The Gambler – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Gambler, How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History” by William C. Rempel, published in 2018.

Born in Fresno, CA in June 1917, Kerkorian was the youngest of four children of Armenian extraction. In the first half of the twentieth century, he pursued his passions of amateur boxing and piloting planes. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to go into the chartered airplane business. He began associating with unsavory characters when he bet on sports in 1961. His FBI dossier related this factoid that was learned via wiretapping.

Kerkorian dreamed big and took the outrageous risks required to fulfill them. Thanks to his cultivating friends in high places, in the early 1960’s, he managed to borrow a steep $5 million to purchase a DC-8 (jetliner) to expand his transcontinental shuttle service for the U.S. military and other lucrative clients.

In 1963, Kerkorian got into the casino business. He launched an IPO for his holding company in 1965. Then he became aggressive in acquiring companies against their will. Like Western Air Lines. He also opened the biggest hotel/casino in the world in July 1969. He got international celebrities to provide entertainment on opening night just to rub it in the faces of the competition, such as Howard Hughes.

However, one casino Kerkorian took over had been run by the Mob. In late 1969, the IRS forced him to sell a yacht and a plane to pay back-taxes. In 1972, a German bank was dunning him for an amount of money he couldn’t possibly pay. He didn’t worry. He simply ordered that his financially struggling company, MGM, issue a ginormous dividend to himself, and all other holders of the company’s stock. This way, he could pay off his personal bank debt; never mind that MGM risked going bankrupt. Of course some shareholders sued.

Read the book to learn of Kerkorian’s many other adventures in business and pleasure.

Rose Kennedy

The Book of the Week is “Rose Kennedy, The Life and Times of A Political Matriarch” by Barbara A. Perry, published in 2013.

As is well known, the Kennedy family members’ fates were fraught with traumas and tragedies. Rose gave birth to nine children, starting in the nineteen teens (alphabetically): Bobby, Edward, Eunice, Jean, John, Joseph Jr., Kathleen, Patricia and Rosemary.

In July 1890, Rose was the oldest of six children born into the wealthy Fitzgerald family of Boston. Her father was elected as a U.S. Congressman in 1894. Around 1906, he took over the weekly newspaper The Republic. Later, he was elected mayor of Boston. Rose, instead of his wife, accompanied him on his campaign and diplomatic travels. Their ethnic identity was Irish Catholic, enemies of the Protestant Yankees.

Rose defied her parents’ wishes in her choice of a lifelong mate– Joseph P. Kennedy. Through the decades of the nineteen teens through the 1930’s, Rose’s growing family lived in locations pursuant to Kennedy’s highly lucrative business and political activities, even though he almost never saw his wife and kids (due to work and philandering)–  Riverdale in the Bronx; Bronxville in Westchester County, New York; Hyannis Port, Massachusetts; and Palm Beach, Florida.

In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Rose’s husband to be the first chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The agency was formed  to regulate Wall Street– criminalize insider trading and require disclosure of transactions in order to rein in the kind of excessive greed in which ironically, Joseph Kennedy himself indulged– that was partly responsible for the devastating, nationwide financial crash.

Even during the Depression years, however, the Kennedys lived high on the hog. In February 1938, the president appointed Joseph the ambassador to Great Britain. In publicly supporting her husband, Rose comfortably fell into the role of social butterfly– meeting with royal family members at luncheons, cocktail parties and teas. She also spent loads of time monitoring her children’s health, (boarding-school) educations and welfare.

During John’s 1952 senatorial election, and her other family members’ numerous other elections, Rose made countless public appearances campaigning, and fund-raising for her husband’s charity for underprivileged children. Joseph wrote checks and bribed journalists. Their 26 year-old son Bobby served as John’s campaign manager. The family was a political tour de force.

In April 1961, the day after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Rose had business more important than a traumatized JFK to attend to: shopping for fur coats in New York City for her future trips accompanying her president-son everywhere, including diplomatic visits to Europe. In 1962, the youngest child, Teddy, sought John’s vacated Senate seat. To assist him, Rose made a promotional film, of course omitting all inconvenient facts from her stories in order to project the Kennedys as the perfect family.

Alas, read the book to learn how very sugar-coated that film was, along with many other details of Rose and her family.

Nikita Khrushchev

The Book of the Week is “Nikita Khrushchev, and the Creation of a Superpower” by Sergei N. Khrushchev, published in 2000. This is the Soviet leader’s biography, written by his younger son, born in 1935. 

Born in April 1894 in Kurskaya, Nikita possessed excellent survival skills as a politician until the mid-1960’s. In the 1930’s, his growing family’s living standards were almost comparable to that of the West, considering they received government-provided housing and food.

During WWII, in March 1943, Nikita’s older son’s (vulnerable Soviet) warplane (of inferior quality) was shot down and he was killed (a not uncommon occurrence). The Soviet government arrested his widow and charged her with spying for Britain or Sweden (also a not uncommon occurrence). The author’s mother (Nikita’s wife) spread propaganda for the district party committee, and cared for the author’s young cousins whose older relatives were doing war work or who had been killed in the fighting. Those who Americans would call “draft dodgers” consisted of privileged family members of government officials, who did “theatre administration” stateside.

After WWII ended, the USSR’s government featured a “…morbidly suspicious Stalin surrounded by backstabbing and cutthroat courtiers jockeying for position.” In 1950, the Khrushchev family moved from the Ukraine to Moscow. Nikita had to choose his friends carefully, even when taking a walk with a comrade outside his vacation house (dacha), as they were closely tailed by gossipy bodyguards. As a Politburo member, he rode in an armored limousine.

Nikita made various policy changes after Stalin’s death in 1953. In connection with weaponry, in order to keep up with the United States, he ordered his country to make nuclear submarines, which required less exorbitant spending than cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers. He also felt that ballistic missiles were the wave of the future.

In early 1956, a Central Committee secretary found documentation on Stalin’s purges and show trials. Like any good bureaucrat, the secretary felt obliged to draft a memo on the heinous crimes described therein. A few of the many disturbing lines included: “During 1937-1938 alone, 1,548,366 people were arrested, 681,692 of whom were shot. Top level leaders in republics, territories, and provinces were arrested; then their replacements were arrested, and so on. Of the 1,966 delegates to the Seventeenth Congress of the all-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), 1,108 were arrested, 848 were shot, and so on.”

Soviet dissidents– victims of Stalin’s arbitrary human rights abuses but faithful to Communism– who were still alive, were soon to be released from the gulag. They could potentially present a public relations disaster for Nikita. Thus, Nikita formed a “truth and reconciliation” commission of sorts, to air their grievances, and put all the blame on Stalin for past totalitarian policies. However, no compensation was forthcoming for the victims and no punishments were imposed on the offenders.

In October 1956, just prior to the bloody suppression of protestors in Hungary, Soviet spies were led to believe that the Poles were planning to break away from the Union, and get Westernized. So the Soviets conferred with the Poles and the other Soviet satellites Romania and Czechoslovakia to keep them in the Soviet fold. Tito, the Yugoslavian leader, was still on speaking terms with the Soviets, but he had declared his territory’s independence from the USSR some time before.

In the following weeks, Nikita certainly did not want the Poles, Romanians and Czechs to copy Hungary’s rebellious action; that might lead to their defecting to the hostile, imperialist capitalists. He gave the order to send tanks to Budapest because “… the imperialists threatened to oppress the people, the workers and the peasants.” Fortunately, no violence ensued elsewhere, as Nikita struck a deal with the Poles. They would no longer receive reduced-price coal from Silesia, but their substantial debt to the USSR was canceled.

By summer 1957, political enemies of Nikita were starting to plot against him in the USSR’s two governing bodies, the Central Committee and the Politburo (Presidium). However, Nikita was able to hang on to his power in a vote that resulted in demotions and exiles of the perpetrators.

By late August 1957, the Soviets had developed an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially hit any place on earth. However, expensively, the army (which possessed no experience in weaponry) rather than the aviation industry, was the governmental entity producing it. Two years later, Nikita formed an entity that made only strategic missiles.

The author spent many, many pages recounting the details of the Cuban Missile Crisis. All through the summer of 1962, Nikita had actively pursued an aggressive military mission: secretly, actually shipping Soviet missiles from the Union to Cuba for the purpose of “defense.”

For, the United States had launched a (botched) clandestine military operation at the Bay of Pigs to try to destabilize Cuba. It had nuclear weapons at the ready in Turkey and Italy, that could reach the USSR; in previous months, it had been sending a few U-2 spy planes over Soviet territory– a violation of the Union’s airspace. Not that the Soviet government hadn’t launched sixteen surveillance missions over France by 1960. And installed listening devices in private homes throughout the USSR. Pox on everyone’s houses.

Anyway, the possibility of actual mutual assured destruction reared its ugly head when, in the third week of October 1962, American intelligence officials discovered that the Soviets had assembled twelve nuclear missiles and more were on the way. Shortly thereafter, the United States declared an embargo on Soviet ships heading toward Cuba because presumably, they were carrying weapons parts. The Soviets didn’t take kindly to that, but the embargo was never actually strictly enforced.

Nevertheless, Nikita had an ally in Fidel Castro, who allowed the weaponry to be assembled and potentially launched from his nation’s soil in Cuba.

There were indications from Nikita’s conversations with Castro that Castro was a sociopathic hawk, spoiling for a fight with the United States. Castro was almost looking forward to becoming a martyr by preemptively taking out major American cities via the weaponry. He had heard from his intelligence agents that America was going to send ground troops to his country within two days.

Five days into the crisis, when Nikita realized Castro meant what he said, Nikita told American President John F. Kennedy that he was willing to withdraw the missiles on certain conditions. The United Nations hammered out the details. Castro was furious at Nikita.

So according to this book, Castro’s saber-rattling was why Nikita reconsidered his own aggressive stance with the Americans, not because Kennedy stared him down.

The development of nuclear missiles in the USSR was not without trials and errors; many costly errors. In October 1960, there occurred a rocket-testing accident in which nearly 150 tons of fuel and oxidizer burst into flames of three thousand degrees Fahrenheit, vaporizing 74 people in the vicinity. There were a lot of very important spectators at the test, so safety procedures were neglected in the rush to launch the rocket.

Read the book to learn of the power and ideological struggles among members of the Soviet government during Nikita’s reign, the serious problems suffered by East Germany, Nikita’s ouster, and much more.

The Netanyahu Years – BONUS POST

This political biography, “The Netanyahu Years” by Ben Caspit, translated by Ora Cummings, published in 2017, described a speech-making, megalomaniacal Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who made a miraculous comeback, given his situation and mediocre, if not disgraceful record.

This book committed an egregious factual error in two different places: “During Bill Clinton’s first term in office in 1997…” and “His [Netanyahu’s] first meeting with Bill Clinton took place on July 9, 1996. Clinton had already been in office for six months, Netanyahu, barely one month.”

The reader is also left wondering about the following: “On November 21, 2005, Ariel Sharon announced he was leaving the Likud Party…” but in later text, “On December 18, 2004, Prime Minister Sharon suffered a minor stroke… Two weeks later… a second stroke… pushed Sharon into a coma from which he never awoke.”

Besides, this book was sloppily proofread, presented confusing timelines, was redundant and disorganized; perhaps the author believed he was building suspense. Nevertheless, the overall themes of the book’s subject’s career and personality came across as credible.

Born in 1949 in Israel, Netanyahu grew up in a political family. His father’s side believed in Jabotinsky’s brand of Zionism– at one time proposing that the Jewish homeland be located in Uganda. In the early 1940’s, his father got no action from Franklin Roosevelt on saving Europe’s Jews, so he and his Zionist political group allied with Republicans to get some.

In September 1947, the elder Netanyahu put forth a Revisionist proposal at the United Nations opposing the Jewish/Arab partition. He ruled his family by fear and force, with regular beatings. Starting when the younger Netanyahu was eight, the family moved to New York City and two or three years later, Philadelphia. But the youngster’s heart was still in Israel. He returned there every summer during his teen years.

In the late 1960’s, for five years, Netanyahu served in an elite, top secret group in the Israeli military. He was almost killed in a secret Suez Canal mission. Despite serving in the Israeli military, he was apparently able to keep his American citizenship. For, he returned to America to major in physics and chemistry first at Cornell and then graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Netanyahu became a businessman but Moshe Arens convinced him to become a politician (or diplomat/propagandist, to be more specific) on behalf of Israel beginning in the early 1980’s. He was already divorced with a daughter, whom he later very nearly disowned, not through any apparent fault of hers. He then went through a second wife. Not because he was a media whore, although he was also that.

By May 1988, Netanyahu was a high Likud (Conservative) Party official in Israel. Yet he did American-style campaigning. He paid a fortune for voter and polling data, and was a super fundraiser. Like Donald Trump, he had his claques, flacks and sycophants. He started dating another female. They broke up. However, she got pregnant during election season. For the sake of his image, he felt he needed to marry her.

During the next election, Netanyahu still felt he had to prove his sexual prowess by having an affair. His political enemies blackmailed him on this score, but he outwitted them. He went on television to honestly admit it but refused to withdraw from the race. In spring 1993, he reconciled with his wife, with the condition that she was free to behave like a “bridezilla”– not with regard to a wedding ceremony, but with regard to his political career. She owned him and his career ever after.

In 1994 and 1995, again, mimicking an American politico who practices hate-mongering, Netanyahu incited young Likud voters to whip up a frenzy of outrage to protest the peace talks among then-Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, the PLO, Jordan and Syria; such talks were moderated by American president Bill Clinton. Netanyahu tacitly supported the protestors when they gathered “… in Jerusalem’s Zion Square where huge simulated photographs of Rabin in an SS Nazi uniform were raised high. Crazed demonstrators set fire to Rabin’s picture.” Luckily for Netanyahu, the perpetrator of Rabin’s November 1995 assassination was unaffiliated with the Likud party.

In 1996, Netanyahu won his election for prime minister by a nose, partly due to election legislation he helped to enact. Like John F. Kennedy, he underwent an epic fail early in his administration, due to his youth and inexperience. Like with the Bay of Pigs incident, the prime minister authorized a sneak attack on an enemy of his– the terrorist group Hamas.

Netanyahu’s administration was a revolving door of personnel, thanks to his wife’s interference. Together, especially when campaigning, they were like other dictatorial couples– the Ceausescus, the Perons, the Marcoses… with their outsize egos, department of dirty tricks, and broken campaign promises, especially after their election victory in 2009. At his reelection, Netanyahu hogged the jobs of five ministers, plus that of prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu launched a hate campaign against American president Barack Obama when he realized he couldn’t get along with him. This book rambled on in a few chapters on the conversations between the Americans and the Israelis regarding the “Iran nuclear deal” but never did explain what it was. Netanyahu made Obama a scapegoat for all his troubles and derived a huge amount of political capital from doing so. The same way Trump has done.

Read the book to learn more Israeli history, and additional ways Netanyahu was bigger than Israel, given his rumored psychological problems.


John Glenn, A Memoir

The Book of the Week is “John Glenn, A Memoir” by John Glenn With Nick Taylor, published in 1999.

Glenn was born in 1921 in a small town in eastern Ohio. At fifteen years old, he earned a driver’s license after taking the written and practical tests, as required by state law for anyone under eighteen. At that time, no tests were required for those over eighteen.

In spring 1941, Glenn availed himself of aviation lessons free of charge at his college, Muskingum in Ohio, where he majored in chemistry. Related academic subjects were mandatory too, such as physics. Wild about flying, he got his pilot’s license in less than three months. However, WWII interrupted his education. He joined the Navy in autumn 1942, then switched to the Marines because he thought he’d be flying the cutting-edge planes of the day.

In April 1943, Glenn married his high school sweetheart in a Presbyterian church. He drove his new bride to his next military assignment in a used black 1934 Chevy coupe. “…it seemed as if we had a flat [tire] about every ten miles. Gas was rationed, and to conserve it, we joined the other speedsters on the road, clipping along at forty miles per hour.”

Glenn became a war hero, executing numerous bombing runs in the South Pacific. After the war, due to his military career, he relocated frequently– to California, China, Guam. He was assigned various administrative and aviation positions, but was happiest when his job was piloting aircraft. He did some spying and taught flying instructors how to teach flight training.

Prop planes in the war had traveled at 300 miles per hour but in the 1950’s, jets in Corpus Christi, Texas were going double that. Glenn got a “green card” unrelated to immigration. It made pilots eligible to fly in the most severe weather conditions. Glenn’s ego and expertise in aviation prompted him to apply for the job of astronaut. He was one of seven lucky pilots chosen. The others were from the Air Force and the Navy.

In the late 1950’s, space exploration was in its infancy. There were infinite unknowns about what could happen in a rocket ship. The guinea pigs who were to occupy the capsule were therefore subjected to simulations– like letting their bodies be manipulated by the three axes of pitch, roll and yaw at thirty revolutions per minute– to practice regaining control of the ship if it was attacked by aliens. Or simply malfunctioned. Such an ordeal necessitated about a half hour of recovery from vertigo.

In February 1962, Glenn finally got his chance to circle the earth three times and collect scads of data. Unexpectedly, the heat shield in the capsule melted away in an orange fireball, and at the point of the shock wave, four feet from his back lurked heat of 9,500 degrees Fahrenheit, a little less scorching than the surface of the sun.

Contrary to popular myth, he was unhurt immediately after his famous flight. It was when he ran for the office of U.S. Senator from Ohio in 1964, that he hit his head on the edge of the bathtub while trying to repair the medicine cabinet in his bathroom.

Read the book to discover the fun subjects and skills Glenn had to learn in the rigorous training for the feat that made him famous; his other feats, and much more.

Indecent Exposure

The Book of the Week is “Indecent Exposure, A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street” by David McClintick, published in 1982. This volume with the provocative but misleading title had nothing to do with sex. It actually consisted of a suspenseful, albeit long story seen mostly through the eyes of Alan J. Hirschfield, the CEO and officer at Columbia, the movie company. It was about how a lack of honesty, the power of propaganda, and clashing egos basically resulted in the redistribution of wealth among the wealthy. This sort of thing happens all the time.

In February 1977, then-famous actor Cliff Robertson received a document saying he owed taxes in connection with a check he never received. He later found out that the check had been forged and cashed in his name, by David Begelman, a high-level executive at the aforesaid Columbia.

It was common practice for Hollywood studios to send movie actors checks for thousands of dollars (usually unreported to the IRS) that defrayed a small portion of their promotion expenses for a new picture. The IRS had just then begun cracking down on that taxable income. Robertson’s reaction set in motion a series of consequences that affected thousands of people; mostly financially.

Columbia was a public company, and the bad publicity resulting from news of a serious crime committed by one of its executives was a serious public relations problem. Hirschfield, who was on the board of directors, was told by an attorney that he had a duty to inform the executive committee, corporate counsel and the SEC after an internal investigation had been conducted.

As has been the case since the discovery of journalism/tabloidism, (supposedly said by Mark Twain), “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Begelman’s friends in the Hollywood community (of which the check forger had many) rushed to his defense, having heard only vague rumors that described his transgressions in euphemisms. They really had no clue that he had actually committed several felonies, it turned out. They didn’t want to know.

The friends planted tabloidy messages in the media making the excuse “Everybody Does It” because they took unethical liberties with their own expense accounts, and made Hirschfield the villain, saying he was a power-hungry, vindictive executive, as he technically did compete for power with Begelman in the company hierarchy. Hollywood’s and the public’s gullibility in automatically believing in Begelman’s innocence and Hirschfield’s treachery is human nature.

At the board meeting that initiated the long, heated discussion that would determine whether Begelman was fired, Begelman acted like a prisoner on death row who had suddenly found religion. He implied he might kill himself if removed from his primary job. But actually, anyone who knows this kind of person knows that he would be too arrogant to kill himself.

A preliminary inquiry into Begelman’s history yielded more than one serious crime during his Columbia tenure, and previous lying and other worse misdeeds. Hirschfield argued for termination, saying Begelman was unlikely to change his spots, as dishonesty was a lifelong habit with him. Over the next few years, the Hollywood community and the public, however, still having heard only distorted soundbites that minimized Begelman’s sins, fooled itself into believing they weren’t that bad, and continued to defend him.

Interesting sidenote: In 1982, in a joking context, Hirschfield exclaimed to a female friend who was high on the corporate ladder, in front of some colleagues: “Female executives suck!” She laughed. Clearly, if that was uttered in 2018, hilarity would NOT ensue.

Read the book to learn of the consequences of the stupid actions taken by most of the main characters of this entertaining saga.

Let the People In – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Let the People In, The Life and Times of Ann Richards” by Jan Reid, published in 2012.

Born in September 1933 in Waco, Texas, Richards attended Baylor University on a debate-team scholarship. She gave up the team (and the scholarship) to get married in 1953, but still graduated.

Richards’ immediate family eventually consisted of a husband and four children. They lived in Austin, Texas. Her husband was a lawyer who represented labor unions and civil rights activists. Their social group consisted of hard-partying (drinking, pot-smoking) liberal Democrats, like Molly Ivins. Lots of hippies and anti-war protesters lived in their neighborhood, a college town.

In 1972, Richards kicked off her political career as campaign manager for Sarah Weddington, who was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. Four years later, Richards herself was elected Travis County Commissioner; her husband, Justice of the Peace.

In 1980, it was alcohol-rehab time for Richards, in Minneapolis. Her career comeback began in 1982. During the campaign, her opponent tried to smear her with drunkenness and mental instability. It backfired on him. She was still elected Texas State Treasurer. The following year saw the finalization of her divorce.

Candidates traded vicious slurs in the 1990 campaign for Texas governor. Richards claimed her opponent’s company “… had been cited for intentionally dumping 25,000 barrels of waste mud and oil into a tributary creek of a lake that provided drinking water for the small town of Brenham. Partners and competitors in the oil and gas industry sued his companies more than three hundred times.”

That is the kind of specific data that, if true, should be all over the evening news– constantly screamed from the pro-environmental side of the “global warming” debate. But go one step further: in order to effect real political change, environmentalists should provide solid, numerical information on how humans are ultimately harmed by pollution. Information should be spread far and wide on cancer clusters, financial damage to specific communities, and proposed legislation that strikes a compromise between minimizing economic sacrifices while maximizing environmental friendliness– in order to minimize harm to humans.

For, “global warming” is not rocket science… It’s not even earth science… It’s political science! Everyone knows that usage of the catchall phrase “global warming” is simply a political football used for getting votes and/or money. It an easy way to produce fear and outrage through vast generalizations and mudslinging. It is irrelevant whether “global warming” actually exists, and if so, it is irrelevant the extent to which it is caused by humans. Local pollution in America should be the focus of political action for Americans. Worldwide anti-pollution efforts are too acrimonious and complicated to bother with.

Anyway, once elected, Richards tried to execute environmentally-friendly initiatives. However, her efforts were thwarted because officials in the Texas governor’s office have staggered terms. Workers senior to her were loyal to her predecessor.

It stands to reason that long-term international agreements that regulate geographically wide-ranging desecration would be many times more difficult to come by– if Richards had trouble trying to push through legislation with a few tens of residents of her own state, in Texas alone. Her lieutenant governor was also a thorn in her side. Read the book to learn why, along with much more on the rest of her career and life.

The Pioneering Odyssey of Freeman Dyson

The Book of the Week is “The Pioneering Odyssey of Freeman Dyson, Maverick Genius” by Phillip F. Schewe, published in 2013. This is a biography of the multi-disciplinary mathematician / scientist, theorist, professor, author and lecturer.

The author named nearly all of the most famous twentieth-century nuclear physicists (and provided historical backdrop that led to scientific advances in physics, war and astronomy), and briefly described their contributions– even a few of whom Dyson hardly knew; that is, except for two scientists, who happened to be female:  Marie Cure and Lise Meitner. This oversight might be due to the fact that the author encountered little or no literature on them (due to their gender) when researching this book. Ironically, the author did admit, however, that Dyson’s marital troubles were due to his sexist hypocrisy.

Anyway, born in Great Britain in 1923, Dyson grew up in a wealthy family in the London suburb of Winchester. His mother was already 43 at his birth. Pursuant to family tradition, he was sent to boarding school at eight years old. Due to WWII, in two years rather than four, he earned a degree in mathematics at Cambridge University.

Dyson was then tapped to use his newly acquired knowledge as a tactical aviation consultant of sorts for the war effort, staying stateside. Postwar, as a graduate, he resumed his education, studying physics at Cambridge and Cornell universities. He never did finish his PhD.

Nevertheless, of all his lifetime’s workplaces, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton was where he spent the longest total time. In the late 1940’s, he was supervised by J. Robert Oppenheimer. He explained the missing link between Richard Feynman’s, Julian Schwinger’s and Shin’ichiro Tomonaga’s ideas about field theory in nuclear physics; more specifically, quantum electrodynamics.

Yes, Dyson did rocket science, too, at the dawn of the 1960’s. However, it was all theoretical. He actually wanted to go on a mission to Mars or Saturn or Jupiter. Dyson’s fluency in Russian allowed him to understand the Soviet mentality on the space and arms races.

Paradoxically, during the Cold War, an adverse consequence of the testing of nuclear weapons included cancer deaths due to radiation exposure; about a thousand of them annually. This was an acceptable sacrifice (in the name of saving the world)– as highway deaths numbered about fifty thousand annually. That changed of course, with nuclear accidents and seat belts in later decades.

In 1976, Dyson supervised a graduate student who wrote a term paper that generated much controversy.  “From non-classified government documents, freely available to anyone, Phillips [the student] proceeded to gather a primer of frightening specificity showing step by step how to build a nuclear bomb.” The student got an “A.”

Read the book to learn of Dyson’s views on extraterrestrials and extrasensory perception, on how religion and science can coexist; his fantasies about what humans could do in outer space in the future; his participation in a think tank named Jason, his take on global warming, the reversal of his beliefs on nuclear matters, and much more.

Unlimited Partners – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Unlimited Partners, Our American Story” by Bob and Elizabeth Dole, published in 1996.

Born in 1923 in Russell, Kansas, Bob Dole was the second oldest of four children. His small agricultural hometown was plagued by the usual disasters:  prairie fires, droughts, tornadoes, grasshoppers, blizzards and dust storms, in addition to politics. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, in November 1923, oil was discovered there. Bob’s father ran a creamery. The family went fishing and hunting.

Bob started attending the University of Kansas thinking he wanted to become a doctor. “By mixing me with all sorts of people, living in a frat house was good preparation for what lay ahead.” Fate threw him for a loop, as he suffered a severe spinal cord injury while serving in WWII. His strong psychological constitution saw him recover sufficient physical ability to earn a law degree, and become a Republican.

In 1960, while running for Congress, Bob distributed free pineapple juice to get name recognition, even though his family had nothing to do with the produce company.

Elizabeth became Bob’s second wife. They had no children together. She was born in 1937 in Salisbury, North Carolina. There were only 24 women out of 550 students in her Harvard Law School class of 1965. One of her classmates criticized her for displacing a white male.

Bob and Elizabeth both served in various leadership positions in the American government through the years. In 1981, Bob helped pass the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, which gave Americans a 25% personal income tax cut over the course of three years. The following year however, to mitigate the financial hangover of that, Congress passed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982. Its accounting tricks allegedly reduced the national debt by almost $100 billion through closing the loopholes of the previous bill, plus raising taxes a bit and cutting spending.

Read the book to learn of: Elizabeth’s post-government career; Bob’s high praise for President Ronald Reagan, and harsh criticisms of President Bill Clinton; his proposals for tax reform, and vast generalizations of his views on a host of other political issues. After all, Bob was running for president when the book was published.

My Life in Politics – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “My Life in Politics” by Jacques Chirac With Jean-Luc Barre, translated by Catherine Spencer, originally published in 2009.

Born in 1932 in France, Chirac learned Russian from a private tutor. Defying his father, who was a corporate banker and wounded WWI soldier, he did a short stint in the merchant marine and then attended a school of government. In 1953, he got the chance to visit the United States, where the American dream was alive and well. He was thrilled to experience Sidney Bechet, Hemingway and Brando.

Chirac passed the oral and written exams for the civil service in France. Even so, he thought he could have a great military career, having done two tours of Algeria in the 1950’s. His wife and the French government thought otherwise. In 1967, Chirac was pushed to run for Republican town councilor in the French countryside, constituency of Ussel, in Correze. Thus, elective politics became his career.

In May 1974, French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing appointed Chirac prime minister. As such, he handled foreign policy, meeting with world leaders like Saddam Hussein and Deng Xiaoping. In August 1976, he co-founded a new political party, the Rassemblement pour la Republique (RPR) to run against the Union for French Democracy (UDF). Then he was elected mayor of Paris.

In March 1986, Chirac again became prime minister, under president Francois Mitterrand, of the National Front party. The RPR had sufficient seats in Parliament to require power-sharing between the parties. However, the president’s ultimate authority meant that Chirac’s economic and national-security proposals were rejected. Chirac was able to push through tax cuts and a youth employment program, though.

Chirac felt that unemployment was the primary cause of financial struggles. He advocated for job programs; plus social and educational opportunities for people living in poor neighborhoods.

In late 1993, mayor Chirac– a socialist at heart– agreed to start a (no-charge) ambulance service for the homeless in Paris. By 1995, via the city council, against the wishes of the socialist (federal) government, he provided free medical care to 150,000 homeless people.

In May 1995, Chirac was elected president of France. He complained that he inherited a government in financial ruin, about which the previous administration had lied (!) The national deficit and the debt of the national healthcare system were both sky-high. Unsurprisingly.

Even so, Chirac felt he was forced to impose austerity measures, like lengthening the working life of French citizens from 37 and a 1/2 to 40 years, before they could collect a pension. But, due to violent, widespread strikes, that action had to be postponed until 2003 (for civil servants) and 2008 (private sector). Politicians. In the future, anything could happen. And, in 1998, all of France’s homeless– about five million people– got free access to medical care.

Chirac also increased minimum wage, and launched programs in connection with “… requisitioning of empty buildings and properties belonging to banks or insurance companies, public housing was on the agenda… The zero-interest loans introduced to help with homeownership (sic) very quickly achieved the lasting success that I hoped for…” Chirac did admit that political surveys showed that the French people didn’t like what he was doing. He also wrote on more than one occasion in the book that French youths were rebelling against the establishment.

Read the book to learn what Chirac did in response to criticism; of his reaction to the violence in Kosovo; his views and actions with regard to Bush’s Iraq war; of three issues on which he focused during reelection time; of France’s foreign policy in the next few years; of what his love of art history prompted him to do; and more.