Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

Bonus Post

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

This blogger skimmed the ebook, “The Law of the Jungle” by Paul M. Barrett, published in 2014.  This is the story of a decades-long court case involving oil contamination in the Amazonian rain forest of northeastern Ecuador, to which a number of cliches apply:

Pox on the houses of both the plaintiff and the defendant;

A man is known by the company he keeps; and

When you lie down with dogs, you get fleas.

Starting in 1993, the plaintiff, represented by a greedy, egotistical, loudmouthed, yet shrewd attorney– Steven Donziger– claimed that defendant, Texaco, and then successor Chevron oil company, had caused illness, deaths, and damage to the quality of life of thousands of farmers and tribesmen in Ecuador. The Amazonians were allegedly poisoned by the oil-contaminated streams where they fished, bathed and gathered drinking water. The oil company had established a presence in their villages since 1964, when it forged an agreement with the Ecuadorian government to drill on 3.5 million and later, 4 million acres in the Oriente region.

The author tells a suspenseful, controversial story that reveals valid arguments on both sides. There was evidence of serious disruption of villagers’ lives. This included cancer clusters and other health issues that plagued the Ecuadorians, pollution of the place where they lived, the unintended consequence of violent fighting for jobs and over income inequality between Indians and homesteaders, etc. directly attributable to the activities of, and inept cleanup of, oil that allowed spreading of toxic chemicals by, the petroleum companies. On the other hand, over the years, the economy of the country of Ecuador made great strides due to the companies’ building of, and heavy investment in, transportation infrastructure and the side effects of job creation and good political relations that would not have occurred but for the corporate presence in Ecuador.

According to the author, the plaintiff’s attorney went after “big oil” rather than “… a struggling national government responsible for letting down its people” because big oil had more sex appeal. It could also be that big oil had deeper pockets.

In sum, “The oil pollution suit was not unique. Ecuador’s judiciary had a well-earned reputation for corruption and chaos.”

Read the book to learn of the various sleazy tactics employed by both sides in the dispute, and to get a concise, eloquent summary of the whole story– read the “Conclusions” section of this ebook.

Drama

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Drama: An Actor’s Education” by John Lithgow, published in 2011. This ebook is Lithgow’s autobiography.

The author has had a very successful acting career in theater, TV and movies. He learned from his father– a super role model and passionate producer of Shakespeare festivals. His father’s career necessitated the family’s relocating every few years, from Ohio to Massachusetts to New Jersey and elsewhere; a disruptive force in his social life. Nevertheless, Lithgow earned a full scholarship to Harvard, where he continued to hone his acting skills.

Read the book to learn how the author escaped the Vietnam draft, about his 1970′s theater experiences in twelve Broadway shows, his explanation of why actors have trouble staying faithful in their love lives, and his professional and personal trials and tribulations.

Bonus Post

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

With the U.S. midterm elections approaching, this blogger paged through Al Franken’s book, “The Truth with jokes” (but it isn’t funny), published in 2005. It is mostly about:  election, military and economic issues in connection with George W. Bush’s first term.

One controversial issue (still a relevant question years later) that Franken covers is that “…seven months into the [Iraq] war, Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memo asking whether we were creating more terrorists than we were eliminating. ‘We lack the metrics to know,’ he lamented at the time.” A few years later, the government admitted it had the metrics– statistics on terrorist attacks– and the answer was yes.

In 2000-2001, when Bush was first “elected,” Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan was excited that “After eight years of Clinton-style fiscal discipline and economic growth, the era of big deficits was over, and we were running surpluses…” As is known now, Greenspan’s assessment of America’s financial shape turned out to be a bit off the mark. By 2005, the U.S. government had to borrow $2 trillion.

Therefore, the Bush administration might have been wrong in predicting that Social Security would run out of money by 2042. There were then murmurs about privatizing it. Al Franken and his political ilk squelched Bush’s attempt.

Nevertheless, Franken has done extensive economics research, as is shown in this video:

This blogger thinks it is well worth watching in its entirety.

Idea Man

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Idea Man” by Paul Allen, published in 2011. This autobiographical ebook’s author is best known as the co-founder of Microsoft, and one of the world’s wealthiest people.

This is not exactly a career memoir, because he gives only an overview of his eight years with the company– from which he withdrew as an employee– and the rest of the book is devoted to his other life experiences. It appears that the amount of information he chose to provide on his short tenure with the software company is insufficient to fill an entire book, so he supplements with his: investments in sports teams, stadiums and communications and aerospace companies; his medical problems; travels; musical encounters; and philanthropic endeavors.

Allen, a ten-grader in 1968, describes eighth-grader Bill Gates’ physical appearance: “…pullover sweater, tan slacks, enormous saddle shoes… blond hair all over the place…”

The two youths took full advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime to learn the craft of programming in the computer room of a private school in Seattle. They had endless capacity for the extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive brainwork required. When he had yet to turn twenty years old, Allen’s experience spanned “…ten computers, ten high-level languages, nine machine-level languages, and three operating systems.” Pretty good for a college dropout.

In the late 1970′s, affordability was a major requirement for selling personal computers, an industry in its infancy. “Today’s laptop is thirty thousand times faster than the machine [the PDP-10] I was lusting after, with ten thousand times more memory.” At that time, memory was expensive and lack of it made machines glacially slow. Today’s base iPhone has four million times the memory contained in BASIC– the programming language that ran on Altair, one of the first computers sold to businesses and consumers in the late 1970′s.

Allen said Gates was a thrill seeker, enjoyed driving fast. In the early 1980′s, “Bill got so many speeding tickets that he had to hire the best traffic attorney in the state to defend him.”

The author discussed how a technology company must always be on the qui vive for the Next Big Thing, and introduce it before its competitors in the right way with the right people, or perhaps suffer significant financial losses. In 1982, DEC came late to the party by selling the high-quality Rainbow 100. Unfortunately, the minicomputer was behind the times– running on the old 8-bit CP/M system, while a 16-bit system was already on the market.

Suffice to say on most of his investments, Allen was a Warren Buffett wannabe. He deserves credit for freely admitting to his epic losses. Nevertheless, it was just another case of redistribution of wealth among the wealthy.

Read the book to learn the details of this billionaire’s life stories.

Life Is Not a Stage

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Life Is Not a Stage” by Florence Henderson with Joel Brokaw, publishedin 2011. This is Henderson’s autobiography. She is best known for playing the mother in the American TV sitcom “The Brady Bunch” which initially aired from 1969 to 1974.

Her early life was difficult to say the least, because she was born to a poverty-stricken family with an alcoholic father at the height of The Great Depression, the youngest of ten siblings. In Indiana. Her mother left her father when she was thirteen. But she had singing talent, so she had that going for her, which is nice (apologies to Bill Murray). She has been a Broadway actor, TV star, night club singer and has also been in movies.

Read the book to learn how:  but for Henderson’s good friend from a wealthy family, Henderson probably would not have had the fabulous career she has had; she was a product of her time as a female; despite all her fame and fortune, she has suffered much unhappiness; and how her outlook on life has seen her through many difficulties and allowed her to keep her sanity and avoid dying young like so many other super-famous entertainers.

Bonus Post

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

This blogger skimmed “Madboy” by Richard Kirshenbaum, published in 2011. This ebook is mostly a name-dropping brag-fest.

Granted, the author does have bragging rights as an adman and did provide numerous tips on acquiring clients and maintaining good client relations, and described what it was like working in the ad industry in the 1980′s and 1990′s. But the first anecdote about a major business decision that resulted in a large financial loss, appeared almost halfway through this book. The author did gloze over a few mini-fails prior to that. However, this blogger thinks a career memoir need not put a happy face on every negative story, as though the author is in a job interview. He should be more introspective. Kirshenbaum seemed a tad insecure, and both he and his wife seemed easily starstruck. This blogger is not impressed that he has met and worked with dozens of celebrities in the last few decades.

The author recounted one amusing anecdote involving indecency during a camera shoot in Mississippi. He also made a few rather unfortunate statements:

  • Witty ads for his agency’s first client mentioned politicians famous in the 1980′s, that he said, “…captured the public’s attention, as it hadn’t seen this kind of creativity in the advertising business before.” Doubtful. There is nothing new under the sun.
  • About social networking: “…where now consumers actually control the conversation about brands and have honest and controversial conversations about a company’s brand preferences.” See http://educationanddeconstruction.com/?p=4180
  • Kirshenbaum believes American consumers are fiercely brand-loyal and “…the rise of social media (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) influence them.”  Again, see http://educationanddeconstruction.com/?p=4180

Read the book to learn of some of the big-name people Kirshenbaum met through the years, the campaigns and entities he spearheaded, places to which he traveled, what he learned from whom, and what became of his agency.

Stephen Sondheim

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Stephen Sondheim: A Life” by Meryle Secrest, originally published in 1993. This is the biography of a Broadway composer who was born in spring of 1930.

In 1946, when Sondheim was attending Williams College, he was finally accepted to a fraternity on his third attempt. Many fraternities automatically prejudged people who had last names that were perceived as Jewish, and rejected them. Throughout this entire book, there was mention of neither Sondheim’s religious observances, if any, nor of his beliefs. Nevertheless, in the spring of 1948, Sondheim religiously wrote more than twenty musical numbers for a show that parodied the school.

After graduation, Sondheim wrote an entire musical. Oscar Hammerstein, a family friend in his childhood, became his mentor. He taught Sondheim that “an author was not writing to satisfy himself… or even the actors… His main consideration should be how to relate the work to the audience’s experience… if the sympathies of the audience were not engaged, it did not matter how brilliant the work was.” The musical, on the initial draft, was angry and bitter, and had no likeable characters– they were all jerks. This blogger is reminded of various unfunny works of that nature: the plays, “Art” and “Some Americans Abroad” and the TV shows, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Office.”

On a more entertaining note, Sondheim also invented a board game called “Stardom” in which players have sex with show-business celebrities in order to reach the peak of the social ladder. There were different levels of fame and real properties (like in Monopoly) of stars’ homes. However, a player would regress when an opposing player leaked a rumor of a love affair to a gossip columnist.

Sondheim’s score of West Side Story (both a musical and a movie-musical) became popular largely due to the movie’s expensive ad campaign; people had a chance to get to like it. Absent the making of the movie, the songs would have languished in obscurity.

In 1960, Sondheim bought a house in the Turtle Bay section (East 40′s) of Manhattan, five stories high, for $115,000. It was next door to Katharine Hepburn’s. He and the other creators of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” learned from producer/director Jerome Robbins that the opening number of a musical is crucial for setting the tone for the whole show, so it must be likeable and indicative of the nature of the show.

At age 29, Sondheim formed his own publishing company in order to make significantly more money than other composers. By age 32, he had three hit Broadway shows under his belt. During his career, he wrote more than eight hundred songs.

Read the book to learn the rest of the intimate details of Sondheim’s life.

Toughing It Out

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Toughing It Out” by Claire Reed, published in 2012. This ebook is the autobiography of a “shrinking violet” turned political activist.

Reed was born in Brooklyn, New York in the late 1920′s into a relatively wealthy Jewish family typical for its generation. Her parents cared not a whit for her education, allowing her to miss school to spend time out-of-town with her wealthy friends. Her mother was an especially bad influence, conditioning her to believe that she should simply marry a rich man to have a good life. After the deaths of various of her relatives within a few years, and lacking income-producing skills and self-confidence, she was obliged to get married.

The author illustrates the American mentality of the rich in the immediate Postwar Era through several anecdotes on herself and her sexist husband, who was like her late father. One example involved a fur coat– the material object a wife needed to wear as a symbol of a husband’s ability to provide for his family and of his masculinity.

Read the book to learn how Reed overcame her low-self esteem problem, came to play a vital role in Congresswoman Bella Abzug’s political activities and came into her own as a productive member of society.