Geo Beach: A Swamp Yankee in the Last Frontier by Walter Brasch

I may have to turn on my dusty TV to catch some of this series, sounds fascinating, of course, I enjoy documentaries.  ~ Lo

by Walter Brasch
featured writer
Dandelion Salad
Walter’s blog post

July 27, 2008

When Geo Beach looks you in the eye and says that “Tougher in Alaska,” his 13 week series on the History Channel, isn’t Reality TV, you believe him.

It might be the sincerity seen in his penetrating blue eyes.

It might also be that not many will challenge a bald-headed 6-foot-3, 225 pound man who looks like he could have been a pro football linebacker, but was really a firefighter/medic, logger, and commercial fisherman.

But, it’s probably because, above everything else, Geo Beach, an award-winning journalist, knows the media. And right now, he knows that his series definitely, absolutely, is not Reality TV.

“Reality TV isn’t real but something that a Hollywood producer has come up with to make money,” he says, with the raspy staccato voice of authority that perfectly depicts the life of a blue-collar journalist. To Geo Beach, what is called Reality TV is “really Orwellian doublespeak.”

“This,” he says about his own series with absolute honesty and conviction, “is non-fiction documentary journalism,” one that puts him into the story to experience the life of the people he reports about.

“Tougher in Alaska,” an in-depth look at a variety of people, was shot between April 2007 and March 2008.

Once called “Seward’s Folly”—Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated the sale of Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million in 1867—the 570,000 square mile arctic wilderness attracted thousands of prospectors, and led to the development of hundreds of settlements and the creation of cities, when large deposits of gold was discovered near Dawson City in the late 1890s. Appropriately, the first episode of “Tougher in Alaska” is one that looks at the life of the modern gold miners. With the price of gold going over $1,000 an ounce, “there’s been a new gold rush, a new chapter in Alaskan history,” says Beach. One of the purposes of the series, he points out, “is to show the links between the historical and the present, and look to the future as tied to the past.”

In the second episode, Beach went salmon fishing on Bristol Bay, one of several thousand fishermen awaiting the annual run of millions of sockeye salmon to their spawning grounds. In another episode, shot mostly in the summer months, Beach and his crew went into nearly inaccessible forests, steep valleys, and coastal mountains to work alongside loggers who had to build roads to get to the timberlands, and then use trucks, barges, and helicopters to remove the fallen trees, some more than 100 feet high.

In later episodes, Beach traveled with scientists who track glaciers, erosion, volcanoes and avalanches, worked in shipwreck salvage operations, and with postal carriers who could deliver mail only by using hovercrafts.

Unlike Reality TV, there aren’t thousands of people desperately trying to do anything to be on camera and become almost-famous. They aren’t willing to humiliate themselves by eating live bugs, swapping wives, exposing their weak vocals to snippy judges, jumping off buildings, or plotting intricate revenge schemes. To get Alaskans even to agree to be on television often took “a bit of an effort,” says Beach. He says the people “just did their jobs. They didn’t think anything they did was special or newsworthy; certainly not entertaining.”

Unlike Reality TV that depicts two-dimensional characters—“they can be fun if you’re reading Dickens or a comic book”—the people in “Tougher in Alaska” are real. “We wanted to communicate the humanity of the people of Alaska,” says Beach. Unlike the stereotypes the people in the “Lower 48” may have about Alaska, Beach was going to demythologize some things. “The weather is tough. The workers are tough,” he says, “but they’re not brainless animals.” The series shows toughness— and intelligence, humor and humanity. “My subjects don’t play to the cameras,” he says. “They do their jobs. We work with them. We get a story.” Beach says he wanted his audience to see an organic whole, “to look at the people and their families, their work, their struggles, their lives.” Because of the sparseness, Alaskans have learned they “just gotta do it, you gotta find it, make it, fix it by yourself,” he says.

Reality series often have crews of dozens, including chefs to cook for them. “The Tougher in Alaska” A-team crew was Beach, a director of photography (Dan Lyons), audio recordist (Joe Laney), and a field producer (Mike Rozett). All four carried cameras. “The real test,” says Beach, “is that the production company staff did real research and advance scouting work, so when we went into a location there was never a story that was forced.” The story, says Beach, “is the awesome nature of the subject, of every character, of Alaska itself and the challenges that Alaska produces. “The basic elements—Alaska and the workers—added up to a good enough story that we didn’t need to make up anything,” says Beach.

Working with the people of Alaska meant working in some of the harshest weather on earth. “It’s 50 below, and we’re driving up the Haul Road,” says Beach. “I’m in a big rig, pulling 36 inch diameter pipe, and the crew is out there filming. They’re not Hollywood boys. They’re workers, and every one of them worked as hard as I did.” It didn’t take long, says Beach, for the Alaskans to realize there wasn’t any difference between them and the story tellers. Against wind and temperatures that dropped to 20 below, Beach and his crew helped linemen restore electricity to Kasugluk, one of the most remote villages in the nation’s most remote state. With temperature in the 80s during July 2007, Beach worked with crews on the Alaska Highway near Kluane Lake, near where Army construction crews working from the north and south met to complete the original 1,400 mile highway in 1943. Like the workers, whether they were soldiers during World War II or public works employees in 2008, Beach helped dynamite rocks, drove bulldozers, graders, and dump trucks.

In the final episode, filmed over several months, with temperatures ranging from the mid-80s to 70 below, Beach and his crew worked with the Alaska State Troopers. They traveled in cars, snowmobiles, trucks, helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, inflatable fast boats, and 32-foot patrol boats. In June 2007, with temperatures hovering in the 40s, Beach and his crew, after extensive training, experienced arctic survival. “We were pushed off a boat, and had to swim to shore on an island and survive for two days,” says Beach, as matter-of-factly as if he were going for a dip in the spa swimming pool.

“Nothing was constructed for this show,” says Beach. “Nothing was set up; no one was paid to do anything. We don’t compress or extend time, or use trickery,” says Beach emphatically. Unlike the macho-hosts of similar reality series, Beach isn’t afraid to allow viewers to see him make mistakes, even get injured doing the job. “Selective editing could make me to be a ‘hero’,” says Beach, “but that would be Reality TV and not reality. It would also take away the humor, which is a crucial part of humanity.”

Airing about the same time as “Tougher in Alaska” is the Discovery Channel’s “The Alaska Experiment,” a seven episode series which the network describes as “Four groups of ordinary people attempt to live in the Alaskan wilderness for three months.” The media have already begun describing it as a “Survivors” knock-off. Beach doesn’t discount that show—“”history, Alaska is one big experiment—people coming here to make it,” he says. But, he contrasts “Tougher in Alaska” with “Man vs. Wild,” a Reality TV show that also airs on the Discovery Channel. Host Bear Gryllis, after appearing to be surviving harsh winters and desert summers, hypothermia and dehydration, actually “survived” in luxurious hotels when the day’s filming was over, according to the Times of London. Even some of the situations he faced while on camera were set-up and orchestrated for television.

Beach also swipes at “adventurers” who come to Alaska, lured by Reality TV series. “Alaskans will risk their lives to help others,” says Beach, “but it’s really stupid, and just plain impolite for people to come up here, not know what they’re getting into, and senselessly put others in a position to lose their own lives.” Some of the “adventurers” are journalists, looking for a “good story,” but not prepared for the genuine Alaska. “These are the Parachute Journalists,” says Beach, who points out, “They drop into an area, do a story, go home, and never understand the people of their circumstances.” Beach is unimpressed with national news coverage of issues, peoples, and cultures. “Igloos and Penguins” is his term, based upon an NBC-TV news show about the North Pole that included file footage of penguins, the closest of which, except for those in zoos, are about 12,000 miles to the south.

Geo Beach grew up in New England—“I’m a Swamp Yankee,” he says proudly. His mother became a counselor after graduating from Bennington College in 1953, a time when not many women went to college. His father graduated with honors from Western Reserve University (now Case-Western), and later completed a second bachelor’s degree in sacred theology from the Harvard Divinity School, and became an ordained Unitarian minister. He was a newspaper reporter (Boston Sunday Advertiser, Boston Record-American, Cleveland Press, Columbus Citizen-Journal), a radio news anchor (WEEI-AM, the CBS-owned station in Boston), and a syndicated columnist—“Saints and Sinners” was published by more than 200 newspapers over a 32 year period.

“I grew up in a house with a lot of books and discussions,” says Beach. Although encouraged to speak out, to challenge others and be challenged by them, he “had to show facts to back up his opinions,” something today’s media pundits and prognosticators often forget or deliberately sidestep.

Geo Beach’s own formal education stopped with graduation from the elite Phillips Exeter prep school in New Hampshire, where he was on the school newspaper and radio station, planning for a career in writing. He graduated early, and with honors, and accepted early admission to Brown, but never attended. “My brother and a hundred or so of my friends from Exeter were at Yale,” he says, “and that’s where I ended up.” But, because of Ivy League rules, he was forbidden to enroll at Yale for two years, so he became a “drop-in.” He became involved in theatre and writing, including regular publication in the Yale Daily News Magazine. After two years, he “just took off,” on a never-ending quest to experience lufe in order to find stories worth telling. His first stop was a year driving land rovers in the Sahara. “When I came back,” he recalls, “I was working enough on my writing that I just never enrolled.”

Over the next few years, he wrote poetry, fiction, newspaper and magazine articles—“anything and everything.” In his early-20s, he went to West Virginia, and began working on “Mountain Stage,” a new music show that would become the longest-running music show on public broadcast history. He later worked in Atlanta before exploring the Last Frontier.

In 1983, then in his mid-20s, he went to Alaska when a friend asked him to visit. “I was always attracted to the mountains,” he says, “and I missed the ocean when I was away from it too long.” But, when he got to Alaska, during the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, he found himself near Homer, at the southern end of Alaska Route 1. Around him were the Kenai Mountains. The Japanese currents that flow into Kachemak Bay give the area a warmth that is similar to that of New England. He had the water and mountains he so loved. “I thought I’d be up here a year,” he recalls, “but time spins around a little different at the top of the planet.”

During the past 25 years, Geo Beach, like his father became a columnist. The Alaska Press Club honored him as the state’s Best Columnist for his weekly “Top O’ the Planet” column in the Anchorage Daily News, the state’s largest newspaper. “It’s sorta on hiatus right now,” he says, noting the demands of his work on “Tougher in Alaska,” including a heavy demand to promote the series. But, he continues to write magazine articles and do the popular “Uncommontaries” for public radio, which earned him the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi medal from the Society of Professional Journalists. His commentaries have aired on National Public Radio’s “Living on Earth” and “All Things Considered,” and Public Radio International’s “Savvy Traveler” and “Marketplace.” He has also won an Atlantic Monthly poetry prize, top awards from the Pacific Northwest Press Association, and the Mencken Award for “independence of mind, fearlessness in reporting, excellence of style, and above all, intellectual liberty.”

But awards aren’t what drives him. “It’s journalism,” he says. “It’s telling the stories of people; it’s helping others see the world around them.”

Whatever Geo Beach’s next project is, readers, listeners, and viewers can be assured it’ll be real and, most assuredly, not Reality TV.

[“Tougher in Alaska” is seen 10 p.m., Thursdays, on the History Channel.]

[Dr. Walter M. Brasch is an award-winning social issues columnist, former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. He is president of the Pennsylvania Press Club, and former president of the Keystone state chapter of the Society of Professional Journalist. He is also the author of 17 books, including America’ s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Giovernment’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights (January 2005) and Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (November 2007), available through and other bookstores. He frequently writes about the media, social and political issues. You may contact Brasch at or through his website at:]

Obama, The Prince Of Bait-And-Switch By John Pilger

Dandelion Salad

By John Pilger
24/07/08 “ICH”

John Pilger describes the denigration of the civilian casualties in colonial wars, and the anointing of Barack Obama, as he tours the battlefields, sounding more and more like George W. Bush.

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Latin America’s struggle for integration and independence by Federico Fuentes

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission by Green Left Weekly

by Federico Fuentes, Caracas
Green Left Weekly
26 July 2008

Commenting on how much the two had in common — same age, three children, similar music tastes — Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said to Mexican President Felipe Calderon on April 11 that “perhaps we represent the new generation of leaders in Latin America”.

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Screw The Climate! We Want Our Cheap Gas! by Dave Lindorff

Dandelion Salad

By Dave Lindorff
07/25/08 “ICH”

We’re a Nation of Lemmings

Listening to the endless stream of cars passing my house every day, and knowing, from watching them from my mailbox, that they are almost all carrying just one person, either commuting to work or running some kind of errand, I know we are headed for disaster.

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Obama Dazzles Old Europe while McCain cries “No Mas”!

Dandelion Salad

By Mike Whitney
07/25/08 “ICH”

Barack Obama proved yesterday why November’s presidential election will end in a 50-state sweep. John McCain has no chance. It’s like George Bush climbing into the ring with Mike Tyson; one thundering left hook and the Crawford Caligula would be sprawled across the canvas in a pool of his own blood. “No mas”! The same fate awaits the crabby senator from Arizona. The polls are skewed to look like there’s a political horse-race going on. There isn’t. It’s a complete rout. There’s one well-toned thoroughbred striding from venue to venue electrifying the ever-increasing throngs, and one doddering, old mare limping towards the glue-factory. Someone should put a stop to it before McCain gets hurt.

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Standing up to police spying by Ben Dalbey

Dandelion Salad

by Ben Dalbey
July 25, 2008

Ben Dalbey reports on a meeting to protest Maryland’s police spying operation against the anti-death penalty and antiwar movements.

BALTIMORE–About 100 people gathered July 24 for a public forum and press conference in support of four activists named by the Maryland State Police in 43 pages of surveillance reports recently released to the ACLU.

The reports reveal a long-term, statewide spying operation conducted by the state police against the anti-death penalty and antiwar movements.

The forum, “We Will Not Be Silenced: Maryland Anti-Death Penalty Activists Speak Out!” was sponsored by the Baltimore chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. It took place just four days before a special commission appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley is scheduled to hold the first in a series of public hearings on the state’s use of the death penalty.

Now, state and federal lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland and state Sen. Brian Frosh, the chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, are calling for hearings of another type–to investigate the state police and members of former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration for spying on Marylanders who were doing nothing more than exercise their constitutional rights.

On July 17, the ACLU publicized the state police documents obtained through a lawsuit filed on behalf of Baltimore activist Max Obuszewski. As described by ACLU of Maryland staff attorney David Rocah, they are “the tip of the proverbial iceberg.”

The reports are comprised of page after page of detailed notes taken at organizing meetings, picket lines and educational forums, held in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Takoma Park; in Baltimore; and in Annapolis, outside the state capitol building. Some of the meetings took place inside the offices of the Quaker-affiliated American Friends Service Committee.

The police reports contain no mention of any illegal activity, yet the surveillance continued for months on end.

Terrence Sheridan, the current superintendent of the Maryland State Police, last week released a statement denying that the police ever engaged in unlawful surveillance and claiming his force “does not inappropriately curtail the expression or demonstration of the civil liberties of protestors or organizations acting lawfully.”

O’Malley said that his administration “does not and will not use public resources to target or monitor peaceful activities where Maryland citizens are exercising their First Amendment rights.”

However, neither the police nor O’Malley have said that the anti-death penalty and antiwar movements are no longer under state surveillance, and both have yet to commit to a full and public investigation, including the release of all documents and prosecution of all responsible parties.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AT THE July 24 forum, Obuszewski, a member of the peace group Pledge of Resistance and the Baltimore Coalition Against the Death Penalty; Baltimore Coalition member Dr. Terry Fitzgerald; Campaign to End the Death Penalty national board member Mike Stark; and activist and sportswriter Dave Zirin–all individually named in the police reports released so far–spoke out about their experiences, conveying their outrage and their commitment to see justice done.

The four were joined by John Duda of the Red Emma’s Collective, which runs a left-wing bookstore in Baltimore also mentioned in the police reports, the ACLU’s David Rocah, who said that his group is prepared to file legal actions on behalf of all organizations and individuals in Maryland who may be have been subject to surveillance, and Amy Fusting of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.

Obuszewski, a well-known activist in Baltimore, described his years-long struggle to obtain the police records. Obuszewski said he believes he became a target of police surveillance because of his involvement in planning annual peaceful protests outside of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade in Maryland.

Obuszewki urged all those present to get involved, come to organizing meetings and join the struggle to change these policies and the priorities of a system that needs repression to survive.

Fitzgerald highlighted the hypocrisy inherent in a police agency spying on political activists in the name of protecting democracy.

The Baltimore Coalition Against the Death Penalty is “bringing life to democracy,” he said. “This is the heart of democracy: citizens coming together to challenge policies of the government and organizing fellow citizens to change those policies. These actions by the police state of Maryland are an attack on the fundamentals of democracy.”

Stark pointed out that during the same period the state police were spying on anti-death penalty activists, the state executed two men: Steven Oken and Wesley Baker.

He said that Ehrlich’s spokespeople at the time had “one thin argument left [in defense of the death penalty], which is that in Maryland, a majority of people support the death penalty. They are so frightened of what might happen if activists get out there and talk to people…to change public opinion…They were willing to use their ‘hit men.’ They were using it as a way of furthering their agenda, to prop up the death penalty.”

Zirin reiterated his commitment to continuing the struggle to abolish the death penalty in Maryland and encouraged local activists to not give in to a culture of paranoia as a result of the spying scandal.

“One of the aims of this kind of illegal state harassment is to divide us, to keep us separated and silenced,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important we are here together tonight–out of the chill, and into the warmth that comes with struggle and solidarity. That’s why it’s so important to not let them crawl inside our heads and make us jump at shadows. That’s why it’s so very important that we continue to foster an atmosphere that is not suspicious of new faces, voices and ideas.”

Zirin also described his view that the Maryland police spying is not–as some have said–a “misappropriation” of Homeland Security funding.

“We are victims of the Patriot Act and Homeland Security,” Zirin said. “But we are not the ones who have suffered the most. They are in Gitmo. They have been the victims of rendition. They are having their mosques and homes bugged. They are our Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters.

“The problem is not that DHS were surveilling the wrong people. It’s that they are surveilling anybody. This culture of fear that says some people should be watched is driven by the Islamophobia that grips our country–fed by the need of the Bush administration to create an enemy at home, even where none exists.”

Activists vowed to continue to the struggle for democracy and justice, with the Baltimore CEDP chapter holding an organizing meeting August 2 to plan future actions.


COINTELPRO Comes to My Town: My First-Hand Experience With Government Spies by Dave Zirin

Kucinich to Investigate Police Surveillance of Peace Groups

Domestic Spying

Police State

Which war crimes get prosecuted? by Paul D’Amato

Dandelion Salad

by Paul D’Amato
July 25, 2008

Paul D’Amato explains why some atrocities are decried, while others–especially when the perpetrators are the leaders of powerful governments–go unpunished.

TO GREAT fanfare in the Western media, the Serbian government recently arrested Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serb nationalist cause during the war in the former Yugoslavia in the early to mid-1990s, on war crimes charges.

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