Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

Crescent & Star – Turkey Between Two Worlds

Friday, February 5th, 2016

The Book of the Week is “Crescent & Star – Turkey Between Two Worlds” by Stephen Kinzer, published in 2001. This repetitive volume recounts the recent history of Turkey. Of course the country has changed significantly since the publishing of this writing, which was prior to 9/11.

The individual was considered less important than the collective– family, village or clan, not the nation. The media were censored on topics such as the Kurds, Islam, the Armenian genocide of 1915, relations with Greece and Cyprus, etc., etc. Three major controversies in Turkish society included: the tribal conflict between Turks and Kurds, the religious conflict between Sunni Muslims and Alevis, and the hotly debated question of whether religion should be practiced in public life (such as female students’ wearing of veils at university). “The Turks are still gripped by two ancient Middle Eastern taboos. One is the taboo against change, which they equate with admitting failure. The other is the taboo against dialogue, compromise and negotiation.”

In the mid 1980′s, the Kurds formed an anti-government military organization called the PKK to try to subvert the government through violence. Excessive blood was shed with the government’s response against these separatists.

The August 1999 earthquake was a particularly trying time for the nation. There was plenty of unnecessary death and destruction. The disaster was a cluster screw-up. In years prior, unschooled, capital-poor Turks started unscrupulous home-building businesses that constructed flimsy apartment buildings. After the quake, arrogant and indifferent top officials of the government relief agency, Kizilay, who had been playing fast and loose with the organization’s checkbook, responded slowly to aiding the victims. Nevertheless, tens of countries around the world, including Greece, aided Turkey in its time of need. The disaster served as an excuse, a tipping point for the nation’s resuming diplomatic relations with Greece. Besides, the events surrounding the earthquake served as an additional impetus for younger Turks to agitate for political and cultural change.

Read the book to learn about additional factors that were affecting the people’s push for change, such as worship of Kemal Ataturk, the 1996 Susurluk scandal and the military’s role in governing the country.

The CBS Murders

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

The Book of the Week is “The CBS Murders” by Richard Hammer, published in 1987. This is the true story of the murders of two women, and three men who were by-standing CBS employees– in a parking lot in midtown Manhattan’s far west side in April 1982.

The ugly crime was the culmination of a white-collar crime spree committed over a number of years by a family named Margolies, in the jewelry business. The major perpetrator of the crimes, Irwin, schemed to blame the company bookkeeper, but complications arose.

The case was unusual in that criminals like Irwin generally do not hire a hitman, but only hire fancy attorneys to weasel out of legal trouble. Irwin and his wife Madeleine behaved like a dictatorial couple, like the Perons, Caucescus or the Marcoses. Read the book to learn the details of this suspenseful business story.

Foxcatcher

Friday, January 15th, 2016

The Book of the Week is “Foxcatcher” by Mark Schultz with David Thomas, published in 2014. This autobiography discusses the author’s experiences in high school, college and professional wrestling in the 1970′s, 80′s and 90′s, and his association with John du Pont.

Wrestling is comprised of technique, conditioning and luck. The season runs from November through March, and fans can be loud, obnoxious and profane. Schultz and his older brother, Dave, were passionate wrestlers. In 1983, they competed in the World Championships in Kiev, Russia. In 1984, they were the first brothers in United States wrestling history to win Olympic gold medals. During a time in his career when he struggled to make a living, Schultz put on wrestling clinics. He was employable in this capacity because he had been a global wrestling celebrity, hired by high school wrestling coaches. Wrestling is a nonrevenue sport. On the other hand, Russian wrestlers are paid to train and compete on the Olympic team.

John du Pont was an eccentric, super-rich donor to Villanova University who decided to start a wrestling program there in the mid 1980′s. Schultz assisted with that effort. John du Pont broke the NCAA rules in various ways because he could, just to be controlling. He produced awards ceremonies for himself. “John got a kick out of manipulating people to see if they would go against their principles in exchange for money.”

Read the book to learn the details of Schultz’s wrestling life, and du Pont’s actions in connection therewith.

An Irishman in China

Friday, January 8th, 2016

The Book of the Week is “An Irishman in China” by Zhao Changtian; Yang Shuhui and Yunqin, translators, published in 2014. This is the career story of Robert Hart.

Hart, originally from Northern Ireland, visited various ports of the world via ship before settling in Shanghai, China in autumn 1854 as an interpreter, a non-official member of the British consular service. In his early twenties, he started at a time of anti-government rebellion by two groups, Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, and Small Sword Society. British merchants– angry about having to pay taxes when other nations’ traders, such as France, America and Portugal didn’t– were supplying the rebels with arms. Coastal cities produced ample rice, silk and tea. Unsurprisingly, there was corruption at the customs house.

Hart stayed at the British Consulate in Ningbo. He hired a cleaning boy, cook and an English tutor who taught him the Chinese language. Employed by the Chinese government, he moved up through the ranks serving Western merchants in the customs department. In March 1858, he was transferred to Guangzhou because Anglo-French forces attacked the city. He was skilled in diplomacy, and through the years, made friends in high places in the Chinese government. As for his social life, a colleague told him he could get a mail-order bride of sorts, a non-prostitute who was “…trained in music, chess, calligraphy and painting.” Nevertheless, he met someone on his own, and started a family.

Read the book to learn of Hart’s personal and professional relationships over the course of half a century; how he protected British interests in China and had an impact on China’s foreign policy, especially during armed conflicts among its own peoples and other nations.

Jawaharlal Nehru

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

The Book of the Week is “Jawaharlal Nehru, An Autobiography” originally published in 1936. This book on Indian history shows the reader yet again, that there is nothing new under the sun.

Born in 1889, Nehru, who had much older sisters, grew up in a wealthy, multigenerational Hindu family of Kashmiri origin. After completing his elitist legal education, following in the footsteps of his father, he became an Indian civil servant and political activist in Bombay. He wrote, “All the bureaucrats in New Delhi do are gossip about promotions, leave and rules, furloughs, transfers and scandal.”

In the mid-nineteen teens, the Indian populace began agitating for Home Rule (also called “swaraj”)– breaking the yoke of British colonialism, and making peace among believers of Hinduism and Islam– two major Indian religions (amid violence in the Punjab in 1919, and other areas such as Bengal). In a nutshell, “India is supposed to be a religious country above everything else, and Hindu and Moslem and Sikh and others take pride in their faiths and testify to their truth by breaking heads.”

Nehru’s father became a follower of Gandhi, who led the powerful, non-violent movement of civil disobedience, satyagraha. In the early 1920′s, a few million people participated in non-cooperation protests at Gandhi’s behest. Many, including Nehru were jailed with sentences of one to three years, sometimes with early releases, on and off into the mid-1930′s. Their civil rights of assembly, speech, etc. were severely curtailed, as was their ability to defend themselves in “show-trials” against the British authorities’ hastily conceived, arbitrary legislation outlawing the dissident political groups and their activities. [Sidenote: Authorities in South Africa (a former British colony) behaved the same way as the British authorities fifty (!) years later, against dark-skinned political dissidents under apartheid.]

Nehru recounted an ugly episode involving his mother. She was peacefully marching in a protest when police arrested her and bloodied her head, beating her with their batons. “That night a false rumour spread in Allahabad that my mother had died. Angry crowds gathered together, forgot about peace and non-violence, and attacked the police.”

As well, the spirit of the times involved youth groups and workers’ trade unions, who met to talk late into the night about the social and economic problems of the day. Socialism and Marxism were in the air. Nehru and other political dissidents urged peasant farmers to initiate a rent strike against their landlords. Gandhi launched a few attention-mongering hunger strikes in his attempts to effect political change.

During 1930, there were negotations for Indian independence. A new Constitution would have to be drafted with provisions on national defense, foreign affairs, financial and economic policy, and on what was to be done about India’s indebtedness to Britain.

Funny, in the mid-1930′s, Nehru could have been writing about current American politics: “It is very unfortunate that foolish and ill-informed criticisms of a personal nature are made, because they divert attention from the real issues.” Across the Atlantic, there was a “…Europe in turmoil, fearful of war and tumult and with economic crises always on the horizon.” At that time, India’s people were not alone in their suffering. There was more violence and death around the world due to fascism, nazism, imperialism and colonialism than now. Nevertheless, Nehru asked a question that is still relevant, “Were there any principles, and standards of conduct in this world, or was it all sheer opportunism?”

Read the book to learn Nehru’s answer, and about Indian history in the 1920′s and ’30′s, as seen through Nehru’s eyes.

Bonus Post

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

This blogger read “Gnarr! How I Became Mayor of A Large City in Iceland and Changed the World” by Jon Gnarr, translated by Andrew Brown, published in 2014.

In 2009, the author co-founded the Best Party and in spring 2010, started running for mayor of Reykjavik. “Our campaign played out primarily on Facebook, YouTube and Blogspot.” He made a fool of himself because he had poor debating skills. He knew only how to mock other parties’ stupid slogans. Nevertheless, the city council elected him mayor.

The Best Party allied with the Social Democrats. As mayor, he was allowed use of a chauffeured car and a MacBook Pro with a fifteen-inch monitor, because he “… absolutely couldn’t cope with Windows.” He supervised eight thousand people, working for Iceland’s largest employer.

Iceland is a country with no military, and has no law enforcement officers who are armed. Regarding homosexuals, it is one of the most egalitarian nations in the world.

Gnarr is an idealist. He wrote, “I am an anarchist… If I actually believe in anything at all, it’s democracy… I believe in direct democracy.” In October 2011, Gnarr and his Party introduced participatory democracy over the World Wide Web. His administration allowed the general public to vote on urban construction and renovation projects. However, the pesky aspects of human nature– greed and power-hunger that spur lobbying and corruption–  among other flaws, can diminish the beneficial effects of such an innovative political practice.

Read the book to learn more about Gnarr’s political philosophy.