Bombshell – Documentary of the actress (and scientist) Hedy Lamarr

Last fall, I wrote a brief post to introduce you to the fascinating story of Hedy Lamarr based on the novel “The only woman in the room.” While the book is a dramatization of her life as both an actress, and yes, scientist, PBS is airing a documentary called “Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr Story.” Please click on the link below.

While Hollywood is so busy making movies about comic book heroes with supernatural abilities, it is ironic they have missed the fascinating story of a real hero right in their midst. I did not reveal the punch line in the first post, but even when I do, the book is worth the read.

Hedy Lamarr escaped Austria both as a Jew, but also from a controlling husband who supplied munitions to both the Nazis and Italians. She met Mussolini, who hit on her, and she believes she heard Hitler making her domineering husband quiver in the next room, as she listened through the wall.

As she came to America to become one of the most beautiful and iconic stars, she paid attention to what was going on in World War II. And, here is where it gets even more interesting. Her father taught her to investigate and understand science. She took apart a music box at age 5 and put it back together. She even briefly dated Howard Hughes, at one point, and he listened to her suggestions on making planes faster, as she showed him pictures of fast fish and birds as compared to his boxy design.

When she noticed that the German Uboats were unstoppable in the Atlantic easily avoiding the antiquated torpedoes of the US and UK, she invented a way for allied ships and subs to communicate with their torpedoes and alter the path. She used a frequency hopping approach and worked with an avant garde pianist composer named George Antheil, who had done cutting edge work on linking up music from multiple player pianos. A prominent scientist who saw promise introduced them to a physicist and the invention got a patent.

The Navy scoffed at the idea, in large part of her being a woman, an actress and borrowing an idea from player pianos and buried the patent. It was more than OK for her to raise money for War Bonds, which she was good at, but a woman inventor, who heard of such a thing? was their attitude. Unbeknownst to her, the Navy began using her patent in the 1950s (while it was still effective) to pilot drones and other systems. She was never told nor was she ever paid for its use. For some reason, she did not seem to mind not getting paid, but she did want the acknowledgment.

Yet, it gets more interesting. Lamarr and Antheil’s invention is now used in Wifi, GPS and Blue tooth technology. And, finally, she received late in life accolades when the story broke about who actually invented this technology. In fact, on the website of a scientist who developed its use in the Navy, he gives credit to her cutting edge invention made many years before in 1942.

Lamarr had become a recluse by the time she started getting the accolades, after she felt too many plastic surgeries greatly altered how she looked and she did not want to be remembered like thst. Her son spoke on her behalf in front of other inventors accepting their accolades.

The documentary uses a recorded audio interview with her as well as a few TV interviews to tell her story. Her son, daughter and granddaughter, as well as other historians, add a lot of background to the story. She was a complex woman and she described herself as a better artist than business person.

The documentary is worth the watch. Do pay attention to her words of wisdom at the end of the documentary. And, if you like the documentary, you will also enjoy the dramatization in the book. A link to my earlier post is below as well.

https://www.pbs.org/video/bombshell-the-hedy-lamarr-story-xxkyoj/

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2019/10/17/the-only-woman-in-the-room-a-novel-about-the-amazing-true-story-of-hedy-lamarr/

The biggest selling self-help book

On NPR, yesterday, the son of Stephen Covey (who has passed away) was being interviewed for Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This self-help book made it to number 1 on the non-fiction best sellers’ list in 1989 and stayed there for a long while, selling over 25 million copies. It was also the first audio book to hit 1 million in sales.

So, what is all the fuss about? Covey sought to help us find our “true north” principles. He defined “effectiveness as the balance of obtaining desirable results with caring for that which produces those results.”

His seven habits are grouped under three headings – Independence, Interdependence and Continual Improvement.

Independence

1. Be proactive – take responsibility for your actions.
2. Begin with the end in mind – envision what you want and plan.
3. First things first – here he uses a two dimension matrix organized in four quadrants along level of urgency and importance (do the urgent/ important, plan the important but less urgent, delegate the urgent/ unimportant and eliminate the non-urgent/ unimportant).

Interdependence

4. Think win/ win – look for mutually beneficial solutions; Nobel Laureate economist John Nash said we make more money if we look to collectively win.
5. Seek to understand/ then to be understood – use empathetic listening; this jives with a favorite saying – you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.
6. Synergize with others as a team – there is a great book called “Play to your strengths,” which will help people work with others using their strengths to balance yours for a better outcome.

Continual Improvement

7. Sharpen the sword – seek to improve and grow.

The attached link will give a nice synopsis of each of the above as well as offer better context.

I was struck by the interview with Covey’s son. He used a couple of examples his father used. When the son did not get into a college class he needed, he told his father. His father asked what do you plan to do about it? When he asked for help, the father said contact the professor. He found out there was a waiting list. His father then suggested to go see the professor. The son did and got into the class. He took responsibility and was proactive.

The second example is his father was very much about owning up to mistakes. The son said the father would apologize often. Think about that. He used an example of a family trip when everyone was late and the father lost his temper. The son remembers the father apologizing for losing his cool, when he had every right to be irritated.

If you have not read the book, it is worth the read. If you want a brief glimpse, click on the link below.

http://www.quickmba.com/mgmt/7hab/

The Princess Bride – a fun movie for all

Start with a beautiful heroine, a cavalier pirate, and an evil prince. Add one giant of a man, an eleven fingered bad guy, a Spanish swordsman, a scheming genius and a host of other great characters. Finish up with a great story read by a grandfather to his sick grandson and you have the delightfully charmlng “The Princess Bride.” About five years ago I wrote a post on this movie, which I will repeat below. “The Princess Bride” is a movie the whole family can watch and enjoy during our sheltering-at-home time.

“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us together today.” Although this line is picking on people with speech impediments, in the context of the movie “The Princess Bride” it is quite comical, as it is uttered by the magnificently attired priest who is conducting a wedding service for the bride to her unloved groom. It is so unexpected it becomes farcical. And, that is one of the reasons why this Rob Reiner movie is so entertaining. It does so many unexpected things and all ages will enjoy the story, as narrated by a grandfather, Peter Falk, as he reads to his grandson played by “The Wonder Years” star Fred Savage.

The story fascinates as it begins with true love between a young girl played by Robin Wright in her first movie (before “Forrest Gump” and “House of Cards”) and a farm hand played by Cary Elwes, who would go on to star in “Robin Hood, Men in Tights.” They get separated and she catches the eye of a hated prince played wonderfully by Chris Sarandon. The prince’s greed, though, overtakes his lust and he sends her off for a visit to another land where he asked three interesting hired assassins to kill her, so he can blame the other country and grow his realm.

Without giving away too much of the movie, the Dread Pirate Roberts enters the picture to save her and has to ward off the assassins, the prince’s henchman, and torture. The three assassins are played wonderfully by Wallace Shawn (now appearing on “Young Sheldon”), whose catchphrase is “inconceivable,” Andre the Giant (the former pro-wrestler) and Mandy Patinkin as a swashbuckling Spaniard out for revenge for his father’s death. Andre the Giant turns out to be quite the comedic actor in several scenes. Patinkin’s passion for vengeance is also room for comedy and heroics.

But, other actors play wonderful roles in large cameo parts and other scenes. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are quite funny playing Miracle Max and his wife. Christopher Guest plays the prince’s henchman quite well, especially as he is inquiring into the pain reactions of the Dread Pirate Roberts in his contrived torture chamber. Mel Smith has a fun cameo as the torturer and Peter Cook, is the magnificent lisping priest.

Yet, the idea to have Falk read the story to Savage makes the movie feel like a fairy tale. Especially when the dream scenes are read and Savage reacts rather annoyed to the story. The story includes perils such as the fire swamp with its ROES, Rodents of Enormous Size, as well as fighting off the talents of three assassins and even overcoming death. We learn the difference between “Mostly Dead” and “Totally Dead” from Miracle Max. Yes, it is silly especially when the future princess is booed by a character played by Margery Mason, which turns out to be one of the dreams that Savage does not care for.

Reiner’s directing and casting of this wonderful movie make it a treat for all ages. The screenplay and book were written by William Goldman. Reiner’s inclusion of Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) in developing the soundtrack and writing the best song “Storybook Love,” which was sung by Willy DeVille, makes it even more special. I have tried to stay away from much of the plot for those who have not seen the movie. If you have not and you have children or grandchildren, download this movie, make some popcorn and turn the lights low. If you have seen it, still follow the above steps, as the kids and all in the family will get a treat.

A revisit to words of Martin Luther King on violence

This is a reprise of an earlier post. It still resonates, especially after the recent shooting of Ahmaud Arbery.

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. Too many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend and missionary George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. We must teach our children those Jesus words. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.

* http://georgedowdell.org/2014/06/10/no-more-us-and-them/
** http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/06/09/the-perfect-book-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

The Fifth Risk – a must read by all legislators

Michael Lewis has authored several books that lay out a practical lens of major issues. They include “The Big Short,” “Moneyball,” “Liar’s Poker,” “The Blind Side,” and “The Undoing Project.” His latest book is called “The Fifth Risk,” and it is as much historical as it is alarming of missed risks.

The book is based on his review of largely unread briefing materials that were prepared for the incoming Trump administration by officials describing what the various departments do, their concerns, their successes, etc. Since the president was surprised he won the election and had fired his transition manager, Chris Christie, candidates to take over the various departments were not identified, much less in place. So, materials were not read and meetings went unattended. Lewis even interviewed people that prepared such reports after he read the non-confidential portions of the reports. They were more than happy to share their stories.

The above paragraph is not made to be political, it just presents a fact that the folks who eventually took over these departments missed a huge opportunity to learn how things worked from the people who oversaw the departments. As a result, our country is at risk of things that the leaders of many departments do not fully understand. And, what makes it more concerning, is many never took the time to understand or were even qualified to do so. The DOE was previously run by a nuclear physicist. After the election, until he recently resigned, it was run by a former governor without a science degree.

The book is actually a quick read, much shorter than it could have been. Yet, it is something every legislator should read, as they likely have a poor understanding of the risks at hand and what is not being done.

Lewis summarizes the general concerns of a key contributor from the Department of Energy, who greatly worries about things like exposure risk to radioactive waste product from nuclear energy that still exists and attacks on our energy production and distribution system, by saying:

The fifth risk is “the risk society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risk with short-term solutions. ‘Program management’ is not just program management. ‘Program management’ is the existential threat that you never really imagine as a risk.”

And, later he identifies the not knowing risk. “Here is where the Trump administration’s willful ignorance plays a role. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gain without the regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing the cost. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems.”

To this point, the DOE contributor said when he saw the budget, “All the risks are science-based. You can’t gut science. If you do, you are hurting the country. If you gut the core competency of the DOE, you gut the country.”

There are so many things that these various departments do that benefit American people and industry that are misunderstood or simply not known. Could they be more efficient? Of course, and that should be the goal of any administration. Yet, these hard working people, scientists, engineers, Ph.Ds, etc. do yeomen’s work, and are ridiculed by some as the “deep state.” After speaking with many of these people, Lewis concludes the deep state are folks that actually know what they are talking about. They do not boast on themselves and get little notoriety.

One example is of a Coast Guard scientist who is the foremost authority on where people who fall over board might drift. He is actually acclaimed in other countries more than he is here, because he did not brag on his efforts. Previous to his efforts, falling over board usually meant the death of the person. Yet, he studied patterns, currents, sizes of people, what were they wearing, and other data points over years, even going on board as part of search and rescue missions. He developed an easier to use software tool that heightened the Coast Guard’s ability to pin point people. And, it is successful, but he is now retired with no obvious successor.

But, let me leave you with a final example, one of many. A business leader in rural America was bragging on getting a loan all on his own. The bank had a press conference where the leader was going to say this is how it should be done, with no government involvement. When someone from the Department of Agriculture introduced herself, he asked “what are you doing here?” She said, “we are the ones who lent you the money you are talking about.” He had no idea. Most Americans don’t, even legislators. After one complained about the Department of Agriculture sucking, she told the state official something he did not know, we invested more than $1 billion in your state last year.

I have written before about “The Invisibles.” These are the folks who show up at work each day and make things run well, without bringing attention to themselves. There are numerous examples in this book. And, when they are not allowed to do the things that are needed, we are the ones who suffer.

If you give a mouse a cookie

One of the kids’ favorite children’s book is “If you give a mouse a cookie.” The book takes you on a series of steps after that first cookie offer. In this vein, here are a few meandering thoughts.

If you get your news from extreme talk show venues, then do not be surprised by the strange looks you get when you espouse what you heard or read.

If you get your news from the president, you may want to check additional sources as his veracity is highly dubious.

If you are too rash with getting out of shelter-at-home restrictions, please heed the counsel of Dr. Birx who said on Fox she worries about people bringing home infections to grandma and grandpa, something you will regret the rest of your life.

If you protest with an assault weapon in tow, do not be surprised when your message is discounted. If you walk into a legislative building with a firearm, do not be surprised if you are arrested.

If you say inane things, do not be surprised if people treat you with circumspect. Saying you will eat health care officials if they stand in the way of opening the economy does not improve your argument.

If you drink disinfectant to prevent COVID-19, do not be surprised if you end up in the hospital. Same goes with the Tide pod challenge or shooting your fanny with silicon to look like a Kardashian.

And, if you give a mouse a glass a milk, don’t be surprised if he wants a cookie to go with it.

The honest disciple

The following Jewish folktale can be found in “The Children’s Book of Virtues,” which we used to read from to our kids. It was edited by William J. Bennett, the former Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan.

“Once a rabbi decided to test the honesty of his disciples, so he called them together and posed a question.
‘What would you do if you were walking along and found a purse full of money lying in the road?’ he asked.
‘I’d return it to its owner,’ said one disciple.
‘His answer comes to quickly, I must wonder if he really means it,’ the rabbi thought.
‘I’d keep the money if nobody saw me find it,’ said another.
‘He has a frank tongue, but a wicked heart,’ the rabbi told himself.
‘Well Rabbi,’ said a third disciple, ‘to be honest, I believe I’d be tempted to keep it. So I would pray to God that He give me the strength to resist such a temptation and do the right thing.’
‘Aha!’ thought the rabbi. ‘Here is a man I would trust.'”

I came across the book in our attic and remembered reading it to our three children. There is a companion book called “The Children’s Book of Heroes,” which is somewhere in the attic, unless we gave it to a niece with children.

The stories range from brief vignettes to four to five page stories. I have always liked the honesty of this piece. It seems to resonate more today, when people in leadership positions forget the need to be honest with us.