Rebel Without Applause

The Book of the Week is “Rebel Without Applause” by Jay Landesman, published in 1987. This ebook-autobiography has a few slightly distracting misspellings, but reveals the zeitgeist of Landesman’s generation.

Landesman was born in 1920. The talents of the author and his two brothers and sister differed considerably. Thus, he and his siblings got along well, as they weren’t in competition. However, his mother had control issues, so his parents opened separate antique shops; his mother in St Louis, and his father in Houston.

Landesman became distracted from the family business, and got into magazine publishing in New York. He co-founded “Neurotica”– launched in March 1948.  The publication contained articles of famous writers’ anxieties to which readers could relate. Sex was a taboo topic of discussion but violence was all the rage.

In 1949, Landesman dared to ask for a divorce from his first wife. Describing himself as a “respectable Jewish boy” he later met someone new, who had looked up his family in “Dun & Bradstreet”– the  keeper of the data in those days.

Landesman had two sons with his second wife, Fran. Their wealth allowed them to hire a nanny. “We were like any other ordinary American family enjoying the Ed Sullivan Show. Instead of a six-pack, we shared a couple of joints.”

Read the book to learn of what later transpired with the author’s second wife, about their collaboration on theater productions, his relationship with Lenny Bruce, and where the family moved to and why.

The View From the Vue

The Book of the Week is “The View From the Vue” by Larry Karp, originally published in 1977. This is the personal account of a medical intern at Bellevue Hospital in New York City in the 1960’s. The place had a reputation for treating poor, mentally ill patients, as well as the medical facility to which lazy doctors from other facilities transferred poor patients.

The author related a series of anecdotes of the kinds of patients who frequented the hospital and the experience he received in diagnosing their sometimes then-rare ailments, such as abdominal pregnancy, and common ailments– J-O Rat Paste and lead poisonings. He also related a few interesting factoids of that bygone era, like “In these days, the name cards on the foot of each bed were color-coded according to the religion of the patient. Blue was the Jewish color.”

Read the book to learn of how his wife was allowed to assist him in his work as an unpaid intern of sorts (a situation that would never exist these days), and what transpired when he developed sleep-deprivation syndrome.

Frank & Charli

The Book of the Week is “Frank & Charli” by Frank Yandolino, published in 2016. This is the (imperfectly edited) double biography of a married couple, or rather a name-dropping bragfest recounted mostly by the husband (Frank), who was a project manager for artistic and musical celebrities from the 1960’s to date.

Frank believed the secret to his success has been his opportunism, ability to be innovative, be himself and trusted by his clients. His wife Charli, the love of his life, served as his loyal and competent assistant during most of his endeavors, some of which were failures.

Frank thought that “Woodstock” was a major event in American cultural history . “The Woodstock Nation was supposed to be the birth of a new generation, a generation of Green Peace (sic), Save the Whales, and No More War.” Sadly, a few attempts were made to re-enact the event on anniversaries, but two of its major organizers had a falling out after the original, and were not on speaking terms.

Frank feels that unhappiness stems from phoniness– “Facebook is a place that narcissists use to post how they want to be seen.” Read the book to learn how Frank and Charli stayed happy together through the decades.

Butterfly in the Rain

The Book of the Week is “Butterfly in the Rain, The 1927 Abduction and Murder of Marion Parker” by James L. Neibaur, published in 2016. This short ebook recounts a gruesome crime and the aftermath, that occurred in late 1927 in Los Angeles, California.

The fame of this sensational case was comparable to that of O.J. Simpson’s. However, the newspaper, rather than television, was the medium through which the nation was riveted by the unfolding story. The case involved a child and plenty of controversy. Read the book to learn the details.

Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City

The Book of the Week is “Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City” by John Anthony Gilvey, published in 2011. This is a biography of multi-genre actor Jerry Orbach.

In 1985, at 50 years old, Orbach chose to pursue roles in the fickle world of TV and movies to achieve fortune and fame, instead of a secure income on Broadway, where he would have much less fame. Luckily, he hit it big with the surprisingly successful 1987 movie Dirty Dancing. He received 1% of the gross revenue of the movie. After that, he started to play a slew of bit parts on TV. Thus, people recognized his face on the street, but did not know his name. That is, until he became a major character on “Law and Order” in autumn of 1992. Unfortunately, cancer cut his career short.

Read the book to learn more about Orbach’s fabulous career and personal relationships.

Fischer Spassky, The New York Times Report

The Book of the Week is “Fischer Spassky, The New York Times Report on the Chess Match of the Century” by Richard Roberts, with Harold Schoenberg, Al Horowitz and Samuel Reshevsky, published in 1972.

This short paperback describes “… Channel 13’s exhaustive television coverage of the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky match…” which consisted of “analyses, interviews, demonstrations and illuminating asides.”

The world’s top chess players can analyze, say, six moves ahead. Each of those moves, has, say, six possible moves, so they play their moves pursuant to a complex decision tree.

Here is one simple tip to remember about the how the rook moves as opposed to how the bishop moves: The rook moves only from side to side and up and down because it is too wide to move diagonally, whereas the bishop’s slim waist means it moves only diagonally.

The best tournament players are called “grandmasters” and at the book’s writing, there were about ninety of them in the entire world. The international central authority for chess, Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE), based in Paris, was started in 1924. At the tail end of the 1960’s, FIDE held an “Interzonal” competition to determine the next chess champion of the world. The Interzonal games were played in places like Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Vancouver, Canada; Seville, Spain; the Canary Islands; Sochi, on the Baltic Sea in Russia and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Boris Spassky, a 32 year old journalist from Leningrad, became the new champion. The champions had been of Soviet origin since 1948.

The title had to be defended every three years. Thus in early 1971, countries started to bid on the prize money, and on the chance to host the final round of championship games. The setting up of the physical environment for play was taken very seriously. There was a 300 pound mahogany table, and “… hand-carved John Jacques & Sons chess pieces that had been flown in from England.” There were about 2,500 spectators at the event.

A soap opera transpired for months prior to the actual competition. That took place in the summer of 1972, between Fischer and Spassky, who both behaved like drama queens in negotiating where and when they would play their approximately twenty-game series. The former was a bit more demanding and exacting about various issues– such as the prize money, and cameras and noise in the room–  as he was paranoid and had extreme control issues. The latter was under tremendous pressure by the Soviet government to win, as a win would show the Soviets’ continuing superiority in the world. Read the book to learn all the details, including who won.

David Spade is Almost Interesting

The Book of the Week is “David Spade is Almost Interesting, the Memoir” by David Spade, published in 2015. This ebook is about the life of the actor and stand-up comedian.

Born in the mid-1960’s, Spade is the youngest of three brothers. His father abandoned the family when he was little.

The comedian wrote about how he started his career in stand-up comedy, and achieved sufficient success to become a writer on the TV show “Saturday Night Live” for a few seasons in the early 1990’s. The show’s content-generators and performers were fiercely competitive because extra money and a big ego boost went to the writers who got a sketch on the air, or did more acting than others. When Spade’s sketches were rejected, his fellow cast members were “… quietly doing mental cartwheels because of the schadenfreude festival around the seventeenth floor [of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan].” He summed up his situation thusly: “I had such a massive chip on my shoulder about being an underdog from Arizona with no show business connections.”

According to Spade, the movie and television studios encourage actors to use social media to interact with their fans. He revealed that the studios might cast an actor for a certain role based on the number of followers he has on Twitter or Instagram.

In addition to describing the making of movies with fellow comedian Chris Farley, the author also included a chapter on his love life. He apparently believes all the male and female stereotypes and that is perhaps why is still a bachelor, as of this writing.

Read the book to learn of Spade’s antics and traumas.

Raif Badawi, The Voice of Freedom

The Book of the Week is “Raif Badawi, The Voice of Freedom” by Ensaf Haidar and Andrea C. Hoffman, published in 2015. This ebook tells the story of the problems that can arise in a theocratic monarchy (Saudi Arabia) when people speak their minds and act of their own free will– considered serious crimes, according to certain powerful men who interpret the Quran in a fanatical way.

One indicator that the story revolves around the author, is that a photo of ONLY Haidar (more than a headshot) is on the front cover of this ebook– not a family portrait, or any other scenes.

Infuriating their families is just one of many consequences of the non-conformist behavior of Haidar and her husband; another– causing an international incident in an ongoing saga that has lasted more than a decade.

The story starts when Haidar is in her early 20’s. Her polygamous father runs a financially successful furniture business. He has fifteen children, including the author– one of his younger daughters. The culture precludes any kind of paid work for the females. However, the author is allowed to have a mobile phone, and is encouraged by her much older, widowed sister to try to get a job so she won’t be dependent on her father. He is the ruler of his wives and daughters. If the daughters get married, their own husbands become their rulers. Haidar’s older brothers also hold authority over her.

A certain man who knows her brothers, decides Haidar is the one he wants to marry. But it is against their religion for her to be with, let alone speak with, any male, even on the phone, without a chaperone. The father, or no one, will choose a mate for her. The author and her suitor risk shaming their families and public punishment, when they communicate via mobile phone. They rebel anyway.

The major human-rights cause for which the family is fighting, is freedom of speech. The author’s husband (Raif) starts an Internet forum in which he argues for women’s rights, among other irreverent activities. Yet, “… at home he’s behaving like every other Saudi macho man.” She outwits him– “I hadn’t told Raif anything about the Facebook and Twitter accounts that I ran under a pseudonym.”

Later on, another emotional wrench in the works, is that the author resists telling her three children about why their father is absent from their home. The father tells her not to tell them. Still a product of her culture, she feels the need to obey him. She keeps lying to the children, so when they finally hear the truth– how can they ever trust her?

At any rate, read the book to learn of the trials and tribulations suffered by people who buck their religion-bound culture and government.

Digital Gold

The Book of the Week is “Digital Gold– Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money” by Nathaniel Popper, published in 2015.

This ebook is about Bitcoin, a bookkeeping system used on various websites that distributes, records and stores the value of units called Bitcoins.

The system was created in 2009 by a computer geek who called himself Satoshi Nakamoto. His vision was to create a worldwide means-of-exchange to be used online that would be:

  • a decentralized network of users so that no one central authority has the majority of power over the system– unlike the current situations in the world; in other words, place power in the hands of the users, rather than the economic royalists. (Nevertheless, the irony is that Bitcoin has largely stayed in the realm of the wealthy computer geeks- so there has bascially been redistribution of wealth among the wealthy);
  • created and maintained by users of the system on a consensus basis rather than by the powers-that-be, whose political campaigns are funded by financial institutions, and who stay in power by doing their will;
  • anonymous (like cash– no third parties acquire the information of buyers and sellers);
  • secure (no one point of failure would mean vulnerability for the whole system, plus have protections against identity theft, malware, counterfeiting etc.); and
  • offered at a lesser cost than the current system (avoiding financial institutions with their fees).

However, no utopian vision is perfect. Various tech-startups around the world have been created to store and exchange Bitcoins. That is all well and good. In the last seven years or so, a “remarkably engaged online community” has sprung up to discuss the ideology and all the different issues attendant to the new system. Even the major American financial institutions, fearing competition, have begun to rethink the security of their online dealings, and so have assembled task forces to research how to harness Bitcoin’s loss-prevention technology.

Bitcoins are acquired by computer users who log on to a specific site on the Internet. The users get the virtual “coins” for free, but might have to pay to store them elsewhere to keep them secure.

Bitcoins are more like a security than a means of exchange like cash because:

  • The system distributing Bitcoins is like a combination slot machine and a financial market where instruments are bought and sold, and the value of Bitcoins fluctuates.
  • There’s an inherent unfairness in the system in that– technologically astute users of the system have banded together to create devices that mine Bitcoins at a significantly faster rate than individual users.
  • People can acquire a national currency such as the American dollar in many more ways than they can Bitcoins, most of them honestly– earning, borrowing, begging or stealing.

Anyway, the purpose of Bitcoins as a means of exchange has yet to catch on among mainstream consumers of industrialized countries. There is no sufficiently compelling reason for consumers to start to buy things online with Bitcoins rather than credit cards. “Why should they trust a digital code that had nothing backing it but the computers of some libertarian nerds?”

Argentina is one country where Bitcoins have been useful. The super-speedy inflation of the peso there has meant people must spend their Argentinian money the minute they acquire it or risk the inability to buy anything because they wouldn’t be able to afford it– even food. In China, Bitcoin is popular because the government regulates the yuan exchange rate in order to stem “capital flight” and sell more of its own goods to the world.

As with all human-created systems that rely on the honor system, ALL users must act ethically. One American Bitcoin-processor in particular created a drug-distribution entity called Silk Road that was deemed illegal according to U.S. law.

Another bad actor hacked into a company called Mt. Gox in Japan. All users of that service suffered. “Bitcoin users eventually went to government authorities that Bitcoin had been designed, at least partly, to obviate.”

Besides, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has been examining the legal aspects of Bitcoin as a virtual currency. Homeland Security is concerned about the fact that Bitcoins could be anonymously sent to terrorist cells overseas.

Read the book to learn much more about the good and bad consequences of the creation of Bitcoin.

Tales from the Dugout

The Book of the Week is “Tales from the Dugout” by Mike Shannon, published in 1997. This lighthearted compilation of anecdotes mentions some of American professional baseball’s colorful characters of different eras.

It was a dirty little secret that Willie Mays deliberately wore an oversized cap so that it fell off for a more dramatic effect when he was making one of his legendary catches in the field.

In April 1991, the J. Fred Johnson minor league stadium was cleaned up after a game via crowd-sourcing of the fans, who, in compensation, had received free admission.

Earl Weaver, manager of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1970’s and 1980’s, got thrown out of 91 games for arguing with the umpires. Needless to say, he was a hothead. One time, he made good on his threat to pull Orioles pitcher Rick Dempsey out of a game. Dempsey was so enraged, he threw his protective gear at Weaver in the locker room, and as their shouting match continued, got Weaver all wet when he turned on the shower.

Read the book to learn of other amusing episodes.