The Making of A Woman Surgeon

The Book of the Week is “The Making of A Woman Surgeon” by Elizabeth Morgan, M.D., published in 1980. Her story told how times have changed.

“Female applicants [to Harvard Medical School in 1966] were regarded as either abnormal or silly.” So the author ended up attending Yale Medical School, where there were only seven females in a class of 97 students.

A sterile floor-length gown was required to be worn over one’s street clothes when one entered the surgical intensive care unit. It was a joke because it didn’t prevent infection. Another joke was that the water used by medical personnel in scrubbing up, wasn’t sterile. Besides, their arms’ hair follicles contained bacteria that rose to the surface of the scrub.

In 1972, after surviving all the sexism in addition to the abusive, hierarchical training system to that point, Morgan worked in a veterans hospital, serving the Vietnam war-wounded. She wrote about the tenor of the times, “These were federally subsidized cigarettes sold at cut-rate prices, tax-free, in unlimited quantities to all V.A. patients.”

In May 1973, the author began writing a medical column for Cosmopolitan magazine. The monthly snippet was only 150 to 200 words, but she spent eight to ten hours writing every single one after fact-gathering from a minimum of five sources, and fact-checking, in the library. Then an editor would clarify her facts, if necessary.

Unfortunately, human nature doesn’t change. In the mid-1970’s, Morgan worked alongside a surgeon who made about a million dollars a year performing unnecessary surgeries. His strong suit was that he could boast that no patient ever sued him. Since his patients were in relatively good health prior to surgery, they recovered uneventfully. Clearly, patients who need surgery, are much more likely to have complications afterward, and are much more likely to have worse outcomes. Problems can crop up that are not the surgeon’s fault.

The author specialized in plastic surgery, which includes reconstructive and cosmetic. She preferred to do the former, to help women feel better about themselves, many of whom had had breast-cancer surgery. When she struck out on her own in private practice, there were lots of patients to choose from.

For, there were still plenty of overzealous male breast-cancer surgeons who truly believed that performing aggressive mastectomies was going to cure their patients. Many of those women were traumatized by the assault on their femininity. And they eventually died, anyway.

Read the book to learn of the various personalities of doctors and patients Morgan encountered during her medical training, and the nature of the training in her specialty in her generation.

Daughter of Destiny / Getting Away With Murder

The first Book of the Week is “Daughter of Destiny, An Autobiography” by Benazir Bhutto, published in 1989.

“If you do not appoint me president along with my team, then I’m afraid I’ll have to explore other options. I may even have to start my own party. I will be your biggest opposition.”

-said to Benazir in late 1984 by one of the Old Guard PPP members in exile in London

Upon the initial sovereignty of Pakistan in 1947, there was an egalitarian climate in terms of gender– women could join the country’s National Guard. Born the oldest of four siblings in June 1953 in Karachi, Benazir Bhutto began studying at Radcliffe College (the sister school to Harvard) in 1969. There, she made many friends who achieved high positions in the world, affording her political assistance through the years.

The Bhuttos were something akin to a royal family in Pakistan in the second half of the twentieth century. They were one of the largest tribes in Sindh. They were Muslim, and most of their members lived in Larkana where they had plantations of rice, sugar cane, cotton and guava. Females inherited land when their relatives died, but their marriages were arranged.

Benazir’s grandfather was progressive in permitting his female descendants to get an education. Ironically, many families didn’t educate their sons because the sons were almost guaranteed a living from supervising servants who worked the land.

Benazir’s father– Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a Sunni, studied abroad at the University of California at Berkeley, and then Oxford University’s law school in England. Benazir’s mother, a Shiite, was: a second-generation Iranian, allowed to forgo covering herself up with clothing, and allowed to drive a car.

As is well known, through the centuries, there has been almost non-stop tribal and religious warfare in the territory that has become Pakistan. In the 1960’s, the major sites of bloodshed included the Kashmir, the Punjab and Sindh. In 1967, Zulfikar (Benazir’s father), a wildly popular government minister experienced in various political areas, helped form the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In 1974, Zulfikar, as a master diplomatic negotiator, participated in talks over the territory that was to become Bangladesh.

In March 1976, Zulfikar was elected president of Pakistan. He nationalized major corporations, re-allocated land to peasants and outlawed gender discrimination in employment and government. Pairs of groups engaged in constant conflict: separatists in certain regions of Pakistan fought with those who believed the people would be better served by a federal government; rich opposed poor; landowners tangled with the educated, etc. Surprisingly, most of Pakistan’s population was still illiterate.

In the first half of the 1970’s, Zulfikar and his ilk continued to anger the United States with their actions. The leader spoke out against the Vietnam War, made friendly overtures to China, and took the Arab side in the Yom Kippur War.

Beginning around the middle of 1976, the French were teaching the Pakistanis how to make nuclear weapons. The latter were having a little spat with India besides. So the following year, the newly elected president Jimmy Carter secretly sicced the CIA on Zulfikar. It collaborated with the PPP’s rival party, the PNA (comprised of thugs, arsonists and sociopathic sadists with weaponry) to commit black-market currency manipulation to lower the value of the American dollar. Predictably, there were ugly consequences.

Carter and Ronald Reagan after him, like all American presidents, had to decide the kinds and amounts of aid to give to, or withhold from nations such as Pakistan, with its human rights abuses and temptation from the Soviets to adopt Communist policies in exchange for financial aid and weaponry.

As is well known, Pakistan borders on Afghanistan, in which the Soviets militarily insinuated themselves in late 1979. There were complicated economic, trade and geopolitical considerations– including a huge number of Afghan refugees– which as usual, were favored over stemming abusive treatment of ordinary Pakistanis by their government.

In July 1977, Zia ul-Haq, a general, had finally gained sufficient sway over Pakistan’s military to arrest and jail Zulfikar. Zia canceled the elections and declared Martial Law when he saw that there was still huge support among common Pakistanis for the Party (PPP). In October 1979, the Bhutto family’s newspaper was shuttered. The remaining media outlets of course, were censored by dictator Zia. Political parties were outlawed.

Dissidents, including Benazir and her mother (who, for some years stayed and fought, and other years, fled the country until there was less danger of assassination) were subjected to the usual Third-World-country human-rights abuses.

There was the vicious cycle of arrests on false charges, jailings with horrible conditions, arbitrary releases and re-arrests on different, absurd charges; firing on protesters– killing hundreds or thousands (accurate documentation was hard to come by, as foreign journalists were censored or banned from the country during the worst years of the oppression). For, the government controlled the courts, the army, and the media.

By the 1980’s, Pakistan was making a transition from military dictatorship to theocracy, as Zia supported the Wahhabis. However, on and off through the years, Zia must have still cared about world opinion because international complaints prompted him to, among making other concessions, allow Benazir and her mother at different times to be released from jail to receive
treatment abroad for serious medical conditions.

Anne Fadiman, a writer for Life magazine recounted an interesting experience riding in a car with Benazir going to a political rally in August 1986. Benazir stood on the seat with her head through the open sunroof (or emergency exit) when police officers started spraying tear gas. Incidentally, that tear gas was made in America, by Smith & Wesson.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Pakistan’s political history from the 1970’s up until the book’s writing as seen through Benazir’s eyes and personal experiences (Hint– it involved the usual, repetitive dictatorial shenanigans), and how she portrayed herself as the new Mahatma Gandhi toward the end of the story, in the spring of 1986, amid riots in Karachi over identity politics, and identity cards for voting).

The second Book of the Week is “Getting Away With Murder, Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan” by Heraldo Munoz, published in 2014.

The author wrote, “The commission soon encountered a country deeply skeptical of authority and the justice system because of widespread corruption , abundant behind-the-scenes political deal making, and the regular impunity that had met previous unsolved political assassinations [which included Benazir Bhutto’s brother; her father’s was a death sentence but an assassination nevertheless].”

From its founding in 1947 through the first decade of the twenty-first century, Pakistan has had a European-style / military / theocratic government, each of which has waxed and waned with the vicissitudes of geopolitical shenanigans.

In mid-2004, the United States persuaded Pakistan’s leader Pervez Musharraf (who was turning into a dictator) to plan to give up his generalship in the Pakistani military and exile himself at some future date at U.S. taxpayer expense (because he knew the tide was turning against him), rather than the alternative. Benazir was considering returning to Pakistan to run for the top leadership position in an election, when Musharraf’s latest term was supposedly going to expire.

Talks also dragged on for three years between Musharraf and Benazir over a proposed power-sharing arrangement. Always a bad idea. For, a co-prime-ministership would certainly have failed. In the vast majority of cases, with a more-or-less democratic government, there can be only one leader.

Two very different people such as they, unrelated by marriage or blood are highly unlikely to have enough common vision, complementary talents and skills, and strategic interests to cooperate enough of the time to make it work.

Elections to governing bodies and top leaders in Pakistan were scheduled for January 2008. Benazir Bhutto had, in the past, been at various times– top leader, party leader, jailed, in exile, and physically present– mentored by her father who led Pakistan before her in the 1970’s.

Conspiracy theories abounded surrounding the circumstances of Benazir’s December 2007 assassination in Rawalpindi. A few bullets allegedly penetrated her head (or not– she allegedly bumped her head on the lever controlling the sunroof / emergency exit of the vehicle in which she was standing up with her head exposed to rally-supporters / protesters / political enemies), plus a suicide bomber’s explosives detonated near her vehicle that might have contributed to her death.

However, the fact that she was killed should have come as no surprise. She knew she was at risk for harm, considering that all political leaders are surrounded by security at all times, even those from democratic countries. Ones from Third World countries like Benazir, are especially vulnerable to physical danger from political rivals.

Just one day prior, terror attacks against her supporters in the form of two explosions in Karachi left hundreds wounded and dead. The then-leader of Pakistan’s military dictatorship who had grabbed power in a 1999 coup– the aforementioned Musharraf– refused to allow the FBI or Scotland Yard to investigate, not wanting to appear to be a puppet of the West (though he so obviously was).

A year and half later (!!) (rather than the next day), in February 2009, the United Nations (UN) began an inquiry into Benazir’s death. It wasn’t meant to result in any trial or punishment, but was simply a way for the investigators to remain relevant, and counter the Pakistan government’s historical revisionism with their own.

The author was named to the UN Commission of Inquiry, which traveled three times to Pakistan. Read the book to learn much more about the history of Pakistan and his experiences in trying to get the facts on the events that led to Benazir’s death.

L.A. Justice – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “L.A. Justice, Lessons from the Firestorm” by Robert Vernon, published in 1993.

In 1954, the author joined the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Through the decades of his career, he watched the LAPD become corrupted by the worst aspects of human nature. By the early 1990’s, the department had scrapped the civil service system in favor of using patronage in awarding promotions. This necessitated pleasing local politicians. Always a bad idea.

So at the tail end of April 1992, when the verdict was announced in the Rodney King legal case, law enforcement was unprepared for the rioting that broke out in South-Central Los Angeles.

The author, lately named assistant chief of police of Los Angeles, bragged about helping start a community program in 1990– successful at the book’s writing. It was called “Operation Cul-de-Sac” and involved transforming a high-crime neighborhood into a gated community. It was implemented in about seven hundred households in South Central Los Angeles. The author wrote, “… changing behavior must begin by influencing a belief system.”

The program must have done so, as it created support networks of families and friends, significantly reduced crime, and significantly increased school attendance.

Unfortunately, despite its success, the program was not to last much longer. The reason? It was funded by the LAPD– not special-interest political groups in the community. So local politicians were left out of the loop– unable to hand out patronage jobs.

Read the book to learn of all kinds of other frustrations suffered by the author in his experiences with the LAPD.

We’re Still Stuck in the Mire

We’re Still Stuck In the Mire

sung to the tune of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” with apologies to Billy Joel.

Outbreak COVID-Nineteen, pandemic quarantine,
World Health Org, N-I-H and the CDC.
Virus from Wuhan, Trump orders travel ban.
Mouthpiece doc and mouthpiece doc Birx and Fauci.

Short of gowns, gauze and test kits, de-tained cruise ships.
Wrong projections lead to, ventilator snafus.
Stay at home” Cuomo, “Shelter in place” de Blasio.
No church services, no funerals, nursing homes and lawsuits.

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

Guidelines, treatments, deaths of patients.
Govs get power, politics sour, Hydroxychloroquin.
Sources spread panic, profiteers ecstatic, Trump holds rally,
George-Floyd-arrest, GUN VIOLENCE, then real hell begins.
Angry people blow off steam, stress for the response team.
Antifa, BLM, propaganda provoke them.
De-fund the police, book from prez’s niece,
optional masks, vigilante tasks, no one gets any peace.

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

Gilead, Seattle, Chicago/Portland battle.
Trump holds rally, SARS-COVID-2, unclear what sources knew.
GUN VIOLENCE, empty malls, fan-cutouts in baseball.
Reopen the schools, Trump-rally, no-TikTok-fools.

GUN VIOLENCE, Trump holds rally, GUN VIOLENCE.
Trump holds rally, GUN VIOLENCE.
Trump holds rally, con-ventions, Kenosha tensions.

GUN VIOLENCE, VP Biden no-see
Trump holds rally, maskless Pelosi.
GUN VIOLENCE, Texas Gulf hurricane-slam,
Bannon wall-scam.

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

Trump holds rally and tax returns, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Barrett all set, de-bates, Trump holds rally.
Whitmer plot discovered, Hunter emails uncovered.
Trump goes to Walter Reed, says poll-watch on vote-tally.

GUN VIOLENCE, sugar-coating, lots of early-voting.
Poll-sters, guess and pray. What else do I have to say?

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

Trump holds rally. Same thing a-gain, stokes fears of Biden win.
GUN VIOLENCE, COVID spreads, Trump holds rally, touts meds.
Trump talks up vaccine, rally, rally rou-tine.
GUN VIOLENCE, same list, screams Biden socialist.
Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania: uncertain.
GUN VIOLENCE.
Nerves get raw, Trump challenges election law.
American election war, but with a rally whore.
GUN VIOLENCE, GUN VIOLENCE.
Still deafening silence!!!

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
It’s history’s ups and downs.
We go round and round.

We’re still stuck in the mire.
But we’ll be kind again.
And GOVERN and mend.
And mend and mend.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
The whole thing’s been sickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening.
We’re still stuck in the mire.
The plot’s been thickening…

Arms and the Dudes

The Book of the Week is “Arms and the Dudes, How Three Stoners From Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History” by Guy Lawson, published in 2015.

In summer 2004, when he was eighteen years old, the Orthodox-Jewish high school dropout, pothead and pathological liar Efraim Diveroli became passionate about the lucrative field of supplying firearms to the U.S. military. He had been mentored by his father and uncle on contracting with the U.S. government, through their businesses. There was one particular website where he could see all the needs for weaponry for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Diveroli worked around the clock combing the website’s classified ads for competitive-bidding contracts he thought he could win, and making phone calls to contacts he made to find suppliers from whom to purchase arms, to sell and deliver, via planes and / or trucks to the U.S. military on-location. He also needed lenders to finance the deals, as he had to make down-payments of tens of thousands of dollars he didn’t have, when he was finally awarded a bid.

In early 2005, the battles in Iraq between Shiites and Sunnis became even more fierce, resulting in more roadside bombings, kidnappings, sniper incidents and ambushes. Thus, there occurred an increase in demand for rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47’s (or their equivalents; the whole world was already full of them– but apparently still not full enough), ammunition for them, and missiles.

This resulted in an even bigger spike in the number of bribes, kickbacks and Swiss bank accounts among war profiteers. Diveroli also benefited from the high turnover of inexperienced procurement officers in Iraq. Every few years, he attended war-weaponry trade shows, such as Eurosatory in 2006 in Paris, and the International Defence Exhibition and Conference in 2007 in Abu Dhabi.

The State Department rated resellers such as Diveroli pursuant to their reputations for satisfaction in completing contracts, similar to the way eBay does. Eventually, the Department allegedly compiled a “watch list” of resellers (which included a lot of offshore and shell companies) with whom the Department was supposed to exercise caution in doing business. Diveroli’s company’s name (AEY) was on that list, but background checks were (accidentally-on-purpose) sloppy or non-existent, because the shortages of weaponry and ammunition in Afghanistan were so severe.

Unsurprisingly, there was inter-agency rivalry between the State Department and Defense Department (run by the bureaucrats in the Pentagon). When Congress authorized the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security through a long, complicated document, one little phrase gave the Defense Department unlimited powers: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law.”

To boot, the Pentagon used its new hegemony to wreak capricious vengeance on people who gave it bad publicity for its misdeeds and embarrassed it; there was no honor among thieves in the cut-throat war-weaponry business. One specific overzealous individual at yet another agency, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), helped with the Pentagon’s dirty work.

In May 2007, the main plot of a suspenseful saga started when Diveroli’s two friends (also only in their twenties) from grade-school assisted him with a $300 million (!) contract (that had an interesting origin) with the Department of Defense.

Unfortunately, the trio encountered numerous obstacles in trying to complete the contract and get their money. For one, the shipment of arms and ammunition that was supposed to go from Albania to Kabul was held up at an airport in Kyrgyzstan on a legal technicality. Two, an irresponsible article in the New York Times completely botched up the real story, prompting the Department of Justice to get involved.

Read the book to learn the rest, and what became of the participants (which included a wayward Albanian official, and an Albanian-American investment banker, among other pesky characters).

The Generous Years – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Generous Years, Remembrances of a Frontier Boyhood” by Chet Huntley, published in 1968.

Born in March 1911, the author grew up in Montana. When he was about two years old, his immediate family took advantage of the Homestead Act, claiming 320 acres of ranch and farm land in northern Montana. Extended family members acquired hundreds of additional acres. His mother’s father was particularly helpful in beginning to make the land livable and workable. The author detailed the extensive hard manual labor required for doing so.

They had to dig a well, construct various buildings on the site as residences for people and animals, for storage; not to mention outhouses. They had to purchase and maintain farm machinery (primitive at the time, of course), and install fences. The author learned how to approach and care for farm animals without getting injured. Regardless of the author’s grandfather’s accumulation of life experiences that warded off reasonably preventable problems, there still occurred all kinds of disasters beyond the family’s control.

One year, in less than ten minutes, a hailstorm ruined the flax crop. Other years, devastation was wrought by: locusts, rust spores, tumbleweed of thistle, fires resulting from a lightning storm and other causes, blizzards, drought, etc., etc., etc. The author described the tenor of the times– one of virtue and cooperation among the members (not just his relatives) of his community. “There were bills to be paid in town. They must be settled; that was a point of honor and conscience.”

Due to financial struggle, the author’s father was forced to return to his previous career as a railroad telegrapher, which required the family to move around Montana every few months or years. The author began his formal education in a one-room schoolhouse, with about a dozen other kids (which eventually included his three younger sisters) in grades one through eight, and one teacher.

Read the book to learn how the author’s education of the outside world accelerated when his family moved to urban areas such as Saco and Butte (hint: he and his high school friends were treated almost like adults in the gambling halls, speakeasies, bordellos and elsewhere), and many more aspects of the kinder, simpler America of his generation.

The Edge of Terror

The Book of the Week is “The Edge of Terror, The Heroic Story of American Families Trapped in the Japanese-Occupied Philippines” by Scott Walker, published in 2009.

This was a suspenseful story that focused mostly on a few lucky survivors of a war ordeal, but “American military losses in the Philippines are staggering and have never been fully realized by the American people.” For the reason of brevity, the author obviously could not cover all aspects of the historical backdrop that came together to determine which people in the story survived or died.

Anyway, in 1898, the Philippine islands became a protectorate of the United States. After WWI, Baptist medical missionaries settled in the city of Capiz on the island of Panay there. They established a nursing school and teaching-hospital, treating patients in a province comprised of approximately three hundred thousand people.

American expatriates in the Philippines fell largely into two categories: missionaries and mining-industry employees. They interacted socially– playing bridge and volleyball, attending beach parties and dances. The islands had mineral resources, and were strategically located on major trade routes.

In the first half of 1941, General Douglas MacArthur was appointed the supreme leader of American troops in the Philippines. But he wasn’t physically present for the rest of the war. That summer, some expatriate and military families sent wives and children back to the United States because they knew America would be entering WWII at some point. Up until the last week of December, others were evacuated from Manila to Bataan or Dumalag.

A week after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in early December 1941, they attacked Luzon. American and Filipino troops retreated, leaving large quantities of ammunition, supplies and food. MacArthur, already suffering from a bad case of hubris syndrome, incompetently waited a few weeks too long before deploying American troops to deter an attack on Manila Harbor; that Japanese attack came in the first week of January 1942. Many American lives were lost, and much American military hardware was destroyed. Mining engineers would no longer receive shipments of food, currency and supplies from the harbor.

By February 1942, what with all the bloodshed and disease, about 17,000 Japanese men died on Bataan alone. A couple of months later, the vast majority of 10,000 Americans commanded by 62,000 Japanese men, marched to their deaths there. In certain regions, the American military used scorched-earth tactics. They burned a hospital and sabotaged electricity and water supplies so that the Japanese couldn’t avail themselves of the benefits when they took over.

After several more aggressive attacks in the Philippines in the next several months, the Japanese demanded that the Allies surrender by June 6, 1942 so that they could occupy all of the islands, or they would kill every last person on them.

One particular group of American miners and missionaries decided to defy the Japanese order, and fled into the foothills to hide outside of Katipunan on Panay. They built a community called Hopevale. A few thousand Filipino troops also refused to surrender, and cobbled together a ragtag guerrilla army to fight the Japanese. At any time, the Japanese could have bribed a disloyal individual to tell them were the enemy was hiding. By then, the Japanese had a reputation for barbarism, and didn’t hesitate to massacre, torture, bayonet, rape or behead people, burn villages, etc.

The Japanese aimed to occupy the strategic location of Port Moresby near Australia, but the Americans bested them with air power in the Battle of the Coral Sea. In early 1942, about 3,200 people who didn’t flee for whatever reason, were interned in Manila.

By summer, that number had grown to 7,000. About three quarters of them were American. They organized themselves to fulfill their basic needs, and even educated the young. The living conditions were primitive of course: lack of food and other necessities, poor sanitation, vermin, and limited activities. However, the Japanese were sufficiently liberal to allow dancing, poker playing and touch-football.

Read the book to learn of additional ways war brings out the best in human beings– in terms of cooperating to survive; and the worst in human beings– how they have learned war-crime techniques from previous combatants; and the fates of the Hopevale expatriates, their families and others in the Philippines (Hint– even the survivors’ stories never have an entirely happy ending.)