The Ordinary Spaceman

The Book of the Week is “The Ordinary Spaceman” by Clayton C. Anderson, published in 2015. This book describes everything you ever wanted to know– including all the disgusting details– about riding and living in a spacecraft via NASA employment.

There were 338 men and women who left earth’s atmosphere between 1959, when NASA first began hiring astronauts, and 2013, when the probability of being hired was .6%. NASA has a laborious, rigorous annual recruitment process. The author was hired on his fifteenth try. Prior to that, he had worked for NASA as an engineer.

Once someone beats the odds and wins approval to go on a mission, they require months or years of training in extreme conditions, such as handling diverse, high-pressure physical and mental tasks underwater, atop a blizzardy mountain, in the desert, and in a device that imposes centrifugal force. Working in a tightly confined vehicle calls for a specific set of social and physical skills and talents. Read the book to learn the degrees to which the author possessed different ones, and how he fared in space.

This Just In

The Book of the Week is “This Just In, What I Couldn’t Tell You On TV” by Bob Schieffer, published in 2003.

The author started his journalism career at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at the dawn of the 1960’s. Later, he covered the overnight shift police beat. In those days, there was no security in the detectives’ office. He and people off the street could roam the station at will. Before Miranda Rights, reporters frequently recorded the confessions of suspects because they could type and the cops couldn’t.

Schieffer got his wish to go to Vietnam to cover the war in 1964, before it became controversial. During more than four months, he rooted out and interviewed all of the soldiers from Texas, hitching rides on military helicopters. President Lyndon Johnson was also from Texas, so the author trusted him when he initiated fighting in order to nip Communism in the bud and keep neighboring states from it, too.

The author later changed his mind when he saw how extremely inefficient it was to have tens of U.S. troops searching for one or two Viet Cong guerrillas per day in rural areas. He also saw how the teenage South Vietnamese would-be ragtag soldiers recruited by the Americans, refused to help the U.S fight. Stateside, he was sent to cover countless anti-war protests. At that time, protestors were expressing their feelings about a super-controversial situation in their country that was a matter of life-and-death.

In 1966, the author started to anchor TV news in Forth Worth. At the time, the screening of primitive newsreels was the norm. Next came CBS radio news in Washington, D.C. in 1969. Washington’s real beats consisted of the White House, State Department, Pentagon and Capitol Hill. Schieffer’s station chief expected his news gatherers to be on call 24/7, so CBS became the network that covered the government best.

However, President Richard Nixon held sway over the FCC. Negative news about the president was censored, because the agency had the power to revoke the licenses of TV stations.

In 1971, Nixon’s childish aides had nothing better to do than generate a blizzard of memos pouncing on every little negative thing that the press reported on the president, or memos on issues they failed to cover. Ironically, there was no security at the Pentagon– most of the building was open to the public. Anyway, the aides also did phony letter-writing to the networks with exaggerated complaints about slanted coverage, and had praise for the Nixon administration.

In 1972, during George McGovern’s presidential campaign, it was found that “Man-on-the street interviews are notoriously inaccurate gauges of public sentiment…” Broadcasting news on the traveling candidate was quite cumbersome. In those days, two reporters were at every campaign stop– one to get the story and the other to go get the film developed. Another fun factoid– the campaign plane served whiskey and food to the news crews, paid for by the networks.

THE AUTHOR HAD PEOPLE TELL HIM THEY THOUGHT A GOOD BUSINESSMAN COULD “… STRAIGHTEN OUT THE GOVERNMENT IN NO TIME…” The author disagreed. Sure, the positions of CEO and president both require leadership skills. However, a business and a government have different goals. THE GOAL OF GOVERNMENT OUGHT TO BE PUBLIC SERVICE, NOT MONEY-MAKING AND THE ACQUISITION OF POWER. All too often, elected officials forget what they were supposed to have been taught in high school civics class. They go astray. And a leopard doesn’t usually change its spots. Businessmen are usually once and always.

That’s why business leaders are less than ideal candidates for government. Besides, the 535 members of Congress make up a very diverse group of individuals who bear listening to, unlike a small board of directors- who are less likely to disagree.

Even when journalists are not under duress to slant their reporting, they have confirmation bias– hearing and seeing what they want to– which is “… the easiest and most destructive habit that a reporter can fall into and has probably caused more stories to be missed than any other single thing.”

Read the book to learn other pearls of wisdom from Schieffer. His decades-long career included experiences in the newspaper, radio and TV trenches covering crime, war and politics– which in some cases, were and still are, one and the same. 🙂

Report From Engine Co. 82

The Book of the Week is “Report From Engine Co. 82” by Dennis Smith, published in 1972. This is the personal account of a firefighter in the South Bronx at the busiest firehouse in New York City in the 1960’s.

The author elected to work in that high-crime neighborhood because he experienced fulfillment from saving lives, and minimizing injuries to the downtrodden and damage to their homes.

During the author’s several-years’ tenure there, he witnessed many traumatic scenes including the death of a coworker– who fell off the truck as it was rushing to what turned out to be a false alarm. At that time, there were call-boxes on the street where anyone could report an emergency.

More than half of the calls were false alarms and there were emergencies both medical and crime-inspired that would be significantly less frequent, such as drug overdoses and injuries from fights– had Smith worked in a nicer place. Four or five calls every shift were cars set afire; those having been previously stolen for a joyride, then stripped of parts and tires.

Sometimes the firefighters had rocks or bricks thrown at them while they were trying to do their jobs, or heard racist chants from area residents. To add injury to injury (and there were many kinds a firefighter could get) cinders could fly into a firefighter’s glove, causing third degree burns. The author related a few of the unpleasant conditions he experienced when he entered burning buildings, including throat irritation from inhalation of poisonous smoke and a serious burn on the back of his neck.

In the three months he was keeping track, Smith never had a meal uninterrupted by a fire alarm. During firefighting on a freezing cold night, workers had to lift 71-lb hose sections over the exhaust pipe of the fire engine to warm the connections.

Read the book to learn more about what happened to firefighters of the author’s generation, and what he had to go through to start his career, which unsurprisingly, was the most dangerous job in the United States at the book’s writing.

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.

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.

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.

High

The Book of the Week is “High” by Brian O’Dea, published in 2006. This book describes the adventures of an international drug-smuggling participant and addict between the 1970’s and the very early 1990’s.

O’Dea was the son of a brewery owner in Newfoundland, Canada. In the mid-1970’s, he and his smuggling partners secreted cocaine “… in false-bottomed suitcases at the factory in Bogota (Colombia) and muled to Kingston (Jamaica) via Lufthansa…” and unloaded the drug at Montego Bay. Other partners “… would be getting strapped up with the product on their thighs and stomachs and backs. Each person would carry between two and four kilos, worth between $100,000 and $200,000.”

Read the book to learn of the author’s Jamaica trials and tribulations with airplane mishaps, romantic subplots, prison and addiction experiences, his role in an elaborate three-continent marijuana distribution concern, and what finally became of him.

Red Notice

The Book of the Week is “Red Notice, A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Fight For Justice” by Bill Browder, published in 2015. This suspenseful, emotional saga should be made into a motion picture, as it is not only entertaining and engaging, but is a comprehensive picture of the extremes of human nature.

Rebelling against his left wing intellectual family, Browder became a capitalist. During his career, he worked under two big bosses who died under mysterious, suspicious circumstances– Bob Maxwell and Edmond Safra. As a young whippersnapper, he longed to do investment consulting in Eastern Europe, but had to settle for London. Browder got in on the ground floor when the Russian securities industry was in its infancy in the early 1990’s.

In early 2000, the power of Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin, was actually held by “… oligarchs, regional governors, and organized-crime groups.” Browder started a hedge fund called Hermitage. What with complex economic and political goings-on, his hedge fund became the victim of the Russian mentality. In 2006, Hermitage had to “… sell billions of dollars worth of Russian securities without anyone knowing.” That was just one of many traumatic episodes in Browder’s career.

The author had the brains and skills to become not only a successful financial consultant and investor, but a muckraker; however, this made him a “Darwin Award” candidate. He became involved in a true thriller with intrigue, greed, power hunger, human rights abuses and karma. Russia struck at his attorney, Sergei Magnitsky. Numerous Russians in positions of authority– in the government, prisons, the police– all lied to the world about what happened to Magnitsky. Under Putin’s rule, Russia had reverted to the Stalinism of the 1920’s, with thousands of dissidents tortured and killed.

The few people whose eyes were open, who were raising the alarm– were risking their own lives. The rest of the world didn’t want to get involved because they were of the mentality that the violence was confined to Russia, and it wouldn’t spread to them. And they might end up like those dissidents if they rocked the boat. Besides, in the 2000’s, people have become desensitized to human rights abuses due to the widespread, propagandized publicizing of them (like video clips arousing viewers’ morbid curiosity, of the alleged beheadings of journalists by Middle Easterners on YouTube).

(Please excuse the legalese in this paragraph- but it is the briefest way of explanation) Some people would say that Browder had “unclean hands” and there was “contributory negliglence” on his part, so his story should not have deserved the special attention it got. Admittedly, he was out for revenge, not because he truly wanted to stem uncivil behavior in the world. He made his living in an industry full of greedy people whose scruples are less than stellar– securities. He made a ton of money by engaging in “self-dealing” and insider trading, which would be considered violations of American securities laws. He was from America, the country that gave rise to the corrupt economic system in Russia in the first place. It might be recalled that Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs gave bad advice to Boris Yeltsin (to put it generously), convincing him to adopt “shock capitalism” — a ruinous financial plan. Lastly, Browder had “constructive knowledge” that doing business in Russia was especially risky (not just financially), compared to other countries. Arguably, he was trying to apply American morals and laws to get justice in a situation in which he had profited from Russian morals and lawlessness. Some people would say, “Pox on everyone’s house.”

Browder wrote, “There was something almost biblical about Sergei’s story, and even though I am not a religious man, as I sat there watching history unfold, I couldn’t help but feel that God had intervened in this case.” This blogger thinks that, but for Browder’s powerful professional and political contacts who intervened in this case, it would be just another infuriating, depressing, suppressed, and eventually forgotten human rights abuse story.

Read the book to learn the details of the story, including the actions taken against the morally bankrupt, brazen Russian criminals, and learn whether justice was done.