The Chief

The Book of the Week is “The Chief, The Life of William Randolph Hearst” by David Nasaw, published in 2000. This tome described not just the life of the media emperor, but the historical backdrop of his generation.

Born in April 1863 in San Francisco, Hearst was a mama’s boy. He grew up in a highly cultured family. However, its fortunes waned, and finally waxed in the 1870’s. The father was in the gold mining business; politics too– he was elected as a Democratic member of the state assembly of California in November 1865.

When Hearst was at Harvard, his mother “…redecorated his rooms [in Matthews Hall] in Harvard crimson, equipped him with a library, hired a maid and valet to look after her boy.” In those days, one student could live in an on-campus suite and have servants. Hearst was an outsider who bought himself a position in society by making the Harvard Lampoon profitable and donating big money to Harvard’s sports teams. But he lacked the manners to get invited to the elitist summer resorts.

In October 1880, Hearst’s father bought San Francisco’s Evening Examiner and turned it into a morning newspaper to win a future election. Father and son helped get Grover Cleveland elected president in November 1884. Two years later, Hearst’s father was elected to the U.S. Senate. Hearst eventually failed out of Harvard.

In his mid-twenties, Hearst got an opportunity to attempt a financial turnaround of the Examiner. He took various creative steps to achieve this goal. The Examiner‘s editorial bent was pro-labor, anti-capital and anti-railroad.

In the 1890’s, the culture of journalism was a mixture of “fact-based reporting, opinion and literature.” Readers liked emotionally-moving stories. They could tolerate a lot of fiction in their news. And they must’ve, when Hearst published made-up war stories to help Cuba gain its independence from Spain in 1898. However, toward the mid-twentieth century, journalism strove to be more objective.

In 1893 at the time Hearst bought the New York Morning Journal, there were eight established morning newspapers in New York. The Journal‘s editorial bent was pro-labor, pro-immigrant and anti-Republican. But it did have anti-African-American cartoons and jokes. According to Hearst, New Yorkers were overpaying for their gas, power, coal, ice, milk and even water due to monopolies (in those days called “trusts”).

In 1900 and 1901, the Hearst papers constantly criticized and even mentioned killing president McKinley. When the president was shot by a madman in September 1901, Hearst was accused of hiring the hitman. In 1902, Hearst was elected to Congress as a Democrat from New York, eleventh district. When he ran for a third term, he gave every man, woman and child in his district a free trip to Coney Island, including most of the Luna Park shows (thousands of tickets). Then he changed his mind and ran for mayor instead in 1905 in an attempt to “drain the swamp.” He wed in 1903, at forty years old. In May 1905, he bought Cosmopolitan magazine, kicking off his entry into the magazine business.

Hearst lived high on the hog and spared no expense when it came to gathering stories for his growing media empire. He paid his employees well, sent droves of them to cover stories which appeared in his newspapers that had more pages and special features than the competition’s. His business was losing more money than ever.

In the early 1920’s, “After 2 decades of debate and agitation, the rise and fall of Populist, Progressive and Socialist parties…” and lots of labor unrest, there was general consensus between government and American business “… that the role of government was not to supersede or control the corporation, but to legalize and legitimize it by regulating its excesses.”

Public relations at the turn of the twentieth century consisted of billboards and posters, newsreels and serial films, stunts, service features and contests. Radio was the next big thing in the 1920’s.

After recording political history for decades, Hearst concluded that “…politicians were, with few exceptions, mendacious, corrupt, and incompetent. The country needed a leader who was not tainted by the political process and was not dependent on the largess of machine politicians or big businessmen.”

On one trip on Hearst’s yacht, with a group of Hollywood celebrities, a movie director was celebrating his 43rd birthday. The director had a major heart attack and later died. All sorts of wild stories abounded in the newspapers that Hearst had killed him. A 2001 FICTIONAL movie called “The Cat’s Meow” was made of one wild-story version. No evidence of any crime has ever surfaced, except Hearst’s violating Prohibition– a crime whose exposure he wanted to avoid. That was the reason he didn’t want the media anywhere near the heart attack victim.

In late 1927, for nearly a month, Hearst had published front page articles based entirely on fictitious sources. He had libeled several nations, dozens of foreign statesmen, at least two prominent American journalists, Oswald Garrison Villard and Ernest Gruening, and four U.S. senators. Yet he wasn’t taken to task on any of that. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Read the book to learn the details of Hearst’s friendly relationships with William Jennings Bryan, Marion Davies, Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill and others; his wire service; his reporting on Tammany Hall; San Simeon and how his other estates with mansions came to be; his art collection; the size to which his media empire grew; his rabid anti-Communist activities; and how he worked his way out of financial ruin. Most of the aforementioned involved disgusting excesses.

Angela Merkel

The Book of the Week is “Angela Merkel, Europe’s Most Influential Leader” by Matthew Qvortrup, published in 2016. This is a career biography of a recent Chancellor of Germany. It had a bit of sloppy editing, as politician Friedrich Merz was alternately called “Metz” in several places.

Born in July 1954, Merkel grew up in Hamburg and Templin in East Germany, where her father was a Lutheran theologian at a seminary. Although Communism preaches godlessness, the supervising Soviet government allowed some religious activity among the local citizens. Merkel’s family was spied on by the Stasi- the secret police. It was cost-effective and efficient. For, all the  socially dangerous elements (potential subversives) were in one place.

Merkel’s perfectionist nature meant that she graduated at the top of her school classes. Because East Germany was a police state with a Socialist mentality, the people availed themselves of a free university education. Merkel got hers, as well as a doctorate in nuclear physics. In exchange, she was required to work for the government for a specific period. In September 1977, Merkel got married. She divorced in early 1981.

In the autumn of 1989, Merkel started her political career by joining an informal Democratic club. She used every political advantage at her disposal: trilingualism (German, Russian and English), networking skills, strong work ethic and her geographic origin, among other traits.

Upon the collapse of Communism, Merkel’s club converted to a political party. Upon the reunification of East and West Germany, free and fair elections were held for one new government. Merkel became a mouthpiece for her party. In the autumn of 1990, a Cabinet member took a liking to her, hiring her in the communications department. Besides, she was elected as a Member of Parliament, and a month later, a Cabinet minister with a women’s-issues-and families portfolio.

The author’s description of Germany’s government employees was confusing– it was unclear whether the government selected its employees via exams or by appointment. Besides, in November 1991, “Merkel replaced all the top civil servants.” However, the author later wrote, “Respect for civil servants [in Germany]… are well paid, and have life-long careers…”

Anyway, Merkel was tapped for progressively higher government positions– Deputy Chair of her  political party, then Minister of the Environment, then Secretary General. Some called her a back-stabber, as in 1999, she had no qualms about using a poison pen in a nationwide publication to excoriate the former Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and by connotation, his replacement, Wolfgang Schauble. Merkel’s divide and conquer plan worked– the two chancellors attacked each other. In April 2000, she was elected Christian Democratic Union party head.

The media in Germany behaved similarly to that in the U.S. by reporting on Merkel’s hairstyle. They even pressured her into getting married again, even though she was a conservative Christian, rather than a Catholic.

Read the book to learn how Merkel, through shrewd maneuvering, continued to claw her way to the top of the German government in the next six years and what she did when she got there, how she dealt with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and learn which issue prompted Donald Trump to comment on her in 2015: “She is destroying Germany.”

RFK

The Book of the Week is “RFK, A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy” by C. David Heymann, published in 1998. The author threw in as well, plenty of the Kennedy family’s history  (some might say tabloid gossip) only indirectly related to Robert.

Born in 1925, Robert F. Kennedy (Bobby) was one of nine children of the wealthy and powerful Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy. Taken as a whole, his life was a study in contradictions. Regardless, he exhibited the stereotyped Kennedy family traits, such as the arrogance of a spoiled rich kid, recklessness and idealism.

He spent his childhood in the Boston area, New York City, London and other places, frequently switching schools. Nonetheless, he alternately attended Harvard and underwent training in the Navy beginning in the mid-1940’s. But the war ended, so he moved to Boston to help his older brother John run for Congress.

Sadly, Bobby’s poor academic performance got him rejected from Harvard Law school, his hegemonic daddy’s appeal to do the Kennedy family’s will notwithstanding. He ended up graduating from the law school of the University of Virginia.

Bobby wed Ethel in 1950. Two years later, he began to develop his “joined at the hip” relationship with John when John ran for the U.S. Senate and they lived in Massachusetts. Female campaign workers distributed 900,000 leaflets in buses, taxicabs, mailboxes and door-to-door, in that race. They also called all voters twice. Later that same year, Bobby hired on with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s committee that practiced Communist witch-hunts, even though he hated Roy Cohn. The summer of 1953 saw him resign, but a couple of years later, return to investigate unethical behavior committed by business and government officials borne of conflicts  of interest.

Ironically, Bobby tagged along with narcotics cops on the beat in New York City when they engaged in numerous, brutal, illegal search-and-seizure raids on African Americans and people of Spanish-speaking origin, and allegedly participated in a few raids himself. He furthered his political education with his presence on presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s whistle-stop rail tour in 1956. But he soon became disgusted with the candidate’s vacillating and poor skills set. Bobby worked long hours; he spent the little leisure time he had with his children and their pets-a veritable zoo– at their chaotic mansion in McLean, VA.

The author described in detail, John’s run for president and Bobby’s actions as John’s attorney general. J. Edgar Hoover, FBI chief, led his own little fiefdom that had been zealously chasing after Communists (tracked via spying and dossiers galore). Hoover and Bobby (the new sheriff in town), disliked each other.

Unlike Hoover, Bobby fostered unusual collective effort among the FBI, IRS and the narcotics bureau to catch offenders in the Mob. Unsurprisingly, the Kennedys’ connections with the Mob and their rampant philandering with female celebrities and prostitutes (wherever they traveled in the world –– a well-kept secret by the Secret Service) invited extortion of John and Bobby by Hoover. Another thorny issue Bobby had to deal with was civil rights. He dealt with it hypocritically.

Bobby investigated corruption in the Teamsters for years, putting the screws on the union’s leader, Jimmy Hoffa. He told his underlings to use illegal surveillance techniques– conduct that was unbecoming of an attorney general:  tapping of Hoffa’s rotary-dial phones, chamfering of Hoffa’s mail, ransacking Hoffa’s home and office without a warrant, and ordering the IRS to audit Hoffa’s tax returns.

Unfortunately, Bobby couldn’t do the same against another enemy– Fidel Castro. “The Kennedy administration’s campaign to overthrow the premier of Cuba– a policy founded on grandiose delusions and foolish rage– was an abject failure.”

In 1964, Bobby was elected a U.S. Senator from New York State via carpetbagging. Since he had his eye on the presidency, he examined global issues. He visited many poor areas in various nations to study their governments’ policies on poverty.

In June 1968, as is well known, while running for president, Bobby was shot. Strangely, no details were provided as to how Bobby’s assassin knew that Bobby was pro-Israel. The reader is left wondering what Bobby’s views were on Middle Eastern policy. There were, however, numerous details on Bobby’s competitors’ activities, primary results of various states, and several of his countless sexual dalliances (of which his wife was painfully aware).

Read the book to learn much more about Bobby’s life, times, and large family– especially the salacious details.

Endnote: Incidentally (and sadly), the culture of both major political parties in America has changed little in terms of surveillance and adolescent-boy spy games since the McCarthy era and RFK’s  “Spy Vs. Spy” Mad Magazine-type (but in real life!) vengeful political nonsense. Not to mention the fact that the Democrats have yet to catch up to the Republicans in witch-hunt expertise.

The Education of A Woman

The Book of the Week is “The Education of A Woman, The Life of Gloria Steinem” by Carolyn G. Heilbrun, published in 1995.

Born in March 1934, Gloria Steinem was raised in an unconventional household. Her formal education was spotty due to the seasonal livelihood of her parents. They ran a summer resort at Clark Lake, Ohio, and traveled by recreational vehicle to warm climates, such as California or Florida, in the winters. Care of her mentally ill mother was left to her, as her sister Suzanne was nine years older than she was.

Her father was a carefree spendthrift, an obese, bibliophilic dreamer; her mother, a nervous Nellie. However, the former took her seriously and conversed with her as he did an adult. When she was eleven, her parents divorced. She lived with her mother in East Toledo, Ohio. In poverty.

Steinem rebelled against the statistically likely role of her gender in her generation: get married, raise children, do housework and serve her husband. Fortunately, her family was sufficiently interested in her higher education to provide for her Smith College tuition by selling a house. Steinem majored in government.

When Steinem finally began the life she wanted to live, it was like her father’s. No nine-to-five job (which meant intermittent income) and tax evasion. Steinem assisted Clay Felker with the founding of New York magazine. But she was best known for co-founding and being the mouthpiece for Ms. magazine starting at the tail end of 1971.

Other career highlights included assisting with the candidacies of Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin for New York City mayor and New York city council president, respectively. Theirs was sort of a joint venture.  Together, they proposed that the metropolitan area and adjacent regions become the 51st state of America. They also floated the idea of banning cars– to be replaced by a public monorail that would grace the perimeter of Manhattan while small crosstown buses shuttled the remaining city occupants to and fro.

Unsurprisingly, Mailer hired Steinem because he wanted to have sex with her. Anyway, the media harped on all the dalliances with the many men Steinem had during her career. In this way and many others, the media were actually a hindrance to the feminist movement. For another, they had many a field day with the cat fights of the females in the movement.

As a successful public figure, Steinem inevitably generated jealousy. She insightfully wrote, “Just as men victimize the weak member of their group, women victimize the strong one.” Also, “The greater part of sexual harassment in the workplace occurs between powerful men and less powerful women.” Not only males, but certain females, such as Betty Friedan and Elizabeth Forsling Harris gave Steinem trouble through the years.

Harris had “borderline personality disorder”– she was a narcissistic attention whore with anger management issues, who made unreasonable demands. She created a hostile work environment at Ms. magazine. Sadly, Steinem was too nice when it came to such people. She was non-confrontational and tolerated Harris’ behavior for too long.

Steinem crisscrossed the country giving speeches on feminism. Her anger about the treatment of women emerged in her commencement speech to the Smith College Class of 1971.

In late 1977, Steinem began a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson Center, using her time to plan a feminism book. The feminist cause helped the civil rights cause and vice versa. The book was sorely needed by America; for, all but one of the Center’s executives were white men, all the secretaries were white women, all the cleaning personnel who operated machines (like floor waxers) were black men, and all other cleaners were black women.

The author put her two cents in: “The environment must become a paramount consideration on a planet hideously misused by male ambitions of domination, exploitation, and arrogance.”

Read the book to learn why the feminist community and Ms. were always embattled financially and ideologically, and much more about Steinem’s awakening in her later years.

Herbert Hoover/Hubert Humphrey

The Books of the Week are “Herbert Hoover, A Life” by Glen Jeansonne with David Luhrssen, published in 2016 and “Hubert Humphrey, A Biography” by Carl Solberg, published in 1984. Both of these slightly sloppily edited, structurally flawed– redundant– volumes described charismatic, liberal twentieth-century politicians. The Republican and Democratic leaders respectively were blamed for major adverse historical events over which they had largely no control.

The Humphrey book’s last chapter summarized all of its previous contents. This chapter would be a good reading assignment for a college class, as it provided a substantive overview of the man’s political career.

Sadly, Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression are inseparable whenever either is mentioned, due to vicious scapegoating. Yet, “Hoover fed an estimated 83 million people and was doubtless responsible for saving more lives than any individual in history.” Additionally, “Hoover took responsibility for errors and shunned credit helping to develop ties of trust in both directions.”

Born in 1874 in Iowa, Hoover grew up in a Quaker family in an agricultural community. He enjoyed outdoor farm chores better than school. His father died of typhus when he was six; his mother, of pneumonia when he was nine. In his teens, he moved to the Oregon home of his uncle, a medical doctor.

Hoover was in the first graduating class of Stanford University. Eventually, he successively managed large mining operations in various nations, that provided raw materials for weaponry. Thus, his vast wealth continued to snowball at an even faster pace with the start of WWI.

Ironically, Hoover was a humanitarian. In the nineteen-teens, he got permission from warring nations to deliver food to Germany-occupied Belgium to ward off famine there; northern France, too. Germany conceded because it feared that if Belgium starved, the United States might enter the war. Further, Hoover made sure that he, as the leader of the privately funded group that transported the food, refrained from engaging in war profiteering. The group boasted only one percent fixed costs, and when it was dissolved, donated its $35 million surplus to colleges in Belgium, as well as to a Belgian-American exchange program. To top it off, Hoover collected no salary.

Hoover was able to make Americans feel proud that they helped the Allies win the war by not wasting food in their own country. They internalized Hoover’s message via radio, newsreels, feature films and celebrity appearances from May 1917 through April 1919. Then in 1921, he began a food program for the Soviets. According to the author, “After the Great Engineer morphed into perhaps the greatest secretary of commerce in history, he was noted for his kind treatment of everyone who worked for him, as was the case when he became president.”

Hoover was a conservative capitalist– advocating a low income tax to aid business activities but high estate taxes to prevent perpetuities. Tax cuts, plus new technologies in the utilities, entertainment and automotive industries fueled tremendous economic growth between 1922 and 1928. Hoover convinced president Calvin Coolidge to let him meddle in all government affairs, in addition to his own domain– domestic and international commerce.

When Coolidge declined to run for reelection in the summer of 1927, Hoover let his friends speak for him in public about how great a president he himself would be. Those friends included all manner of journalists, authors, college communities, senators, business leaders, etc. Upon his election, he collected no government pay and he paid all his own expenses, including those covering White House entertainment.

Hoover filed more antitrust lawsuits than under any president before him. However, “By 1929, some of the nation’s most eminent businessmen– including Joseph P. Kennedy, Bernard Baruch, and Herbert Hoover– began to quietly divest themselves of stocks.”

In 1928, the world was heading for economic disaster for several reasons. American bankers lent money to European governments at usurious interest rates because they could, and Central and Eastern European governments sold bonds at interest rates they couldn’t possibly afford to make good on, because they needed to– debt from WWI was sky-high for a lot of countries.

The war had produced widespread destruction and serious shortages of resources of all kinds. American citizens were going crazy engaging in short-term trading rather than long-term investing in the stock market. There were massive political upheavals in Russia, Asia, Europe and Latin America. A government cannot create wealth, it can only redistribute it.

When the Depression hit, Hoover attempted to help Americans, even at political cost to himself. He argued that local and state governments rather than the federal government, should provide financial aid to their people because they knew their local residents’ needs better than the latter.

Read the book to learn the outcomes of Hoover’s arms-control summits; how he dealt with WWI veterans who demanded that their bonuses be paid early; why he was against the New Deal; the idealistic goal of Stanford’s Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, which he founded; and much more.

Born in May 1911 in a small town in Minnesota, Hubert Humphrey graduated first of sixteen students from his high school class. Due to his family’s dire financial situation, he was forced to become a druggist in his family’s store for several years. He then was able to get married and attend the University of Minnesota. In  order to afford school, he did all different low-level odd jobs while he took one and a half times the course load of normal students. He wanted to go to graduate school but his first child put the kibosh on that.

Skilled at debating and delivering speeches, Humphrey was pressured by friends and colleagues into becoming a politician rather than a teacher. In 1945, he was elected mayor of Minneapolis. Part of his platform from the get-go, and throughout his career was civil rights. Workaholic that he was, when running for the U.S. Senate in 1948, he traveled to all 87 of Minnesota’s counties at least twice– 31,000 miles, making seven hundred speeches. He hardly ever saw his growing family.

Humphrey was pro-union but he was no Communist. At the same time, in 1951 he agreed with Senator William Benton of Minnesota that Joseph McCarthy was using “Hitler’s Big Lie techniques.” In summer 1953, he took a page from Herbert Hoover’s playbook by creating an organization that used surplus crop yields from Minnesota to feed the hungry peoples of foreign nations.

Unfortunately, beginning in early 1966, when he was vice president, Humphrey became President Lyndon Johnson’s slavish mouthpiece on Vietnam. He visited the war zone and got it in his head that China was provoking aggression against the U.S. He had developed the same hubris syndrome as the president.

In late winter 1968, the controlling Johnson (finally, inconsiderately) withdrew from the presidential campaign. It was Humphrey’s turn to run for the head job. He was able to raise funds from wealthy sources who hated Robert Kennedy. But his campaigns had and always would have shoestring budgets. And after Kennedy was shot, Humphrey donors switched their allegiance to Republicans.

The two remaining Democratic candidates, Humphrey and Gene McCarthy, had survivor’s guilt. Psychologically, Johnson was like a father figure to the former, and he couldn’t, and didn’t become his own man until many years later.

One campaign promise Humphrey finally made in late September 1968, was to stop the bombing of Vietnam if the demilitarized zone was restored. The book’s author wrote that the “China Lobby” was again interfering with an American presidential election, as it had in 1948. In the earlier year, the China Lobby consisted of a “shadowy coterie of exiles and lobbyists” who sought to elect a Republican rather than reelect the Democrat Harry Truman because a Republican would be more likely to reverse U.S. policy and help Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek become the clear-cut, recognized leader of China. Well, it didn’t work. But, according to the author, the China Lobby’s activities worked in 1968.

A high-level Nixon campaign staff member named Madame Anna Chan Chennault pulled strings with the president of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu, convincing him to concoct some last-minute objections to peace negotiations– adding conditions for stopping the bombing– as an excuse for boycotting talks in Paris. Thieu was teasing Humphrey and made him lose to Nixon because Humphrey couldn’t tell American voters that he could stop the bombing. Thieu thought Nixon would give him more of what he wanted. In late October, Johnson– still president at the time– tacitly conspired with Nixon. Johnson wouldn’t allow Humphrey to attend the  meeting with Nixon and George Wallace where they talked to Thieu via conference call.

However, a week before election day, Johnson– no skin off his nose– did attend Humphrey’s rally at the Houston Astrodome to say nice things about him. The candidate thought that three things were required for him to get elected: a robust economy, a possibility that the (evil) Nixon could win (which voters would chafe at), and peace in Vietnam. The third thing was obviously lacking.

Humphrey was made aware of the China Lobby situation before election day. But he naively thought that Nixon didn’t know of Madame Chennault’s influence on President Thieu. His magnanimous nature led him to omit mention of the conspiracy against himself in his speeches to voters.

Early on election day, California governor Jesse Unruh lied to voters, telling them that Humphrey would win California. So lots of voters who believed him didn’t bother to vote– they thought Humphrey had won already.

Read the book to learn of many more anecdotes regarding Humphrey’s too-nice nature, and much more about his whole life.

Ian Fleming – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Ian Fleming, the Man Behind James Bond” by Andrew Lycett, published in 1995.

Born in May 1908 in Mayfair in England, Ian Fleming had a childhood befitting his place in an elitist, wealthy family. However, his older brother Peter was the favorite. Fleming was sent to boarding school at six years old. Then it was off to Eton and Sandhurst. His father was killed in WWI when he was nine.

Fleming’s strong suit was sport, not academia.  He failed both to become a military officer while in training, and the diplomatic-service entrance exam. This, after this wild child was sent to a language school in Switzerland and a finishing school in Munich. Then a school in Geneva.

In the early 1930’s, at wit’s end, his mother helped him go to work for Reuters. But she prevented him from getting married by telling his employer to deny him permission to marry– something it had the authority to do in those days.

In 1934, when he followed in his father’s footsteps by entering the lucrative banking field, he began to lead a charmed life. He took up gambling, golf, tennis, skiing, carousing, and sowing his wild oats. He played well with others and made lots of valuable contacts. Even so, banking was really not his thing either.

Although lacking the bent of a student, Fleming’s thing was bibliophilia. He developed the concept of amassing a library which was responsible for worldwide technological or intellectual progress since the year 1800– “books that made things happen.” The collection, spanning more than four hundred volumes from more than twelve nations, published from the 1820’s through the 1920’s, improved humanity and changed the world.

Through centuries, people have done so, too. They have been muckrakers, whistleblowers, dissidents and activists, and have been called heroes and martyrs. Most of them, even the famous ones, who risked their lives to counter political ideology that was oppressing a large number of people, are deserving of high praise.

The most recent examples of countless such individuals who saved countless lives include those who acted courageously during the Holocaust; two who come to mind are Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler. However, they need not have directly saved lives to have made an impact, though they made serious sacrifices for their causes: Mahatma Gandhi, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov, Daniel Ellsberg, Vaclav Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Edward Snowden, etc., etc., etc.

Ralph Nader is exceptional in this regard– he saved lives but did not risk his own life. In medicine too, there have been plenty of such individuals, like Alexander Fleming (no relation to Ian). However, politics is a more widespread subject of discussion and there are no barriers to entry. Therefore, more individuals’ names in politics enjoy longer historical recognition. Also– medicine is governed by politics because it’s a matter of life and death. Politics is all about tribal unity and public relations. Image management is all it takes to acquire a political footnote in the history books. Some individuals have been too power-hungry to care about their do-good legacies.

That’s the flip side of the coin– evil. Individuals’ evil can be quantified– by the number of deaths for which they are directly responsible. Comparing politicians who have made unfortunate remarks or have engaged in unfortunate actions or behaviors, to Hitler– is usually an invalid comparison. He was a genocidal maniac. The true comparisons to Hitler and others are displayed below in alphabetical order by last name (footnotes 1-3 are at the bottom of the fourth page).

Anyway, Ian Fleming played bridge with a literary social set. Yet, at 28, when he finally moved out of his mother’s home, he was still a megalomanaical, hedonistic schoolboy, a smoker and drinker.

The year 1939 saw him begin to engage in his true passion– intelligence gathering (and collecting weaponry), for the British government. He found subversion, sabotage and clandestine warfare so exciting.

After the war, he bought a vacation house which he called Goldeneye in Jamaica in the Caribbean, and became a journalism manager for the Sunday Times in London. He supervised spies who posed as journalists. They cranked out propaganda his way. “First drinks of the day were served at eleven in the morning.”

By 1950, Fleming’s mother had moved to Cannes for the purpose of tax evasion. Less than two years later, Fleming had written his first novel, Casino Royale.  The main character was a Renaissance man called James Bond who engaged in gambling, espionage and economic sabotage. He was all that men wished they were.

Nonetheless, his publisher in America requested that he tone down the sexual-sadism-and-masochism language for the good of book sales there. His stories tended to contain sicko characters who were improbably good at escaping from impossibly bad situations– designed to shock the reader and offend his sensibilities with their extreme goings-on.

Fleming made frequent visits to the United States over the years. He astutely concluded that Walter Winchell, Joe McCarthy, and J. Edgar Hoover were evil. Fleming had a large, diverse social set that included Noel Coward and Jacques Cousteau. They gave him ideas for his novels.

Read the book to learn about: the intellectual-property legal disputes among the various entities handling Fleming’s career; his family life; about the extensive research (including personal travel to experience various subcultures) he did when writing; and why reviews on his books suggested that he had various psychological issues such as a low level of maturity, sociopathic tendencies and sexual deviance.

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.

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.

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.

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.”