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.

Fire-Breathing Liberal

The Book of the Week is “Fire-Breathing Liberal” by Rep. Robert Wexler With David Fisher, published in 2008. This is a political career memoir that failed to list the sources of its facts and figures.

Nevertheless, Wexler credibly wrote mostly about how he eventually got elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat from Florida.  He was an attorney, but in 1987, decided to run for the office of Palm Beach County Commissioner in Florida. A lawyer in West Palm Beach offered his firm’s support to Wexler at a fund raiser at Mar-a-Lago– Donald Trump’s country club (but of course the implication was that Wexler would pass legislation favorable to the firm’s interests). Wexler’s opponent engaged in mudslinging by saying that Wexler was Donald Trump’s puppet. With that, the opponent won the election.

Two years later, older and wiser, Wexler ran for Florida state senator. He gave out pot holders as a promotional gift and won that election. He had learned that he needed to hire people with specialized skills sets and experience, such as a professional fund raiser, a pollster, a media adviser, a direct mail expert, a TV commercial producer, a campaign manager, etc.

The author also wrote about how the Republicans, especially Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay in 1994, were mean of spirit, petty and vengeful when they achieved a majority in Congress. They abused their considerable power by bullying fellow Representatives with whom they disagreed.

In 1996, even two years before Gingrich had sworn in Wexler as a Representative, Democrats had filed 76 ethics claims against Gingrich with the Ethics Committee. He was fined $300,000 for violations– the largest fine ever against a Speaker of the House.

After 9/11, the Democrats were tricked into initially favoring invading Iraq because reputable officials such as Colin Powell told them that it was necessary, implying that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Wexler, too, was fooled.

In September 2003, about six months into the war, Wexler asked Paul Bremer, Ambassador supervising the provisional government in Iraq at a hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Congress, how many Iraqis, civilians and soldiers had died since the president had declared the war. Bremer said he himself didn’t know. “Bremer’s complete disinterest in the human cost of the war on the Iraq side was telling… anyone who dared question or criticize the administration’s policy was attacked and smeared.”

According to Wexler, in 2003, the Republicans labeled a budget bill an “emergency measure.” This allowed them to reduce the time allotted to House members to read the bill, from 48 hours to 1 hour. The bill was 3,000 pages, and it involved the spending of $1 trillion.

As is well known, in 1998, former investigator Ken Starr spent more than a year poring over the intimate details of former President Bill Clinton’s sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky “like a desperate reporter for a tabloid newspaper.” Wexler argued vociferously against impeaching Clinton, saying, “Unlike Bill Clinton, George Bush and Dick Cheney have betrayed the country, not their wives.”

Another point in Wexler’s rant was the fact that during his public service career, Republicans had “… misused the political and legal systems for a decade… it was a vendetta. It was about gaining a political advantage no matter what the cost to the nation.”

Read the book to learn of numerous other instances of the immature, power-hungry behavior of Republicans and the nasty business of politics in general during the Bush administration, in which Wexler participated (he wasn’t just an observer, and he himself wasn’t entirely innocent of hypocrisy).

SIDENOTE: In connection with vendetta, it appears that, as payback against the Republicans for the 1990’s witch-hunts against Bill Clinton, the Democrats “investigated” Hillary’s actions, and decided she did nothing criminally wrong. Case closed.  The media are spewing the usual tabloid gossip, opinions and trivia on the overall political circus.

There is nothing new under the sun. Such tit-for-tat kindergarten nonsense has been the norm for CENTURIES in this nation.  Pox on everyone’s houses.

Abba Eban

The Book of the Week is “Abba Eban, An Autobiography” by Abba Eban, published in 1977.

Eban was born in South Africa in 1916. His biological father died when he was a baby. He, his older sister and mother moved to England shortly thereafter, and he got a stepfather, who was a medical doctor. He was under pressure from his grandfather to engage in scholarly pursuits until he was fourteen, when the latter died. Eban won a scholarship to study at Queens’ College, Cambridge. He took to the cause of Zionism while there.

Starting in the late 1930’s Eban used his then-marketable skills of writing and making speeches in an effort to convince Jews to help with the military defeat of Hitler. During the war, he worked in military intelligence. Once Germany’s genocidal threat had been eliminated, he helped the Jews claim their national rights through his employment at the Jewish Agency, first in London, then in New York City.

After the war, Great Britain gave up the Zionist cause. No one knew which group– 300,000 Arabs or 600,000 Jews– would populate the territory of Palestine. Even after the United Nations vote on September 1, 1947 on whether to grant sovereignty to Palestine  (renamed Israel), military action was required to prevent other peoples from ruling it. For, British troops agreed to leave on or before May 15, 1948, at which time, the Jews would be left to their own devices as to how to govern their binational State. In 1949, Israel was admitted to the United Nations.

In the autumn of 1959, the author and his growing family (whom he hardly ever saw) moved back to Washington D.C. to represent that city and Israel at the United Nations. His working hours were long and he was on call 24/7. He was required to travel internationally very frequently and sometimes unexpectedly, to make speeches and negotiate between and among various nations during crises, wars and geopolitical gatherings.

Eban described in detail, the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, among other serious episodes of multinational importance. He theorized that it resulted in increased power for French leader Charles de Gaulle but decreased power for Great Britain. Besides, “No nation except the United States could negotiate to help balance the power between the Arabs and the Israelis and the Arabs’ alliance with Soviet power.”

In the late 1960’s, Israeli homes got broadcast-television. Prior to its initiation, however, there were heated discussions among government officials as to content. One genre was to be educational shows hosted by teachers. Some people argued that the teachers needed to show proper religious reverence by wearing a yarmulke while on camera. Others pointed out that most of the teachers were women. One joker suggested a solution:  that the programs advise viewers to put a yarmulke on top of the TV set to comply with Jewish law.

Read the book to learn of the author’s adventures as a representative of the Knesset, president of the Weizmann Institute, government minister in various subject-areas, and global diplomat who took at least some of the blame or credit for Israel’s military actions.

Wait Till Next Year

The Book of the Week is “Wait Till Next Year” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, published in 1997.  This is the first portion of an autobiography of a New York female baseball fan who grew up in the suburb of Rockville Centre, Long Island in the 1940’s and ’50’s.

During the author’s childhood, there were three baseball teams in New York: the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and New York Yankees. Between 1949 and 1957 inclusive, one or another of these teams played in the World Series. The author’s father inspired in her a diehard Dodgers fandom. She was taught to keep score, and did so for every regular season game for years and years, starting in the late 1940’s. It was a time in history in which men played for their love of the game. The greats at that time included Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Peewee Reese, Gil Hodges, Enos Slaughter, Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, Allie Reynolds, Phil Rizzuto and many others.

Kearns Goodwin was raised as a Catholic, but attended public school. Nevertheless, the nuns struck fear in her heart in many ways, one of which was pressuring parishioners to refrain from entering any house of worship other than a Catholic one.  So when Campanella was coming to her area to speak at a non-Catholic church, she faced a moral dilemma. The priest reassured her that she would not be going to hell, because the event was not a religious service.

Baseball was so popular in the author’s community that in 1955, a radio broadcast of the seventh game of the Dodgers-Yankees World Series was piped through the public address system of her high school. The kids were willing to stay after school to hear it. Back in the day, World Series games were played in the afternoon. When the Dodgers won, thousands of people danced in the streets. The baseball players came back to a Brooklyn restaurant that evening for their victory dinner, interacting personally with fans without any security at all.

For the first twelve years of her life (before the neighborhood changed), Kearns Goodwin’s family was quite close with all of the different (white) families (of different religions) in her community. Their homes were as open to her as her own home.

Read the book to learn more about the author’s coming of age in a bygone era of baseball and Postwar suburbia.

Koop

The Book of the Week is “Koop, The Memoirs of America’s Family Doctor” by C. Everett Koop, M.D., published in 1991.

Koop grew up in Brooklyn, New York. In the late 1920’s, when he was in his teens, the operating rooms at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital had no security, so he pretended to be a medical student in order to watch surgeries. He snuck in, thanks to his next door neighbor, who worked there. In the late 1930’s, he began to realize that he was attending the medical school that had the right environment for him– the friendly and cooperative Cornell, rather than the arrogant and competitive Columbia.

Koop’s medical training was abbreviated due to a shortage of personnel during WWII, so that he was performing advanced procedures before he was truly ready to do so. Nevertheless, he had a tough, take-charge personality which stood him in good stead in the face of medical generalists who resented being crowded out when medicine underwent more and more specialization.

For decades, Koop was a pediatric surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In 1980, newly-elected President Reagan tapped him to be Surgeon General of the United States. The nomination and confirmation processes were rigorous, as Koop’s personal life-and-death beliefs were clearly favored by conservative Republicans but opposed by liberal Democrats.

Nevertheless, Koop became famous for his anti-smoking crusade. As might be recalled, he educated the American public on the dangers of, and influenced legislation on, smoking. He explicitly wrote: “Smoking is not only dangerous for the smoker, but also dangerous for the nonsmoker who inhales environmental tobacco smoke… [Such] passive smoking causes many diseases, including cancer.” He reported that more than 50% of adults in the United States smoked in 1964; in 1981, 33%. When he resigned as Surgeon General in 1989, that figure was just over 26%.

Read the book to learn of Koop’s adventures in college, in medicine, and as a political appointee.