Father Son & Co.

The Book of the Week is “Father Son & Co., My Life at IBM and Beyond” by Thomas J. Watson Jr. and Peter Petre, published in 1990.

Curiously, the word “mainframe” never appeared in this volume. Not even once.

Born in 1914, Watson Jr. (hereinafter referred to as “Jr.”), who grew up in Short Hills, New Jersey, was the oldest of four siblings. His father (Watson Sr., hereinafter referred to as “Sr.”), who played well with others, executed a financial turnaround of Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (renamed IBM in 1924).

Sr. instituted a corporate culture of “investiture socialization”– training, educating, and fostering cooperation among employees and rewarding them for performing well. They had air-conditioned offices and factories (rare for the 1930’s) in Endicott, in upstate New York. Their corporate campus afforded them the use of a country club that offered free concerts, a dining room, two golf courses, a shooting range, and library.

Top management encouraged even the lowest-level workers to make suggestions for improving working conditions. On one occasion, an anonymous complaint that reached Sr.’s desk alleged that a heating system in a plant was being renovated too early in spring, making the work environment freezing, and there was one toilet for fifty employees. Jr. was sent to personally investigate. He wrote that he began remedying the situation within one day.

The first half of the twentieth century is obviously a bygone era in employment. The non-union IBM was competing with other employers that provided labor-union: benefits, compensation and job security for their workers.

Sr. was practically the only corporate executive in America in the Depression years who agreed with FDR’s policies. One hard and fast rule under the “cult of personality” which Sr. developed, was that alcohol was prohibited in all IBM offices at all times, including lunchtime off-campus, and even special occasions.

IBM initially sold scales and meat slicers business-to-business, but switched to leasing of, and tech support for, electric typewriters and punch-card machines. That last product automated all accounting functions and processing of sales data.

In 1940, Sr. testified at a Congressional hearing on “technological unemployment”– the unfortunate, economically adverse situation in which people are thrown out of work when processes get automated. Sr. argued that his company was good for the economy, as it stimulated consumerism.

During WWII, IBM contracted with the War Department to manufacture machine guns, and keep tabs on a slew of battle-related statistics: “… bombing results, casualties, prisoners, displaced persons, and supplies.”

IBM found that the most cost-effective way to run its international business through its subsidiary, World Trade, was to assemble machine-parts in various countries so as to force interdependence among them and share the wealth. Immediately after WWII, though, there were disastrous financial losses in Europe especially, until infrastructure could be rebuilt.

By then, the company had about 22,000 employees, most of whom worshipped Sr. His photo hung on the walls of their offices. Nevertheless, at the time, he was smart enough to listen to IBM’s vice president of engineering. The latter was virtually the only manager who had the foresight to raise the alarm early, on the coming obsolescence of the medium of punch-cards, which took up scads of storage space but allowed instantaneous data-viewing. The technologically superior, compact medium of magnetic tape stored data which were invisible until viewed on a monitor. It was unclear how long the transition from punch-card to tape would take, but entrepreneurs were already making inroads on the extremely expensive experimentation required.

In the 1950’s, the U.S. government commissioned IBM and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to do a joint defense project called SAGE. In 1957, the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik showed SAGE to be “… a costly fantasy, the SDI of its day. Before long, we found ourselves vastly overarmed, faced with the danger of mutual annihilation.”

In 1967, in the wake of racial tensions in America, IBM built a plant in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York City. It was part of a social program that was modestly successful; suggested by a task force comprised of white business leaders who assisted a black community board with economic development.

The author admitted that IBM had become a monopoly of sorts by the 1970’s. “The [anti-trust case against IBM] dragged on for twelve years, until the Reagan administration finally dropped it in 1981… the natural forces of technology etched away whatever monopoly we may have had.”

Read the book to learn about the role played by IBM with regard to other major negative and positive economic trends driving America over the course of more than half a century, plus more biographical information on the author and his family.

ENDNOTE: Alarmists on both sides of the economic spectrum shouldn’t have nearly as much fodder with which to propagandize, if they heed the lessons from this book, lessons that smack of deju vu all over again :

  • Some people might say Moore’s Law has run its course in the United States (See the post, “Moore’s Law / Elon Musk”).
  • Microsoft learned the most lucrative lessons from IBM in preparing its own legal defense against the Justice Department’s antitrust accusations.
  • The national healthcare system of the United States can only improve in the coming decades– eliminating one major cost for employers that was seriously hampering their bottom line.
  • The way IBM began to do business internationally decades ago, is still in existence. And
  • supply and demand will compel Americans to find solutions to seemingly overwhelming problems, such as those relating to energy, environmentalism and education.

Of course, there will always be leaders who, grateful for term limits, lacking courage– adopt the attitude of the character Linus in the “Peanuts” comic strip: No problem is ever so big or so complicated that it can’t be run away from.

Educated – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Educated, a Memoir” by Tara Westover, published in 2018.

This was an emotionally jarring autobiography of a female whose dysfunctional family members were the major influences in her life. Born in 1986 in rural Idaho, the author was the youngest of seven children. Her father– a fanatically religious Mormon– home-schooled his children, asserting that public school would brainwash them. The author’s mother taught her basic reading and math, but little else academically. Three of her older brothers rebelled, and left home as soon as they could. One of those– who had a thirst for knowledge– worked his way through college, and inspired the author to do so.

Morbid curiosity will keep the reader in suspense throughout this ghastly book that recounts a series of life-threatening injuries, traumatic and violent scenes of family strife, interspersed with anecdotes that spur the reader to cheer the author on during her journey toward self-awareness, healing and profound insights about her life and her family members. Read the book to learn all about it.

ENDNOTE: It took the above author a long, long time. Just as when someone has a lifelong dream, it isn’t usually achieved immediately. He or she is not going to change their mind about it. They’re going to pursue it relentlessly. In an ideal world, the one who prepares for it properly deserves to get it more than others. However, in the world of United States politics, an infinite number of factors complicate the process.

The Truths We Hold

The Book of the Week is “The Truths We Hold, An American Journey” by Kamala Harris, published in 2019. This autobiography comes from yet another female in politics who deserves bragging rights. Her passion for justice and common-sense, early-intervention approaches to helping at-risk populations has made a difference in countless lives.

Born in Oakland, California in 1964, the author considers herself “black” although her father was from Jamaica and her mother, from India. Her parents divorced when she was five. She, her mother and younger sister moved to Montreal when she was twelve.

Harris acquired the power to put someone behind bars simply by signing a document, when she became a prosecutor in Berkeley, California. Upon getting elected district attorney in San Francisco, she co-founded a program– Back On Track– that helped first-time law-breakers escape the poverty cycle by helping themselves through: job training, community service, classes that taught GED tutoring and parenting and money management, and drug testing and counseling.

For the first two years of Back On Track’s existence, the recidivism rate among first offenders dropped from 50% to 10%. That turned out to be far less expensive than prosecuting and jailing or imprisoning such people. The program was duplicated in Los Angeles.

In 2010, at a little after 10PM on election night, the San Francisco Chronicle announced the alleged elected attorney-general of California. As is well known, though, newspapers are hugely influential and wrong all the time. But election coverage especially, is emotionally charged. At 11PM, Harris’s opponent, thinking he was the winner, gave an acceptance speech. Weeks later, Harris won the race.

Harris’s was the first state to implement the mandatory use of body cameras for its law enforcement agents. On a different issue, the attorneys general of all fifty states were involved in settlement talks for the subprime mortgage crisis. The big banks were offering literally– a little bit of compensation proportional to the disastrous losses of the residents of respective states, who were behind on their mortgages. Even reasonable reimbursement would not make anyone whole again because bad loans led to adverse subsequent events: joblessness, homelessness, relocations, major life disruptions, suicides.

California had had the highest number of foreclosures of any state (and various victims– not just homeowners– had red ink in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the aggregate). By rejecting the banks’ initial, insulting offer– Harris infuriated both the banks, and most other states’ negotiators. But she inspired grass-roots organizers of homeowners, activists and advocacy groups to push for “…justice for millions of people who needed and deserved help.”

Read the book to learn about: the exciting conclusion of California’s mortgage negotiations saga; Harris’ opinions and actual professional doings in connection with major modern social issues such as immigration and healthcare, and her mother’s cancer care– along with other personal information.

ENDNOTE: Unfortunately, Harris’ running mate, Joe Biden, appears to be less sharp than she is at this time. Here’s a parody that briefly describes his woes:

LAWYERS, LAWYERS AND LAWYERS

sung to the tune of “Lawyers, Guns and Money” with apologies to the Estate of Warren Zevon.

I served some global patrons

the way I always do.

How was I to know, they were with the Russians, too?

I was caught on video bragging.

I hope you take my case.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

I’m trying to save some face. Hah!

I’m an innocent candidate,

but somehow I got caught.

Now I’ve been betrayed

by those who have been bought.

Yes, those who have been bought.

Well, those who have been bought.

Now I’m hiding in my basement.

I hope to stay in the race.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Save me from disgrace.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers. Hah!

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers. Ow!

Close Encounters

“… the network executives he would be contacting were apt to regard him as a headline-seeking troublemaker who could not be trusted to behave with dignity and discretion.”

The above was written about Mike Wallace in the early 1960’s.

The Book of the Week is “Close Encounters, Mike Wallace’s Own Story” by Mike Wallace & Gary Paul Gates, published in 1984.

Born in 1918, Wallace grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. As have countless others on the idiot box before and since, he made a career of sitting in judgment of others, so of course, it was impossible for him not to be a hypocrite. Like the folks whom he caught behaving dishonestly, he and his employer-broadcasters had their share of legal kerfuffles.

In spring 1957, Wallace hosted a hard-hitting live TV-interview show called “The Mike Wallace Interview” on ABC. Organized-crime figure Mickey Cohen– a guest on the show– slandered the then-chief of police of Los Angeles, saying he was corrupt. The chief sued ABC. As a result, during the show’s airing, the court required that an attorney hold up cue cards indicating when Wallace’s questions were becoming too controversial. Wallace commented, “Like a baby with its bib and a dog with its leash, I was judged to be in need of a legal teleprompter.”

At the end of 1957, as a result of one of Wallace’s countless minor TV-journalism scandals– involving the Kennedy family– the funding source of his show changed to the Ford Foundation. The show got a new name, “Survival and Freedom” and a more educational format. Unsurprisingly, it became boring.

In the autumn of 1962, Wallace decided to give up lucrative jobs: a) hosting entertainment-oriented radio and TV broadcasts that reported on trivial slice-of-life minutiae, b) hosting game shows, and c) acting in cigarette ads; in order to narrowly focus on serious TV journalism.

Wallace spent two months in Vietnam in spring 1967. He and a colleague ended up broadcasting a “60 Minutes” story in 1972 that was radically different from the one everyone else was narrating. Wallace said, “I responded by telling him [the colleague] what I thought of ‘knee-jerk, bleeding heart liberals’ who allow themselves to be taken in by a trendy media blitz.” With an open mind, they followed where the evidence led in connection with over-decorated Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Herbert.

Another aspect of serious TV journalism that Wallace claimed to espouse, in addition to doing the hard work of collecting evidence through best-efforts / due diligence research, was primary sources: “… an eyewitness account– ‘I was there, and here’s what happened’– is more reliable than a version that has gone through two hundred years of rewrites.”

Wallace’s method of doing said research involved a “Candid Camera” type set-up, a prelude to the hidden-camera reality shows of the early 2000’s. But– his major goal was to catch people committing crimes, rather than evoke laughter at their naivety.

The situation had to be a “national disgrace” to air on “60 Minutes.” One segment in early 1976 showed how easy it was for residents of the state of Maryland, to obtain false identity documents in order to commit financial crimes.

Other stories broadcast up until the book’s writing involved Medicaid kickbacks, corruption in health-, building-, and fire-department inspections, tax evasion in cash-oriented businesses, a shady California health resort, a California diploma mill, and an anti-poverty program in Los Angeles. Also, an entrepreneur offered classes to teach business executives how to answer questions asked by the likes of Mike Wallace.

Read the book to learn plenty of additional details on all of the above.

Cooking With Grease

The Book of the Week is “Cooking With Grease, Stirring the Pots in American Politics” by Donna Brazile, published in 2004.

The author, like any female (Barbara Boxer was another one) who has achieved prolonged success in politics while almost never compromising her principles, deserves bragging rights. On top of that, as is well known, the African American Brazile suffered additional infinite indignities due to her skin color. She recounted many of them in this book.

Born in December 1959 in New Orleans, Brazile was the third oldest of nine children. She grew up in Kenner, a neighboring small city. From there, one had to take the scenic route on more than one public bus in order to get to New Orleans.

Brazile was a bossy, precocious, entrepreneurial tomboy at an early age, but was frequently physically punished for wrongdoing as well as for ideological disagreements with her mother or grandmother. After the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in spring 1968, she attended a Baptist church service at which blacks still sat in the back pews. So Brazile’s political awakening and education started when she was eight years old.

By 1970, she was assisting a woman in her neighborhood with a voter-registration drive with respect to elections for mayor and city council. A few area residents were afraid to vote for fear of retaliatory violence. In August 1971, the author was forced to attend an integrated school in the next town over. She wrote, “Busing was one of the worst public policy decisions ever made.”

On her first day at school there in Metairie, white parents of the local students threw eggs and tomatoes at her and other blacks, and cursed them out. The school principal saw Brazile as a peacemaker and cut her some slack in small increments in order to make the best of a bad situation. She organized protests, and rebelled in various ways, such as refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

In 1984, Brazile worked seven days a week, upwards of eighteen hours a day for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. In 1988, when she worked for presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, she was forced to enlist the help of a white friend to rent an apartment in Boston.

Brazile felt that her bosses were giving insufficient attention to racial issues and thus losing the black vote. Of course, the opposing candidate would smear them if they did address taxes, crime, welfare and affirmative action. The tension was too much for her, and her mouth got her into trouble. She took heart later in her career, as “To his credit, Bill Clinton surrounded himself with African Americans, and we were always strategizing.”

George W. Bush’s presidential run started way before 2000. His camp spread lies and smears early and often. In fall 1999, when Brazile was asked to make Al Gore’s presidential campaign leaner and meaner, she used all the brains she had, and all the brains she could borrow. However, there were lots of problems. When speaking to her– unlike when it spoke to anyone else– the media focused on her skin color. By June 2000, Gore’s side felt the author had become disposable because African Americans’ votes, which the author had garnered, were pretty much assured.

The Gore team was largely comprised of highly compensated consultants who believed the conventional wisdom that spending the bulk of their limited budget on airing attack-ads just before election day was the way to go. Brazile contended that personally visiting fickle voters in swing states would be more effective.

On election day, the Bush camp pulled all sorts of dirty tricks to minimize the votes for Gore; mostly in Florida:

  • Absentee ballots were deemed disqualified because signatures weren’t “certified” even though they didn’t need be certified;
  • Ballots in the Creole language weren’t available to voters;
  • Voters were told they needed two or three (!) government-issued forms of ID in order to vote (but it’s very difficult for poor people get a driver’s license or passport, let alone both);
  • In Chicago, police targeted cab drivers for violations when the cabs were taking poor passengers to voting sites;
  • In Tallahassee, law enforcement wouldn’t let people enter a voting site;
  • Some polling places claimed to be out of ballots or claimed it was too late to vote when voters arrived shortly before the places closed;
  • Some voting venues held criminal background checks of voters, and deemed those voters supposedly ineligible to vote; and
  • of course, it was discovered that some ballots were thrown away.

Read the book to learn about a slew of triumphs, and other trials and tribulations Brazile experienced up until the book’s writing, and the kind of cuisine she and her family enjoy.

Pepper

The Book of the Week is “Pepper, Eyewitness to a Century” by Claude Denson Pepper With Hays Gorey, published in 1987.

Pepper, the oldest of four children, was born in September 1900 in rural Alabama to a Baptist, farming family. In 1928, he ran for the office of Florida state representative. He got permission from a competing candidate in his own Democratic party to be listed as a second choice on the ballot, and got elected.

In 1933, hankering for higher office, Pepper traveled around Florida, generating support for his party. The Kiwanis club paid half of his expenses in exchange for his urging its chapters to participate in the state convention to be held in Tallahassee. In those days, while campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat, he was also allowed to drive around the state’s public places, announcing through bullhorns attached to the car, the times and places of his speaking engagements. His opponent– an old and tired incumbent, paid the poll tax of Italian and Spanish voters who lived in West Tampa and Ibo City. The incumbent won the election through that action and other forms of foul play.

Pepper was elected to the Senate in 1936. He bragged about how he played a key role in introducing the March 1941 “Lend-Lease” legislation that provided crucial assistance to England and the U.S.S.R. during WWII, and how his national-healthcare-proposal gave rise to funding for hospital construction and cancer research. However, voters in Florida’s northern counties that bordered Georgia were less than thrilled with his pro-civil-rights stance.

In autumn 1945, seeking to gain foreign-policy experience (because in the future he hoped to become chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) Pepper met with high-level leaders in nineteen different countries; among them Stalin, Leon Blum and leaders in soon-to-be Soviet satellites. In 1946 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the author attended a rally for vice-president Henry Wallace. Press photos were snapped of him, standing next to Paul Robeson.

The author was complacent about his 1950 Senate reelection bid, because in southern states, incumbents were traditionally returned to office as long as they avoided getting caught for financial crimes or having extramarital affairs. Unfortunately, he was gobsmacked by his political opponents’ smear campaign. A week before primary election day in May 1950, Pepper’s opponent– George Smathers– stabbed him in the back. Years before, Pepper had helped Smathers get his first job in politics.

The Smathers camp distributed a book compiled by hate-mongers and funded by the long-time vicious political operative, Ed Ball. That book contained photos of enemies of the southern Republicans, with whom Pepper had been associating; of diverse ethnicities and political views. The captions– taken out of context, of course– screamed that Pepper was a treasonous “nigger lover” and “Communist” who was going to reveal nuclear secrets and hand over America’s natural resources to the Soviets.

Pepper was blissfully unaware of this abomination until two days before voting day. Even after all that, Pepper still claimed that a democracy necessitated the allowance of all forms of free speech, including childish, negative utterances consisting of “… name-calling, questioning of motives, or assassination of character.”

General criticism against Pepper’s party included blaming FDR and Truman for meekly allowing the Soviets to march into Eastern Europe. One counter-argument to that, was that the United Stated had just been through an exhausting war, and wasn’t all that keen on launching the requisite World War Three that would stop the Soviets from committing further aggression.

Fast forward to the early 1980’s. Pepper was serving as a Democratic Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives. His introduction of a bill was thwarted by the Chair of the Rules Committee. That outrageously powerful Chair could refuse to hold a meeting so that he could stop the passage of a law he didn’t like, even if it had the support of “…the president, leadership of the House, and a majority of the Committee.”

Read the book to learn: about a myriad of other ways American politics have hardly changed in at least the last seventy years; what Pepper did as head of the House Select Committee on Crime in the early 1970’s; how he made his political comeback, and much more about his life and times.

The Good, the Bad and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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