Inside the Olympics – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Inside the Olympics” by Dick Pound, published in 2004. This volume described the trials and tribulations of a Canadian who served in various Olympic capacities, including athlete and governance leader.

As might be recalled, various scandals (relating to the selection of future host countries, illegal doping among athletes, and judging of sports events) plagued the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the turn of the 21st century.

Pound wordily and repetitively discussed his role in helping participating nations agree on rules banning performance-enhancing drugs, and in helping to establish the complicated financial arrangements needed to be made by broadcast networks and sponsors. For, bureaucracy galore abounded. Each nation has a committee. Nations that don’t fund athletes and their attendant expenses depend on revenues derived from event coverage and advertisers, paid to the IOC and redistributed to those committees. Thus, the IOC tended to be the scapegoat for whatever went wrong with all things Olympic-related.

Olympic hosts are saddled with numerous expenses stemming from having to provide modern athletic facilities and accommodations for about 25,000 people.

Read the book to learn how national pride has miraculously kept the modern Olympic games alive since 1896, despite the bad behavior of power politics that has resulted in injustice, financial losses, ill-gotten gains, and deaths.

onassis (sic)

The Book of the Week is “onassis” (sic) by Will Frischauer, published in 1968. The biographer immediately resorted to a disclaimer on his Acknowledgements page. In compiling this volume, he sourced twelve books in his Bibliography, claimed he drew upon interviews, and fifteen years’ worth of his readings on his subject, conceding that “… in many instances the dividing line between fact and fiction is so blurred…”

Nowadays, an equally vague author, whether authorized or unauthorized– to write about a wealthy alpha male (especially a politician) whose crack public-relations mythmakers gloze over unpleasant details– usually has the goal of rewriting history. That did not appear to be the case, at least with this book.

Born in 1906 in Smyrna, Onassis was of Turkish extraction. He was six years old when his mother passed away. His father lucratively sold tobacco, grain and hides. Sent to a Greek Orthodox (Christian) school, Onassis excelled at water polo and, already fluent in Turkish and Greek– became so in English, French and Italian.

In September 1922, when hostilities flared up between the Turks and Greeks, Onassis helped his family (except for his father, who was arrested early on) survive by playing well with parties on both sides of the conflict. His good relationship with the United States Vice Consul (a neutral party) allowed him to reunite with his older sister, two younger half-sisters and stepmother in Athens, and then travel to bail his father out of jail.

The father was furious that Onassis wasted money to bribe the authorities to get him sprung, as he would’ve been released anyway. The Turks froze foreign bank accounts of the family’s business when they took over Smyrna.

In 1923, taking advice from friends, Onassis got a job with a telephone company. He got away with lying about his age (said he was older) and birthplace to obtain an ID card. Then he felt the need to strike out on his own. His persistence paid off after a number of frustrating weeks, when he was finally able to sell his father’s Oriental tobacco to the Argentinians, who had been importing it from Brazil and Cuba.

Onassis was eventually able to get both Argentinian and Greek citizenship with the use of his dishonest identity-document application. After presiding over a failed cigarette business, in the next five or so years, he made his first million dollars. It was unstated exactly how. It was stated that he made business contacts wherever he went, some of whom he obviously inherited from his father.

Onassis was appointed a trade diplomat for the Argentinian government, and got into the shipping business. He started with used ships with Greek registration, then, in the early 1930’s, to avoid petty bureaucrats, switched to Panamanian registration. Other advantages with the latter included financial transactions that were permitted to be made in any currency, that were tax-free.

Onassis revolutionized the industry by ordering the construction of monster-sized oil tankers– with unprecedented capacities of tens of thousands of tons. The Swedes built the boats, and J. Paul Getty shipped the oil to Japan. Onassis, unlike the competition, also built comfortable living quarters for his ships’ crews, to foster employee loyalty.

During WWII, Onassis broke into the whaling industry, selling whale meat to mink farms and whale livers to the Borden food outfit. After the war, he took a bride; she was seventeen, he was forty. They raised their family in Oyster Bay, Long Island.

Yet another unique shipping-related activity Onassis pioneered, involved a risk-management contractual arrangement for international shipping. Prior to its implementation, he thought he had done his due diligence.

Onassis consulted an attorney to make sure he would be complying with maritime law– as he was purchasing surplus vessels of the United States, but registering them under other countries’ flags for purposes of deregulated operations and tax evasion. Nevertheless, by the mid-1950’s, the American Maritime Commission questioned its legality, anyway.

Read the book to learn additional specifics on how Onassis became rich and famous, and stayed that way.

Billy Martin

The Book of the Week is “Billy Martin, Baseball’s Flawed Genius” by Bill Pennington, published in 2015. This biography documented not only Martin’s life, but how the culture of American baseball has changed through the decades.

Born in May 1928, Martin grew up in West Berkeley, California. His lower middle-class family consisted of a mother of Italian extraction, a stepfather of Irish extraction, and four siblings. He was passionate about playing baseball from the time he was a young child.

In his teen years, Martin was an amateur boxer at the local community center, and played on his high school basketball team. But he was mentored by minor-league and professional baseball players at his local baseball field, in James Kenney Park. He learned all the tricks, including the unethical ones.

At eighteen years old, the hot-tempered Martin was hired as a member of a minor league team in Idaho Falls, Idaho, thanks to mentor Casey Stengel– a baseball great– who spotted his doggedness and obvious talent. Most of the time, though, rather than play, he was assigned to loudly trash-talk the opposing teams in front of his team’s dugout. This was a valued activity in baseball in the 1940’s and 1950’s, practiced by teenagers all the way up to professionals.

Martin’s dream to play for the New York Yankees came true, starting in 1950. “There was free booze in every clubhouse in the country, and every stadium had a press room lounge where the drinks were complimentary… Players, coaches, reporters and managers” were no stranger to the clubby atmosphere.

Martin was a drinker with his buddies, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. However, Martin developed a reputation for getting into not only barroom brawls, but also fights with umpires– often kicking dirt on them– and getting thrown out of games. Through the years, he had trouble staying employed for more than three seasons at a time, as a player, scout, coach or manager on various teams. As a manager, his expertise lay in turning around losing teams.

In 1972, fans braved subfreezing cold weather overnight outside the stadium, standing in line to buy tickets to the final regular-season game of the Detroit Tigers, who of course made the playoffs, under Martin’s intense, win-at-all-costs management.

Martin taught his players how to steal opposing teams’ signals, and steal bases– even three at a time when the bases were loaded– plus how to bunt.

One edgy trick Martin got away with was executed by his Yankees in the last game of the 1976 World Series. The half-inning ended with a bad call, as a Yankees baseman “… caught the ball in stride [but too late] and then quickly ran off the field before the call was made.” In on the ruse, the team followed. The umpire wrongly called the safe runner out.

Later, the Bronx fans threw things onto the field, at the Kansas City Royals players. That was normal fan behavior into the 1970’s. Ejections by security were few and far between.

Furthermore, just as the last 1977 playoffs game was ending, fans who had run onto the field obstructed the last base runner from scoring until a group of ten police officers surrounded the runner to allow him to get to home plate. Exciting for its time: that player’s game-winning home run was videotaped in color from multiple camera angles.

Yet another bygone aspect of baseball included gratuitous violence. In the 1977 playoffs, “[George] Brett slid hard at third base… propelling him into [Graig] Nettles, whom he also shoved with a forearm to the chest. Nettles responded by kicking Brett in the ribs as he lay on the ground. Brett jumped up and threw a right hand punch that grazed the top of Nettles’ head and knocked off his cap… [unsurprisingly] the benches emptied…”

During the 1980 season, Martin taught his Oakland A’s pitchers how to get away with an illicit spitball. He told them to rub an excessive amount of soap on the inner thigh of their uniform. This would mix with their sweat. Rubbing the ball on it before pitching would give them an edge in striking out batters. At the time, a suspicious umpire would inspect body parts other than the thigh, so the pitcher wouldn’t get caught.

By the end of 1988, George Steinbrenner had owned the Yankees for fifteen years. During that period, he had changed managers fifteen times, five of which involved Billy Martin.

Read the book to learn of numerous episodes of Martin’s shenanigans on and off the field.

Dummy – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Dummy” by Ernest Tidyman, published in 1974.

This story describes the unusual situation of a murder suspect whose deafness and muteness raised questions about his ability to stand trial in mid-1960’s Chicago.

Donald Lang, the suspect, had been unable to communicate verbally since birth. He dropped out of school around kindergarten with no legal consequences. With his family’s help, he got along in life sufficiently well to get a job and live relatively happily. There were no witnesses to the murder of which the deaf Lang was accused. However, witnesses saw Lang and the victim prior to finding the victim’s dead body in a stairwell in a bad neighborhood in Chicago.

Fortunately, the attorney assigned to the indigent Lang had been deafened as a child, but read lips and knew sign language. He was the best lawyer in Illinois, that Lang could have gotten.

Read the book to learn how the letter of the law allowed Lang to be indefinitely detained– treated as though he was guilty– because he had no clue about what was happening in the courtroom, and about the arguments his attorney made in determining his fate.

Counselor

The Book of the Week is “Counselor, Life At the Edge of History” by Ted Sorensen, published in 2008. This was the autobiography of a political consultant best known for most closely advising JFK for eleven years.

Born in May 1928 in Lincoln, Nebraska, Sorensen considered himself a Danish Russian Jewish Unitarian. His father, appointed Attorney General beginning in 1929, was the oldest of ten surviving children. He helped pass a law that created one nonpartisan legislative body in the Nebraska statehouse. That way, there were no fights, delays or blaming.

Sorensen himself was one of five children. He grew up in an agricultural community with a harsh climate in Nebraska, not unlike that of George McGovern’s South Dakota. There were: droughts, floods, hailstorms, blizzards and grasshoppers.

In summer of 1951, after graduating from a special five-year university law program, Sorensen sought a job by personally walking into law firms to speak with the hirers. He began his career at the Federal Security Administration, which has come to be known as the Department of Health and Human Services. He became depressed when he started to wise up and witness more of the culture of Washington, D.C.: “… more hypocrites than heroes, more sinners than saints.”

At the suggestion of the joint committee staff director, Sorensen lied about his age– put down 25 instead of 24 on his resume because men of 25 were viewed as better job candidates, having more experience. In 1952, he became a speechwriter, advisor and personal assistant to then-Senator John F. Kennedy, his opposite. Sorensen was a plain ol’ country boy, rather than a Northeastern elitist. He didn’t run with JFK’s crowd.

Sorensen claimed that JFK himself actually did the writing of the book “Profiles in Courage” despite rumors that others did. He and others helped with the research. Sorensen mentioned various of the book’s rumored ghostwriters but failed to mention the most commonly named one– Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Upon becoming president, “John F. Kennedy’s speeches stood out because they revived idealism, eloquence, and progressivism, after a decade of Eisenhower’s bland, dry approach and Joe McCarthy’s evil tirades.”

Unfortunately, JFK was afraid of being criticized for being “soft on Communism”– a common fear in those days among politicians who wanted to get reelected. So JFK continued Eisenhower’s actions; by late 1963, he had sent sixteen thousand American military advisors to South Vietnam. In 1968, Sorensen became a campaign advisor to Robert F. Kennedy in his presidential bid; sadly, not for long. Then he practiced law.

Read the book to learn of Sorenson’s adventures with the famed senator and president; his views on what would have happened had JFK not been assassinated; his other endeavors; the toll taken on his health by years of severe sleep deprivation and nonstop (no downtime) international business travel; and much more.

Bitter Scent – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Bitter Scent, The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis and the Arab Boycott” by Michael Bar-Zohar, published in 1996.

The complicated history that led up to the situation which monster-sized international health-and-beauty-aids company L’Oreal faced in 1989 was most ironic. It dated back to the start of WWII, when two future executives of L’Oreal and Francois Mitterand (future president of France) became good friends, Nazi collaborators– pro-Vichy propagandists and sabotage-plotters, and then, when the tide of the war changed in 1943, allies of the Allies.

In March 1989, Jean Frydman (Israeli and French citizen, Jew, and former member of the WWII French Resistance,) was vice president of Paravision, his film distribution company. Unbeknownst to him, he resigned from the board of directors of Paravision in a fait-accompli by L’Oreal executives. He was ousted in absentia because he had business dealings in Israel.

Various business entities had significant financial interests in others, among them, Paravision, L’Oreal (based in a Paris suburb) and its international subsidiaries, Columbia Pictures, Nestle and Coca-Cola. L’Oreal executives felt the need to comply with a troublesome policy called the “Arab boycott” — considered ethically repugnant by non-Arab industrialized nations. L’Oreal executives were willing to go through a tremendous amount of trouble (most of which they didn’t anticipate) to comply with the boycott to enhance their business interests, but also arguably, because they were anti-Semitic.

The boycott imposed by the Arab League began in 1948 to financially strangle Israel by banning companies that did business with Israel, from doing business with any Arab countries. L’Oreal needed to get Frydman out of the way so it could say it did no business with Israel. But besides, there was a big-name cosmetics company called Helena Rubinstein located in Israel, with which L’Oreal was affiliated. The Arabs were pressuring L’Oreal to dispose of that asset as well, before it allowed lucrative trade with their side.

When Frydman was gobsmacked by his fellow executives and learned that top people at L’Oreal (including its founder) had been Nazi collaborators, hilarity did not ensue. Instead, an orgy of litigation, fishing expeditions, political machinations, palace intrigue, and of course, a propaganda war did.

Read the book to learn the details of this suspenseful, sordid story.

Menachem Begin

The Book of the Week is “Menachem Begin, The Battle for Israel’s Soul” by Daniel Gordis, published in 2014. This career biography described how Begin advanced from Zionist pioneer to Israeli prime minister. It was redundant in spots- as though the author thought the reader might have memory loss or distractions while reading, or perhaps it was just sloppy editing.

Anyway, Begin was born in 1913 in Brest-Litovsk– then a region in Poland. In the 1920’s, he joined a youth group called Betar, a Zionist group led by Vladimir Jabotinsky. While there, Begin developed his speaking and writing skills. In 1939, Jabotinsky appointed him Commander of the group’s seventy thousand members in Poland.

For his anti-Communist political activities, in 1940, Begin was arrested by the Soviet secret service and sentenced to eight years of hard labor. He had just gotten married, too. There, but for the grace of WWII, by September 1941, Begin was out of prison and starting the next chapter of his life. He joined the Free Polish Army (a military group from Poland, not no-cost cleaning fluid).

Just before Begin turned thirty, he was already making his way to Palestine. In the first half of the twentieth century, scholarliness on Jewish statehood was all the rage. Three major documents outlined three different possibilities for what to do with Palestine in the future. They were:  the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1937 Peel Commission’s paper, and the 1939 MacDonald White Paper. Zionists were conflicted. The British were their enemy in Palestine but would be their ally fighting against the Nazis.

Begin decided the British were foes because they opposed allowing Jewish refugees– which included his own parents– to flee to Palestine, or settle there after WWII. Toward the end of the war, he led an armed rebel group (the Etzel, aka Irgun) who rivaled David Ben Gurion’s (the Haganah). The latter thought that the Jews would be unable to achieve statehood without help from the British.

Begin planned a bomb attack on a British-intelligence-documents storage area (namely, the King David Hotel) in Jerusalem in July 1946. The two other major underground resistance groups called off the operation. Due to a cluster screw-up, the explosion occurred, anyway. Civilians of various ethnic groups died, including tens of Englishmen, Arabs and Jews; 92 civilians in all.

Ben-Gurion caused a days-long international incident, when he ordered his henchmen to intercept a Palestine-bound, refugee-and-arms smuggling ship that had sailed from France. Begin knew about the ship but there was miscommunication over where the ship was, when. Ben-Gurion launched a vicious propaganda attack on Begin for atrocities his own men committed while trying to comply with the law against Palestine’s accepting arms and refugees. Jews killed Jews (!) Begin told his men not to be vengeful– to cede to Haganah’s demands.

Ben-Gurion used draconian means to consolidate the several military outfits into one Israeli military, and successfully slurred Begin’s name in the process. This hampered Begin’s ability to raise funds for his new political party, Herut (Freedom).

Read the book to learn of major issues on which Begin and Ben-Gurion disagreed; how Begin’s political career progressed; his views on Israel’s people and lands; his aggressive action with regard to Lebanon, and Iraq’s nuclear program; and the consequences of his always dogmatically “playing the Jewish card” to keep Israel in existence.