Janet & Jackie

The Book of the Week is “Janet & Jackie” by Jan Pottker, published in 2001. This is a double biography– of Janet Lee Auchincloss and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Born in 1908, Janet Lee grew up in a rich family. Her obsession with equestrianism in her youth and young adulthood saw her through the stressful times of her life. She won many ribbons.

“For an Irish American woman in the late 1920’s, marriage was the only way to move out of an unhappy household.” She wed for the first time when she was twenty. The groom, Jack Bouvier, a drinker and womanizer, was 36. Her daughter, Jacqueline (Jackie) was born the following summer. The pattern of an unhappy household was repeated until the divorce between Janet and Jack was finalized when Jackie was eleven years old. Jackie, too, took up equestrianism. Jack indulged Jackie’s every whim.

Marriage number two was consummated in 1942. There were only about ten years’ difference in age between Janet and Hugh Auchincloss. Janet kept in touch with her former in-laws and stepchildren, and parented them, even though the Bouviers’ social status was a notch below that of the next man she married. For a while, they were snowbirds between their mansions in Washington, D.C. and Newport, RI.

Janet led Jackie to believe that her highest desire should be to have a man love her. Jackie got the message and wed John F. Kennedy. However, although Jackie’s first husband was a womanizer– his family’s politics, newness of riches and internal loyalty were opposite to her family’s.

Joe Kennedy, the patriarch, treated the wedding as just another political campaign– a well-publicized extravaganza to showcase his son. But he shelled out the money for it. They compromised on the religious issues (as Jackie was Episcopalian, sort of):  the ceremony was officiated by an archbishop in the presence of a monsignor and four priests.

As is well known, in 1963, Jackie’s Jack was shot in Dallas, where he died. Fast forward to 1968. Jackie was ready to wed again, to the 62-year old Aristotle Onassis. Her psychological need for a man was evident; for, she sacrificed a sizeable widow’s pension and Secret Service protection in the process.

Read the book to learn a wealth of information, and the information of wealth as the behavior patterns of the daughter’s life, intertwined with her mother’s, became, well, repetitive.

Memoirs

The Book of the Week is “Memoirs” by Mikhail Gorbachev, published in 1995. This tome described the Soviet leader’s push for political and economic change for the benefit of the millions and millions of people governed by him.

Born in March 1931 in Stavropol, Gorbachev grew up to become a bureaucrat, following the mentality of his agricultural community.  The (federal) Central Committee of the Soviet Union (the Union) had a command economy– the government dictated all aspects of labor, capital and goods. It also assigned housing to all people living in the Union, including officials, pursuant to the political hierarchy. Additionally, vacation houses (dachas) were bestowed upon higher-level officials. Incidentally, according to the author, Politburo members socialized among themselves at work-related functions only, nowhere else– because they were afraid others would gossip about them.

The bureaucracy by the State Planning Committee (“Gosplan”) generated endless memoranda and plenums, not to mention meetings– on harvests, irrigation, infrastructure and what to do about natural disasters such as drought. A dozen different departments and ministries involved themselves in the approval process. “At the beginning of each year the oblast [Communist] Party committees would make unrealistic commitments, which were promptly forgotten. Manipulators were the heroes of the day. Those who worked diligently were looked upon with pity.”

The local government felt a desperate need to keep a stranglehold on their power. They were content with their culture of bribes, graft and mutual favors. So the bureaucrats scotched an early 1960’s capitalistic experiment of paying piece-rate wages to farmers in the infant territory of Kazakhstan when productivity caused payroll expenses to soar. Yet, the bosses wanted to see high returns on a stingy budget.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, farms disappeared when the Union underwent a period of industrialization with extraction of fossil fuels, the introduction of electricity, and construction of army bases. The Baltic Republics counteracted increased soil salinity with lime, but Latvia didn’t. The use of weed killer worsened the already unchecked spread of pollution.

Gorbachev wrote of 1985, “No one even imagined the extent of our ecological disaster, how far we were behind the developed nations as a result of our barbaric attitude toward nature… A wave of bitterness and anger rolled through the country when it came out that the genetic pool of our peoples had been threatened.” Curiously, starting in mid-November 1982, the Union had a series of three leaders who died of ill health within a three-year period: Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko.

Besides, the Politburo consisted of “dead wood” who preferred to maintain the status quo because their own living standards were the highest in the nation in terms of housing, health care, education and necessaries (food, clothing). Each bureaucrat was like the Wizard of Oz–  a phony behind a curtain– except that Gorbachev couldn’t even offer accurate data to the people who needed his help.

Members of government agencies– for the purpose of public and foreign consumption– generated fanciful statistics on the Union’s products: weapons, grain, oil, gas and metals. The real numbers were abysmal. The KGB’s numerical data were also kept secret. That was just the tip of the iceberg on censorship. No negative news coverage of anyone was allowed (except of dissidents). In the spring of 1987, Gorbachev was distressed to learn that true military expenses accounted for 40% of the Union’s budget, and 20% of GNP. Four-fifths of “scientific research” was military-related.

Gorbachev opposed sovereignty for territories ruled by the Union’s central government due to his paternalistic arrogance. He claimed he wasn’t informed that Soviet tanks rolled in to Georgia to quell unrest in the spring of 1989.

Back in March 1987, Margaret Thatcher criticized Gorbachev for making arms shipments to war-prone nations worldwide. He said she made the (hypocritical, untruthful) claim that the West and the United States sent financial aid and food instead, to needy nations. He tried to correct her. No word on whether he succeeded.

On their first visit to the United States in the mid-1980’s, Gorbachev and his wife Raisa were defamed by American propaganda. The media contended that Raisa wouldn’t deign to visit specific places. In reality– those places were on her schedule but she couldn’t control her vehicle’s driver in her motorcade who bypassed those places without consulting her. Also, the tabloids made up the story that she was having a cat fight with Nancy Reagan.

Gorbachev knew and took the risks involved in “rocking the boat” to move the nation forward after so many decades of deleterious political and economic self-delusion, with his concepts of “glasnost” and “perestroika.”

Read the book to learn the details, and how he was punished for doing so, why Soviet tanks rolled into Moscow (!) in October 1993, and how the Union broke up.

Endnote:  This book’s translation was awkward in a few spots, such as: “After our forces were sent to Afghanistan, the USA and other nations took a number of measures against us.” [were sent?]

Moore’s Law / Elon Musk

The Books of the Week are “Moore’s Law, The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley’s Quiet Revolutionary” by Arnold Thackray, David C. Brock and Rachel Jones, published in 2015, and “Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance, published in 2015.

The former biography described not only Gordon Moore’s life, but the histories and cultures of his ancestors, his wife’s family, and the places where he lived.

Born in January 1929 in Pescadero California, Moore was the middle son of three. His father spent most of his working life in law enforcement. He, his father and brothers went fishing and hunting. The family moved to Redwood City in 1938.

At eleven years old, Moore fell in love with chemistry. His “… adolescent hobby of making bombs and explosions” or maybe also the cumulative effect of his noisy hunting excursions were thought to have caused his hearing loss later in life. He wed his college sweetheart and completed a PhD in experimental particle physics at California Institute of Technology.

In 1953, the transistor was starting to replace the vacuum tube in various devices, like TV sets. It also became a handy component in military electronics. In 1956, Moore went to work for William Shockley– a reputable scientist but a psycho boss. Shockley had hubris syndrome and, with his friends from Bell Labs, convinced his company’s major investor to fund the development of a diode rather than the silicon transistor.

In 1957, feeling disgusted and entrepreneurial, Moore and seven of his colleagues left the company and, financed by venture capitalists, eventually formed Fairchild Semiconductor in Mountain View, California. What with the space race, aerospace computing was all the rage. Silicon was a substance that had the right physical properties to advance it.

At Fairchild, Moore formed a research and development group that competed with the manufacturing department. Unfortunately, his temperament was non-confrontational, and his avoidance behavior was bad for business. Fortunately, in 1968, he, Bob Noyce and Andy Grove sported the appropriate diverse set of personalities and skills that maximized profits in a new venture they formed, called Intel. Their strategy was to introduce cutting-edge products to the technology market and be the first to do so.

Intel went public in October 1971, but NOT on a “stock exchange” as the authors wrote. Only on NASDAQ (not an exchange). Moore wanted the company to make computer parts, but not the whole computer, or else it would compete with its customers, such as IBM. By the mid 1970’s, Intel had factories in Malaysia and the Philippines. Moore motivated his initial employees through bribery– stock options and a stock purchase program. He even bribed his own son to finish school.

Intel’s labor- and time-saving devices proliferated in everyday products like calculators, color TV’s, telephone networks, cash registers and watches, not to mention inter-continental ballistic missiles. And spaceships. The authors downplayed the role of video games in the advancement of computer components.

Moore wrote about a concept that played out accurately through the decades that came to be known as Moore’s Law. In 1976, the price of silicon transistors– which are put on memory microchips– was less than a penny. That price got lower and lower as technology got better and faster. Unfortunately, according to the book, this economic growth has run its course in the United States and is predicted to come to an end in the next five years or so.

Read the book to learn how Intel cheated by taking a page from Microsoft’s playbook (and partnered with it)– to become a monopoly– in order to dominate the PC world; what the billionaire Moore did after he was forced to retire (very reluctantly; hint– he engaged in philanthropy from which he required measurability and accountability); and much more about his company, lifestyle and family.

Born into a relatively wealthy family in 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa, Elon Musk is the oldest of three children. A voracious reader, he, like Isaac Asimov, was also an insufferable know-it-all, and thus became a social outcast. At about eight years old, he chose to go live with his psychologically abusive, rabid-apartheidist father when his parents split.

Musk engaged in the usual leisure pursuits of nerdy boys of his generation: Dungeons and Dragons, computer programming, rocketry and chemistry explosions. Being super-smart, he learned that the United States was superior to South Africa in terms  entrepreneurial opportunities. He therefore got Canadian citizenship through his mother’s ancestors, and then moved to the United States as a young man.

Musk attended college and graduate school in Pennsylvania. He studied business, physics and economics. He charged admission for alcohol parties to raise money to pay for his tuition. In 1995, he went into business with his brother. Four years later, their website start-up, Zip2, was sold to Compaq for a tidy sum. He then started and/or worked on other projects, including an internet bank, an electric car, spacecraft and devices that harness solar power.

Certain aspects of Musk’s personality in the workplace are comparable to various other famous people. Musk’s dysfunctional managerial style is a blessing and a curse. He, like the late Steve Jobs, is hard-driving on employees to the point of meanness. But his focus and workaholic business ventures have achieved what many said was impossible. His keen entrepreneurial instincts, similar to those of Bill Gates, have seen him through. Also like Gates, he has delivered on what he promised, but usually way over deadline.

When it comes to space exploration, Musk, like Freeman Dyson, shoots not for colonizing the moon, but for colonizing Mars. Musk, like Richard Stallman, believes in the free exchange of information. He truly wants to improve humanity so much so that, according to the author, he eventually shared with the world (!) the intellectual property of his electric car company, Tesla. In 2005, its first car was completed by a mere eighteen workers.

However, in 2007, Musk was very possessive of Tesla. Contrary the recommendation of an interim CEO, he stubbornly refused to cut the near-bankrupt company’s losses and sell it to an experienced international automaker. He was competing with not only overwhelmingly powerful and politically influential automakers, but also with military contractors and the oil industry.

Read the book to learn of two major automakers who have invested in Tesla; of how the Obama administration helped keep the company afloat; of the myriad benefits the world is deriving from Musk’s  innovations; and of Musk’s personal life.

boys in the trees – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “boys in the trees (sic), A Memoir” by Carly Simon, published in 2015.

Born in 1945 in Manhattan, Simon grew up in a wealthy, dysfunctional family of four children. Her father was the co-founder of Simon and Schuster, the publishing giant. When Simon was eight years old, her 42 year-old mother acquired a boyfriend, in the guise of a 19 year-old babysitter for Simon’s younger brother. The family moved to Riverdale (the northwesternmost section of the Bronx in New York City) and summered on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The family hung out with the literary, political and musical celebrity crowd in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Simon found that music soothed her troubled soul. She became a stutterer at an early age, due to prepubescent sexual encounters with an older boy. Her uncle became a second father to her, as her biological father chose the younger of her two older sisters, as his favorite.

Simon was to have “… many difficult experiences with men in the music business.” When she was in her late teens, one or both of the men who helped her record her first song professionally, “… deliberately sabotaged the track; cutting it in the wrong key as payback for me not responding to their sexual advances.”

Nevertheless, Simon bragged about having sex with various big names; Jack Nicholson, Cat Stevens, Warren Beatty and Michael Crichton among them. She claimed that her song, “You’re So Vain” does not represent any one person. The original lyrics do say, “clouds in my coffee” and not “grounds in my coffee.”

Read the book to learn everything you ever wanted to know about Simon’s relationship with James Taylor, plus other information about her family and emotional states, through the time she had to cancel her concert series due to mental illness, in the early 1980’s. The book did not cover her career comeback.

The Deeds of My Fathers

The Book of the Week is “The Deeds of My Fathers” by Paul David Pope, published in 2010. In this tome, the author discussed the lives of his father and grandfather. Annoyingly, lines of dialogue were always accompanied by the word, “said.”

In spring 1906, at fifteen years old, the author’s great grandfather, Generoso Papa, traveled from his birthplace in Italy to New York City. His brother-in-law was already living in America. Papa got a job doing hard, manual labor in the construction trades. His dogged diligence and playing well with vendors, contractors, engineers, building inspectors and city managers led to success. Too, contacts with the Mafia helped maximize profits and crush the competition. By the mid-1920’s, he owned one of the largest construction-industry suppliers in the city. However, workaholic that he was, he never saw his wife and two sons. In January 1927, he had a third son– the author’s father.

In 1928, the author’s grandfather purchased Il Progresso, the largest Italian newspaper in the city. In it, he praised Mussolini, raised money for him, and printed Fascist propaganda. In the ensuing years, he became friends with politicians, including New York City mayors Jimmy Walker and Fiorello LaGuardia, and presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Roy Cohn helped him purchase a radio station.

In the early 1950’s, the author’s father, who called himself Gene Pope, had a falling out with his mother and older brothers. He was crowded out of the family businesses. In 1952, he struck out on his own and acquired what became the National Enquirer with seed money from a Mafia don. He changed its editorial bent. It became like today’s media. Tabloidy.

This was Pope’s philosophy on his publication’s contents: “Crime was the most important ingredient, followed by scandals, disasters and personalities; the more famous people were, the more they were laid low and humiliated.” Sounds like the 2018 midterm-elections attack-ads in America (!) It seems the candidates want more hate. 

Some candidates claim not to know about the attack ads against their opponents. However, a man is known by the company he keeps, and the candidates keep company with the producers of the ads. It would be different if the ads were 100% true.

And now, a parody, sung to the tune of “The Beat Goes On” (apologies to Cher, and the estate of Sonny Bono):

The hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

Woo-oo-dstock was once the rage, uh huh
History has turned the page, uh huh
Facebook, the current thing, uh huh

Twitter is our newborn king, uh huh
And the hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

The Internet’s the new frontier, uh huh
Little minds still inspire fear, uh huh
And leading men still keep assigning blame
Technology lets them stay in the game

And the hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da
Voters sit in Starbucks and complain
Politicians scheming just to gain

Negativity flying faster all the time
NRA still cries, we have to arm ourselves against crime!

And the hate goes on, the hate goes on.
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain.
La de da de de, la de da de da.

And the hate goes on, yes, the hate goes on.
And the hate goes on, and the hate goes on.
The hate goes on, and the hate goes on.

It would be refreshing to see a candidate condemn the attack ads against his opponent, instead of tacitly applauding them, or repeating their contents loudly and often… And instead– actually concentrate on the issues– how he or she is going to be a PUBLIC SERVANT.

In future elections, it would be even nicer to see a political-contribution boycott of the hate-mongers. However, it would take more than one influential, courageous donor to stand up and refuse to be a party to purchasing airtime for the purpose of spreading ugly lies.

But it is the candidates who must ultimately decide to take the high road and grow up. Voters might react favorably to the first side to do so. Even so, this would be an extremely difficult feat. “Everybody does it” is the excuse everybody uses to justify their unethical behavior. Everyone is drowning each other out with a blizzard of defamation. So multiple groups on one side would have to agree to run a wrap-around campaign to promise to spread messages based on substance, and follow through.

That said, unfortunately, honesty isn’t always a guarantee of competence for an elected official. President Jimmy Carter wasn’t widely reputed to be a liar. Yet, most Americans agree, he was a terrible president. Assessing a candidate, and predicting election results are like gambling–  difficult to gauge– because human behavior is unpredictable in the short term.

Anyhow, in 1957, the National Enquirer‘s stories sought to satisfy readers’ morbid curiosity by detailing gruesome occurrences in the city. The publication that was initially drowning in a sea of red ink, turned profitable after years and years. By the mid-1960’s, readers were enthralled by poignant, inspirational stories about underdogs who triumphed, medical matters, celebrity gossip and aliens.

In the early 1970’s, Gene moved his publication’s printing presses from New Jersey to Florida. “He worried about his health, claiming air pollution was killing him, even as he continued to smoke four packs a day.”

Gene spared no expenses in getting a story– bribing anyone and everyone associated with stories to get exclusive, salacious information, and sending his reporters on-location– around the corner or around the world. In this way, the Enquirer acquired a reputation as a tabloid that appealed to the lowest common denominator. The highbrow New York Times didn’t pay interviewees, but instead appealed to their egos, generating favorable publicity for them if they talked.

The author wrote that his father developed psychological problems in his later years, and ruled his empire by fear. He had dirt on various people and let them know it, so that way, he could cash in on a favor from them in the future if he so desired. The son lamented, “No doubt I was spoiled by material things, but not by love.” Read the book to learn the details.