Daily Update: Friday, November 20th, 2015

11-20 - Sinking of the Whaleship Essex

No Saints again (drat). We note that on this date in 1820 a whale rammed and sank the Whaleship Essex, with results that were very bad for the crew of the ship and very good for future literature.

Some 2,000 nautical miles west of the western coast of South America, the Whaleship Essex, which had left Nantucket the year before with a crew of twenty-one men on a two and a half year whaling expedition, encountered a whale that was much larger than normal which rammed the ship twice and sank it while the men were pursuing and killing other members of the whale’s pod. The twenty sailors (one had deserted some months earlier) were forced to abandon the fast-sinking ship; set out in three smaller whaleboats with wholly inadequate supplies of food and fresh water, they rejected the Captain’s idea of going to the closer South Pacific islands to the west (some 1,200 miles to the nearest then-known islands) on the grounds that they would be eaten by cannibals. Unable to sail against the trade winds, the boats would need to sail south for 1,000 miles before they could use the Westerlies to turn towards South America, which would still lie another 3,000 miles to the east. In two weeks, as men were beginning to die from thirst, they landed on uninhabited Henderson Island, within the modern-day British territory of the Pitcairn Islands, where they found a small freshwater spring and the men gorged on birds, eggs, crabs, and peppergrass. After one week, they had largely exhausted the island’s food resources and on December 26th concluded they would starve if they remained much longer. Three men, the only white members of the crew who were not natives of Nantucket, opted to stay behind on Henderson and the remaining Essex crewmen resumed the journey, aiming for Easter Island; some weeks later, on January 4th, 1821, they estimated that they had drifted too far south of Easter Island to reach it and decided to make for Más a Tierra Island, 1,818 miles to the east and 419 miles west of South America. The provisions ran out, and the boats became separated, with one being lost forever. The first two men who died were sewn into their clothes and buried at sea; but the sailors had to begin eating the bodies of those other sailors who had died; in one boat, lots were drawn, and the unlucky soul who drew the short straw (who was the Captain’s cousin) was shot and eaten. Eventually, five live men (two from one boat, and three from another), who had resorted to cannibalism of seven men to live, were rescued in February 1821, and the three men on the island, who were near death, were rescued in April 1821. Upon their return to Nantucket, all eight men returned to the sea; after being involved in two more shipwrecks, after which he was regarded as a “Jonah”, or a terminally unlucky shipmate, to whom no ship owner would trust a ship, Captain Pollard retired. Most of the survivors at some time or another wrote accounts of the disaster, some of which differed markedly on details of the characters of the men involved in the story. The cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson (who was fourteen years old at the time of the sinking of the Essex), became a captain in the Merchant Service and later wrote an account of the sinking, titled The Loss of the Ship “Essex” Sunk by a Whale and the Ordeal of the Crew in Open Boats. Nickerson wrote his account late in his life, and it was lost until 1960; the Nantucket Historical Association published it in 1984. The best known account is First Mate Owen Chase’s Narrative of the Most Extra-Ordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex, which was published in 1821. (Chase eventually had four wives; three died, and he divorced the fourth one when he was presented with a child sixteen months after his last visit to Nantucket, though he raised the child as his own.) While whaling in the South Pacific, Owen’s son William met a young whaler, spoke with him at some length about the Essex, and gave a copy of his father’s manuscript to the young man. That young man was Herman Melville, and it was Chase’s narrative that inspired Melville’s greatest work, Moby-Dick: or, The Whale. (While Melville’s work kept only the sinking of a ship by a whale from the Narrative, Sena Jeter Naslund used the plight of the sailors in the Narrative in a considerable portion of the plot for her book Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star-gazer.) In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (published 2000) is the source material for the movie In The Heart of the Sea, due to come out in December 2015.

Last night I got my Email from The Printery House, so my Christmas cards have been shipped. I read the November 2nd, 2015 issue of Sports Illustrated, and our #23 ranked LSU Men’s Basketball team beat South Alabama at home by the score of 78 to 66. Our Tigers will next play an away game with Marquette on November 23rd.

Upon waking up today I did my Bathroom Devotional Reading, then did my Internet Devotional Reading and said the Eighth Day of my Novena to Christ the King. When we got to the casino we had our Thanksgiving $15 Gift Cards from the casino. Once we clocked in, Richard was on a Blackjack table, and I was next to him on the $5.00 Minimum Bet Blackjack table. I was having a hard time getting back into gear; I forgot (until my player had left the table) that one can play $5.00 on one spot, but that if the same player is playing two spots he or she needs to have a $10.00 minimum bet on both spots. (Fortunately, the phone did not ring, which means that Surveillance upstairs didn’t notice.) After our first hour Richard told me that we could both get out early if we wished to, and I said ok, so we got out at 4:30 am. On our way home Richard said that he would be coming back later, so as to do his Open Enrollment for 2016 regarding his insurance. When I got home, I checked on the home computer to see if I could do my Open Enrollment at home, but I could not see how to do it. I then took a short nap.

At 7:15 am Richard woke me up, and at 7:30 am we were on our way back to the casino, with me reading the morning paper along the way. At the Computer Room in the HR building we did our Open Enrollment; I made sure we were signed up for everything I had before (and bumped up the Flex Plan amount for our ongoing medical bills), and Richard (who had no trouble signing in (!), signed up for long-term and short-term disability. (Most of our stuff is covered for both of us, under my nickle.) When we were done, we stopped at the McDonald’s in Kinder and got biscuits, and I ate two bacon biscuits while reading the November 9th, 2015 issue of Sports Illustrated. Richard stopped at Wal-Mart on our way home to get chicken for gumbo and to get toilet paper.

We got home at about 10:30 am, and I was able to log onto Richard’s stuff in ADP to print out his previous check stub. I then worked on my National Park stuff for the next couple of hours (which included Richard heading to Winn-Dixie for some Fresh Cuts veggies for the gumbo, and me eating my lunch salad), and plugged all of my National Park Passport Stamps into the most current database. I also found out that ten parks, mostly in the West and Alaska, each count as two parks; among those parks is Craters of the Moon in Idaho, which we saw in 2014, so my current Count is at 169 parks. (They keep adding more parks, and as of now there are 409 parks total; I have quite a way to go.) I also mucked around in the bowels of my National Park Traveler’s Club website, then I uploaded my latest database to Google Drive, and downloaded it from Google Drive to my Galaxy Note 4.

Even though it is quite early, I will finish this Daily Update; then I will read until 4:30 pm, when I will watch Jeopardy!, and then go to bed early. Our hapless New Orleans Pelicans will play a home game with the San Antonio Spurs tonight, and I will give the score of the game in tomorrow’s Daily Update.

Tomorrow is the Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And tomorrow is the Louisiana Gubernatorial General Election. I will put out the flag in honor of the Election before we leave for work. We will work our eight hours, and on our way home we will vote (for governor, for lieutenant governor, and for the state attorney general; from the ads that have been running, half the candidates think the other candidates are the Spawn of Satan and the worst choice that could be made in this or in any other lifetime, and the other half of the candidates think the same thing about the opposition). I will do my Weekly Hour of Eucharistic Adoration tomorrow, and get my photos from Wal-Mart before I come home to see the game between LSU and Ole Miss at 2:30 pm on TV (the game is in Mississippi). And our LSU Women’s Basketball team will be playing a home game with Long Beach State at the same time. And we will go to bed prepared to go to work on Sunday morning; no matter who is elected, I’m sure that the earth will continue to turn in the normal way.

This Friday afternoon brings us a Parting Quote from Robert Altman, American film director. Born in 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri, he had a strong Catholic upbringing, being educated in Jesuit schools. At the age of 18 he joined the Army; over the course of World War II he flew over 50 bombing missions in Borneo and the Dutch East Indies. Upon his discharge in 1946, Altman moved to California and worked in publicity for a company that had invented a tattooing machine designed for the identification of dogs. He entered filmmaking only as a whim, selling to RKO the script for the 1948 picture Bodyguard, which he co-wrote with George W. George. Altman’s immediate success encouraged him to move to New York City, where he attempted to forge a career as a writer; he enjoyed little luck, however, and in 1949 he returned to Kansas City, accepting a job as a director and writer of industrial films for the Calvin Company. Here he had his first experiences working with film technology as well as with actors. After helming some 65 industrial films and documentaries, in 1956 Altman was hired by a local businessman to write and direct a feature film in Kansas City on juvenile delinquency. The finished product, titled The Delinquents and made for $60,000, was purchased by United Artists for $150,000 and released in 1957. While primitive, this teen exploitation movie contained the foundations of Altman’s later work in its use of casual, naturalistic dialogue. This success prompted him to move from Kansas City to California for the last time. Altman next co-produced 1957′s The James Dean Story, a documentary rushed into theaters to capitalize on the actor’s recent death and marketed to the cult following emerging in the wake of the tragedy. His first two features brought him to the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who tapped him as a director for his CBS anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. After just two episodes, Altman resigned due to differences with a producer, but the exposure enabled him to mount a successful TV career in series including BonanzaCombat!, and the Kraft Television Theater. During his TV period, though he was frequently fired for his refusal to conform to network mandates as well as his insistence upon injecting his material with political subtexts and antiwar sentiments, Altman never lacked assignments in an industry desperate for experienced talent. In 1964 one of his episodes for the Kraft Television Theatre was expanded for commercial release under the name Nightmare in Chicago. Two years later he accepted the invitation to direct the low-budget space travel feature Countdown, but was fired within days of the project’s conclusion because of his refusal to edit the film down to a manageable length. Altman did not direct another movie until 1969′s That Cold Day in the Park, a critical and box-office disaster. In 1969 he was offered the script for MASH, an adaptation of a little-known Korean War-era novel satirizing life in the armed services which had already been passed over by over a dozen other filmmakers. He agreed to direct the project, and though production was so tumultuous that stars Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland even attempted to have Altman fired over his unorthodox filming methods, MASH was widely hailed as an immediate classic upon its 1970 release. Now recognized as a major talent, Altman’s career took firm hold with the success of MASH, and he followed it with other critical breakthroughs such as McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), The Long Goodbye (1973), Thieves Like Us (1974) and Nashville (1975). As a director, he favored stories showing the interrelationships between several characters; he stated that he was more interested in character motivation than in intricate plots. As such, he tended to sketch out only a basic plot for the film, referring to the screenplay as a “blueprint” for action, and allowed his actors to improvise dialogue. He tried to have his films rated R (by the MPAA rating system) so as to keep children out of his audience, as he did not believe children have the patience his films require. In 1980 he directed the musical Popeye, based on the comic strip/cartoon of the same name, which starred Robin Williams in his big-screen debut. Though seen as a failure by some critics, the film did make money, and was in fact the second highest grossing film Altman directed to that point (Gosford Park is now the second highest). During the 1980s, he did a series of films, some well-received (Secret Honor, 1984) and some critically panned (O.C. & Stiggs, 1984). He also garnered a good deal of acclaim for his presidential campaign “mockumentary” Tanner ’88, for which he earned an Emmy Award and regained critical favor. His career was revitalized when he directed 1992′s The Player, a satire of Hollywood, which was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Director, though Altman did not win. After the success of The Player, he directed 1993′s Short Cuts, an ambitious adaptation of several short stories by Raymond Carver. In 1996 Altman directed Kansas City, an under-appreciated work intertwining his love of 1930′s jazz with a complicated kidnapping story. In 2001 his film Gosford Park gained a spot on many critics’ lists of the ten best films of that year. A movie version of Garrison Keillor’s public radio series A Prairie Home Companion was released in June 2006. After five Oscar nominations for Best Director and no wins, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Altman an Academy Honorary Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2006. In 2009 the University of Michigan made the winning bid to archive 900 boxes of his papers, scripts and business records; the total collection measures over 1,000 linear feet (died 2006): “If you don’t have a leg to stand on, you can’t put your foot down.”

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