I Am Jackie Chan

The Book of the Week is “I Am Jackie Chan” by Jackie Chan, published in 1998. This is the autobiography of Jackie Chan, a kung fu movie stuntman.

Born in April 1954 to parents who worked as household help in a foreign embassy in Hong Kong, Chan was frequently subjected to cruel physical punishment by his father. When he was about seven years old, unable to sit still in a formal classroom, he was sent to China Drama Academy, a boarding school. There, approximately fifty kids of all ages were taught kung fu, and for a fleeting time, basic academic subjects by a series of tutors. When Chan left the school after ten years, the kids numbered about thirty, due to attrition. Discipline was meted out with the painful striking of a cane on the hands by the master for even minor infractions. The master’s senior underlings were into bullying.

After leaving the Academy, Chan had difficult periods in his life as a young adult, involving a romantic subplot, poverty, more bullying, and dangerous physical work, among other adventures. He spoke no English. He could take jobs that required minimal literacy, but those were all menial, with no chance for growth. Formal education was not for him. He came to the realization that his career options were extremely limited because the only marketable skill he possessed was as a stuntman.

Much later, during the making of the movie, “Rush Hour” Chan writes, “Three insurance guys were standing around the director… It took several hours for them to rig padded mats so that they’d catch me if I fell… ” It took a while for Chan to get used to the hassles associated with litigious American culture.

The making of Hollywood’s movies cost many times more than Chan’s Hong Kong movies. Many American producers spared no expense whenever they needed props or equipment but stuck to a strict shooting schedule, which meant reluctance to re-shoot scenes that weren’t perfect. Chan’s culture in Hong Kong was the opposite. He would resourcefully use whatever props or equipment were on hand and re-shoot a scene innumerable times to get it perfect with no insurance, no… “private jets, no mansions, no luxurious trailers, no fancy food.”

Read the book to learn how Chan separated his identity from that of Bruce Lee, and became a director, producer, film editor and stuntman in his own movies.

Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed the tome, “Wait for Me! Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire” by Deborah Mitford, published in 2010.

The author described her life between the 1920’s and the single-digit 2000’s as the youngest of seven siblings in a royal family in the United Kingdom; the oldest was fourteen years older. She described her generation of females thusly: “Marriage was the career we all aspired to– we were not trained to do a paid job.” The children “regularly signed the [church] visitors’ book ‘Greta Garbo’ and ‘Maurice Chevalier” as a prank. The author’s father taught her to drive a car when she was nine.

Mitford wrote about various other aspects of her times: “Nearly all my contemporaries smoked, which was not only acceptable, it was usual.” and in 1937, “The idea of answering a dinner invitation with a note of what you could or could not eat would have been preposterous and did not happen.” In June of that year, the author got to have tea with her mother, sister and Hitler.

Through the 1940’s and 1950’s, the author got pregnant seven times, but only three of the babies survived to adulthood; the others died in miscarriages or shortly after birth. She tried not to dwell on her own sorrow as she knew that her situation was still much better than other people’s during WWII. “There were already terrible sufferings of rationings, the indiscriminate bombings and the daily deaths of young servicemen.”

In the ensuing decades, the author found herself responsible for the management of seven households in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Her title became, “Her Grace Deborah Vivian Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire.”

In the 1980’s, the author was speaking to ten influential journalists in New York City who wrote about tourism. She had just visited Graceland (Elvis Presley’s estate) but none of them ever had. Nowadays, the number of tourists who go see that residence is second only to those who go see the White House.

In April 1991, the Cavendishes celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with 3,700 strangers because the author’s husband placed an ad in the Derbyshire Times inviting everyone in the county who was also having their golden anniversary that year. A jolly good time was had by all.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth

The Book of the Week is “The Girl to Fell to Earth” by Sophia Al-Maria, published in 2012. This is the autobiography of a member of Generation Y of mixed parentage. Her father was a Bedouin from Qatar; her mother, from the United States.

Al-Maria’s childhood began in America but her father’s job in the oil industry took him back to Qatar. She, her mother and younger sister then followed him. However, there occurred a serious rift in her parents’ relationship, due to the nature of his culture.

Read the book to see how the author learned to deal with switching between the two very different cultures while feeling a sense of belonging to both.

Bonus Post

This blogger read the book, “Yossarian Slept Here” by Erica Heller, published in 2011. This is the author’s autobiography. She is the daughter of a one-hit wonder novelist, whose book “Catch-22” is now fading in the public’s memory. Heller herself admits she still has yet to actually read the book.

The meaning of the phrase “catch-22” is still well-known– an ironic situation; for example: an inexperienced new graduate who is seeking employment cannot obtain it because employment is the only way to obtain experience, but obtaining employment requires experience.

Heller’s life is typical for her generation of a particular population segment– coming of age in the New York of the early 1960’s in an Upper West Side family which was financially comfortably well off. They dined out frequently, vacationed in Europe and in the Hamptons, and she attended a private school. For an unexplained reason, she fails almost entirely to acknowledge her younger brother’s existence. She also mentions the religion with which she identifies (Jewish) only in passing– perhaps because her having a Jewish last name creates instant bias. The topic areas Heller turns to again and again, however, are: the building in which her family resides, the famous people her father knew, and her active involvement in her parents’ lives and how they emotionally manipulated her.

Read the book to learn about the rifts in the relationships among and between Heller, her mother and father, and the serious illnesses suffered by each of them through the years, coping with their “catch-22” contradictions.

Super Crunchers

The Book of the Week is “Super Crunchers” by Ian Ayres, published in 2007. This is a book about how projections based on vast quantities of numerical data in various areas of life are spurring innovations and controversy.

Improvements have been made in health, education, welfare, politics, marketing and other aspects of the day-to-day existence of humans because technological advances have greatly facilitated large volumes of number-crunching; however, not without heated debates.

People who are “experts” in specific disciplines whose projections can be quantified, are being obsolesced by machines that make predictions better than they can. For instance, software has been created to project the duration of celebrity marriages. Such duration has been found to have an inverse relationship with Google web traffic. Horror.

When this ebook was published, Farecast.com (Now Bing Travel), a company known for its online airfare search engine– processed its information with a five-terabyte database– “… fifty billion prices that it purchased from ITA Software, a company that sells price data to travel agents, websites, and computer reservation services.” The sheer amount of data minimizes bias. Such “randomization” lets researchers “… run the equivalent of a controlled test without having to laboriously match up and control for dozens or hundreds of potentially confounding variables.”

A hue and cry was heard at teaching hospitals when internet users acquired the ability to diagnose themselves by Googling their symptoms. Around the same time, software was created by medical professionals concerned about the high percentage of misdiagnoses. Such software allowed medical-school students to make diagnoses with the use of a statistical algorithm in a database of diseases, syndromes, disorders, symptoms, causes, drug side effects, clinical findings, lab results and patient histories. The data consisted of “…word patterns in journal articles that were most likely to be associated with each disease.” The computer was more accurate than the medical school professors.

One profession in which jobs are not threatened by large-scale data processing, is psychoanalysis. It’s inferential and subjective– hard to quantify. In financial services, ego and feelings interfere with securities trading and the granting of loans. But computer programs’ regression equations are completely impartial. So they do better than humans at making predictions that make money. Even when a combination of a human and a machine are used to determine whether to grant parole to convicts (based on the probability they’ll go back to committing crimes after being released from prison), the machine alone makes better decisions in a larger percentage of cases.

Read the book to learn why number-crunching software is: inappropriate for making major one-time decisions; making some teachers into robots; good at predicting Supreme Court decisions; sometimes poorly understood by healthcare professionals; raising privacy concerns, and much more.