Madam Secretary – BONUS POST

“… the United States lost interest in the region, leaving behind thousands of militant people with few jobs but many guns.”
No, not North America.

1990’s Afghanistan, according to Madeleine Albright. And as is well known, plenty of other decades and places.

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Madam Secretary, A Memoir” by Madeleine Albright with Bill Woodward, published in 2003.

Albright was born in May 1937. She and her parents fled their native Czechoslovakia for England the following year. They moved back after the war. In early 1948, Communists took over Czechoslovakia, while she was sent to boarding school in Switzerland. Meanwhile, her father, a high-level diplomat, moved to the Czech embassy in South Asia to help resolve the dispute over Kashmir. Her mother, brother and sister made their way to the United States. They were eventually granted political asylum.

Albright married a journalist from an “economic royalist” family with extensive real estate and corporate holdings. “We continued to go to Georgia… Colorado… Virginia, where we added land wherever we could…” She built a high-powered career, beginning as a volunteer for political causes that required frequent global travel in the late 1980’s. “But my American passport made all the difference. I was able to meet with dissidents, then board a plane and leave. I didn’t have to make the choices they [Czech citizens, when they were a Soviet satellite] had to make each day of their lives.”

Albright served as UN ambassador in president Bill Clinton’s first term. She switched to secretary of state in the second term. In spring 1997, there remained numerous nations suffering continuous and continual political crises that arguably necessitated military intervention– despite the end of the Cold War. Albright represented the United States government in talks that resulted in an increase in the number of NATO members from sixteen to nineteen through adding Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary because they were approaching democracy sooner than other political territories.

Albright claimed that economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on Libya actually motivated Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi to turn in the two suspects (traced to Libya) for trial, in the terrorist bomb-attack on Pan Am flight 103. However, around the same time, sanctions in the form of a trade embargo, failed to change any of the cronyism and corruption practiced by Fidel Castro of Cuba. Apparently, he wasn’t in a power struggle, and wasn’t afraid that his worldwide reputation would be tarnished by treating his country’s citizens worse than usual.

As for North Korea, in June 2000, president Clinton visited leader Kim Jong il in the capital Pyongyang for a summit meeting that resulted in reunions of South and North Korean families who had been separated for more than fifty years. “North and South Korean athletes marched as one during opening ceremonies of the 2000 Olympic Games…” Ah, the good old days.

Anyway, read the book to learn much more about Albright’s trials, tribulations, and triumphs in trying to achieve world peace. Here is a parody that briefly describes a high-level, foreign-service position.

JOB OF A LIFETIME

sung / spoken to the tune of “Once in a Lifetime” [the long version] with apologies to Talking Heads (Brian Eno, Christopher Frantz, David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, and Tina Weymouth.)

And you may find yourself
living in a luxury hotel.
And you may busy yourself
flying all over the world.

And you may kid yourself
behind the scenes of a large cease-fire agreement.
And you may seat yourself
in a situation room
with a complicated plot.
And you may declare to yourself, well,
There’ll be no nuclear war here!

Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Attending meetings, writing reports
while shenanigans abound.

Picking your battles again.
Tribal fighting never gone.
Job of a lifetime, though shenanigans abound.

And you may mutter to yourself
How do I word this?
And you may ask yourself
What happened to that peace-keeping mission?

And you may lament to yourself
This is not in my country’s best interest!
And you may think to yourself
Good luck with that civilian administration.

Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Attending meetings, writing reports
while shenanigans abound.

Picking your battles again.
Tribal fighting never gone.
Job of a lifetime, though shenanigans abound.

We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.
We need more global cooperation.

Conflict Resolving and troubleshooting.
There is conflict all over the earth.
Visit the conflict, minimize the conflict.
Resolve the conflict, all over the earth.
Conflict resolving and troubleshooting.

Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Attending meetings, writing reports
while shenanigans abound.

Picking your battles again.
Break the silence on war, there is conflict on the earth.
While the media cut you down.
Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.

Picking your battles again.
Tribal fighting never gone.
Job of a lifetime, though shenanigans abound.

You may wonder to yourself
Who is that foreign minister?
You may mumble to yourself
What is the world coming to?
And you may sigh to yourself
Who is right? Who is wrong?
And you may growl to yourself
Arrgh! What is going on?

Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Attending meetings, writing reports
while shenanigans abound.

Picking your battles again.
Tribal fighting never gone.
Job of a lifetime, though shenanigans abound.

Trying to do your best
while the media cut you down.
Attending meetings, writing reports
while shenanigans abound.

Picking your battles again.
Tribal fighting never gone.
Job of a lifetime, though shenanigans abound.

Witnessing history all the time.
Witnessing history all the time.
Witnessing history all the time.

Thank goodness that war is over.
This treaty has too many loopholes.
And another disaster.

Promote democratic values worldwide.
Promote democratic values worldwide.
Promote democratic values worldwide.
Promote democratic values worldwide.
Promote democratic values worldwide.
Promote democratic values worldwide.

Trying to do your best.
Witnessing history all the time.
And the refugees come.
And here come the refugees.
Lost in translation.
Trying do your best (Witnessing history all the time.)
We need more global cooperation…

Vigilance

The Book of the Week is “Vigilance, My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City” by Ray Kelly, published in 2015.

Born in Manhattan in September 1941, the author grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens county, the youngest of five children. He was a cadet for the New York City police department (NYPD) while attending college, where he majored in business.

In 1964, he was a U.S. Marine and “… getting sent to the Southeast Asian nation [Vietnam] was still seen as a perfectly fine posting… an exotic place where you could go and be an adviser, play at some guerrilla warfare, obtain command and experience, and learn about a different culture…” He went there and actually enjoyed the life-threatening aspects of soldiering.

In the early 1970’s, the author was assigned to the vice squad, whose subdivisions kept pimps, prostitutes, numbers-racketeers, and drug dealers in line. That last category changed their products through the years, from opium, pot and acid, to heroin and pills. In the mid-1980’s, the crime rate soared with the introduction of crack-cocaine.But rather than blame an increase in crime on social ills such as drugs, family breakups and poverty– the mayor of New York City in the early 1990’s, David Dinkins– appointed the author as police commissioner, who changed the NYPD, starting in October 1992.

The author engaged in operations management to determine the number of cops (of a total of about 25,000) required for specific types of calls, to deploy the city’s resources wisely. He thought Dinkins deserved more credit than he got for lowering the crime rate.Beginning in the mid-1990’s, the author earned a law degree, and worked in a few different capacities in white-collar law enforcement on behalf of the federal government. He bragged about helping with big drug busts involving Mexican marijuana, Federal Express, cocaine cartels and Mexican banks in the late 1990’s. He also bragged about foiling a terrorist plot involving a car bomb at Los Angeles airport at the end of 1999. After 9/11, he felt there was a crying need to dispel inter-agency rivalry in United States law enforcement. He favored consolidating agencies to form one, that would be responsible for homeland security.

Incidentally, the personal accounts of senators Tom Daschle and Robert Byrd contained starkly different recollections as to how the Department of Homeland Security was formed. The reason was that: Daschle and his staff were subjected to lots of trauma and massive disruption as victims of an anthrax attack in 2001 so they personally witnessed the problems with American law enforcement and saw the need for one department, whereas Byrd’s office experienced no such ordeal, so Byrd zeroed in on George W. Bush’s political exploitation of the situation.

BUT– not only did the Bush administration chaotically rush into consolidating departments, it also failed to provide job security and benefits for newer employees. In law enforcement especially, that is an invitation for trouble– that means higher turnover than otherwise among employees who have access to weaponry and sensitive data. Enough said.

Anyway, the author became NYPD police commissioner again with mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002. He created counter-terrorism and intelligence departments. His idea of policing involved the “three C’s” of Counter-terrorism, Crime-fighting and Community relations. He took credit for technologically modernizing the NYPD. For, in the single-digit 2000’s, “… We had twenty different databases that didn’t speak to each other and were almost impossible to search. Each division, bureau, and unit had its own hardware and software and its own unique way of maintaining the files.”

Beginning in 2003, the NYPD stationed (anti-terrorism) detectives in major cities around the world, starting with Israel, of course. The author felt that international cooperation was an important element of countering threats from abroad. He wrote that geopolitical pressure between or among allies brought to bear on rogue states, could deter attacks. He boasted that in 2006, his team foiled a plot to blow up the Hudson River tunnels in Manhattan.

In 2013, he launched a social-media operation whose goal was to detect online activity that would result in gang activity on the streets. The author expressed his views on a few other topics; he believed:

  • body-cameras should be used by law enforcement officers, as they protect both officers and the public;
  • there should be diversity in hiring of officers, as their jobs are a community-oriented service, and should be a reflection of the community; and
  • military equipment should be used by local law enforcement only as a last resort.

Read the book to learn additional details of the author’s life and career.

Hellhound On His Trail / Vernon Can Read – BONUS POST

The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Hellhound On His Trail, The Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History” by Hampton Sides, published in 2010.

“He’d been jailed eighteen times. His house had been fire-bombed. He’d been stabbed by a deranged black woman, punched in the face by a Nazi, and struck in the head with a rock. He’d marched [facing] tear gas, police dogs, cattle prods, and water cannons… he’d been burned in effigy. And everywhere he went, the FBI was on his tail, watching, listening.”

NOT Trump. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With this scholarly but readable work, the author suspensefully recounted King’s assassination story, trying to be fair and objective, poring over reams of primary-source documents and personally conversing with people who were there, in order to make an accurate assessment of the incident, and its historical context.

Sadly, the current trend in American book-publishing is producing a large percentage of works that appeal to readers seeking confirmation of their narrow-minded beliefs– such as books (usually by hate-spewing pundits) that scream lies, smears and conspiracies; or prolonged rants whose sole purpose is to serve as catharses for their authors; or fantasy panaceas by authors who oversimplify complex issues in one tidy volume.

Authors such as Sides, however, who do their homework in revisiting a major historical event decades later, are more likely to get it right. Authors who describe major public figures who are still active in their careers, are more likely to provide a more biased account because:

  • history is still unfolding on those individuals.
  • when a public figure has been retired or dead for a few decades, there accumulates a sizable body of information (including primary sources– people who talk about them, videos of interviews, etc., and documents that become declassified) that tells the public about them, created by both their friends and enemies. They contain 20/20 hindsight and show how history has treated them.
  • If a public figure is still alive and actively managing their career, they’re also going to be actively managing their image– trying to suppress bad publicity, which might spur the opposition to smear them more.

Anyway, King developed a reputation for pushing for social change through nonviolence. He opposed the funding of a pro-civil-rights youth group called the Invaders, because they wanted to get violent. At the time, he was the best-known activist preaching peaceful protest. In April 1968, he was killed by a white person, so other black civil-rights activists lost their patience with nonviolence.

King was shot by an ultra-powerful hunting rifle. The one and only bullet, which was going 2,670 feet per second, hit his neck from a distance of 205 feet. The ammunition was specially made to do maximum damage to mercifully kill animals. The rifle magnified objects by seven times, so the killer perceived King to be only thirty feet away.

The killer used fake names and addresses wherever he went, because in the 1960’s, people were more trusting, and no photo IDs were required to stay in a hotel room, flophouse or apartment, apply for a Canadian passport (!), or purchase a rifle from a gun store. That last activity for the killer was easy-peasy; in less than five minutes– he had a deadly weapon in his hands, with no background check, no waiting period.

The killer fantasized that the racist, hate-spewing then-presidential candidate George Wallace from Alabama (formerly governor), would completely pardon him. It is easy to see how this mentality bears a resemblance to recent events. However, in the 1960’s, people– angry enough to commit violence and seeking to go out in a blaze of glory– specifically targeted influential leaders.

In recent decades, more and more violence has been perpetrated by individuals angry at the world— who kill innocent strangers. So more and more ordinary Americans who have nothing to do with perpetrating the violence, are at risk of becoming victims of it. Here is a testament to it: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/last-72-hours

Investigating the King assassination was a thorny conflict for J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI. For, he had a reputation as a racist, so theoretically, it would have been in his best interest not to find King’s killer. But conspiracy theorists would say he had a hand in the murder. And it was the FBI’s job to root out public enemies, so catching the perpetrator(s) would enhance its image. The manhunt ultimately involved more than 3,500 agents (of a total of about 6,000 agents) and cost almost two million dollars.

Hours after the killing, rioters in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Baltimore and New Jersey set fires and looted or vandalized hundreds of stores. There were hundreds of arrests. Eventually, damage was done to 150 American cities, resulting in forty deaths and 21,000 arrests.

Unsurprisingly, the day after, Jesse Jackson– who was a witness to the shooting– hired a public relations firm and granted a live interview to NBC’s “Today” show.

Anyway, read the book to learn a wealth of additional details about the terror– er, uh tenor, of the times, and about how one person can cause so much trouble.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “Vernon Can Read, A Memoir” by Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. with Annette Gordon-Reed, published in 2001.

Born in 1935 in Georgia, the African-American Jordan was permitted to become a law clerk immediately after graduating law school, even though he failed the Georgia bar exam (which might have been rigged by his political enemies). He later passed the Arkansas bar exam in 1963, so he was allowed to practice law in Georgia. He built a successful political career serving as a civil-rights lawyer and activist.

In the early 1960’s, Jordan engaged in community organizing for the NAACP, and for the Voter Education Project, which funded voter registration drives of CORE, SCLC, SNCC and NAACP in southern states. The Ku Klux Klan was active there, so blacks were actually under the gun all the time. He helped people of his ethnic group to understand how voting helped them directly.

Ironically, in the early 1970’s, all of the people who did fund-raising for the United Negro College Fund were white, because they were the ones with valuable contacts in high places. Jordan was mentored by a friend as to how to acquire money, power and influence. The two attended an event hosted by an experienced elitist. It was there that the author learned about the various factors required for a successful event, and listed them for the reader.

The Nixon administration was responsive to the National Urban League’s appeals for funding under Jordan’s leadership. However, the Reagan administration cut funding for the Labor Education Advancement Program, which put people to work so that they paid income tax, putting revenue into government coffers. By that time, Jordan sat on the boards of directors of about ten organizations.

Later on, Jordan heard about a proposal for a Ford Foundation-funded black studies exchange program among Duke University, University of North Carolina or other southern schools, that would involve the teachings of Malcolm X. However, he knew the potential funders were only paying lip service to black studies because they themselves wouldn’t think of sending their own kids to such a program.

Read the book to learn a lot more about the author’s experiences, including the time he was shot in the back, and what he accomplished in his life and times.

Call Me American

The Book of the Week is “Call Me American, A Memoir” by Abdi Nor Iftin with Max Alexander, published in 2018.

“There were more guns in the city than people. There was more ammunition than food. It became a thing to own a gun to save your life. Most people slept with a loaded AK-47 sitting next to them.”

The above was the author’s description of lawless Somalia (not the future United States) during the 1990’s.

Somalia, formerly two different colonies– of Britain and Italy, became a sovereign territory in 1960. Born around 1985 in Somalia (where birthdays aren’t important), the author had an older brother and later, younger sisters. Years before, his father’s side of the Muslim family, the Rahanweyn clan (farmers and nomads) was forced, due to drought, to give up herding as their livelihood. Fortunately, the father was able to become a professional basketball player. The mother was a traditional female of Islam– expected to bear and raise the children, and do all the chores and housework.

At the dawn of the 1990’s in Somalia, tensions boiled over between two of the five clans who desired to run the government. Warlords took to fighting that involved looting of shops, bullets and rocket fire. Rebels ousted the “president.” Former government employees fled to America, Canada or the United Kingdom.

Common people like the author’s family who were forced to evacuate their Mogadishu homes were caught in the crossfire of the anarchy, and died anonymously and were left in mass graves in droves from the usual causes– bullets or other weaponry, disease and starvation.

The family had no car, so like thousands of others, they walked miles and miles along unpaved roads with cows, donkeys, dogs and chickens, trying not to get arbitrarily shot by sadistic child-soldiers for being in the wrong tribe, or blown up by rockets (supplied to the anti-government Somali rebels by Ethiopia, sworn enemy of Somalia). Occasionally, they got an extremely crowded truck ride from a driver who had no beef against their tribe. Word-of-mouth rumors led them to believe that the city of Baidoa was a less dangerous place to be than Mogadishu. But that was a relative assessment.

In October 1993, sixteen American soldiers were killed in a Black Hawk helicopter attack at the hands of Soviet weaponry supplied to Somali soldiers. In March 1994, the Americans left Somalia. Ethiopia and Kenya supplied qat to Somali soldiers.

Beginning in the late 1990’s, the United States government paid the warlords (as though they were bounty hunters) to catch radical and foreign Islamists. In the single-digit 2000’s, the warlords assassinated the chairman of one of the five merged Islamic Courts that resolved local legal disputes in Somalia. The merging set the stage for a radical Islamic takeover, but ordinary Somalis were angry at the Western-backed warlords.

As a way to escape the trauma and wreckage around him, in the late 1990’s, the author got caught up in the American pop-cultural scene at local storefronts that: sold boom boxes and cassette tapes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, reggae and hip-hop music; and screened American movies such as Terminator. He passionately learned English and hip-hop dancing from them.

When the author’s family’s circumstances improved, his horrified parents administered the usual beatings when he put up posters of American cultural icons on his bedroom wall, including one of Madonna in a bikini. His mother thought of the United States as a Christian (evil) country.

However, the author was sufficiently street-smart to complete his seven-year education of memorizing the Koran in Arabic, all 114 chapters, 6,266 verses of it, even though the headmaster of his madrassa was a corporal-punishment tyrant.

Read the book to learn further details of the major ironies, among others, that graced the author’s incredible story: 1) the combination of his (sinful) passions and (highly praised) education that provided him with survival skills in a country where life was cheap and any minute could be one’s last; and 2) “Pictures and names associated with America were crimes, not counting the pictures and names on the American dollar bills that they had in their pockets.”

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.

Fighting For Common Ground – BONUS POST

PLEASE READ THE POST BELOW THIS ONE, AS BUGGY SOFTWARE PUBLISHED IT OUT OF CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER.

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Fighting For Common Ground, How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress” by Olympia Snowe, published in 2013.

Born in Augusta, Maine in 1947, the author was of Greek extraction. In the mid-1970’s, when she ran as a Republican for the state Senate in Maine, she rode a bicycle around to personally knock on doors to get votes. In the mid-1980’s, the NIH was still (!) providing federal funds for medical research only on men. In 1987, the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and the Environment acknowledged this abomination. Finally in 1993, the author and others pushed through legislation that created an office of the NIH that conducted research on women, that spurred additional research on women at other organizations.

The author wrote that in the early 2000’s, Karl Rove proposed an evil plan involving five issues, with the goal of keeping the Republicans in power indefinitely. In George W. Bush’s second term, the Republicans pushed for and got a federal education mandate, but the other four initiatives were never fully implemented (fortunately): a Christian agenda, privatization of Social Security and healthcare accounts, and some immigration reform.

The author spent a large portion of this book lamenting about how gridlocked Congress has become due to the hostility between America’s two major political parties. Republicans had traditionally believed in maintaining a balanced budget, but that went out the window with the uncontrolled deficit spending in the George W. Bush years.

In early August 2011, Congress members went on their summer recess, shirking a boatload of important business. As a result, America’s national debt rating was downgraded by Standard and Poor’s for the first time in history.

Read the book to learn about the author’s recommendations on how to change the Senate’s protocol and rules in order to improve its functioning, civility and ability to compromise to achieve consensus.

West of Kabul, East of New York

“For all of us, surrendering to diversity is probably the only plausible path left to attaining unity. The international community is supposedly committed to helping the country rebuild, but the lost world will not be constituted. Whatever rises from the rubble, will be something new…”

The author wrote the above about Afghanistan, presumably after 9/11.

The Book of the Week is “West of Kabul, East of New York, An Afghan American Story” by Tamim Ansary, published in 2002.

Born in Kabul in Afghanistan in 1948, the author, who had an older sister and much younger brother, lived a childhood typical for his time and place– primitive living conditions, but in a communal space with multi-generational households of extended families.

In the mid-1950’s, the author’s father, through his former classmate, got a job on a U.S.-sponsored irrigation project, helping to further Afghanistan’s technological advancement. The goal was to “…sell the harvest for cash abroad, and use the currency to buy machines.” The author’s family lived in a corporate village with American expat families. They had Western leisure facilities– tennis, swimming, bicycling, square dancing, American music.

However, the project failed because the Helmand river branches changed their courses, so salt contaminated the water. Later on, water shortages, rather than lack of know-how or aid, caused crops to fail, when land reform (alleged equitable re-distribution of land among the peasants) was instituted.

In 1959, royal-family females were allowed to doff their veils, and coeducation was introduced at the local high school: about one hundred boys and four girls. Ironically, it was the Communists who forced the schools to educate the females, but (Muslim) Afghan leaders with old-school tribal and clan sensibilities got angry at that. Religious zealots (mullahs) in Kandahar incited a riot, in which some people died. “Within hours, the government put tanks on the streets [in Kabul] and jets in the air.” It had actually been a planned anti-Western campaign, but luckily, it failed.

Grades at the school, in a rural village, were based on only exams thrice every year in each of eighteen subjects. A few men (in their twenties) from the Soviet-trained military were sent there to get educated. Schools in Afghanistan’s cities got aid from the West.

The author’s mother was an American citizen, so when political turmoil flared in Afghanistan, and the author was awarded a high school scholarship as a sophomore in America, he, his mother and siblings moved to the United States. The author’s father was a citizen of only Afghanistan, but he could have become a college professor in America. Nevertheless, he chose to stay in his native country.

In the early 1970’s, the author found a community that mirrored his childhood’s– with an extended counter-culture “family” in Portland, Oregon. In 1979 (the year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan), while in Morocco, he met Sunni Muslims who didn’t pray in the mosques.

One of them explained that, “Because the religious scholars have sold themselves to the governments… When the people are lost, the gangsters are safe.” There must be the right balance of power and integration between a nation’s leaders and the people, politically, economically and culturally (including religion). If the government acquires too much power, the people become lost. If the people acquire too much power, there’s revolution.

Individuals’ mentalities are shaped by their experiences. The author’s much younger brother, Riaz, when he became an adolescent, apparently had a bad experience of culture shock after the family moved to the United States. Riaz’s early Afghani childhood in the late 1950’s must have been a comforting, happy experience. For, in early adulthood, he turned to radical Islam in finding his identity.

Read the book to learn how the author coped with reconciling the cultural clashes he encountered in his life.

It Doesn’t Take A Hero

The Book of the Week is “It Doesn’t Take A Hero” by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, written with Peter Petre, published in 1992.

Born in August 1934 in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Schwarzkopf as an adolescent moved to Tehran in Iran to be with his father, a military bigwig. He then became an expat in other worldly venues– a boarding school in Geneva in Switzerland, more schooling in Frankfurt in Germany, Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania, and finally, the then-tuition-free West Point.

Schwarzkopf was accepted by one of America’s premier military colleges, even though he wasn’t a spoiled rich kid who had connections. It was July 1952. Culturally of its time– the school took a photo, rear and side, of each new (male) cadet naked except for a jockstrap. As part of this humiliation ritual, for his first full year, the cadet posted the photo in his locker.

Schwarzkopf’s military training consisted of the usual divestiture socialization, and an honor code. The latter was a vow of ethical behavior: “…a cadet does not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate anybody who does…” The year prior to his matriculation, the school had suffered a cheating scandal– the first in its history– after which ninety cadets, including the whole football team, were expelled. Tutors had revealed copies of exams in advance.

Schwarzkopf truly believed in Vietnamization, and cared about South Vietnamese soldiers, not just American soldiers, who were killed in the war. In 1965, he got down and dirty with the men under his command in Duc Co, in the Pleiku area. His first combat tour was crowded with incident: he participated in seven major operations, was wounded, survived malaria and dysentery, and was awarded two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars.

Schwarzkopf enjoyed his tour because he had skilled, cooperative– the cream of the crop– Vietnamese military officers working with him, who successfully executed their missions. He didn’t know that most everywhere else, that situation was a rarity. So he thought the war was worth fighting.

When Schwarzkopf returned to West Point to fulfill his obligation to teach, the school had trouble finding quality students because no one wanted to be sent to Vietnam. In summer 1969, when he returned to Vietnam, he encountered a combination of the novel “Catch-22” and the TV sitcom “F-Troop.” But it was reality– needless deaths and ruined lives. Not without numerous difficulties, he whipped his subordinates into shape.

In late 1973, after eighteen months of laborious study to determine which military bases should close due to budget cuts, Schwarzkopf and the other naive members of his task force learned the hard way about the American government. The task force had done a whole lot of work and wasted a whole lot of time for nothing. Their recommendations were ignored.

To add insult to injury, Schwarzkopf was passed over for promotion: “The whole thing had been rigged and I hadn’t seen it. Obviously Walker had had the job from the start; O’Shei and I had just been there for show.”

In 1990, Schwarzkopf did what he was best known for: commanding troops in the Middle East after Iraq invaded Kuwait. He did the planning to send battalions of all kinds to Saudi Arabia: tank, mechanized-infantry, artillery, ordnance, transportation, medical, signal, and helicopters; plus engineers, technicians and armorers.

A Pentagon official told Schwarzkopf that the United States should not want to destroy Iraq as a nation, because it would continue to need it as a stabilizing influence on Iran. The goal was simply to cripple its ability to wage war. Iraq’s neighbors, feeling threatened, wanted to teach it a lesson, as it had committed a major sin in attacking a fellow Arab nation. France had a thorny problem on its hands– it supplied weaponry to both Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Anyway, top American government officials, including then-secretary of state Dick Cheney, watched the PBS miniseries “The Civil War” which showed fighting men’s brutalities and traumas in the United (?) States of the 1860’s. The emotional impact of that video should have deterred all humans from going to war. Nevertheless, as is well known, twelve years later, sociopathic chickenhawks had taken charge of the American government.

Even Schwarzkopf, as goody-goody as he made himself out to be, was a bit of a mythmaker. He wrote, “To our delight, the Patriots [missiles]… knocked the Scud from the sky… eleven interceptions claimed by Patriot batteries…”

Schwarzkopf stood by his assessment that the Patriot was great at defending military targets, as far as he was told. Perhaps he got bad information and believed it, as happened in February 1991, when ground troops were sent into Kuwait. He received “…erroneous ‘mission accomplished’ reports… The fact that two days had passed and no correction had been made only made matters worse. I felt as if I’d been lied to.” Nevertheless, the Iraqis captured about fifty (yes) POWs of varying nationalities, while Iraq’s enemies captured about eighty thousand (yes) Iraqi POWs.

Read the book to learn much more about: the author’s military and personal adventures in Alaska, Mainz in Germany, Grenada (hint– “… an abysmal lack of accurate intelligence, major deficiencies in communications, flareups of interservice rivalry, interference by higher headquarters in battlefield discussions, our alienation of the press…”) Washington, D.C., Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and his family.

Father Son & Co.

The Book of the Week is “Father Son & Co., My Life at IBM and Beyond” by Thomas J. Watson Jr. and Peter Petre, published in 1990.

Curiously, the word “mainframe” never appeared in this volume. Not even once.

Born in 1914, Watson Jr. (hereinafter referred to as “Jr.”), who grew up in Short Hills, New Jersey, was the oldest of four siblings. His father (Watson Sr., hereinafter referred to as “Sr.”), who played well with others, executed a financial turnaround of Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (renamed IBM in 1924).

Sr. instituted a corporate culture of “investiture socialization”– training, educating, and fostering cooperation among employees and rewarding them for performing well. They had air-conditioned offices and factories (rare for the 1930’s) in Endicott, in upstate New York. Their corporate campus afforded them the use of a country club that offered free concerts, a dining room, two golf courses, a shooting range, and library.

Top management encouraged even the lowest-level workers to make suggestions for improving working conditions. On one occasion, an anonymous complaint that reached Sr.’s desk alleged that a heating system in a plant was being renovated too early in spring, making the work environment freezing, and there was one toilet for fifty employees. Jr. was sent to personally investigate. He wrote that he began remedying the situation within one day.

The first half of the twentieth century is obviously a bygone era in employment. The non-union IBM was competing with other employers that provided labor-union: benefits, compensation and job security for their workers.

Sr. was practically the only corporate executive in America in the Depression years who agreed with FDR’s policies. One hard and fast rule under the “cult of personality” which Sr. developed, was that alcohol was prohibited in all IBM offices at all times, including lunchtime off-campus, and even special occasions.

IBM initially sold scales and meat slicers business-to-business, but switched to leasing of, and tech support for, electric typewriters and punch-card machines. That last product automated all accounting functions and processing of sales data.

In 1940, Sr. testified at a Congressional hearing on “technological unemployment”– the unfortunate, economically adverse situation in which people are thrown out of work when processes get automated. Sr. argued that his company was good for the economy, as it stimulated consumerism.

During WWII, IBM contracted with the War Department to manufacture machine guns, and keep tabs on a slew of battle-related statistics: “… bombing results, casualties, prisoners, displaced persons, and supplies.”

IBM found that the most cost-effective way to run its international business through its subsidiary, World Trade, was to assemble machine-parts in various countries so as to force interdependence among them and share the wealth. Immediately after WWII, though, there were disastrous financial losses in Europe especially, until infrastructure could be rebuilt.

By then, the company had about 22,000 employees, most of whom worshipped Sr. His photo hung on the walls of their offices. Nevertheless, at the time, he was smart enough to listen to IBM’s vice president of engineering. The latter was virtually the only manager who had the foresight to raise the alarm early, on the coming obsolescence of the medium of punch-cards, which took up scads of storage space but allowed instantaneous data-viewing. The technologically superior, compact medium of magnetic tape stored data which were invisible until viewed on a monitor. It was unclear how long the transition from punch-card to tape would take, but entrepreneurs were already making inroads on the extremely expensive experimentation required.

In the 1950’s, the U.S. government commissioned IBM and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to do a joint defense project called SAGE. In 1957, the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik showed SAGE to be “… a costly fantasy, the SDI of its day. Before long, we found ourselves vastly overarmed, faced with the danger of mutual annihilation.”

In 1967, in the wake of racial tensions in America, IBM built a plant in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York City. It was part of a social program that was modestly successful; suggested by a task force comprised of white business leaders who assisted a black community board with economic development.

The author admitted that IBM had become a monopoly of sorts by the 1970’s. “The [anti-trust case against IBM] dragged on for twelve years, until the Reagan administration finally dropped it in 1981… the natural forces of technology etched away whatever monopoly we may have had.”

Read the book to learn about the role played by IBM with regard to other major negative and positive economic trends driving America over the course of more than half a century, plus more biographical information on the author and his family.

ENDNOTE: Alarmists on both sides of the economic spectrum shouldn’t have nearly as much fodder with which to propagandize, if they heed the lessons from this book, lessons that smack of deju vu all over again :

  • Some people might say Moore’s Law has run its course in the United States (See the post, “Moore’s Law / Elon Musk”).
  • Microsoft learned the most lucrative lessons from IBM in preparing its own legal defense against the Justice Department’s antitrust accusations.
  • The national healthcare system of the United States can only improve in the coming decades– eliminating one major cost for employers that was seriously hampering their bottom line.
  • The way IBM began to do business internationally decades ago, is still in existence. And
  • supply and demand will compel Americans to find solutions to seemingly overwhelming problems, such as those relating to energy, environmentalism and education.

Of course, there will always be leaders who, grateful for term limits, lacking courage– adopt the attitude of the character Linus in the “Peanuts” comic strip: No problem is ever so big or so complicated that it can’t be run away from.