My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin

The Book of the Week is “My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin” published in 1964.

Born in 1889 in London, Chaplin had a traumatic childhood. Both his parents were vaudevillians, but his father had trouble with alcohol; and his mother, with her voice. Thus, they found themselves unemployed. Their relationship suffered, and they separated. Chaplin and his older brother lived with their mother in a hovel. Unsurprisingly, his father failed to pay alimony and child support. Chaplin was pushed by his mother onstage beginning when he was five years old.

A commune known as a “workhouse” took in the family. The mother crocheted lace cuffs and the kids attended school. After two weeks, they were transferred to a suburban workhouse. Boys at age eleven were conscripted. So Chaplin’s brother entered the Navy. His mother, however, suffered from mental illness, and was institutionalized. Chaplin went to live with his father in a London slum.

At nine years old, Chaplin showed a true talent and passion for performing. His father got him into a clog-dancing troupe. Later, he lied about his age to get hired by an acting troupe. He had natural ability to play comic characters.

In autumn 1911, Chaplin by chance got into the then-silent motion picture business (only musical sound tracks– no talking), replacing another actor in Hollywood. It was then he created his Tramp character. He was allowed to try his hand at directing and writing, although the bosses of that period were still clinging to their tired “Keystone Kops” scenarios of slapstick chases. His fresh approach that evoked an emotional response became wildly popular among American audiences. He immediately became a legend. Once he came into his own, his brother became his business manager.

“Fulfilling the Mutual [film company] contract I suppose, was the happiest period of my career. I was light and unencumbered, 27 years old, with fabulous prospects, and a friendly, glamorous world before me.” Chaplin and his friends Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford found out that the movie production companies were going to merge, lower the outrageous pay of actors, and take control away from them. So Chaplin et al formed their own production company, United Artists.

During a trip on W.R. Hearst’s yacht, the Hollywood director who had taken over Hearst’s film production company, had a heart attack. Chaplin wrote, “I was not present on that trip but Elinor Glyn, who was aboard…” told Chaplin about the episode. The ridiculous rumors regarding the director’s murder were false. “Hearst, Marion [Davies] and I went to see Ince [the director] at his home two weeks before he died.”

Read the book to learn a wealth of other details of Chaplin’s life, and why he moved to Switzerland with his family; get the explanation– straight from “the horse’s mouth.”

Prime Time

The Book of the Week is “Prime Time, The Life of Edward R. Murrow” by Alexander Kendrick, published in 1969. This is a biography of the famous radio and TV journalist whose career started in the 1920’s.

Born in 1908 in North Carolina, Murrow was the youngest of three sons. He was raised as a Quaker. His family moved to Washington state when he was five years old. Murrow’s graduating high school class numbered eleven. Their motto was “Impossible is un-American.” He then attended Washington State College, majoring in “speech” (public speaking). Participating in student government, he got the chance to travel to Europe.

In the 1930’s, news that was reported via radio in the United States consisted of concerts, sporting events, presidential speeches and sensational courtroom trials– simply conveying facts with no analysis; nothing too depressing. Murrow first went on the air in 1937, covering the coronation of King George VI in England. He did “man on the street” interviews.

Then for nine years, Murrow  was a producer for CBS radio news in London. His boss, Bill Paley introduced the first radio simulcast from London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and Vienna, via shortwave transmitters accompanied by at least one landline, whose signals were sufficiently strong to reach New York City. Such an innovation obsolesced newspapers because it was live. On the eve of WWII, the new political regime in Berlin practiced censoring of broadcasts from Vienna and Prague. But they were live.

Murrow avoided gathering news stories for CBS from certain kinds of people who would profit from peace at any price, and so they favored appeasement of the Germans. Those greedy individuals included war profiteers. He did, however, put himself in harm’s way because he felt obligated to report directly from the “belly of the beast.” One would think he had a death wish and/or an enormous ego. His employer’s office building was bombed in London while he was on a rooftop across the street. He cheated death many times.

After Germany’s surrender, Murrow reported from Buchenwald and Leipzig. After the war, all radio shows went commercial. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began investigating it by subpoenaing scripts of the shows. Murrow became a highly paid radio executive for a year and a half. In the fall of 1947 he made even more money when Campbell’s soup sponsored the interview show he hosted. He took his TV show “See It Now” on location to the Korean war front.

HUAC pressured Murrow to preach hatred for the Soviet Union, or else he would be blacklisted from the broadcasting industry, or worse. Fortunately, he was a sufficiently powerful figure to broadcast what he wanted without getting censored. He was still smeared by the Hearst papers and right-wing leaflet printers.

Murrow had this to say about the interrogations over which freshman Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy presided: “… many of those named by witnesses on camera were never given a chance to reply… the newspapers and magazines… also tended to regard McCarthy’s unsupported charges as proven facts, or at least gave that impression.” He also contended that the senator “… had used sweeping, unsupported statements, hypotheses presented as facts, accusations of lying by witnesses, conversion of a congressional hearing into a trial…” etc., etc., etc. Once again, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Nevertheless, Murrow showed himself to be a hypocrite on more than one occasion in his career. He was a contributor to a sobering Collier’s magazine story published in October 1951, about a hypothetical nuclear war that happened in the summer of 1953. His fictional account covered the part where an atom bomb leveled Moscow. In Paris, he complained via radio about those “…irresponsible magazines in the United States which aid Russian propaganda about American intentions.”

Interesting factoid: At the 1952 presidential conventions, there were twelve hundred each of: casts and crews of news shows and reporters, and political delegates.

Murrow put forth three reasons why the government or journalists lie: “when lying is deemed vital to the national security, or prestige, or face-saving.” As is well known, the use of all three excuses has been abused in meta-lies in past decades; especially those following this book’s writing.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information on the power struggles between sponsors and TV-show creators in monitoring show-content due to the tug of war between the profit motive and the role of broadcasting in society as perceived by the creators and regulators; on Murrow’s troubles with the State Department and the FBI; his radio and TV shows; and on how American propaganda is targeted internationally toward specific peoples in specific ways.

Golda – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Golda, the Uncrowned Queen of Israel” by Robert Slater, published in 1981. This pictorial biography described the life of a revered politician and passionate Zionist.

Born in May 1898 in Kiev in Russia’s Pale of Settlement, Golda Meir was one of only two children in her Yiddish-speaking family to survive infancy. In 1906, the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, as a teenager, Meir absconded to her twenty-something sister’s home in Denver, Colorado. Her parents convinced her to come back, where she was permitted to finish her schooling instead of looking for a husband. Like her parents, she believed in the Zionist cause.

After working for a Zionist nonprofit organization in Chicago for a short stint, in December, 1917, Meir eventually found a husband anyway. In May 1921, they moved to Palestine along with her sister’s family and her parents. She started a teaching job. Eventually, they jumped through all the hoops required to get accepted to the kibbutz of Merhavia.

Meir was assigned to do poultry farming. Her husband didn’t like the fact that parents and children had separate living quarters in the kibbutzim. So three years later, when she was ready to bear children, they moved to Tel Aviv, then Jerusalem. She went to work for another Zionist organization, Histradut, traveling and making speeches. As she was a workaholic, she hardly ever saw her family. It was rumored that she had affairs to advance her career.

For a few years after WWII, Meir became an executive member of the Yishuv– trying to save refugees’ lives through smuggling of people and arms via the Jewish intelligence services, and negotiating with the British. In November 1947, the newly formed United Nations voted in favor of a partition consisting of a Jewish state, and an Arab state, in the territory of Palestine.

Meir became a sufficiently prominent figure in the founding of Israel to sign its Declaration of Independence. Ben-Gurion was its first leader; he appointed her minister to Russia. The Soviet bureaucracy under Stalin ignored foreign diplomats. Israel and the USRR weren’t enemies but they weren’t friends, except for when it came to proposing toasts at social gatherings. Then they were friends.

In spring 1949, Meir became labor minister in Ben-Gurion’s cabinet. She argued for open immigration and housing and jobs. She almost bankrupted the government with her social programs. But living standards of Israelis rose dramatically.

Read the book to learn about the rest of Meir’s political career, health, family and her other crosses to bear.

Janet & Jackie

The Book of the Week is “Janet & Jackie” by Jan Pottker, published in 2001. This is a double biography– of Janet Lee Auchincloss and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Born in 1908, Janet Lee grew up in a rich family. Her obsession with equestrianism in her youth and young adulthood saw her through the stressful times of her life. She won many ribbons.

“For an Irish American woman in the late 1920’s, marriage was the only way to move out of an unhappy household.” She wed for the first time when she was twenty. The groom, Jack Bouvier, a drinker and womanizer, was 36. Her daughter, Jacqueline (Jackie) was born the following summer. The pattern of an unhappy household was repeated until the divorce between Janet and Jack was finalized when Jackie was eleven years old. Jackie, too, took up equestrianism. Jack indulged Jackie’s every whim.

Marriage number two was consummated in 1942. There were only about ten years’ difference in age between Janet and Hugh Auchincloss. Janet kept in touch with her former in-laws and stepchildren, and parented them, even though the Bouviers’ social status was a notch below that of the next man she married. For a while, they were snowbirds between their mansions in Washington, D.C. and Newport, RI.

Janet led Jackie to believe that her highest desire should be to have a man love her. Jackie got the message and wed John F. Kennedy. However, although Jackie’s first husband was a womanizer– his family’s politics, newness of riches and internal loyalty were opposite to her family’s.

Joe Kennedy, the patriarch, treated the wedding as just another political campaign– a well-publicized extravaganza to showcase his son. But he shelled out the money for it. They compromised on the religious issues (as Jackie was Episcopalian, sort of):  the ceremony was officiated by an archbishop in the presence of a monsignor and four priests.

As is well known, in 1963, Jackie’s Jack was shot in Dallas, where he died. Fast forward to 1968. Jackie was ready to wed again, to the 62-year old Aristotle Onassis. Her psychological need for a man was evident; for, she sacrificed a sizeable widow’s pension and Secret Service protection in the process.

Read the book to learn a wealth of information, and the information of wealth as the behavior patterns of the daughter’s life, intertwined with her mother’s, became, well, repetitive.

Memoirs

The Book of the Week is “Memoirs” by Mikhail Gorbachev, published in 1995. This tome described the Soviet leader’s push for political and economic change for the benefit of the millions and millions of people governed by him.

Born in March 1931 in Stavropol, Gorbachev grew up to become a bureaucrat, following the mentality of his agricultural community.  The (federal) Central Committee of the Soviet Union (the Union) had a command economy– the government dictated all aspects of labor, capital and goods. It also assigned housing to all people living in the Union, including officials, pursuant to the political hierarchy. Additionally, vacation houses (dachas) were bestowed upon higher-level officials. Incidentally, according to the author, Politburo members socialized among themselves at work-related functions only, nowhere else– because they were afraid others would gossip about them.

The bureaucracy by the State Planning Committee (“Gosplan”) generated endless memoranda and plenums, not to mention meetings– on harvests, irrigation, infrastructure and what to do about natural disasters such as drought. A dozen different departments and ministries involved themselves in the approval process. “At the beginning of each year the oblast [Communist] Party committees would make unrealistic commitments, which were promptly forgotten. Manipulators were the heroes of the day. Those who worked diligently were looked upon with pity.”

The local government felt a desperate need to keep a stranglehold on their power. They were content with their culture of bribes, graft and mutual favors. So the bureaucrats scotched an early 1960’s capitalistic experiment of paying piece-rate wages to farmers in the infant territory of Kazakhstan when productivity caused payroll expenses to soar. Yet, the bosses wanted to see high returns on a stingy budget.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, farms disappeared when the Union underwent a period of industrialization with extraction of fossil fuels, the introduction of electricity, and construction of army bases. The Baltic Republics counteracted increased soil salinity with lime, but Latvia didn’t. The use of weed killer worsened the already unchecked spread of pollution.

Gorbachev wrote of 1985, “No one even imagined the extent of our ecological disaster, how far we were behind the developed nations as a result of our barbaric attitude toward nature… A wave of bitterness and anger rolled through the country when it came out that the genetic pool of our peoples had been threatened.” Curiously, starting in mid-November 1982, the Union had a series of three leaders who died of ill health within a three-year period: Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko.

Besides, the Politburo consisted of “dead wood” who preferred to maintain the status quo because their own living standards were the highest in the nation in terms of housing, health care, education and necessaries (food, clothing). Each bureaucrat was like the Wizard of Oz–  a phony behind a curtain– except that Gorbachev couldn’t even offer accurate data to the people who needed his help.

Members of government agencies– for the purpose of public and foreign consumption– generated fanciful statistics on the Union’s products: weapons, grain, oil, gas and metals. The real numbers were abysmal. The KGB’s numerical data were also kept secret. That was just the tip of the iceberg on censorship. No negative news coverage of anyone was allowed (except of dissidents). In the spring of 1987, Gorbachev was distressed to learn that true military expenses accounted for 40% of the Union’s budget, and 20% of GNP. Four-fifths of “scientific research” was military-related.

Gorbachev opposed sovereignty for territories ruled by the Union’s central government due to his paternalistic arrogance. He claimed he wasn’t informed that Soviet tanks rolled in to Georgia to quell unrest in the spring of 1989.

Back in March 1987, Margaret Thatcher criticized Gorbachev for making arms shipments to war-prone nations worldwide. He said she made the (hypocritical, untruthful) claim that the West and the United States sent financial aid and food instead, to needy nations. He tried to correct her. No word on whether he succeeded.

On their first visit to the United States in the mid-1980’s, Gorbachev and his wife Raisa were defamed by American propaganda. The media contended that Raisa wouldn’t deign to visit specific places. In reality– those places were on her schedule but she couldn’t control her vehicle’s driver in her motorcade who bypassed those places without consulting her. Also, the tabloids made up the story that she was having a cat fight with Nancy Reagan.

Gorbachev knew and took the risks involved in “rocking the boat” to move the nation forward after so many decades of deleterious political and economic self-delusion, with his concepts of “glasnost” and “perestroika.”

Read the book to learn the details, and how he was punished for doing so, why Soviet tanks rolled into Moscow (!) in October 1993, and how the Union broke up.

Endnote:  This book’s translation was awkward in a few spots, such as: “After our forces were sent to Afghanistan, the USA and other nations took a number of measures against us.” [were sent?]

The Deeds of My Fathers

The Book of the Week is “The Deeds of My Fathers” by Paul David Pope, published in 2010. In this tome, the author discussed the lives of his father and grandfather. Annoyingly, lines of dialogue were always accompanied by the word, “said.”

In spring 1906, at fifteen years old, the author’s great grandfather, Generoso Papa, traveled from his birthplace in Italy to New York City. His brother-in-law was already living in America. Papa got a job doing hard, manual labor in the construction trades. His dogged diligence and playing well with vendors, contractors, engineers, building inspectors and city managers led to success. Too, contacts with the Mafia helped maximize profits and crush the competition. By the mid-1920’s, he owned one of the largest construction-industry suppliers in the city. However, workaholic that he was, he never saw his wife and two sons. In January 1927, he had a third son– the author’s father.

In 1928, the author’s grandfather purchased Il Progresso, the largest Italian newspaper in the city. In it, he praised Mussolini, raised money for him, and printed Fascist propaganda. In the ensuing years, he became friends with politicians, including New York City mayors Jimmy Walker and Fiorello LaGuardia, and presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Roy Cohn helped him purchase a radio station.

In the early 1950’s, the author’s father, who called himself Gene Pope, had a falling out with his mother and older brothers. He was crowded out of the family businesses. In 1952, he struck out on his own and acquired what became the National Enquirer with seed money from a Mafia don. He changed its editorial bent. It became like today’s media. Tabloidy.

This was Pope’s philosophy on his publication’s contents: “Crime was the most important ingredient, followed by scandals, disasters and personalities; the more famous people were, the more they were laid low and humiliated.” Sounds like the 2018 midterm-elections attack-ads in America (!) It seems the candidates want more hate. 

Some candidates claim not to know about the attack ads against their opponents. However, a man is known by the company he keeps, and the candidates keep company with the producers of the ads. It would be different if the ads were 100% true.

And now, a parody, sung to the tune of “The Beat Goes On” (apologies to Cher, and the estate of Sonny Bono):

The hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

Woo-oo-dstock was once the rage, uh huh
History has turned the page, uh huh
Facebook, the current thing, uh huh

Twitter is our newborn king, uh huh
And the hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

The Internet’s the new frontier, uh huh
Little minds still inspire fear, uh huh
And leading men still keep assigning blame
Technology lets them stay in the game

And the hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da
Voters sit in Starbucks and complain
Politicians scheming just to gain

Negativity flying faster all the time
NRA still cries, we have to arm ourselves against crime!

And the hate goes on, the hate goes on.
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain.
La de da de de, la de da de da.

And the hate goes on, yes, the hate goes on.
And the hate goes on, and the hate goes on.
The hate goes on, and the hate goes on.

It would be refreshing to see a candidate condemn the attack ads against his opponent, instead of tacitly applauding them, or repeating their contents loudly and often… And instead– actually concentrate on the issues– how he or she is going to be a PUBLIC SERVANT.

In future elections, it would be even nicer to see a political-contribution boycott of the hate-mongers. However, it would take more than one influential, courageous donor to stand up and refuse to be a party to purchasing airtime for the purpose of spreading ugly lies.

But it is the candidates who must ultimately decide to take the high road and grow up. Voters might react favorably to the first side to do so. Even so, this would be an extremely difficult feat. “Everybody does it” is the excuse everybody uses to justify their unethical behavior. Everyone is drowning each other out with a blizzard of defamation. So multiple groups on one side would have to agree to run a wrap-around campaign to promise to spread messages based on substance, and follow through.

That said, unfortunately, honesty isn’t always a guarantee of competence for an elected official. President Jimmy Carter wasn’t widely reputed to be a liar. Yet, most Americans agree, he was a terrible president. Assessing a candidate, and predicting election results are like gambling–  difficult to gauge– because human behavior is unpredictable in the short term.

Anyhow, in 1957, the National Enquirer‘s stories sought to satisfy readers’ morbid curiosity by detailing gruesome occurrences in the city. The publication that was initially drowning in a sea of red ink, turned profitable after years and years. By the mid-1960’s, readers were enthralled by poignant, inspirational stories about underdogs who triumphed, medical matters, celebrity gossip and aliens.

In the early 1970’s, Gene moved his publication’s printing presses from New Jersey to Florida. “He worried about his health, claiming air pollution was killing him, even as he continued to smoke four packs a day.”

Gene spared no expenses in getting a story– bribing anyone and everyone associated with stories to get exclusive, salacious information, and sending his reporters on-location– around the corner or around the world. In this way, the Enquirer acquired a reputation as a tabloid that appealed to the lowest common denominator. The highbrow New York Times didn’t pay interviewees, but instead appealed to their egos, generating favorable publicity for them if they talked.

The author wrote that his father developed psychological problems in his later years, and ruled his empire by fear. He had dirt on various people and let them know it, so that way, he could cash in on a favor from them in the future if he so desired. The son lamented, “No doubt I was spoiled by material things, but not by love.” Read the book to learn the details.

A Complex Fate

The Book of the Week is “A Complex Fate, William L. Shirer and the American Century” by Ken Cuthbertson, published in 2015. This tome was supposed to be the career biography with historical backdrop, of a colleague of Edward R. Murrow. However, it was sloppily edited and recounted as much about Murrow’s career as Shirer’s.

Born in February 1904 in Chicago, Shirer was the second oldest of three children; his father, a Republican attorney. After graduating from a small Christian college, while bumming around Europe for a few months, Shirer got a job as a copy editor at the foreign office of the Chicago Tribune.

Shirer met the celebrity literary social set, including Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Thurber, Thornton Wilder and Ezra Pound. At the paper, “letters to the editor” were fabricated. The writers, who composed stories from cabled summaries, didn’t go out and get the stories themselves. Not only that, the stories were embellished with fictional details. Sounds familiar.

In any case, in the late 1920’s, Shirer was promoted to foreign correspondent. Because he traveled all over Europe covering sporting events and royal-family trivia, he was able to have a love affair with a Hungarian countess.

In 1930, Shirer’s long hours of hard work and quality writing paid off. For, his new position of Eastern-European-bureau-chief put him in charge of formerly Ottoman-Empire countries. His office was in the economically socialist Vienna.

Since it took a week for Shirer’s articles to be cabled to Chicago where they were published, he had to write about tabloidy areas of interest– scandals, crime, sex and weird items (what passes for “breaking news” these days)– that appealed to American Midwesterners.

Shirer was soon commanded by his autocratic boss to get the lowdown on Gandhi. However, before undertaking an arduous bunch of flights in new-fangled yet primitive machines, he became a pincushion for syringes containing disease-preventing contents. While in India, he contracted malaria and dysentery, anyway.

Shirer found his career on the skids by the mid-1930’s. He insisted on enjoying a luxurious lifestyle even though he then had a family to support. In the autumn of 1937, desperate for a job, he was hired by Edward R. Murrow to produce CBS radio broadcasts from Vienna; i.e., he marshaled the resources required for them.

On the eve of the Anschluss in March 1938, Shirer found himself fleeing Austria for London via Berlin and then Amsterdam, packed in with a planeload of Jewish passengers. NBC had already scooped the story of the takeover– disseminating Hitler’s speech on the alarming historical development, translated into English, live.

Thereafter, CBS president William Paley allowed Murrow and Shirer to actually gather stories and broadcast them themselves. Shirer was resistant to switching to radio from print. His voice was less than mellifluous and he lacked the instincts of a good announcer or newscaster.

Nonetheless, with their game-changing live five-minute news updates from London, they had listeners in five European cities in six time zones. But most of the airtime was still taken up by music and quiz shows arranged by Murrow and Shirer, because sponsors shied away from news that caused arguments. Finally, in autumn 1938 when Czechoslovakia became Germany’s next victim, radio news woke up. Shirer visited all the different territories suffering from the German takeover.

The author’s text was unclear about exactly how German authorities restricted American broadcasting, aside from censoring it: “By 25 August [1939], the German government had severed radio, telephone, and cable communications with the outside world…” yet “In his August 26 broadcast from Berlin, Shirer somberly declared…”

The author contradicted himself, but related that New Yorkers were supposedly receiving CBS radio broadcasts from Berlin. He failed to state exactly how many listeners there were.

By the end of September 1939, hardships abounded in Europe. In 1940, Shirer tried to report the secret, growing hostility between Germany and the USSR, but was thwarted by three censors. He was able to do intelligence-gathering, though, after being told what to look for– observing the quantity of war resources the Germans actually had, rather than what their propaganda claimed. They lacked troops, tanks, supply vehicles, etc. Top German officials disagreed with each other on how to execute the war.

In late 1940, Shirer took a break from the trauma of war reporting and moved to New York. He wrote a book, delivered a lecture series and starred in a newsreel.

After his previous good luck in journalistic endeavors, fate dealt Shirer a cruel blow. His name appeared in the booklet “Red Channels.” “Suddenly, he was faced with the task of defending himself against an indefensible accusation– the kind of reverse onus proposition, so common in totalitarian states, that puts the burden not on the accuser– the state– but rather squarely on the accused.” This resulted in a rift in his relationship with Murrow, and other adverse consequences.

The owners of “… America’s mass media and advertising agencies… were cowards; none of them had the courage to question the tactics, much less the truthfulness or motivations of the politicians and their disciples who were bullying Congress, spreading fear, publishing lies, and defaming innocent people.”

Nowadays, America’s mass media and advertising agencies are willing accomplices to smear-fests. But at least there’s free speech on each side, and hardly anyone is persecuted (not hired at all or being fired for not taking a loyalty oath, or thrown in jail for having the wrong friends or not naming names) for their political beliefs. Just smeared. Don Rickles would be proud.

Moreover, it is a good thing that both sides are encouraging citizens to vote. Voting is a gesture that shows belief in the democratic process. A significant number of people need to buy into the process of free and fair elections, in order for democracy to work.

Voter apathy breeds dictatorship. In 1972, voter turnout was the lowest since 1948:  55%. It might be recalled that Richard Nixon was reelected in a landslide.

Anyhow, read the book to learn of the catharsis Shirer underwent that revived his livelihood, and much more.

Summing Up – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Summing Up, An Autobiography” by Yitzhak Shamir, published in 1994.

Born in 1915 in a very small town that was alternately Soviet and Polish territory, future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish. Although they were Zionists, his parents were active in the Bund, the recently founded non-religious, anti-Zionist Socialist party that attracted Eastern European Jews to its ranks.

At twenty years old, Shamir moved to Palestine. Over the next three decades, he served in three of the different militant underground groups/intelligence services fighting for the independence, and later, the continued existence, of a Jewish state in the world.

Shamir believed in practicing frontier justice– unlike Menachem Begin, who thought disputes should be settled through law courts. In March 1981, Shamir favored the preemptive Israeli bombing mission that took out the Iraq nuclear arms factory that Saddam Hussein built with the help of the French.

In June 1982, violence in Lebanon was already the status quo when Israel sought to eliminate the PLO once and for all in that bloodied nation. The civil war in Lebanon was a complicated affair with conflicts among Shiites, Sunnis, Maronites, Druze, Palestinians, Syrian troops and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

Amid the fighting, Lebanese terrorists massacred hundreds or thousands of people in two Palestinian refugee camps that were supposed to be guarded by the Israeli military. Even though Shamir was then-foreign minister of Israel, the way he was informed of the incident by his subordinates didn’t convince him that such violence was out of the ordinary.

Nevertheless, the media of various countries blamed  Israel for the deaths, and created an atmosphere ranging from “… outright lies to elaborate carelessness, from staged photographs of atrocities all the way to phoney (sic) interviews– just as long as the Jewish state and the IDF were besmirched.” Excuse the cliche, but there’s nothing new under the sun. A refugee crisis is not a new propaganda tool.

In August 1983, Prime Minister Begin resigned/retired. Perhaps the job was no longer fun for him. Due to a hotly contested election, Shamir was pushed into an arrangement with Shimon Peres whereby they each would serve about a three-year term as prime minister, leading their respective parties; the former, the Likud (conservative) party, and the latter, the Alignment party, whose collective name was the National Unity Government, between 1984 and 1990.

Shamir contended that the Arab nations had a double standard when it came to helping their allies– the Palestinians. Beginning in 1948, the Arab states wouldn’t take in Palestinian refugees, but instead, kept them in squalid camps for almost half a century “… solely for the anti-Israel propaganda benefits… thousands of children, who could have been rescued from their dreadful lives a hundred times over by the investment of a fraction of the Arab oil revenues and helped by the Arab rulers to relocate somewhere in the Arab world.”

On the other hand, through the decades, Israel has welcomed with open arms– as many as it could afford to accommodate– anyone who self-identified as Jewish and wanted to live there.

Anyway, read the book to learn of the ways that American Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton were actually anti-Israel, and of the actions of Israeli government officials (Shamir’s own countrymen!) that so distressed him in later years, and much more.

Madam Speaker

The Book of the Week is “Madam Speaker, Nancy Pelosi’s Life, Times, and Rise to Power” by Marc Sandalow, published in 2008. This was a biography of a workaholic liberal Democrat who achieved a few “female firsts” in politics. It was anti-Pelosi in subtle ways.

Sloppy editing in this book created confusion with regard to Pelosi’s age in three different places:

“…she first won election to Congress in June 1987… the then 53-year old Congresswoman…”

“On March 26, 1940… Nancy Patricia D’Alessandro weighed in at eight and a half pounds.”

“On December 30, 1956… His seventeen year old daughter joined him…”

In addition, the cover photo– of Pelosi hugging a young child (as a prop) in what appeared to be a campaign– was demeaning. The author would never have dared to use such a photo of a male politician doing that. Family is still thought of as an issue for females.

Not that Pelosi didn’t brag about her family in every campaign, but the presence of the child in the photo implied that she couldn’t have achieved what she did without a family (Book cover photos always show a male politician alone).

Perhaps it was part of Pelosi’s appeal, but family should have been irrelevant to her qualifications for holding the offices she held. No male politicians make having a family a major reason for voting for them.

Sadly, due to human nature, the following arguments:

  • persuasive mudslinging (“Vote for me because my opponent is a Nazi.”)
  • fiercely loyal party affiliation (“Vote for me because I’m a member of your party– I know you believe every word you hear from our party-funded information sources and that’s all you hear, thank you!”)
  • ridiculous promises (“Vote for me because I’ll make you rich quick.”)
  • phony outrage (“Vote for me because- how dare they accuse us?! They started it!”)
  • creating a common enemy (“Vote for me because, just like you– I hate the media.”) and
  • appeals to tribal unity (“Vote for me because I’m the same ethnicity / religion / skin color / gender / sexual orientation you are, and my opponent is NOT.”)

more often win elections than a candidate’s ability to act in constituents’ best interests.

Anyway, Pelosi was the youngest of seven children. Her father was a Baltimore politician. Like him, she was a natural. In 1969, she moved with her husband to San Francisco, where, while raising her growing family, started volunteering for various Democratic organizations. Thanks to her father, she already had friends in high places, but she made many more with her driven work ethic and patronage power.

Pelosi served on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors (city council). In 1987, she ran against a gay candidate for Congress. Her pet issues were increasing funding to fight AIDS, preserving the Presidio (a military base) and Chinese human rights.

In 1989, in a legislative proposal, Pelosi favored pressuring China to curb its human rights abuses through otherwise threatening to raise tariffs on Chinese imports to the US. The Congresswoman visited China in September 1991.

According to the author, “Pelosi said prisoners had told her that the conditions in Chinese jails had miraculously improved each year when Congress debated Most Favored Nation status.” It was unclear whether the author’s “miraculously” was meant sarcastically to indicate that China was putting on a show for the United States, and Pelosi was just another naive, bleeding-heart liberal. President Bill Clinton initially agreed with Pelosi and said he would enact the law imposing financial punishment, but then betrayed her in May 1993.

The argument against erecting trade barriers as a punishment for bad behavior is this: Unfortunately, dictators, like leopards, do not usually change their spots. The Chinese leaders would continue to oppress their people, regardless of how much deprivation the goods producers and exporters would suffer due to sanctions. Besides, the leaders would blame the United States for their hardships. Moreover, there would be adverse global economic consequences.

Pelosi was reelected House Whip in late 2001. From the get-go, she opposed the war in Iraq. She presciently “… warned that a war in Iraq would diminish the nation’s standing, and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.” She was right on both counts.

The latter count was a rerun of Vietnam: Several times, the president forced Congress to approve additional megabucks to fund the war. Forced, because members were made phobic about putting the lives of American servicepeople at risk due to lack of money for inadequate safety equipment. But due to waste, incompetence and war profiteering, the US military in Iraq didn’t have what they needed, anyway.

Read the book to learn how Pelosi earned her party’s respect (hint– she practiced what she preached), and much more about her.