Clinton and Me

The Book of the Week is “Clinton and Me, A Real Life Political Comedy” by Mark Katz, published in 2003. This is the engaging story of how an incurable wiseass used his comedic talent and skills in the political arena.

Born in 1963 in Brooklyn, the precocious author  received a political education in his formative years, thanks to the Watergate hearings. He was a class clown in school, no doubt. Careerwise, he began as a low-level staffer for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Next he cut his teeth as an unpaid volunteer on the Mike Dukakis presidential campaign. “My year on the Dukakis campaign sensitized me to the outrageous, insidious and coded tactics…[of evil, mudslinging political consultants]” Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. Katz then did a stint copywriting in general advertising prior to the advent of the World Wide Web.

Finally, the author parlayed this foundation into a relatively brief but rewarding set of adventures writing jokes contained in speeches for President Bill Clinton. Read the book to learn the lessons the author learned, in making a living for a politician soliciting laughs.

CATS, CHOCOLATE, CLOWNS

The Book of the Week is “CATS, CHOCOLATE, CLOWNS, and other amusing, interesting and useful subjects covered by newsletters.” (sic) edited by Greg Mitchell, published in 1982. This is a hodgepodge of trivia– highlights of newsletters on every conceivable subject in the universe. It might be recalled that newsletters– publications on niche topics– were all the rage in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

One interesting tidbit includes a quote from Kirkegaard: “People demand freedom of speech to make up for the freedom of thought they avoid.” One of countless others is a brief description of cross-dominant eyesight. Baseball players who have it tend to be better hitters. It means that a right-hander sees better from the left eye, and vice versa. In 1980, 70% of Kansas City Royals players had cross-dominant eyesight, and thus the team had the best hitting record that season.

The cliche bears repeating ad infinitum:  There’s nothing new under the sun. At the book’s writing, John Leo, in Discover magazine commented that Americans were afraid of computers because “…computers destroy privacy, eliminate jobs, carry the TV generation even further from literacy… and allow WWIII to be launched entirely by technical error.”

Read the book to learn a vast quantity of other datums, the likes of the aforementioned gems.

Chocolate Nations

The Book of the Week is “Chocolate Nations, Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa” by Orla Ryan, published in 2011. This slim volume described the situations in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire at the book’s writing, with regard to growing the crop that ultimately becomes chocolate. Both countries had command economies and a large number of farmers with small landholdings growing the cocoa-bean trees.

Ghana has grown cocoa at least since the late 1800’s. Even after it declared its independence from Great Britain in 1957, it had a series of tyrannical leaders, each replacing the next via coups. They kept the farmers poverty-stricken by setting the price the government paid for cocoa.  Some farmers illegally sold their harvests to Cote d’Ivoire for better prices. Around 2009, Ghana was producing approximately one fifth of the world’s cocoa; Cote d’Ivoire, about one third.

Even after independence in 1960, the latter’s former colonizer, France, invested in cocoa farming there. However, the dictator became well-liked by encouraging laborers from Burkina Faso and Mali to farm cocoa and coffee in his country. He gave land to those from the Baoule tribe who tilled it.  His excessive spending to support his lifestyle and that of his loyal servants, resulted in huge debts, which he tried to reduce by cutting wholesale prices paid to cocoa farmers.  The nation saw a bloody civil war from 2000 to 2003.

In the first decade of the 21st century, hysteria ruled the airwaves in the United States over the accusation of abusive child labor on the cocoa farms. It was unclear whether the accusation was true, as data were anecdotal, ulterior motives abounded among the accusers (such as NGOs, tabloid reporters and even a politician), and the culture of the cocoa growers provided plausible denial that truant children were being enslaved. For, farming families tended to be large so that the kids’ assistance could help keep the family in business.

It appears that cocoa farming is unlikely to change significantly in the near future in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire because “For smallholders, the cocoa market can seem little more than a plaything in the hands of a few large companies and speculators.”

Read the book to learn more details.

Sandy Koufax

The Book of the Week is “Sandy Koufax, A Lefty’s Legacy” by Jane Leavy, published in 2002.  This is a biography of a legendary Major League Baseball pitcher who played for the Dodgers from the mid 1950’s to the mid 1960’s.

SIDENOTE:  The nature of this short paperback’s structure makes it repetitive and disorganized. It appears that the author is trying to build suspense by providing an entire one-chapter-per-inning description of a historic game pitched by Koufax in September 1965,  interspersed with chapters on other subjects. It doesn’t work. Perhaps the author thought the reader has the attention span of a fly, and wouldn’t be able to handle the whole game in one go. Too bad, because the content of the book is full of facts, figures and what seems to be thorough research.

Born in December 1935, Koufax’s full first name was Sanford. His initial dream was to play for the New York Knicks basketball team.  He was an excellent all-around athlete. However, in college, he got the chance to pitch.

The then-New York Dodgers scout who observed Koufax saw exceptional potential, although others thought his pitching was wild and inconsistent. Even thought he had almost no experience, the Dodgers extended an offer to him, to which he committed. Koufax played his first season of professional ball in 1955.  The next four seasons, he was benched most of the time, but his pitching was improving. He became a starter in 1962.

The year 1963 was the first in which the media revealed tabloid gossip on the private lives of professional athletes, including that of Koufax. Prior to that, the media merely reported on sports-related information. One nosy news outlet had a field day when it found out that Koufax  was adopted. That opened the floodgates on asking personal questions of players.

Read the book to learn about the sad state of affairs in sports medicine– during Koufax’s generation– that made top athletes’  careers all too short, the painkillers used at that time, how biomechanics and arthroscopic surgery have evolved since then, a vast quantity of other information on Koufax, including how, after retirement from baseball, “He became a serious runner, a marathoner who smoked, competing in Europe, where he was least likely to be recognized.”

Fire-Breathing Liberal

The Book of the Week is “Fire-Breathing Liberal” by Rep. Robert Wexler With David Fisher, published in 2008. This is a political career memoir that failed to list the sources of its facts and figures.

Nevertheless, Wexler credibly wrote mostly about how he eventually got elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat from Florida.  He was an attorney, but in 1987, decided to run for the office of Palm Beach County Commissioner in Florida. A lawyer in West Palm Beach offered his firm’s support to Wexler at a fund raiser at Mar-a-Lago– Donald Trump’s country club (but of course the implication was that Wexler would pass legislation favorable to the firm’s interests). Wexler’s opponent engaged in mudslinging by saying that Wexler was Donald Trump’s puppet. With that, the opponent won the election.

Two years later, older and wiser, Wexler ran for Florida state senator. He gave out pot holders as a promotional gift and won that election. He had learned that he needed to hire people with specialized skills sets and experience, such as a professional fund raiser, a pollster, a media adviser, a direct mail expert, a TV commercial producer, a campaign manager, etc.

The author also wrote about how the Republicans, especially Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay in 1994, were mean of spirit, petty and vengeful when they achieved a majority in Congress. They abused their considerable power by bullying fellow Representatives with whom they disagreed.

In 1996, even two years before Gingrich had sworn in Wexler as a Representative, Democrats had filed 76 ethics claims against Gingrich with the Ethics Committee. He was fined $300,000 for violations– the largest fine ever against a Speaker of the House.

After 9/11, the Democrats were tricked into initially favoring invading Iraq because reputable officials such as Colin Powell told them that it was necessary, implying that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Wexler, too, was fooled.

In September 2003, about six months into the war, Wexler asked Paul Bremer, Ambassador supervising the provisional government in Iraq at a hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Congress, how many Iraqis, civilians and soldiers had died since the president had declared the war. Bremer said he himself didn’t know. “Bremer’s complete disinterest in the human cost of the war on the Iraq side was telling… anyone who dared question or criticize the administration’s policy was attacked and smeared.”

According to Wexler, in 2003, the Republicans labeled a budget bill an “emergency measure.” This allowed them to reduce the time allotted to House members to read the bill, from 48 hours to 1 hour. The bill was 3,000 pages, and it involved the spending of $1 trillion.

As is well known, in 1998, former investigator Ken Starr spent more than a year poring over the intimate details of former President Bill Clinton’s sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky “like a desperate reporter for a tabloid newspaper.” Wexler argued vociferously against impeaching Clinton, saying, “Unlike Bill Clinton, George Bush and Dick Cheney have betrayed the country, not their wives.”

Another point in Wexler’s rant was the fact that during his public service career, Republicans had “… misused the political and legal systems for a decade… it was a vendetta. It was about gaining a political advantage no matter what the cost to the nation.”

Read the book to learn of numerous other instances of the immature, power-hungry behavior of Republicans and the nasty business of politics in general during the Bush administration, in which Wexler participated (he wasn’t just an observer, and he himself wasn’t entirely innocent of hypocrisy).

SIDENOTE: In connection with vendetta, it appears that, as payback against the Republicans for the 1990’s witch-hunts against Bill Clinton, the Democrats “investigated” Hillary’s actions, and decided she did nothing criminally wrong. Case closed.  The media are spewing the usual tabloid gossip, opinions and trivia on the overall political circus.

There is nothing new under the sun. Such tit-for-tat kindergarten nonsense has been the norm for CENTURIES in this nation.  Pox on everyone’s houses.

Abba Eban

The Book of the Week is “Abba Eban, An Autobiography” by Abba Eban, published in 1977.

Eban was born in South Africa in 1916. His biological father died when he was a baby. He, his older sister and mother moved to England shortly thereafter, and he got a stepfather, who was a medical doctor. He was under pressure from his grandfather to engage in scholarly pursuits until he was fourteen, when the latter died. Eban won a scholarship to study at Queens’ College, Cambridge. He took to the cause of Zionism while there.

Starting in the late 1930’s Eban used his then-marketable skills of writing and making speeches in an effort to convince Jews to help with the military defeat of Hitler. During the war, he worked in military intelligence. Once Germany’s genocidal threat had been eliminated, he helped the Jews claim their national rights through his employment at the Jewish Agency, first in London, then in New York City.

After the war, Great Britain gave up the Zionist cause. No one knew which group– 300,000 Arabs or 600,000 Jews– would populate the territory of Palestine. Even after the United Nations vote on September 1, 1947 on whether to grant sovereignty to Palestine  (renamed Israel), military action was required to prevent other peoples from ruling it. For, British troops agreed to leave on or before May 15, 1948, at which time, the Jews would be left to their own devices as to how to govern their binational State. In 1949, Israel was admitted to the United Nations.

In the autumn of 1959, the author and his growing family (whom he hardly ever saw) moved back to Washington D.C. to represent that city and Israel at the United Nations. His working hours were long and he was on call 24/7. He was required to travel internationally very frequently and sometimes unexpectedly, to make speeches and negotiate between and among various nations during crises, wars and geopolitical gatherings.

Eban described in detail, the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, among other serious episodes of multinational importance. He theorized that it resulted in increased power for French leader Charles de Gaulle but decreased power for Great Britain. Besides, “No nation except the United States could negotiate to help balance the power between the Arabs and the Israelis and the Arabs’ alliance with Soviet power.”

In the late 1960’s, Israeli homes got broadcast-television. Prior to its initiation, however, there were heated discussions among government officials as to content. One genre was to be educational shows hosted by teachers. Some people argued that the teachers needed to show proper religious reverence by wearing a yarmulke while on camera. Others pointed out that most of the teachers were women. One joker suggested a solution:  that the programs advise viewers to put a yarmulke on top of the TV set to comply with Jewish law.

Read the book to learn of the author’s adventures as a representative of the Knesset, president of the Weizmann Institute, government minister in various subject-areas, and global diplomat who took at least some of the blame or credit for Israel’s military actions.

Funny Cide

The Book of the Week is “Funny Cide” by The Funny Cide Team with Sally Jenkins, published in 2004.

Sidenote: Here is yet another nonfiction book that fails to list any References, Notes, or Bibliography. And NO INDEX. The co-author is a respected journalist who lends credibility to the work, and omitting  backup documentation does cut costs in time and labor. However, this trend will open the floodgates to laziness and dishonesty among “nonfiction” writers whose names are not known because they have no reputations to uphold. They can avoid scrutiny by their critics because extra work is involved in tracking down information (since there is no index) and  sources for purposes of fact-checking. Arguably, audiences will believe the most prolific propagandists’ version of history regardless of the writers’ reputations, given the current fragmented and complex publishing environment in the United States.

This book is about a racehorse named Funny Cide that became successful in an unusual situation. Born in 2000 in Sacketts Harbor, NY– a place upstate slightly larger than a small town– the colt was tended to and trained by extremely passionate, meticulous personnel on a small farm. He was purchased by a group of about ten men who liked gambling. Having been close friends for years, they pooled their resources for fun and profit.

Read the book to learn about the horse-pool members; the first few horses they acquired; Funny Cide’s trainer (Barclay Tagg) and other attendants, his jockey (Jose Santo), why the horse was made a gelding; the numerous, different factors that affect a horse’s performance in races; and how Funny Cide performed in 2003 in front of upwards of 100,000 spectators.

Sleeping With the Devil

The Book of the Week is “Sleeping With the Devil” by Robert Baer, published in 2003. This was a warning of a former CIA agent that America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia was high-risk for various reasons. The author briefly described how the latter’s royal family came to be a controversial ally of the United States government, and why the delicate situation would not last forever.

At the book’s writing, the large oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia were vulnerable to terrorist attacks, as was the refinery at Abqaiq. Refineries are important because they make oil usable. The country’s borders are hard to defend, and all sorts of weapons can be obtained on the black market.

The author wrote that fifteen citizens of Saudi Arabia, plus four other terrorists took control of the planes that crashed on 9/11.  Osama Bin Laden, the supposed mastermind behind the attacks, was of Saudi origin. More TERRORISTS from SAUDI ARABIA than from Afghanistan and Iraq were responsible for the attacks. Dubai stored the required funds for them. As is well known, then-U.S. President George W. Bush was determined to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power to keep the price of oil low for Americans, and enrich his former business cronies. So he made the false claims that Iraq had nuclear weapons and was harboring terrorists.

Even during the Clinton years and especially during the Bush, Sr. years, the United States secretly kissed up to Saudi Arabia; for it got a discount on its oil, money to line the pockets of its politicians, consultants, diplomats and defense contractors, and in exchange, it built refineries, telecommunications networks and schools in its oil ally. The activities of the Carlyle Group, Dick Cheney and Halliburton, among many others, were fraught with conflicts of interest. To sum it up, “At the corporate level, almost every Washington figure worth mentioning has served on the board of at least one company that did a deal with Saudi Arabia.” Terrorist funding was also supplied through “charitable” organizations. The Saudis had megabucks on deposit in bank accounts and invested in the securities markets in the United States.

After 2001, several groups continued to seek to strike fear through violence; the best known included certain individuals in the country of Qatar, the Wahhabis, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda.

The author claimed that U.S. taxpayers were footing the excessive bill for the Saudi royal family’s security detail. The family consisted of numerous princes, who had Filippino or Indonesian servants. The princes received oil-funded, extremely lavish allowances, which they squandered on residences, vehicles and prostitutes. To make additional money, they dealt in black-market weaponry, visa, liquor and drugs, and abusing what industrialized countries would call “eminent domain.”

Read the book to learn of the author’s account of yet additional outrages in connection with the willful ignorance and greed of the United States government when it came to cozying up to the terrorist state of Saudi Arabia.

Baryshnikov

The Book of the Week is “Baryshnikov, From Russia to the West” by Gennady Smakov, published in 1981. This is a biography of the famous ballet dancer who became Westernized.

Born in January 1948 in Riga, Latvia, Mikhail Baryshnikov started ballet lessons at twelve years of age. Despite the late start, he happened to be exceptionally talented, a natural. He was sufficiently versatile to play roles in both “schools” of ballet, classical and Romantic.

During Baryshnikov’s childhood, his country underwent major ideological changes. The generation gap between young and old grew much wider, especially when Soviet leader Khrushchev revealed the crimes of the previous administration under Stalin. There occurred a shift from designing and building structures toward liberal arts careers. Ballet was a nonpolitical one, whose chosen few participants were  extremely lucky to make a living.

Nevertheless, for  ballet students, living conditions were cramped (ten per room in the school dormitory) compared to those in industrialized countries, and upon graduation, not much better. The two major rival ballet companies at the time consisted of the Kirov and the Bolshoi. Baryshnikov joined the former, based in St. Petersburg in 1967. The pay was significantly better when the dancers were permitted to perform internationally. Of course, the KGB closely monitored their activities in foreign countries, fostering an environment of fear and distrust.

Read the book to learn the historical backdrop of Baryshnikov’s generation, the nature of shows in which he performed, how he  came to dance with the two major American ballet companies beginning in the mid-1970’s, and more.

The Boys in the Boat

The Book of the Week is “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown, published in 2013. This is the incredible, suspenseful story of how the crew team of the University of Washington, and one team member especially, overcame tremendous odds to transcend themselves in the most important competition of their lives.

Various traumatic situations in Joseph Rantz’s young life ironically made him an ideal candidate for the sport of rowing. He and eight others out of a total of 175 hopefuls, made the cut for the freshman team in the autumn of 1933. Sportswriters had popularized rowing teams of Northeastern elitist colleges, but the less well-heeled athletes at the Universities of Washington and California– on the west coast– had muscled their way into the sport. In fact, these two were fierce rivals. After five and a half months of training, they competed every April in one race each consisting of a freshman, sophomore and senior crew, before heading to Poughkeepsie, for another competition against the east coast teams, too.

The Washington team trained in the absolute worst winter weather of freezing rain and icy-cold wind storms, never mind snow. Another way the team gained an advantage in competitions is that it had one of the best, if not the best, boat builders of its generation. With decades of rowing experience, he, in addition to hand-crafting their boats, got to know the athletes intimately and served as their mentor.

The tough-as-nails coach chose each and every member of the crew for a specific position in the boat, given each one’s body build, and physical and psychological strengths. Winning races called for perfect positioning of the oars and rowing rhythm, maximum power at the right times, and singularity of mind of the entire team. Such abilities allowed Washington’s team to compete in the Olympics.

“In the United States, talk of boycotting the 1936 Olympics had been simmering since the Nazis had come to power in 1933.” Countries with sports teams decided to compete anyway.

The reason they did was that Adolf Hitler largely brainwashed countries participating in the Games– convincing them that Germany was a gorgeous, peaceful nation where everyone was treated fairly and well. He built the most advanced, immaculate, highest quality athletic facilities for his show.  He had someone produce a propaganda film of the proceedings. He put his fellow Nazis on notice to display their best behavior toward the world.

Within days of the closing ceremonies, however, the Fuehrer resumed building a power base. This, through continuing to gather a significant number of sociopathic and sadistic followers with weaponry, persuading the weak unarmed to blame their troubles on people with certain last names, and was starting to build torture chambers in neighboring countries to systematically kill certain other defenseless groups and the aforementioned scapegoated group.

Read the book to learn the details of why Joseph Rantz and the other University of Washington’s crew team members were ideally suited to be the best team in decades, how they did in their matches, and what happened at the Olympics.