North By Northwest / My Old Man and the Sea

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The first Book of the Week is “North By Northwest, A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaska Waters” by Captain Sig Hansen and Mark Sundeen, published in 2010.

Born in the Seattle area in 1966, Hansen was of Norwegian ancestry. He was mentored in fishing for a living by his grandfather, father, and the Norwegian fishing community. His older male relatives had been sourcing seafood for decades. The community had been growing in the upper Midwest in the United States since the early 1800’s. It was a lucrative, male-dominated career– a subculture bearing a resemblance to military life in certain ways:

  • Teamwork was required of five or six men who lived in close quarters, doing rigorous physical work under life-threatening conditions at all times at sea;
  • There were numerous ways to: become seriously injured, and / or suffer serious financial losses rather than reap huge financial gains from selling expensive seafood;
  • The crew consisted of a hierarchy whose entry involved initiation rites in the form of practical jokes that were not always harmless; and
  • Even during the off-season, the men’s drinking fostered male bonding that allowed them to mitigate the emotional stress of their work, and maintain their relationships in the old-boy network.

After high school, Hansen apprenticed as a deckhand on his father’s boat. The men were away at sea from nine to eleven months of the year, using “pots” (large, unwieldy cages that trap the seafood) to catch: red crab in the Bering Sea and near Nome in Alaska and near Adak, blue crab at St. Matthew, and opilio crab at Dutch Harbor.

In the 1980’s, the fishermen were allowed to carry boxes of live crabs in the plane cabin on Reeve Aleutian Airways. When starting their winter fishing season, if they were extremely lucky, they could complete their flight from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor in Alaska on an icy twin-prop plane. They booked it months in advance, arrived at the airport in the wee hours of the morning, and prayed that the weather would cooperate.

Read the book to learn a little history about seafaring in general, including the context of the following quote:

“That winter he was killed by Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay, his body torn apart and burned.”

and much more about Hansen’s life and times in his community. By the way, he appeared on the reality TV show, “Deadliest Catch.”

The second Book of the Week is “My Old Man and the Sea, A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn” by David Hays and Daniel Hays, published in 1995. Father and son alternately described, beginning in the new year of 1985, their adventures at sea– sailing (with no motor) on a tiny yacht for fun from New London, Connecticut southward thousands of miles, and eventually, around the tip of South America from west to east (the less dangerous route). They began testing their boat in fall 1984, sailing through the Panama Canal, and the Caribbean Sea.

As they well knew, all kinds of discomforts and life-threatening dangers awaited them. That was the challenge of it. Even with all of their experience in purchasing the boat, making it seaworthy (over the course of two years), maintaining their (then-primitive) communications and navigation equipment (which required them to pack thousands of items for every possible scenario they might encounter), they still suffered injuries, seasickness, hangovers, etc. When sailing along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, the chart warned them to watch out for “… unexploded mines, rocket casings and torpedoes, and chemical warfare dumpings.”

On their voyages, they met with visiting family or friends to celebrate Jewish holidays such as Yom Kippur. They attended a service at a synagogue on the island of Jamaica. The ark and dais were at opposite ends of the sanctuary, on a floor comprised of sand (representative of a desert).

Much later, when they arrived at a port in the Galapagos Islands, local law allowed them to pollute the water there for only three days; then they had to ship out. The authors described the area thusly: “In the name of white rice and virginity, Western man spent a good two hundred years raping, robbing, and leaving neat diseases here.” It was rumored to be a gateway to Atlantis, and the approximate population was three thousand.

The onshore entertainment consisted of the American movie “Blade Runner” whose soundtrack was poor quality, and whose reels were screened out of order, but the native people in the theater were undemanding.

The authors related that it is easily conceivable that about a hundred men could have made the sculptures on Easter Island over the course of a few decades, thus blowing speculations of alien-artists out of the water.

Read the book to: learn additional info about the authors’ adventures at sea (including their crazy pets), about previous trips made by them and others, see sample pages of their log, a diagram of their boat, and much more.

The Daughters of Kobani

The Book of the Week is “The Daughters of Kobani, The Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice” by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, published in 2021.

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“She didn’t have time to offer hourly updates to her family, who were tracking every moment of the battle for Kobani on Facebook and WhatsApp.”

No, the above referred NOT to an American political campaign, but a real-life war.

Violence in northern Syria resumed between Kurds (an oppressed minority in Iraq and Syria) and non-Kurds in March 2004 after tensions boiled over at a soccer game. At the same time, there was hostility over water-rights of the Euphrates river between Syria (a non-NATO member) and Turkey (a NATO member).

Turkey harbored anger and resentment toward Syria’s leader, and wanted him out. The Soviets backed Syria’s leader, as did the U.S. initially. In the 1990’s, a Marxist-Leninist activist named Abdullah Ocalan formed a violent (some might say terrorist) pro-Kurdish, pro-gender-equality group called PKK, that agitated for self-rule for the Kurds in Syria.

The decades-long cliche is: the latest terror group (ISIS) obtained modern war weaponry from Iraqi forces, who had received the equipment from America. As is well known, the region has been a foreign-policy conundrum for the governments of industrialized countries (with their strategic interests), for forever. The U.S. thought it needed to fight ISIS, but didn’t want to send in ground troops (and invite yet another “Vietnam” in the Middle East). But it did want to protect its physical diplomatic and military presence in northern Iraq– Kurdish territory, near the Syrian border. So it sent some in, anyway.

The author described a handful of females who volunteered to join one of PKK’s spinoff militias (YPK and YPG). From the city of Kobani in Syria, the females were resistant to their arranged marriages and limited educations decided on by their families’ patriarchs. Two of the females commanding troops engaged in guerrilla warfare that resembled “capture the flag” or paintball, but with real war weapons, real deaths and really widespread destruction of civilians’ communities.

During the early 2010’s, the U.S. decided to let the Kurdish militias on the ground do the most dangerous fighting. The YPG had communications devices of radios, cell phones and walkie-talkies, and U.S.-supplied guns. ISIS had rifles, rocket launchers, artillery, car bombs, snipers, IEDs, land mines and suicide bombers. In summer 2014, the U.S. launched tens of airstrikes on ISIS in and around Kobani.

Read the book to learn: the fate of the fight’s many stakeholders that included countries, groups and individuals, how ruling authorities furthered gender-equality for Tunisians and Syrian Kurds in 2014 and 2016 respectively, and much more about the tentative progress made by various parties.

I Am A Girl From Africa

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The Book of the Week is “I Am A Girl From Africa, a memoir (sic)” by Elizabeth Nyamayaro, published in 2021.

Born in 1975, Nyamayaro grew up in Zimbabwe. Her family belonged to the Shona tribe. She spent her early years residing in a hut in a rural village, where she was treated like an only child, unwittingly through dysfunctional-family circumstances. Her grandmother taught her to do all sorts of chores: fetching water, hunting birds with a slingshot, fishing with a sharp stick, shelling maize, tending to the goats and chickens, weeding the fields, and cooking vegetables in a clay pot over a fire that she ignited.

Life-threatening conditions abounded from diseases, poor nutrition, hostile animals such as hyenas, and droughts such as those that occurred in 1983 and 1985. The author’s gratitude for the life-saving rehydration by a member of UNICEF, led her to develop a burning desire as an adult to “give back” through working for the United Nations.

In the early 1980’s, initially, Nyamayaro’s grandmother rejoiced at the news from her battery-operated radio, that the country had a new leader, the dark-skinned Robert Mugabe. The end of British colonialism ought to have meant an end to the needless killing of wildlife, theft of precious stones, and oppression of Africans. However, a new leader is just one individual who might or might not change things for the better in the long run, given his personality and the vicissitudes of his time and place in history.

The author– who appears to have bragging-rights, given the hardships she faced– made progress on various Third-World, quality-of-life causes during her career. Mitigation of the global oppression of females was one such cause. The author was pleased to report that in 2013, the nation of Rwanda, in the previous decade, had made great strides in electing women to its parliament. But there is still so much work to be done in Mongolia, India, Zimbabwe, and the United States, etc. because propagandized gender-stereotypes are still discouraging women from running for office.

The author recounted that one day in 1975 in Iceland, all the women went on strike. The country then realized how vital females were to life. Even so, it took until 2018 (!) to legislate there on the issue of gender equality in the private sector, of equal pay for equal work. Additionally, on so many other fronts, gender equality is lacking even in the nations that consider themselves the most advanced on earth!

Read the book to learn many more details on the struggles Nyamayaro faced in her life and times.

One for the Earth

The Book of the Week is “One for the Earth, Journal of A Sierra Club President” by Susan D. Merrow with Wanda A. Rickerby, published in 1992.

The Sierra Club, founded in May 1892, began with about one hundred members. Its original goal was to prevent the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California from becoming further polluted. Sadly, through the decades, the need for such an organization has grown exponentially. The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, a group that began using the Club’s name, actually helped raise more funds than otherwise for the Club, but took public stances with which the original group disagreed.

Beginning in May 1990, Merrow was appointed president of the Club for a year’s term. She had acquired previous experience teaching adult education classes and lobbying the Connecticut state government on environmental matters. Her new job– for which she received no salary, only reimbursement of expenses– required constant travel. Volunteers did the bulk of the Club’s work. Her and her employer’s major frustration with the then-federal government was that it was regressive in connection with all kinds of energy issues.

The Club’s lobbyists were awfully busy contacting politicians about: incinerators, recycling, composting and source reduction, increasing gas mileage and decreasing emissions in newer cars, advocating for stopping oil drilling in the Arctic, reducing pollution on land and in the sea and in the air, and arguing for stricter waste-disposal laws, etc., etc., etc.

It might be recalled that a year prior, the Exxon Valdez oil spill left about 380,000 birds dead, and resulted in severe health issues for many animals and plants, including hundreds of species of mollusks, fish and coral-reef animals, dolphins and whales. The then-legal case that might compensate injured parties (Alaska and the United States) for the disaster was still pending. However, in April 1990, Exxon suggested that it pay $100 million to settle the civil and criminal charges against it. Tens of studies done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed grievous (and probably irreparable) harm that (if a dollar value had to be put on it) was estimated at $1.1 billion.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, astute people knew that the Clean Air Act that was then working its way through the Congressional-passage process would become diluted by profiteers aided by propagandists. In autumn 1990, the Bryan Bill– mandating the manufacturing of more fuel-efficient cars– was stalled too, by lobbyists in the oil and auto industries, and by other presidential supporters.

The First Gulf War wreaked environmental destruction (now forgotten by Americans) consisting of “… soot from 600 burning oil wells… cloud over farmland and villages in Turkey and Iran… rain filled with toxic chemicals, polluted both the air and water. Severe respiratory illness, cancer, and ruined crops…”

On a diplomatic mission, the author visited staffers at three different magazines: Good Housekeeping, Sports Illustrated, and Seventeen. She hoped to get articles published for targeted readers of their respective, widely different demographic groups in whose interest it was to save the earth.

One concept the author conveyed was that protecting the habitat of one species, aids in the survival of all of the other species in that habitat. So ensuring a safe environment for the bobolink helps: “…lichens, apple trees, ladybugs, sumac, earthworms, chipmunks, monarch butterflies, white birches, wild blueberry bushes, goldenrod, red foxes– even humans.” The flip side is that one negative consequence leads to another when the food chain is disrupted (See this blog’s post, Rat Island).

Read the book to learn what happened to the Johnston-Wallop bill, and much more about the author’s trials, tribulations and triumphs.