The Foreigner’s Gift – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Foreigner’s Gift, The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq” by Fouad Ajami, published in 2006. This was a repetitive, non-chronological mishmash of the author’s observations about the history of the Middle East intertwined with goings-on in Iraq up until the book’s writing.


The author, an American citizen, grew up in a Shia family in Lebanon. He interviewed all kinds individuals– soldiers, students, government officials, academics, etc.– of different religions, different sects, during his visits to different regions of Iraq in 2003, 2004 and 2005. There were conflicting reports of whether ordinary Iraqis viewed the Americans as “occupiers” or “liberators.”

The author argued that American president George W. Bush wanted to spark a pan-Arab reform movement in the Middle East by attacking Iraq. However, clearly, the American vice president’s motive was profiteering. Yet– anyone who has read his or her history and has basic knowledge about human nature, would know that centuries-old hostilities and hatreds between the Sunnis and Shias is never going to be resolved; not even by someone like Mahatma Gandhi!

Gandhi stopped the fighting between Hindus and Muslims only momentarily. Even he had a crack public relations team who got him featured prominently in the history books, as someone who was more powerful than he actually was. Suffice to say, the American presence in Iraq in the past thirty years has been yet another instance of too many alpha males with hubris syndrome who won their propaganda war. For decades, they have refused to take lessons from seeing military conflicts ranging from: the 1950’s end of French colonialism in Indochina to the 1947 partition of India to the 1980’s civil war in Lebanon, and many others.

Of course, oil threw a wrench in the works. Now, almost twenty years later, the current American government is making a much more aggressive push to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. This, by constantly reminding its citizens that they can assist with energy-related initiatives that arguably slow the changing of planet earth’s atmospheric conditions, that adversely affect humans; changing that has allegedly been caused by humans. So the energy-related issue is a whole other ball of wax now.

But human nature doesn’t change. In America (never mind Iraq), there are still racial tensions and cancel culture. Plus, there is an incidental ideological aspect to the masking order of the COVID crisis: that of forcing Westernized, yet religious Muslim males to empathize with their female relatives. The males now know how it feels to be required to cover their faces.

Read the book to learn of the good consequences and bad consequences of removing Saddam Hussein from power, as seen through many interviewees’ eyes, and the author’s take on the situation, given his knowledge of Middle East history.

Tom Landry

The Book of the Week is “Tom Landry, An Autobiography” by Tom Landry with Gregg Lewis, published in 1990.

Landry was born in September 1924 in the small town of Mission, Texas. He enjoyed a boyhood typical for his time and place– bicycle riding, fishing in the Rio Grande, and watching movies at the local theater every Saturday afternoon. Every Saturday night, Methodist and Baptist families mingled at a block party in the neighborhood. Kids in those days organized themselves in their own pick-up football games at the local sandlot.

Although Landry received a full scholarship from the University of Texas, beginning in 1944, he flew thirty missions for the Army Air Corps in the war. When he returned to school in 1947, he played the position of fullback, but suffered various injuries. By the time he graduated in 1949, he had become a rusher, and gotten signed by the football Yankees of the All-American Football Conference. Some of his fellow players were already in their mid-thirties, after having completed their military service and educations.

In 1954, Landry’s leadership talent was recognized. He served as an assistant coach, punter and played defense for the New York Giants football team in the NFL. At that time, they played in Yankee Stadium. On the day of the Championship game in December 1956, the field was frozen. The Giants’ management provided the team with basketball sneakers so they wouldn’t slip and slide on the ice.

Landry remarked that his and Vince Lombardi’s coaching styles were both successful, although they were starkly different. Lombardi’s team, the Green Bay Packers, played well because if they didn’t, they would receive the coach’s wrath. They emotionally bonded like soldiers (whom they had been) so that they wanted to win for their teammates more than themselves. Landry didn’t make his players fear him, but armed them with knowledge and confidence.

In their generations, Landry and Lombardi experienced an extremely serious: financial crisis, and war. These forced them to adopt a team-oriented mentality in order to survive. Their children’s and grandchildren’s generations– who came of age in the 1960’s– prompted a tumultuous shift in American culture that resulted in the recognition of the value of the individual. Unfortunately, that mindset has been taken to the extreme with the current younger generation. The technology of the Internet allows everyone on earth to express themselves with few filters– making for a very cluttered global communications environment.

Landry opined that Lombardi gave the impression that he was hellbent on winning, but– he still cared about people. These days, the kinds of people who garner the most attention on social media tend to be sociopathic (of course there are exceptions). Landry characterized them thusly: “If winning is the only thing that matters… You’d cheat. You’d sacrifice your marriage or your family to win. Relationships wouldn’t matter.” The god-fearing Methodist Landry believed that his religion led people to behave better, but now he’d roll over in his grave.

Anyway, the summer of 1960 saw Landry talent-spotting and recruiting 193 potential members of the Dallas Cowboys– an expansion team that was later drastically winnowed down to a few tens of players at their training camp in Oregon. In their first season, the Cowboys tied the Giants in the second-to-last game, else they would have lost all of their then-twelve games. Nonetheless, the Cowboys’ owner knew that nurturing a winning football team takes time, and had faith in Landry’s abilities as a coach. In 1964, he awarded Landry a ten-year contract as head coach. Landry took that as a religious sign that coaching a professional football team was what he should continue to do with his life.

Landry contracted with IBM to use a computer program to analyze potential players’ talents in the NFL draft in order to reap the cream of the crop for his Cowboys. After the 1963 season and thereafter, he reviewed films of his existing players in actual games to identify their strengths and weaknesses. In 1965, he hired an industrial psychologist, who helped his players set team and individual goals. Preparing Lambeau Field in Green Bay for the 1967 season, Lombardi installed an underground heating system, which cost $80,000. On playoff day, December 31, the temperature hovered around negative 16 degrees Fahrenheit.

Read the book to learn about the Cowboys’ star quarterback of the 1970’s, the team’s amazing comebacks, and much more about Landry’s trials, tribulations and triumphs in coaching and in life.

It’s My Panel – BONUS POST

IT’S MY PANEL
sung to the tune of “It’s My Party” with apologies to the estate of Lesley Gore; this is the song Nancy Pelosi is singing now:

It’s my panel and
I’ll decry if I want to,
decry if I want to,
decry if I want to.
You would decry too,
if it were up to you.

We all know what Banks and Jordan would do.
They’d spread Trump’s every line,
with McCarthy holding their hands
when they’re supposed to be mine.

It’s my panel and
I’ll decry if I want to,
decry if I want to,
decry if I want to.
You would decry too,
if it were up to you.

Conspiracies abounding,
we need to get a life.
Updating status for a while,
till you’re in MY reality show,
I’ve got no reason to smile.

It’s my panel and
I’ll decry if I want to,
decry if I want to,
decry if I want to.
You would decry too,
if it were up to you.

Tweeting and posting up the wazoo.
Our attention whoredom never ends.
Oh what a political surprise.
Election day,
we’ve got new “friends.”

It’s my panel and
I’ll decry if I want to,
decry if I want to,
decry if I want to.
You would decry too,
if it were up to you.

Oh, it’s my panel and
I’ll decry if I want to,
decry if I want to,
decry if I want to.
You would decry too,
if it were up to you.

Boyd

The Book of the Week is “Boyd, The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War” by Robert Coram, published in 2002.

Born in January 1927 in Erie, Pennsylvania, John Boyd was the fourth of five children. His father died just before his third birthday. Boyd became a fighter pilot, but was too young to fight in WWII and Korea– though he was stationed there for a time.

By 1954, he was a highly competent flying instructor at Nellis, a U.S. Air Force base near Las Vegas. There, promiscuous men broke military codes of conduct and deserted in large numbers. But a few of Boyd’s students– standouts– completed successful missions in Vietnam.

Boyd was a pathological liar and a crude, insubordinate potty-mouth, but throughout his career, his friends in high places kept him from being drummed out of the service altogether. The way the author described Boyd’s lifelong mannerisms and practices, however, suggested that he had undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

Boyd acquired years and years of formal education and training in aeronautics, avionics and physics. Beginning in the 1960’s, his “Energy-Maneuverability Theory” allowed him to tell his colleagues (ad nauseum in 3am phone calls) the best design for fighter-aircraft. Unfortunately, the nature of warfare that existed during WWII was going out of style.

Also, Boyd rubbed superiors the wrong way, and he was a square peg in a round hole, given the culture of the Air Force. In fact, the culture of the U.S. military in the second half of the twentieth century was one of fierce inter-service rivalry. It was one that: a) wasted inconceivably large amounts of taxpayer dollars that went into the pockets of military contractors, while b) continuing to promote mostly waaaay overrated servicemen (who waaaay overrated their proposed weaponry) who c) simply kissed up to their bosses, rather than rocked the boat. These were power-hungry alpha males who simply got lofty titles with little to show for them.

Boyd was principled and truly committed to helping his country improve its military might and national security. He and a few of his colleagues were willing to pay the price of a stalled career for fighting “City Hall” in pushing their agenda for teaching pilots psychologically advantageous combat techniques, while making military aircraft the safest and the most war-winning it could be, at minimal cost.

The servicemen who met Boyd either loved him or hated him. In the late 1960’s, his passion for doing the right thing led him to complain to the head of Systems Command about the proposed design of a new fighter jet then called the F-X. Boyd’s input in the disputes between or among the Navy, Army and Air Force on that project and others led to Congressional hearings.

Read the book to learn the details on all Boyd-related matters, including:

  • the emotional trouble in his dysfunctional personal life;
  • his theories (hint: the reason his suggestions for how to go about waging war were superior in actual practice because they minimized the time it took planes as manipulated by pilots [reminiscent of ninjas] to switch from one activity to another, throwing the enemy off-guard);
  • the shenanigans with the B-1 bomber and the Bradley;
  • how he shook things up at the Pentagon with the help of the media (Time magazine in particular in March 1983) and Congress; and much more.

Promise and Power

The Book of the Week is “Promise and Power, The Life and Times of Robert McNamara” by Deborah Shapley, published in 1993.

NOTE: The author (a journalist, not a historian) rambled on for pages and pages on certain events (perhaps those were from sources to which she had easy access), and omitted or provided scant coverage on others that were equally important. [Case-in-point: She completely neglected to mention that the Washington Post initially published an excerpt from the Pentagon Papers, and the New York Times printed additional excerpts. It is unclear whether the omission was intentional.] Even so, on another point– it is difficult for anyone to extract truth from accounts of any CIA- related activities unless they come verbatim from declassified documents, not the minds of media members or historians playing “telephone.” History during McNamara’s career was crowded with CIA incidents. The whole premise of spying-agencies is based on using dishonesty to gather information!

Born in 1916 in San Francisco, California, McNamara spent most of his childhood in Oakland. His parents doted on him. He attended high school in a good school district, and made additional contacts while attending University of California at Berkeley. He became active in campus social life, cozying up to the college president and provost. McNamara and a friend got their graduate-business degrees at Harvard, where they were already displaying the kind of arrogance that gets politicians in trouble.

SIDENOTE: Both politicians and voters can learn from previous, recent presidents’ mistakes of arrogance (but it seems they never do!):

  • Ronald Reagan’s secret, international military adventures;
  • George H.W. Bush’s ill-advised optics and messaging;
  • Bill Clinton’s poor impulse control in the face of the age of zero privacy for public figures;
  • George W. Bush’s history of failing upwards thanks to inheritance, that allowed him to ultimately gain maximum power that led to profiteering and good-enough optics and messaging to get him reelected, but that ultimately ruined his reputation– but he was too sociopathic to care about a legacy;
  • Barack Obama’s optics and messaging that caused most conservative Republicans to claim: he made the U.S. appear weak in the eyes of the world, and led America’s healthcare industry in the wrong direction; plus, the facts that health-plan applicants could not necessarily “keep their doctor” and initially, they had excessive trouble signing up; notwithstanding, most liberal Democrats would agree he did the best he could under the circumstances (which he inherited), and he will be remembered for continuing the national healthcare debate because he helped pass historic legislation on it;
  • Donald Trump’s —– [redacted, censored, protected by non-disclosure agreements or executive privilege].

Anyway, at the start of WWII, McNamara and his friend settled for being posted overseas so as not to begin on the lowest rung of the military ladder. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t play well with others. McNamara’s lifelong philosophy was always action-oriented– take risks, do something, even if it was the wrong thing. Unfortunately, the truth didn’t change just because he didn’t want to see it, hear it, or speak it. And it didn’t get any less complicated just because he oversimplified it.

By the end of the 1940’s, McNamara was helping turn around Ford Motor Company, where he and his leadership team created and implemented the cost-accounting system (a trendy new method for numerical tracking and analysis) he had learned in business school. The executives were credit-grabbers and tooted their own horns. In the Postwar Era, they and their families needed to keep up with the Joneses.

But, when asked by JFK what he could do for his country, McNamara made a snap decision to become defense secretary in December 1960. His sole goal was clearly only amassing power, because he had just been promoted to president at Ford– so he was relinquishing outsized compensation by becoming a public servant– and unlike in recent times, actually (ethically) put his assets in a blind trust.

Cold-War hysteria was rampant, fueled by propaganda put out by the Kennedy administration. The public-relations lies McNamara told about the missile gap with the Soviets were comparable to those told by George W. Bush on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq after 9/11. Ordinary Americans were building fallout shelters, convinced that the Soviets could unexpectedly launch a nuclear attack against the U.S. at any time.

McNamara then whipped up anger against himself when he aggravated inter-service rivalry between the Air Force and Navy, on project-contracts. The American intelligence services failed to anticipate that the Soviets would build a Wall in Berlin in August 1961. America’s leaders changed their tune about using nuclear weapons if provoked– but only as a last resort. Twenty years later, McNamara flip-flopped like Jeanne Kirkpatrick on many political issues, including nukes.

In the early 1960’s, however, he whipped up anger against himself again (from England and France) when he spoke for his country’s government, saying the United States needed to centrally control nuclear weapons because the Soviets wouldn’t be deterred from committing aggression if inventories in other nuclear nations of NATO were fragmented and complex. McNamara also needed to explain to Soviet leader Khrushchev that the United States had a plan to avoid vaporizing the entire world ten times over by (graciously) avoiding attacking major Soviet cities and using conventional weapons instead.

By early 1963, McNamara had amassed a bloated staff of bureaucratic, numerical-data-oriented paper-pushers, who had no clue what was really going on in Vietnam. The Americans were supplying weaponry and military consulting, but South-Vietnam-leader Ngo Dinh Diem’s soldiers took care of their own, in only pretending to fight. Newsflash– “Using napalm and herbicides didn’t win the hearts and minds of the peasants, who disdained Diem.”

American journalists physically present at the conflict-site, such as David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan truthfully described what they saw. McNamara didn’t want to believe them, but for his own purposes, chose to believe reports (that said America was making great progress) from consultants he controlled. Nevertheless, in spring 1968, McNamara became head of the World Bank, apparently to salve his conscience through saving the world (by eliminating hunger) for getting his own country into a quagmire.

Over the course of more than a dozen years, he radically changed the organization– for the good in some ways, and bad in others.
After about a decade, however, the negative aspects of his leadership style proved detrimental more often than not, to the Bank. McNamara was shown to be a hypocrite, like so many other alpha males whose hubris syndrome leads them to believe they are allowed to preach, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

In 1972, McNamara claimed the Bank’s projects would be environmentally friendly. But in 1981, he approved road-building in the Amazon region in Brazil that destroyed the rain forest and the way of life of the native tribes there. He left at the end of that year because his wife was ill, so conveniently, he wasn’t there to answer questions about the Bank’s serious problems when it hit the fan.

Incidentally, three other American contemporary figures come to mind on the environmental front, who were like McNamara: Al Gore, John Kerry and Michael Bloomberg– telling ordinary Americans to save energy while their ginormous carbon-footprints grow every day, traveling around to their various mansions through the use of exclusive flights and gas-guzzling vehicles. Note to current president: Arrogant hypocrisy makes American voters mad.

Read the book to learn of additional ways McNamara’s head eventually got too big for the team everywhere he went, prompting him and his colleagues to engage in disastrous military action in Vietnam, causing needless deaths and ruined lives; and the major historical events in which he had a role, that ruined his own and others’ reputations.

Serpent on the Rock

The Book of the Week is “Serpent on the Rock” by Kurt Eichenwald, published in 1995.

This volume contained an egregious error. It appeared in an anecdote about a member of the Belzberg family, Canadian Orthodox-Jews. In the late 1970’s, Belzberg was acquiring a large quantity of stock of the retail brokerage named Bache, so one of Bache’s executives met with him, to find out his intentions.

As the meeting ended, the author wrote that Belzberg shook hands with the Bache executive. That was obviously a fictionalized detail of the story, because Orthodox Jews do not shake hands with, or touch others, except for close family members.

Anyway, in the second half of the 1970’s, tax shelters became trendy in the securities industry. In the 1980’s, Bache (with a shady reputation in the first place) sold tax shelters in the form of limited partnerships of various kinds (oil and real estate were the most common) and reaped fat fees of as much as 8%. On a bunch of them, printed marketing communications illegally contained material omissions and misstatements.

Bache’s clients were clearly unsophisticated, because anyone with a minimal knowledge of finance should have seen that the objectives of the investment were contradictory: “income, growth and safety” (!)

Brokers dispensed with the printed prospectuses (which contained disclaimers required by law), and focused on verbally selling the money-losing financial instruments to their clients. They lied about the projected financial returns (14 to 15%, when they were pretty sure there would actually be disastrous losses). They called the investments “safe”– a word that should NEVER be used on Wall Street. The proper lingo should be “low-risk” and only when that’s the truth. The limited partnerships were “high-risk.”

One man, Jim Darr, became particularly powerful in the Direct Investment Group, and engaged in a boatload of excessively greedy, unethical activities and white-collar crimes that made him fabulously wealthy. In 1983, he flew all the way to a small thrift bank in Arkansas to get a home loan of $1.8 million to purchase a mansion in Connecticut. At that time, there were plenty of local lenders he could have approached.

Another sleazy character, Clifton Harrison, after pulling his last act of unbelievable thievery, gave the excuse, “I’ve just been borrowing some money against future fees.” Read the book to learn more about the various individuals who shaped Bache’s history, and what became of them.

ENDNOTE: The above shenanigans happens every few years in the United States. The line from the movie “That Thing You Do” describes it perfectly: A very common tale, boys, a very common tale. Here is a brief elaboration of the last forty years:

Steps of the American Politico-Economic Cycle

  1. An extremely pro-business president comes to power.
  2. Excessive deregulation ensues.
  3. Shady financial instruments and money-making vehicles spike in popularity (tax shelters, savings and loan associations, goodwill valuations, junk bonds, derivatives, dot-com stocks, stock-options-repricing, subprime mortgages, payday lenders, for-profit colleges, the PACE program, etc., etc., etc.)
  4. Out-of-control greed ensues.
  5. Profiteers of all political persuasions dispense with ethical behavior.
  6. The bubble bursts. A financial crash ensues.
  7. Lawsuit time!
  8. The impoverishment rate accelerates for the middle class and the poor.
  9. Election time. “It’s the economy, stupid.” Whether true or not (usually not!), campaign-propaganda convinces voters that the president is solely responsible for their personal financial situations.
  10. The reelected president, or one from the same party, continues some of the same hog-wild policies, or the new president reverses what he can. Re-regulation ensues.
  11. Time for another round of Survival Roulette (See this blog’s post, “Blind Ambition”).
  12. Opposition-propagandists pull strings to reverse what the new president reversed. They make voters impatient for improvement, even though undoing the damage takes years and years.
  13. Election time. Repeat steps 1-12.

Do It Again – BONUS POST

The Biden-bashing of Fox News never ends. Here’s a little ditty– a recap of his first 6 months in office (unaffiliated with anyone at Fox):

DO IT AGAIN
sung to the tune of “Do It Again” with apologies to Steely Dan.

In your first term
you go reversing
your predecessor’s every action,
and you SIGN executive orders
till your hand ends up in traction.
But your enemies are still angry
so they smear your every move,
bringing UP your old scandals
and the new ones funders approve.

Yeah, back you go, Joe, do it again.
Deals turning round and round.
Back you go, Joe, do it again.

No oil PIPEline and no Wall,
a stop-GLObal warming plan.
ReJOIN the worldwide groups
and repeal the travel ban.
Pay lip service to GUN control,
though every day there is more sorrow.
On guns, you have no power.
Won’t change today, or tomorrow.

Yeah, back you go, Joe, do it again.
Deals turning round and round.
Back you go, Joe, do it again.

Meet the Queen and world leaders,
make speeches and brag-about bills.
But YOU and your fellow leaders
still have border troubles and ills.
You kept HANDing out the money
to every voter and his brother.
With an eye to reelection
you’re just a prez like any other.

Yeah, back you go, Joe, do it again.
Deals turning round and round.
Back you go, Joe, do it again.

Life after [sic] Google

The Book of the Week is “Life after [sic] Google, The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy” by George Gilder, published in 2018.

The author explained that Google’s business model is being eclipsed by blockchain technology. Google offers many services for free, and derives revenue from advertising. The author neglected to mention that one sign that Google is on the wane, is that, in 2013 it stopped updating its PageRank data– a measurement of the extent to which each website on the World Wide Web is networked to other websites.

A bunch of tech-industry greats are improving blockchain technology in the form of various competing cryptocurrencies, which are a financial instrument whose value fluctuates (See this blog’s post, Digital Gold). Blockchain technology’s advantages include efficiency, scalability, improving cybersecurity, and the fact that it is virtual.

Google data centers (comprised of physical servers) derive their power from the Columbia river. Worldwide demand for additional power is growing every day. According to the author, another possible power source for data centers is atomic. He wrote, “China plans to build as many as forty new-fangled nuclear plants, the next wave of data centers may well be in Shenzhen.” Considering that parts of China are in an earthquake zone (!), China might not want to end up like Japan. However, politically, it does have a sociopathic disregard for the health and safety of its citizens.

Anyhow, cryptocurrencies’ major cybersecurity feature is that they are comprised of a decentralized peer-to-peer network so they don’t have a central point of failure. Nevertheless, a major rival of Bitcoin– Ethereum– was hacked for a $150 million loss on one of its nodes. Google has all its data in one place, so theft of data and cyber-attacks are much more efficiently accomplished.

One other financial entity that uses blockchain technology is a hedge fund of the company called Renaissance Technologies. Its software mines terabytes (inconceivably large) quantities of data in order to find minute, even obscure correlations between (at times unrelated) variables that allows it to buy and sell securities at a profit. For more than thirty years, it was delivering inconceivably large returns. Until, starting in 2020, it didn’t. The author argued that since the software isn’t generating new knowledge for the world, it is not generating real wealth for society. Economically, that is bad.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information about the features of virtual reality versus artificial intelligence in connection with Google and other technological marvels.