Archive for the ‘History – Non-New York City’ Category

The Courage of Strangers

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Courage of Strangers” by Jeri Laber, published in 2002. This autobiography describes the making of a passionate human rights activist.

The author grew up in privileged surroundings in New York City, in the Sunnyside section of Queens, and Jamaica Estates when the wealthy suburban enclave was in its infancy. This was because her Russian father was a multi-skilled home builder with his own business. On the family’s newly-constructed home: “Back in 1936, it was a technological wonder, with central air-conditioning, a built-in room-to-room intercom system, garage doors that opened automatically, and, buried under the steep cobblestone driveway, wires that heated up to melt the snow.”

In the early 1950′s, Laber wanted to study Russian in graduate school, but her father objected partly because it was the McCarthy Era, and because he felt over-education would hurt her chances for marriage. She defied him. In 1954, she got the opportunity to visit Moscow with three other students. Their tour guides tightly restricted their activities, allowing them to visit only tourist sites, and Moscow State University. She recorded her impressions of the people she met, including, “They have replaced God with Lenin and Stalin…These people are healthy and happy, as long as they conform.”

Excuse the cliche, but “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At that time, there was the “Military-Industrial Complex.” Now there is the “Military-Corporate Complex.” However, world annihilation via nuclear war was the biggest fear in the 1950′s. The continuing increase in global oppression via telecommunications and other underhanded means is the biggest fear in the early 2000′s.

The author was an eyewitness to the different speeds at which different countries threw off their communist yoke, as she visited various countries behind the Iron Curtain in turn. She writes that people in the former Soviet Union had lived under communism for decades longer than their Eastern bloc counterparts. The older ones residing in the latter had known a better quality of life prior to Soviet takeover. “They looked around them and saw corrupt, repressive governments, failing economies, contaminated water, polluted air, alcoholism, and apathy.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Read the book to learn of Laber’s career adventures in Eastern Europe, her checkered love life, the difference she made at meetings with top Soviet leaders and others by speaking out against injustice, and Eastern Europe’s radical political and social changes in the 1990′s.

Jeffrey Sachs

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Jeffrey Sachs: The Strange Case of Dr. Shock and Mr. Aid” by Japhy Wilson, published in 2014. This ebook emphatically argues that the highly influential Ivy League economist Jeffrey Sachs has wreaked havoc on at least three nations’ economies in the last thirty years with his non-stop publishing, lecturing and implementation on and of, (in the author’s opinion) delusional, elitist, anti-communist, anti-union schemes; he is, arguably, an economics criminal, so to speak (the counterpart to a war criminal) in that the implementation of his policies caused deaths. As an aside, this blogger disagrees with the author’s spelling of “publically” rather than “publicly.”

Sachs has refused to acknowledge that his “shock therapy” method employed in Bolivia, Russia and Poland was a dismal failure. It was supposed to help them make the transition to capitalism through conferring responsibility for previously government-led distribution of goods and services, to private citizens without warning them of extreme measures to be imposed in accomplishing this. The countries were forced to adopt a model at the far opposite end of the spectrum of the welfare state.

Sachs’ first victim, Bolivia, was experiencing 60,000% inflation and 20% unemployment in the summer of 1985. By 1987, pursuant to Sachs’ plan, a free market had been created, but the costs included a 50% higher unemployment rate and a 40% lower real-wage level. Over the next five years, the mining and industry sectors lost jobs by the tens of thousands.

In Russia, a few powerful wealth owners were already experienced in “managing” assets, so their receiving additional private property–  with no laws requiring them to treat their workers in a humane manner– made them even more exploitative. In the early 1990′s, leader Boris Yeltsin became a convert of Sachs. The result was mass corruption.  On the other hand, this has helped the United States and other nations with already evolved capitalist systems to maintain their economic dominance in the world. This blogger is not saying such a goal is right or wrong, but merely suggesting that this might have been Sachs’ goal.

Sachs also helped the rich get richer in Uganda, by providing specially chosen farming families with certain resources, such as fertilizer and seeds, in a few villages. The goal was to have those politically connected farmers “… magically combine entrepreneurial self-interest with community spirit, based on a patronizing representation of the deserving poor.” This smacks of a similar kind of mentality in the New York City schools under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the early 2000′s, based on the mistaken notion that all students were bound for college. Sachs’ program started charging money for conferring some of its resources, “… which inevitably privileges those with the ability to pay.” Bloomberg imposed various policies (still in effect as of this writing), that inevitably privilege those students who have the ability to pay for private school, and testing and tutoring services. That is just the tip of the iceberg in both cases.

A World Trade Organization conference in Seattle in 2000 was discontinued because “… Suddenly, this orderly world of billionaire philanthropy and elite policymaking was overturned by massive street protests involving unions, NGOs, and activist groups, demanding an end to the global neoliberal agenda of free trade, privatization, and corporate power.”

Read the book to learn of additional outrages associated with Jeffrey Sachs.

The Snowden Files

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Snowden Files:  The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man” by Luke Harding, published in 2014. This ebook eloquently describes how Edward Snowden became a whistleblower, and the immediate consequences of his actions.

President Barack Obama vowed to curtail intrusive collection of personal data from and on the American people during 2008. A set of policies passed after 9/11, the Patriot Act, originally allowed certain kinds of spying. The goal was to root out terrorists. Instead of curbing the program, Obama authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States government to become an all-out global spying operation. By 2009, it was collecting metadata from millions of American and English citizens, as well as numerous global government officials, through phone records and email. It teamed up with GCHQ, the United Kingdom’s governmental branch that handles intelligence, and later, elicited customer data from the major U.S. tech companies Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. The NSA and GCHQ “…secretly attached intercepts to the undersea fibre-optic cables that ringed the world.”

However admirable the intentions of government officials might be– thinking they are seeking out evil and preventing incidents of terrorism, their actions are misguided. They might contend that there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11, so therefore, the program is working. This erroneous reasoning is like the stupid joke: A man is sitting outside on a city street waving around an odd contraption. Someone walks by and asks him what it is. The man tells them it’s an elephant repellent. He is asked how he knows it’s working. He says, “It must be working. Do you see any elephants around here?”

This blogger believes that the privacy violations– arguably unconstitutional– are a secondary reason why the nature of the NSA’s actions are so dangerous. One major aspect that makes the spying so dangerous is that comprehensive searches can be done on electronic-records literally at the speed of light.

Excuse the cliche, but “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Abuse of power is inevitable. For instance, there have been incidents involving the TSA. Throughout history, only bad publicity generated by whistleblowers who have made serious sacrifices– their livelihoods and/or their lives– has stemmed the tide of the evildoing. The same is true with this NSA/GCHQ situation. This ebook likened the spying to the East German Stasi prior to the fall of Communism. This blogger thinks eventually, absent a whistleblower, there would have emerged an individual with the mentality of Stalin or the late U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. Fortunately, Snowden found a way to act on the conviction of his beliefs in a mature, if illegal, way. He communicated with the right individuals at The Guardian, “… the third largest newspaper website in the world.”

A minor side effect of the collection of massive amounts of data, even if only a fraction of it is looked at– is that mistakes of honest ineptitude will be made. Lives have been greatly inconvenienced at best, due to the erroneous data in credit records, and those whose names have been mistakenly placed on a “no-fly” list, among various other cluster screw-ups of record-keeping entities.

Read the book to learn of the different media cultures in the U.S. and U.K., and the details of this suspenseful saga.

Louis Renault, A Biography

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Louis Renault, A Biography” by Anthony Rhodes, published in 1969.

Renault, an automobile extrepreneur, was born in February 1877. When he began his career, there were only two classes of any real importance in France– the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. Renault sold vehicles initially for commercial purposes like taxis, public buses and milk delivery trucks.

By 1905, there were 22 intensely competing European automakers. The year 1908 saw six-cylinder engines made by eight French, ten American, three Belgian and one German manufacturer. In 1909, Renault sold his cars in New York. The goal was to sell 1,200 to 1,500 of them.

In the 1920′s, Citroen, Renault’s chief rival, employed many women in his factories. He condutcted an ongoing direct-marketing campaign, mailing letters to potential first-time and new car buyers who had visited the local showroom and expressed interest in a purchase. He also made toy models of his cars for kids. Renault and Citroen competed in starting bus lines between cities in France. Citroen was taken over by Michelin after going bankrupt in 1935.

Read the book to learn of Renault’s accumulation of wealth, his company’s corporate culture and labor troubles, what transpired among automakers during the World Wars and through the decades, and how history dealt Renault a serious blow toward the end of his life.

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.

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.

Bonus Post

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

“The Big Rich” by Bryan Burrough, published in 2009, is a long ebook that details the lives and times of the four Texas families who became extremely wealthy Americans from the oil business in the first half of the twentieth century. “They… became the country’s first shirt-sleeve billionaires… accumulated every toy of their age…” including lavish residences, private jets, boats, fancy cars and politicians (when they got into politics).

The editing of this book is a bit sloppy in spots. Nevertheless, according to this book, oil was first discovered in Texas in a well that was later named Spindletop in Beaumont, around 1901. The abundant quantity of oil found there caused a price drop that prompted a conversion from coal to oil among railroads and steamship companies. Suddenly, thousands of people sought to get rich quickly from oil, similar to the way people wanted in on the California Gold Rush. The nineteen teens saw a proliferation of automobiles requiring oil.

Read the book to learn all the details about the people, places, politics and peripheral issues (such as professional sports) associated with the oil industry in Texas over the next ten decades.