A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin” by Kathy Griffin, published in 2009.

This memoir described the comedian whose shtick consisted of telling humorous, embarrassing stories about members of the entertainment industry. Or, as she characterized herself: “… someone who gets fired, stirs up trouble, and gets debated about on CNN for saying bad things on award shows.” Kudos to her for being an honest, amusing attention whore. She must have brought in sufficient profits for the entertainment industry to tolerate her behavior.

Born in November 1960 in Forest Park, Illinois, the youngest of five children, Griffin grew up in Oak Park, Illinois. At eighteen years old, she moved to Santa Monica, California to be an actress. She apparently had the talent, drive and creativity to get famous.

In the early 2000’s, Griffin performed sufficiently well at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles to double the length of her show to two hours. This allowed the cocktail waitresses to make sufficient money to pay their rent, “Plus they loved serving the gays, because they were well-dressed, respectful and tipped well.”

Griffin didn’t talk about Anna Nicole Smith right after she died out of respect. As Greg Giraldo would have said, “Too soon, too soon.” Griffin revealed deeply personal information– both of her parents were functional alcoholics, and her oldest brother was a pedophile and substance abuser.

Griffin tried to raise the alarm about her brother, but, as she joked– her parents thought “denial” was a river in Egypt. She admitted to two major errors in her life– poor judgment in both her marriage and in having liposuction. Read the book to learn the details of this and other episodes.

SERIOUS ENDNOTE: Griffin had no qualms about making political statements unrelated to the awards shows she attended. It is therefore not inappropriate to make a political statement unrelated to Griffin’s book, below.

This nation seems to be in denial about the amount of debt load currently carried by not only individuals and businesses, but by the federal government and local governments. It appears that bankruptcies of government entities is the next financial crisis in the offing; the reason why, will be explained shortly.

Within the last thirty or so years alone, the United States has seen greed fests and then busts with regard to junk bonds, savings and loan associations, derivatives, tech stocks, and subprime mortgages, just to name a few. Mortgage-backed securities used to be one of the lowest-risk investments around. Tax-free municipal bonds are presumably still one of the lowest-risk investments around.

BUT one small bond brokerage (and possibly others, too) whose website says it “specialize[s] in tax-free municipal bonds. That’s all we do.” recently changed the language on its customers’ monthly statements. It is forcing them to accept the words, “trading & speculation” (!) for their “Investment objective/Risk tolerance” or else they won’t be able to purchase bonds. It makes itself sound like a penny-stock broker-dealer of the 1980’s that churns accounts. Or a currency broker.

The brokerage is so phobic about covering itself legally that there must be bond issuers who are going to go belly up AFTER THE CURRENT PRESIDENT HAS BEEN REELECTED or has left office, whenever that is. (It might be recalled that Detroit took the plunge in July 2013, after Obama was reelected.) Or its brokers are getting greedy and unscrupulous. Or both. Good luck with that, all.

Shoe Dog

The Book of the Week is “Shoe Dog, A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” by Phil Knight, published in 2016.

Born in 1938 in Portland Oregon, Knight showed irrepressible passion and optimism through years and years of financial losses. He got seed money from his father, and moral support from his mother.

By his mid-twenties, Knight possessed a quality education but still needed to find himself. He did some international traveling with a friend. He learned that Japan made running shoes he could import and sell in the U.S. So in 1964, he partnered with his college track coach– a legend in his social circle- to start a business. At that time, “running wasn’t even a sport.”

Even though he was a pioneer in an evolving industry, he returned to school to become a Certified Public Accountant, just in case the sneaker gig didn’t pan out. He was working around the clock at a full-time accounting job, and nurturing his shoe business. He and later, his employees, personally drove to track meets of schools in western states to meet and sell sneakers to scores of people– coaches, runners, fans.

Banks lending money to businesses at the time did not provide revolving credit facilities– they expected to see solvency. Knight believed in reinvesting every penny of profit into the business– thus generating an endless debt cycle.

He would borrow to purchase more sneakers, sell them, then repeat the process. He had to have competitive sales prices for his products; else they wouldn’t sell against Puma and Adidas. But they were selling like hotcakes. Starting in the mid-1960’s, before he rented a warehouse, he stored the shoes, floor to ceiling, in his bachelor pad. The business was initially named Blue Ribbon and the first shoe model was named Tiger.

At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, eleven Israelis were killed in a terrorist attack. The nation was again mourning yet more deaths, in addition to those of previous years– the Kennedys, Martin Luther King Jr., the Kent State University students, and of course, the tens of thousands in Vietnam. “Ours was a difficult, death-drenched age, and at least once every day you were forced to ask yourself: What’s the point?”

By 1976, Knight had changed his business’s name to Nike Inc. and had factories in New England, Puerto Rico and Taiwan. Unsurprisingly, his family life took a backseat to his workaholic lifestyle.

Read the book to learn of Knight’s interactions with his business partners and their personalities, and the million worries he faced every day in running his business, including products, manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, advertising, retailing, and dealing with lenders, employees, counterfeit goods, etc., etc. etc.; plus, what prompted him to take the company public.

A Good Fight – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “A Good Fight” by Sarah Brady With Merrill McLoughlin, published in 2002. This is the autobiography of a secondary victim of firearms-violence turned gun-control activist in the United States.

Sarah’s husband, Jim, had just begun to serve as press secretary for President Ronald Reagan. In March 1981, Jim was caught in the crossfire– shot in the head– in the assassination attempt on Reagan. Jim required extensive medical care, having sustained brain damage that resulted in paralysis of his legs and other ongoing quality-of-life complications.

What sparked an interest in gun-control advocacy in Sarah Brady, a lifelong Republican, was an incident during the summer of 1985 involving the cavalier attitude of adults in her husband’s hometown (Centralia, IL) about firearms. People had guns casually lying around, giving children easy (accidental, but deadly) access. Of course, adults, too, who get a gun can kill someone. It is harder if they don’t have a gun.

Reagan’s would-be assassin might have been denied access to his .22 caliber weapon if the-then gun laws had required a background check on him. When he bought it in a pawn shop in Dallas, he gave a fake address and showed an outdated Texas driver’s license.

The 1968 Gun Control Act was rendered useless when gun makers found a loophole in it. Importing of “Saturday night specials” was banned, but importing of their parts wasn’t. So the guns were assembled upon arrival at the factory and sold in this country.

Sarah initially volunteered to help a nonprofit group called Handgun Control, which pushed for gun-control legislation. In 1986, it put forth the Brady Bill, which would close the loopholes in the existing laws and  require background checks on gun buyers. It did not try to ban anyone from buying or possessing firearms altogether. State laws diverged significantly in working on gun control legislation, due to pressures imposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other groups.

Sarah explicitly wrote that she wasn’t pushing to eliminate the Second Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights. She began speech-making at universities, city clubs and civic organizations.

In 1988, Handgun Control successfully lobbied to ban (non-metal) handguns able to fool metal detectors at airports. The group received invaluable assistance from Senator Nancy Kassebaum, Republican from Kansas. Sarah mentioned various other politicians, helpful and obstructionist. The vast majority showed her minimum courtesy by returning her telephone calls. Not then-Congressman Dick Cheney from Wyoming. Never.

George H.W. Bush claimed that he “so admired” the work Handgun Control was doing. However, a major campaign donor of his, the NRA, prevented him from acting on that sentiment to support the Brady Bill in any way, shape or form in 1989, when it still had yet to pass Congress.

Sarah delivered a speech at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Childish, vicious hecklers with poor impulse control shouted her down, screaming “Liar, liar!!!” Law enforcement officers did nothing to eject them, but had semi-automatic weapons at the ready– in case they got violent. And people wonder why there are so many shooting sprees in the United States.

One small way that shooting sprees could possibly be reduced would be to regulate hate speech and threats on social media. If, pursuant to a legal definition of “hate speech” and “threats” the perpetrators of hate speech and threats could be not only banned, but deemed to be breaking the law (if they mention weaponry in their messages)– then law enforcement would have probable cause to obtain a warrant to search their homes and workplaces for weaponry that is unlicensed or was obtained through dishonest means. Thus, if executed carefully, such a chain of events wouldn’t be a Fourth Amendment violation. It is unclear at this time whether this would be a Federal or State matter.

Read the book to learn why 1994 was a banner year for gun-control advocates, about disputes on concealed weapons, about a 1997 ruling of the U. S. Supreme Court, why a background check on American gun buyers in almost half of the states is not really thorough, and much more about Sarah.

Twenty Chickens For A Saddle

The Book of the Week is “Twenty Chickens For A Saddle” by Robyn Scott, published in 2008. This autobiography described people who chose an adventurous lifestyle over one of comfort, safety and convention.

Botswana was a peaceful, well-fed nation, thanks to the government’s policy of designating more than three-quarters of the country as tribal trust land. It was a demilitarized zone where anyone could graze their animals.

In late 1987, the author’s parents decided to move with their two daughters and son from New Zealand to a rural area in Botswana. The author was the oldest, at seven. The father had been a homeopathic doctor but became a physician at five different government-run clinics (only one of which had a telephone; none had electricity and running water), flying to them by light plane on different days. The mother was a home-schooling mom.

The family fixed up a long-abandoned cowshed for their residence. They lived close to the father’s father– a colorful character– and his second wife; some miles away from an abandoned nickel/copper mine. He helped with their education– teaching them Latin names of all sorts of flora and fauna. For the most part, life-threatening dangers and primitive conditions abounded. There were heat, mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, HIV, wild horses and machine parts such as detonators that were supposed to be illegal. The kids did, however, take ballet and tennis lessons in town. And they had a home library. They even had a zipline over their swimming pool with a slide.

While the mother recovered from a medical problem, the author and her younger brother attended a free primary school for a term. Its student body was mostly white people; the government-run school that charged a fee was farther away and was mostly black people. Girls began school at six years old, while boys who had cow-herding to do, started at eight or nine.

The author loved the structure of a classroom, and the competition for gold stars.  Her mother inspired a love of learning, but had a free-for-all curriculum and no government supervision whatsoever.

The author joined what would be equivalent to the Brownies in the United States; her brother joined the Cub Scouts. At term’s end, the kids returned to home-schooling. When they reached their early teens, they did self-directed projects for a New Zealand correspondence course in agriculture, architecture and transport. Then they entered boarding school. The author attended a Dominican convent school in Zimbabwe.

The author described the daily trials and tribulations her father encountered in seeing patients, as Botswanans believe in ancestor worship and witchcraft. He had an even tougher time beginning in the early 1990’s, when the AIDS crisis hit the nation.

At that time, the family moved to a nicer property, but it was near the border with South Africa. There was a block association of sorts, which had racist policies– “Newcomers mustn’t offer higher wages to their black servants, or else all the Tuli Block farmers would have to pay the price. Livelihoods might be ruined!” Most of the farmers had large plots of land and hundreds of heads of cattle.

Read the book to learn many more details of the author’s unique experiences and her entrepreneurial endeavors.

Frank

The Book of the Week is “Frank, A Life in Politics From the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage” by Barney Frank, published in 2015.

Born in 1940, Frank grew up in New Jersey. By the early 1970’s, he found himself becoming a career politician. Along the way, he earned a law degree and realized that he possessed the kinds of skills required for leadership in government.

Frank learned many lessons, including that “…[Republican president Richard] Nixon proposed policy changes in health care and welfare that Congressional Democrats rejected as too conservative, only to settle for less years later.” In other words, a partial victory that arises through compromise and playing well with others is better than no victory at all via an attempt to pass comprehensive legislation.

Frank considered himself a civil libertarian in that he favored pornography and prostitution in limited circumstances, and legalizing marijuana and abortion. Yet, he also argued for gun control, strong environmental laws, unions, gay rights and racial integration.

In previous decades, the Republicans were better than Democrats at pressuring their Congresspeople to adopt their political agenda. They continue to accomplish this with front groups which appear to be grass-roots movements secretly funded by special-interest, big-money campaign donors.

Those groups of “concerned voters” flood the media and Internet with misleading, emotionally charged stories and ads– persuasive messages which have been screamed louder and longer than the Democrats’. These smear campaigns have used angry, mean, petty people to target political enemies such as Frank.

The Democratic voters (people who are actual members of grass-roots movements) have historically attended rallies, marches and protests. Usually, to no avail. But the Democrats have caught up and learned to use those sleazy (yet successful) tactics, and have been just as retaliatory of late.

Politics (on BOTH sides) has become one big, abusive hierarchy of vengeful cliques with a few troublemakers– the leaders– acting like teenagers, or sometimes even kindergarteners; this, characterized by social manipulation, bullying, poor impulse control, shameless hypocrisy and narcissistic attention whoredom.

The media are their accomplices, egging them on, and behaving just as immaturely. Some media outlets would have their audiences believe there are an alarming number of morons and nutcases everywhere spreading stupidity. Yes, and it takes one to know one. Lots of pots calling kettles black out there. More airtime than ever is wasted on cutting people down and blaming them for the collapse of modern civilization.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. All parties have to relearn that two wrongs don’t make a right, and an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

In 1989, Frank fought fire with fire when childish Republicans put out a vicious rumor that he was gay. The point was– this is what angry, mean, petty people do to take a swipe at an easy target, sow dissent– regardless of whether it was true or not. He told the press that he would reveal the names of all Republicans who were closeted gays if they ever tried that again. They apologized, because, fortunately, Frank had sufficient power to strike back at them.

In the early 1990’s, Frank pushed for equal rights for gays in the military in a proposal. President Bill Clinton modified it in a way that created a double standard, and it was named “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Under DADT, if gay servicemen were caught off-duty engaging in any activity indicating their sexual orientation– from electronic communications to sodomy to same-sex dating to simply entering a gay bar– they would be in trouble. When DADT took effect, members of the LGBT community were spied on and punished.

Read the book to learn how the (preventable) 2008 subprime mortgage crisis was spawned by specific people in power such as John Hawke, Sue Kelly, Alan Greenspan, Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, the House GOP leadership, and most of the GOP– in an excellent, concise, specific explanation for laypeople; and other difficulties Frank faced in doing his job.

A Lawyer’s Life – BONUS POST

The Book of the Week is “A Lawyer’s Life” by Johnnie Cochran With David Fisher, published in 2002. This is obviously the autobiography of Johnnie Cochran, of O.J. Simpson defense-attorney fame.

Born in 1938, he grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana and Los Angeles, California. Cochran never saw a piece of legal business he didn’t like. He was passionate about the law, handling or assisting with, cases of various practice areas. He conveniently forgot to mention that he wasn’t licensed to practice law in New York State or other states, so he glozed over that by saying he preferred to work with a legal team. He described a number of non-California litigation cases where he was asked to join the team– slap his sensational name on a case– merely for publicity purposes, to scare the opposition. He explicitly stated, “…the one thing I bring to every case in which I get involved is the media.”

When he started practicing law in the 1960’s, the system was rife with discrimination against poor people, who happened to not have light-colored skin. He wrote of those days (sarcastically), “Apparently, the police have an amazing ability to arrest only guilty people, they never make a mistake.”

Cochran was extremely busy after the Watts Riots in California in the mid-1960’s, and again after the South Central Los Angeles riots in the spring of 1992.

For three years, starting in 1997, Cochran was host or co-host of a show on Court TV out of New York that discussed legal issues. Some of the time, he read from a TelePrompTer like everyone else. Concurrent with that, he was helping to represent black plaintiffs who were victims of racial incidents in the city.

The then-mayor Rudy Giuliani tried to sweep police-brutality complaints under the rug. However, the Abner Louima case was too egregious to ignore, so he appointed a committee to research police brutality. A year later when its report was issued, he made excuses as to why no recommendations could be implemented. “Rudy Giuliani stayed as far away as possible from this case.” Further, “Most members of New York’s minority community did not believe the mayor ever acted in their interests.”

Cochran made a couple of rather naive statements showing his lack of historical knowledge; first, saying that the O.J. Simpson trial “… had created… law as entertainment.” and second, saying of the Latrell Sprewell case, “It was an ugly incident, and there had never been anything like it in sports.”

One tyro error to which Cochran admitted was a legal case in Buffalo, New York. He expressed his displeasure with the nature of the jury. Of course, the media twisted his words and the jury wasn’t sequestered. There was a chance that a newspaper headline had tainted the jury, but fortunately, nothing came of it.

Read the book to learn the details of diverse cases with which Cochran was involved. His goal was not only to make maximum money for himself and his client, but according to him, to effect change in a court/political/social system that made racial discrimination possible.

The Long Game

The Book of the Week is “The Long Game” by (Senator) Mitch McConnell, published in 2016. This is the autobiography of a Republeral (Republican Liberal).

Born in 1942 in Alabama, McConnell survived polio when he was a toddler, thanks to his mother’s endless patience in treating him with prescribed exercises. His father fought in WWII. He spent his later formative years in Georgia and Kentucky.

Although he acquired a law degree, McConnell disliked practicing law. Aspiring to a political career, he had already been elected to leadership positions in high school and college. In 1997 in Louisville, Kentucky, when he ran for a Jefferson County judgeship, he promised to eliminate corruption and patronage among the Democrats.

Instead of elaborating on whether he actually fulfilled those promises, the author admitted that he glad-handed every voter in Kentucky in order to prepare to run for a higher elected office– Republican U.S. Senator. This book had zero about what he did in his two terms as a judge.

In 1984, during McConnell’s Senate race, he hired Roger Ailes, who produced ads that humorously cast aspersions on his opponent. When the opponent ran radio ads, he responded in kind with equal air time. Money was no object. His miraculous comeback resulted in a victory by 5,100 votes– 1 vote per district. The recount took two weeks.

McConnell’s stances on numerous issues were incongruous with his party (Republican). He took a Liberal stance when he voted in favor of economic sanctions against South Africa and in favor of free speech issues, even when it came to flag-burning.

McConnell opposed campaign finance reform, but offered an invalid argument against it. He reasoned that the (illusory) Liberal media bias was so strong that limiting “soft” money political donations would limit a candidate’s ability to purchase equal media time for issue ads appearing in a liberal media outlet. However, soft money donations are fungible— not always spent on ads.

The author’s second wife was a Chinese overachiever. In the summer of 2000, she delivered a speech about her experience as an immigrant, and agreed with “… [George W.] Bush’s belief that immigration is not a problem to be solved, but a sign of the continuing appeal of the American dream.” This viewpoint is not usually held by Republicans.

McConnell could not have been clearer about his hero-worship for George W. Bush. One line went, “I think George W. Bush was an outstanding wartime president.” To push the point, the author made outrageously, ridiculously dishonest statements about the war the president started in Iraq; two included: “Morale was very high– among both our troops and the citizens of Iraq.” and “There was simply no question that on the military and tactical levels, the [General David] Petraeus plan had been a tremendous success…” According to most Americans and even government officials, the war actually turned out to be another Vietnam.

Senator McConnell could not get enough of George W. Bush’s Republican Conservative cronyism. He resoundingly voted yea for the president’s alleged deficit reduction bill that imposed austerity on Medicaid, Medicare and farm subsidies, an energy bill, and legislation relating to the Alternative Minimum Tax. The senator wrote that when the economy crashed in 2008, prompting bailouts for only the financial institutions with friends in the Treasury Department– “We had saved the economy from complete peril (and in fact the money given away through TARP has since been repaid with interest).” Was the money a loan or was it given away?

Yet one more head-shaker in McConnell’s book mentioned how, in 2008, when the nation chose Obama as its next president, the author was thrilled that it had elected an African American. Yet he also characterized the new leader as a great speaker, but a poor negotiator, condescending, and a critical lecturer in meetings. Vice President Joe Biden, on the other hand, was honest in expressing his side’s goals and was willing to compromise without offending his counterpart.

The legislation that eventually became Obamacare needed to contain a vast quantity of “pork” or else the Democrats couldn’t have gotten even a sufficient number of their own Congress members to vote for it. Further, McConnell complained bitterly that in 2014, Harry Reid had changed the rules of the Senate to favor the Democrats. In the mid-1990’s, Republicans owned Congress and treated it as their personal fiefdom. Excuse the cliche, but “Turnabout is fair play.”

Read the book to learn of McConnell’s scholarship program at the University of Louisville, and how he finally reached the peak of his career (with the help of two traits– patience and perseverance), despite other crazy contradictions in his words and actions.

Ethel Merman, An Autobiography

The Book of the Week is “Ethel Merman, An Autobiography” with George Eells, published in 1978.

Born in 1912 in Astoria (a section of Queens in New York City), Ethel Merman started singing when she was five years old. Her parents encouraged her to do so. By the tail end of the 1920’s, she had acquired stenography/shorthand training and had become a secretary, just in case the show business thing didn’t work out.

Working full-time during the day, and singing in dives at night and on weekends, Merman was extremely lucky to be “discovered” in a matter of a few years. She got herself an agent and was off and running. She played in big-name clubs, movie venues and vaudeville theaters in and around New York City– doing five shows a day at the Brooklyn Paramount. She got to meet celebrities like singer Guy Lombardo and composer George Gershwin. She sang in the musical “Girl Crazy” on Broadway.

Merman never had singing lessons or a vocal coach; she was just a natural. Early on, Ginger Rogers got paid $1,500 a week, while Merman got $375. For a number of years, Merman moved back and forth between Los Angeles to make movies, and New York City to appear in Broadway musicals.

In the 1930’s, Broadway musicals thrived. The culture was such that “Nobody worried whether it [a song] fit logically into the score, and the successful songwriters thought more about reaching the top of the Hit Parade than integrating the song into the story.” She played Annie in “Annie Get Your Gun” eight times a week for two years between 1945 and 1946.

The one beef Merman had about her fabulous career, though, was the media’s intrusion into her private life. Read the book to learn the details of her almost instantaneous and long-lived success, her psychologically troubled love life, and much more.

Clinton and Me

The Book of the Week is “Clinton and Me, A Real Life Political Comedy” by Mark Katz, published in 2003. This is the engaging story of how an incurable wiseass used his comedic talent and skills in the political arena.

Born in 1963 in Brooklyn, the precocious author received a political education in his formative years, thanks to the Watergate hearings. He was a class clown in school, no doubt. Careerwise, he began as a low-level staffer for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Next he cut his teeth as an unpaid volunteer on the Mike Dukakis presidential campaign. “My year on the Dukakis campaign sensitized me to the outrageous, insidious and coded tactics…[of evil, mudslinging political consultants]” Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. Katz then did a stint copywriting in general advertising prior to the advent of the World Wide Web.

Finally, the author parlayed this foundation into a relatively brief but rewarding set of adventures writing jokes contained in speeches for President Bill Clinton. Read the book to learn the lessons the author learned, in making a living for a politician soliciting laughs.