbor.

Unfortunately, the Gallery has faced declining sales in recent years as art-buying trends have shifted and the demand for maritime art declined. The economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Museum to review all aspects of its business operations with a focus on sustainability. Therefore, after a great deal of deliberation, Mystic Seaport Museum has decided to close the Maritime Gallery.
A sad day for all lovers of maritime art. 
Ron Druett, c. Robert Shaefer Jr.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Beautiful book acquired after nearly 400 years of trying

A collector who quite justifiably lusted after this truly lovely "Friendship Book" has acquired it at last ... a long, long time after his death.

As The Guardian reports, almost 400 years after Augustus the Younger tried and failed to buy the “extraordinary” Das Große Stammbuch – a “friendship book” signed by some of the most powerful figures of 17th-century Europe – for the library he was building in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, it has finally landed on his shelves.

Duke Augustus, a German member of the House of Welf who died in 1666 aged 87, was instrumental in collecting some of the hundreds of thousands of books that form the Herzog August Bibliothek, one of the world’s oldest libraries, which is named after him.
In 1648, he set out to acquire a book that had belonged to Philipp Hainhofer, a German merchant and diplomat from Augsburg. As he travelled from court to court, Hainhofer would ask dignitaries to paint in his album amicorum, or friendship book, also known as a stammbuchThere are around 25,000 historic friendship books recorded around the world, but Hainhofer’s Große Stammbuch is considered the most impressive, containing signatures by European figures including Cosimo De’ Medici, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and Christian IV, the king of Denmark and Norway. Each individual would commission an artist to create a painting accompanying their signatures. There are around 100 drawings in the book, which took more than 50 years to compile.
When Hainhofer, who helped set up the Herzog August library, died in 1647, Duke August tried to acquire the book for his library but was unsuccessful.

The album went became privately owned and was withdrawn from the public domain. It was even considered to be lost, until it resurfaced at a London auction in 1931. But 373 years after Duke August made his first attempt to buy it, the book has finally made its way to the shelves of the Herzog August Bibliothek, after it was offered to Sotheby’s for private sale last year. Researchers at the auction house uncovered its connection to the library, and arranged a private sale for around €2.8m (£2.5m).
Sotheby’s called Das Große Stammbuch “extraordinary” and said it was one of the most important examples of a friendship book. “No other work of art better reflects the deeply challenging political tensions that were being navigated in Europe at this time,” the auction house said.
Björn Thümler, minister for science and culture in Niedersachsen, which is home to the library, called the acquisition “a sensation and a stroke of luck for the preservation of cultural assets in Germany”.
Herzog August director Peter Burschel said the acquisition, financed by bodies including the Cultural Foundation of the Federal States (Kulturstiftung der Länder), was the most important the library had made since it bought the medieval manuscript Gospels of Henry the Lion at auction in 1983 for £8.1m.
“It provides unparalleled insights into the early modern political culture of trade and commerce in art,” said Burschel of the book, adding that the library is planning exhibitions of the manuscript to make it accessible to the public.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

A particularly nasty side-issue of slavery in America

Did runaway slaves who arrived in New Bedford, Massachusetts, find a haven?  Or was there something even more terrible ahead?

This a horrifying story of one young runaway who escaped from one hell to find himself in another -- at the mercy of a sadistic, psychopathic whaling captain.

From Rambles reviews:

In the Wake of Madness, subtitled "The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon," is Joan Druett's precise recounting and analysis of a dreadful murder -- and the equally horrific events leading up to it -- in the South Pacific in 1842.

In this engrossing story, readers will learn a great deal about whaling and the nautical culture that ranged from the shipyards of New England to the whaling grounds in the southern seas. There is also a great deal of biographical information on the vile Capt. Howes Norris -- who, although the victim of the murder in question, was by no means blameless for the deed -- as well as his hodgepodge crew.

There is, indeed, madness in the story, as well as mutiny, desertion, abuse, dismal luck, a bit of heroism in the immediate aftermath of the killing -- one sailor's efforts to retake the Sharon from the killers who tried to leave the rest of the crew adrift in small whaling boats is a saga all by itself -- and a great deal of duplicity and obfuscation in the longterm report and investigation of the crime. Drawing on news accounts, letters and journals from the time, Druett assembles a complete, complex tale that has eluded historians for nearly two centuries.

Anyone who enjoys Moby Dick will be interested to learn that author Herman Melville was himself at sea on a similar ship at the same time as the Sharon met its fate. Druett weaves so much history into her narrative, it's easy to see where Melville found his own inspiration for writing.

Druett is a consistent source of fascinating history from the sea. Highly readable and educational, In the Wake of Madness is a gripping story that will satisfy students of that era and any fans of nautical lore.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Micronesian castaways rescued after writing SOS in the sand

The New Zealand Herald reports that three Micronesian sailors have been rescued from tiny Pikelot atoll, after running out of fuel and directions.

Three men have been rescued from a tiny Pacific island after writing a giant SOS sign in the sand that was spotted from above, authorities say.
The men had been missing in the Micronesia archipelago for nearly three days when their distress signal was spotted on Sunday on uninhabited Pikelot Island by searchers on Australian and US aircraft, the Australian defence department said on Monday.
The men had apparently set out from Pulawat atoll in a 7-metre boat on July 30 and had intended to travel about 43km to Pulap atoll when they sailed off course and ran out of fuel, the department said.
Three men stand the beach on Pikelot Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. Photo / AP
Three men stand the beach on Pikelot Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. Photo / AP
Searchers in Guam asked for Australian help.  HMAS Canberra, which was returning to Australia from exercises in Hawaii, diverted to the area and joined forces with US searchers from Guam.
The men were found about 190km from where they had set out.
"I am proud of the response and professionalism of all on board as we fulfill our obligation to contribute to the safety of life at sea wherever we are in the world," said the Canberra's commanding officer, Captain Terry Morrison, in a statement.

The men were found in good condition, and an Australian military helicopter was able to land on the beach and give them food and water. A Micronesian patrol vessel was due to pick them up.
SOS is an internationally recognised distress signal that originates from Morse code.
As an addendum, I was surprised that the three seamen lost their way, as Micronesians are famous traditional navigators.  To read an excellent book about their prowess, I recommend Thomas Gladwin's East is a Big Bird: Navigation and Logic on Puluwat AtollAn oldie but a goodie.  And a great pity that the ancient art of navigation has been lost.