The Good, the Bad and Me

The Book of the Week is “The Good, the Bad, and Me, In My Anecdotage” by Eli Wallach, published in 2005.

Wallach was an actor of stage and screen. In many ways, he lived in a bygone era. Born in December 1915, he grew up in a Jewish family among mostly Italians, in a few different working-class neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Horse-drawn wagons sold fruit, milk and ice. The horses’ manure was sold as fertilizer. The Italians put on puppet shows, and had parades honoring Jesus and the saints, with floats, refreshments, and a band playing the national anthem. A marching band would play at funerals.

The value of money was quite high in the early twentieth century. If pennies were run over by the streetcar, they could be filed down to take on the structure of nickels, which could be used in pay phones. In 1932, Wallach began to attend the University of Texas as an out-of-state student for $30 a year. He roomed at a boardinghouse for $40 a month, including meals. His second year there, however, the school raised its tuition to $100 a year. Even so, the dean helped students find work so they could afford their educations.

In 1936, Wallach got free tuition at City College of New York when he took classes toward his master’s degree in teaching, at his older brother’s behest. He got a scholarship to Neighborhood Playhouse, an acting school, also in Manhattan. There, famous instructors taught Method acting. In the 1940’s, open-air double-decker buses that graced Greenwich Village, charged five cents. Wallach shared a one-room furnished apartment on lower Fifth Avenue for which he paid $35 a month. Maid service was included.

However, in 1956, the author hired a press agent for himself and actress-wife for $125 a week. That was a steep price. Ed Sullivan reported in his column that Wallach and his wife had lost their yacht in a sea storm– a line planted by the agent in the New York Daily News. The agent was let go.

Growing up, Wallach never met any black people. He heard about them in Harlem, but had never been there. While in college in Texas, he worked as an usher at a theater in Austin. He escorted blacks to their seats, which were relegated to the (nosebleed section) balcony only.

During Wallach’s fabulous career, in 1961, he acted in an absurdist play written by Eugene Ionesco, called Rhinoceros. It was about how herd mentality turned people into rhinoceroses when they conformed to State authority. For more information about the plot, see the following:

When Wallach acted in a film in Italy in the late 1950’s, he found that some people disagreed with him on how to portray their characters. He wrote, “It had always seemed to me that calling it the Method was incorrect; each country, each society, each theater, and each actor devises his own method.” Such is true of life at large.

Read the book to learn more about Wallach’s life.

Clinging to the Wreckage – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Clinging to the Wreckage, A Part of Life” by John Mortimer, published in 1982.

Born in the early 1920’s in England, the author was a barrister and playwright. He practiced divorce law like his father before him, and also criminal defense.

The author once wrote a play about “… a man who always says to people what he thought they wanted to hear… We could, if we had any real intention of doing so, narrow the wage differential, we could make education, spectacles, false teeth and rides on the Underground [the London subway] open to all, regardless of the accident of birth.” However, human nature sucks. Humans must make class distinctions. Someone has to be oppressed. There must be class envy.

Nevertheless, now is the time, if ever, for the United States to continue its trend toward instituting national healthcare. For, it cannot afford not to, if it wants to survive as a democratic nation. See the post, “I Shall Not Hate,” third paragraph from the end. Although survival is in doubt at the moment.

As is well known, there turned out to be no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq after 9/11. But– Colin Powell convinced Congress that there were, so it would vote to attack Iraq.

As is well known, there turned out to be vastly significantly less danger than originally “projected” as announced by Dr. Anthony Fauci, that Americans would die of the coronavirus.

Both Colin Powell and Dr. Fauci, like the emperor, had no clothes!

The two aforementioned lies are part and parcel of the political vendettas that have characterized the United States government in the last several decades.

The difference between the lies is that, from 2003 forward, on orders from high government officials, the United States mucked up Iraq. But most Americans didn’t care or weren’t sufficiently powerful to stop the goings-on at “Gitmo” and everywhere else.

For a 20/20 hindsight look at Iraq, see the post: “The Greatest Story Ever Sold.” Two people who might have been viewed as alarmists in the most recent two decades are Naomi Klein (See the post “No Is NOT Enough, RESISTING Trump’s Shock Politics”) and Naomi Wolf, who can be seen in the following video:

In 2020, on orders from high government officials, the United States is mucking up itself! Oops, too late.

The two Naomis aren’t alarmists anymore, are they?? Such is the sewer of history. Anyway, read the Mortimer book to learn the tenor of the times of his generation, given his demographic group.

Landsberg’s Law

The Book of the Week is “Landsberg’s Law, a Journey of Discovery” by Mark Landsberg, published in 2006.

Born in Los Angeles at the tail end of December in 1937 or 1938 (the author provided references to various of his birthdays throughout the book as though to remind himself of his age, and was vague about other dates), Landsberg chose the hedonistic life of playing poker on the beach as often as possible, when he wasn’t living abroad.

While attending college in California, Landsberg worked for the U.S. Postal Service. His employer ignored him when he tried to tell them of an idea that would save them millions of dollars. “One of the drawbacks of Civil Service is that it stifles initiative.” Other places the author encountered a similar frustration were: in the Navy, and at University of California at Berkeley. “Thinking must be painful since so many people go to such lengths to avoid it.”

Along these lines, it might be recalled that for a time, the CBS network had the 1980’s promotional slogans for its TV and radio “news” divisions respectively:

“Americans. We like straight talk. We want hard facts. We demand the truth. We know who we are, and we know who we trust. Dan Rather. CBS Evening News.” and “Don’t let anyone tell you what they said. Hear them say it. CBS News.” True story.

In the late 1990’s, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, certain content-creators had good intentions. They knew that the world reaps untold benefits when people freely (at no charge and with no censorship) exchange information and ideas. They sincerely believed in educating people in an unbiased manner. Unfortunately, roughly twenty years later, most website administrators cannot afford to exist unless they allow their sites’ content to be dictated by political hacks, including, it appears, Wikipedia.

Throughout history, humans have engaged in endeavors whose original purpose was fun. Money has corrupted those endeavors: all kinds of amateur activities in art, music and sports, science fairs, and many others. Over the past half century, even areas in which people used to make a modest living while enjoying themselves, have become pressure-cookers of greed: the medical industry, professional sports, publishing, Hollywood, the music industry, etc. With the evolution of all systems, the profit motive takes over.

Greed will also fuel the country’s economic recovery in an ironic (!) way. Most of the distressed assets resulting from this pandemic will be bought by the “one-percenters” who will create new, enterprising entities that will move the country forward. Also, Americans who are in a position to do so, will move to the places that offer them the most freedoms and/or economic opportunities. The nation’s most oppressive regions will suffer capital flight and brain drain.

Anyway, back to Mr. Landsberg. Around 1970, some Scrabble players formed a club in Beverly Hills, California. They were forced to call it a “Word Club” because Selchow and Righter (S&R), the then-owners of Scrabble’s intellectual property rights were possessive of the game’s name. Anyway, Landsberg and his friends were a few of the first players to formulate counter-intuitive strategies for winning at Scrabble.

The author even produced a manuscript called “Championship Scrabble Strategy” but of course was forced to request permission from S&R to publish it. Through 1972, the two parties had months of serious discussions but the latter put it on the back burner. By the following year, S&R had hired a college dropout to publish a book on-the-cheap using Landsberg’s material without telling him.

Landsberg’s federal lawsuit demanded $25 million from S&R. Read the book to learn of how the author fared in his court case, which included the causes of action of: breach of contract, and plagiarism.

ENDNOTE: In general, some might say that the U.S. government has breached its contract with the American people, and that the president committed plagiarism by taking a page out of Nixon’s playbook (not that other politicians have not also done so). Sadly, on both sides, bashing is all the rage these days: Trump-bashing, Obama-bashing, China-bashing, Cuomo-bashing, FBI-bashing, Biden-bashing, Republican-bashing, Democrat-bashing…

But wait. We’re all in this together! And Americans can trust CBS, and everyone else. True story.

Ingrid Bergman, My Story

The Book of the Week is “Ingrid Bergman, My Story” by Ingrid Bergman and Alan Burgess, published in 1972.

Born in 1915 in Sweden, Bergman lived with extended relatives after her mother and father passed away, when she was three and thirteen, respectively. The father’s successful painting and photography-supply businesses were taken over by the family. When she was fifteen, a couple of friends in high places– and of course, passion and hard work– allowed her to get accepted to the Royal Dramatic School. Nevertheless, she quit to become a movie actress in Sweden.

David Selznick in America heard about her talent, and his wife set her wise as to Hollywood’s ways. Her advisors therefore negotiated a one-film contract rather than a seven-year contract. Bergman was the opposite of a prima donna on the set. Selznick was impressed and had his public relations people hold her up as a paragon of virtue and modesty. However, she refused to be typecast, insisting on playing all different kinds of roles.

Bergman wrote, “Another Hollywood thing I hated was the power of those two women, Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnists. Their power shocked me, and I thought it very wrong that the film industry had allowed them to build up to such an extent that they could ruin people’s careers and lives.” Sadly, there is nothing new under the sun in that regard. Gossip in American society has been used more often for evil than for good, especially in politics.

Anyway, in autumn 1946, Bergman got slammed for saying she wasn’t going to return Washington, D.C. because the theater there in which she was performing, banned blacks. Perhaps she was not a racist, but her immaturity in her personal relationships caused her first husband and first-born daughter endless anguish.

Read the book to learn of Bergman’s dream role, whether she got to play it, other roles she played, and about her families.

The Man on Mao’s Right

The Book of the Week is “The Man on Mao’s Right, From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China’s Foreign Ministry” by Ji Chaozhu, published in 2008.

Born in 1929 in the Chinese village of Taijun, Ji lived a charmed early childhood, as his politically connected father was a law professor and commissioner of education. In 1937, his family was forced to move in with his paternal grandfather in Fenyang when the Japanese continued their siege of China.

By the end of the 1930’s, the family had fled from their palace to the United States. They moved into a tiny tenement in the East Village in Manhattan. One aspect of their living standards that was actually higher, was the modern plumbing.

Ji had a much, much older, politically connected brother– old enough to be his father– who purported to aid the Chinese Communists, then Americans, alternating between the two throughout his life. But his loyalties truly lay with the Communists.

Ji’s father behaved similarly, translating between English and Japanese for the U.S. Office of War Information after the Pearl Harbor attack, but also starting a secret pro-Communist Chinese newspaper sold in Chinatown. In 1946, he returned to China to become president of Peking University.

Ji learned English in a progressive private school. As he got older, he too began to believe that the Americans were imperialists, as they invaded Korea. He therefore quit Harvard in his junior year to return to China.

Ji had no problem enduring mean living conditions there– more than a hundred students in his Tsinghua University dorm had to share one bathroom. They had a communal bathhouse. A food shortage meant that his diet consisted of only sorghum, corn millet, dried sweet potato flour and pickled vegetables. There were no chairs in the cafeteria– students ate standing up.

When Mao Tse Tung’s Communist party took over China in 1949, the U.S. Seventh Fleet in Taiwan protected Chiang Kai-Shek, the corrupt, exiled leader of the defeated Nationalist party.

In April 1951, Douglas MacArthur was dismissed from his military leadership position by president Harry Truman for having grand plans to wage nuclear war against the Communists. Congress member Albert Gore, Sr. echoed MacArthur’s hawkish sentiments, proposing that the United States warn people to evacuate Korea, and then showering it with nuclear waste to force a stop to the war.

Ji began to attend self-criticism meetings and worship Mao as though he were a supreme being. But Ji wasn’t automatically accepted as a member of the Communist party because his reputation was tainted with Western values. His father and much, much older brother had worked for the American government in various capacities, and his family had lived in America for a time.

Nevertheless, Ji’s fluency in English, high-level education, and understanding of Western culture were major assets that few Chinese people had. So China’s Foreign Ministry recruited him to translate and take notes at the Korean peace talks in spring 1952. He and his fellow interpreters risked their lives in traveling to the site of the negotiations in Panmunjon in North Korea. They survived shelling, strafing and bombing.

Ji then survived the pressure to perfectly, manually type up the excessive number of revisions in Korean, English and Chinese that led to an almost-final written agreement in July 1953. This, after about two million war deaths over the course of two years, with neither of the multi-national sides making any significant progress geographically.

After a short stop at home, Ji was then sent to Geneva for more abuse, but without life-threatening dangers overhead.

Back in China, the landlords and the capitalists were under physical siege by the peasants in rural farming villages. Mao egged on the violence. However, in late 1956, after the common Hungarian people staged an uprising against their Communist oppressors, Mao realized he needed to take steps to avoid that kind of situation in China. So, “… for the first time, American magazines, books, and the occasional film became available. Before that, any Western literature or movies were banned.”

In a move that was nothing new under the sun, Mao gave the Chinese people a chance to air their grievances. One professor complained that Party members and cadres were living high on the hog while the peasants were starving.

Mao then wrote articles saying that the government then knew who the infidels were. He launched his Anti-Rightist campaign. A lot of bourgeois people were fired from their jobs, and sent to reeducation camps. Many people suicided, were executed or never heard from again. Unsurprisingly, the famine in China resulted in about thirty million deaths.

Beginning in the late 1950’s, over the next decade, Ji dutifully did the jobs he was assigned. For months at a time, he alternated between going to rural areas to help with manual labor, and sitting at Zhou Enlai’s side, sometimes even at Mao’s side– interpreting at diplomatic meetings.

In August 1966, a group of adolescents comprised of sociopathic sadists supplied with weaponry– also known as the Red Guards– terrorized anyone accused of disloyalty to Communist ideology (i.e., ownership by the dictatorial State, rather than ownership by private parties, of the means of production; plus other conditions). Anyone could be an accuser. Mao encouraged everyone to be snitches. The victims of violence also included embassy personnel of the former Soviet Union, India and Burma. Not to mention, in August 1967, people in the British consulate.

While ugliness raged in China and was exacerbated with U.S. intervention in Vietnam, there was a similarity with the two countries’ leadership. Zhou Enlai’s role under Mao was like vice president Hubert Humphrey’s under president Lyndon Johnson’s. The second fiddles both obeyed their bosses to keep their jobs, even though their bosses’s actions caused an excessive number of needless deaths and ruined lives.

Read the book to learn much more about the history of China, and Ji’s life and times.

Pink Boots and A Machete

The Book of the Week is “Pink Boots and A Machete, My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer” by Mireya Mayor, published in 2011.

Mayor was born in February 1973 in Miami. While in her early twenties, she discovered her calling– primatologist / zoologist. An inspirational college professor helped her apply for a government grant to study a monkey in Guyana.

Thereafter, she braved infinite life-threatening dangers and primitive and uncomfortable conditions (like poor sanitation, and an extremely limited and at times– disgusting diet, and unbearable heat, to name three) on dozens of expeditions for weeks or months in obscure places to observe various animals in their natural habitats.

In the Congo, there were killer bees. In the jungle in Guyana, there were itinerant miners who were robbers and rapists; piranhas, malarial mosquitoes, tarantulas, vampire bats, ticks, leeches, etc. The author had to sleep in a hammock to avoid poisonous snakes on the ground.

In June 1997 in Madagascar, “Every visit to a village required a rum-soaked meeting with tribal elders that lasted through the night, occasionally for days.” While seeking a specific species of lemur in an animal reserve (that was not exactly a tourist attraction), she was bitten by a small scorpion and swarmed by wasps. Hundreds of cockroaches nestled in her pants legs overnight, shocking her when she went to put them on.

On another occasion in Guyana, she and her crew collected flora and fauna specimens from a mountain on which they camped (on the edge of a cliff, basically) in a “… flimsy sheet of nylon attached to the rock face by a single, six-inch steel pin.”

In Namibia, she was one of eight people who lifted the six-foot, six hundred pound neck of a tranquilized giraffe. The whole animal weighed approximately eighteen hundred pounds. The goal was to herd giraffes into a trailer to help them mate and reproduce.

On another occasion in Madagascar, when a mudslide from a monsoon prevented their hired truck from going any farther, she, another scientist and expensive porters (strong men) had to hike hours and hours with heavy gear, dozens of bags, crates and a generator to a campsite.

Mayor related that on another occasion in the Congo, “I woke up in an unusually good mood, considering it was 5am and I still had the worm [in the foot], the filarial bites, and the infected tick bite… Repeated hot soaks and antibiotic treatments finally banished it [the tick bite].”

Read the book to learn of the new species Mayor co-discovered, how she fared on a reality show, the kinds of issues she dealt with for being female in a male-dominated field, and much more.

The Opposite of Woe / Square Peg

The First Book of the Week is “The Opposite of Woe, My Life in Beer and Politics” by John Hickenlooper with Maximillian Potter, published in 2016.

Born in February 1952, the author is a colorful character, having had a few different careers as businessman and politician. He plays well with others, but he claimed that persistence has been a major factor that has led to his successes in life.

Starting in 2003, Hickenlooper was elected mayor of Denver, and then governor of Colorado. In the book, he briefly described his activities in connection with a range of political issues. One issue had to do with illegal-immigrants, education and driver’s licenses.

While Hickenlooper was governor (2011 through 2018; he didn’t specify the year) he conditionally granted a college-tuition discount in Colorado to undocumented residents (as he called them), to encourage them to become better educated, as he thought that would help his state. Additionally, he conditionally also granted driver’s licenses to them.

The license applicants were required to purchase insurance just like everyone else, and– Hickenlooper claimed that the stakeholders on this issue agreed with him to have the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) charge those undocumented residents three times the fees that U.S. citizens paid.

Of course, the governor was raising more revenue than otherwise for Colorado. But– another aspect of this subject is that driving is expensive, so the DMV would be able to track only those immigrants who could afford to drive, and who desired to do so enough to jump through all the hoops to do it. And he was giving them an opportunity to widen their horizons by traveling more and doing things they couldn’t do otherwise.

Presumably, the kinds of people who are granted that chance, though, likely risked their lives in leaving their homeland to come to this country to seek a better life. Fear of being sent back to that place of oppression keeps them from misbehaving, and must have motivated them to make a living that allows them to be able to afford to drive.

Anti-immigrant propagandists rail that those undocumented residents committed a crime by crossing into the United States illegally. Then the propagandists wave around anecdotal evidence of additional crimes that a few or some of the residents have committed, so why should all of them be rewarded with opportunities for a better life when they don’t pay income tax? Therein lies the decades-old political football.

Those residents’ presence must have far-reaching, presumably sufficiently beneficial economic and political effects on the whole country, or else why wouldn’t politicians have already (years ago!) thought that it was worth the huge expenses to deport them in large numbers or build an extensive wall to keep them out of the United States, and have already done so?

Anyway, read the book to learn of Hickenlooper’s business ventures and adventures in business, and political accomplishments for which he considered himself responsible, plus depressing, traumatic occurrences that happened in Colorado during his administrations.

The Second Book of the Week is “Square Peg, Confessions of a Citizen Senator” by Orrin Hatch, published in 2002.

Against all odds, the Republican Hatch from Utah won his U.S. Senate race in 1976. He actually wrote more about a few different political events (with a Republican slant– omitting inconvenient details) that occurred during his career, than events that directly, personally affected him as a senator.

Hatch recounted that in spring 1978, the Senate launched a filibuster to block a bill that might have made the Democratic party outrageously powerful because unions would have gained the upper hand on management nationwide. He and his fellow coalition members whipped up five hundred amendments to the bill. He filed them with the Senate reporting clerk. “I could force the Senate to vote on each amendment filed prior to cloture, which together would take almost seven consecutive twenty-four hour sessions to complete… weeks or even months.”

At the time of the book’s writing, both houses of Congress proposed approximately 7,600 bills per session, about 440 of which, on average, became law. Read the book to learn of Hatch’s take on several political events of the last half century, and a few of his experiences in politics.

The Autobiography… / Kingfish

The subject of the First Book of the Week wrote:

“In fact there is no unemployed. We got one hundred and twenty million people working overtime just repeating rumors.”

“If we ever pass out as a great nation, we ought to put on our tombstone ‘America died from a delusion that she had moral leadership.’ “

“We are used to having everybody named as Presidential candidates, but the country hasn’t quite got to the professional comedian stage.”

The above quotes were published in September 1931, June 1931, and January 1928.

The First Book of the Week is “The Autobiography of Will Rogers” published in 1949. The author’s original writings were presented as is, unedited, with his atrocious spelling and (folksy) grammatical errors.

Born in November 1879 in Oklahoma, Rogers was the youngest of seven children. He was a quick-tempered rebellious child, but super-talented with a rodeo lasso.

At seventeen, Rogers quit the military school in Missouri to which he was sent by his father to find a ranching job. He traveled to Western states to enter roping and riding contests, and provided entertainment at state fairs in the Midwest.

He and his friends posed as musicians (but were really shills) in a sixty-man band who interrupted the shows to rope steers.

Rogers traveled the world via boat, seeking international ranching gigs. He eventually found that Rio de Janeiro was better for that than London. South Africa wasn’t bad, either. In Australia, he joined the Wirth Brothers circus in Sydney.

Along around WWI, Rogers began doing stand-up comedy for Ziegfeld Follies, and the Midnight Frolic. His Henry Ford jokes were getting old before the new shows were launched every four months. His wife suggested that he joke about what he read in the papers.

So from then on, the amusing content of Rogers’ newspaper columns came from Congress. In a December 1934 column, he commented that young people lack life experience. That is why they can’t help but look toward their futures. Older folks look back because their pasts are always with them. “But we are both standing on the same ground, and their feet is there as firmly as ours.”

Read the book to learn of Rogers’ movie-acting and public-speaking careers, too, and much more about his life.

The Second Book of the Week is “Kingfish, The Reign of Huey P. Long” by Richard D. White, Jr., published in 2006.

Not to be confused with Huey Newton (or Huey Lewis), Huey Long was a composite of every successful power-hungry American politician who ever lived, if success is measured by the amount of power he acquired, given the offices he held.

Born in August 1893 in Louisiana, Long grew up one of nine children in a farming and ranching family. He was an avid reader and control freak. Expelled from high school his senior year, he got a series of sales jobs before trying law school for the second time in the autumn of 1914. He failed most of the classes but passed the oral bar exam for Louisiana in 1915.

While struggling to make a living at practicing law, Long knew he was a born politician. So on his second attempt, he won the governorship of Louisiana for the Democratic party in early 1928. His then-techniques were innovative– mudslinging and delivering speeches on the radio to Shreveport, and driving trucks containing bullhorns that blared at rallies all around the state, where he met every voter and put up campaign posters everywhere he possibly could.

Long tailored his campaign promises to specific audiences such as drinkers, Catholics, businessmen, sugar-cane growers, etc. “Because each newspaper gave one-sided coverage to its own candidate and ignored the other two, citizens needed to buy different papers to keep up with the campaigns.”

Long acquired massive power because he was a master at manipulating legal loopholes and eliminating enemies. He collected lackeys through sweetheart contracts and patronage galore; not to mention through bribery, influence peddling, racketeering, and corruption. His underlings did his will because they themselves were desperate for money and/or power.

Long actually did some good until 1931. He built highways and a new state Capitol, repaired streets and sewers in New Orleans and refinanced its port. He made Louisiana State University a world-class school.

Long also dealt with the political issues of education, gambling and natural gas. He manipulated the system so that he was elected U.S. Senator in September 1930 but finished his Louisiana governorship before taking that office in January 1932.

Other outrageous acts for which he initially went unpunished included extensive election fraud. “In one New Orleans precinct, votes were tallied before the polls closed, while in another, voting began before they opened. Huey ordered state workers to contribute to the pro-Long campaign and if they didn’t, they lost their jobs. His machine spent huge sums to pay the one-dollar poll taxes for impoverished farmers.” But no empire lasts forever.

Read the book to learn of the steps Long took to counteract the results of his deficit spending (hint– he dictated tax hikes), of how he became an absolute ruler like no other in the history of Louisiana, and what became of him in 1935, among other details of this cautionary tale.

…And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since / Citizen Lane

The first Book of the Week is “…And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since, From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress” by Charles B. Rangel with Leon Wynter, published in 2007.

This repetitive, stream-of-consciousness autobiography was a bragfest, but the author’s major point was that his near-death experience while serving in the Korean War led him to realize that surviving everything else in his life has been a cakewalk.

Born in June 1930 in West Harlem, New York City– Rangel, his older brother and younger sister were raised mostly by his mother, mother’s brother and mother’s father. His maternal grandparents– white father and black mother– were originally from Virginia. His mother raised him as a Catholic.

Rangel’s mother worked as an attendant in a hotel and in resorts in the Catskills in upstate New York, while the author stayed in West Harlem with his grandfather or uncle, both elevator operators. Starting when he was about nine years old and throughout his childhood, Rangel worked at a drugstore, as a paperboy, at a hardware store, as a shoe-store assistant, cargo loader, etc.

Rangel was deeply influenced by his grandfather’s reverence for attorneys, whom he saw all day at his job in the elevator of a courthouse. Nevertheless, Rangel’s social circles in Harlem did not expose him to anyone who particularly valued education. He therefore dropped out of high school after sophomore year. He was also deeply influenced by his older brother, who valued working and volunteering for the U.S. military.

So after Rangel’s four years in the military, during which he was unexpectedly sent to Korea, he was persuaded by his brother to choose work in civilian life instead of a military career.

Eventually, realizing that his life was directionless and his lack of education was holding him back, Rangel appealed to the Veterans Administration (VA) for help– aggressively, as he was an arrogant youth with a sense of entitlement as a war hero. A VA representative provided him with the kind of guidance he needed, pushing him to focus on the goal of becoming an attorney to please his grandfather.

Rangel expanded his worldview at St. John’s law school, meeting other blacks, plus Italian, Irish and Jewish students. Later, as a Congressman, his frequent international travel led him to change his views on Catholicism.

Rangel became less religious, as “When you find Washington saying it has no moral responsibility for social services, that it’s on local or state government or the private sector, you would expect the Church to be screaming with outrage. Not just about the unborn, but about the born… I had to remind Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the media that we spend $100,000 per year just to keep one kid locked up in the city’s [New York City’s] Rikers Island detention center… Imagine if we were investing even a fraction of that in the education of every kid in New York.”

Read the book to learn how Rangel came to have daily gratitude for life after his war experiences, and rose through the ranks to have an illustrious political career, and for all the great accomplishments he considered himself responsible.

The second Book of the Week is “Citizen Lane, Defending Our Rights in the Courts, the Capitol, and the Streets” by Mark Lane, published in 2012. This autobiography was a bragfest, too.

Born in the Bronx in 1927, Lane spent his childhood in Brooklyn. He spent his early career years practicing law as a solo practitioner in East Harlem. Even though his skin was white, he defended minority teen gang members accused of serious crimes. The juries were wealthy white males only. Lane also sued slumlords on behalf of tenants.

In the second half of the 1950’s, Lane helped reveal the scandalous conditions at the Wassaic State School in upstate New York; human nature, being what it is– in the early 1970’s, Geraldo Rivera told a largely similar story involving Willowbrook State School.

Teenagers accused of petty crimes who were deemed “mental defectives” determined by only one IQ test were placed in Wassaic State School. The IQ test was given in English only. Not coincidentally, many Puerto Ricans (Spanish speakers) were immediately placed in the school.

Despite the name of the institution, inmates received no academic instruction– only psychological, physical and sexual abuse, and solitary confinement for minor infractions, at the hands of sadistic guards.

Restraints were used willy-nilly. The food was inedible. The inmates had no recreation whatsoever, not even reading. In October 1955, Paul H. Hoch, commissioner of the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene called a hearing only after New York State governor Averell Harriman was prompted by political motives to do something. Hoch said it was a public hearing, but banned the press from attending. Big mistake.

The press gathered around the hearing-building and wouldn’t leave. Lane gave them the lowdown on the testimony he heard firsthand. The reader can guess where this is going. The only heads that rolled were the guards’. No one else’s. Dr. George Etling, director of the school, remained so for another eighteen years until he comfortably retired.

The next episode in Lane’s heroic career related to cofounding– with the reverend of the Mid-Harlem Community Parish– of a free-of-charge (unlicensed; read, illegal) heroin rehabilitation clinic in West Harlem. The patients kicked their addictions cold turkey through sedatives and therapy administered by doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists. Lane allegedly got Jackie Robinson to hire all the recovered addicts (many of whom were ex-cons) by the Chock full o’Nuts restaurant chain.

Prior to election year 1960, judges and other office holders were able to vote for their cronies, even though they had moved out of the candidates’ East Harlem and Yorkville district years before. Lane’s young polling volunteers told the illegal voters they had to sign an affidavit swearing to their current addresses. Busted, the would-be voters slunk away instead.

In spring 1961, Lane and black attorney Percy Sutton went on a “Freedom Ride” (i.e., risked their lives) via buses and a plane through different southern cities, ending in Jackson, Mississippi. There, they were arrested for “…disorderly conduct by improperly ‘congregating’ and placed in separate segregated cells.” But they hadn’t been the least bit hostile. They were convicted without a trial and sentenced to four months’ imprisonment. In March 1962, the state of Mississippi changed its tune and the charges were dropped.

In 2004, Lane started co-hosting a weekly radio show from New Jersey, in which he wasn’t obnoxious to callers, and “…all ridicule would be reserved exclusively for the leaders of our nation who led us into a war in which they traded blood for oil… I read the names of those who died that week in Iraq, to remind us of what we are doing.”

Read the book to learn of other major historical events in which Lane was supposedly front and center, and the ways in which he did his best to investigate scandals (including JFK’s and MLK’s deaths) in a bygone era in which:

  • security in buildings was poor
  • forensics were primitive
  • racism was rampant, and
  • cover-ups were rife (thanks to aggressive, dishonest politicians and intelligence services who spied on and oppressed their own citizens).

Thank goodness cover-ups aren’t rife anymore, given the current mean, nasty divided political situation in the United States. Right.