Revolution 2.0 – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Revolution 2.0, The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power, a Memoir” by Wael Ghonim, published in 2012.

Born in 1980, the author attended high school in Egypt. The country had a rote education system, and cheating was rampant. The underpaid teachers derived the bulk of their income from private tutoring.

The 1980’s had seen the government of Egypt start to change for the worse. There was increasing poverty, brain drain, and oppression of religious groups. In 1987, Hosni Mubarak first came to power. He initially promised to serve only the two-term limit as president. But as he acquired more power, he acquired more ownership. And more power. And broke his promise. Every presidential “election” every six years thereafter, was rigged to allow Mubarak’s reelection three more times. There was only one political party. His.

While attending university in 1998, the author launched an Islamic website that featured audio tracks of the Qur’an. He was a technology geek, and became especially well-versed in Web communications. In 2004, a group of dissidents formed a group called Kefaya, meaning “enough” in Arabic. In 2006, ordinary Egyptians began protesting against the corruption of the regime.

In 2008, after eight months of numerous interviews, the author got a job with Google. In January 2010, in order to escape Mubarak’s oppressive regime, he and his wife and children moved to Dubai. It was around then that the author became politically vocal about Egypt’s rotten government. He wrote, “Out of hopelessness came anger.”

The author and a friend launched a Facebook page to promote an opposition candidate to Mubarak, as another “election” was coming up in 2011. The regime’s public relations machine was a master at smearing its political enemies; so it did, early and often.

In June 2010, the author created a Facebook page to tell the world about how the Egyptian government tortured and killed a dissident, and he posted a gruesome photo of the said dissident. Users commented on it in droves. In the coming months, the author and others used social media to plan peaceful protests to bring down the Mubarak government.

The author helped spark a movement that experienced growing-pains typical for such a movement. For a while, it became a victim of its own success: when a movement grows significantly in a short time– due to the increasing number of people in it– members begin to form factions and disagree, and go off and do their own thing. So some disgruntled members sabotage the original group’s goals.

Also, the political enemies of the movement see it growing, so they send infiltrators to divide and conquer it. That is why progress has been so slow for so many seemingly large political movements, such as civil rights and feminism.

In autumn 2010, the author was starting to get emotionally burnt out. He mistakenly used his personal account that revealed his true identity. Up to then, he had been super-careful to use false identities in his social media accounts, so as to avoid being arrested, jailed, interrogated, tortured and possibly murdered.

Egyptians were encouraged by Tunisia’s street protests, which were going on around the same time. But Egypt’s problems were worse. The author took the plunge to call Egypt’s movement “Revolution Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption and Unemployment.” He helped shape the protest messaging that convinced the public to peacefully take to the streets on Egyptian Police Day, January 25, 2011. He explained that he opposed only human rights abuses committed by law enforcement officials, not the respectful maintenance of order.

The author learned that: his contacts and access to communications were more important than plans, because best-laid plans always go awry– conditions on the ground change rapidly, and “People’s attachment to ideas is much stronger than their attachment to individuals, who can be doubted and defamed.”

Read the book to learn the details of the backstory, and what happened next.

Fighting For Common Ground – BONUS POST

PLEASE READ THE POST BELOW THIS ONE, AS BUGGY SOFTWARE PUBLISHED IT OUT OF CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER.

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Fighting For Common Ground, How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress” by Olympia Snowe, published in 2013.

Born in Augusta, Maine in 1947, the author was of Greek extraction. In the mid-1970’s, when she ran as a Republican for the state Senate in Maine, she rode a bicycle around to personally knock on doors to get votes. In the mid-1980’s, the NIH was still (!) providing federal funds for medical research only on men. In 1987, the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and the Environment acknowledged this abomination. Finally in 1993, the author and others pushed through legislation that created an office of the NIH that conducted research on women, that spurred additional research on women at other organizations.

The author wrote that in the early 2000’s, Karl Rove proposed an evil plan involving five issues, with the goal of keeping the Republicans in power indefinitely. In George W. Bush’s second term, the Republicans pushed for and got a federal education mandate, but the other four initiatives were never fully implemented (fortunately): a Christian agenda, privatization of Social Security and healthcare accounts, and some immigration reform.

The author spent a large portion of this book lamenting about how gridlocked Congress has become due to the hostility between America’s two major political parties. Republicans had traditionally believed in maintaining a balanced budget, but that went out the window with the uncontrolled deficit spending in the George W. Bush years.

In early August 2011, Congress members went on their summer recess, shirking a boatload of important business. As a result, America’s national debt rating was downgraded by Standard and Poor’s for the first time in history.

Read the book to learn about the author’s recommendations on how to change the Senate’s protocol and rules in order to improve its functioning, civility and ability to compromise to achieve consensus.

It Doesn’t Take A Hero

The Book of the Week is “It Doesn’t Take A Hero” by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, written with Peter Petre, published in 1992.

Born in August 1934 in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Schwarzkopf as an adolescent moved to Tehran in Iran to be with his father, a military bigwig. He then became an expat in other worldly venues– a boarding school in Geneva in Switzerland, more schooling in Frankfurt in Germany, Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania, and finally, the then-tuition-free West Point.

Schwarzkopf was accepted by one of America’s premier military colleges, even though he wasn’t a spoiled rich kid who had connections. It was July 1952. Culturally of its time– the school took a photo, rear and side, of each new (male) cadet naked except for a jockstrap. As part of this humiliation ritual, for his first full year, the cadet posted the photo in his locker.

Schwarzkopf’s military training consisted of the usual divestiture socialization, and an honor code. The latter was a vow of ethical behavior: “…a cadet does not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate anybody who does…” The year prior to his matriculation, the school had suffered a cheating scandal– the first in its history– after which ninety cadets, including the whole football team, were expelled. Tutors had revealed copies of exams in advance.

Schwarzkopf truly believed in Vietnamization, and cared about South Vietnamese soldiers, not just American soldiers, who were killed in the war. In 1965, he got down and dirty with the men under his command in Duc Co, in the Pleiku area. His first combat tour was crowded with incident: he participated in seven major operations, was wounded, survived malaria and dysentery, and was awarded two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars.

Schwarzkopf enjoyed his tour because he had skilled, cooperative– the cream of the crop– Vietnamese military officers working with him, who successfully executed their missions. He didn’t know that most everywhere else, that situation was a rarity. So he thought the war was worth fighting.

When Schwarzkopf returned to West Point to fulfill his obligation to teach, the school had trouble finding quality students because no one wanted to be sent to Vietnam. In summer 1969, when he returned to Vietnam, he encountered a combination of the novel “Catch-22” and the TV sitcom “F-Troop.” But it was reality– needless deaths and ruined lives. Not without numerous difficulties, he whipped his subordinates into shape.

In late 1973, after eighteen months of laborious study to determine which military bases should close due to budget cuts, Schwarzkopf and the other naive members of his task force learned the hard way about the American government. The task force had done a whole lot of work and wasted a whole lot of time for nothing. Their recommendations were ignored.

To add insult to injury, Schwarzkopf was passed over for promotion: “The whole thing had been rigged and I hadn’t seen it. Obviously Walker had had the job from the start; O’Shei and I had just been there for show.”

In 1990, Schwarzkopf did what he was best known for: commanding troops in the Middle East after Iraq invaded Kuwait. He did the planning to send battalions of all kinds to Saudi Arabia: tank, mechanized-infantry, artillery, ordnance, transportation, medical, signal, and helicopters; plus engineers, technicians and armorers.

A Pentagon official told Schwarzkopf that the United States should not want to destroy Iraq as a nation, because it would continue to need it as a stabilizing influence on Iran. The goal was simply to cripple its ability to wage war. Iraq’s neighbors, feeling threatened, wanted to teach it a lesson, as it had committed a major sin in attacking a fellow Arab nation. France had a thorny problem on its hands– it supplied weaponry to both Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Anyway, top American government officials, including then-secretary of state Dick Cheney, watched the PBS miniseries “The Civil War” which showed fighting men’s brutalities and traumas in the United (?) States of the 1860’s. The emotional impact of that video should have deterred all humans from going to war. Nevertheless, as is well known, twelve years later, sociopathic chickenhawks had taken charge of the American government.

Even Schwarzkopf, as goody-goody as he made himself out to be, was a bit of a mythmaker. He wrote, “To our delight, the Patriots [missiles]… knocked the Scud from the sky… eleven interceptions claimed by Patriot batteries…”

Schwarzkopf stood by his assessment that the Patriot was great at defending military targets, as far as he was told. Perhaps he got bad information and believed it, as happened in February 1991, when ground troops were sent into Kuwait. He received “…erroneous ‘mission accomplished’ reports… The fact that two days had passed and no correction had been made only made matters worse. I felt as if I’d been lied to.” Nevertheless, the Iraqis captured about fifty (yes) POWs of varying nationalities, while Iraq’s enemies captured about eighty thousand (yes) Iraqi POWs.

Read the book to learn much more about: the author’s military and personal adventures in Alaska, Mainz in Germany, Grenada (hint– “… an abysmal lack of accurate intelligence, major deficiencies in communications, flareups of interservice rivalry, interference by higher headquarters in battlefield discussions, our alienation of the press…”) Washington, D.C., Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and his family.

Father Son & Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outsider in the White House

The Book of the Week is “Outsider in the White House” by Bernie Sanders with Huck Gutman, published in 1997, with an afterword added in 2016. This was a combination bragfest / rant of a political-career memoir.

In 1981, Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He was a member of the Independent party. The then-board of aldermen (equivalent to a city council) consisted of eight Democrats, three Republicans, and one Citizen Party member. They outvoted him at every opportunity. Nonetheless, he was able to get rid of sweetheart contracts, and establish:

  • competitive bidding;
  • a Little League;
  • a tree-planting initiative on city streets;
  • a summer concert series;
  • a Progressive Coalition that helped get board-of-aldermen candidates elected, who would help him. [In 1982, three of six Wards of Burlington won their elections. But the Coalition never did get a majority on the board];
  • community-oriented entities (such as the Burlington Women’s Council, and a Youth Office that included a Teen Center, to implement local initiatives such as Operation Snow Shovel); and music and cultural events.

Sanders improved city services in law enforcement, firefighting and sanitation. He secured programs for TRULY affordable housing (unlike in New York City). Although he was the mayor of a city, he delved into the foreign-policy issue of then-president Ronald Reagan’s wasting of taxpayer dollars in Latin America. For, those dollars could have been better spent taking care of U.S. citizens in his city.

In 1988, Sanders ran as an Independent candidate from Vermont for the U.S. House of Representatives, against a Republican and a Democrat. He nostalgically reminisced that they ran “… civil, issue-oriented campaigns. The debates were respectful and there was no negative advertising, no desire to ‘destroy’ the other person.”

As a Congressman in the 1990’s, Sanders attempted to legislate raising minimum wage, and blocking the elimination of a subsidy for home heating for the poor. He actually sponsored legislation to:

  • help dairy farmers in his state;
  • block a raise in pay (compliments of American taxpayers) given to the Lockheed-Martin board of directors and CEO;
  • create more affordable housing; and
  • stop insurance-company discrimination against the poor.

In 1996, Sanders wrote that Republican leaders went hog-wild in bashing: gays, immigrants, affirmative action, abortion and welfare. On that last issue, they made serious cutbacks which resulted in savings that were STILL less than an increase in military spending of about $60 billion over a six year period.

Sanders considers himself a socialist. His political philosophy toward economics seems to harken back to a 1940’s term that ought to be used more often–a label given to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: “NCL” or Non-Communist Left. Sanders wrote not one word about his views on any Soviet dictator. There was no indication whatsoever that he espoused the political system of Communism.

Schlesinger summed up NCL thusly: “The welfare state, I observed, did not at all mean direct government control over the economy. It was perfectly compatible with the free market. It meant simply the establishment of basic national standards of living for all citizens… The electoral process offered the means by which noncapitalists– farmers, workers, intellectuals, minorities– could invoke the state to defend themselves against capitalist exploitation.” Such process “… brought about a relative redistribution of wealth that defeated Marx’s prediction of the immiseration of the poor…” which leads to class resentments that boil over into violence when dissatisfaction reaches critical mass.

Read the book to learn more about Sanders’ political career. The following parody sums up Sanders’ description of the American political culture of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, just as the original theme song from the TV show “All in the Family” fondly recollects American popular culture of the 1930’s and 1940’s.

THOSE WERE THE DAYS

sung to the tune of “Those Were the Days” with apologies to the Estate of Gene Raskin.

Boy, the way Bill Clinton played.

Bills for war, tax cuts and trade.

Guys like Bush, they had it made.

Those were the days.

And you were told what you were then.

The Apprentice, Idol, Seinfeld, and Friends: made us long for a man like Ronald Reagan a-gain.

GOP smeared the welfare state.

Social media squelched real debate.

Gee, our online lives ran great.

Those were the days.

Do No Harm / Since Yesterday – BONUS POST

The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Do No Harm, Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery” by Henry Marsh, originally published in 2014. In this personal account, the author– a British brain surgeon– described his horribly depressing career. He recounted how he removed brain tumors from, and clipped aneurysms of, his most memorable patients through the decades. Even when a tumor was benign, it would keep growing and inevitably kill the patient unless taken out. Even when a large aneurysm had yet to burst, there was a chance (incalculable, as every patient is different) that it would burst in the patient’s lifetime.

Metaphorically speaking, some people would say that the outgoing president of the United States is a tumor in the nation’s brain. The author wrote, “You can never know for certain from a brain scan exactly how a tumor will behave until you start to remove it. It might be hard or soft, dry or bloody…” Prior to diagnosis, the most common symptom patients experience is headaches– which are uncharacteristic for them in daily life.

In order for a brain surgeon to acquire experience, he needs to actually practice on real patients, and make mistakes. Even when the surgeon does everything right in treating the patient, something could go wrong, anyway. In addition to stressing over his patients, the author had to deal with bureaucracies. But regardless of the healthcare system an industrialized country has (government-run, commercial, or a combination thereof), it’s comprised of: “… government targets, self-serving politicians, tabloid headlines, scandals, deadlines, civil servants, clinical cock-ups, financial crises, patient press-groups, trade unions, litigation, complaints and self-important doctors…”

Read the book to learn of the author’s trials and tribulations in treating patients not only in Britain, but also in Kiev.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “Since Yesterday, The 1930’s in America, September 3, 1929 – September 3, 1939” by Frederick Lewis Allen, originally published in 1939.

“To hear angry Republicans and angry Democrats talking, one would have supposed the contest was between a tyrant determined to destroy private property, ambition, the Constitution, democracy, and civilization itself; and a dupe of Wall Street who would introduce a fascist dictatorship.” Such was the nature of the 1936 presidential election in America.

Clearly, propagandizing hasn’t changed in ninety years. Presidents want to have it both ways: they take credit for all positive economic news, and blame their predecessors for all negative economic news.

At the dawn of the 1930’s when the economy went south, Americans held very strong opinions about their political preferences, heavily influenced by the propaganda they read in newspapers and magazines. Not much has changed, except that now they can force their opinions on the world at the speed of light. Immediately they think they’re experts from watching the idiot box and/or reading the Web; the attitude is, “I’m not an attorney, not a doctor, and not an economist, but I play one on social media, because I can, and because I’m right.”

Other similarities between the Depression Era and recent times include:

  • Golf was a popular businessman’s game.
  • Fans of professional sports worshipped their star players, like in baseball, tennis, and golf– Babe Ruth, Bill Tilden, Bobby Jones, etc.
  • Automation due to new technologies (such as steam, gasoline and electric power, inventions and farm machinery) and urbanization were eliminating jobs in industry, agriculture, and textiles more than offshoring ever would.
  • Listeners worshipped a pundit on the radio– Father Coughlin– a hate-spewing demagogue from the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak (but he broadcast on only one station, not a national network, so he became nationally known only in his later years in the 1930’s).
  • All players in the banking industry were financially interdependent so when the system collapsed, they all fell like dominoes. Then-president Hoover established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in order to bail out only his corporate cronies, as he didn’t believe in stimulus money for individuals.
  • In summer 1932, Howard Scott and his inscrutable theory of Technocracy was a fad. The author wrote, “Yet in the meantime it had offered an object-lesson in the readiness of the American people for a new messiah and a new credo” just as “Wikinomics” (see the post in this blog) was supposed to be the next big thing.
  • The political agenda behind COVID has forced Americans to relax online similar to the way the Depression brought on: the five-day (rather than six-day) workweek, construction of sports and recreational areas of all kinds, and provision for transportation to get to them.
  • Beginning in late 1936 into 1937, in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States, a bunch of rivers overflowed their banks due to humans’ misuse of land; in the third week of September 1938, 682 people died in an unexpected hurricane that destroyed regions unprepared for flooding, in New England and Mid-Atlantic states.
  • Between 1931 and 1936, there were actually more people leaving the U.S. than coming in, for various reasons, and the U.S. birth rate was slowing.
  • Ultra-rich Americans who refused to face inconvenient facts were the ones who hated FDR when he was elected president.

Proposals distorted in propaganda that played out in the Depression Era, whose outcomes are yet to be seen in recent times, included:

  • In the 1930’s, in order to allow men to keep their dignity, the government put them to work instead of giving them handouts. In their first few years of existence, FDR’s alphabet soup of mostly federal (rather than state or local level) jobs and programs was nonpartisan. However, eventually, the Democrats provided maximum funding as election day approached. On the whole, the financial relief worked well, except in Pennsylvania, where there was gross misuse of funds.
  • FDR’s policies sought to mitigate environmental damage done by people, and prevent future natural disasters with his introduction of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Public Works Administration, and his signing of the Taylor Grazing Act into law. These kinds of measures simply require political backing and money– the sooner a sufficient amount of both are thrown at them, the sooner the problems will be solved!
  • In February 1938, FDR floated a proposal to make seventy years the mandatory retirement age of all federal judges– including U.S. Supreme Court justices– and increase the number of justices from nine to fifteen. That unpopular proposal hurt FDR’s reputation.

In 1935, FDR introduced economic change to the country by instituting the Social Security system, financial assistance only for Americans 65 and older. In 1965, LBJ introduced economic change to the country by instituting the Medicare and Medicaid systems, healthcare funding for only those Americans who are poor and / or 65 and older.

In the future, the United States government might be introducing a better overall system of healthcare funding for all Americans of all ages and income levels (which is obviously much more complex than any system that has ever been created before in this country, so it’s not going to be perfect the first time around). In order to pay for the improved system, the government will likely have to raise taxes on the rich.

Along these lines, economics 101 says a nation’s economy is strongest when it has a healthy, well-educated workforce.

Whether deliberately or not, the political agenda revolving around COVID has rewarded education-software makers by closing schools across the country. So ironically, by allowing the software makers to get richer (because, presumably, their higher taxes will be paying for the improved healthcare-funding system), the software makers are dictating education policy. So in the long run, the nation will have a healthy, poorly educated workforce!

Anyway, read the book to learn much more about the tenor of the times in 1930’s America, culturally, politically and economically.

Skunk Works

“I asked the Air Force for $30 million, but they had only $20 million to spend in discretionary funds for secret projects by which they bypassed Congressional appropriations procedures.”

The above was written by Ben Rich, head of the Skunk Works– a secret division of military-contractor Lockheed in Burbank, California in summer 1975.

The Book of the Week is “Skunk Works, A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed” by Ben R. Rich & Leo Janos, published in 1994.

In January 1975, the author, a scientist, helped with projects to build weaponry for the CIA and the U.S. Air Force. At the time, the U.S. government was cutting military spending, as the Vietnam War was ending.

Lockheed was suffering from a bribery scandal, and the longtime head of the Skunk Works was retiring. The out-going executive had contentious relations with Lockheed’s customers, but knew how to manage people building weaponry. The author was promoted to replace him.

In summer 1975, unbeknownst to Lockheed, competitive bidding among military contractors had already started for producing a “stealth” plane; meaning, undetected by radar, that could spy or drop bombs. One military school-of-thought was pushing missiles rather than bombs, because missiles could travel long distances, and required a minimum of military personnel.

As is well known, 1970’s software that powered military planes was extremely primitive. The complex aerodynamics involved in making a plane invisible to radar, requires reverse-engineering– quickly computing billions of bits of information obtained from surveilling the wings of the plane while it’s flying above, and taking photos of or dropping bombs on, enemy territory.

The stealth plane project was “Top Secret” so extraordinary measures had to be taken to keep it quiet; necessitating an alarm system, code-names, pass codes, security clearances, etc. Contractor workers labored around the clock to meet deadlines and budgets, despite numerous setbacks and frustrations. It was ultimately up to American president Jimmy Carter to decide which plane models the military was to build in future years. He did, in June 1977. Nevertheless, it takes eight to ten years for a non-secret plane to be designed, tested, and manufactured. It is even more difficult to estimate how long a secret one will take.

For, more problems arose with the stealth project, including a strike by the machinists’ union in August 1977. From the start, intrusive Air Force, Navy and OSHA inspectors had provided yet other stressful procedures-and -paperwork-and-more-paperwork diversions from the research and development.

August 1979 saw the “competitive” in competitive bidding. Pilots pitted the stealth fighter with high-precision, laser-guided bombs against an existing T-38 plane with Hawk missiles in the Nevada desert. After a July 1980 deadline was missed, finally, in June 1981, the contract-award-winner executed a first test-flight witnessed by government, military and weapons-making leaders from the White House Situation Room and the Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

One aspect of a spy-plane test-flight, is that the plane breaks the sound barrier– faster than the earth rotates, at a speed of, say almost mach 2 or 3– so its vibrations rattle or can break windows of structures on earth. Test flights that have failed have killed pilots, but successful ones have transported pilots cross-country in record time: from San Diego, California to Savannah Beach, Georgia in one hour.

Yes, Americans derive a few benefits and excitement from military toys. However– greedy, power-hungry people who fail to foster international cooperation, continue to argue that it is still necessary for the security of the nation, to build ridiculously expensive, high-tech weaponry that will never be used. The wasted money might be better spent on other budget items.

The author admitted that even during the Cold War, his operation “… almost wrecked our own free enterprise system by chasing after enormously costly technologies that were simply beyond our creative grasp …We spent a hell of a lot of money in deception and very little in behalf of worthwhile technology.”

Read the book to learn: how the author harnessed his and his underlings’ knowledge and experience in personnel management, physics, chemistry, aerodynamics, engineering, economics, contract-law and various other disciplines to stay on top of the juggling act that was his job; a wealth of additional information on the research and development of high-tech planes (including the tortuous ways they were paid for, and by whom; and how, with the knowledge gained in developing one of the spy planes– the Challenger disaster could have been averted).

The Truths We Hold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAWYERS, LAWYERS AND LAWYERS

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

I served some global patrons

the way I always do.

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

I was caught on video bragging.

I hope you take my case.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

I’m trying to save some face. Hah!

I’m an innocent candidate,

but somehow I got caught.

Now I’ve been betrayed

by those who have been bought.

Yes, those who have been bought.

Well, those who have been bought.

Now I’m hiding in my basement.

I hope to stay in the race.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Save me from disgrace.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers.

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers. Hah!

Send lawyers, lawyers and lawyers. Ow!