The Book of the Week is “Walking After Midnight” by Katy Hutchison, published in 2006. This book tells the suspenseful story of how a woman channeled her grief over her husband’s death into a public service. Her twin daughter and son were four years old at the time. Eventually, she turned the tragedy that had befallen her family into a potentially life-saving endeavor. She began lecturing teens on alcohol-related behavior; the kind that led to the situation that killed her husband on New Year’s Eve (no, it was not drunk driving). Read the book to learn the details of this inspiring story.
The Book of the Week is “The Tennis Partner” by Abraham Verghese, published in 1999. This is the autobiographical account of the relationship between a medical professor (the author) and an intern at a teaching hospital in the United States. The two play tennis against each other. At the time, they are each going through traumatic personal problems; the professor, the aftermath of a failed marriage that produced two sons, and the intern, a struggle to beat drug addiction. Verghese deftly describes these in engaging detail, throws in his perception of the playing styles of various professional tennis players, and recounts some interesting medical cases.
The Book of the Week is “A Purity of Arms” by Aaron Wolf, published in 1989. This is a personal account of an American citizen’s experiences in the Israeli army.
The author explains the concept behind the name of the book: a firearm can be a deadly weapon, and it is the belief of many people in the world that God can take a human life. So when a human uses a firearm, he is acquiring a power of God’s. Such power is thus sacred, must be respected and used wisely by humans.
Another concept Wolf relates, expressed in the form of the Hebrew phrases “rosh katan (Rohsh kah-TAHN; “small head”)/rosh gadol (Rohsh gah-DOLE; “large head”). The former waits for instructions from a superior, and does nothing more than he is told. The latter has a proactive, can-do attitude who knows what to do and does it even before he is given any orders.
Wolf describes his military training, and the diverse bunch of fellow soldiers with whom he went on non-stop, days-long, grueling marches. One such serious hike was especially painful for him. Unbenownst to him, his leg was broken. Obviously, he survived to tell the tale.
Read the book to learn more about a military in which every citizen must serve; for, Israel is a country whose very survival is always in danger.
The Book of the Week is “Safe Harbor, A Murder in Nantucket” by Brian McDonald, published in 2006.
This is the story of Thomas Toolan III’s murder of Elizabeth (“Beth”) Lochtefeld in October of 2004.
The killer (Tom) had been an alcoholic since high school. Before his relationship with Beth, he had had a few other relationships with women in which he was a jealous, abusive liar. He had worked in the past at an investment bank for a very few years. His parents had bailed him out, every time he got into trouble.
The victim (Beth) had been a workaholic expediter– a party that facilitates the paperwork required to do construction in New York. At 44 years old, she was still looking for a lifelong mate. It was unclear why she couldn’t find a permanent significant other– she was pretty, fit, brainy, well-traveled, very social, and wealthy.
Read the book to get to know the characters better, and learn the details of the murder.
The Book of the Week is “Lieutenant Birnbaum: A Soldier’s Story: Growing Up Jewish in America, Liberating the D.P. Camps, and a New Home in Jerusalem” by Meyer Birnbaum, published in 1994. This is the autobiography of a memorable character. He rose quickly through the ranks of the U.S. Army during WWII, though not without trouble.
In one incident, he was court-martialed for practicing his religion. Religious law dictated that Birnbaum wear a yarmulke all the time, including meal times. An Army rule prohibited the wearing of a “hat” while eating. Birnbaum’s attorney was incompetent, so Birnbaum defended himself at his hearing. He argued that a phrase in the oath he took upon his military induction indicated that his religion was more important than his patriotism: ” …to serve God and my country …” He was acquitted.
Read the book for further adventures of this clever military officer.
The Book of the Week is “Over My Head” by Claudia L. Osborn, published in 2000. This depressing memoir describes what happened to the author, a medical doctor, after she sustained a severe head injury. She was, without wearing a helmet, bicycling in the Rocky Mountains with a friend when she was hit by a truck. She did not remember the accident. The damage done to her brain prevented her from resuming her career. Osborn was referred to New York University’s head trauma program to try to recover her ability to live a normal life. The program features group therapy. Read the book to learn the kinds of techniques used to help brain-damaged individuals regain cognitive skills, and how the author fared thereafter.
I am pleased to announce that Noah Gotbaum and I will be appearing as guests on the CUNY TV show, “Edcast,” to be aired on:
Wednesday, March 23, 10am, 3pm and 11pm
Saturday, March 26, 8pm
and Sunday March 27, 10am.
That’s channel 75 on TimeWarner and Cablevision, and channel 77 on RCN in New York City.
You may recall that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, among other online stores.
Edcast lasts 30 minutes, but the Mayor’s education reforms have set New York City grade-school students back for decades to come.
There is an easy two-step solution to improving education in this city:
Step 1. Get rid of all of the patronage-hired, pricey “education consultants” that are draining the education budget, and select vendors through competitive bidding. (I mention in my book a mere handful of the countless examples of this exorbitant spending:
Platform Learning, whose fee was a projected $7.6 million for a projected five years, that snowballed into $62 million in three years;
All Kinds of Minds, which fulfilled only 20% of its $10 million contract with the Department of Education;
Cambridge Education, which was paid more than $16 million to measure schools’ usage of data; the personnel commuted from England at this city’s expense;
Accenture was paid $2 million instead of $500,000, which should have gone to the lowest bidder in a nine-company competitive bidding process.)
Step 2. Use the vast quantity of money saved to reduce class sizes, hire experienced teachers, purchase books and supplies, etc.
The Book of the Week is “The Shadow of the Sun” by Ryszard Kapuscinski, originally published in 1998, translated by Klara Glowczewska. This book details the personal observations of a Polish journalist who traveled to various African countries from the late 1950’s through the late 1990’s.
He noted that in 1958 in Ghana, when it came to private citizens’ interaction with their federal government, there was no bureaucracy. If they had a comment or question, they simply personally visited the relevant minister, such as the Minister of Education and Information, and reported their issues. Children started school as young as three. The two types of schools were missionary-run and state-run, but the state still held ultimate power over both, and there was a nationwide curriculum.
The continent of Africa has had its inhabitants and resources exploited for centuries. Colonization gave rise to exportation of slaves, the creation of infrastructure on the land, the importation of weapons, medical advances against tropical diseases and dispersal of goods around the world.
The author remarked that in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), his “prestigious white status” decreased after he contracted cerebral malaria and then tuberculosis.
There is a common pattern to the way Africa’s military leaders have acquired the maximum resources they possibly can. Once they’ve stolen all they can get from their citizens and made enemies along the way, their next trick is to negotiate a peace treaty and schedule elections. This charade fools the World Bank into lending the leaders money.
The endings of numerous dictatorships have followed a common pattern, too. The new guard attempted to coerce the old leader into revealing his private bank account number. However, the stereotype, which also may be true, is that he engaged in arms and drug sales, and put his money in foreign accounts so that he could draw upon funds when he went into exile.
Because Nigeria is a large nation, in January 1966, the rebels had to invade all five of its regional capitals, taking over the airport, radio station, telephone exchange and post office in each. The sending of outgoing telegrams was banned.
Through the decades, Ethiopia’s governments went from feudal-aristocratic to Marxist-Leninist to federal-democratic.
In 1989, the torture of Liberian dictator Samuel Doe was videotaped and shown continuously in bars and on the wealthy’s VCR’s.
On the whole, Africans are quite superstitious. They believe in witch doctors, herbalists, fortune tellers, exorcists, amulets, talismans, divining rods and magical medicines. The author was assisted in taking advantage of this to deter further frequent burglaries of his residence, by hanging white rooster feathers on his door. “Witches are capable of vengeance, persecution, spreading disease, inflicting pain, sowing death.”
Inhabitants of the Sahara desert regions are paralyzed by drought. The drought in Ethiopia in 1975 closed all establishments, including schools, and caused a lot of deaths in the villages.
African children under 15 accounted for more than half the population in 2001. They have participated in all aspects of adult life in recent decades– fighting in armies, living in refugee camps, toiling on farms, purchasing and selling goods and fetching water for their families.
Very often, lack of repair and maintenance of infrastructure makes for major eyesores on the African landscape. In the 1990’s, the war-damaged Robertsfield airport in Liberia , the largest airport in Africa, was closed, abandoned and left to deteriorate.
The author wrote this book of his African experiences because “The kind of history known in Europe as scholarly and objective can never arise here, because the African past has no documents or records,” only oral stories, passed on from one generation to the next. Time is described as “long ago” “very long ago” and “so long ago that no one remembers.”
The Book of the Week is “An Irish Country Childhood” by Marrie Walsh, published in 1995. This is the kind of book on which a movie or TV show (such as Meet Me in St. Louis or Little House on the Prairie) might be based. It describes the spirit of the times of a particular culture in a certain era; in this case, an agricultural community in County Mayo, Ireland in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Walsh was born in 1929. She attended public school where “The teachers were not local and they never mixed socially. Teaching was a very prestigious job in those days…” Her maternal grandmother and great aunt attended a Hedgerow School, which evolved during the enforcement of the Penal Laws (1695-1829), a time of oppression of Catholics by Great Britain. Classes in Irish, Latin and English were held outdoors. Tuition was in the form of corn or turf.
“Brought up on a daily diet of legends, myths and ghost stories,” Walsh and her many siblings were fascinated by the paranormal. Various places mentioned in her anecdotes were haunted. The author’s ancestors thought weasels were actually witches and were therefore scared of them.
The kids performed labor on farms in the community, and received compensation in the form of being taught a song or story, and perhaps some food. They loved drinking buttermilk, and participated in daring episodes of pinching fruit from the neighbors’ orchards until they got caught. Read the book to learn more about this and Walsh’s other adventures.
The Book of the Week is “True Story” by Michael Finkel. It is an unbelievable story about a journalist (the author) and a criminal. The journalist’s future looked bright at the start of the story.
Finkel was assigned to write an article on slavery in the cocoa plantations of West Africa. He discovered for himself from interviewing hundreds of people, that the said slavery was almost nonexistent. He was under pressure to write an honest story, but also one that would sell. He did not want to denigrate the community of media people who had been reporting the falsehood (knowingly or naively).
If he had written honestly, he would have had to explain that his fellow journalists had been lying. Besides that, the word “slavery” could provoke a boycott of West African cocoa, which would only increase the level of poverty. Half the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa.
Finkel ended up sabotaging himself by concocting a story about one poverty-stricken Malian boy (from Mali), a composite of several boys he had interviewed. He used the real name of one of the boys. When his story was printed, Save the Children complained that the story was inaccurate, and his cover was blown.
The story gets curiouser and curiouser as events unfold.
Around the same time, a criminal was fooling around in Cancun, posing as Finkel. The criminal, Christian Longo, knew only that Finkel was a journalist, and had stolen his name because he liked his stories. He had committed the most heinous crime of all just days before.
Read the book to experience the intrigue.