Not Pretty Enough

The Book of the Week is “Not Pretty Enough, The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown” by Gerri Hirshey, published in 2016.

Born in Arkansas in February 1922, Helen Gurley was ten years old when her father, a government worker and lawyer, passed away unexpectedly in a bizarre elevator accident. Perhaps as a result, she became quite close with her mother and sister throughout their lives, communicating via letters and phone calls when she was no longer living with them.

As was typical for women of her generation, Gurley was conditioned to become a secretary. However, she was sexually sophisticated. The  1960’s office culture could be described thusly: Married male executives exuded sociopathic tendencies and arrogance (not unlike those of today), and harbored the belief that it is morally wrong to allow suckers to keep their money. In that era, engaging in sexual conquests with female subordinates was a way for males to prove their manhood. It is still is, but times are a-changin’. Gurley encouraged her female contemporaries to enjoy themselves.

Gurley played the game with the men to the hilt. She claimed she enjoyed sex and wrote about it extensively in articles and books. In 1959, she married David Brown, a high-level writer and editor.

Thereafter, like the men, she had affairs. She saw nothing wrong with marital infidelity. Besides, she claimed she had a great marriage. The problem is, infidelity smacks of dissatisfaction with marital sex– a spouse is dishonestly seeking satisfaction elsewhere; moreover, it is unclear if the wayward spouse is untrustworthy in other matters. Unless both spouses consent to an “open” marriage– either side can have other sexual partners– marriage is supposed to represent total lifelong commitment.

Anyway, Gurley’s passion and work ethic led her to achieve the positions of advertising copywriter in the 1950’s, and editor in chief of the then-financially struggling Cosmopolitan magazine in the 1960’s. At that time, the Hearst publication’s target readers were single women, between twenty and thirty-four years old.

Notwithstanding the kind of fabulous career that few women achieved in those days, two points must be made: 1) Gurley advanced her career through illicit sex and marrying a powerful man in her field of work; and 2) she was still a slave to the societal pressures of her generation– she had excessive cosmetic surgery and an eating disorder in order to satisfy public expectations of female beauty.

Read the book to learn of the additional factors affecting Gurley’s successes, and of how she influenced a whole generation of women.

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.

Madame President

The Book of the Week is “Madame President, The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf” by Helene Cooper, published in 2017.

In post-Civil War America, (White) slave owners who had secretly fathered offspring were afraid of further racial strife, so they sent manumitted slaves to Liberia. By the late 1860’s, there were 28 different ethnic groups living there.

Ellen Johnson was born in October 1938 in the country’s capital, Monrovia– ironically, a place that discriminates against dark-skinned people. Her mother was unusually lucky. Her mother’s poverty-stricken parents handed her off to foster care, where her fair skin was received favorably throughout her childhood. Johnson got her mother’s color. Her family predicted she would have a lucky life– a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Even so, Johnson had to endure the difficulties females faced in her culture. These included: an arranged marriage (that allowed polygamy for the husband), the expectation that she would bear children; physical abuse, and sex imposed by males against the wills of females of all ages.

Fortunately, Johnson bore four sons and her husband was an attorney. He and she had valuable social connections that allowed them the chance to study in the United States. Childcare was handled by extended relatives.

When Johnson-Sirleaf was thirty years old, she had had enough of the barbaric practices heaped upon Liberian people of her gender. She obtained a divorce. Right up until the courtroom hearing finalizing the split, she was phobic that her ex would retaliate yet again with even worse domestic violence than before. Divorcing was a radical step for a Liberian female. But she was exceptional; in her life, every special advantage she got led to another. Yet, most of her later achievements were done on her own merits– not as a result of marriage to a powerful man.

The Liberian government had one political party, the True Whig Party, whose members used the government as their personal piggy bank. By the early 1970’s, there was a very wide income/asset gap between the government officials and military thugs, and the unfortunate Liberian citizens; there was no middle class. The nation had been drained of its major resources, rubber and iron, which had been exported to foreign countries by profiteers.

Johnson was academically skilled and played well with others politically. She got a job with the Liberian Debt Service Department at Treasury, and then the Ministry of Finance while radical changes were afoot. She studied accounting, and later, public administration at Harvard. However, her public speech could be inflammatory, because she told the truth. She called the system a “kleptocracy– corrupt to the core.” At a later time, she warned that a peasant revolt was in the offing.

In 1971, the new nepotistic “president” of the country was switching benefactors, from the United States to the U.S.S.R. Allegedly, he was going to help the downtrodden and eliminate corruption. Yet he practiced cronyism on a royal scale and angered the civilian Liberian people in numerous other ways.

Read the book to learn how the tide turned eventually through the ugly events that transpired; how, more than once, Johnson was very nearly killed but instead encountered a checkered fate; and how the United States played a major part in her and Liberia’s survival, despite having blood on its hands.

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.

Johnny Carson

The Book of the Week is “Johnny Carson” by Henry Bushkin, published in 2013. This is a biography of the most popular late-night TV talk-show host of the 1970’s and 1980’s, as seen through the eyes of his attorney and closest non-spouse confidant in those decades.

Carson might have been a natural at stand-up comedy and interviewing celebrities, but his personal life was always a shambles. His psychological troubles began in his childhood. Both of his parents were emotionally distant, but his mother was a particularly detestable creature. Her treatment of her son gave rise to lifelong self-destructive behavior patterns in him, such as excessive drinking, smoking, and Jekyll-and-Hyde episodes.

A man typical of his generation, Carson believed all of the female stereotypes, and his confirmation bias inevitably led him to meet and marry three gold-digging, emotional women, and pay them big bucks upon divorcing them. He died before divorcing the fourth wife.

During his marriages, he was continually paying for his infidelity by showering his aggrieved partners with expensive gifts. Once he became a member of the super-rich set, he behaved like many of them, sparing no expenses on residences, vehicles and clothing, and throwing money at problems to make them go away.

Up until the 1970’s, prior to acquiring excessive wealth, however, Carson was getting swindled by all of the business professionals he had hired. He had naively chosen to associate with untrustworthy individuals. Upon meeting Carson, the author– who had barely started his career but had savvy legal bosses–  sorted out his financial dealings. He re-negotiated various legal situations to not only stem the bleeding, but maximize earnings for his new boss.

Read the book to learn much more about the impact Bushkin had on Carson’s life, and vice versa.

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.

Sandy Koufax

The Book of the Week is “Sandy Koufax, A Lefty’s Legacy” by Jane Leavy, published in 2002.  This is a biography of a legendary Major League Baseball pitcher who played for the Dodgers from the mid 1950’s to the mid 1960’s.

SIDENOTE:  The nature of this short paperback’s structure makes it repetitive and disorganized. It appears that the author is trying to build suspense by providing an entire one-chapter-per-inning description of a historic game pitched by Koufax in September 1965,  interspersed with chapters on other subjects. It doesn’t work. Perhaps the author thought the reader has the attention span of a fly, and wouldn’t be able to handle the whole game in one go. Too bad, because the content of the book is full of facts, figures and what seems to be thorough research.

Born in December 1935, Koufax’s full first name was Sanford. His initial dream was to play for the New York Knicks basketball team.  He was an excellent all-around athlete. However, in college, he got the chance to pitch.

The then-New York Dodgers scout who observed Koufax saw exceptional potential, although others thought his pitching was wild and inconsistent. Even thought he had almost no experience, the Dodgers extended an offer to him, to which he committed. Koufax played his first season of professional ball in 1955.  The next four seasons, he was benched most of the time, but his pitching was improving. He became a starter in 1962.

The year 1963 was the first in which the media revealed tabloid gossip on the private lives of professional athletes, including that of Koufax. Prior to that, the media merely reported on sports-related information. One nosy news outlet had a field day when it found out that Koufax  was adopted. That opened the floodgates on asking personal questions of players.

Read the book to learn about the sad state of affairs in sports medicine– during Koufax’s generation– that made top athletes’  careers all too short, the painkillers used at that time, how biomechanics and arthroscopic surgery have evolved since then, a vast quantity of other information on Koufax, including how, after retirement from baseball, “He became a serious runner, a marathoner who smoked, competing in Europe, where he was least likely to be recognized.”

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.