Wednesday’s Book Review: “Buffalo Bill on the Silver Screen”


51lNxJhUz0LBuffalo Bill on the Silver Screen: The Films of William F. Cody. By Sandra K. Sagala. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.

Who would have thought it? We have all heard of Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show. Cody turned his fame from dime novels and widespread mythology into dollars in his pocket with a show the traveled around both America and Europe for many years. He even had in his show Native Americans who has once fought him on the Great Plains. For some 30 years he made a good living carrying forward the mythology of the “Wild West.”

What I didn’t know until reading Buffalo Bill on the Silver Screen that Cody also lived long enough to burnish his reputation in films produced near the turn of the twentieth century. That is the little-known story told by Sandra K. Sagala in this book.

Sagala relates how Thomas Edison invited Cody to his kinetoscope studio in 1894 to perform for the cameras their “Wild West” show. Cody embraced the idea and thereafter never met a camera he did not want to stand in front of, and he did so repeatedly for years. The high point in Cody’s film career came in 1910 when he played himself in the film, The Life of Buffalo Bill. He eventually made The Indian Wars in 1913, which claimed to tell the story of the plains wars, although it was financial disaster and virtually none of the footage has survived. It would be fascinating to know if he viewed it as history or “oater.” My guess it was at best an “oater” with just about as much attention to historical detail as many other westerns produced by the film industry.

This book is must reading if you are Buffalo Bill aficionado. It is entertaining if you enjoy Western lore and film history. It is useful if you seek disparate facts in odd genres. It is disappointing if you want broad analytical discussion of any of these areas.

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Homer Newell and the Beginnings of the NASA Space Science Program


Homer Newell

Homer Newell

When Congress established NASA in 1958 it explicitly charged the new space agency with “the expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.” In fulfillment of that mandateNASA created the Office of Space Sciences and installed as its head the respected scientist, Homer E. Newell, brought over from the Naval Research Laboratory. During the next several years the place of Newell’s bailiwick in the NASA organization—as well as its size, scope, and method of operations—was hammered out both within the institution and in the outside scientific community.

Newell proved an inspired choice. He had earned his Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin in 1940 and served as a theoretical physicist and mathematician at the Naval Research Laboratory from 1944-1958. During part of that period, he was science program coordinator for Project Vanguard. For more than a decade he guided the NASA science program, establishing a Space Science Steering Committee, with subcommittees, to provide advice and technical support. Broadly based, this effort involved some of the most prestigious scientists in the nation. They took control of efforts to develop programs of research in their specific fields, reviewed proposals for experiments on any scientific mission, and established priorities.

In spite of some rocky disturbances early in NASA’s history, Newell built close relationships between members of the scientific community was by the early 1960s relatively stable and collegial, cobbling together a NASA/university/industry/research installation partnership to execute a broad range of scientific activities in the 1960s. By fostering a divergence of opinion from all interested parties in this process, Newell ensured that decisions were not only better than could be obtained by any one person but also a broad consensus. He also encouraged the scientists and engineers to communicate effectively so that a mission was ready for development and that the program office had chosen the best possible experiments.

Homer Newell with John Kennedy and others at the time of the Mariner 2 mission to Venus in 1962.

Homer Newell with John Kennedy and others at the time of the Mariner 2 mission to Venus in 1962.

Through this effort Newell placed on a solid footing methodologies for choosing space science experiments and allocating support, be it financial or otherwise. He solicited proposals for projects from research facilities, educational institutions, other government organizations, the National Academy of Science’s Space Science Board, and industry. These would then be considered, along with proposals from NASA’s scientists, for adoption and funding by NASA. Participants in any given space science research project usually included representatives from each of the major constituencies involved in the solicitation process.

Most important, each chosen project was to be executed under the direction of a NASA program scientist who was, according to a memorandum on the approach issued by Newell in 1960, “generally responsible for the overall coordination of the activities of the various participants…and will have responsibility and authority for resolution of any disagreements between and among various participants.”

Over time, Newell and his successors established a structure for space science that worked democratically even though it was far from efficient. The scientists themselves developed decadal surveys to coalesce the various priorities of the disciplines and to rank them for future implementation. These surveys, developed through a politicized process within the National Academies of Sciences, emerged for astronomy in 1964. Written by a diverse collection of scientists from a variety of institutions, with inputs from many others, it surveyed the current state of the field, identified research priorities, and made recommendations for the coming decade, hence the name.

Decadal surveys soon followed in other scientific disciplines in the latter part of the 1960s, each providing a rallying point around which the community of scientists speak with one voice. Indeed the various “Decadals,” as they quickly came to be known, served as the necessary first step in the development of initiatives to be pursued. The basic ranking of missions, projects, and programs furthered the political process as NASA pursued these initiatives. Both the White House and Congress have respected the findings of these “Decadals” and generally follow them without serious question. This has largely altered political decision-making from discussions of scientific merits by lawmakers and others without scientific credentials to acceptance of the findings and then deliberating over funding issues. Accordingly, space science has rarely been something that has been politically sensitive, controversial, or partisan.

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Bert Acosta and the “Golden Age of Flight”


Bert Acost ain 1927.

Bert Acosta in 1927.

You have to love Bert Acosta (1895-1954), an aviation pioneer who became famous for his talent and his misbehavior in pre-World War II aviation. His quest for speed, which was always a part of Acosta’s daredevil psyche, led him both to piloting advanced aircraft and to racing automobiles. These pursuits, along with drinking and womanizing, became Acosta’s main pastime for his entire life.

During the years just before the U.S. entrance into World War I, Acosta earned a livelihood through the uniqueness of airplanes, traveling the region to exhibit his aircraft and give rides to locals. In many respect he was like the post-war barnstormers, gypsy flyers who traveled the nation in search of thrills and money enough to survive and keep flying. During this time he earned a reputation as a gifted but reckless pilot, as his quest for speed outstripped his fear of death. He also worked for a time as a flight instructor to World War I-bound pilots in Toronto, Canada, and in 1917 when the U.S. entered the war he entered the U.S. Air Service Reserve.

When the war ended Acosta returned to southern California and went to work for Glenn Curtiss, this time as a test pilot. He also got involved in aircraft racing and participated in several of the important air races that took place in the 1920s. For instance, in 1921 he took the Pulitzer silver trophy in Omaha, Nebraska, for setting a world’s closed-course speed record of 176.9 miles per hour. Then on May 14, 1927, he was the co-pilot for Clarence D. Chamberlin during a record-setting endurance flight that circled over Roosevelt Field, New York, for 51 hours, 11 minutes, and 20 seconds. He also helped to survey the transcontinental air mail route in 1920 and flew the mail for the U.S. Postal Service for a brief time.

There was always a self-destructive streak in Acosta, and his friends worried that he was too much the carefree daredevil, the hard-drinker, and the woman-chaser for his own good. Acosta battled alcohol his entire life, his drinking contributing to a divorce and several brushes with the law. For example, in 1923 he was arrested for drunk driving. His drunkenness also contributed to his first wife—about whom little is known except that they had two daughters—divorcing him in 1921. Not long thereafter he married Helen Belmont Pearsoll, and they had two sons. This darker side of Acosta’s personality also contributed to several accidents and near misses while flying. In 1922 he had a serious accident that incapacitated him for several weeks.

The most significant contributions of Acosta to flight came in 1927 when a business leader, Rodman Wanamaker, came to him with a scheme to make a trans-Atlantic flight that would demonstrate the feasibility of intercontinental passenger service between the U.S. and France. Acosta would pilot a Fokker trimoter aircraft, christened the America, from New York to Paris with an illustrious crew. Richard E. Byrd, the polar explorer, was commander, while U.S. Navy lieutenant George O. Noville was flight engineer and radio operator. Noted Norwegian aviator Bernt Balchen was relief pilot, although Balchen later commented that he was specifically charged with piloting during night and in dangerous weather because Acosta had not mastered instrument flying. While this group was planning their flight, in May 1927 Charles A. Lindbergh made his pathbreaking solo trans-Atlantic flight and in the next month Clarence Chamberlin made a flight with Charles Levine to Germany. It was anti-climatic, therefore, on Jun. 29 when the America took off from New York with Acosta at the controls.

AcostaThe flight was ill-fated from the beginning. The aircraft was overloaded and too heavy, and only the native skill of Acosta got it airborne in the first place; this was a particular problem of the Fokker trimotors and their unforgiving nature when accelerating to take-off speed. Storms and poor visibility hampered the progress of the flight and Balchen had to fly the plane on instruments more than had been anticipated. Near the Normandy coast Acosta was at the controls when a squall forced them to ditch the aircraft. The details of this incident are unclear, but apparently Acosta was shaken by the dangerous situation and refused to relinquish the controls to Balchen. Byrd had to force him to turn over control to the Norwegian, who could only ditch the aircraft. He did so successfully, and no one aboard was killed. Publicly Byrd praised his crew and blamed the accident on poor weather and instrument failure, but privately Acosta was blamed for having to take this extreme action. Although the flight ended with an accident, the crew was treated as heroes, at least for a short time, both in Paris and New York City.

A historical photo of the Josephine Ford, the airplane used by Admiral Byrd for his effort to be the first to fly over the North Pole, on May 9, 1926.

A historical photo of the Josephine Ford, the airplane used by Admiral Byrd for his effort to be the first to fly over the North Pole, on May 9, 1926.

While Acosta wanted to continue flying after 1927, because of his less than sterling reputation fewer and fewer people were willing to back him. He had a series of scrapes with authorities regulating aviation and lost his pilot’s license for a time. He also invested in a succession of business deals that went bad during the 1930s, he had trouble with his ex-wife over failure to provide support, and he spent some time in jail for this as well as a series of misdemeanors. When his daughters, now young adults, came to his assistance in the mid-1930s, he was little more than a derelict. They helped rehabilitate him, got him off liquor, and helped him get back on his feet. In a fit of idealism, although the good pay fortified that idealism, he went to Spain in 1936 and flew combat missions against the fascists during the Spanish Civil War.

When Acosta returned to the United States, essentially a fugitive for violating the Neutrality Laws, he was unable to earn a living flying. He again turned to drink, and for the rest of his life drifted from menial job to menial job. In 1952 he collapsed in New York City. He later made his way west and two years later he died of tuberculosis in the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society’s sanitarium outside of Denver, Colorado.

Bert Acosta was one of the many second-echelon pilots who operated before the Second World War. He had attained some stature with record-making flights, but was never able to break into the ranks of such famous flyers as Charles A. Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and even Roscoe Turner. Accordingly, he scraped out a living on the margins of the expanding aviation industry. He was not able to make the transition to the airline or aircraft industry, as did so many other flyers of his stature, and after his 1927 trans-Atlantic flight he was unable to duplicate the fame he had briefly enjoyed. His self-destructive behavior also prevented him from gaining lasting respect from either the public or his fellow pilots.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Empire and Science in the Making”


51YnqaRjYpLEmpire and Science in the Making: Dutch Colonial Scholarship in Comparative Global Perspective, 1760-1830. Edited by Peter Boomgaard. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

As co-editor of the series, Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology, my comments will be quite positive. This is a very fine book. It is a collection of essays, written by eleven different scholars, most of them with a Dutch background. It deals with a fascinating subject, the state of colonial science in the Dutch empire, especially in the years near the turn of the nineteenth century. An explicit purpose of the collection is to weigh the value and meaning of Dutch colonial science at that time in comparison with what was happening in other European countries and their colonies.

Editor Peter Boomgaard, currently Senior Researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southwest Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden, argues that there has been a dearth of scholarship about science in the latter eighteenth and early nineteenth century era period. He appropriately notes the need to emphasize colonial science in the Dutch Golden Age of the seventeenth century and the institutionalized science of the Dutch colonial state in Indonesia in the nineteenth century. While we may know much about Enlightenment science elsewhere, especially Great Britain and Germany, such is not the case with Dutch imperial studies.

Accordingly, Boomgaard brings to light in this collection of essays the fruits of recent labor investigating an area in which scholars from the Netherlands had been making inroads into the area, but writing in Dutch and therefore inaccessible to most other scholars. These essays demonstrate the relative weakness of organized scientific work in the Dutch empire between 1770 and 1815 and provide a fascinating account of the re‐invention of the Dutch, especially their intellectual grasp of foreign lands, in the face of cultural stagnation, economic decline, political crisis, and repeated military defeat. These case studies are especially good at showing what this weakness meant in comparison to science in Britain, Sweden, and Germany (and to a lesser degree in Spain and France).

I was especially taken by Gerry van Klinken’s essay, “Why Was There No Javanese Galileo?” Van Klinken explores the history of astronomy in Java while the Dutch were present and finds that the scientific inquiry was neither institutionalized nor effectively communicated. While there was no effective communication system, and that was largely a Dutch colonial problem, Javanese elites did not see the need for significant scientific inquiry and did not support it. Accordingly, the accoutrements of Enlightenment science did not root in the Pacific Southeast region of the Dutch empire.

I also enjoyed Michael Laffan’s essay, “‘A Religion That Is Extremely Easy and Unusually Light to Take On’: Dutch and English Knowledge of Islam in Southeast Asia, ca. 1595-1811.” It explains how most western knowledge of Islamic knowledge and culture was generated well before 1770 and the Dutch empire adopted a fundamentally dismissive attitude toward it. Laffan focuses on the lives and research of the Dutch leaders who challenged all things Muslim and therefore ignored the scientific knowledge present in Islamic culture.

At sum, science in the Dutch empire is highlighted in this volume more effectively than in any other study currently available. It was during the time period under review here that modern science emerged as a mainstay of Western Civilization and from the West traveled to every other part of the world. Empire and Science in the Making makes clear how this took place in the region control by the Netherlands.

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World Series Memories: The A’s versus the Dodgers 40 Years Ago


On October 12, 1974, forty years ago, the World Series opened with the Oakland A’s playing the Los Angeles Dodgers for the championship. It was a lackluster World Series, but both teams were superb. The A’s were the reigning champions of baseball, having won the World Series in both 1972 and 1973. Led by three future Hall of Famers (Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and Catfish Hunter) and a terrific supporting cast that included Joe Rudi, Vida Blue, Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, and Ken Holtzman the A’s swept into the playoffs on the strength of a 90-72 record.

The Dodgers had assembled a great infield of Steve Garvey at first, Davy Lopes at second, Bill Russell at shortstop, and Ron Cey at third. This infield had been playing together since 1973 and would do so until 1981. They set the record for the longest-serving infield in baseball history, and during that run they went to four World Series, losing each time until 1981 when they beat the Yankees in a dramatic seven game series.

The Dodgers also had a pitching staff anchored by future Hall of Famer Don Sutton. The Dodgers had dominated its division with a 102-60 season record in 1974 and blew past the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs three games to one. The Cincinnati Reds finished four games behind at 98-64, still better than any team in the American League. If the Reds were “The Big Red Machine,” the Dodgers liked to call themselves the “Little Blue Bicycle,” but they were so much more.

dodgers-athletics-1974A lot of baseball experts expected the Dodgers to take the A’s in 1974. For one, the A’s had been there twice before; they were not the hungry team that they had seemed in earlier years. They also did not get the same dominant pitching from their top three starters that had been the case earlier. Catfish Hunter finished at 25-12, but Ken Holtzman declined to 19-17, and Vida Blue to 17-15. Their winning percentages were certainly not what they had been previously.

The everyday players were again led by Reggie Jackson, whose .289 average, 29 home runs, and 93 RBIs put him among the league leaders. Joe Rudi contributed with a .293 average, 22 home runs, and 99 RBIs. Sal Bando’s batting average dipped to .243, but he also hit 22 homers, and drove in 103 runs, the only player on the team to crack the century RBI mark. Gene Tenace continued to hit for power, 26 homers, but only batted .211 while driving in 73 runs. Of course, the steady Bert Campaneris batted .290 while providing speed at the top of the lineup. Designated base stealer Herb “Hurricane” Washington did not contribute much to the offense.

The 1974 World Series was never really all that close, the A’s dominated the Dodgers. The A’s beat them 3-2 in game one at Dodger Stadium on October 12, with Jackson hitting a solo home run in the top of the second to put the A’s in the lead, a lead they never relinquished. The next day the Dodgers won their only game in the series, 3-2, before traveling to Oakland for game three on October 15 through 17. The A’s then took three straight from the Dodgers—3-2 on the strength of Hunter’s seven hit start, 5-2 with Holtzman hitting a home run to help his own cause, and 3-2 in the final game of the season with Blue Moon Odom getting the win after relieving Vida Blue and giving way to Fingers with the save.

Just like that, the A’s were the champions of the baseball world once again, the only three-peat other than the Yankees ever to do it. As in past years, A’s owner Charlie Finley was everywhere taking bows for the victory. But it was not the same sweet victory that the first had been. The years that followed would be increasingly difficult for the A’s. They collapsed after the departure of the terrific core of veterans who could not wait to get away from Finley. They A’s would not reemerge as champions until the latter part of the 1980s with another terrific team led by a new generation of players.

The Dodgers, who rolled over in the 1974 World Series, would go on to several more years of contention, including two losses in the World Series in 1977 and 1978 to the New York Yankees and a victory in the World Series in 1981 over those same Yankees.

As the postseason this year is underway, it is good to recall the World Series of 1974 and the great teams that played it.

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The Surveyor Landers on the Moon


Surveyor III was the third lander of the American Surveyor program sent to the surface of the Moon. Launched on April 17, 1967, Surveyor III landed on April 20, 1967, at the Mare Cognitum portion of the Oceanus Procellarum. Here Apollo 12 Astronaut Alan Bean inspects the lander in fall 1969.

Surveyor III was the third lander of the American Surveyor program sent to the surface of the Moon. Launched on April 17, 1967, Surveyor III landed on April 20, 1967, at the Mare Cognitum portion of the Oceanus Procellarum. Here Apollo 12 Astronaut Alan Bean inspects the lander in fall 1969.

Like so many other point of intersection, soft landing on the Moon with robotic probes proved a venue for Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s. The Soviets won that competition February 3, 1966, by sending Luna 9, which became the first spacecraft to soft land on another planetary body, to the Moon’s Oceanus Procellarum region.

Following closely after the Soviet Union’s success with Luna 9, the U.S. succeeded in becoming the first American probe to make a stabilized soft landing on the Moon on June 2, 1966, four months after the Soviet probe Luna 9 landed successfully. Surveyor 1 photographed and studied the soil of a flat area inside a 100 km crater north of Flamsteed Crater in southwest Oceanus Procellarum. The television system had transmitted a total of 11,240 pictures of the Moon. The spacecraft also acquired data on the radar reflectivity of the lunar surface, bearing strength of the lunar surface, and spacecraft temperatures for use in the analysis of the lunar surface temperatures. NASA terminated Surveyor 1’s mission due to a dramatic drop in battery voltage before the end of June 1966.

After a failure of Surveyor 2 on September 22, 1966, NASA’s Surveyor 3 successfully soft landed on the lunar surface on April 17, 1967, and provided imagery and soil analysis. The lander “bounced” more than once on the surface before coming to rest. Footprints from the initial impact were visible from the final landing site. Besides a camera similar to Surveyor 1, this lander also carried a mechanical scoop that dug several small trenches in the lunar soil. Over the next three weeks the camera returned more than 6,300 images showing the surrounding rocks and the movements of the scoop. Two years after landing Surveyor 3 was visited by the Apollo 12 astronauts. The television camera and other sections were removed and returned to Earth. The camera was later put on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum where it remains to the present.

Surveyor III was the third lander of the American Surveyor program sent to the surface of the Moon. Launched on April 17, 1967, Surveyor III landed on April 20, 1967, at the Mare Cognitum portion of the Oceanus Procellarum. Here Apollo 12 Astronaut Alan Bean inspects the lander in fall 1969.

Surveyor III was the third lander of the American Surveyor program sent to the surface of the Moon. Launched on April 17, 1967, Surveyor III landed on April 20, 1967, at the Mare Cognitum portion of the Oceanus Procellarum. Here Apollo 12 Astronaut Alan Bean inspects the lander in fall 1969.

Although NASA lost contact with Surveyor 4 on July 17, 1967, it followed with Surveyors 5, 6, and 7 over the course of the next few months. While on its trajectory to the Moon, Surveyor 5 experienced serious problems with a helium pressurization system that was necessary for the retrorockets to work. Flight engineers were able to work around the problem and Surveyor 5 successfully landed on September 10, 1967. Thousands of images were returned by the television camera. Surveyor 5 also carried an alpha ray scatterer that measured composion of the lunar soil. Surveyor 6 landed on November 9, 1967. It carried similar instruments as Surveyor 5. On November 17 Surveyor 6 became the first spacecraft to take off from the lunar surface.

Controllers noted enough fuel remained for a brief firing of the retrorockets. Surveyor 6 performed a “hop”, reaching a height of about 10 feet and coming to rest about 8 feet from its first position. Both sets of footprints in the lunar soil were plainly visible in images form the television camera. Surveyor 7 landed on January 10, 1968 north of the crater Tycho. Surveyor 7 carried both a mechanical arm and an alpha scattering instrument. The arm was needed to move the latter device when it was found to be stuck. Over the next three weeks after landing, the alpha scattering sensor was lowered and then moved to test composition of soil from the surface and within trenches.

Five of the seven Surveyor spacecraft completed their missions between May 30, 1966, and January 9, 1968. One of them, Surveyor 3, had a malfunction with its landing jets causing the 650-pound robot to skip twice across the lunar surface before stopping near a small crater rim.

This image from LRO shows the spacecraft's first look at the Apollo 12 landing site. The Intrepid lunar module descent stage, experiment package (ALSEP) and Surveyor 3 spacecraft are all visible. Astronaut footpaths are marked with unlabeled arrows. This image is 824 meters (about 900 yards) wide. The top of the image faces North. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University Read more at: http://phys.org/news171215857.html#jCp

This image from LRO shows the spacecraft’s first look at the Apollo 12 landing site. The Intrepid lunar module descent stage, experiment package (ALSEP) and Surveyor 3 spacecraft are all visible. Astronaut footpaths are marked with unlabeled arrows. This image is 824 meters (about 900 yards) wide. The top of the image faces North. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University
Read more at: http://phys.org/news171215857.html#jCp

An interesting story from the Apollo program. One of the Surveyor spacecraft now owned by the National Air and Space Museum consists of an authentic structure with simulated wood instrumentation. It closely resembled the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, visited by the Apollo 12 astronauts on the Moon. NASA loaned this Surveyor 3 mockup to CBS News in New York during the Apollo 12 mission to aid in communicating with the viewing audience about what was taking place on the Moon. This became especially important when television broadcasts from the Moon during Apollo 12 ended suddenly when astronaut Alan Bean accidentally burned out the TV camera when he inadvertently pointed it into the sun. Since voice communication was still available CBS placed two actors in space suits next to this lander to simulate in real time activities on the lunar surface.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Exit Berlin”


Exit BerlinExit Berlin: How One Woman Saved Her Family from Nazi Germany. By Charlotte R. Bonelli. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

This is both a fine historical study and a strikingly intimate portrait of one individual’s efforts to help members of her family leave Germany before and during World War II. Luzie Hatch, a German Jew, prevailed upon her cousin, businessman Arnold Hatch, in the United States to help her leave her native Berlin. She escaped to New York City in 1938 just a week after the horrific Kristallnacht, gained employment at the American Jewish Committee where she served as a translator, and relentlessly worked on her own to help her relatives depart Germany. She enlisted the aid of Arnold Hatch to help other members of the family, providing funding, lobbying immigration officials, and corresponding with desperate relatives. They had considerable, but not complete success. The result is a compelling, often positive and sometimes tragic story of a single family’s efforts to escape the Nazis.

Luzie Hatch remained with the American Jewish Committee from 1938, when she was only 27 years old, until her retirement. She never married, had no children, and lived throughout her life in the same small apartment in a New York neighborhood. She died only a few days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, at the age of 89. After her death Charlotte R. Bonelli, archivist of the American Jewish Committee, was contacted by the executor of Luzie’s estate to ask if they wanted her papers. Among them was a remarkable set of correspondence between Luzie, Arnold, and other Hatch family members concerning efforts to “exit Berlin.”

Bonelli’s work here is one part historian, one part editor, and one part annotator of this correspondence. This book tells a compelling story of desperation, assistance, and not a little success in helping family members to various parts of the world. Some ended up in Americas, in other parts of Europe, in places like Shanghai, and in South America. Some did not make it out of Germany and some made it to France where they were interned in Vichy France.

The most interesting character in this account, from my perspective, was Arnold Hatch. He had been born and raised in the U.S., spoke no German, and had a less than close relationship to his relatives in Germany. He was concerned about their welfare, and helped where he could, but he had to balance that with his concern for his immediate family and his business interests. He responded to never-ending pleas for help—political, legal, monetary—as best he could. Neither he, nor anyone else fully understood at this time that the systematic extermination of the Jewish people would be the aim of Hitler’s Germany.

Exit Berlin presents a deeply moving story, both personal and poignant as well as broad and dramatic.

 

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Homer Newell and the Early Post-War Space Science Program


Homer Newell

Homer Newell

Homer E. Newell (1915-1983) is one of the NASA leaders I am profiling in a book I have underway. His career was remarkable. He earned his Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin in 1940 and served as a theoretical physicist and mathematician at the Naval Research Laboratory from 1944-1958. During part of that period, he was science program coordinator for Project Vanguard. In 1958 he transferred to NASA and quickly assumed leadership of the new space agency’s science program.

In 1961 Newell assumed directorship of the office of space sciences; in 1963, he became associate administrator for space science and applications. Over the course of his career, he became an internationally known authority in the field of atmospheric and space sciences. He chronicled his activities in Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science (Washington, D.C.: NASA SP-4211, 1980), a book I would recommend to anyone. I am confining my comments below to Newell and his early work in space science before his NASA experiences.

Beginning in 1945 the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), where Newell worked as a scientist, organized a rocket research component to explore the possibilities of this new technology developed by various nations, especially Germany with its V-2 program, in the immediate post-war era. Named the Rocket Sonde Research Section, NRL viewed this organization as necessary to the long-term future of national defense. Germany had demonstrated with its V-s that this technology held potential for the United States, and all of the federal organizations engaged in research.

Newell joined the NRL Rocket Sonde Research Section immediately, and in 1946 was named to head it. He commented in his 1980 memoir that the members of this section were inexperienced and somewhat naive at first:

No one in the section was experienced in upper atmospheric research, so the section immediately entered a period of intensive self-education. Members lectured each other on aerodynamics, rocket propulsion, telemetering—whatever appeared to be important for the new tasks ahead. The author gave a number of talks on satellites and satellite orbits. Indeed, the possibility of going immediately to artificial satellites of the earth as research platforms was considered by the group, which assimilated carefully whatever information it could obtain from military studies of the time. The conclusion was that one could indeed begin an artificial satellite program and expect to succeed, but that the amount of new development required would be costly and time consuming (p. 33).

Newell’s purpose in this effort had more to do with science than engineering, however, and he guided the Section away from efforts to reach orbit as a near term goal. Instead, he emphasized the development of small and less complex “sounding rockets” designed to reach the upper atmosphere where scientists could use instrument packages to measure cosmic rays and other physical phenomena of interest. As he wrote in his memoir, “scientists could not hope to have their instruments aloft for some years to come and, anyway, were not likely to get their hands on the necessary funds. The Rocket Sonde Research Section accordingly shelved the satellite idea and turned to sounding rockets” (p. 34).

A Bumper-Wac on the launch pad at White Sands in the late 1940s.

A Bumper-Wac on the launch pad at White Sands in the late 1940s.

In the context of scientific exploration of the upper atmosphere Newell first demonstrated on a broad stage one of his chief skills, the scientist as entrepreneur. The bespectacled, balding scientist had the ability to persuade divergent people with divergent interests and priorities to agree on fundamental steps and to execute them. This proved one of his most important talents throughout his later career. He fashioned repeatedly coalitions of scientists, engineers, military and government officials to support various initiative that at first seemed impossible.

For example, he proved central to efforts to persuade the Army’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which wanted to develop rockets for national security purposes, to allow scientists to place scientific instruments atop them. Newell accepted JPL’s condition that these efforts be utilitarian science that either directly supported the larger defense mission or was a natural byproduct of it. Beyond that, he persistently advocated the role of science and oversaw efforts to place on some of the Army’s test vehicles instruments that provided data about the upper atmosphere, solar and stellar ultraviolet radiation, and the aurora. This became a very successful scientific program that was carried out with limited fanfare and funding. As a result, scientists taking part in this program used JPL’s WAC-Corporal rocket, and later the Department of Defense’s (DoD) captured V‑2s, as well as follow-on missiles, for scientific research throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

The breakthrough in Newell’s, and several of his colleagues’, campaign for science on military rockets came on January 16, 1946, when several physicists and astronomers interested in cosmic ray, solar, and atmospheric research gathered at NRL along with representatives of the military services to discuss possible cooperation. “It was plain from the deliberations that a number of groups,” he recalled in his memoir, “both in universities and in the military would be interested in taking part in a program of high-altitude rocket research” (p. 34).

This meeting led to the creation of the V‑2 Upper Atmosphere Panel to oversee this effort in February 1946 to “develop a scientific program, assign priorities for experiments to fly on the V‑2s, and to advise the Army Ordnance Department on matters essential to the success of the program” (quoted in “Minutes of V‑2 Upper Atmosphere Research Panel Meeting,” V‑2 Report #1, February 27, 1946).

In March 1948 it became the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel and in 1957 the Rocket and Satellite Research Panel. It prioritized the use of these vehicles to study solar and stellar ultraviolet radiation, the aurora, and the nature of the upper atmosphere. As a result, the panel served as the “godfather” of the infant scientific field of space science. This successful collaboration led to numerous important scientific results, including measurement of the ionosphere, solar radiation, cosmic radiation, micrometeorites, sky brightness, biomedical research, and photography of Earth from space.

Newell played a key role in these activities throughout the pre-Sputnik period. Initially chaired by Ernst Krause, whom Newell worked for at NRL, the panel later had James Van Allen as chair and thereafter Newell. He and the other members of this Panel put the V‑2s to good scientific used. For example, between 1946 and 1951, 67 captured V-2s were test launched, most with some scientific payload aboard. The Panel also oversaw development of new sounding rockets and continued to control the nation’s sounding rocket program until NASA Headquarters took over this function in 1958. After the formation of NASA, several members of the Panel, including Newell, joined NASA and applied the experience they had gained to the organization and management of NASA’s space science program.

Viking #11 was fired at White Sands on May 24, 1954 and soared to an altitude of 158 miles and attained a speed of 4,000 miles per hour.

Viking #11 was fired at White Sands on May 24, 1954 and soared to an altitude of 158 miles and attained a speed of 4,000 miles per hour.

At the same time, Newell was involved as the space science coordinator for the Naval Research Laboratory’s Viking rocket program. Built by the Glenn L. Martin Co. the first Viking launched from White Sands on May 3, 1949, while the twelfth and last Viking took off on February 4, 1955. The program uncovered significant scientific information about the upper atmosphere and took impressive high-altitude photographs of Earth. All of these were sounding rockets, and their science experiments were coordinated through the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel.

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Hail to the Royals: It’s Been a While Since but in 1985 they Won it All


The recent walk-off victory by the Kansas City Royals over the Oakland A’s in the 2014 play-in game brings to mind the last time the Royals were in the playoffs. That was in 1985, 29 years ago and it proved to be one of the great experiences in Missouri MLB history. It was also thrilling, and moving, to see the George Brett celebrate the Royals victory over the A’s. A longtime fixture with the Royals, he was the greatest player on a Royals team in 1985 that was, without question, great.

Both the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals won their league pennants in 1985 and met in the World Series. They could well do so again this year, although the odds arte long. In 1985 they played the “I-70 Series,” named for the interstate highway that connects the two great Missouri cities.

The Cardinals won 101 games in 1985 while losing only 61, a .623 winning percentage that was the best in the majors. The Royals were not so dominant, going 91-71 for the year, but the two teams’ victories in their respective league playoffs set up an all-Missouri championship series. None of the television moguls who purchased broadcast rights for the World Series were thrilled that Kansas City and St. Louis played each other in 1985. They were both relatively small markets, but the seven game series was exciting.

The World Series started off well for the Cardinals, who took the first two games in Kansas City. Those victories led many to crown the Cardinals prematurely. Many thought the Royals, gallant though they might be, were simply overmatched by a great Cardinals team. In game three the Royals began to climb out of the hole they had dug in Kansas City. The staff’s ace, twenty-one-year-old right-hander Bret Saberhagen (20-6), beat Cards’ starter Joaquin Andujar, 6-1. The Cards then won game four to take a 3-1 series advantage.

Ozzie Smith’s famous flip from the start of the World Series.

Sports reporters began to lose interest in the World Series and turned their attention to the local flavor of Missouri. “Much of the charm of the I-70 World Series lay on Missouri’s back roads,” reported Craig Neff in the October 28, 1985, issue of Sports Illustrated. Sent in search of local color, Neff found it everywhere. He stopped at the Midway-Locust Grove Methodist Church for its country ham dinner and found everyone talking baseball. There were fans dressed in Cardinals red and others wearing Royals blue, but they sat side by side peacefully debating the series. They disagreed over who would win, but it was always good-natured disagreement. Written on a chalkboard at the church were words that said much about how everyone viewed the series: “WE SUPPORT THE ST. KANSLOU CITY ROYINALS IN THE WORLD SERIES.”

But then there was game six. It has to go down as one of the most bizarre in the history of the post-season. Replayed over and over again, it still spells collapse for the Cardinals. The Royals won it by the narrowest of margins, 2-1, forcing a showdown seventh game. But it was the process of getting to the 2-1 finale that made the game so strange. It was a classic pitcher’s battle for eight innings as neither the Royals nor the Cardinals could score. In the top of the eighth inning Cardinals pinch-hitter Brian Harper blooped a single to center to score Terry Pendleton. With the quality of Cardinals pitching, many thought a 1-0 lead would be enough to win the game and the series. Unfortunately, in the ninth inning the “wheels came off” the Cardinals bandwagon.

First base umpire Don Denkinger blowing the call at first in the ninth inning of the sixth game.

Taking the 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth, Cardinals closer Todd Worrell came in to finish off the Royals. The first batter was pinch-hitter Jorge Orta, who hit a weak grounder to first baseman Jack Clark. Clark fielded it cleanly and flipped it to Worrell, who covered first from the pitcher’s mound. In one of the worst calls in World Series play, first base umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe. Replays clearly showed that Orta had been beaten to first and should have been called out. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog protested the call. In hindsight he believed that he should have asked MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth to demand that the umpires look at a replay. Had the commissioner refused, Herzog said he should then have pulled his team off the field in protest. In that case, Herzog said, “I’d have been right, but I’d have been fired.” But he thinks Ueberroth would have acceded to his demand, and the replay would have forced a change in the call.

Another view of a really bad call.

The bad call rattled the Cardinals. The Royals got runners onto second and third with one out, and the Cardinals then intentionally walked Hal McRae to get to pinch-hitter Dane Iorg. Without question this was a good percentage decision. McRae was one of the best hitters in the American League, and Iorg had batted only .223 in limited use in 1985. But Iorg singled to right, driving in Jim Sundberg to win the game, 2-1.

This set up a dramatic World Series finale. The Cardinals did not even hit the ball out of the infield and lost an embarrassing, 11-0. After going through three pitchers and trailing 9-0 in the fifth inning, Whitey Herzog sent pitching ace Joaquin Andujar to the mound. After home plate umpire Don Denkinger called an obvious ball on Jim Sundberg, Andujar flipped out. He stomped around the mound in what could only be called a temper tantrum and then charged toward Denkinger behind the plate. Herzog rushed out to restrain Andujar and ended up being ejected from the game.

Afterward, Herzog philosophized about this turn of events. “I’d seen enough,” he said. “That wasn’t a ball game. Like Casey says, ’Ain’t no sense livin’ in misery.” He took the ejection as a reprieve from torture.

After Herzog left the field, Andujar returned to the mound and on the very next pitch, called a ball by Denkinger, he flipped out again. He screamed and jumped up and down on the mound before running in to take a swing at Denkinger. By the time order had been restored, Andujar had been tossed out of the game. It was all over; the Royals added two additional runs to defeat the Cardinals. One wit dubbed the Cardinals the “Nuthouse Gang” because of Andujar’s coming apart.

Celebrating a championship.

In contrast, this victory by the Royals proved exceedingly sweet, the only World Series victory the team ever won. Team leader and future Hall of Famer George Brett shouted above the locker room celebration, “I know, I know, people were saying, ‘God, we’ve got this damn all-Missouri World Series. Who cares?’ Well, do you think I wanted to be drafted by Kansas City, this little town in Missouri? I’m from L.A. and I wanted to play for the Dodgers. But I’ll tell you something: I’m proud, very proud, to be a Kansas City Royal.” Brett then added, “And you know what it is we did, don’t you? We showed’em.”

In retrospect, the two teams had been remarkably well matched. Both had strong defenses, great pitching, and speed. The Royals pitchers proved the difference between victory and defeat. Bret Saberhagen had gone 2-0 for the Royals with a 0.50 ERA, and the Royals team ERA stood at only 1.89 for the World Series.

George Brett was right, the Royals “showed’em.” Here’s to the Kansas City Royals, victors in the World Series twenty-five years ago, and their worthy opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals. I look forward to both teams returning to greatness on the ball diamond.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Beginning of Infinity”


The Beginning of InfinityThe Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World. By David Deutsch. New York: Viking, 2011. 496 pages. Acknowledgments, illustrations, bibliography, index. ISBN: 978-0670022755. $14.50 USD paperback.

What explains the workings of the physical world? For millennia humankind has tried to answer that question. Mostly the answers offered have been based on observation. Often those answers have reflected what was known based on the best tools available. Regularly those answers have been incorrect.  Always those answers have been incomplete. Such is the nature of the scientific enterprise.

Physicist David Deutsch takes aim at this process of gradually, intermittently, erratically, and haltingly learning more about the way the natural cosmos works. He talks about this process as “progress” but in reality while there has been greater understanding gained over time it was anything but a linear path. Instead, as Deutsch makes clear, learning about the universe has been very much a path of taking one step backwards, two steps forward, and three steps sideways.

In many ways this is a very good book. It takes many disparate disciplines in science—astronomy, cosmology, physics, biology, ecology, evolution, and a range of others—and links them into a crosscutting unity of knowledge. Deutsch always emphasizes the progress being made in understanding, and assures the reader that humans are capable of “infinite progress.” This quest for “godlike” knowledge may be uncomfortable for some but also challenging for all. Can humanity learn things without any limit whatsoever? Might we reach a point where there is nothing left to know? I am reminded of the 1888 statement of Simon Newcomb, the director of the United States Naval Observatory who announced in a similar fit of absoluteness: “We are probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy.” He most assuredly was wrong about that.

But Deutsch does not stop there. He also argues that this achievement of infinite knowledge will also lead to infinite material and moral improvement. He sees the success of modern technology, specifically citing space travel and advances in medicine, as harbingers of a fundamental transition for Homo sapiens to perfection. If we can accomplish all we have done, Deutsch sees no reason to believe that ultimate progress might also be achieved in creating open and tolerant societies and anything else that we choose to accomplish. I must admit that I am taken aback at such statements of absolutes, of the achievement of what could only be called utopia. This is not the first time that such predictions have been made; utopianism abounds. But the challenge is that my definition of utopia and yours may well not be the same.

No question about it, reading The Beginning of Infinity is thought-provoking. I’m pleased to let it rest there. I was taken by Deutsch’s very understandable discussion of the latest in physics, describing dark matter and energy, multiverses, and string theory. His chapter on the philosophy of science and his discussion of artificial intelligence are also quite fascinating. I was less enamored with Deutsch’s incursion into humanistic knowledge and the social sciences. Creativity, free will, and liberalism—all issues he takes up at various points in The Beginning of Infinity—are not nearly as well illuminated in this work. Certainly, he is no expert in those fields and his conclusions relating to them are less useful than other parts of the book.

Accept this for what it is, a very ambitious attempt to unite varieties of knowledge and understanding in a rational philosophy. Enjoy its insights, of which there are many, and read it critically in assessing its larger contribution to understanding.

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