A Storm Too Soon – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “A Storm Too Soon, A True Story of Disaster, Survival, and an Incredible Rescue” by Michael J. Touglas, published in 2013.

This suspenseful story recounted the abbreviated May 2007 voyage of three Darwin-Award candidates who began to sail from the northern coast of Florida across the Atlantic Ocean to Gibraltar. Hazards included, among others– sudden, unexpected storms, spilled contents of container ships and inaccurate maps (due to recently washed-away sandbars).

“Every screw, rivet, line, seam, porthole, and the rest of what makes up a sailboat has to hold under the assault of the seas.” Unfortunately, the entire contents of the captain and crew’s 55-foot sailboat had a difficult time staying afloat, when an unseasonable squall broke a window that immediately let in 80-foot-high waves and 80-knot wind gusts. Miraculously, the life raft stayed intact. However, the various tools they had for sending distress signals to the Coast Guard were less than ideal, for different reasons.

Predictably, the three men were at high risk for drowning, harm from sharks, dehydration and hypothermia. In a case like this, rescuers who approach them via C-130 plane and helicopter, risk their lives in numerous ways. First, the plane searches an area equivalent to the needle-in-a-haystack cliche.

Read the book to learn many more details, and the fate of the participants in the above story.

Out of the Gobi

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The Book of the Week is “Out of the Gobi, My Story of China and America” by Weijian Shan, published in 2019. This volume richly detailed the hardships faced by ordinary Chinese people from the 1950’s onward.

Born in 1953, the author spent most of his childhood in Beijing. As is well known, the Communist dictator Mao Tse-tung finally achieved nationwide dominance over the Nationalist (allegedly democratic, but still horribly corrupt) Chiang Kai-shek at the dawn of the 1950’s. (For additional info on how Communism is different from Socialism and Capitalism, see the bottom portion of this blog’s post, “The Last Idealist”). Mao proceeded to do grave damage to his country, causing the deaths of millions from starvation and financial disaster (among other causes).

Beginning in 1965, Mao declared there would be a new world order in his country, in the form of a Cultural Revolution. One of many goings-on during this period was burning, destruction or confiscation of all books except for those by the authors Marx (Karl, not Groucho), Engels, Lenin and Stalin.

The evil West’s bourgeois lifestyle was violently stamped out by Mao’s private police force, the Red Guard (which consisted of mostly young, armed and dangerous radical hooligans– sociopathic sadists), which brainwashed schoolkids of all ages, up to university level, to make Revolution. They destroyed the statue of the Venus de Milo, and denounced the Russian classical novels. A couple of years later, chaos reigned, but Mao was still in control.

In autumn 1966, at thirteen years old, the author was brainwashed by the youth movement to go on a fact-finding mission in the countryside. The government did away with entrance examinations, and in fact, all formal schooling. For about three weeks, the author and his peers traveled around by trains, buses and on foot to personally witness the Revolution. At one point, they went on a hike in the mountains, retracing the steps of the Red Army. Their travel expenses were paid for, but the conditions were quite primitive.

Into 1967, upon orders handed down by Mao, the youths protested against Capitalism in a way roughly equivalent to “Occupy Wall Street” but they got bored. They were neither studying nor working. For, a few years prior, the dictator had successfully thrown the country into disarray, forcing the closure of not only all schools, but bookstores, libraries, parks, movie theaters and houses of worship.

Thousands of people disappeared, were abducted from their homes– to be jailed, tortured, killed, for so much as speaking, writing or acting in the least way, critical of the government. In the environment of fear and force, they were under pressure to tattle on others before they themselves were punished.

Schools in the author’s area finally did reopen in autumn 1968, but education was still lacking. The author’s “Worker-Peasant-Soldier Middle School” (grades nine and ten– after what would be American grammar school) had no textbooks but students were drilled only on Mao’s propaganda.

In the summer of 1969, Mao realized it was time to change tack by sending young people to the countryside, as they had been making trouble in the cities long enough. He kept them busy by inspiring them to do hard manual labor, and study revolutionary thought. The kids truly tried their hardest– they were blindly obedient to the cause of defending their motherland against Soviet aggression. In autumn 1969, the whole nation went crazy constructing air-raid shelters and tunnels.

The author was sent to the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. Again, conditions were extremely primitive. He and his fellows got military training. However, due to a weapons shortage, another platoon was chosen to receive (outdated, Soviet-made) submachine guns. None of the company leaders had any experience in battle, but they inspired passion in their subordinates, anyway. Under the blazing summer sun, there were vicious mosquitoes. It was freezing in winter.

The author described his physical and psychological suffering of the next several years, as his group strove to complete a series of months or years-long agricultural and infrastructure projects that actually produced a net negative effect on food production and quality of life.

In 1979, the United States resumed formal diplomatic relations with China. People in China queued up for hours and hours for all kinds of consumer goods. The author, by then a recent university graduate, reveled in his new lap of luxury– he had time to read for hours and hours, had enough to eat, and got a hot shower once a week.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information on: the author’s experiences in China from the 1950’s into the 1980’s (which involved a slew of health hazards) including but was far from limited to:

  • all his hard manual labor and psychological trauma;
  • his short stint as a medical “doctor” in 1971;
  • how he enjoyed the benefits of a student exchange program in the 1980’s; and
  • his troubles with the INS (hint– “… a mistake in the new letter: the date by which we had to leave the country was left blank… the INS had somehow lost our file…”).

This substantial volume reveals why, politically, economically, culturally and socially, and in quality of life– overall, China is still many decades behind America (never mind the propagandists who claim that China is allegedly becoming an economic powerhouse and will someday overtake the U.S.).

Beyond Hitler’s Grasp – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Beyond Hitler’s Grasp, The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews” by Michael Bar-Zohar, published in 1998.

Bulgaria lost a large amount of territory in WWI, and became a Constitutional monarchy after 1919. Its prime minister and other ministers served at the pleasure of its king, Boris III. Other sources of the nation’s power lay in its Army, the Communists and Macedonian terrorists.

In the 1930’s, roughly half of Bulgaria’s fifty thousand Jews lived in the capital of Sofia. They were productive members of society, and were treated just like people of any other religious group. There were only isolated incidents of anti-Semitism because most of the Jews were merchants, craftsmen or poor laborers, and so were not the victims of class envy.

When WWII began, Germany was able to help Bulgaria regain some of the land it had lost in the Great War. Germany was trading with and supplying weapons to Bulgaria, but the Bulgarians had more of a Soviet cultural and Soviet social mindset. So the king sought to keep his country out of the war.

Alexander Belev, an opportunist with hubris syndrome was the Bulgarian Commissar for Jewish Questions. In summer 1942, he collaborated with the Nazis in changing the definition of “Jew” based on ancestry rather than religion. This is one source of the notion that people can be “born Jewish”– have genetic traits that Jews share (For an additional source, see this blog’s post “In Search of Memory”).

Anyway, beginning in autumn 1940, laws went into effect that oppressed Bulgaria’s Jews by taking away their assets and sullying their reputations through hate-spewing and other actions of greedy, local bureaucrats who were taking orders from Hitler.

Read the book to learn how the common people, Christian churches, and circumstances determined the fates of Jews living in Macedonia, Thrace and Bulgaria (complete with romantic subplot, of course; hint: “The deep hatred for the Jews infected only the lunatic fringe of the wartime society, the Ratniks, Branniks, and Legionnaires and some sadistic police and army officers and KEV officials”), and of the mythmaking– historical revisionism of various incidents and events.

Flight of Passage – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Flight of Passage, A Memoir” by Rinker Buck, published in 1997.

In July 1966, the fifteen-year old author and his seventeen-year old brother flew from New Jersey to California in a Piper Cub they’d refurbished themselves. For fun. They weren’t attention whores. It was their famous father who helped publicize their flight. Completion of the trip was a major feat, as conditions were life-threatening from time to time. Built in 1946, the prop plane had no battery, no radio and no lights.

The media thought it was a big story: “America just wanted a good dose of innocence that summer and we perfectly fit the bill. The Jack-and-Bobby look-alikes bouncing out to California in their homemade Piper Cub was a heartwarming tale for the masses.”

Read the book to learn of: the brothers’ adventures; the issues the author had to deal with, between and among his brother, father and himself; other information on his family; and how his father’s view of black people changed radically when they saved his life.

ENDNOTE: The author focused mostly on the flight and ignored the ugly historical events then happening in the United States. Times have changed on two fronts in 55 years: back then, there was minimal security and a lot of privacy for ordinary Americans.

Once the media began to follow the author’s story and he and his brother became momentarily famous, though, hordes of journalists engaged in stakeouts at every place the plane touched down. Even so, the pilots didn’t hire a publicist and didn’t try to stay in the spotlight in any way. Even their father didn’t try to keep their space in the news cycle going. That is the antithesis of the current social climate in this country. Here’s a little ditty that shows how times have changed:

EVERY SELFIE YOU TAKE
sung to the tune of “Every Breath You Take” with apologies to Sting and the Police.

Every selfie you take,
from the moment you wake,
every post you make,
every ID you fake,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Oh, you emotional wreck,
you belong to Big Tech.

Your hypocrisy grows
with your privacy woes,
your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

ComplAINTS on privacy are a SLIPpery slope.
Lawyers spin disclaimers in ORDER to cope.
Look around, you’re hanging YOURself
on your own rope.
You feel so mad but can you TURN back? Nope.
You keep crying,
world– LOOK at me, LOOK at me, PLEASE!

Oh, you emotional wreck,
you belong to Big Tech.

Your hypocrisy grows
with your privacy woes,
your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

Every selfie you take,
from the moment you wake,
spyware’s watching you.
Spyware’s watching you.

Your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Every selfie you take,
from the moment you wake,
every post you make,
every ID you fake,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Fatal Subtraction

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The Book of the Week is “Fatal Subtraction, How Hollywood Really Does Business” by Pierce O’Donnell and Dennis McDougal, published in 1992.

“I asked myself whether this uncanny similarity and anticompetitive market was the result of coincidence or conspiracy. Thanks to my populist tendencies and a healthy distrust of powerful institutions, I opted for the sinister explanation.”

Politics? Big Tech? Medical, legal, music, sports or oil industry?

The above quote happens to refer (in various ways) to all of the major Hollywood movie studios, just after their most lucrative years. The skyrocketing size of the home video market in the 1980’s made movie studios richer and richer, what with cable TV, VCRs and global distribution. They retained the best entertainment law firms on an ongoing basis so that whenever any powerless parties who felt wronged, tried to hire those firms to bring legal actions against them, there were conflicts of interest.

In 1988, Art Buchwald and Alain Bernheim– respectively a seasoned humorous newspaper writer and lecturer who dabbled in the movie industry, and a producer– sued Paramount Pictures Corporation for thirteen causes of action; among them, breach of contract in connection with the movie Coming to America starring Eddie Murphy. They were fortunate in that they were able to hire a big firm and could afford to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire topnotch attorneys to fight a years-long legal battle.

The crux of the dispute involved the boilerplate contracts almost everyone in Hollywood was compelled by their agents to sign, in order to get work. The studios engaged in cartelizing behavior, so the powerless creative personnel were at their mercy at contract-signing. Only a tiny percentage of powerful elite stars reaped a ton of money for all movies they did, regardless of financial success. The agents claimed they were getting great deals for their less powerful talent, but that was a lie. For, starting in the 1950’s, the contracts evolved pursuant to the studios’ shady accounting practices, in a way that cheated screenwriters especially.

By the dawn of the 1990’s, big-name actors were allowed to behave like prima donnas, basically enjoying excessive expense accounts and reaping outrageously generous compensation from gross movie revenues. The movie idea originators and writers received net profit participation– i.e., the crumbs after all expenses had been deducted. The studios’ definition of “profit” was topsy turvy so when it came time to pay lowly workers, they claimed their movies were losing money!

O’Donnell and his legal team argued that certain provisions in Buchwald’s and Bernheim’s contracts were unconscionable, and therefore legally unenforceable. On principle, the studios’ oligopoly was economically bad not just for his clients, but for society (See this blog’s post “Wikinomics / Courting Justice”).

Read the book to learn every last detail of the case.

I Am A Girl From Africa

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The Book of the Week is “I Am A Girl From Africa, a memoir (sic)” by Elizabeth Nyamayaro, published in 2021.

Born in 1975, Nyamayaro grew up in Zimbabwe. Her family belonged to the Shona tribe. She spent her early years residing in a hut in a rural village, where she was treated like an only child, unwittingly through dysfunctional-family circumstances. Her grandmother taught her to do all sorts of chores: fetching water, hunting birds with a slingshot, fishing with a sharp stick, shelling maize, tending to the goats and chickens, weeding the fields, and cooking vegetables in a clay pot over a fire that she ignited.

Life-threatening conditions abounded from diseases, poor nutrition, hostile animals such as hyenas, and droughts such as those that occurred in 1983 and 1985. The author’s gratitude for the life-saving rehydration by a member of UNICEF, led her to develop a burning desire as an adult to “give back” through working for the United Nations.

In the early 1980’s, initially, Nyamayaro’s grandmother rejoiced at the news from her battery-operated radio, that the country had a new leader, the dark-skinned Robert Mugabe. The end of British colonialism ought to have meant an end to the needless killing of wildlife, theft of precious stones, and oppression of Africans. However, a new leader is just one individual who might or might not change things for the better in the long run, given his personality and the vicissitudes of his time and place in history.

The author– who appears to have bragging-rights, given the hardships she faced– made progress on various Third-World, quality-of-life causes during her career. Mitigation of the global oppression of females was one such cause. The author was pleased to report that in 2013, the nation of Rwanda, in the previous decade, had made great strides in electing women to its parliament. But there is still so much work to be done in Mongolia, India, Zimbabwe, and the United States, etc. because propagandized gender-stereotypes are still discouraging women from running for office.

The author recounted that one day in 1975 in Iceland, all the women went on strike. The country then realized how vital females were to life. Even so, it took until 2018 (!) to legislate there on the issue of gender equality in the private sector, of equal pay for equal work. Additionally, on so many other fronts, gender equality is lacking even in the nations that consider themselves the most advanced on earth!

Read the book to learn many more details on the struggles Nyamayaro faced in her life and times.

Made In China

The Book of the Week is “Made in China, A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Costs of America’s Cheap Goods” by Amelia Pang, published in 2021.

“A guard grabbed a prisoner by his hair, twisted his head, and smashed his face into a heater… They beat him with electric batons until his body convulsed, then hung him by his wrists for two weeks– with his toes barely touching the ground.”

No, the above describes not the Holocaust, not a lynching, but a forced-labor camp in China in 2008 (!)

In the last few decades, the Chinese government has committed human rights abuses against its own citizens– not only dissidents, but also against a group called the Falun Gong (a group that practices exercises, meditation, and espouses certain lifestyle choices). Such citizens are sent to slave-labor camps, where they are tortured and starved but kept alive long enough to serve their sentences by making consumer goods (for export) for no pay amid extremely squalid conditions; they are charged with crimes and punished through what would be considered a complete violation of American-style due process.

In China, as of 2013, the camps numbered an estimated one thousand, at minimum. The author wrote that in all her research, she found only one American company that was ever prosecuted for importing consumer goods from such a camp in China, in the course of twenty years. The camps are bad enough, but to add more shock value to the already unspeakable horrors, the camps are a source of black-market transplant-organs in China, estimated to be worth $1 billion. In December 2013, China said it would be converting its reeducation (brainwashing) camps to ones that imposed labor for drug rehabilitation instead. However, the lipstick on the pig didn’t change the pig.

The main focus of the book was the true story of a man named Sun– a Falun Gong member who was sentenced to two and a half years to an aforementioned camp. He risked his life to hand-write a note containing a desperate plea for help, that ended up in the package of a Halloween product purchased by a woman in Oregon in the United States.

In 2016, Big Brother was growing ever more intrusive in China, as Turkic Muslims (the Uyghur tribe and Kazhaks), were targeted for “blood tests, fingerprints, voice recordings, and facial scans.” An estimated three million of twelve million of them are detained in the camps. They live in a location where China borders more than a few strategically located nations on the Silk Road– still a crucial trade route. The Chinese government doesn’t want any rebellious behavior from them. Reeducation is the goal, besides the economic benefits for China. All of them are forced to speak Mandarin, or else.

The author wrote with some alarm, that the torture chambers for victimized ethnic groups are arguably genocidal. She suggested that China’s atrocities might become comparable to the Holocaust all over again. But– this is not a Hitler situation, and is unlikely to become one. This, because Hitler had grand designs to take over the world through arming a military that committed imperialism, and creating a master race through eliminating the Jews and others he deemed genetically inferior– through genocide.

Matters will eventually come to a head when a significant proportion of the two minority populations are in the camps, and the export market is oversaturated with goods made by them, sold through big-name companies like Nike, Apple, BMW, Amazon, etc. An economic slowdown will mean a reduction in the need for the camps. (That’s NOT to say that the camps should exist, or that nothing should be done to stop the atrocities.)

International outcry will eventually reach critical mass, so that pressure will be brought to bear on China to reduce its human rights abuses, through economic punishments. Unlike most of the rest of the world, –like clockwork every two years– the United States holds elections for some powerful federal and state offices during which, a significant number of Chinese voters can influence political candidates to take a stand on this issue.

Anyway, read the book to learn additional details about Sun’s fate, and how the situation can be changed for the better.

Revolution 2.0 – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Revolution 2.0, The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power, a Memoir” by Wael Ghonim, published in 2012.

Born in 1980, the author attended high school in Egypt. The country had a rote education system, and cheating was rampant. The underpaid teachers derived the bulk of their income from private tutoring.

The 1980’s had seen the government of Egypt start to change for the worse. There was increasing poverty, brain drain, and oppression of religious groups. In 1987, Hosni Mubarak first came to power. He initially promised to serve only the two-term limit as president. But as he acquired more power, he acquired more ownership. And more power. And broke his promise. Every presidential “election” every six years thereafter, was rigged to allow Mubarak’s reelection three more times. There was only one political party. His.

While attending university in 1998, the author launched an Islamic website that featured audio tracks of the Qur’an. He was a technology geek, and became especially well-versed in Web communications. In 2004, a group of dissidents formed a group called Kefaya, meaning “enough” in Arabic. In 2006, ordinary Egyptians began protesting against the corruption of the regime.

In 2008, after eight months of numerous interviews, the author got a job with Google. In January 2010, in order to escape Mubarak’s oppressive regime, he and his wife and children moved to Dubai. It was around then that the author became politically vocal about Egypt’s rotten government. He wrote, “Out of hopelessness came anger.”

The author and a friend launched a Facebook page to promote an opposition candidate to Mubarak, as another “election” was coming up in 2011. The regime’s public relations machine was a master at smearing its political enemies; so it did, early and often.

In June 2010, the author created a Facebook page to tell the world about how the Egyptian government tortured and killed a dissident, and he posted a gruesome photo of the said dissident. Users commented on it in droves. In the coming months, the author and others used social media to plan peaceful protests to bring down the Mubarak government.

The author helped spark a movement that experienced growing-pains typical for such a movement. For a while, it became a victim of its own success: when a movement grows significantly in a short time– due to the increasing number of people in it– members begin to form factions and disagree, and go off and do their own thing. So some disgruntled members sabotage the original group’s goals.

Also, the political enemies of the movement see it growing, so they send infiltrators to divide and conquer it. That is why progress has been so slow for so many seemingly large political movements, such as civil rights and feminism.

In autumn 2010, the author was starting to get emotionally burnt out. He mistakenly used his personal account that revealed his true identity. Up to then, he had been super-careful to use false identities in his social media accounts, so as to avoid being arrested, jailed, interrogated, tortured and possibly murdered.

Egyptians were encouraged by Tunisia’s street protests, which were going on around the same time. But Egypt’s problems were worse. The author took the plunge to call Egypt’s movement “Revolution Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption and Unemployment.” He helped shape the protest messaging that convinced the public to peacefully take to the streets on Egyptian Police Day, January 25, 2011. He explained that he opposed only human rights abuses committed by law enforcement officials, not the respectful maintenance of order.

The author learned that: his contacts and access to communications were more important than plans, because best-laid plans always go awry– conditions on the ground change rapidly, and “People’s attachment to ideas is much stronger than their attachment to individuals, who can be doubted and defamed.”

Read the book to learn the details of the backstory, and what happened next.