Beyond Hitler’s Grasp – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Beyond Hitler’s Grasp, The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews” by Michael Bar-Zohar, published in 1998.

Bulgaria lost a large amount of territory in WWI, and became a Constitutional monarchy after 1919. Its prime minister and other ministers served at the pleasure of its king, Boris III. Other sources of the nation’s power lay in its Army, the Communists and Macedonian terrorists.

In the 1930’s, roughly half of Bulgaria’s fifty thousand Jews lived in the capital of Sofia. They were productive members of society, and were treated just like people of any other religious group. There were only isolated incidents of anti-Semitism because most of the Jews were merchants, craftsmen or poor laborers, and so were not the victims of class envy.

When WWII began, Germany was able to help Bulgaria regain some of the land it had lost in the Great War. Germany was trading with and supplying weapons to Bulgaria, but the Bulgarians had more of a Soviet cultural and Soviet social mindset. So the king sought to keep his country out of the war.

Alexander Belev, an opportunist with hubris syndrome was the Bulgarian Commissar for Jewish Questions. In summer 1942, he collaborated with the Nazis in changing the definition of “Jew” based on ancestry rather than religion. This is one source of the notion that people can be “born Jewish”– have genetic traits that Jews share (For an additional source, see this blog’s post “In Search of Memory”).

Anyway, beginning in autumn 1940, laws went into effect that oppressed Bulgaria’s Jews by taking away their assets and sullying their reputations through hate-spewing and other actions of greedy, local bureaucrats who were taking orders from Hitler.

Read the book to learn how the common people, Christian churches, and circumstances determined the fates of Jews living in Macedonia, Thrace and Bulgaria (complete with romantic subplot, of course; hint: “The deep hatred for the Jews infected only the lunatic fringe of the wartime society, the Ratniks, Branniks, and Legionnaires and some sadistic police and army officers and KEV officials”), and of the mythmaking– historical revisionism of various incidents and events.

The Daughters of Kobani

The Book of the Week is “The Daughters of Kobani, The Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice” by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, published in 2021.

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“She didn’t have time to offer hourly updates to her family, who were tracking every moment of the battle for Kobani on Facebook and WhatsApp.”

No, the above referred NOT to an American political campaign, but a real-life war.

Violence in northern Syria resumed between Kurds (an oppressed minority in Iraq and Syria) and non-Kurds in March 2004 after tensions boiled over at a soccer game. At the same time, there was hostility over water-rights of the Euphrates river between Syria (a non-NATO member) and Turkey (a NATO member).

Turkey harbored anger and resentment toward Syria’s leader, and wanted him out. The Soviets backed Syria’s leader, as did the U.S. initially. In the 1990’s, a Marxist-Leninist activist named Abdullah Ocalan formed a violent (some might say terrorist) pro-Kurdish, pro-gender-equality group called PKK, that agitated for self-rule for the Kurds in Syria.

The decades-long cliche is: the latest terror group (ISIS) obtained modern war weaponry from Iraqi forces, who had received the equipment from America. As is well known, the region has been a foreign-policy conundrum for the governments of industrialized countries (with their strategic interests), for forever. The U.S. thought it needed to fight ISIS, but didn’t want to send in ground troops (and invite yet another “Vietnam” in the Middle East). But it did want to protect its physical diplomatic and military presence in northern Iraq– Kurdish territory, near the Syrian border. So it sent some in, anyway.

The author described a handful of females who volunteered to join one of PKK’s spinoff militias (YPK and YPG). From the city of Kobani in Syria, the females were resistant to their arranged marriages and limited educations decided on by their families’ patriarchs. Two of the females commanding troops engaged in guerrilla warfare that resembled “capture the flag” or paintball, but with real war weapons, real deaths and really widespread destruction of civilians’ communities.

During the early 2010’s, the U.S. decided to let the Kurdish militias on the ground do the most dangerous fighting. The YPG had communications devices of radios, cell phones and walkie-talkies, and U.S.-supplied guns. ISIS had rifles, rocket launchers, artillery, car bombs, snipers, IEDs, land mines and suicide bombers. In summer 2014, the U.S. launched tens of airstrikes on ISIS in and around Kobani.

Read the book to learn: the fate of the fight’s many stakeholders that included countries, groups and individuals, how ruling authorities furthered gender-equality for Tunisians and Syrian Kurds in 2014 and 2016 respectively, and much more about the tentative progress made by various parties.

I Am A Girl From Africa

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The Book of the Week is “I Am A Girl From Africa, a memoir (sic)” by Elizabeth Nyamayaro, published in 2021.

Born in 1975, Nyamayaro grew up in Zimbabwe. Her family belonged to the Shona tribe. She spent her early years residing in a hut in a rural village, where she was treated like an only child, unwittingly through dysfunctional-family circumstances. Her grandmother taught her to do all sorts of chores: fetching water, hunting birds with a slingshot, fishing with a sharp stick, shelling maize, tending to the goats and chickens, weeding the fields, and cooking vegetables in a clay pot over a fire that she ignited.

Life-threatening conditions abounded from diseases, poor nutrition, hostile animals such as hyenas, and droughts such as those that occurred in 1983 and 1985. The author’s gratitude for the life-saving rehydration by a member of UNICEF, led her to develop a burning desire as an adult to “give back” through working for the United Nations.

In the early 1980’s, initially, Nyamayaro’s grandmother rejoiced at the news from her battery-operated radio, that the country had a new leader, the dark-skinned Robert Mugabe. The end of British colonialism ought to have meant an end to the needless killing of wildlife, theft of precious stones, and oppression of Africans. However, a new leader is just one individual who might or might not change things for the better in the long run, given his personality and the vicissitudes of his time and place in history.

The author– who appears to have bragging-rights, given the hardships she faced– made progress on various Third-World, quality-of-life causes during her career. Mitigation of the global oppression of females was one such cause. The author was pleased to report that in 2013, the nation of Rwanda, in the previous decade, had made great strides in electing women to its parliament. But there is still so much work to be done in Mongolia, India, Zimbabwe, and the United States, etc. because propagandized gender-stereotypes are still discouraging women from running for office.

The author recounted that one day in 1975 in Iceland, all the women went on strike. The country then realized how vital females were to life. Even so, it took until 2018 (!) to legislate there on the issue of gender equality in the private sector, of equal pay for equal work. Additionally, on so many other fronts, gender equality is lacking even in the nations that consider themselves the most advanced on earth!

Read the book to learn many more details on the struggles Nyamayaro faced in her life and times.

20 Years of Rolling Stone – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “20 Years of Rolling Stone, What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been” edited by Jann S. Wenner, published in 1987. This volume was comprised of some of the best articles from the magazine on its twentieth anniversary.

One contributing writer who always delivered rich, colorful prose was Hunter S. Thompson. In April 1972, he described his beef with America’s brand of leaders thusly: “…crowd pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage to whup their supporters to orgiastic frenzy, then go back to the office and sell every one of the poor bastards to the Conglomerate Loan Company for a nickel apiece.”

In March 1975, Howard Kohn penned a serious piece (headlined “Malignant Giant”) about Karen Silkwood, a nuclear-power plant worker and whistleblower who tried to alert America to the dangers of radioactive substances such as plutonium. Sadly, her story is typical for this country, on the nuclear power conundrum. The author provided (scary!) information on the link between radiation– especially that emanating from plutonium– and CANCER:

  • lab animals have developed cancer from as little as a millionth of a grain of plutonium;
  • all people on earth would very nearly certainly develop cancer from a carefully dispersed softball-sized parcel of plutonium;
  • “Silkwood learned that several [workers] had no idea that plutonium could cause cancer.”
  • When airborne plutonium is inhaled, human lungs cannot be decontaminated.
  • The cancer rate among employees of Silkwood’s workplace was seven times higher than that of the population of the United States, according to the Denver Post at the time.

The article causes the reader to wonder what the real cancer rates are from the toxins to which everyone is unwittingly exposed on a daily basis (never mind power plants), not only in the U.S., but in Japan, China and France.

Anyway, read the book to learn about or nostalgically relive the era of (excuse the cliche) sex, drugs, and rock and roll of Wenner’s crowd, and see (uncensored!) photo spreads.

India

The Book of the Week is “India, A Million Mutinies Now” by V.S. Naipaul, published in 1990. While visiting India a few times, in 1962, in the 1970’s, and the late 1980’s, the author interviewed several Indians from a range of castes, and reminisced with them about how cultural mores changed through the decades. The author provided a bit of historical backdrop with each vignette.

The author was born in 1932 in Trinidad, to which his ancestors migrated from India. They were peasant farmers. The Indian diaspora (prompted by political, religious and economic turmoil) spawned new Indian communities. Through the decades after the 1947 establishment of India’s partition with Pakistan, the culture of the people who left India diverged with Indians who stayed. The former were subject to the culture of their adopted countries. They moved to, in addition to Trinidad– Fiji, South Africa and England in large numbers.

The author interviewed someone who practiced the (extremely non-violent) Jain religion. By the 1960’s, a devout believer such as the latter could no longer work in the construction industry in India, as organized crime had forced him out. He could, however, make a living in the securities industry.

Over the course of half a century starting in the 1930’s, the Untouchables caste (or the Dalits, as they were renamed) had been slowly achieving upward mobility, helped by the inspirational leader, Dr. Ambedkar, who died in 1956. By the 1980’s, they had allied with the Muslims, other victims of discrimination. Speaking of oppressed groups, “The sexual harassment of women in public places, often sly, sometimes quite open, was a problem all over India.”

On his last visit, the author commented on the horrible air pollution in Bombay. Local residents breathed brown-black smoke emanating from motor vehicles fueled partly by kerosene. He also remarked on the Indian mentality, that natives were willing to make the sacrifice of living in the most disgusting, cramped conditions imaginable, thereby saving money on housing, in order to get started making money; then move to a better place later, when their financial situation improved. One indication of this was a humungous shantytown just outside Bombay, where a range of different groups (from the political to the swindling) were just beginning their struggles in the capitalist vein.

The author described conditions back and forth in time, including the atrocious religious, ethnic and skin-color conflicts between and among all different Indians.

In the 1930’s, India practiced segregation in public facilities between Brahmins and other castes similar to the way Americans did between its light-skinned people and those of other phenotypes. Beginning in 1937 in the Indian state of Tamil-Nadu, there was the Hindi-language war in education similar to the mid-1990’s ebonics controversy in Oakland, California (except that the former forced the schools to use Hindi only). The year 1967 saw Brahmins (the top caste) in the southern part of the country violently expressing their hatred for the non-Brahmins in the north. The Dravidians were fighting the Aryans.

On another topic, in India it was commonplace for a bride’s family to incur excessive debt due to various customs, including paying for: all of the venue and food-related expenses of wedding guests comprising the family’s entire community, two days’ worth of traditions, rituals, and a dowry that in modern times involved expensive toys such as motor scooters or electronics, clothes, jewelry, cookware, housewares, bedding; plus ceremonies and festivals throughout the year. A family of sons paid only for their education.

Just to push the point on how universal some of India’s problems are that prompt political upheaval: “Where there isn’t a sense of history, myth can begin in that region which is just beyond the memory of our fathers or grandfathers, just beyond living witness.”

Read the book to learn much more about India’s political, economic, cultural and social problems, as seen through the eyes of all different Indian castes, ethnic groups and religions (such as Jains, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs) in different decades (1930’s through the 1980’s) in different Indian regions, including Bombay, Calcutta and Lucknow.

One for the Earth

The Book of the Week is “One for the Earth, Journal of A Sierra Club President” by Susan D. Merrow with Wanda A. Rickerby, published in 1992.

The Sierra Club, founded in May 1892, began with about one hundred members. Its original goal was to prevent the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California from becoming further polluted. Sadly, through the decades, the need for such an organization has grown exponentially. The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, a group that began using the Club’s name, actually helped raise more funds than otherwise for the Club, but took public stances with which the original group disagreed.

Beginning in May 1990, Merrow was appointed president of the Club for a year’s term. She had acquired previous experience teaching adult education classes and lobbying the Connecticut state government on environmental matters. Her new job– for which she received no salary, only reimbursement of expenses– required constant travel. Volunteers did the bulk of the Club’s work. Her and her employer’s major frustration with the then-federal government was that it was regressive in connection with all kinds of energy issues.

The Club’s lobbyists were awfully busy contacting politicians about: incinerators, recycling, composting and source reduction, increasing gas mileage and decreasing emissions in newer cars, advocating for stopping oil drilling in the Arctic, reducing pollution on land and in the sea and in the air, and arguing for stricter waste-disposal laws, etc., etc., etc.

It might be recalled that a year prior, the Exxon Valdez oil spill left about 380,000 birds dead, and resulted in severe health issues for many animals and plants, including hundreds of species of mollusks, fish and coral-reef animals, dolphins and whales. The then-legal case that might compensate injured parties (Alaska and the United States) for the disaster was still pending. However, in April 1990, Exxon suggested that it pay $100 million to settle the civil and criminal charges against it. Tens of studies done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed grievous (and probably irreparable) harm that (if a dollar value had to be put on it) was estimated at $1.1 billion.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, astute people knew that the Clean Air Act that was then working its way through the Congressional-passage process would become diluted by profiteers aided by propagandists. In autumn 1990, the Bryan Bill– mandating the manufacturing of more fuel-efficient cars– was stalled too, by lobbyists in the oil and auto industries, and by other presidential supporters.

The First Gulf War wreaked environmental destruction (now forgotten by Americans) consisting of “… soot from 600 burning oil wells… cloud over farmland and villages in Turkey and Iran… rain filled with toxic chemicals, polluted both the air and water. Severe respiratory illness, cancer, and ruined crops…”

On a diplomatic mission, the author visited staffers at three different magazines: Good Housekeeping, Sports Illustrated, and Seventeen. She hoped to get articles published for targeted readers of their respective, widely different demographic groups in whose interest it was to save the earth.

One concept the author conveyed was that protecting the habitat of one species, aids in the survival of all of the other species in that habitat. So ensuring a safe environment for the bobolink helps: “…lichens, apple trees, ladybugs, sumac, earthworms, chipmunks, monarch butterflies, white birches, wild blueberry bushes, goldenrod, red foxes– even humans.” The flip side is that one negative consequence leads to another when the food chain is disrupted (See this blog’s post, Rat Island).

Read the book to learn what happened to the Johnston-Wallop bill, and much more about the author’s trials, tribulations and triumphs.