Sovietstan / Kabul Beauty School

(WARNING: Long Post)

The First Book of the Week is Sovietstan, Travels in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Taijikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan” by Erika Fatland, (translated by Kari Dickson), published in 2020.

In the past decade, the author personally visited countries whose names end in “stan” except for Afghanistan. Those Central Asian nations became, more or less, independent from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990’s.

The author accepted hospitality from numerous people in the region, and related the historical backdrops of the respective lands. She spoke with several people who thought life was better under the old Soviet system, because they had had education, healthcare and culture then. Americans would consider the said countries to be dictatorships, although the author courteously called their leaders “presidents.”

Turkmenistan has oil and gas, the latter of which it exports to China. Its geography is comprised of more than eighty percent desert. Its political system is authoritarian.

Claiming she was a “student” (but was actually a tourist collecting information to write her book) in order to obtain a visa that was issued to very few applicants to begin with, the author was supervised every second of her stay; limited to a maximum of three weeks.

The author saw only a few Mercedes (and hardly any other cars) on the eight-lane main roads in the capital, Ashgabat. The bus shelters were air-conditioned. Most of the buildings were made of white marble.

There were a luxury Ferris wheel, and bright, colorfully lit fountains at night. However, there were only three ATMs in the whole nation that accepted foreign bank cards. Seven days a week, cops surveiled people on the streets to enforce the 11pm curfew.

Photos of the “president” hung everywhere in public places. Starting in 1992, he provided free utilities and car fuel for everyone. In 1999, he declared himself the nation’s ruler for the rest of his life. He wrote a book called Ruhnama, meaning Book of the Soul. No one questioned its greatness. Or else. It became the only reading material in schools. No more science or humanities were taught.

In the course of about four years, the dictator rid his people of Soviet culture, and banned dogs and recorded music. The health and welfare systems went to hell. Although no one paid taxes, more than half of the people were unemployed. That explained the almost empty roads the author saw in the capital city. Mercifully, the dictator died in late 2006.

Another ruler replaced him who forced the people to read his books. The author visited a rural farming village where the people herded camels and goats. They spoke only Turkmen, not Russian.

When the author and a cab driver were in the desert where no one else was present for miles around, she asked him why people had only the highest praise for their leader — worshipped him like a god and would never dare say a negative word about him.

The driver criticized himself for not working hard enough. He said, “Each one of us has a responsibility to play our part and to help our country develop.” The author wrote that he was born into the system– had never known any other mentality. This aspect of authoritarianism that the author witnessed bears a chilling resemblance to a recent line of propaganda in the United States (!): “We’re all in this together.” Who paid people to say that??

The author was forced to attend a horse show, and the next day, horse races. Attendance was mandatory for the nation’s every town, all of which had hippodromes. The dictator was a jockey in one race, but he accidentally fell after his horse crossed the finish line first, of course. Security compelled all attendees to delete any presidential-mishap footage from their cameras. The next day, a bootleg clip of the embarrassment surfaced on YouTube, anyway.

Predictably, very few citizens of Turkmenistan could afford to stay in the skyscrapers in the resort town of Turkmenbashi. The ones who could afford to go anywhere, holidayed on Turkey’s beaches instead because the former offered “Soviet-style service, bad food and no Internet.” Moreover, Turkmenistan’s dictator owned and controlled nearly all of their homeland’s hotels, restaurants and shops.

Kazakhstan— the most resource-rich nation in Central Asia– is flush with oil, gas, minerals, gold, coal and uranium; the first of which it extracts through Russian pipelines.

The author was pleased to see that the country had an open, Westernized society. It purchases most of its consumer goods from China. People spend their leisure time horse-racing and playing a game mounted on horses, batting around a goat carcass. They eat horse meat and drink soured mare’s milk regularly.

The author was able to travel around unaccompanied by a chaperone. Even so, at the entrance to the capital city of Astana, all buses’ passengers had their identity papers and baggage checked by security, while she and her cab driver weren’t subjected to what Americans would consider undue privacy intrusion.

As an aside, the privacy pendulum has finally swung the other way for political candidates in the United States. In the last several decades, in every election, every candidate’s political enemies have subjected candidates to increasingly punitive fishing-expeditions (It might be recalled that vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and her husband were mercilessly put through the wringer in 1984).

Supposedly, a candidate’s history of financial dealings are an indicator of a candidate’s character. BUT, it is not necessarily an indicator of how well a candidate will do his or her job in the elective office.

Case in point: President Jimmy Carter’s tax returns were presumably squeaky-clean– as was his character— but there is general consensus that he did a poor job as president. That just shows that the real purpose of the privacy intrusion has been political vengeance!

There are plenty of ways other than scrutinizing personal financial behavior, to try to ascertain whether a candidate will be the public servant the voters want them to be.

Anyway, by the early 1950’s, high incidences of birth defects, mental illness, high blood pressure, and a cancer cluster plagued the region of Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, thanks to secret testing of weapons of mass destruction by the Soviets beginning in 1949. The author learned this by personally visiting with the victims and their descendants, only the poorest of whom were still living there.

Tajikistan is resource-poor and has primitive infrastructure. Its geography is comprised of more than ninety percent mountains. In autumn 1991, the Communist party candidate won the election for president. He became increasingly unpopular. For, between June 1992 and March 1993, the nation suffered a bloody civil war, in which tens of thousands died. During the fighting, “Having regained power in parts of the country, the Rahmon [Nabiyev] government chose revenge rather than reconciliation, in keeping with old clan culture.”

Tajikistan’s fourth largest town lacks full-time electricity and heat, and has no indoor plumbing. Most of the people who live there are alcoholics. The vast majority of its people are Sunni Muslims. The men go to Russia to earn money to send back to their families. Some divorce their wives and never return home. But such income accounts for about half of the nation’s gross domestic product.

The author’s cab driver bribed three different border guards to minimize trouble when she traveled from Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan. In the latter country, it was refreshing for her to see an absence of the dictator’s portraits everywhere, and to hear people speaking freely, both verbally and in the press, even negatively (!) about their government, with no punishment whatsoever.

Kyrgyzstan is, comparatively, the freest nation in Central Asia– the first to have a Parliament. Nonetheless, people tolerate corruption and nepotism from their leaders to avoid repeating the two difficult, past periods of political instability they suffered in the past three decades. They’ll vote for the same criminals over and over– which shows how much they want peace at all costs.

Also, at the time of the book’s writing, they lived in a culture in which any man could take a bride (even a Russian one) by abducting her, and she could not protest. He could even take more than one wife. In most cases the bride was likely headed for a life of marriage and children anyway, as she was unlikely to have an education, her own money, or somewhere to flee. Most families encouraged the practice.

Uzbekistan is one of the most oppressive States in Central Asia. The author wrote, “With great cunning, Karimov has used the fear of ethnic violence, Islamist fundamentalism and unstable neighbors as an excuse to rule with an iron fist.” The government’s imposed collectivist Soviet model of cotton growing was an epic economic fail. The author was subjected to unrelenting public scrutiny via police officers and video cameras everywhere she went.

Read the book to learn of numerous other adventures the author had in the aforementioned countries of Central Asia.

The Second Book of the Week is “Kabul Beauty School, An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil” by Deborah Rodriguez with Kristin Ohlson, published 2007.

This career memoir described the author’s early-21st century experiences in Afghanistan, teaching young women how to become beauticians. She wrote, “I love the Afghans, but their true national sport is gossip.”

The American author moved to Afghanistan in May 2002. Her mother owned a hair salon in Holland in the state of Michigan, so she had grown up immersed in that business’s culture. When she volunteered with an international aid organization to get away from her second husband, who was abusive, she realized her calling.

Also, the author wanted to help Afghan females, in one of the few environments that was strictly for them, where they could escape from the daily oppression they suffered, stemming from their culture and from their country’s war-torn situation.

The people of Afghanistan are descended from all different rivalrous tribes. Afghan females are treated as second-class citizens, especially if they are Muslims. They are still forced into arranged marriages. A prospective groom’s mother chooses a first wife for her own son. The men are allowed to take on additional wives if they so choose.

The later wives are those whose reputations have been ruined for one reason or another; some through no fault of their own. If they are not virgins when they are first chosen to be wives, say, due to having been raped, they are damaged goods, and might have an unusually horrible prospect pushed on them– one who is decades older, more abusive than usual, or poverty stricken.

The author’s Afghan friends planned to set up a husband for her. She had two previous failed marriages. The man they chose seemed nice and wealthy enough. He had an oil-drilling business in Saudi Arabia. By the way, the friends were finally pressed to mention, though, that he already had a first wife and seven daughters back in Saudi Arabia. He was hoping the author could bear him a son. The author had already had two sons from her first marriage, living in the United States.

The author felt obliged to get married because any woman seen alone with any man, engaged or not, was assumed to be a prostitute.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details about Afghan culture, the hardships the author faced in furthering her career, and more about her 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.”

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.

Pink Boots and A Machete

The Book of the Week is “Pink Boots and A Machete, My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer” by Mireya Mayor, published in 2011.

Mayor was born in February 1973 in Miami. While in her early twenties, she discovered her calling– primatologist / zoologist. An inspirational college professor helped her apply for a government grant to study a monkey in Guyana.

Thereafter, she braved infinite life-threatening dangers and primitive and uncomfortable conditions (like poor sanitation, and an extremely limited and at times– disgusting diet, and unbearable heat, to name three) on dozens of expeditions for weeks or months in obscure places to observe various animals in their natural habitats.

In the Congo, there were killer bees. In the jungle in Guyana, there were itinerant miners who were robbers and rapists; piranhas, malarial mosquitoes, tarantulas, vampire bats, ticks, leeches, etc. The author had to sleep in a hammock to avoid poisonous snakes on the ground.

In June 1997 in Madagascar, “Every visit to a village required a rum-soaked meeting with tribal elders that lasted through the night, occasionally for days.” While seeking a specific species of lemur in an animal reserve (that was not exactly a tourist attraction), she was bitten by a small scorpion and swarmed by wasps. Hundreds of cockroaches nestled in her pants legs overnight, shocking her when she went to put them on.

On another occasion in Guyana, she and her crew collected flora and fauna specimens from a mountain on which they camped (on the edge of a cliff, basically) in a “… flimsy sheet of nylon attached to the rock face by a single, six-inch steel pin.”

In Namibia, she was one of eight people who lifted the six-foot, six hundred pound neck of a tranquilized giraffe. The whole animal weighed approximately eighteen hundred pounds. The goal was to herd giraffes into a trailer to help them mate and reproduce.

On another occasion in Madagascar, when a mudslide from a monsoon prevented their hired truck from going any farther, she, another scientist and expensive porters (strong men) had to hike hours and hours with heavy gear, dozens of bags, crates and a generator to a campsite.

Mayor related that on another occasion in the Congo, “I woke up in an unusually good mood, considering it was 5am and I still had the worm [in the foot], the filarial bites, and the infected tick bite… Repeated hot soaks and antibiotic treatments finally banished it [the tick bite].”

Read the book to learn of the new species Mayor co-discovered, how she fared on a reality show, the kinds of issues she dealt with for being female in a male-dominated field, and much more.

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.

Women Who Work

The Book of the Week is “Women Who Work, Rewriting the Rules for Success” by Ivanka Trump, published in 2017. As is well known, Ivanka is Donald Trump’s daughter.

This volume described the business the author co-founded in an attempt to persuade females to vote for Trump for president in 2016. It was a redundant, wordy “do’s and dont’s” guide / bragfest (for the author, who used real-life examples from her own personal and professional life), interspersed with interesting research results, for women in the workplace. There were two words used grammatically incorrectly: “architect” was used as a verb, and “evolve” was used as a transitive verb.

Anyway, the Women Who Work website was started in November 2014. The tips provided were mostly common sense, like– listen to your coworkers at meetings, don’t gossip, lead by example, etc. One particularly curious line included: “… being authentic doesn’t mean candidly sharing every thought that comes to mind… using authenticity as an excuse to be unprofessional (“I am who I am!”).”

It was unclear at whom the author was targeting her vast generalizations and a few incorrect assumptions: experienced or inexperienced female workers. The author assumed that the reader had a female boss, worked with females, and worked with a team. She did provide some good tips for entry-level workers. However, she cited a 2014 study of Harvard Business School graduates in connection with gender roles in the home– but obviously, that group isn’t representative of the entire country.

Ivanka had to be vague, as every workplace is different. Her tips were unrealistic for women in male-dominated fields. Besides, the vast majority of employers in this country are still run by men. Ivanka also assumed the reader ran meetings, delivered presentations and managed a team. But if the reader had already reached a position with such responsibilities, she wouldn’t need this book.

The author wrongly assumed that the best way to get a job is through a recruiter. That might be true in some fields, such as information technology. But if the reader is a creative, independent thinker, she might get a job via thorough research on her situation, approaching employers directly, even if she has few or no contacts in the industry.

If the reader was laid off by her employer, Ivanka wrote, “Know that your manager probably doesn’t enjoy the conversation any more than you do and it may not have even been her decision to let you go.”

Letting employees go immediately is a far smarter policy than letting them know one, two or three months in advance of their firing but allows them to keep working. The latter scenario means the now-former employees will have zero productivity, will steal resources from their former employer, and will simply spend all their time looking for a new job.

Fired employees on the same level will be competing with each other for a new job so if they’re smart, they won’t tell the others they’ve been fired, but they’ll certainly be resentful, angry and possibly be sufficiently disgruntled to hurt their former employer.

The former employer thinks they’re saving money by not paying unemployment insurance– avoiding paperwork. They’re providing full pay for three months rather than half pay for six months. It’s actually more costly for them in the long run, in terms of personnel issues. And such former employers usually have unfriendly corporate cultures in the first place.

Ivanka said, “You’re never too old, experienced or far into your career to make a change.” That’s a lie, according to the AARP, which says that cases of age discrimination are on the rise. Nevertheless, young females just entering the workforce might want to read the book to get some tips.

Just the Funny Parts – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Just the Funny Parts… And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club” by Nell Scovell, published in 2018.

Born in Boston, MA in November 1960, Scovell was the third of five siblings. She became a comedy writer, producer and director in Hollywood.

Scovell wrote of the many issues female writers face in the writers’ room, and in higher-level positions, if they achieve the great feat of actually getting hired in the entertainment industry. For, gender discrimination still persists. Females are still conditioned by society to feel as though the employers are doing them a favor for giving them a job, rather than feeling they deserve it on the merits.

Scovell– by writing an article that prompted truly important discussions on daytime talk shows– made Americans more aware of the fact that for decades, the late-night talk shows had been hiring practically all male writers. She herself had written for Late Show with David Letterman and felt “awkward, confused and demorazlied” due to the male-dominated work environment. She quit of her own accord after a short time.

Scovell said, “But in the real world, awareness more often leads to defensiveness which leads to excuses… you must also be aware that your knee-jerk defensiveness is part of the problem.” Simply saying, “Some of my best friends are female” doesn’t get them equal treatment in the workplace. Which should spark a discussion of gender-related issues of the impeachment brouhaha presently plaguing the U.S. government and the U.S. propaganda community. Which sometimes are the same thing.

First of all, Nancy Pelosi, a female, is the point person for the House of Representatives in connection with the impeachment vote. The way she is portrayed in the media and social media is crucially important to how the public views the whole story, and public opinion can have a tremendous influence on Congress’ activities.

A male Speaker would set a completely different tone– not necessarily intentionally, but simply due to subconscious conditioning by American society. Psychological research has shown that both females and males perceive females in a negative light, but perceive males in a positive light– when asked to comment on a hypothetical someone in a leadership position, having been told the leader’s gender.

As is well known, in 1998, former president Bill Clinton had an impeachment proceeding launched against him for lying under oath about his salacious activities in the Oval Office. That was a male-on-male attack borne of political vengeance. If females had been in the mix (in a major way, leadership-wise), there would have been a different dynamic.

Interestingly, Trump has nicknamed Pelosi, “Nervous Nancy” for a reason. He is trying to razz her to put her at a psychological disadvantage. One of Scovell’s male coworkers said something like that to Scovell when she worked for Letterman, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On another topic, perhaps there is an algorithm for the bad behavior of U.S. presidents. Clinton copied his hero, JFK, who was rumored to have had similar liaisons about thirty-seven years earlier. Trump copied his hero, Ronald Reagan, who was engaged in non-standard foreign policy activities, about thirty-seven years ago.

There must have been some Congress members in Clinton’s administration who fondly remembered JFK. There must be some Congress members in Trump’s administration who fondly remember Reagan. However, the two presidents’ legal situations are a generation apart– have different political, cultural and social backdrops, and have very different sets of facts.

Comparing the troubles of the current American leader with other past leaders isn’t exactly on-point, either. The older generation has seen political turmoil before, so “Have you no decency left” and “I am not a crook” are cliches.

If one is considering emotionally troubling historical events on a continuum pursuant to preventable deaths on one end, and celebrity dramas on the other, the present doesn’t seem so bad.

Younger Americans have no understanding of the Vietnam Era or the genocidal episodes of the 1940’s and 1990’s (!), but they are bombarded with world-shaking “news.” OMG: Elton John was allegedly a witness to Royal-Family child abuse, and Taylor Swift’s appearance on Saturday Night Live was challenging for her.

Right now the political climate is kind of like before the third act of an old-school Broadway play– the audience needs a breather. It is sick of the whole thing. It needs a period of quiet to regroup and assess the situation.

Nevertheless, when the media claims that Pelosi is actually going to resolve the situation, females in the media ought to remind females in Congress not to be intimidated by the males who have conditioned them to be so, and give Trump a nickname.

Anyway, read the book to learn of Scovell’s career ups and downs.

Leading Lady

The Book of the Week is “Leading Lady, Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker” by Stephen Galloway, published in 2017.

The subject of this movie-studio-executive biography was born in July 1944 in Chicago. She had a younger sister. Her biological father died of a heart condition when she was almost nine years old. That childhood trauma made her driven to succeed in life. But she took her stepfather’s last name, Lansing.

After graduating from Northwestern University, she and her medical-student husband moved to Los Angeles so she could pursue her dream of becoming an actress. To earn a living, she became a substitute teacher.

She suffered through three years of cattle calls and other indignities, which allegedly did not include sexual favors for career advancement. Arguably, in retrospect, there were mitigating factors to the culpability of men who displayed behavior on the continuum of sexual harassment of women in the entertainment industry.

In Lansing’s generation, both females and males accepted the continually reinforced gender-stereotypes in American culture, especially in that line of work. The vast majority of women never thought to question their enforced inferiority. The tiny number who did, were left silently seething.

Any woman who dared to enter the entertainment industry knew that that was the status quo, or quickly found that out. Institutionalized gender discrimination was a fact of life. Nowadays, of course, men’s offensive behavior is considered by everyone to be inexcusable, but accusations are still very hard to prove, absent reliable witnesses or physical evidence.

Anyhow, Lansing finally got a few roles, the most exciting of which was a bit-part on the TV show Laugh-In. However, the phoniness of acting wasn’t for her; she found she needed to be true to herself and the world.

Lansing, then 26, had cultivated valuable Hollywood contacts, one of whom, a producer, gave her work as a script-reader. Again, in the 1960’s, movie-making was still a male-dominated field, in which few women were able to tolerate the old-boy-network’s frat-boy behavior if they were trying to climb the corporate ladder. Lansing had a calm, peace-inducing temperament and engaging personality. She was able to keep her mouth shut and endure her hostile work environment until such time as she wielded the power to work with men as an equal.

That time came in November 1992, when Lansing became chair and CEO of Paramount Pictures’ movie division. Nevertheless, her work involved a boatload of stress and worries. She was the ultimate decisionmaker on whether a movie got made, but there were frequent problems with, and fierce arguments over hiring crews, financing, casting, shooting, screening, promoting, etc.

By the 1990’s, studios were forced to jointly pay production costs because filmmaking had become so expensive with high-tech special effects and for other reasons. So the relocating of the shooting of Braveheart from Scotland to Ireland due to foul weather, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Irish government provided 1,700 extras on the set, free of charge. Despite the astronomical costs of Titanic, the movie reached its break-even point prior to the revenue streams of cable TV, home entertainment and ancillary markets. Eventually it raked in revenues of $2.19 billion.

But after ten years at the top, Lansing was becoming disenchanted with the trends of the industry. For, “…the quality of pictures no longer seemed essential… clever sales strategies could redeem all but the most abysmal of movies.” In other words, execrable movies that never should have been made were profitable, anyway– the marketers had become more important than the producers, casts and crews. Curiously, the same thing happened in publishing– the people managing the creative side of the business got greedy when cultural changes caused costs to rise.

Besides, Lansing asked, “How did the Oscars become the monstrosity where people [movie studios] are spending zillions and having parties and slipping things here and there? What happened to the camaraderie?” It should not have come as a surprise that by early 2003, Wal-Mart had become one of the largest distributors of DVD’s in the nation.

Read the book to learn more about Lansing’s career trials, tribulations and successes, her personal life, and the activities she found more fulfilling after she left Paramount.

Stars Between the Sun and the Moon – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Stars Between the Sun and the Moon, One Woman’s Life in North Korea and Escape to Freedom” by Lucia Jang and Susan McClelland, published in 2014.

After the Korean War, the Communist Party of North Korea oppressed business owners– who were considered evil capitalists, but praised farmers and peasants– who were considered virtuous; they served the Party.

Adults were forced to attend self-criticism meetings every Saturday morning. The meeting leaders punished them by making them stand up against the wall while others stared at them.

North Korean leader Kim Il-sung dictated that the traditional food eaten on August 15– his birthday– was rice cakes. However, the author’s family couldn’t afford to buy rice cakes. But– he also generously provided a pork ration for one person, to all households.

Jang was born in the early 1970’s. Her family was so poverty-stricken that she had no toys, no books, nothing. Finally, at seven years old when she began to attend school, she was thrilled to have a few possessions of her own: garments, pencils and a backpack. At school, the author and her classmates praised the “great father and eternal president” every morning. Every one of them had his photo of him on their wall at home.

Around the time she started school, Jang and her mother went to a theater for the first time. They saw a movie written by their fearless leader, Kim il-sung. Of course, it ended happily because the peasants conquered the landlords.

During the months of May, September and October, teenagers were sent to the countryside to help with planting and harvesting. The author was literally starving because she lived with a host family or in a dorm where she got even less food than she did at home. But Jang accepted the fact that the nation’s leader and his son were fat because they needed the most energy to take care of the North Korean people.

Traditionally, Jang’s parents were to choose her spouse. Her marital value was greatly diminished because both of her parents had had (political) Party trouble. Nevertheless, having gotten pregnant, she broke tradition.

In July 1994 when Kim il-sung died, the nation got a ten-day mourning period. Jang grieved as though her own father had died.

Read the book to learn of the horrible experiences (which became cyclical after a while) of the author due to various factors, including the environment into which she was born, her culture, gender, lack of education and the circumstances of her generation; and what led to the radical change in her situation.