American Mirror – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “American Mirror, The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell” by Deborah Solomon, published in 2013.

Born in February 1894 in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan in New York City, Rockwell was an illustrator known for his engaging scenes of ordinary Americans in a kind, lighthearted, innocent time.

The attitude of the United States was forced to change with WWII. FDR speechified about Four Freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want, and from fear. In 1943, Rockwell was tasked with creating images on posters (to promote the sale of War Bonds) that portrayed the freedoms; during which, he helped shape the image of “Rosie the Riveter.” In this way, Rockwell developed a reputation as a patriotic artist who reinforced America’s values, that contrasted with the values of America’s enemies.

Read the book to learn everything you ever wanted to know about Rockwell’s life and career.

ENDNOTE: The 2024 presidential candidates should be asked to explain what they will do to preserve the above Four Freedoms in these modern times. Ironically, freedom of speech is what allows propagandists to whip the public into a frenzy of fear (!)

The freedom from fear directly stems from the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights that, arguably, the U.S. government violates daily, in this electronic age. President George W. Bush pushed for decriminalizing spying on American citizens via Congressional approval of the Patriot Act– a set of federal statutes separate from those contained in the U.S. Constitution. In the past forty years, the following presidents have been accused of a significant number of crimes in the following major categories:

  • war-related crimes: Reagan, H.W. Bush, G.W. Bush;
  • treason-related crimes: Reagan, G.W. Bush, Trump, Biden;
  • financial-related crimes: H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, Trump, Biden;
  • sex-related crimes: Clinton, Trump, Biden

It shouldn’t be surprising that Obama’s name is absent from the above. He needed to avoid egregiously unethical behavior because, given his skin color, not only his political enemies, but also hatemongers— witch-hunted his and his family’s history and every move 24/7.

The question for the 2024 election is:

Is the country ready for another variation on the Caucasian Christian/Catholic male presidents– in terms of ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation?

Nice Guys Finish Last

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The Book of the Week is “Nice Guys Finish Last” by Leo Durocher with Ed Linn, published in 1975.

Durocher was born in 1906 in West Springfield, Massachusetts. He began his baseball career playing utility infielder for the New York Yankees in 1925. He developed a reputation as a contentious alpha male. Branch Rickey, one of his bosses through the decades, said he was a “… man with infinite capacity for immediately making a bad situation worse.”

Durocher squandered his initial $5,000 annual salary on clothing, food and nightclubs in New York City. Always in debt, he was a pool-hall hustler, too. But everyone wanted to be seen with him, as his social set consisted of celebrities who lived life in the fast lane.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, and Bibliography) professional baseball culture for most of the twentieth century was mean-of-spirit, with alcohol-fueled violence. Team personnel such as Durocher were always thinking of new dirty tricks to win games.

Durocher admitted to trash-talking to batters to psych them out so his team’s pitcher would strike them out. Players suffered injuries galore due to lack of protective gear that would minimize or prevent injuries; batters especially suffered, as team-managers told their pitchers to deliberately hit batters with their pitching.

If hit, the batter was awarded the equivalent of a single as compensation. Durocher wrote, “I once saw Diz [pitcher Dizzy Dean] hit seven straight Giants [the baseball team players] in Miami early in the exhibition season, because the Giants had the nerve to score seven runs off him in one inning.” Finally, in 1940 (!), team-executive Larry MacPhail of the Brooklyn Dodgers ordered his players to wear plastic batting-helmets. This, after batter Joe Medwick was knocked out by a pitch by Bob Bowman of the Saint Louis Cardinals.

Durocher claimed that during the time he managed the Dodgers, MacPhail “fired” him zillions of times in the mid-1930’s, but most of the time, didn’t really mean it, until a tipping point was reached. As is well known, from the 1970’s into the 1980’s, the “You’re fired” situation became a running joke between Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and team manager Billy Martin, in order to entertain baseball fans.

Read the book to learn of other similar episodes, and trials and tribulations Durocher faced in his career (hint– major issues included his own newspaper column; the ongoing hostilities between the Yankees and the Dodgers; the media’s anti-Durocher lies and smears in its baseball reporting; punishments imposed by a few baseball commissioners over the years for alleged libel committed by, and gambling among, members of the ball clubs managed by Durocher; and a few of the colorful characters whom Durocher recruited and managed) and more. Curiously, Durocher failed to mention performance-enhancing drugs.

Anyway, speaking of contentious alpha males, here’s some advice for voters in this ditty concerning the 2024 candidates.

SHOW, NOT TELL

sung to the tune of “Express Yourself” (Official Video) with apologies to Madonna.

[spoken] C’mon America, do you want to see substance and quality in 2024? Of course you have something to SAY about it. That is how we roll.

Ignore the candidates’ bragfest, people.
Feel FREE to put them to the test.
You know, you know you’ve got to make them disPENSE with their spiel.
We want to KNOW their positions for REAL.

Politicians PULL the strings and THEY reap all the gold.

Their eight-year plan is way too vast.

You know, that never lasts, no, no.

What we need is a maTURE public-servant whose policies are smart and sound.
What we usually GET is a king on a throne, who’s abOVE the law and brings us down.

Ignore the candidates’ bragfest, people.
Feel FREE to put them to the test.
You know, you know you’ve got to make them disPENSE with their spiel.
We want to KNOW their positions for REAL.

Deep tax cuts are the way to your heart, but they treat you like an airHEAD. No, budget plans are NOT romantic. We’re hypoCRITically in the red.

Well, there’s no FREE lunch in life, it is TIME for the nation to move ON. Govern-ment should give you chances, but you’ve got to CRE-ate wealth on-your-OWN.

Ignore the candidates’ bragfest, people.
Feel FREE to put them to the test.
You know, you know you’ve got to make them disPENSE with their spiel.
We want to KNOW their positions for REAL.

De-STRESS yourselves. You’ve got to make them SHOW, not tell. Hey, hey, hey, hey.
To distinguish the greats, make them have the debates.
Show what they’ve GOT. We’ll see the best of the lot.

After all, you won’t reGRET it. Think about how much support they deserve.
If they don’t deserve it, they shouldn’t get it.
It’s YOU they should serve. So please

Show themselves. Show themselves. Hey, hey.

What we need is a maTURE public servant whose policies are smart and sound.
What we usually GET is a king on a throne, who’s above the law and brings us down.

After all, you won’t reGRET it. Think about how much support they deserve.
If they don’t deserve it, they shouldn’t get it.
It’s YOU they should serve. So please

Ignore the candidates’ bragfest, people.
Feel FREE to put them to the test.
You know, you know you’ve got to make them disPENSE with their spiel.
We want to KNOW their positions for REAL.

De-STRESS yourselves. You’ve got to make them SHOW, not tell. Hey, hey, hey, hey.
To distinguish the greats, make them have the debates.
Show what they’ve GOT. We’ll see the best of the lot.

SHOW themselves. SHOW themselves. Hey, hey.

To distinguish the greats, make them have the debates.
Show what they’ve GOT. We’ll see the best of the lot.

De-STRESS yourselves. ReSPECT yourselves…

Just About Everybody vs. Howard Hughes

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The Book of the Week is “Just About Everybody vs. Howard Hughes, The Inside Story of The TWA-Howard Hughes Trial” by David B. Tinnin, published in 1973.

In the 1930’s, Howard Hughes inherited his father’s oil-industry-equipment company, Toolco, which sold a unique, patented, lucrative drill. By the early 1950’s, Hughes had become a pilot passionate about acquiring jets (whose engines had technology that was obsolescing pistons) for his airline, TWA. He was an alpha male whose desire for control of his company led to decades of complex litigation involving age-old economic and political issues.

As American society became ever more capitalistic in the Postwar Era, businessmen hired more and more attorneys to wield more and more power and influence. They sought to change the tax laws to make more and more money.

Hughes was a victim of his own success in that he was using highly leveraged, deficit financing to purchase the new jets through his Toolco. Into the 1950’s, individuals (rather than their companies or employers) were the ones responsible for debts if they needed to borrow money for their businesses. This economic condition has come full circle with tech startups.

Hughes borrowed from banks and insurance companies, but by the late 1950’s, his debt was so high, they refused to give him special treatment. He used dirty tricks (which arguably weren’t illegal but were unethical, at best) to order jets from a few different suppliers.

Hughes’ incestuous business transactions generated an escalation of commitment among various parties, who were averse to losing even more money if they withdrew from their ongoing deals with him. Need it be said, there is nothing new under the son (or sun– either one). In the early 1960’s, his creditors terminated his borrowing privileges and created a voting trust that took control of TWA. Neither side wanted to see TWA go bankrupt. There were, of course, other wrenches in the works, which are too numerous to mention here.

The orgy of litigation resulting from Hughes’ business activities triggered a very controversial legal and economic issue. Hughes owned 78.23% of the voting stock of TWA, which was financially affiliated with his Toolco. At that time, TWA shares were not owned by the general public. His side argued that he should be allowed to control his companies as he saw fit, because he had a controlling interest in them. On the other hand, he really didn’t own them– his creditors did!

Besides that, if TWA went belly-up, there would be far-reaching economic consequences for many stakeholders. All employees of TWA would lose their jobs, competing airlines would benefit financially, contractors supplying jets and their parts to TWA would lose a customer, Hughes’ lenders would lose megabucks, etc., etc., etc.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, and Bibliography), in June 1961, the big lawsuit initially launched in federal court in the Southern District of New York against Hughes was named TWA v. Howard Hughes. TWA charged Hughes with making special deals with third parties that led to financial harm for TWA. He tried to keep competing airlines from buying jets he wanted for TWA, through monopolistic practices.

BUT, due to disastrous losses (from a downturn in air travel that prompted proposals of various airline mergers, and his tax-evasion tricks), Hughes chose to cancel a portion of jet orders for TWA. Under his crushing debt load, he couldn’t afford to pay for all of his purchases. So the airline couldn’t stay competitive in the commercial airline industry. Other airlines were purchasing jets sooner at lower cost. Hughes’ series of attorneys through the years, of course used all manner of shenanigans (through: filing a blizzard of documents with creative legal arguments, counter-suing and appealing rulings) to delay the case.

One last-minute development that aided Hughes’ attorney before Hughes would be charged with contempt of court yet again, was a curious January 1963 Supreme Court ruling regarding jurisdiction in connection with a monopolistic entity. There was a little federal agency called the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), that had been regulating the airlines. The attorney repeatedly tried to get the case against Hughes dismissed– by arguing that CAB, rather than a federal court, should have been trying Hughes’ case.

Read the book to learn every last detail of this suspenseful story that spawned reams of tabloid fodder, but also greatly impacted the legal, economic and tax cultures of corporate America.

Behind the Candelabra

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The Book of the Week is “Behind the Candelabra, My Life With Liberace” by Scott Thorson with Alex Thorleifson, published in 1988.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in May 1919, the pianist who became known as Liberace (he used his family’s last name as his stage name) had three younger siblings. The father abandoned the family when he was an adolescent. However, Liberace was his mother’s favorite. Upon seeing that he had piano-playing talent, she had him practicing all the time, instead of socializing with his peers. She also practiced spousification. He began to get paid for his musicianship at fourteen, playing with a band in saloons.

Piano concerts were only the setting for Liberace’s performances. His witty verbal jousts, audience participation, makeup, ten or more changes of glittery costumes, jewelry galore, and flamboyant props and sets– were par for the course.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked an extensive list of detailed sources, and an index), Liberace was very emotionally needy. Once he became rich and developed Peter Pan syndrome, he felt the need to flaunt his high-on-the-hog lifestyle. As an adult, he became a father figure to a series of young males one at a time (but also had an army of servants), sharing his wealth and material possessions with them. However, he was the controller of the relationships, and would break up with them when they expressed too much desire for independence.

At the dawn of his twenties, Scott Thorson met Liberace and became his personal assistant in the summer of 1977. Thorson had suffered through a difficult childhood in a series of foster homes. He soon became Liberace’s surrogate son, and learned of the pianist’s excesses. He enjoyed his new role at first, as his interests meshed with his boss’s. They cared for pet dogs and horses, shopped for and wore elaborate clothing, ate sumptuous meals, met other celebrities, and traveled in style to go on tour.

Their first Christmas together, Thorson was tasked with purchasing holiday merchandise. He wrote, “That year, we had eighteen huge Christmas trees [in Liberace’s mansions in Las Vegas and Palm Springs CA, at a cost of $25,000], more than 350 red and white poinsettias, table decorations, greenery, wreaths– enough candles, lights, and tinsel to stock a department store.”

Read the book to learn of Thorson’s fate: when Liberace asked him to make a serious physical sacrifice; and how Thorson handled the responsibilities and stresses of living with a celebrity such as Liberace– with its many kinds of orgies, including those of litigation in the end.

Our House – BONUS POST

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Here’s a little ditty that summarizes events of the past week or so in the United States House of Representatives.

OUR HOUSE

sung to the tune of “Our House” with apologies to “Madness” (the band).

McCarthy sold-his-SOUL, feeling pressed.

Reps are tired, they need a rest.

The committees are plotting beHIND closed doors.

The Caucus’s power took a LEAP. [ah-ah-ah]

Biden holds an olive branch, his legacy is now.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House, in the middle of the–

The Caucus was uncowed.

Males are always power-struggling and they’re usually quite proud.

The Speaker went-fifTEEN-rounds.

Only concessions slowed him down but defeat was not allowed.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.
Our House, in the middle of the–

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House [Tabloids tell us that the radicals took hold of it.]

in the middle of the–

McCarthy rejected-the-Jan.-6 panel’s work.

His base didn’t know, whom to desert.

Then he wanted to probe the probers.

See him long-to-stay where Trump’s YOKE is. [ah ah ah]

Pelosi’s the one they’re going to miss in lots of ways.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.
Our House, in the middle of the–

[I remember way back when, men had honor

and the world didn’t have so very MANY spies.

No more PRIvate lives.

Such a FREE time.

And I remember how we’d live, simply face to face,

used our brains.

Software wouldn’t come between us.

No Tweeters.]

McCarthy sold-his-SOUL, feeling pressed.
Reps are tired, they need a rest.
The committees are plotting beHIND closed doors.
The Caucus’s power took a LEAP. [ah-ah-ah]
Biden holds an olive branch, his legacy is now.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House, in the middle of the–

Our House, we need IT for demo-cracy.

Our House, in the middle of the heat.

Our House, that is where some people sleep.

Our House…

Gratitude In Low Voices

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The Book of the Week is “Gratitude In Low Voices, A Memoir” by Dawit Gebremichael Habte, published in 2017. According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked an extensive list of detailed sources, and an index), through the decades of the twentieth century, Eritrea suffered the usual traumas of a former colony (of Italy from 1890 to 1941) that was fighting for independence:

  • exploitation of its assets and resources (including dry docks, factories, railway cars by the British, and oil by the British and the Americans in the 1940’s);
  • oppression of its people (by Ethiopia in the 1950’s and 1960’s, via a UN resolution that was violated after a decade);
  • a military draft (by the Ethiopian government in 1983);
  • famine (in 1984);
  • ideology and language of the oppressors forced on students in the schools (by Ethiopians, funded by the Soviets in the mid-1980’s); and
  • arrests of and atrocities committed against, Eritrean people who uttered one word in any form, critical of Ethiopia (beginning in the mid-1980’s).

In 1973 or 1974, the author was born into a typical lifestyle for his time and place. He herded sheep and goats at an early age. By then, the Eritrean independence movement was gaining ground in the form of two armed groups resisting Ethiopian oppression: Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). His father joined the former group, and desirous to have his son educated, in the early 1980’s, sent him to school in Asmara.

Through his formative years, the author received an eclectic education. At about nine years old, he became apprenticed to a carpenter. Afraid the generous pay would corrupt him, his mother sent him to study the Bible at Saint George Orthodox Church. There, he learned Tigrinya, the language of his native people. His father went to Saudi Arabia to work, and sent money home. Eventually, his family became refugees from the violence and left Asmara but stayed in Eritrea.

Read the book to learn what transpired when the author wished to gain access to the resources in a library in his neighborhood and later, when he paid a people-smuggler to help him flee for Kenya; and his and Eritrea’s fate.

Black Box Thinking

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The Book of the Week is “Black Box Thinking, Why Most People Never Learn From Their Mistakes– But Some Do” by Matthew Syed, published in 2015. This volume attempted to answer the question: “How does failure-denial become so deeply entrenched in human minds and systems?”

The author described two ways of thinking:

1. Some people believe their abilities are fixed, so they won’t improve with practice. They have fear of failure, and make excuses and / or blame others for their failures.

2. Other people believe they can get better with practice, and they are honest about admitting they have made errors. They learn from them. Success is achieved only through trial and error, hard work and persistence.

Number 1 above is also described in the following quote from Bertrand Russell: “There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dare not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.” Yet another way of putting it is “hubris syndrome.”

Two of America’s recent presidents– George W. Bush and Donald Trump– were this kind of thinker. According to the author’s thesis, they succeeded against the odds (if success is defined as getting elected president), considering that they were blind to their own character flaws.

BUT– their common beginnings saw them through: They both began with the special advantages of inheriting money, mentors, lawyers, and valuable career and political contacts. They proceeded to fail upwards until they reached their peak “Peter principle” level, kind of like the joke: How do you make a small fortune in Israel? Answer: Come with a large one.

The author drew parallels between the topic-areas of aviation and healthcare delivery. These involve life-and-death scenarios when things go extremely wrong. However, that is where the similarities stop. People who have shaped the evolution of aviation have built up a knowledge-base that has served to produce lower and lower death tolls when catastrophes have occurred; powerful, influential people working in healthcare have been stubbornly resistant to adopting measures that would result in a drastic reduction in unnecessary deaths.

The author cited real-life examples from Great Britain and the United States. But there are other major reasons why his comparison is mostly invalid. These involve lawsuits, unions, government regulations and the political climate at the time of the disasters, and the following:

Obviously, workers in aviation have more of an incentive to improve safety, because in a disaster, many more people might die all at once in a plane crash, compared to the one patient on an operating table or examination table. Even if members of the flight crew survive a disaster, their careers are likely over. Even when doctors are at fault, they usually continue their careers.

The author discussed the pros and cons of just-culture versus blame-culture. He described the latter thusly: “It may be intellectually satisfying to have a culprit, someone to hang their disaster on. And it certainly makes life simple.”

The author recounted how a public-relations campaign can fool even intelligent people into believing a particular method of crime-prevention among young people, works wonders. The only way to debunk such a myth is through numerous Randomized Control Trials.

Read the book to learn about additional concepts surrounding psychological self-deceptions that humans employ in order to avoid admitting failures: cognitive dissonance, narrative fallacy, top-down versus bottom-up product development, various biases, and others.

Sunflower in the Snow

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The Book of the Week is “Sunflower in the Snow, Tales From A Wartime Childhood” by Rachel Patron, published in 2020.

The author was born in January 1936 in Bialystock (in Poland). Her family’s textile-dyeing factory was requisitioned by the Soviets when they occupied their portion of Poland in autumn 1939. The family moved in with extended relatives elsewhere in Poland. In spring 1940, they moved back to Bialystock to their prewar house. But the NKVD requisitioned that, too.

Good news: The family wasn’t sent to a concentration camp. Bad news: The family was sent to Siberia in summer 1941, where they almost froze and starved to death, anyway. Their way of life was turned upside-down, due to all kinds of political, economic, religious and linguistic changes wrought by the War; to name just a few:

  • After the Germans broke up with the Soviets, the former sought to arrest all Communists and Socialists. The author’s father and much older brother were taken away by the Commissar’s thugs to serve as slave labor, and in the Red Army, respectively.
  • There was bartering in black markets.
  • The atheist Soviets canceled Christmas.
  • The author’s family spoke Yiddish among themselves because the Soviets did not speak it, but they spoke Russian to local officials.

When she was an adolescent, after various long interruptions of her formal education due to the government’s closing of schools for ideological reasons, the author was told she was a Socialist Zionist. This entailed:

  • atheism, which meant the author didn’t have to observe a kosher diet; and
  • the Law of Return– automatic citizenship for all Jews around the world after Israel declared its independence in May 1948.

Read the book to learn: more details of the author’s experiences, traumas specific to her family, and what became of them.

The Courage to Survive – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Courage to Survive” by Dennis J. Kucinich, published in 2007. This raw, emotional, personal story was similar to those of: journalist Joe Queenan (Closing Time), and teacher Tara Westover (Educated).

Born in October 1946 in Cleveland, the author had a difficult childhood in an ever-growing, poverty-stricken family. His mother was of Irish ancestry; his father, Croatian. The latter was a mean, physically abusive drunk. In his daily life, the author was fortunate to receive guidance and life-lessons from community role models such as his parents, teachers, coaches, his many relatives, (Catholic) priests, godparents, etc.

Nevertheless, the author’s take on life by the time he reached his teens was as follows: “The violence I witnessed at home percolated … I was ready to unleash it, but not in the street… What do you do when you are a kid and you feel violent? Do you look in your neighborhood for people to beat up? Do you vandalize? Do you just plain raise hell?”

More and more in America, such young males who feel like powder kegs pick up firearms and shoot innocent strangers or rival gang members, or engage in cyber attacks and fraud. Instead, if they are lucky– their anger is channeled into competitive sports, the military, performing arts, or politics.

Read the book to learn about the forces that shaped the author’s start in politics.