Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

Bonus Post

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

This blogger skimmed the ebook, “A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel” by Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang, published in 2013. This is a story whose details get tiresome after a while, about the downfall of two powerful politicians in China in 2012.

One politician was Wang Lijun. To compensate for his lack of a college education, he added laughable lies to his resume, such as the entry for “a master’s degree in business administration through a one-year correspondence education program at something called ‘California University.” This blogger recalls that that was the fictional school attended by the characters on the late 1980′s American TV show, “90210.”

Wang Lijun also purchased an eMBA from the diploma mill of China Northeastern Finance University. During a ceremony, the president of Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications publicly announced that Wang held a PhD in law. He was frequently called professor, and certain media disseminated propaganda that he was a researcher, author, inventor and fashion designer. His real job was police officer and later, police chief.

In addition to his making myths about himself, Wang used the usual techniques of dictators to amass a tremendous amount of power. Unsurprisingly, “…Wang had gone through fifty-one assistants during his two-year tenure in Chongqing…” He wrongly accused businesses of engaging in organized crime, used illegal surveillance techniques, denied suspects due process in the extreme, and embezzled public funds. You get the picture. Bo Xilai was Wang Lijun’s rival. According to Bo’s intimates, as of March 2012, Bo’s family had larcenously obtained 100 million yuan; in April 2012, that figure was 1 billion yuan.

“Suicide from depression is common among leaders at all levels of the Chinese government” especially when they are “…under investigation on corruption related charges.” Read the book to learn: whether Wang Lijun used this way out, and about the international incident that he staged; what prompted Bo Xilai to act similarly to Richard Nixon in delivering a “Checkers speech;” about the governmental infrastructure in China that provided the means for Wang’s and Bos’ outrageous conduct; and here and there, about Chinese history– such as Mao Tse Tung’s anti-intellectual campaign of May 1966.

The Billionaire’s Apprentice

Monday, April 14th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Billionaire’s Apprentice” by Anita Raghavan, published in 2013. This ebook describes the investigation into the activities of a few Wall Streeters who were accused of insider trading in the past several years. Most of the accused happened to be of South Asian descent–from  Sri Lanka and India.

One concept the book conveys to readers is that it is unknown how many American securities-industry professionals are benefiting from insider trading, but the people in this book just happened to get caught because there was sufficient evidence against them to prompt the SEC, US Attorney’s office and FBI to go after them, rather than other possible offenders. The departments involved included the SEC’s Market Abuse Unit and the Department of Justice’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force in the legal jurisdiction of the Southern District of New York (covering Manhattan and the Bronx, according to the author).

Another concept is that the investigating organizations and the securities industry are staffed with many people who, during their careers, switch allegiances. They might go from being a prosecutor to being a defense attorney, or from brokerage executive to government regulator, or vice versa. In this book the “old boy network” is alive and well. Arguably, conflicts abound.

Read the book to learn, among other extremes, about wiretapping (not the NSA’s), about one of the accused who “had several phones– at least thirteen– and he used them all” and a $30 million legal bill.

Bonus Post

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

This blogger skimmed the ebook, “This Is NPR: The First Forty Years” by Cokie Roberts, Susan Stamberg, Noah Adams, John Yostie, Renee Montagne, Ari Shapiro, David Folkenflik and numerous contributors; publishing date unstated; published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

The publisher of this literary work appears to have simply converted a physical book (or possibly, a compilation of magazine articles) to an electronic file and never edited it again. For, there was a “pull quote” at the beginning of every chapter that was repeated in the body text. This blogger was a bit annoyed at the redundancy. In addition, there were words broken by a hyphen in the middles of lines instead of at the ends of lines– the word-spacing had changed in the transition to ebook. There were also two or three typos that would have been corrected had even an unpaid intern proofread the book before it was distributed in ebook form.

Nevertheless, NPR (National Public Radio) has been a respectable broadcasting outlet of news and intellectual programming since 1971.Various shows, such as All Things Considered and Morning Edition have enlightened its politically liberal listeners on all major historical events through the decades, including the wars and crises of the 1970′s and thereafter.

NPR covered the Iran Hostage Crisis (which it called the “Iranian Hostage Crisis” but the hostages were American). This book says that originally, sixty-six hostages were seized, but a later chapter says, in an unexplained discrepancy, that fifty-three hostages were released.

Anyway, read the book to learn of NPR’s own funding crises and how in 2003 it received the most generous donation ever made to a cultural organization, and learn why it has been able to stay in existence all these years, notwithstanding this book’s sloppy editing.

Island Practice

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Island Practice” by Pam Belluck, published in 2012. This ebook discusses in detail, the life of a doctor who has been practicing general medicine and surgery on Nantucket for decades. He is a colorful character: having no qualms about cursing when providing psychotherapy (without a license); making house calls and treating patients at his own house; allowing patients to pay their bills through bartering; not charging indigent patients at all; treating animals as well; maintaining an extensive collection of operative firearms; occasionally allowing a needy person to live with him, his wife and three kids; and engaging in other offbeat pursuits.

Nantucket, a less-than-fifty-square-mile island in Massachusetts, is a socially isolated summer vacation destination for many wealthy celebrities. However, its year-round residents also need medical care, frequently for three serious tick-borne diseases, on which Dr. Lepore is an expert. When a patient has a life-threatening condition that requires immediate treatment, the doctor has them airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in the Boston area. In times of severe weather when aircraft are not flying, he must try to save the patient himself, by doing a Caesarian section or sewing up a hole in a duodenum in a case of pancreatitis.

The author prortrays Dr. Lepore as similar to the fictional TV character Dr. Gregory House in that he is often diagnosing “zebras” (rare medical conditions) rather than “horses” (common ailments) through his intuition and then heroically curing the patient while bucking hospital rules.

Read the book to learn of the doctor’s highly irregular approach to practicing medicine, the difficulties and controversies he and his family have faced through the years, and the precarious future that medical professionals like him face, with the introduction of Obamacare.

As an aside, it appeared that this book’s thesis, stated toward the end, is that Obamacare would force doctors such as Lepore out of business. This blogger thinks that that will not occur. The wealthy will always seek out the best medical care, and pay such doctors under the table if necessary, to obtain it. They will find the loopholes in national healthcare to avoid a bad HMO. They would gladly pay the fine for not signing up for Obamacare because the fine will never be sufficiently high to be a deterrent for making their own private arrangements for medical treatment. A major argument some people– not just the wealthy– have against national healthcare– is that it is unfair to make the healthy people pay the high medical bills of the people who knowingly engage in risky, self-destructive behaviors (smoking; poor eating habits, lack of exercise) that result in preventable medical conditions or that exacerbate certain conditions (cancer, obesity, diabetes, etc.) that require expensive medical care. [By the way, this blogger's medical bills were $0 last year and have been $0 so far this year (this includes out-of-pocket expenses)-- for you curious readers.]

Bonus Post

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

This blogger skimmed the book, “A Political Education” by Andre Schiffrin, published in 2007. The author, born in 1935 in France, discussed how his family survived WWII, and his career in American publishing.

Schiffrin followed his father, a prominent figure, into the industry. In the late 1940′s, “… there were 350 bookstores in New York City, ten times the number there are today.” The author received an American elitist Northeastern education, despite the religion he was perceived to be, and with which he himself identified (Jewish). In the early 1950′s, he was politically active in school– leading various organizations that spread their opinions and lodged protests in cooperation with other student groups internationally. Schiffrin opposed France’s colonialism in Algeria and Vietnam, and Soviet repression in Hungary.

The last third of the book contains the author’s lament over how, “In America, we gradually built a system of welfare for the large corporations…” Up until the 1970′s, in the industrialized nations of the world, the publishing business was used to making an annual profit of 3%. The philosophy of publishers was “…that the successful books should subsidize those that made less money”– like, ironically, with venture capitalism nowadays– because there will never be maximum profitability for every entity funded. Yes, the ultimate goal is to make money. Humans have a history of spawning unexpectedly wildly successful books and start-ups. But society benefits more than otherwise from a diversity of intellectual, experimental endeavors, even if they fail.

The atmosphere changed when corporate America got even more greedy. It was the usual story: When avaricious bean-counters take over a creative and/or intellectual realm, everything goes south. “Wall Street was looking for profits of 10 to 20 percent.” As can be surmised, it didn’t get them. This blogger thinks the author was naive in saying, “For the first time in history, ideas were judged not by their importance but by their profit potential.” Even in the 1970′s, there was nothing new under the sun.

Read the book to learn how the last three decades of Schiffrin’s working life saw radical political and cultural changes that adversely affected the book business in the United States. For instance, the major publishing companies practiced censorship due to American politics from the mid-twentieth century into the first years of the twenty-first. Schiffrin wrote that the Right wing felt entitled to control the Middle East. Communists and Islamists were interlopers; “… if things weren’t working out [with regard to America's takeover], it had to be due to traitors and subversives at home.”

As an aside, this blogger was reminded of two books Mr. Schiffrin would have enjoyed: “Wasn’t That a Time?” by Robert Schrank and “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins.

I Am Jackie Chan

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Post

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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