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.

Every Town is a Sports Town

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“Its demise was caused by low attendance, conflicting agendas among the owners, and a number of very poor business decisions.”

MLB? Possibly, but definitely the USFL by 1985.

Regardless, the Book of the Week is “Every Town is a Sports Town; Business Leadership at ESPN, from the Mailroom to the Boardroom” by George Bodenheimer with Donald T. Phillips, published in 2015.

In September 1979, the Bristol, Connecticut-based cable-TV channel ESPN began televising sports-related shows, by means of deals with: RCA (regarding a space-satellite), the NCAA (regarding covering basketball games), and Anheuser-Busch (regarding sponsoring the programs). The initial concept of the then-shoestring operation was to dispense information on sports 24/7, to serve fans. ESPN won contracts to show March Madness games and the NFL draft to start.

The workplace was team-oriented with a family-feel, so everyone was a jack-of-all-trades. In 1981, the author, a recent college graduate, worked as a mailroom guy and chauffeur of sorts, for executives of ESPN. He was later promoted to videotape librarian. He was willing to relocate when the company opened new branch offices, including Denver.

Anyway, ESPN could not survive financially on ad revenue alone, as the company was paying cable operators to carry its channel. It saw a loss of $25 million annually until it negotiated in 1982 to have cable operators pay the company a certain number of cents for each household receiving its channel, and that figure could rise up to a certain maximum percentage during the term of a multi-year contract.

Due to the ultimate takeover by Capital Cities Communications, and a favorable change in media law– ESPN grew by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, it added professional tennis, golf, NASCAR, World Cup soccer, the America’s Cup yacht race, and Sunday Night Football (for which ESPN had to pay the NFL) to its lineup in the mid-1980’s.

Globalization, recording devices, the Internet and mobile devices have made the negotiations over intellectual-property rights and sports programming between and among ESPN and other stakeholders, infinitely more complicated. In 1985, ESPN could be watched in about 30 million viewer-households in America; in 1999– in about 80 million in America and about 100 million elsewhere worldwide.

Read the book to learn: of how the author achieved a high position at ESPN, and how he boosted the morale, energy and innovative thinking of his fellow employees; what the company did when it saw its ratings plummet; what his executive team did to resolve the controversy that arose when ESPN made a movie in which the “F” word was uttered approximately thirty times; about the author’s business philosophy; and much more about the history of ESPN.

ENDNOTE: The author’s photo appears on the book’s cover with his head very slightly tilted. This flex is pleasing to the human brain, projecting the impression that he is a people-person. His boyish good looks probably served him well, too. [Total lack of head-flex, projects an unfriendly vibe.]

Vincent Price

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The Book of the Week is “Vincent Price, His Movies, His Plays, His Life” by Vincent Price, published in 1978.

Born in May 1911 in Saint Louis, Price was the youngest of four children. He broke into the movies in the 1930’s, when Hollywood made three to four hundred movies annually. In 1956, he appeared, along with Charlton Heston in the most expensive movie ever made at that time: The Ten Commandments. Filming it took eight years; some of it on-location in Egypt, where the Red Sea was parted with then-state-of-the art special effects.

The author claimed that there was fierce competition for roles in the horror genre of the 1950’s, but he had acted in more than a hundred films by 1971. He worked with Boris Karloff, who was able to portray a sympathetic, human-like, but at the same time, scary character. When Karloff played Frankenstein’s monster– who committed evil acts– he wore an excessive quantity of makeup, and screws in his neck, but with a lisp in his speech. There must be villains as well as heroes in entertainment stories, in order to drive the plot.

In many films, Price had to put up with absurdity: “So here we both were, co-starring with a talking fly, and trying to speak our lines while staring at a spider’s web” in The Fly in 1958. By the 1960’s, he was guest-starring on TV as the villain “Egghead” in Batman; in the Brady Bunch, Muppet Show and Hollywood Squares.

In 1961, Price, for no pay, served on the White House Fine Arts Committee to help redecorate the U.S. president’s residence. Beginning in September 1962, upon amassing a valuable art collection, he also became an art consultant to Sears Roebuck & Co. Its stores sold works of truly famous artists (Rembrandt, Goya, Van Gogh, Whistler, and Andrew Wyeth) for the payment plan of $5 down and $10 a month thereafter. Price wrote cookbooks, too.

Read the book to learn additional information about Price’s life and times.

Almost Golden – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Almost Golden, Jessica Savitch and the Selling of Television News” by Gwenda Blair, published in 1988.

Born in February 1947 in a Philadelphia suburb, Savitch began her broadcasting career in her teenage years. Her high school boyfriend helped get her a job at a small radio station in the Atlantic City area.

Savitch attended upstate New York’s Ithaca college, which had an extensive communications department that taught students how to be producers and cinematographers, as even news-broadcasting was becoming a show-business process. Television was the visual medium at the height of its popularity, that cranked out image-making content– with quantity over quality.

The mentality of the male administrators and students who were affiliated with the school radio station, was that females should not go on the air. Savitch aggressively lobbied against the males’ sexism, but she was still given low-level, off-hours assignments, as competition was fierce.

As a student, Savitch did all sorts of broadcasting and modeling gigs, as she was good-looking and videogenic. By autumn 1968, she had become an anchorwoman at a local (rather than network) TV station in Houston.

Starting in 1971, female employees began to agitate against gender discrimination at NBC. The network tried to appease them by giving them fancier titles but gave them neither higher-level work nor raised their salaries to those of males in equivalent positions. Finally, in 1977, female plaintiffs won a lawsuit that compensated them monetarily, but could never make them whole psychologically.

Meanwhile in 1973, Savitch was covering the human interest element in TV-news stories about females, such as natural childbirth and rape. At the time, those were touchy subjects for television, so they had yet to make the talk-show circuits.

Part of the reason Savitch’s career stalled in the early 1980’s, was that she was acting like a prima donna, insisting that her employer provide her with an entourage: a hairdresser, makeup artist, wardrobe and security guard. Another was that her beauty and great composure on-screen went only so far. She lacked strong intellectual story-gathering and writing skills.

The author inexplicably quoted individuals she interviewed as saying that Savitch’s years-long cocaine use couldn’t (!?) be detected in her appearance or behavior up until a specific incident that occurred in autumn of 1983.

Perhaps the author didn’t want to denigrate members of the entertainment industry by writing that even into the 1980’s, alcohol and drug use was rampant. It was still the elephant in the room until various people and entities (Betty Ford, MADD and talk shows, among others) forced cultural changes for the better, in American society.

Anyway, read the book to learn of many other aspects of Savitch’s lifestyle and personality that led to her fate.

Close Encounters

“… the network executives he would be contacting were apt to regard him as a headline-seeking troublemaker who could not be trusted to behave with dignity and discretion.”

The above was written about Mike Wallace in the early 1960’s.

The Book of the Week is “Close Encounters, Mike Wallace’s Own Story” by Mike Wallace & Gary Paul Gates, published in 1984.

Born in 1918, Wallace grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. As have countless others on the idiot box before and since, he made a career of sitting in judgment of others, so of course, it was impossible for him not to be a hypocrite. Like the folks whom he caught behaving dishonestly, he and his employer-broadcasters had their share of legal kerfuffles.

In spring 1957, Wallace hosted a hard-hitting live TV-interview show called “The Mike Wallace Interview” on ABC. Organized-crime figure Mickey Cohen– a guest on the show– slandered the then-chief of police of Los Angeles, saying he was corrupt. The chief sued ABC. As a result, during the show’s airing, the court required that an attorney hold up cue cards indicating when Wallace’s questions were becoming too controversial. Wallace commented, “Like a baby with its bib and a dog with its leash, I was judged to be in need of a legal teleprompter.”

At the end of 1957, as a result of one of Wallace’s countless minor TV-journalism scandals– involving the Kennedy family– the funding source of his show changed to the Ford Foundation. The show got a new name, “Survival and Freedom” and a more educational format. Unsurprisingly, it became boring.

In the autumn of 1962, Wallace decided to give up lucrative jobs: a) hosting entertainment-oriented radio and TV broadcasts that reported on trivial slice-of-life minutiae, b) hosting game shows, and c) acting in cigarette ads; in order to narrowly focus on serious TV journalism.

Wallace spent two months in Vietnam in spring 1967. He and a colleague ended up broadcasting a “60 Minutes” story in 1972 that was radically different from the one everyone else was narrating. Wallace said, “I responded by telling him [the colleague] what I thought of ‘knee-jerk, bleeding heart liberals’ who allow themselves to be taken in by a trendy media blitz.” With an open mind, they followed where the evidence led in connection with over-decorated Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Herbert.

Another aspect of serious TV journalism that Wallace claimed to espouse, in addition to doing the hard work of collecting evidence through best-efforts / due diligence research, was primary sources: “… an eyewitness account– ‘I was there, and here’s what happened’– is more reliable than a version that has gone through two hundred years of rewrites.”

Wallace’s method of doing said research involved a “Candid Camera” type set-up, a prelude to the hidden-camera reality shows of the early 2000’s. But– his major goal was to catch people committing crimes, rather than evoke laughter at their naivety.

The situation had to be a “national disgrace” to air on “60 Minutes.” One segment in early 1976 showed how easy it was for residents of the state of Maryland, to obtain false identity documents in order to commit financial crimes.

Other stories broadcast up until the book’s writing involved Medicaid kickbacks, corruption in health-, building-, and fire-department inspections, tax evasion in cash-oriented businesses, a shady California health resort, a California diploma mill, and an anti-poverty program in Los Angeles. Also, an entrepreneur offered classes to teach business executives how to answer questions asked by the likes of Mike Wallace.

Read the book to learn plenty of additional details on all of the above.

Just the Funny Parts – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Just the Funny Parts… And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club” by Nell Scovell, published in 2018.

Born in Boston, MA in November 1960, Scovell was the third of five siblings. She became a comedy writer, producer and director in Hollywood.

Scovell wrote of the many issues female writers face in the writers’ room, and in higher-level positions, if they achieve the great feat of actually getting hired in the entertainment industry. For, gender discrimination still persists. Females are still conditioned by society to feel as though the employers are doing them a favor for giving them a job, rather than feeling they deserve it on the merits.

Scovell– by writing an article that prompted truly important discussions on daytime talk shows– made Americans more aware of the fact that for decades, the late-night talk shows had been hiring practically all male writers. She herself had written for Late Show with David Letterman and felt “awkward, confused and demorazlied” due to the male-dominated work environment. She quit of her own accord after a short time.

Scovell said, “But in the real world, awareness more often leads to defensiveness which leads to excuses… you must also be aware that your knee-jerk defensiveness is part of the problem.” Simply saying, “Some of my best friends are female” doesn’t get them equal treatment in the workplace. Which should spark a discussion of gender-related issues of the impeachment brouhaha presently plaguing the U.S. government and the U.S. propaganda community. Which sometimes are the same thing.

First of all, Nancy Pelosi, a female, is the point person for the House of Representatives in connection with the impeachment vote. The way she is portrayed in the media and social media is crucially important to how the public views the whole story, and public opinion can have a tremendous influence on Congress’ activities.

A male Speaker would set a completely different tone– not necessarily intentionally, but simply due to subconscious conditioning by American society. Psychological research has shown that both females and males perceive females in a negative light, but perceive males in a positive light– when asked to comment on a hypothetical someone in a leadership position, having been told the leader’s gender.

As is well known, in 1998, former president Bill Clinton had an impeachment proceeding launched against him for lying under oath about his salacious activities in the Oval Office. That was a male-on-male attack borne of political vengeance. If females had been in the mix (in a major way, leadership-wise), there would have been a different dynamic.

Interestingly, Trump has nicknamed Pelosi, “Nervous Nancy” for a reason. He is trying to razz her to put her at a psychological disadvantage. One of Scovell’s male coworkers said something like that to Scovell when she worked for Letterman, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On another topic, perhaps there is an algorithm for the bad behavior of U.S. presidents. Clinton copied his hero, JFK, who was rumored to have had similar liaisons about thirty-seven years earlier. Trump copied his hero, Ronald Reagan, who was engaged in non-standard foreign policy activities, about thirty-seven years ago.

There must have been some Congress members in Clinton’s administration who fondly remembered JFK. There must be some Congress members in Trump’s administration who fondly remember Reagan. However, the two presidents’ legal situations are a generation apart– have different political, cultural and social backdrops, and have very different sets of facts.

Comparing the troubles of the current American leader with other past leaders isn’t exactly on-point, either. The older generation has seen political turmoil before, so “Have you no decency left” and “I am not a crook” are cliches.

If one is considering emotionally troubling historical events on a continuum pursuant to preventable deaths on one end, and celebrity dramas on the other, the present doesn’t seem so bad.

Younger Americans have no understanding of the Vietnam Era or the genocidal episodes of the 1940’s and 1990’s (!), but they are bombarded with world-shaking “news.” OMG: Elton John was allegedly a witness to Royal-Family child abuse, and Taylor Swift’s appearance on Saturday Night Live was challenging for her.

Right now the political climate is kind of like before the third act of an old-school Broadway play– the audience needs a breather. It is sick of the whole thing. It needs a period of quiet to regroup and assess the situation.

Nevertheless, when the media claims that Pelosi is actually going to resolve the situation, females in the media ought to remind females in Congress not to be intimidated by the males who have conditioned them to be so, and give Trump a nickname.

Anyway, read the book to learn of Scovell’s career ups and downs.