The Passion of Ayn Rand

The Book of the Week is “The Passion of Ayn Rand, A Biography” by Barbara Branden, published in 1986.

Born in St. Petersburg in February 1905, Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) Rand, whose father was a chemist, spent her early childhood in a cultured, Jewish family in Petrograd. After graduating from high school in the Crimea, when the family was poverty-stricken and starving due to the Bolshevik Revolution, Rand taught literacy to Red Army soldiers.

In the early 1920’s, the Russian government evilly schemed to allow “former bourgeoisie” such as Rand’s family to work in cooperatives until it felt sufficient assets were accumulated, at which time it stole those assets by force. Its attitude was: “… workers and peasants were extolled as the highest types of humanity, and intellectuals, unless they employed their intelligence in selfless service to the state, were denounced as parasitical.”

Rand was headstrong in her desire to flee to America and never return to Russia. She eventually got her wish in the mid-1920’s, thanks to her mother’s distant relatives in Chicago. After overcoming numerous obstacles, she lived with her Orthodox-Jewish relatives, and later, struck out on her own in Los Angeles. She was driven to become a writer and let nothing stand in her way.

Rand eventually wrote what became a very famous novel– Atlas Shrugged— whose theme was that if intellectuals are the ones “…who make civilization possible– Why have they never recognized their own power? Why have they never challenged their torturers and expropriators? … it is the victims, the men of virtue and ability, who make the triumph of evil possible by…” being too nice to their oppressors.

Rand thought that the American government, with its anti-trust stance, was persecuting industrialists. She thought the latter deserved to enjoy every last penny of the fruits of their labor because they were the economic engine of the nation.

In rebelling against her former country’s socialist economic system under its Communist political system, Rand thought workers were becoming too powerful, and she denounced them as parasitical. She dogmatically advocated an extreme version of “survival of the fittest” or Libertarianism.

However, when government becomes an accomplice to its donors’ activities that involve excessive greed, conflicts of interest and unfair economic advantages– society becomes economically unbalanced as wealth becomes too concentrated in a tiny percentage of the population; this situation foments class resentment. For additional information on this situation, see this blog’s posts:

  • Wikinomics / Courting Justice
  • What’s the Matter With Kansas
  • Street Without A Name
  • Sons of Wichita
  • Outsider in the White House
  • Crossing the River
  • Burned Bridge, and
  • Forty Autumns.

Whittaker Chambers wrote in his negative review of Atlas Shrugged, “Miss Rand calls in a Big Brother of her own… She plumps for a technocratic elite… And in reality too, by contrast with fiction, this can only head into a dictatorship…”

Rand formulated the theory of Objectivism, whose purely capitalist-free-market-oriented, rational thinking completely rejected religion. Yet she never did explain– in her lucrative lectures to big-name, elitist, politically liberal (ironically!) American colleges, how that squared with her total rejection of godless Communism / Socialism.

Incidentally, the main character of the novel itself– whose cult of personality persuades intellectuals from all walks of life to go on strike– says, “Force and mind are opposites, morality ends where a gun begins… It is only in retaliation that force may be used and only against the man who starts its use.”

Along these lines, gun-control advocates in the United States have been too nice for too long. Except for short periods, whenever there’s been a proposal to:

  • curb the bearing of arms (not even all arms, just the most destructive ones–that are overkill for hunting or local law enforcement), or
  • enact stricter background checks on the granting of gun permits or licenses,

the opposition has repeatedly, through propaganda and money, convinced enough significantly powerful people that:

  • no stricter background checks should be done, and
  • no firearms should be banned pursuant to the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

Sources with more information include this blog’s posts:

  • A Good Fight
  • Undercover, and
  • Savage Spawn.

If America wants to return to “normal” (have pre-COVID gatherings of a large number of people in one place), it needs to put gun control at the top of the agenda.

Anyway, read the book to learn of Rand’s biographer’s relationship to Rand, a wealth of additional details on Rand and how she acquired her wealth, the romantic subplot in the soap opera of her life, and much more on her theories, writings and lectures.

In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz

The Book of the Week is “In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo” by Michaela Wong, published in 2001.

Various dictators have looted the Belgian colony alternately known as “Zaire” and “Congo” in recent centuries. The late 1800’s saw light-skinned people enslaving the dark-skinned to try to enrich themselves by poaching, harvesting, mining or drilling for the colony’s ivory, rubber, timber, cocoa, diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, uranium and oil on behalf of King Leopold II of Belgium. However, many died of malaria, typhoid or sleeping sickness.

Belgium was still greedy even after Congo, still racked by unrest, declared its independence in 1960. The Soviets wanted a piece of the action, sending troops in to pretend to quell the violence. The United Nations troops entered, throwing soldiers with good intentions, after bad. For the next thirty years, what did change was that the United States and other countries wasted an inconceivably large amount of money supporting the lavish lifestyles of the Congolese dictator and his family and friends, until the CIA discreetly decided it was time for the dictator to go.

In late September 1960, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (Mobutu, for short) came to power. That translates to “the all powerful warrior who goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.” He ran the nation’s one political party, called “Movement for the Revolution.” He had the charisma, and lack of academic-smarts but plethora of street-smarts of the late American president Ronald Reagan.

However, Mobutu used divide and conquer in his palace politics– telling naive individuals that others were slandering them behind their backs. They believed him. He also assigned the same tasks to subordinates who hated each other without telling the others of the duplicated project-teams. When they learned that the boss had favorites other than them, petty jealousies arose. The hostilities between Mobutu’s underlings kept them busy fighting among themselves, and kept him in power.

Mobutu held rallies all the time. He created jobs galore for his people, in the rubber and cocoa industries. Foreigners who had previously been running operations that exploited Congo’s resources, fled the country. The new native Congolese who were given businesses to run, had no clue how to run them. When the economy crashed, Mobutu, his family, his cronies and his private army had no worries, because their real estate in Brussels, Paris and South Africa, and their Swiss bank accounts remained safe.

In the mid 1980’s, the journalists and diplomats in Kinshasa could spot the Congolese elites by their SUVs and mobile phones from Telecel. Congolese peasants, in order to eat, were forced to grow vegetable gardens throughout the city.

In the 1990’s, desirous of a better life, native Congolese were able to obtain student visas that allowed them to secretly become low-level restaurant or construction workers, or drivers in Brussels. They fled their native country rather than collectively revolt in order to fight for it, having adopted the pessimistic attitude of every man for himself. They had seen with their own eyes that “… politics is a game played by conmen and hypocrites.”

Congo’s cycle of dictatorship had yet to be broken due to the education system, which didn’t teach Congolese history. The younger generation knew nothing of how their recent leaders had come to power. “Knowing nothing about the past of course, frees a population from any sense of blame for the present. How convenient was all this forgetting…”

May 1997 was crunch time similar to that in 1986 in the Philippines and Haiti. In Kinshasa, Tutsi youths were shot in the streets, Japanese journalists sought photo opportunities, journalists of other nationalities and Belgian tourists sought haven in the Hotel InterContinental.

Read the book to learn much more about the history of Congo and its one nuclear reactor, Mobutu, the Congolese people in the 1990’s– rich and famous, poor and unknown, their black markets, their Mutual Benefit Society, their religions, corruption at their airport and with the IMF and World Bank, and about the lingering colonialist nostalgia of Belgium and France.

Hugo Black

The Book of the Week is “Hugo Black, A Biography” by Roger K. Newman, published in 1994. It is ironic that the Caucasian subject’s name was Black, as he was involved in many civil-rights controversies.

Born in 1886 in Clay County, Alabama, Black grew up in a small, poor, agricultural community. When he himself was fourteen, his father died of complications from alcoholism. He completed two years of medical school and passed his exams in becoming a doctor like his older brother, but lacked passion. He was more suited to lawyering, so he also graduated with honors in two years from the University of Alabama.

Black’s legal career started to flourish only after he moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where the culture allowed him to meet important people including a mentor, and get experience in labor law. In the single-digit 1900’s, the segregated-by-skin-color city was still an Old South aristocracy that offered hard manual work for blacks (which comprised nearly half the population) in coal, iron, railroads and steel. There were also: numerous taverns, brothels and churches, and a growing temperance movement.

Black joined as many social and civic organizations as he could because he knew they could further his careers in law (representing labor unions) and politics. In 1910, his mentor pressured him into becoming a low-level criminal-court judge for a year to give him more experience from a different perspective. By 1914, Black was elected Jefferson County solicitor (equivalent to district attorney) as a Democrat. He quit in 1917 to join the U.S. Army.

As a litigator, Black was a master of courtroom histrionics. He was not below furthering his career to take on a morally repugnant case, such as defending a friend who had committed murder. In 1923, Black joined the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan stood for unions and of course, white supremacy; spewed hatred against corporations and immigration, and committed physical violence against Catholics, Jews, blacks, etc. Into the 1930’s in the state of Alabama, the group’s political power was so dominant that one was required to be a member in order to win any election in Alabama.

When asked about his membership later by anti-New Dealers, Black rationalized and minimized and lied and said everybody joined in those days, and then changed the subject. Alabama senator Oscar Underwood’s career ended in May 1925 when he spoke out against the K.K.K. Not only that– Underwood was forced to move to Virginia. Ironically, there were poor whites who voted for Black (for Alabama senator) only because the K.K.K. paid their $1.50 poll tax in 1927.

Black was a voracious reader, attacking the Senate library, absorbing biographies and writings of ancient Greek and Roman bigwigs. He was anti-immigration and also anti-trust. In 1933, he led an investigation in the latter area involving “Destroyed records, competitive bidding shunned, questionably large salaries and profits– the picture that emerged was depressingly familiar.” By the end of the 1930’s, other anti-trust cases that grabbed newspaper headlines made the dueling ideologies of the New Deal and Wall Street, cliches.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. military ordered Japanese people on the West Coast to be confined to concentration camps. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson considered such action to be racism, and arguably a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as it was violating the Japanese’s due-process rights, treating them as though they were already guilty of a crime. Justice Black thought that wartime made such action permissible, because no one could know who was loyal and who was disloyal to the United States.

In addition to civil-rights cases in the 1940’s, the Supreme Court handled a voting-redistricting case. The majority opinion was that it was up to state legislatures to “…apportion properly or to invoke the ample powers of Congress.” But, as with (now) countless cases, “How the people could obtain a remedy from the body that perpetuated the abuse was never explained: it is to admit there is no remedy.” Additional cases on redistricting were adjudicated in the early 1960’s. Meanwhile, as is well known, a series of hotly debated civil-rights cases came down the pike.

In 1963, Black’s take on sit-ins and protests was influenced by his childhood experiences. His father owned a store. He developed the firm belief that the store was his family’s private property, and his father could bar anyone from it, for trespassing. Entering private property was not a Constitutional right, even if people sitting at a lunch counter were perfectly willing to pay for food that the owner refused to serve them.

A sit-in in Black’s mind was an issue of private property, not free speech. He also felt that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s peaceful protests should have been prohibited because there was the potential for crowds to become violent. That was also not a matter of free speech, but of action– also not protected by the Constitution. Unsurprisingly for the times, in Birmingham in spring 1963, “Television showed police dogs attacking peaceful marchers and fire hoses thrashing at them… ” which were actions ordered by Alabama governor George C. Wallace.

Read the book to learn every last detail of how Black became a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, plus much more about Black’s life, times and Supreme Court cases.

Bella Abzug – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Bella Abzug, An oral history (sic)” by Suzanne Braun Levin and Mary Thom, published in 2007. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Abzug was a pioneer in law and politics, not just due to her gender. Females in each of their respective times had to be tough as nails to be taken sufficiently seriously to wield influence to effect change.

In this day and age, the Web, TV and radio are dominant sources of voting-influence. However, it is difficult to measure how much influence specific individuals (pundits, politicians, celebrities, etc.) of those outlets, have on voters. When users, viewers or listeners merely acknowledge that they like a show or read the messages or posts of someone specific, it is likely they are seeking to confirm what they already believe– those “influencers” aren’t changing the audiences’ minds. Therefore, candidates must try to influence impressionable people who are voting for the first time who make up their minds ahead of time, and try to gauge how significant a sector, are voters who decide at the last minute.

The 2020 presidential election will likely have unprecedented last-minute surprises, so no one really knows how to fully prepare to influence the outcome of the election. Nevertheless, one unbiased open-ended survey question asked of high schoolers, college students, and last-minute voters– which might actually turn out to be all voters in 2020– could be, “What was the biggest influencer of your voting decision for or against a certain candidate– an individual, website, TV show, TV commercial or radio show? Name him, her or it, and specify the candidate, and whether for or against.”

Anyway, born in 1920 in New York City, Abzug graduated from Columbia University Law School during WWII. After the war, she applied for a job as an attorney at a law firm that practiced labor law. She said the firm (because they were sexist) “… would offer me money which was lower than the minimum wage paid the workers they were representing!” In those days, law firms didn’t hire attorneys who were female, let alone ones who were Jewish, as was Abzug.

Abzug intentionally avoided learning how to use a typewriter so bosses wouldn’t order her to do typing rather than practice law. In 1972, she was the first member of Congress to call for president Richard Nixon’s impeachment.

There was plenty of political violence during the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Nixon. According to Margot Polivy’s recollection, “Every month or so, there was a major demonstration. Half the time all of downtown Washington (D.C.) reeked of tear gas… All the Nobel Prize winners started to get arrested, and they didn’t have jail space for them.”

In 1974, Abzug coauthored the Privacy Act and FOIA, which required federal government agencies to send unclassified documentation to any member of the public who requested it in connection with the government’s operations and records. Unfortunately, times have changed. Radically.

Read the book to learn much more about Abzug’s personality, family, career and accomplishments.

Political Woman

The Book of the Week is “Political Woman, The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick” by Peter Collier, published in 2012.

Born in 1926 in Oklahoma, Kirkpatrick and her family moved to Illinois when she was twelve. Although her father had higher hopes for her younger brother and gave him more opportunities in life because he was a boy, she became a career academic– teaching, publishing and lecturing in the area of political science. Although she was a Democrat, she was not amused by president Jimmy Carter’s actions; in fact, she was glad she had not been hired to work in his administration. By 1980, she was leaning Republican.

President Ronald Reagan appointed Kirkpatrick to a high government position– ambassador to the United Nations, beginning in February 1981. She got more attention than otherwise for being female. But for her gender, her name would have faded from the public’s memory by now.

Nevertheless, Kirkpatrick turned around the United States’ standing as a doormat, in the United Nations (UN). Voting blocs of UN members enjoyed ganging up on the United States (U.S.) via resolutions the way high school cliques bully each other. However, there were serious human rights abuses in many Third World countries run by brutal dictators, and oppression as usual in the former Soviet Union.

Of course there was hypocrisy galore. The Arabs launched a campaign to oust Israel as a member, but Kirkpatrick foiled their plot by threatening to withhold U.S. funding from the UN if they did so.

Kirkpatrick clashed with secretary of state Al Haig, who sabotaged her via “… infighting and backbiting and damaging leaks” because he needed complete control of American foreign policy.

Seems there’s nothing new under the sun.

And now, breaking news, this just in, and shocking revelations!

But first, a Presidential Candidate Application Form

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT

Please answer the questions below without waffling, and include inconvenient facts. Or else.

NAME:

AGE:

REAL EDUCATION:

CITIZENSHIP:

How would you best describe yourself?

( ) A long-winded, exaggerating speechmaker

( ) A sexy alpha male with boyish good looks

( ) An egotistical attention whore

( ) A Twitter junkie

( ) Two or more of the above

Do you have any detectable vestige of presidential qualifications, besides your assets, contacts, attorneys and public relations team inherited from your daddy; or besides your assets and contacts resulting from your abuse of elective office?

( ) YES ( ) NO

Would it bother you to be the target of unrelenting hatred?

( ) YES ( ) NO

“I can’t wait to be a patronage pig, nepotist and profiteer as president.”

( ) YES ( ) NO

How many times have you declared business bankruptcy, and how many times have you been disciplined by law enforcement for illegal activities you committed in any public office you’ve held?

____________

____________

Do you hate or love illegal immigrants?

( ) HATE ( ) LOVE

List three ways you would deal with them.

  1. _________________________
  2. _________________________
  3. _________________________

Choose an appropriate nickname for yourself:

( ) Slick

( ) Tricky

( ) Crooked

( ) Sleepy

( ) Racist

( ) Dictator

Choose an appropriate image for yourself:

( ) Religious right-wing libertarian crazy

( ) Obese

( ) Law-and-order, xenophobic, corrupt hypocrite

( ) Little discernible brain activity; hate reading

( ) Socialist, bleeding-heart-liberal, global-warming political hack

( ) Two or more of the above

GOOD LUCK with your propaganda war. Remember, plausible denial and willful ignorance are your friends!

One more hint for winning, especially for the incumbent:

Charisma wins the day, regardless of what you did. It might be recalled that when president Ronald Reagan’s naughty behavior was exposed, his charisma mitigated his culpability. Besides, he got away with the senility defense because he was telling the truth when he testified that he remembered nothing, at the Iran-Contra hearings. Previous presidents who got into trouble remained lucid and sane, to their detriment. Pesky facts got in their way, but their charisma too, mitigated their culpability!

And now, the real SPOILER ALERT.

IN GENERAL, the United States’ current political situation resembles that of the waning months of the Nixon administration. The president has become toxic like Nixon, or else the Republicans wouldn’t be throwing in with the Democrats. The Republicans HATE the Democrats. They should be fighting the Democrats’ alleged tyranny tooth and nail, as usual. Instead, they are keeping all past president-related actions under wraps.

The Republicans know the incumbent can’t be reelected because he can’t win without mudslinging, and there’s way, way too much mud on him.

ALL of the government’s leaders might say they don’t want the current president to engage in any more dirty tricks that could lead to a total dictatorship before a new president comes to power. However, it is becoming apparent that a nationwide lockdown was actually completely unnecessary. The Republicans went along with it only to save face because it kills them to admit that they never liked the president, but they know it’s time for him to go.

The two ways the president has squelched practically all bad publicity in connection with his wrongdoing include: paying people to shut up and go away via nondisclosure agreements; and labeling government documents “classified” because they relate to national security matters and allegedly might reveal state secrets if publicized. The president might not resign, but his reign will end sooner than he would like.

Now, back to the regularly scheduled Book of the Week.

In later years, fans of Kirkpatrick tried to draft her to run for office, as she favored the Equal Rights Amendment, was pro-choice and was strongly pro-Israel. She became wealthy from speaking and writing, although her 1990’s writings contradicted her previous UN attitude.

Kirkpatrick, pursuant to her neoconservative ideology, was worried that America would be “… drawn into ever more ‘expansive, expensive’ global projects, along with fear left over from the 1970’s, [– as] rushing to impose utopian values on the world usually wound up adversely affecting America’s interests.”

She harshly criticized president Bill Clinton for his attempts to help achieve peace in the world’s hotspots through working with the UN rather than sending in American troops and aid the way Reagan did– and she approved of everything Reagan did.

Read the book to learn of Kirkpatrick’s views and actions in connection with her loyally following Reagan’s policies in Central America, the USSR and Grenada; and her flip-flopping on her hawkishness in the Clinton era, the period just after 9/11, and long after.

Inventing Al Gore – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Inventing Al Gore, A Biography” by Bill Turque, published in 2000.

Gore was born in 1948 in Washington, D.C. into a family of economic royalists originally from Tennessee. He had a decade-older sister, and built a political career like his senator-father. After graduating from Harvard in spring 1969 during a raging Vietnam War, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he was assigned to be a journalist. Stationed in Alabama, his job was to spread war propaganda on alleged war heroes.

There was a good chance he wouldn’t have seen combat, but there was anecdotal evidence that he had General William Westmoreland pull strings for him to stay safe anyway. Draft-dodging would have hurt his anti-war father’s chances for reelection to the U.S. Senate in 1970. His father lost, regardless.

In early 1971, finally having been granted his request to go to Vietnam to dispel vicious rumors, Gore served less than five months there in a non-combat capacity. He had post-traumatic stress disorder when he came back. He turned toward religion– traditional Baptism and New Age spiritualism, and environmentalism.

The author’s account was murky on exactly how Gore could possibly attend classes in a special one-year divinity school program, be a full-time reporter (working long hours) for the “Tennessean” newspaper, assist his father with a home-building business on the weekends, and socialize with family and friends– all simultaneously for a year and a half (!)

In mid-April 1987, Gore jumped into the race for president. It may be recalled that in the following month, candidate Gary Hart was forced out of the race after busybodies exposed his marital infidelity. That was the election season when the New York Times‘ nosiness reached new heights with all the presidential candidates.

From 1993 to 1994, Gore was an active participant in president Bill Clinton’s “… solid accomplishments like deficit reduction, NAFTA, FMLA, and the Earned Income Tax Credit…” However, other controversial issues reared their ugly heads, such as “… gays in the military, the leviathan health care package…” Of course, political enemies constantly needled Clinton with his every professional and personal misstep.

Nevertheless, during his presidency, Clinton attacked major issues. It appears that the U.S. government has yet to take major, major action in connection with decades-old, explosive issues– such as illegal immigration and gun control– for economic and/or political reasons. Yet it has taken major, major action on, say, abortion (with Roe. v. Wade), civil rights, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition– for ideological and/or religious reasons; it hasn’t been for the money. Healthcare and education are too broad, fragmented and complex to generalize about one way or the other.

Nonetheless, read the book to learn additional tabloidy details about Gore’s life and times.

The Autobiography… / Kingfish

The subject of the First Book of the Week wrote:

“In fact there is no unemployed. We got one hundred and twenty million people working overtime just repeating rumors.”

“If we ever pass out as a great nation, we ought to put on our tombstone ‘America died from a delusion that she had moral leadership.’ “

“We are used to having everybody named as Presidential candidates, but the country hasn’t quite got to the professional comedian stage.”

The above quotes were published in September 1931, June 1931, and January 1928.

The First Book of the Week is “The Autobiography of Will Rogers” published in 1949. The author’s original writings were presented as is, unedited, with his atrocious spelling and (folksy) grammatical errors.

Born in November 1879 in Oklahoma, Rogers was the youngest of seven children. He was a quick-tempered rebellious child, but super-talented with a rodeo lasso.

At seventeen, Rogers quit the military school in Missouri to which he was sent by his father to find a ranching job. He traveled to Western states to enter roping and riding contests, and provided entertainment at state fairs in the Midwest.

He and his friends posed as musicians (but were really shills) in a sixty-man band who interrupted the shows to rope steers.

Rogers traveled the world via boat, seeking international ranching gigs. He eventually found that Rio de Janeiro was better for that than London. South Africa wasn’t bad, either. In Australia, he joined the Wirth Brothers circus in Sydney.

Along around WWI, Rogers began doing stand-up comedy for Ziegfeld Follies, and the Midnight Frolic. His Henry Ford jokes were getting old before the new shows were launched every four months. His wife suggested that he joke about what he read in the papers.

So from then on, the amusing content of Rogers’ newspaper columns came from Congress. In a December 1934 column, he commented that young people lack life experience. That is why they can’t help but look toward their futures. Older folks look back because their pasts are always with them. “But we are both standing on the same ground, and their feet is there as firmly as ours.”

Read the book to learn of Rogers’ movie-acting and public-speaking careers, too, and much more about his life.

The Second Book of the Week is “Kingfish, The Reign of Huey P. Long” by Richard D. White, Jr., published in 2006.

Not to be confused with Huey Newton (or Huey Lewis), Huey Long was a composite of every successful power-hungry American politician who ever lived, if success is measured by the amount of power he acquired, given the offices he held.

Born in August 1893 in Louisiana, Long grew up one of nine children in a farming and ranching family. He was an avid reader and control freak. Expelled from high school his senior year, he got a series of sales jobs before trying law school for the second time in the autumn of 1914. He failed most of the classes but passed the oral bar exam for Louisiana in 1915.

While struggling to make a living at practicing law, Long knew he was a born politician. So on his second attempt, he won the governorship of Louisiana for the Democratic party in early 1928. His then-techniques were innovative– mudslinging and delivering speeches on the radio to Shreveport, and driving trucks containing bullhorns that blared at rallies all around the state, where he met every voter and put up campaign posters everywhere he possibly could.

Long tailored his campaign promises to specific audiences such as drinkers, Catholics, businessmen, sugar-cane growers, etc. “Because each newspaper gave one-sided coverage to its own candidate and ignored the other two, citizens needed to buy different papers to keep up with the campaigns.”

Long acquired massive power because he was a master at manipulating legal loopholes and eliminating enemies. He collected lackeys through sweetheart contracts and patronage galore; not to mention through bribery, influence peddling, racketeering, and corruption. His underlings did his will because they themselves were desperate for money and/or power.

Long actually did some good until 1931. He built highways and a new state Capitol, repaired streets and sewers in New Orleans and refinanced its port. He made Louisiana State University a world-class school.

Long also dealt with the political issues of education, gambling and natural gas. He manipulated the system so that he was elected U.S. Senator in September 1930 but finished his Louisiana governorship before taking that office in January 1932.

Other outrageous acts for which he initially went unpunished included extensive election fraud. “In one New Orleans precinct, votes were tallied before the polls closed, while in another, voting began before they opened. Huey ordered state workers to contribute to the pro-Long campaign and if they didn’t, they lost their jobs. His machine spent huge sums to pay the one-dollar poll taxes for impoverished farmers.” But no empire lasts forever.

Read the book to learn of the steps Long took to counteract the results of his deficit spending (hint– he dictated tax hikes), of how he became an absolute ruler like no other in the history of Louisiana, and what became of him in 1935, among other details of this cautionary tale.

Half-Life

The Book of the Week is “Half-Life, The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist or Spy” by Frank Close, published in 2015. The author himself was a physicist, so he interspersed physics concepts with the evolution of the development of nuclear technology and its major players. This book was written for readers who would like to learn some nuclear physics, and/or those readers curious about the people involved in Cold War / nuclear physics mysteries.

However, Close made an error, spelling “Lise Meitner” as “Lisa Meitner.” Additionally, since the author was neither a historian nor American (he was British) he was mistaken in declaring, “For supporters of communism in the West, this [the autumn 1956 Hungarian uprising which was bloodily crushed by the Soviets] was probably the most serious crisis of conscience since the Soviet pact with the Nazis in 1939.” Actually, in early 1956, Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s horrific crimes to the world. Americans, especially those who considered themselves Social Democrats, were thrown for a loop ideologically, and became bitterly conflicted in their own minds, and with each other.

Anyway, born in Italy in August 1913, Pontecorvo was the fourth of eight children. In 1931, he transferred from the University of Pisa to that of Rome for his third year of physics studies, mentored by Enrico Fermi. Knowledge of particle physics was in its infancy. Pontecorvo and other scientists jointly filed a patent in autumn 1935 in connection with experiments with neutrons and hydrogen.

The year 1936 saw Pontecorvo flee to Paris after Mussolini cracked down on Jews’ liberty. He studied with Frederic and Irene Joliot-Curie. He was turned on to Communist ideology by his cousin. They attended meetings and rallies.

By the late 1930’s, physicists (and governments) of different nations such as Germany, France, Italy, the USSR, etc. started to realize how important nuclear processes were for creating future weapons of mass destruction– instrumental for their respective homelands’ national security. Beginning in the summer of 1940, nuclear research became secret in the United States. Scientific journals would no longer publish articles on that topic.

The USSR did not lack for brains, but for uranium in the early 1940’s. Beginning in summer 1942 in Moscow, the Soviets worked on an atomic bomb. But scientists in the United Kingdom had a head start, having begun their work the previous year. In December 1942, the United States started the Manhattan Project.

By the end of the 1940’s, having done nuclear research in Tulsa in Oklahoma, the Northwest Territories in Canada and in Harwell in England, Pontecorvo was planning to move himself, his wife and three sons to Liverpool to become a physics professor. The British intelligence service MI5 secretly pushed him in that direction. As is well known, the United States was gripped by anti-Communist hysteria, with the arrests of spies Klaus Fuchs, David Greenglass and the Rosenbergs.

The summer of 1950 saw the Pontecorvo family take a summer vacation in France, Switzerland, and the Italian countryside. There is circumstantial evidence that he met with his Communist cousin and suddenly, all bets were off.

Read the book to learn the fate of the family, the contributions made to science by the scientist, learn why he neither won the Nobel Prize nor collected royalties on the aforementioned patent, and much more.

Gorsuch – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Gorsuch, The Judge Who Speaks For Himself” by John Greenya, published in 2018.

This volume mostly discussed Neil Gorsuch’s nomination for the position of Supreme Court justice, gleaned from opinion pieces in online publications including blogs, and comments from interviews, in a disorganized fashion. With some of Obama’s political career thrown in. Plus the controversy surrounding Gorsuch’s mother. It got tedious after a while, and should not be classified as a biography.

As is well known, Gorsuch was nominated in an era with an especially emotionally charged political atmosphere. Of course, during his confirmation hearings, Gorsuch was grilled on one particularly extremely controversial issue: abortion.

Some Republicans propagandized that Gorsuch was a gentleman, and a good writer. Some Democrats propagandized that Gorsuch would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade. Prior to his SCOTUS nomination, he had served as an appellate judge for a decade, during which he saw no cases directly related to that case’s decision.

Gorsuch himself, in a book he wrote, conceded that whether abortion is the taking of a human life, hinges on the definition of “human life.” At his confirmation hearing, when pressed on whether he accepted that the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not consider a fetus a person, Gorsuch agreed it is federal law that says a fetus is not a person.

Abortion is one of the most, if not the most, volatile political issue in the United States, because it is a matter of religion and politics, life and death, and its legalization or not, has serious ripple effects on society. There are three major aspects, among a host of peripheral issues, upon which most people seize: biology, women’s rights, and economics.

The first major aspect relates to a few pieces of information that allow people to form opinions on the definition of “human life” to which there is no right or wrong:

A fetus’ heartbeat is detectable approximately two months into a pregnancy. Some people believe that when a heartbeat is detectable in a fetus, that that fetus is a human life.

Besides, a fetus can live outside the womb at approximately two months into a pregnancy, but it still requires a large amount of technological help with sustenance at that stage; around five months is when it can live outside the womb without the extensive assistance of medical technology.

Some people believe that if a fetus can live outside the womb (but the amount of life-support equipment any given fetus requires varies widely), that that fetus is a human life. Thus, some people believe abortion should be illegal from those respective points onward. Others believe life begins at conception. Therefore, according to them, abortion should never be legalized at any point.

The question of abortion obviously disproportionately affects females. Women’s rights involve a female’s control over her own body.

There are two major economics aspects to abortion:

Norman Mailer argued that from a purely economic (non-emotional) standpoint, abortion should have been legalized merely because, according to research, a lot of unwanted babies grow up to become career criminals. Legalization of abortion would eliminate the long-term costs to society of unwanted people.

Moreover, prior to the time abortions became legal, poor women who couldn’t afford illegal abortions done by an experienced medical professional, attempted abortion methods themselves, which were dangerous to their own health. So there arose long-term costs to society in the form of their medical expenses, if they didn’t die from complications.

Even though abortion is now legal conditionally, some poor women still cannot afford it. That raises the can of worms of whether abortions should be publicly funded. Which leads to a vicious cycle for poor women. And society.

Biological aspects of abortion that make abortion laws conditional, include: specifics on the trimester in which the procedure is performed, whether the mother’s or baby’s life is in danger and whether the baby is developmentally normal. An additional wrench in the works is whether a female should be able to have an abortion in a case of rape or incest.

The religious aspects of abortion are a whole other explosive ball of wax. Especially when sex education is thrown into the mix. Yet another cause of heated discussions is that it is impossible to prove how often abortion is used as a birth-control method.

The yelling and screaming, litigation and legislative debate is guaranteed to never stop, because there will always be questions such as: If the mother is extremely young– does she need a parent’s consent to have an abortion?

And can a pregnant woman of any age cross state lines in order to gain access to an abortion that is legal, given her situation? Which leads to the controversy of States’ Rights.

In the last several decades, the Democrats have faced a dilemma when they nominated a Catholic presidential candidate. The Democrats favor laws that allow abortion. Some Catholic and Christian voters say they would never vote for any candidate who is a Democrat for that reason alone. They say they wouldn’t waver on that. The question for the ages is: Is the number of these voters sufficient to affect the outcome of a presidential election?

Anyway, read the book to learn of other issues on which Gorsuch’s positions had yet to be seen as of the book’s writing, and tabloid writers’ and politicians’ take on his fitness for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Harry Belafonte / Shirley Chisholm

The First Book of the Week is “Harry Belafonte, My Song, a Memoir” with Michael Shnayerson, published in 2011.

Born in March 1927 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the singer best known for the “Banana Boat Song” actually did a lot more in his lifetime than give concerts and act. He was instrumental in helping fund and organize the civil rights movement.

Belafonte’s older relatives were interracial; they hailed from Jamaica in the Caribbean; the light-skinned ones living there were Scottish. Growing up dirt poor, he lived alternately between upper Manhattan and Jamaica for years at a time, bounced among them.

For Belafonte, it was one psychological trauma after another. He had undiagnosed dyslexia, in addition to having accidentally with sewing scissors, as a toddler, blinded himself in one eye.

Fortunately, Belafonte’s mother, an illegal immigrant, had survival skills. But she practiced spousification with him in his early years. When he was five years old, he was tasked with taking care of his baby brother while she worked. She instilled in him a love of music, taking him to see the great singers of the 1930’s and 1940’s at the Apollo Theater in upper Manhattan.

The author’s mother hired someone to give him piano lessons. However, he played hooky from them because the teacher cruelly beat his fingers, just like the nuns at his parochial school. He ended up quitting school for good in the middle of ninth grade.

Belafonte’s father, an abusive, mean drunk, was frequently out of town– either acting as head chef on a banana boat in the Caribbean, or philandering. But there were a few occasions of quality time, playing marbles.

Belafonte was able to pay for drama school with the G.I. Bill, after his Navy service during World War II. He befriended the politically-active, drama and jazz crowds, many of whom, like him, would later became world famous.

By the early 1960’s, the nation was violently divided. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded Belafonte that “… compromise was a crucial tenet of nonviolence. If compromise got you closer to your goal, then it was worth any loss of face.” As is well known, there was excessive bloodshed throughout the 1960’s– so there must have been a lot of men who couldn’t stand to swallow their pride for the good of the nation.

Anyway, read the book to learn why Belafonte, even after becoming fabulously famous and wealthy, never did lead a charmed life. He did, however, raise funds for Shirley Chisholm.

The Second Book of the Week is “Shirley Chisholm, Catalyst for Change” by Barbara Winslow, published in 2014.

Born in Brooklyn in 1924, Chisholm had a grandfather who worked on the Panama Canal, whose construction spurred the upward mobility of sugarcane slaves from Barbados. Her ancestors believed in education and home ownership.

Chisholm spent roughly three and a half years of her early childhood in Barbados; the rest, in New York City. She experienced culture shock moving from a rural, agricultural village to big, scary, crime-ridden neighborhoods– Brownsville, and then Bedford-Stuyvesant, both in Brooklyn.

Chisholm’s goal was to become an elementary school teacher but she couldn’t get hired because she was black. With her master’s degree in early childhood education, Chisholm eventually became a consultant to the day care department of New York City’s welfare agency, supervising tens of employees. She “… would always have to face men who tried to infantilize, patronize or demonize her.”

In 1964, Chisholm won an assembly seat in New York State. She worked with three other black politicians in New York: Charles Rangel, David Dinkins and Percy Sutton. She was very prolific; eight of the fifty bills she sponsored were passed.

In 1968, with the slogan, “Vote for Shirley Chisholm for Congress– unbought and unbossed” she became the first African American woman elected to Congress. When she expressed her intention to run for president in 1972, men bristled.

Chisholm had a particular reason for rescinding her plan to personally campaign in Wisconsin, involving public relations. She disappointed a bunch of dedicated grass-roots volunteers. But she would have visited the state for only two or three days anyway, and not have gotten significant support over and above her loyal followers’. So by not visiting, she could brag that she got, say, 5% of the vote without even campaigning there– that’s how much people loved her.

In May 1972, after racist presidential candidate George Wallace was shot, Chisholm behaved compassionately, visiting him in the hospital.

Read the book to learn more about Chisholm’s life and times, including why she was actually bossed, but not bought.