Where the Wind Leads/The Fox Hunt

The Books of the Week are “Where the Wind Leads, A Memoir” by Vinh Chung With Tim Downs, published in 2014; “The Fox Hunt, A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America” by Mohammed Al Samawi, published in 2018.

Both authors told suspenseful, extremely extreme, long, complicated refugee horror stories, in which they had great good luck on several occasions, and in which certain people took tremendous risks by providing the authors with invaluable assistance that saved their lives.

Born in South Vietnam in December 1975, the author of the former book helpfully, briefly described his homeland’s history three decades before his birth.

The author’s family was Chinese– neither enemies nor friends of the French, Viet Minh, or Khmer Rouge. However, in the 1940’s, the author’s father’s family’s house in the Mekong Delta had been burned to the ground twice, anyway. There was a higher risk of a Viet Minh invasion in the French territory farther north, where the family moved.

As is well known, in the mid-1950’s the French were militarily defeated by the Viet Minh– Communists– and kicked out of their colony Indochina in Southeast Asia. Thereafter, Vietnam was split into north and south. Different ethnic groups migrated toward the side where they numbered in the majority: Communists, north; Catholics and Buddhists, south.

The Khmer Rouge, comprised of Cambodians, continued to ally with the French for decades. By the late 1950’s, the author’s father had become a draft dodger, fleeing to Cambodia to avoid having to fight against the Viet Minh. In 1960, Ho Chi Minh’s militia, the National Liberation Front, was attempting to reunite North and South Vietnam. The Viet Minh was renamed Viet Cong by the United States.

Over decades, the author’s maternal grandmother began a rice-processing business that flourished. By the mid-1970’s, it had a couple of mills, a fleet of trucks, warehouses, etc. It actually benefited from America’s Vietnam War.

The family matriarch hired a matchmaker to marry off her son (the author’s father), born in 1937. He was still sowing his wild oats in his late twenties. Traditionally, both prospects’ families went on a date with the prospects. Then they saw a fortune teller.

The author’s mother was the daughter of a Chinese servant girl of a wealthy household. When she moved to her husband’s house, she had to shop daily for the fast-growing multi-generational household, because they didn’t have a refrigerator. But, since she was expected to become a baby-maker in addition to all of her other responsibilities– she was permitted to hire a teenage nanny with every additional child.

The author’s birth made five. Three more were quickly added, while the author’s father’s mistress had four. The two major philosophies of the family’s culture were filial piety and ancestor worship. Living in the South, their religion combined aspects of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. That changed when the Viet Cong attacked the Mekong Delta. The author’s family’s life was disrupted forever, as their business and real and personal property were stolen.

Due to the Vietnam government’s war against the Chinese that started in February 1979, the ever-growing Chung family became “boat people” in June. Read the book to learn of the family’s ordeal, adjustment to a brand new life, and the author’s explanation for what gave rise to his own extraordinary achievements.

Born in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen in 1986, the author of the latter book helpfully, briefly described the recent history of his homeland.

In 1987, a Sunni-Muslim group named the Muslim Brotherhood formed another group, Hamas. They were supported by Saudi Arabia, southern Yemen, Iraq and another group that formed later, Al Qaeda. Their enemies were Shia Muslims, who are the majority in Iran and northern Yemen.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the author’s Shia-Muslim family lived in a peaceful neighborhood in Sana’a in northern Yemen, where everyone got along fine. He had two older and two younger siblings. His parents were trained as medical doctors; his prominent father worked for a military hospital.

Al Samawi’s parents believed in education, but were extremely devout Muslims. So his parents were thrilled when, as an adolescent, he donated all his lunch money to the Muslim Brotherhood when the group (who were pushing pan-Arabism at the time) visited his private, well-funded grammar school.

However, the teachers preached nonstop hatred against Jews and Christians. The Quran was their authority on that. Besides, they said Hitler was a hero for killing Jews, and the Jews’ books were “dirty, amoral, sinful, impure, demonic.”

In 2000, TV propaganda in Yemen claimed that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Israel was ordering the killing of innocent Palestinians, such as a young boy (who became a poster boy to incite Yemen), for no reason. The haters ignited in most Yemenis additional hatred against the Jews and Israel’s backers, such as the United States.

Eight years later, the author thought he was falling in love at university. But his filial piety put the kibosh on that. His mother did a background check on his prospective girlfriend, and found she wasn’t good enough for her son, and given their situations, she was probably a gold digger. His father also pressured him to end the budding relationship, by offering him a car and a job if his parents could fulfill the traditional Muslim route of choosing a bride for him. He caved in to their browbeating.

However, the next chapter in the author’s life proved to be most educational. He met an inspirational British instructor at his English-language school. Surprisingly, the author’s parents were allowing their son to study English. Al Samawi and his teacher exchanged gifts (the Quran and the Bible, respectively) to try to proselytize the other one. Each dogmatically believed that his own religion was the only right one to practice, else they would go to hell upon their deaths. Then a funny thing happened.

The teacher horrified Al Samawi by telling him he’d been hoodwinked– Al Samawi had unknowingly been reading the (Jewish!) Old Testament, having started at the beginning of the book. The stories’ morals and precepts were largely similar to those in the Quran(!)

In the next several years, Al Samawi became sufficiently open-minded to try to clear up his own confusion between what he’d been taught by his parents and Yemen’s culture, and what he was learning on Facebook and from his jobs at cross-cultural peacemaking organizations and international aid organizations.

From the start of Yemen’s religious civil war in 2015, Al Samawi found himself in a life-threatening, harrowing situation for several months. In one particular instance, he wrote, “Thirty minutes later, I jumped in the back of the black sedan. I didn’t call my mom. I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t pay the hotel.”

Read the book to learn the details of how Al Samawi’s friends in high places went to extraordinary lengths to change his fate, through thrilling plot twists and turns.

I Should Be Dead By Now

The Book of the Week is “I Should Be Dead By Now, The Wild Life and Crazy Times of the NBA’s Greatest Rebounder of Modern Times” by Dennis Rodman With Jack Isenhour, originally published in 2005. Despite its sensationalist title, this slim volume somewhat repetitively, but in detail, gave good reasons for why the subject should be dead, in the form of an expletive-laden, extended reality-show monologue.

Rodman, a former professional basketball player, told a series of anecdotes about himself– the world’s biggest attention whore– that involved his professional and personal antics, love life, and his handlers– the people who tried to keep him safe.

Starting in the 1980’s, Rodman got the media’s attention with his dyed hair (various colors), cross-dressing, tattoos, piercings, makeup, etc. By the new millennium, thanks to his high-paying: athletic career, promotional gigs and celebrity appearances (notwithstanding his expensive on-off relationships), he owned a luxury apartment in Newport Beach, California. “Meanwhile, the parties grew bigger and bigger and the neighbors got madder and madder” about the noise.

In early 2003, Rodman did a reality show called “Rodman on the Rebound” on ESPN, but he wasn’t ready to return to the NBA. The show should have been called, “Rodman on the Rehab.” One reason why occurred in the autumn of 2003 shortly before the start of basketball season, when the Denver Nuggets had agreed to hire him after every team in the National Basketball Association had been scorning him for about three years.

One late night, as he did every night, at a strip club, Rodman consumed a vast quantity of alcohol; even for his six-foot, eight-inch frame. The members of his entourage had to pick their battles with him, as his risky behavior was constant but not always extreme or predictable. On a whim, in the wee hours of the morning, Rodman decided to fly to Las Vegas.

Once there, in the parking lot of another strip club, a stranger allowed Rodman, sans helmet, to ride a new motorcycle. Rodman attempted to do a wheelie. To his credit, he did not gloze over the unpleasant consequences. At the hospital, he claimed that he refused “Novocain.” Also, he hadn’t been wearing underwear, and his torn-up legs needed 70 stitches. There went his NBA-comeback opportunity. The media had initially given him his celebrity status, and had a field day highlighting his stupidity.

Rodman claimed that “… there are many things stats just don’t measure: … how well you can get in another guy’s head, and the number of Redheaded Sluts you can drink and still get it up– all categories in which Dennis Rodman excelled.”

Read the book to learn much more about guess who?

The Way Around

The Book of the Week is “The Way Around, Finding My Mother and Myself Among the Yanomami” by David Good, with Daniel Paisner, published in 2015.

The Yanomami is an indigenous, Amazon-rain-forest dwelling tribe in southern Venezuela near Brazil, who developed a reputation for hostility. The author dispelled that myth, while describing his unique experience, as a genetic member of the tribe.

Good’s father, an American from New Jersey, did anthropological fieldwork as a graduate student for about a decade, starting in 1975. Due to the loosely defined concept of marriage in the Yanomami culture, he had to decide whether or not to completely adopt the tribe’s lifestyle in order to continue to study them. He took the plunge. He ended up having three children, including the author, with his Yanomami wife.

However, the tribe’s ways are in an alternate universe, when compared with Americans’. Their lack of clothing alone would be considered primitive, never mind their low-tech, spare existence. The author wrote, “The women were all topless. Their faces were variously decorated with tribal markings; their noses, pierced with hii-hi sticks. The child was completely naked.”

The author’s father thought he would be able to move his immediate family away from his wife’s family in Venezuela in the late 1980’s, as he had a stronger desire to live in the United States. This created a cultural clash that led to a rather extreme consequence and psychological damage for all involved.

Read the book to learn how the author was affected by this adverse turn of events, and how he got through it.

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.

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.

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.