Counselor

The Book of the Week is “Counselor, Life At the Edge of History” by Ted Sorensen, published in 2008. This was the autobiography of a political consultant best known for most closely advising JFK for eleven years.

Born in May 1928 in Lincoln, Nebraska, Sorensen considered himself a Danish Russian Jewish Unitarian. His father, appointed Attorney General beginning in 1929, was the oldest of ten surviving children. He helped pass a law that created one nonpartisan legislative body in the Nebraska statehouse. That way, there were no fights, delays or blaming.

Sorensen himself was one of five children. He grew up in an agricultural community with a harsh climate in Nebraska, not unlike that of George McGovern’s South Dakota. There were: droughts, floods, hailstorms, blizzards and grasshoppers.

In summer of 1951, after graduating from a special five-year university law program, Sorensen sought a job by personally walking into law firms to speak with the hirers. He began his career at the Federal Security Administration, which has come to be known as the Department of Health and Human Services. He became depressed when he started to wise up and witness more of the culture of Washington, D.C.: “… more hypocrites than heroes, more sinners than saints.”

At the suggestion of the joint committee staff director, Sorensen lied about his age– put down 25 instead of 24 on his resume because men of 25 were viewed as better job candidates, having more experience. In 1952, he became a speechwriter, advisor and personal assistant to then-Senator John F. Kennedy, his opposite. Sorensen was a plain ol’ country boy, rather than a Northeastern elitist. He didn’t run with JFK’s crowd.

Sorensen claimed that JFK himself actually did the writing of the book “Profiles in Courage” despite rumors that others did. He and others helped with the research. Sorensen mentioned various of the book’s rumored ghostwriters but failed to mention the most commonly named one– Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Upon becoming president, “John F. Kennedy’s speeches stood out because they revived idealism, eloquence, and progressivism, after a decade of Eisenhower’s bland, dry approach and Joe McCarthy’s evil tirades.”

Unfortunately, JFK was afraid of being criticized for being “soft on Communism”– a common fear in those days among politicians who wanted to get reelected. So JFK continued Eisenhower’s actions; by late 1963, he had sent sixteen thousand American military advisors to South Vietnam. In 1968, Sorensen became a campaign advisor to Robert F. Kennedy in his presidential bid; sadly, not for long. Then he practiced law.

Read the book to learn of Sorenson’s adventures with the famed senator and president; his views on what would have happened had JFK not been assassinated; his other endeavors; the toll taken on his health by years of severe sleep deprivation and nonstop (no downtime) international business travel; and much more.

For Jersualem

The Book of the Week is “For Jerusalem, A Life” by Teddy Kollek, with his son, Amos Kollek, published in 1978. Kollek was best known for his mayorship of Jerusalem from 1965 to 1993.

Born in a small village near Budapest in May 1911, Kollek was an athletic bibliophile as a child. When he was eleven, he began joining Zionist youth movements and for the next decade, traveled to Czechoslovakia, Romania and Germany. His grades in high school were poor; he graduated only at the behest of his parents. His father had been an Austrian army officer during WWI, then became an operations manager for the Rothschilds. Most of the Jewish bourgeoisie voted for the Social Democratic party in Austria.

As a true Zionist, Kollek wanted to move to Palestine. He put his name on the waiting list of the Zionist Organization, and was finally granted permission to go the promised land in spring 1935. Once he got there in 1936, he almost had “buyer’s remorse” after suffering a series of illnesses– typhus, malaria, sandfly fever and typhoid, almost dying in a British hospital.

Nonetheless, Kollek was granted Palestine citizenship. Shortly thereafter, he bestowed the same on his Austrian girlfriend by marrying her. He served as village headman in the kibbutz of Ein Gev in the Jordan Valley for a little more than a year. Playing well with the British, he would ride a horse around the mountains all day. Nearby tribes included the Bedouins and Cherkessians. The new Zionist settlers lived in shacks and had a communal shower.

In autumn 1938, Kollek supervised a different youth group in England. He also acted as an intermediary between the German and British authorities to let a few thousand Zionist teenagers become farm workers in England, as there was a shortage of them. He did the same for Austria and the British, negotiating with Adolf Eichmann.

Due to the Anschluss in March 1938, Kollek’s parents and brother moved to Palestine. At the start of WWII, Kollek assured the safe transport of contraband arms and people from Syria to Palestine. For the rest of the war, Kollek worked in British intelligence, and then coordinated smuggling operations for the Jewish Agency.

In 1941, David Ben-Gurion thought that Jews in the United States, rather than those in Great Britain, would provide the major impetus ideologically and financially to spur the creation of a Jewish state. He turned out to be correct.

The date May 14, 1948 saw legalization of transport of arms and people to Israel, as it officially achieved sovereignty. Prior to that, there was honor among thieves, according to the author. “In those days, everybody lived frugally and was so utterly devoted, without thinking of himself that we had complete confidence in one another.”

Even so, in the early 1950’s, the new nation had to rob Peter to pay Paul to fund itself, selling bonds and obtaining loans from American banks. And the FBI tailed all of the Jewish freedom fighters, even after independence.

Thanks to a business loan secured with Kollek’s assistance, the Israeli government was able to own and operate a retail chain store, Maskit, which sold handicrafts made by Israelis, co-founded by Moshe Dayan’s wife.

In summer 1952, Kollek was appointed to a position with a lofty title, to serve as a coordinator among government ministries in Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s administration. In the mid-1950’s, the country obtained financing from gentiles for agricultural research and social and educational projects.

A decade later, Kollek was elected mayor of Jerusalem. His Labor party displaced the Mapai party, which had been the dominant one for years. The mindset of the older generation of (federal) Cabinet members could not shaken– even by Kollek– that they were the caretakers of agricultural collectives, rather than a nation that had become more than three quarters urbanized.

About once a month, Mayor Kollek wanted to resign. Nevertheless, he claimed to have made Jerusalem a better place in numerous ways. The previous mayor had failed to stop Orthodox Jews from throwing rocks at the Mandelbaum Gate because Jordanian Christians in buses en route to religious journeys were disrupting their Sabbath. Kollek’s solution was to bar traffic around Jewish houses of worship on Saturdays.

Perhaps Kollek accomplished so much and was reelected so many times because he lacked the politician’s mentality of expecting the kind of reciprocity that leads to patronage. He truly cared about improving the lives of his fellow Jerusalemites, rather than horse-trading only insofar as to acquire more power or funding.

In sum, Kollek wrote, “Being mayor is the most varied, absorbing, sometimes aggravating (sic), but still the most satisfying job in the world, and while I’m at it, I’ll work as hard as I can, eat as much as I want, and shout at whomever I please.”

Read the book to learn the role radio played in the 1950’s in the lives of Egyptians and Israelis; what Kollek did: for Israel’s tenth anniversary celebration, in the founding of the Israel Museum, during the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars, with regard to the Western Wall, and much more.

Code Name “Mary” – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Code Name ‘Mary’ – Memoir of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground” by Muriel Gardiner, published in 1983.

Born in 1901 in Chicago, the author inherited significant wealth from her father’s meat-packing business. However, her father died when she was twelve.

By the early 1920’s, the author, fluent in European languages, was studying in Rome. She was also active in the Socialist Defense League, an underground anti-Fascist political group. In October 1922, when the Fascists marched into the city, she and her friends didn’t take them seriously.

By the late 1920’s, she had moved to Vienna. It was a socialist city, with affordable housing, “…absence of slums, the clean streets, the well tended parks, and the beautiful Wienerwald – the Vienna Woods.” The people were pushing for national health insurance, “… something most Americans then considered absolutely immoral.”

There were then two major political parties in Austria. Each had their own militia. In July 1927, a literal battle between them resulted in a hundred deaths in protests, and the burning down of the Ministry of Justice.

The author was a social butterfly, traveling around Europe in the decades after she graduated from Wellesley College. She kept in touch with some of her fellow alumnae, and spoke with university students of different nations, such as Finland, Hungary and Bulgaria.

At a social gathering in Moscow in August 1932, they all thought Hitler was a harmless buffoon. Americans were too self-absorbed to worry about some clown an ocean away because they had their own serious financial troubles. The European students speculated that the Communists would take over Germany by 1933. Of course, compared to the author, they had grown up in an insular world, had read only Russian propaganda, and were engaging in wishful thinking.

Gardiner’s ultimate career goal was to become a teacher, but also a psychoanalyst in America. At that time, a medical degree (!) was required for the latter in the United States. The author had been psychoanalyzed by a disciple of Freud in Vienna, and become interested in the subject.

When Gardiner began medical school in the autumn of 1932, the anatomy department consisted of two separate sections: Jews and Socialists (some of whom were American), and Nazis. The latter physically attacked the former on various occasions. Because they could.

In the May 1932 election in Austria, Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss formed a Christian Socialist government. Nonetheless, having only one vote’s majority over the Nazis and Social Democrats, he still had to play nice with them.

By March 1933, power had gone to Dollfuss’s head. He declared a national emergency so that he could rule autocratically. He allied with Mussolini because France and England didn’t assist him with trying to head off the Anschluss. By the end of the year, there was only one political party in Austria.

The author’s social set, members of the underground, worked as clerks and posed as patrons at the local library so that they could convey seditious messages on slips of paper in the books they checked out.

In November 1937, many of the author’s contacts were arrested. Her boyfriend, whom she later married, escaped arrest because he happened to be out of town. The group recruited new members.

On a Friday night in March 1938, the Austrian government announced that the Anschluss was going into effect, in a live speech and via radio. “The noise of the low-flying planes together with the blaring of loudspeakers on the streets was deafening.”

The author was caught unawares and became quite agitated because she had illegal literature in her apartment. She burned some and flushed some down the toilet. Fortunately, that morning, she had withdrawn a lot of money, including American greenbacks from the local bank. She also had a large account in the Netherlands.

Gardiner served as an intermediary in helping get fake passports for members of the resistance movement to flee Austria. In mid-June 1938, Jews weren’t allowed to graduate alongside Aryans from Vienna Medical School. Their ceremony was postponed. It was a Nazi university, and the graduates had to salute Hitler with the raised arm.

Read the book to learn how Gardiner, her boyfriend and daughter fared during those turbulent years and beyond.

The Dean

The Book of the Week is “The Dean, The Best Seat in the House” by Rep. John D. Dingell, with David Bender, published in 2018.

Born in July 1926, Dingell was appointed a page (messenger boy) beginning when he was eleven, helping a Republican U.S. Congressman, thanks to his father– Rep. John Dingell, Sr. (D., MI); his boss was Republican, to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

Dingell, who had a younger brother and sister (who died of illness at a year old), was of Polish Jesuit extraction. The family lived in Detroit. In 1932, his father ran against a Congressional opponent who had ties to the KKK. In his teens, he went hunting for squirrels and turkeys at his boss’s farm in Northern Virginia.

In 1955, Dingell won a special election to fill his dead father’s seat in Congress. This, after serving in the military at the end of WWII, and graduating (via the GI Bill) from Georgetown University with a degree in chemistry.

According to the author, only in the past few decades has politics in the United States become nastier than ever. And he knew. He served 59 years in Congress.

In August 2009, he held a Town Hall meeting in Romulus, Michigan to speak about the healthcare bill (Obamacare). The hundreds of protestors and hecklers who filled the meeting hall weren’t even from Michigan. They were from other midwestern states.

They believed the propaganda that had sparked fear and outrage against Obamacare. “This was an ambush organized by that evil Dick Armey and his lunatic Tea Party crowd. The Koch brothers were funding the whole damn thing in order to stop the Affordable Care Act from passing in Congress.”

The brainwashed attendees rudely, childishly yelled slurs nonstop at the tops of their lungs the whole time. Dingell was used to such abusive treatment however, having had a cross burned on his lawn more than once, as he supported Civil Rights laws. Like his father before him, however, he didn’t put up with corruption.

It is little known that in 1943, Dingell’s father submitted the first national healthcare proposal ever in the United States. The American Medical Association railed against it because the plan would have reduced its power.

Another surprising bit of information is that President Richard Nixon was a great advocate of environmentalism (only in the United States, of course), supporting the EPA and clean air and water legislation in 1970; this is curious, given Nixon’s track record in connection with the desecration of Vietnam.

Dingell played well with others, befriending even Republicans by going hunting with them for all kinds of animals (not the kind who showed up at his Town Hall meetings, though).

Read the book to learn more about Dingell and his views.

John Glenn, A Memoir

The Book of the Week is “John Glenn, A Memoir” by John Glenn With Nick Taylor, published in 1999.

Glenn was born in 1921 in a small town in eastern Ohio. At fifteen years old, he earned a driver’s license after taking the written and practical tests, as required by state law for anyone under eighteen. At that time, no tests were required for those over eighteen.

In spring 1941, Glenn availed himself of aviation lessons free of charge at his college, Muskingum in Ohio, where he majored in chemistry. Related academic subjects were mandatory too, such as physics. Wild about flying, he got his pilot’s license in less than three months. However, WWII interrupted his education. He joined the Navy in autumn 1942, then switched to the Marines because he thought he’d be flying the cutting-edge planes of the day.

In April 1943, Glenn married his high school sweetheart in a Presbyterian church. He drove his new bride to his next military assignment in a used black 1934 Chevy coupe. “…it seemed as if we had a flat [tire] about every ten miles. Gas was rationed, and to conserve it, we joined the other speedsters on the road, clipping along at forty miles per hour.”

Glenn became a war hero, executing numerous bombing runs in the South Pacific. After the war, due to his military career, he relocated frequently– to California, China, Guam. He was assigned various administrative and aviation positions, but was happiest when his job was piloting aircraft. He did some spying and taught flying instructors how to teach flight training.

Prop planes in the war had traveled at 300 miles per hour but in the 1950’s, jets in Corpus Christi, Texas were going double that. Glenn got a “green card” unrelated to immigration. It made pilots eligible to fly in the most severe weather conditions. Glenn’s ego and expertise in aviation prompted him to apply for the job of astronaut. He was one of seven lucky pilots chosen. The others were from the Air Force and the Navy.

In the late 1950’s, space exploration was in its infancy. There were infinite unknowns about what could happen in a rocket ship. The guinea pigs who were to occupy the capsule were therefore subjected to simulations– like letting their bodies be manipulated by the three axes of pitch, roll and yaw at thirty revolutions per minute– to practice regaining control of the ship if it was attacked by aliens. Or simply malfunctioned. Such an ordeal necessitated about a half hour of recovery from vertigo.

In February 1962, Glenn finally got his chance to circle the earth three times and collect scads of data. Unexpectedly, the heat shield in the capsule melted away in an orange fireball, and at the point of the shock wave, four feet from his back lurked heat of 9,500 degrees Fahrenheit, a little less scorching than the surface of the sun.

Contrary to popular myth, he was unhurt immediately after his famous flight. It was when he ran for the office of U.S. Senator from Ohio in 1964, that he hit his head on the edge of the bathtub while trying to repair the medicine cabinet in his bathroom.

Read the book to discover the fun subjects and skills Glenn had to learn in the rigorous training for the feat that made him famous; his other feats, and much more.

The Good Fight – BONUS POST

“The Good Fight, Hard Lessons From Searchlight to Washington” by Harry Reid, published in 2008 is an autobiography that describes the life of a man who suffered many hardships in his early years and has overcome much adversity.

Born in December 1939, Reid grew up in a limited environment in a small mining town– Searchlight– in Nevada. The area’s economy was based on mining and prostitution, not unlike Washington, D.C.

Reid’s father gravitated toward a career (gold mining) suitable for his personality–introverted loner. The author became a lawyer and U.S. senator. One issue that stuck in Reid’s craw was America’s continued involvement in President George W. Bush’s Iraq war which Bush started in 2003. Years later, when Reid was Senate Minority Leader, he visited Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld to try to convince him that the United States should withdraw troops from Iraq. Rumsfeld blew Reid off and treated the war like a joke.

When Reid and other politicians visited Iraq personally, they realized that the emperor really did have no clothes. General David Petraeus put on a show for them, exhibiting soldiers who were training Iraqis to fight on their own, similar to the way the late President Richard Nixon tried to implement “Vietnamization.”

In early 2006, the author and his fellow Democrats defeated an attempt by Bush to privatize Social Security. “We knew we had won when the White House simply stopped talking about it.”

Read the book to learn of Reid’s adventures as chair of the Nevada Gaming Commission starting in 1977, a few of his interesting law cases, and much more.

My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin

The Book of the Week is “My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin” published in 1964.

Born in 1889 in London, Chaplin had a traumatic childhood. Both his parents were vaudevillians, but his father had trouble with alcohol; and his mother, with her voice. Thus, they found themselves unemployed. Their relationship suffered, and they separated. Chaplin and his older brother lived with their mother in a hovel. Unsurprisingly, his father failed to pay alimony and child support. Chaplin was pushed by his mother onstage beginning when he was five years old.

A commune known as a “workhouse” took in the family. The mother crocheted lace cuffs and the kids attended school. After two weeks, they were transferred to a suburban workhouse. Boys at age eleven were conscripted. So Chaplin’s brother entered the Navy. His mother, however, suffered from mental illness, and was institutionalized. Chaplin went to live with his father in a London slum.

At nine years old, Chaplin showed a true talent and passion for performing. His father got him into a clog-dancing troupe. Later, he lied about his age to get hired by an acting troupe. He had natural ability to play comic characters.

In autumn 1911, Chaplin by chance got into the then-silent motion picture business (only musical sound tracks– no talking), replacing another actor in Hollywood. It was then he created his Tramp character. He was allowed to try his hand at directing and writing, although the bosses of that period were still clinging to their tired “Keystone Kops” scenarios of slapstick chases. His fresh approach that evoked an emotional response became wildly popular among American audiences. He immediately became a legend. Once he came into his own, his brother became his business manager.

“Fulfilling the Mutual [film company] contract I suppose, was the happiest period of my career. I was light and unencumbered, 27 years old, with fabulous prospects, and a friendly, glamorous world before me.” Chaplin and his friends Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford found out that the movie production companies were going to merge, lower the outrageous pay of actors, and take control away from them. So Chaplin et al formed their own production company, United Artists.

During a trip on W.R. Hearst’s yacht, the Hollywood director who had taken over Hearst’s film production company, had a heart attack. Chaplin wrote, “I was not present on that trip but Elinor Glyn, who was aboard…” told Chaplin about the episode. The ridiculous rumors regarding the director’s murder were false. “Hearst, Marion [Davies] and I went to see Ince [the director] at his home two weeks before he died.”

Read the book to learn a wealth of other details of Chaplin’s life, and why he moved to Switzerland with his family; get the explanation– straight from “the horse’s mouth.”

boys in the trees – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “boys in the trees (sic), A Memoir” by Carly Simon, published in 2015.

Born in 1945 in Manhattan, Simon grew up in a wealthy, dysfunctional family of four children. Her father was the co-founder of Simon and Schuster, the publishing giant. When Simon was eight years old, her 42 year-old mother acquired a boyfriend, in the guise of a 19 year-old babysitter for Simon’s younger brother. The family moved to Riverdale (the northwesternmost section of the Bronx in New York City) and summered on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The family hung out with the literary, political and musical celebrity crowd in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Simon found that music soothed her troubled soul. She became a stutterer at an early age, due to prepubescent sexual encounters with an older boy. Her uncle became a second father to her, as her biological father chose the younger of her two older sisters, as his favorite.

Simon was to have “… many difficult experiences with men in the music business.” When she was in her late teens, one or both of the men who helped her record her first song professionally, “… deliberately sabotaged the track; cutting it in the wrong key as payback for me not responding to their sexual advances.”

Nevertheless, Simon bragged about having sex with various big names; Jack Nicholson, Cat Stevens, Warren Beatty and Michael Crichton among them. She claimed that her song, “You’re So Vain” does not represent any one person. The original lyrics do say, “clouds in my coffee” and not “grounds in my coffee.”

Read the book to learn everything you ever wanted to know about Simon’s relationship with James Taylor, plus other information about her family and emotional states, through the time she had to cancel her concert series due to mental illness, in the early 1980’s. The book did not cover her career comeback.

Summing Up – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Summing Up, An Autobiography” by Yitzhak Shamir, published in 1994.

Born in 1915 in a very small town that was alternately Soviet and Polish territory, future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish. Although they were Zionists, his parents were active in the Bund, the recently founded non-religious, anti-Zionist Socialist party that attracted Eastern European Jews to its ranks.

At twenty years old, Shamir moved to Palestine. Over the next three decades, he served in three of the different militant underground groups/intelligence services fighting for the independence, and later, the continued existence, of a Jewish state in the world.

Shamir believed in practicing frontier justice– unlike Menachem Begin, who thought disputes should be settled through law courts. In March 1981, Shamir favored the preemptive Israeli bombing mission that took out the Iraq nuclear arms factory that Saddam Hussein built with the help of the French.

In June 1982, violence in Lebanon was already the status quo when Israel sought to eliminate the PLO once and for all in that bloodied nation. The civil war in Lebanon was a complicated affair with conflicts among Shiites, Sunnis, Maronites, Druze, Palestinians, Syrian troops and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

Amid the fighting, Lebanese terrorists massacred hundreds or thousands of people in two Palestinian refugee camps that were supposed to be guarded by the Israeli military. Even though Shamir was then-foreign minister of Israel, the way he was informed of the incident by his subordinates didn’t convince him that such violence was out of the ordinary.

Nevertheless, the media of various countries blamed  Israel for the deaths, and created an atmosphere ranging from “… outright lies to elaborate carelessness, from staged photographs of atrocities all the way to phoney (sic) interviews– just as long as the Jewish state and the IDF were besmirched.” Excuse the cliche, but there’s nothing new under the sun. A refugee crisis is not a new propaganda tool.

In August 1983, Prime Minister Begin resigned/retired. Perhaps the job was no longer fun for him. Due to a hotly contested election, Shamir was pushed into an arrangement with Shimon Peres whereby they each would serve about a three-year term as prime minister, leading their respective parties; the former, the Likud (conservative) party, and the latter, the Alignment party, whose collective name was the National Unity Government, between 1984 and 1990.

Shamir contended that the Arab nations had a double standard when it came to helping their allies– the Palestinians. Beginning in 1948, the Arab states wouldn’t take in Palestinian refugees, but instead, kept them in squalid camps for almost half a century “… solely for the anti-Israel propaganda benefits… thousands of children, who could have been rescued from their dreadful lives a hundred times over by the investment of a fraction of the Arab oil revenues and helped by the Arab rulers to relocate somewhere in the Arab world.”

On the other hand, through the decades, Israel has welcomed with open arms– as many as it could afford to accommodate– anyone who self-identified as Jewish and wanted to live there.

Anyway, read the book to learn of the ways that American Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton were actually anti-Israel, and of the actions of Israeli government officials (Shamir’s own countrymen!) that so distressed him in later years, and much more.