Sunday, December 14, 2014

Excellent new biography of Peggy Lee!

Book cover from

Author James Gavin's new book (published in November of this year - 2014) is a must-read for anyone who appreciated the music and the stardom of Peggy Lee, one of the world's greatest big-band, jazz and pop female vocalists. All North Dakotans should read this book too; it gives us natives of a "desolate state," as Gavin refers to it, a realization that--if one has a dream and is willing to work really hard at it--you can go from a small-town, Wimbledon, N. Dak., to living on the same block in Beverly Hills as Frank Sinatra. The biography, entitled Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee is published by Altria Books and runs 608 pages. I read it on my Kindle.

Peggy Lee sang on the radio in Valley City, N. Dak., on KOVC, the same station I was on as a high school-age disc jockey back in 1958. She performed from the same studio that I worked in, part of the Rudolf Hotel building from the 1930s until the early 60s. The late Bob Ingstad, Sr., hired her and, I'm happy to say, he hired me too, at age 15. As a teenager, I didn't appreciate the pop culture history that had been present in that studio, but I do now.

Of course, this book is about Peggy Lee, not me. And it's a good one. She started out in life as Norma Delores Egstrom. Her dad was a depot agent for the Midland Continental Railroad in Wimbledon, north of Jamestown, in the central part of the state. She received the name "Peggy Lee" from Ken (Sydness) Kennedy. I worked with Ken at WDAY during the 1960s and he loved to re-name everybody, including himself. But I must admit, Peggy Lee would be an easier sell in show biz than "Norma Egstrom."

Gavin has done his research, tracing Lee's history back to her childhood, which was a troubled one. There was her alcoholic dad and then, according to the book, a step-mom that would make Cinderella's witchy-mom seem like "mother of the year." 

Lee went on to experience several troubled marriages; she was obsessive about her career and drove a lot of friends, employed helpers and husbands nuts. Lee had one child, a daughter, with her first husband, guitarist Dave Barbour. Nicki Lee Barbour Foster died on November 18 of this year (2014) at the age of 71. She left Hollywood and her mother's home decades ago and spent most of her married life in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Gavin's detailed yet easy-to-read narrative mentions a number of North Dakotans, including Wes Anderson, curator of the Barnes County Historical Museum in Valley City. Also included is the late Lloyd Collins, long-time organist at Olivet Lutheran Church in Fargo and employed by Nels Vogel Music in Moorhead, Minn. He was Lee's accompanist during their engagement at the Powers Hotel in downtown Fargo and they also performed together on WDAY Radio. The studio, at that time, was only a block or so away from the Powers on the 8th floor of Fargo's landmark Black Building.

Peggy Lee's Hollywood musical career branched off into movie acting. She played Rose, an alcoholic "gun moll" and "sometime singer" in a movie that starred and was directed by Jack Webb, of radio and TV's Dragnet series. And she scored an Academy Award nomination for that performance. 

Gavin serves-up fascinating details about her television appearances with Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Petula Clark and many others.

I have to chalk this one up as one of my favorite books for the year and I highly recommend it. If you would like more information and to order a printed book or a full-text version for your Kindle (includes photographs), click on the Amazon link below (Kindle edition is currently about $14):

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Best bio yet on Bob Dylan!

Although it was published way back in 2001, I hadn't come across what I consider the best biography yet on Bob (Zimmerman) Dylan from Hibbing, Minnesota, until I found it about a month ago and put it on my Kindle. It's called Down the Highway: the Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounes; published by Grove Press.

What I immediately like about this particular book on Dylan is that it covers his early Hibbing years in interesting detail. Then he hits Dylan's time at the University of Minnesota, a campus I arrived at about the time he was leaving. Interesting to note that Garrison Keillor, the sage of Minnesota and America's modern-day Mark Twain, were at the U of M at the same time. That factoid wasn't in the book, it's mine. In fact, I was there at the same time Keillor was, but I was working over at KSTP, the 50,000-watt NBC affiliate while Keillor worked at the student station, KUOM. However, he zoomed ahead of me, gaining national prominence with A Prairie Home Companion on public radio. He has books on Amazon but I don't, at least not yet. We're both the same age.

But that's me jumping off on a tangent - I do that often, sort of "hyper-linking" mentally when something strikes my fancy in a story I'm telling. Drives my friends nuts. Sorry.

Back to the Dylan book: Sounes' writing is easy to read; well researched and documented. His description of the star's brief work in Fargo, N. Dakota, with Bobby Vee's band - just prior to Vee's leap to the national stage - was accurate and interesting. I checked with Dick Dunkirk, one of the players in Vee's "Shadows" band during the time Dylan tried to play piano with them. He went by the name "Elston Gunn" during that foray. The bio goes on - for 432 pages - covering is entire career and life, up to this point. I learned what a romantic fellow and ladies' man Bob was during his younger days. He knew how to "get the girls."

You'll read about his successes and more challenging times in recordings, concerts, the works.

All in all, if you're a Dylan fan and/or buff, as I am, this is a must-have book. You can find out more information - and order if you wish, in print or a less expensive copy for the Kindle - through the Amazon link below:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Another memorable season at Jasper's Theater!

On Saturday, September 6, 2014, I was in the audience at Jasper's Theater, Park Rapids, Minnesota, and I had my new Nikon d5300 with my also new Nikon 18-200mm zoom lens. I sat in about the 8th row, on the left aisle and I was able to capture a number of photographs using only the stage lighting, no flash. A PDF of the photos I shot, with captions, can be viewed by clicking here.

We've been to a number of Jasper's shows and this one was one of the best. 'Course, every year the cast adds new acts, songs, and humor to help make each year fresh and new but retaining the traditional quality that Jasper audiences expect.

Jack Sand opens things up with a "pre-show" of magic and humor. He plays a couple of very unusual characters in the show and, of course, offers more of his outstanding magic at various times throughout the performance.

Click on pictures for larger images:

Darlene Hilde Rolle plays "Auntie Kreamsaugen with "Hector," played by Jack Sand
Dan Brekke, the young fiddler, continues to be a show stopper and, a college friend of mine and JoAnne's, Harley Sommerfeld, performs a wonderful solo number on the clarinet, "Am I Blue," He Shawn Brekke do some fine duet work on the horns, and they back-up the singers and dancers throughout the show. The entire cast is a regional treasure and I encourage you to see one of their shows. They have one "10th Anniversary Show" left, on Saturday, September 20th, Dan Brekke - a talent we watched develop through his high school career - is now a freshman at NDSU and has his own band. He will do the season-ender show on September 27, 2014.
Dan Brekke stops the show with the "Orange Blossom Special"
Harley Sommerfeld and Shawn Brekke do an outstanding job on the horns
For more information and reservations, call 218-255-1333 or visit Jasper's website by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Welcome WDAY alumni and media friends

As you may have discovered by now, I have moved the "WDAY Alumni" archive from a Google "sites" page to a "tabbed page" on this blog. Simply click on the WDAY Alumni tab at the top of this page and you'll go to the archive of all Mike Notes Reprise newsletters (22 issues, in all, now), along with other PDFs of photos, plus audio and video files. If you're a broadcast memorabilia fan, you'll find lots to look at here.

I decided to go this route because it's much easier to add and manage files with Google blog "pages." I've gone back into production of the newsletter which I hope sustain on a monthly basis. The WDAY Alumni page also gives the date of the next luncheon, to which all WDAY retirees, current employees, former employees (even those who may now being working with another station or medium), ad agency workers, as well as other media friends and colleagues with some kind of connection to the broadcast industry or mass communications. In other words, "all are welcome" at our luncheons, held each month at the Fargo Holiday Inn. See the WDAY Alumni page for dates and time, etc.

If you have any problems opening any of the files on the tabbed page, please let me know. While I've double-checked the links involved, I may have missed something. And be sure to "shortcut" on your desktop and check this blog whenever convenient. I'll be attempting to add new material right along. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"The Keillor Reader" is a must-have book for Garrison fans!

I've been listening to Garrison Keillor tell stories on public radio's A Prairie Home Companion for 40 years. Like millions of his fans, I never tire of the yarns the sage of Minnesota, America's modern day Mark Twain, weaves every week. His books have all been winners and so is this new one.

The title is The Keillor Reader (no subtitle), published May 1, 2014, by Viking. It's 400 pages of memoir, interwoven with a collection of tales about that mythical and timeless small town in central Minnesota, Lake Woebegon. Some of these stories you've heard before but he adds prefaces to older material explaining when and/or where each tale was written. Despite having read nearly all of his books and listened to countless monologues on APHC, these renditions seem fresh and remain forever funny.

I always wondered how Keillor prepares his weekly monologue. He shares his technique and other behind-the-scenes stuff, giving the book an autobiographical feel. As you read this anthology, anyone around you will wonder what's causing your belly laughs.

CBS News recently did an interview with Keillor about his new book and they mixed in a biographical video sketch about his career. It's well done and you can view it by clicking here.

To learn more about The Keillor Reader and, if you wish, to purchase a copy in print or for your Kindle (as I did), click on the Amazon link below (if you are reading this post in an email, please go to the blog for the Amazon link):

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Explaining the current evolution in media

Evolution is too civilized a term for what is happening today in all media. Unless your printed publication is important to some kind of specialized audience, e.g., photographers, gardeners or some other niche market, it's pretty much dead or dying. Magazines I used to pay $40 or $50 a year for are now offered to me for only $10 annually. Folio, the bible of the magazine publishing world, continues to report on dramatically declining newsstand sales, exacerbating subscription losses. If a publication hasn't already moved into the digital world, for tablets, laptops, e-readers, or are in the process of moving, it won't be able to maintain relevancy.

Even conventional TV is trying to define its audience and hold onto it. Local news operations are operationally restructuring, ostensibly to reduce expenses. Stations are cutting muscle when they require TV reporters to be their own camera person. The money problems of this medium surprise me because commercial TV packs-in seemingly endless streams of commercials at every break; likewise with the cable channels (far more so than in days of yore).

Talk radio, however, seems to be healthy and, like radio has done since its Golden Age, the medium has morphed itself into something new. It has always found it easier to adapt to change. At least radio seems to have found a way to remain both relevant and financially viable.

So, how does a student of media make any sense of all this? Why have these changes come about; where's it all going? Thankfully, someone has pulled all this together and gives us a concise and understandable picture of why media landed where it's at. From his easy-to-follow narrative, one may find a road map to the future, very important for young people trying to find the vines in this new jungle. The goal, of course, is to get a job somewhere in the media world, current or emerging.

This tool has been provided by John Naughton in a book entitled From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Distruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet, published by Quercus, New York/London, in 2012. Naughten explains what happened to newspapers. He writes that, when the web arrived, "...newspapers thought the main threat it posed would come from online news distributed for free. They were wrong: it turned out that the bigger threat was to the profitable part of their value chain--classified advertisements. This is because what the Internet does is dissolve value chains." Come to think about it, that's exactly what happened.

Naughton, vice president of Wolfson College, Cambridge, England, provides hundreds of insights like the one I pointed out. He deeply understands what happened, why it happened and where it seems to be going. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a student of media, whether young or life-long, like myself.

For more information about this book and/or to order a copy in print or for your Kindle, click on the Amazon link below:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Seeing a photograph

Christmas martini - photograph by Dmitrii Osipovskii  (posted with permission)
I wish I could see a photographic opportunity like my friend Dmitrii does. It was Christmas Eve and our thoughtful and generous host had just mixed another batch of Kettle One vodka martinis. I sat my glass on a table near a big, comfy recliner. As soon as I did, my friend, the photographer, crouched down nearby with his camera. He saw how the drink, the Santa, the plant and the vase combined to present him with a photograph or, more accurately, a work of art.

As Susan Sontag once said: "Photography is, first of all, a way of seeing." Add to that something that the visual art critic, Clement Greenberg, wrote: "The photograph has to tell a story if it is to work as art." Dmitrii's "martini" photo combines both of those principles. He saw in those objects a beautiful photograph and, as you look at what he saw, you can imagine the story behind it. At least I can. I was there and the martini was superb!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Hoover Dam: photographed from the new bridge

Hoover Dam - July, 2013 - photographed by Larry Gauper - Nikon D3100
Prior to October 16, 2010, the only way to take a photograph of Hoover Dam from this angle was to do it from an aircraft. This changed when on that October date when the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge opened. One can't shoot this kind of photo from U. S. Route 93, the highway that crosses the bridge, but you can do it quite easily from the pedestrian walkway located next to the highway. The high concrete barrier that separates the walkway from the highway is the reason you can't even see the dam from a moving vehicle. And, of course, motorists are prohibited from stopping on the bridge. Click on photos for larger images.

Mike O'Callaghan-PatTillman Memorial Bridge - photograph by Larry Gauper, July, 2013 
I was standing on this bridge when I took the photo of the dam. This structure was the first concrete-arch bridge built in the United States and it incorporates the widest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere. Situated 840 feet above the Colorado River - joining the states of Nevada and Arizona - it is the second highest bridge in the United States. Only the Royal Gorge Bridge, near Canon City, Colorado. The Callaghan-Tillman bridge is also the world's highest concrete arch bridge.

The bridge was jointly named for Mike O'Callaghan, Governor of Nevada from 1971 to 1979 and Pat Tillman, a professional football player who left his football career with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the United States Army. He was later killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire.

Pedestrian walkway on O'Callaghan-Tillman Bridge - photograph by Larry Gauper, July 2013 
This is the pedestrian walkway from where I took the photographs of the dam and bridge. To the right of the concrete barrier you'll see traffic on U. S. Route 93. Admission to the walkway is free and you can enter it from either the Nevada or Arizona visitor areas.

Nevada side intake tower - July, 2013, photograph by Larry Gauper
This photograph shows the dramatic decline in the levels of Lake Mead, the reservoir established by Hoover Dam. When I took this shot, the lake level was at 1105.92 feet above sea level. In November, 2013, the lake was at 1106.92 feet, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. When I photographed the intake towers from my son David's boat on the lake side of the dam in 2000, this intake tower - and its sister on the Arizona side - was almost covered up to where the concrete strips begin at the top of the tower. At that time the lake was at 1105 feet, 91 feet higher than what you're seeing in this photograph. At 1,000 feet, things get really bad because hydro-power stops.

When you go out to Las Vegas, I heartily recommend a visit to this "wonder of the world" civil engineering project. Walk across the new bridge and stop by the visitor center. Take the "dam tour" and go inside the dam. It's an unforgettable experience. And think of the money you're saving by not being at the machines or tables in Las Vegas!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Health care that isn't: a frightening medical mystery

Awhile back, Ryn Pitts and I both worked for the same health insurance company. We often talked about writing a book. I haven't; she has. And it's a thriller that's hard to put down. I applaud her accomplishment and am green with envy. In fact, I was greener than the peppers in my scrambled eggs when we met for breakfast at a restaurant not far from the downtown Fargo, N. Dak., loft she shares with her physician husband.

It's fun to learn from somebody's who's done it and Ryn has really done something with Deadly Benefits: a Medical Mystery, published this year by Smashbooks in both print and e-book formats.

Her novel starts in Bangkok, Thailand, in, as Ryn describes it, "a seedy part of town that makes Minnesota ice and snow look good." The mystery moves to Fargo, the epicenter of this fast-moving mystery. Early on, you'll read an electrifying description of a heart-pounding "cardiac event" in the trauma center of a local hospital. She calls it "Swedish Hospital," and some wags have been guessing which Fargo hospital she's referring to. Ryn tells us it's all fiction, but her writing is so realistic one soon forgets that.

As I read about physicians and medical personnel trying to save the life of a young woman, I started praying I was never caught in the picture Ryn paints with tension-filled detail. And about those details: nobody without Ryn's unique background could pen fiction this technically accurate and industry insightful. She puts some of today's critical problems in health care under a microscope. And it's quite scary if you happen to be a patient or a consumer of prescription drugs. And aren't we all?
Ryn Pitts

The reason this book is so dead-on (pardon the pun) is because Ryn has experience as a registered pharmacist, a former hospital and clinic administrator, and a health insurance executive. She has a talent for story-telling, enhanced through serious learning and unvarnished feedback. Ryn told me she belongs to a local writers' group that does not not sugar-coat criticism. "Sometimes I came home from those meetings and wanted to cry. I couldn't look at that manuscript for some time."

But she did get back to work and created what would become her debut novel. I'm glad she did. Ryn has produced a fascinating read, but with some important and very real insights into health care delivery and financing. It's a thriller you do not want to miss.

TO GET THE BOOK:  The e-book version sells for $3.99 and is available from "Smashwords" by clicking here. You can download for the Amazon Kindle (as I did) and for the Nook, iPAD, and other e-readers. For the Kindle, I bought the version for that device, downloaded it to my PC desktop, and then plugged-in my Kindle via USB cable. This allowed me to "slide" the book file over to the "documents" folder on the Kindle. Worked beautifully! For other e-readers, follow whatever you do to get "e-pubs" onto your device. Paper copies of the book are also available from by click on this link.

Print formatted books are also available locally (in Fargo-Moorhead) at Zandbroz  (where it was named the "best seller of the summer"), Stabo in West Acres, the Hjemkomst Gift Center in Moorhead, the Sanford Hospital Gift Shop and at other lakes' country and area bookstores. Deadly Benefits is also available through the Fargo Stuff website.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Daily rituals of writers and other creatives

I've always had a great interest in detailed descriptions of how creative people do their work. I found a treasure trove of these methods of getting something done in a recent book entitled Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey and published this year (2013) by Knopf.

I found the book at the Fargo Public Library and returned it within a couple of days. Not because I didn't like it; I loved it! I needed to own it. This has happened to me before: I discover a book at the library and after reading a few pages I want to own it and read it on my Kindle (the new PaperWhite, gray-scale, e-ink model). I still browse Barnes & Nobel and used book stores--but, in those spots, I look for books on photography and certain software. Hard to get the most out of those books on a Kindle that's designed for text reading. I do prefer reading text on the gray-scale e-readers. Magazines, newspaper and books with photographs are popular on the Kindle Fire, the Apple iPAD, Microsoft Surface, and the Samsung Galaxy tablets.

Back to the book:  Currey describes the little daily rituals that stimulate or prepare writers, painters, composers, playwrights, and poets to get to work and accomplish something. Common threads that run through the lives of most of Currey's subjects are:
  • getting up early in the morning
  • working until lunch time
  • taking a nap after lunch (sometimes up to two hours)
  • running errands and doing non-creative work in the afternoons
  • enjoying a cocktail (or two or three) starting at 5 P.M.
  • having a glass or two of wine with dinner
Alcohol plays an important role in the process for most writers and creative types. It seems to be a "fuel" to free the mind to be creative, or it's a means to force relaxation after a day of intense concentration.

Most do not wait around for inspiration. Currey quotes the contemporary American novelist and essayist, Jonathan Franzen, as saying: "It is a danger to wait around for an idea to occur to you. You have to find the idea."

For more information on this book and to purchase it in both print and Kindle formats, click on the Amazon link below:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Were you the joker?

The class clown. Do you remember one? Were you one? I was, sort of. It all started for me when I was in my early years of elementary school. I discovered that I enjoyed making my classmates laugh. Getting the teacher to laugh was a real score.

And this is the way it apparently also was for the Andrew Hudgins, author of a recent book entitled The Joker: A Memoir, published in 2013 by Simon & Schuster. Hudgins has indeed written a revealing narrative about himself and offers and insightful look at the American culture during a time when your Uncle Nasty would tell the worst racist jokes possible and everyone would laugh. Or so it seemed. Not everyone, even back then, would see the humor in some of his jokes, but, to be "part of the crowd," all would laugh, even if some were feigning it.

Even though we have made progress as a country, too many Americans still have a long way to go in shedding racism. If you think I'm wrong, visit a small-town bar in backwoods North or South Dakota or Minnesota. Some of the jokes and smart-ass remarks you'll hear will make you think you were riding in a bus in Mississippi, back in the 1940s.

Hudgins account ranges from his childish pleasure in tasteless "dead-baby" and "Helen Keller" jokes to adult observations on sex, religion and race in the mid-century South, where he was raised.

This is a very different but interesting read - ya, you'll laugh a lot, then you'll groan - and sometimes, you'll think. He helps the reader understand why some humor works, and some doesn't. He pointed me to my own conclusion: some subjects aren't meant to be used in jokes. Some humor hurts. And sometimes we don't know that as we relish in hearing all the laughter.

For more information on The Joker: A Memoir, in print or Kindle formats, click on the Amazon link below:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

An era of scandals in the Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church is more vulnerable to the abuse of power than government and most corporations. Oversight is possible with the latter two entities; not so with the men who run things from the Vatican on down. This is one of the conclusions I gleaned from reading a recent book entitled Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime and the Era of Catholic Scandals by Michel D'Antonio, published this year (2013) by Thomas Dunne Books.

D'Antonio examines pedophilia episodes by priests and how the crimes of clergy were covered-up by bishops and the church hierarchy, protection that was supported all the way up to the highest Catholic officials in Rome. He tells of how, in the mid-1980s, a dynamic young monsignor, Father Tom Doyle, assigned to the Vatican's embassy in Washington, investigated the problem of sexually abusive priests. He discovered a scandal in the making, confirmed by secret files hidden from police and covered-up for years. He warned those above his position how the Church could be devastated by the negative publicity of these crimes, and bankrupted by legal liability. They ignored him.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, a young attorney, Jeffery Anderson, listened to a new client describe an abusive sexual history with a priest that began when the lad was ten years old. His parents' complaints were downplayed by Church officials who offered them money to go away.

The sordid details of what Doyle and Anderson uncovered and the resistance they ran into form the basis of D'Antonio's sad but well-written narrative. This book is a page-turner you won't want to put down; an account that every Catholic ought to read. With knowledge comes hope that things can be changed.

D'Antonio's book underscores how the structure of the Roman Catholic Church demands subservience, resulting in a high potential for abuse of power.  He writes:

"Individually, clergy were assumed to be either humble role models or dynamic leaders who moved in the world without needing romantic love, sex or family. Collectively, ordination established them as a class above regular human beings. Within this class, the hierarchy enjoyed escalating status with the Pope, at the very top, ruling with authority granted by the Almighty. The main price paid for admission to this society was the vow of celibacy. This promise deprived the clergy of many of the deepest rewards of life, including sexual relationships and parenthood. But since they shared this sacrifice, clergymen were bound together by it in a way that made them more devoted to each other"
(and may I quickly add: rather than to those they serve). 

For more on the unreasonable and harmful "vow of celibacy" read my post in this blog about a book by Father Albert CutiĆ©, formerly a Roman Catholic priest and now a married clergyman in the Episcopal Church.

According to, a website dedicated to the survivors of sexual abuse by priests, over 3,000 lawsuits have been filed against the Roman Catholic Church. From 1950-2007, the Associated Press estimates the settlement of sexual abuse cases within the Catholic Church at over $1.1 billion. BishopAccountability, in 2012, puts the figure at more than $3 billion. Eight Catholic dioceses have declared bankruptcy - from 2004 through 2011 - due to sexual abuse cases, according to the BishopAccountability website.

For  information about and/or to order D'Antonio's book, in either print or Kindle formats, click on the Amazon link below:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Peter Lance: an American asset

Photograph by Larry Gauper (

This country needs more journalists like Peter Lance. He's an extremely talented and meticulous investigative reporter and a prolific and easy-to-read author who has produced several best-selling books on the workings of organized crime in America and its linkages to global terrorism.

August 3, 20013 - Mob Museum, Las Vegas - C-SPAN "BookTV" telecast

As you can see in the screen shot from C-SPAN's video of Peter Lance's presentation, I was privileged to be in the audience in the courtroom of the former federal courthouse, now the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement (the Mob Museum), in downtown Las Vegas on August 3, 2013. It's a gross understatement to describe Mr. Lance as a fascinating and animated presenter. He's truly outstanding! Nobody left the room during his one-hour forty-five minute lecture.

C-SPAN's "Book-TV" was on hand at the museum and video recorded the entire lecture. It aired on Saturday, August 10, 2013, and you can watch it by clicking here.

My question had to do with how he found both the energy and courage to do the extensive work he did in producing several well-documented books on the mafia and how the CIA and FBI missed the planning for the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. In these treatises, he points out mistakes made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including spending extensive resources on "getting" former and now deceased crime boss John Gotti, while missing important cues from Al Qaeda in their run-up to 9/11.

I indicated in my question that the FBI and Al Qaeda are still around and I wondered if the mafia was dead. He replied that organized crime was pretty much dismantled and he felt an obligation to shed light on where the FBI circumvented the law in taking down some of the principals in his books. He tells how the FBI's tactics were successful in bringing down mobsters, in some cases. But, it seems to me, it was a wild way of using the law to fight lawbreakers.

He doesn't fear for his own safety and he's soldiered on despite strong efforts from high-ranking government officials to halt the publication of some of his investigative work, including the new book he talked about in his Mob Museum presentation. He praised the work of the former FBI agent in charge of managing mafia "informants," Roy Lindley "Lynn" DeVecchio, and the work of then U. S. Attorney and eventual mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani personally prosecuted a number of individuals involved in organized crime.

Lance built this particular presentation around his most recent book: Deal with the Devil: The FBI's Secret Thirty-Year Relationship With a Mafia Killer, published this year (2013) by Tenacity Media Group  Ltd., working in cooperation with HarperCollins Publishers. 

In Deal with the Devil, the five-time Emmy winning reporter draws on decades of once secret FBI files along with his own personal interviews to tell the story of Gregory Scarpa, Sr., also known as "The Grim Reaper," a Mafia leader (capo) who "stopped counting" after 50 murders. And during the time he was doing much of this killing, he was a "Top Echelon Criminal Informant for the FBI."

This is a book every American should read. I learned a lot during the Las Vegas lecture, but the book tells a lot more.

You can learn about Peter Lance's work by going to his website:  Lance earned a B. A. from Northwestern University in 1971 and later a master's degree in journalism from Columbia. He received his law degree from the Fordham University School of Law in 1978.

If you'd like to learn more about purchasing either the hard cover or Kindle edition of Mr. Lance's latest book, click on the Amazon link below:

You may also be interested in Peter Lance's previous book that goes into more detail on the missed run-up to the 9/11 attacks: How bin Laden's Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets and the FBI, published in 2009 by William Morrow. For information on that book and to purchase it, click on the Amazon link below:

Friday, June 7, 2013

Running up the Stratosphere in Las Vegas

A fireman took Dave's picture at the top of the "Strat" in Las Vegas

My son, Dave, recently joined, by special invitation, one of the Clark County area fire fighter teams in doing their work-out run to the top of the 1,149 foot tower of the Stratosphere Hotel & Casino at the northernmost end of the Las Vegas Strip. Dave told me it was quite a morning and the climb really tested his stamina, but he made it all the way to the top, keeping pace with the firefighters. His next test is to make it up the tower carrying a full complement of equipment.

I know how well-trained and capable firefighters are. My wife and I were guests at the Las Vegas Hilton on February 10, 1981, the evening the hotel was set ablaze by a wacko lighting fires in elevator lobbies. Firefighters, using the knowledge they had learned from the MGM Grand fire (less than four months before) used local television stations to notify people to stay in their rooms and not go out to the halls and stairwells. Because of the lessons learned, only eight people died in this fire compared with the 85 people who died in the MGM Grand fire. In 1982, Philip Cline was sentenced to eight life sentences for his role in starting the fire (source: Wikipedia). The former MGM Grand is now Bally's.

When the Hilton fire broke out about 7:30 P.M., my wife and I were dining with a client in a restaurant located in the concourse between the casino and the Las Vegas Convention Center. All restaurant guests were swiftly escorted outside the hotel, via the kitchen of a Japanese restaurant. When we reached the front driveway of the hotel, I saw more fire trucks than I've ever witnessed in one spot plus helicopters at low altitude and smoke coming out of the roof of the Hilton.

It's in a crisis like that when one really begins to appreciate all the training firefighters go through day in and day out. It's hard training that saves lives, but risks the life firefighters and sometimes, these brave professionals lose their lives in attempting to carry out the mission to which they are dedicated. Some day, when you least expect it, a firefighter might save your life...or mine!   

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The wisdom and courage of a North Dakota Governor

(L-R) March, 2012: North Dakota Governor George A. "Bud" Sinner congratulates his son, George B. Sinner, just after young George was nominated as the Democratic-NPL candidate for the North Dakota Senate from Fargo's District #46. He won the seat in the 2012 November election.
(photograph by Larry Gauper)

I can't tell you how many times I wished someone with the wisdom and courage of George "Bud" Sinner had been in the Governor's chair this year (2013). As North Dakotans, we suffered through the most backward, wasteful and non-productive legislative session I've ever witnessed as a life-long resident of the state.

Sinner served as Governor from 1984 until 1992, one of the most difficult periods in modern North Dakota history. The Northern Plains was experiencing a severe and protracted drought, very low tax revenues, high interest rates, and one of the greatest farm foreclosure crises in the nation's history. To say Governor Sinner faced a plateful of problems in a great understatement.

On top of all that, he faced making a decision on whether or not to veto House Bill 1515, a draconian anti-abortion bill passed by a radically conservative legislature. I had the opportunity to personally visit with the former Governor about this bill during a plane ride about a dozen years ago. Despite all of the other problems he had to deal with, he told me HB 1515 was one of the most challenging and emotion-filled episodes during his time in office. He vetoed the bill.

Governor Sinner recounts his decision, made in a volatile atmosphere similar to what the 2013 legislature put us through, in his autobiography entitled Turning Points: a Memoir, published in 2011 by the Dakota Institute Press of the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation. A landmark historical volume on North Dakota government, the book was written in collaboration with Bob Jansen, a newspaperman prior to joining Sinner's campaign staff and, later, he served as the Governor's press secretary from 1985 to 1992. Full of both facts and anecdotes, this history is not dry. It's written in an easy-to-understand narrative style, with observations by the former Governor that come from his heart, as well as from a very vivid memory.

In our conversation at about 20,000 feet, the Governor told me that pressure to sign HB 1515 came from members of his own Roman Catholic Church, including his brother, who was a priest: Father Richard Sinner of Casselton.

Unlike the signing of the 2013 legislature-passed radical abortion bills, Governor Sinner told me he could not sign legislation that would make any doctor a felon, if he or she used their medical judgement to save the life of a pregnant woman; some attorney for the "radical right" could easily question the physician's judgement and take him to court. That's an unfair and dangerous scenario, but you'll find it in the legislation our current Governor, Jack Dalrymple, quickly signed.

In his letter to the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, contained as an appendix in Sinner's book, the Governor wrote (italics and bold face are mine):

"The opinions of thoughtful people, religious and secular, on this issue, differ widely throughout history and in the present day.

"Given that unknown, government's role must clearly be restrained. History is full of accounts of misuse of government power, often for a 'good cause.' On this issue abuse can exist on both sides; some even suggest legally requiring abortions for causes of AIDS and to curtail over-population. Such abuse must be resisted vigorously on both sides. Government must not overstep its bound. It must not play God.

"I am a Catholic and, although throughout history Catholic writings on when life begins vary widely, I agree with the current Catholic judgement that abortion is wrong.

"The issue here is the role of law. Government policy must find a balanced way which respects the freedom of women in this difficult area. This bill does not do so. This is why I vetoed HB 1515."

Wiser words were never spoken or written on the dangers of government involving itself in abortion and a woman's right to choose. This kind of clear thinking, despite tremendous personal and legislative pressure, is the kind of wisdom and courage we need in state government, qualities that are sadly lacking today in those that make up the majority of the North Dakota legislature and currently occupy the Governor's office. North Dakotans need to wake-up. We can do better! We certainly did during the administration of George A. "Bud" Sinner!

Governor Sinner's autobiography is available from Amazon. More information and to order, click on the Amazon link below: