Bonus Post

“Heads in Beds” by Jacob Tomsky (pen name), published in 2012. This ebook is the career memoir of a hotel employee.

The author provides tips and tricks for gaming situations in the jobs of valet, housekeeping manager and front desk manager. He writes that entry-level workers start on the overnight shift, laboring on weekends and holidays. The managerial positions are stressful with long hours and no overtime pay.

The dead-end position of bellman pays well, but never offers advancement, just better shifts. The reason is that hauling luggage allows for frequent collection of cash tips which might be shared with fellow employees, but not with the IRS. Some workers singularly collect considerable tips on the sly by developing one-on-one relationships with guests– reserving the best rooms for them, “… supervising the bill, and essentially being a private concierge…”

Union membership offers lots of paid time off and job security. However, if a private equity firm purchases a hotel but the hotel-property-manager-seller continues to manage the hotel, there might be extensive replacement of non-union personnel with inexperienced, lower-paid incompetents.

Furthermore, top management might impose petty, draconian supervision that makes life difficult and emotionally tiring for the workers– as happened with Tomsky’s employer. The quality of customer service declines forthwith. Nevertheless, Tomsky and his colleagues were under pressure to keep guests coming to the hotel, so when management turned penny-pincher and minimized one freebie, workers continued to grant others, like room upgrades, free breakfast, late checkout, reduced minibar charges, etc.

Tomsky also relates that immediate causes for termination include “stealing and sleeping on the job.” Movie and minibar are the charges that guests most often challenge. Both guests and hotel employees have money-saving or money-making schemes. The author writes, “… beware of any employees not wearing name tags. They are up to something and don’t wish to be identified.” Some guests make odd requests. One time, eight female guests rumored to be partying, requested a Bible. The author writes, as it turned out, “They just wanted to roll a joint, simple as that.”

Read the book to learn the phrases hotel employees and guests should use to get desired results, the kinds of punishments the hotel agents mete out to difficult guests, and how guests can get the most out of their stay.

American Radical

The Book of the Week is “American Radical, The Life and Times of I.F. Stone” by D.D. Guttenplan, published in 2009. This is the biography of a muckraking journalist, who wrote of “good, honest graft” and the “…human wreckage piling up around me.”

He was born Isadore Feinstein on Christmas Eve, 1907 in Philadelphia. He spoke Yiddish as a second language. In 1924, because his grades were below Harvard standards and there was open enrollment for local residents, “Izzy” as he was affectionately known, began attending the University of Pennsylvania. He changed his name to I.F. Stone at the tail end of his twenties.

The year 1955 saw Congressional surveillance of Stone’s weekly publication “Weekly.” Stone launched lawsuits against his oppressors, arguing that public moneys should not be used to violate his 1st Amendment rights to privacy and freedom of the press. He would have lost his lawsuits but for a curious situation.

James Eastland, chief counsel and chairman of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, included the New York Times as one of many newspapers and magazines he was surveilling. Stone had embarrassed the Times for pointing out inconsistent behavior: the newspaper’s firing of its employees who were accused of Communist leanings. Yet the Times had published articles arguing for civil rights, anti-segregation, condemning McCarthyism and immigration restrictions. The Times was indignant because it thought it was being singled out for investigation by Eastland. Eastland dropped his investigation.

Other organizations accused of harboring Communists included the Boy Scouts, Voice of America, the USO and YMCA. The Justice Department‘s whole roster of professional informers was finally discredited…” when an ex-Communist admitted to fabricating the allegations against the organizations. In fall 1955, finally, there was vindication of Stone and other activists who were under threat of arrest or deportation or subpoena.

This blogger believes the author’s historical accounts are misleading in spots; he implies that in 1948, when the Israelis had achieved military victory over the Arabs in their war for an independent homeland, the Arabs fled. Historical accounts other than this book say that the Israelis subjected the Arabs to a forced evacuation from their homes where they had been residing for generations.

The result of the Hungarian uprising of 1956, according to the author, was cause for celebration for Stone, because a new government was installed that would impose socialism, and Stone was all for socialism. The author neglects to mention that the Soviets crushed the revolt in an orgy of bloodshed. Then the author goes on to say that Stone misread the Suez Canal Crisis.

Nevertheless, read the book to learn modern history through the eyes of a smartass reporter who called a spade a spade most of the time.

Roses Under the Miombo Trees

The Book of the Week is “Roses Under the Miombo Trees” by Amanda Parkyn, published in 2012.  This is a four-year chronicle of a family in Rhodesia in the early 1960’s. The country at the time was comprised of three territories, one of which later became the country of Malawi.

When she was in her early twenties, the author, an Englishwoman, married a Rhodesian. They, as light-skinned people, had all the creature-comforts a former British colony had to offer: tennis, golf, bridge, swimming, and yachting. However, technology in entertainment and telecommunications was behind that of the United States. Few people had television in rural areas, and telephone calls still had to be made with the help of a live operator. One of their neighbors had a tennis court made of dead anthills, that had been shaped with water and sun-dried.

The author describes their social life and how it changed as her husband was transferred to different territories in connection with his employment; the birth of their two children, her love of gardening and the job performance of the household’s dark-skinned domestic servant.

Read the book to learn the details of the ups and downs of the family’s life, in their specific time and place.

Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed the ebook “My Beloved World” by Sonia Sotomayor, published in 2013.  This is the autobiography of Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor. Born in 1954, she grew up in a low-income neighborhood in the Bronx, in a close-knit family of Spanish-speaking origin.

Sotomayor’s mother’s philosophy was that whatever one is doing, one should do it well. Sotomayor internalized her advice. She became an overachiever in high school. As a Puerto Rican, she benefited from the growing popularity of “Affirmative Action” policies of the early 1970’s. She attended an Ivy League college. “The Daily Princetonian routinely published letters to the editor lamenting the presence on campus of ‘affirmative action students,’ each one of whom had presumably displaced a far more deserving affluent white male…”

In the United States, Affirmative Action, aka “diversity” is still a very controversial practice in education and employment in which the people in power, some say, out of “white liberal guilt,” are trying to salve their consciences for past discrimination of “minorities”– people who are not of white European origin. Ironically, this can result in reverse discrimination in specific sectors of society– favoring of non-white over white candidates. On the other hand, some ethnic groups comprising the minorities are statistically no longer in the minority of the entire population of candidates; they are now the majority.

Even so, people are becoming more tolerant of the growing popularity of multi-ethnic situations. Sotomayor remains very close with her younger brother, who married, had a daughter and adopted twins, “…Korean boys with Irish names, a Polish (adoptive) mother and a Puerto Rican (adoptive) father– the perfect American family.”

In college, Sotomayor had a lot of catching up to do, linguistically and culturally because she had grown up in a sheltered, limited environment. She writes, “I was enough of a realist not to fret about having missed summer camp, or travel abroad, or a casual familiarity with the language of wealth.” She had had trouble learning to write an essay because syntactically, her writing reflected her first language– Spanish, making for awkward phrasing in English. It was only as an undergraduate that she realized she needed to use the same thesis-oriented communication style she used on her high school debating team, but commit it to paper.

When she was planning her wedding, Sotomayor became a bargain-hunter, but “The prices horrified me, each piece of the fairy tale seeming a bigger rip-off than the last.” She attended Yale Law School and became an Assistant District Attorney to get litigation experience. Her dream was to become a judge. Even at Yale, there had been no program that equipped students with the specific skills and experience for becoming a judge.

When she told her mother about her appointment to her first judgeship, she had to explain that various aspects of the job would be less than exciting. There was no world travel involved. She would get to meet “interesting people,” just not the kinds she would be able to make friends with, as she had in her previous position. On top of that, she would be earning very little money, compared to what she could earn at a big-name law firm.

Read the book to learn the details of Sotomayor’s life triumphs and tragedies, and her opinions on various issues.