Here at The New Yorker

The Book of the Week is “Here at The New Yorker” by Brendan Gill, published in 1975.

Born in 1914, Gill was the fourth of five children. His mother died when he was seven. His father was a successful surgeon in Hartford, Connecticut.

Gill went to work for The New Yorker magazine as a young adult. “Hard for young writers nowadays to realize how many magazines were vying for short stories in the thirties and forties; hard too to believe how much they were paid!” Sadly, propagandists who compose the words of political smear campaigns are highly compensated, but hardly any other kinds of present-day writers are. It is also interesting to note that most of the prominent writers of the twentieth century were alcoholics, but hardly any were in the eighteenth, and now, there are few of them in the twenty-first.

Harold Ross, founder and managing editor of The New Yorker, deliberately neither smeared nor promoted the subjects of nonfiction articles, and had no hidden agenda– neither financial nor ideological ulterior motives in putting out his magazine. Also, the magazine paid employees to do meticulous, honest, best-efforts fact-checking.

Gill, in his prolix prose describing his workplace’s culture, office space, and various quirky magazine-employees— mentioned James Thurber’s 1957 short story, “The Wonderful ‘O'” which can be read here:

https://www.bookscool.com/en/The-Wonderful-O-711417/1

The story covered various aspects of the human condition, and featured a greedy tyrant, herd mentality, and historical revisionism. One word was essential in the suspenseful plot. That word represents a concept that must actually be put into practice in order for a society to be democratic. Incidentally, the villain was named “Black” and the people he hurt were randomly victimized. Despite its now-controversially named villain, the story is obviously analogous to the United States’ buildup of political hostility in the most recent forty years.

The two major American political parties are engaged in a fight that resembles the Cold War between the former U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. It might be recalled that during the Cold War, there was a space race, an arms race, power-hungry posturing and the specter of the kickoff of world destruction if either side was to be the first to recklessly use a nuclear weapon.

For decades now, America’s own political parties have wreaked vicious, reputation-damaging, life-ruining vengeance against each other. This has resulted in the present situation, borne of childish political fury; in sum, the pretense of taking precautions to stem the spread of a pandemic, that has unduly oppressed all Americans, not just political targets. Shamefully, as well as shamelessly, the parties have exceeded the limits of healthy disagreement and civil discourse.

If one considers six different political systems (of course there can be combinations of more than one in the same nation): feudalism, fascism, communism, dictatorship, anarchy, and democracy, one can see that in general, democracy is the least unfair to the highest number of people because it strikes a balance more or less, between competition and cooperation in its operation.

The American brand of democracy, when it works properly, consists of representatives of the people– Congress, courts, elected officials, legislatures, assemblies, etc., who fluidly cooperate when creating or modifying laws, while members presumably cooperate within their political parties. Each party competes, or debates, when they disagree on policies, and during elections.

When in balance, both competition and cooperation bring out the best traits humans possess, and the best kind of society because there is the best chance for various capacities of improvement for all participants. However, significant imbalance inevitably causes a government to adopt traits of the first five aforementioned political systems.

The most fulfilled humans are those who have the best balance in their professional and personal lives. Therefore, those who serve the public in truly democratic governments ought to be fulfilled, as should people who partake of team sports (including the Olympics), science fairs, battle of the bands, group projects in business school, and competitive bidding in industry, among numerous other areas of American life.

Anyway, read the book to learn about Gill’s experiences at The New Yorker.

The Good, the Bad and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Story

“I don’t think unnecessary suffering builds character at all. It doesn’t make you a better person, it makes you a bitter person; and anyone who walks around claiming it’s good for you is kidding himself and trying to kid the nation.”

The above was said by someone who favored student loans subsidized by the government, as she needed to borrow money to get her education. She felt no one should have to experience extreme hardships by working around the clock for an education. Unlike females, males of her generation could take advantage of the G.I. Bill. And not all those males were sent overseas to fight in a war.

The Book of the Week is “Ferraro, My Story” by Geraldine Ferraro With Linda Bird Francke, published in 1985.

Born in Newburgh, New York in the mid-1930’s, Ferraro became an only child after her family suffered a few tragic deaths before she was born. Her father died when she was eight. Thereafter, she and her mother moved to the South Bronx.

Ferraro was an assistant district attorney in Queens county in New York City for four years, then completed almost three terms as a member of the U.S. Congress. Her political career got a big boost when she was nominated as the first female vice-presidential candidate in America in 1984.

Unsurprisingly, she was subjected to vicious: ethnic slurs, anti-abortion sentiments and sexism. Notwithstanding, at the Democrat Convention in July in San Francisco, via acclamation, almost four thousand delegates yelled “aye” to nominate Ferraro.

Two weeks (yes, that late!) into her candidacy, Ferraro got mud slung at her from all directions. Her political enemies persecuted her and her family for four months straight– right up until election day. Tens of newspaper reporters went on a “fishing expedition” into her husband’s financial affairs, going back years and years, desperate to find any dirt they possibly could.

Nevertheless, Ferraro stuck to the political issues of the day. She lamented, “So often in Congress, those who would vote against abortion funding for the poor would also be the first to cut back funds for aid to children, nutrition programs, even prenatal programs for poor mothers who want to have healthy children.”

In October 1984, the TV audience for Ferraro’s first debate against vice president George H.W. Bush numbered approximately eighty million viewers. Those were the good old days, when the nation was enjoying relative peace and recovering from a serious recession.

Americans had a feel-good president, so they were passive about maintaining their civil rights. Many felt no need to actively push for political change, which can be achieved via five major methods: litigation, voting, non-violent protesting (including corresponding with politicians), running for office oneself, and violence. The first four of those five require hard work and incredible patience to get results. The fifth is immediate, but exacts the heaviest price of all.

Currently, some might say that certain protest-planners are instigating violence in order to bring back Constitutional scholars, civil right attorneys, public defenders and legal-aid type people, whose numbers have diminished considerably in recent decades. However, there are none so dangerous as those who have read their history and have the power and resources to repeat the evil they’ve read about.

Sadly, there must be some evolutionary advantage to the predisposition for nastiness, else it would have been eliminated from the human gene pool generations ago. Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his book “The Gulag Archipelago” wrote, “… a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life… But when through the density of evil actions, the result either of their extreme degree or of the absoluteness of power, he suddenly crosses that threshold, he has left humanity behind, and without, perhaps, the possibility of return.”

A major ingredient in the mix of tyranny includes dishonesty. During a dispute between Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman, in an interview, McCarthy said of Hellman, “…every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’ ”

On that note, here is a relevant parody about various dishonest parties, sung to the tune of “Miami, 2017” with apologies to Billy Joel. Strangely enough, Joel thought a blackout (the July 1977 one in New York City) was a major historical event.

AMERICA, 2020

I’ve seen the LIES go out on Broadway.

I saw the United States laid low.

And life went on beyond Stockholm.

The Swedish government was mature and wise,

and Sweden recovered long ago.

Jews held a funeral out in Brooklyn.

Their religious freedom received a blow.

Trump made governors king.

With a selfish power thing,

we couldn’t go on with our normal life flow.

I’ve seen the LIES go out from “experts.”

I saw the mighty nation cowed.

Leaders were awaiting this opportunity.

They used the virus to strike.

They said nothing was allowed.

They crashed the economy in most places,

used “scorched earth” tactics with sour grapes.

The victims were everywhere, but the government didn’t care.

The palace intrigue was like the Nixon tapes.

I’ve seen the LIES go out from the TV.

I’ve watched the masks and “six feet apart” every day.

The medical supplies were waiting for all those patients.

So much misallocation.

All Americans are the ones who pay.

They sent a stimulus to the people,

and made it seem so generous.

They pushed the fiscal cliff, saying, what the hell’s the dif?

And threw everyone under the bus.

You know those LIES are nothing new for us; soon to be many lies ago.

Now we all live on social media. And politics is all we know.

There are not many who’ll forget this. They say America’s in decline.

So– remind the world about, the way the LIES went out to keep the memory alive…

Anyway, read Ferraro’s book to learn more about her vice-presidential campaign and her life.

One last thing:

Thomas Sydenham advised, “The arrival of a good clown exercises more beneficial influence upon the health of a town than of twenty jackasses laden with drugs.”

Clinging to the Wreckage – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Clinging to the Wreckage, A Part of Life” by John Mortimer, published in 1982.

Born in the early 1920’s in England, the author was a barrister and playwright. He practiced divorce law like his father before him, and also criminal defense.

The author once wrote a play about “… a man who always says to people what he thought they wanted to hear… We could, if we had any real intention of doing so, narrow the wage differential, we could make education, spectacles, false teeth and rides on the Underground [the London subway] open to all, regardless of the accident of birth.” However, human nature sucks. Humans must make class distinctions. Someone has to be oppressed. There must be class envy.

Nevertheless, now is the time, if ever, for the United States to continue its trend toward instituting national healthcare. For, it cannot afford not to, if it wants to survive as a democratic nation. See the post, “I Shall Not Hate,” third paragraph from the end. Although survival is in doubt at the moment.

As is well known, there turned out to be no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq after 9/11. But– Colin Powell convinced Congress that there were, so it would vote to attack Iraq.

As is well known, there turned out to be vastly significantly less danger than originally “projected” as announced by Dr. Anthony Fauci, that Americans would die of the coronavirus.

Both Colin Powell and Dr. Fauci, like the emperor, had no clothes!

The two aforementioned lies are part and parcel of the political vendettas that have characterized the United States government in the last several decades.

The difference between the lies is that, from 2003 forward, on orders from high government officials, the United States mucked up Iraq. But most Americans didn’t care or weren’t sufficiently powerful to stop the goings-on at “Gitmo” and everywhere else.

For a 20/20 hindsight look at Iraq, see the post: “The Greatest Story Ever Sold.” Two people who might have been viewed as alarmists in the most recent two decades are Naomi Klein (See the post “No Is NOT Enough, RESISTING Trump’s Shock Politics”) and Naomi Wolf, who can be seen in the following video:

In 2020, on orders from high government officials, the United States is mucking up itself! Oops, too late.

The two Naomis aren’t alarmists anymore, are they?? Such is the sewer of history. Anyway, read the Mortimer book to learn the tenor of the times of his generation, given his demographic group.

Ingrid Bergman, My Story

The Book of the Week is “Ingrid Bergman, My Story” by Ingrid Bergman and Alan Burgess, published in 1972.

Born in 1915 in Sweden, Bergman lived with extended relatives after her mother and father passed away, when she was three and thirteen, respectively. The father’s successful painting and photography-supply businesses were taken over by the family. When she was fifteen, a couple of friends in high places– and of course, passion and hard work– allowed her to get accepted to the Royal Dramatic School. Nevertheless, she quit to become a movie actress in Sweden.

David Selznick in America heard about her talent, and his wife set her wise as to Hollywood’s ways. Her advisors therefore negotiated a one-film contract rather than a seven-year contract. Bergman was the opposite of a prima donna on the set. Selznick was impressed and had his public relations people hold her up as a paragon of virtue and modesty. However, she refused to be typecast, insisting on playing all different kinds of roles.

Bergman wrote, “Another Hollywood thing I hated was the power of those two women, Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnists. Their power shocked me, and I thought it very wrong that the film industry had allowed them to build up to such an extent that they could ruin people’s careers and lives.” Sadly, there is nothing new under the sun in that regard. Gossip in American society has been used more often for evil than for good, especially in politics.

Anyway, in autumn 1946, Bergman got slammed for saying she wasn’t going to return Washington, D.C. because the theater there in which she was performing, banned blacks. Perhaps she was not a racist, but her immaturity in her personal relationships caused her first husband and first-born daughter endless anguish.

Read the book to learn of Bergman’s dream role, whether she got to play it, other roles she played, and about her families.

The Man on Mao’s Right

The Book of the Week is “The Man on Mao’s Right, From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China’s Foreign Ministry” by Ji Chaozhu, published in 2008.

Born in 1929 in the Chinese village of Taijun, Ji lived a charmed early childhood, as his politically connected father was a law professor and commissioner of education. In 1937, his family was forced to move in with his paternal grandfather in Fenyang when the Japanese continued their siege of China.

By the end of the 1930’s, the family had fled from their palace to the United States. They moved into a tiny tenement in the East Village in Manhattan. One aspect of their living standards that was actually higher, was the modern plumbing.

Ji had a much, much older, politically connected brother– old enough to be his father– who purported to aid the Chinese Communists, then Americans, alternating between the two throughout his life. But his loyalties truly lay with the Communists.

Ji’s father behaved similarly, translating between English and Japanese for the U.S. Office of War Information after the Pearl Harbor attack, but also starting a secret pro-Communist Chinese newspaper sold in Chinatown. In 1946, he returned to China to become president of Peking University.

Ji learned English in a progressive private school. As he got older, he too began to believe that the Americans were imperialists, as they invaded Korea. He therefore quit Harvard in his junior year to return to China.

Ji had no problem enduring mean living conditions there– more than a hundred students in his Tsinghua University dorm had to share one bathroom. They had a communal bathhouse. A food shortage meant that his diet consisted of only sorghum, corn millet, dried sweet potato flour and pickled vegetables. There were no chairs in the cafeteria– students ate standing up.

When Mao Tse Tung’s Communist party took over China in 1949, the U.S. Seventh Fleet in Taiwan protected Chiang Kai-Shek, the corrupt, exiled leader of the defeated Nationalist party.

In April 1951, Douglas MacArthur was dismissed from his military leadership position by president Harry Truman for having grand plans to wage nuclear war against the Communists. Congress member Albert Gore, Sr. echoed MacArthur’s hawkish sentiments, proposing that the United States warn people to evacuate Korea, and then showering it with nuclear waste to force a stop to the war.

Ji began to attend self-criticism meetings and worship Mao as though he were a supreme being. But Ji wasn’t automatically accepted as a member of the Communist party because his reputation was tainted with Western values. His father and much, much older brother had worked for the American government in various capacities, and his family had lived in America for a time.

Nevertheless, Ji’s fluency in English, high-level education, and understanding of Western culture were major assets that few Chinese people had. So China’s Foreign Ministry recruited him to translate and take notes at the Korean peace talks in spring 1952. He and his fellow interpreters risked their lives in traveling to the site of the negotiations in Panmunjon in North Korea. They survived shelling, strafing and bombing.

Ji then survived the pressure to perfectly, manually type up the excessive number of revisions in Korean, English and Chinese that led to an almost-final written agreement in July 1953. This, after about two million war deaths over the course of two years, with neither of the multi-national sides making any significant progress geographically.

After a short stop at home, Ji was then sent to Geneva for more abuse, but without life-threatening dangers overhead.

Back in China, the landlords and the capitalists were under physical siege by the peasants in rural farming villages. Mao egged on the violence. However, in late 1956, after the common Hungarian people staged an uprising against their Communist oppressors, Mao realized he needed to take steps to avoid that kind of situation in China. So, “… for the first time, American magazines, books, and the occasional film became available. Before that, any Western literature or movies were banned.”

In a move that was nothing new under the sun, Mao gave the Chinese people a chance to air their grievances. One professor complained that Party members and cadres were living high on the hog while the peasants were starving.

Mao then wrote articles saying that the government then knew who the infidels were. He launched his Anti-Rightist campaign. A lot of bourgeois people were fired from their jobs, and sent to reeducation camps. Many people suicided, were executed or never heard from again. Unsurprisingly, the famine in China resulted in about thirty million deaths.

Beginning in the late 1950’s, over the next decade, Ji dutifully did the jobs he was assigned. For months at a time, he alternated between going to rural areas to help with manual labor, and sitting at Zhou Enlai’s side, sometimes even at Mao’s side– interpreting at diplomatic meetings.

In August 1966, a group of adolescents comprised of sociopathic sadists supplied with weaponry– also known as the Red Guards– terrorized anyone accused of disloyalty to Communist ideology (i.e., ownership by the dictatorial State, rather than ownership by private parties, of the means of production; plus other conditions). Anyone could be an accuser. Mao encouraged everyone to be snitches. The victims of violence also included embassy personnel of the former Soviet Union, India and Burma. Not to mention, in August 1967, people in the British consulate.

While ugliness raged in China and was exacerbated with U.S. intervention in Vietnam, there was a similarity with the two countries’ leadership. Zhou Enlai’s role under Mao was like vice president Hubert Humphrey’s under president Lyndon Johnson’s. The second fiddles both obeyed their bosses to keep their jobs, even though their bosses’s actions caused an excessive number of needless deaths and ruined lives.

Read the book to learn much more about the history of China, and Ji’s life and times.

The Opposite of Woe / Square Peg

The First Book of the Week is “The Opposite of Woe, My Life in Beer and Politics” by John Hickenlooper with Maximillian Potter, published in 2016.

Born in February 1952, the author is a colorful character, having had a few different careers as businessman and politician. He plays well with others, but he claimed that persistence has been a major factor that has led to his successes in life.

Starting in 2003, Hickenlooper was elected mayor of Denver, and then governor of Colorado. In the book, he briefly described his activities in connection with a range of political issues. One issue had to do with illegal-immigrants, education and driver’s licenses.

While Hickenlooper was governor (2011 through 2018; he didn’t specify the year) he conditionally granted a college-tuition discount in Colorado to undocumented residents (as he called them), to encourage them to become better educated, as he thought that would help his state. Additionally, he conditionally also granted driver’s licenses to them.

The license applicants were required to purchase insurance just like everyone else, and– Hickenlooper claimed that the stakeholders on this issue agreed with him to have the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) charge those undocumented residents three times the fees that U.S. citizens paid.

Of course, the governor was raising more revenue than otherwise for Colorado. But– another aspect of this subject is that driving is expensive, so the DMV would be able to track only those immigrants who could afford to drive, and who desired to do so enough to jump through all the hoops to do it. And he was giving them an opportunity to widen their horizons by traveling more and doing things they couldn’t do otherwise.

Presumably, the kinds of people who are granted that chance, though, likely risked their lives in leaving their homeland to come to this country to seek a better life. Fear of being sent back to that place of oppression keeps them from misbehaving, and must have motivated them to make a living that allows them to be able to afford to drive.

Anti-immigrant propagandists rail that those undocumented residents committed a crime by crossing into the United States illegally. Then the propagandists wave around anecdotal evidence of additional crimes that a few or some of the residents have committed, so why should all of them be rewarded with opportunities for a better life when they don’t pay income tax? Therein lies the decades-old political football.

Those residents’ presence must have far-reaching, presumably sufficiently beneficial economic and political effects on the whole country, or else why wouldn’t politicians have already (years ago!) thought that it was worth the huge expenses to deport them in large numbers or build an extensive wall to keep them out of the United States, and have already done so?

Anyway, read the book to learn of Hickenlooper’s business ventures and adventures in business, and political accomplishments for which he considered himself responsible, plus depressing, traumatic occurrences that happened in Colorado during his administrations.

The Second Book of the Week is “Square Peg, Confessions of a Citizen Senator” by Orrin Hatch, published in 2002.

Against all odds, the Republican Hatch from Utah won his U.S. Senate race in 1976. He actually wrote more about a few different political events (with a Republican slant– omitting inconvenient details) that occurred during his career, than events that directly, personally affected him as a senator.

Hatch recounted that in spring 1978, the Senate launched a filibuster to block a bill that might have made the Democratic party outrageously powerful because unions would have gained the upper hand on management nationwide. He and his fellow coalition members whipped up five hundred amendments to the bill. He filed them with the Senate reporting clerk. “I could force the Senate to vote on each amendment filed prior to cloture, which together would take almost seven consecutive twenty-four hour sessions to complete… weeks or even months.”

At the time of the book’s writing, both houses of Congress proposed approximately 7,600 bills per session, about 440 of which, on average, became law. Read the book to learn of Hatch’s take on several political events of the last half century, and a few of his experiences in politics.