Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed the book, “No-Man’s Lands” by Scott Huler, published in 2008. In this ebook, Huler recounts the myth of Odysseus and his own actual travels to the places visited by the protagonist in the myth.

Huler writes, “For three thousand years, we’ve been telling each other the same story.” Nevertheless, there are a vast number of versions and interpretations of it. His solitary peregrinations covered the Mediterranean regions of Malta, Greece, Turkey, Sicily, Tunisia and Italy over the course of six months. Some people might look askance at the timing of his trip– when his wife was pregnant with their first child.

Read the book to learn of Huler’s adventures in this combination of yet one more myth-retelling, and travel writing.

On the Wings of Eagles

The Book of the Week is “On the Wings of Eagles” by Ken Follett, published in 1983. This ebook recounts how a group of employees from the American company EDS, stationed in Tehran, underwent an incredible, life-changing experience in early 1979, at the start of the Iranian revolution. H. Ross Perot, CEO of EDS, got “down in the trenches” with his men, and toward the end of the story, was portrayed as a Daddy Warbucks character; his endless money and friends in high places helped him magically remove bureaucratic obstacles to get things done in a hurry.

The Iranian government was EDS’s sole client in Iran. In mid-1978, it started to default on EDS’s multi-million dollar bill for engineering social-security and health insurance software. The extremely suspenseful series of events was focused on two EDS men in particular whom one Iranian in particular from the old (Shah’s) regime had arrested and jailed. He set their bail at an outrageous $13 million in a petty power game. There were three ways the company could get those two employees released from jail: “…legal pressure, political pressure, or pay the bail.” Or a few other ways, which were illegal.

Assistance and sympathy of the officials at Tehran’s American Embassy for EDS were less than forthcoming. There were many more serious problems to deal with.

Initially, the aforesaid Perot exhibited an American mentality, thinking that he and the bad guy could settle the matter with legalistic negotiations. However, Iran was not playing by the same rules. He then came up with a hare-brained scheme, which would involve breaking various federal laws if certain of its components were to occur in the United States.

As an aside– this blogger found it hard to get used to the vocabulary that Americans used at the time of the book’s publication– “…what the McDonald’s girl said to me…”  “…blond Swedish girl in her twenties,” “stewardesses” and “knapsack,” among other old-fashioned terms. There was also a funny scene late in the group’s emotionally traumatic saga. After surviving many serious threats to their lives over the course of weeks, the EDS group was on a plane that was having mechanical trouble in the air. “I can’t believe this,’ said Paul. He lit a cigarette.”

Read the book to learn the fate of the individuals involved in this riveting thriller.

Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed “In the Heart of Life: A Memoir” by Kathy Eldon, published in 2013. This repetitive ebook begins engagingly enough, but turns into a catharsis for the author.

Eldon grew up in a Methodist household in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She writes, “Sometimes I think my entire family went deaf in the 1950s, when we weren’t allowed to discuss anything unpleasant in polite company. Nor, for that matter, were we allowed to argue, swear, or even cry in our household, not to mention say anything that might disrupt the perception that ours was a perfect home.”

A graduate of Wellesley in 1968, the author came of age in a generation of women who were expected to take up fabulous careers. The following year, she married and moved to London, and later had a son and a daughter. Her husband’s job took the family to Nairobi, Kenya.

The author tried to start a career but found that Kenya was stingy when it came to issuing work permits to expatriate wives. She soon got bored of the “…bridge parties, Swahili classes and tennis dates” in which other similarly situated individuals participated. Fortunately, she soon met some high-spirited, fiercely independent people.

Sadly, two major parts of Eldon’s story become a very detailed pity party; the first part– marital anguish– is similar to other females’ stories such as “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” (the book by Suyin Han), “Bridges of Madison County” by Robert James Waller and “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The second part is truly a more traumatic occurrence, but her endless description of her reaction to it still becomes quite tedious.

Perhaps the author appears to be so self-absorbed to this blogger because she rambles on and on through a large part of the book about the aftermath of the incident. She admits that her awareness that her own and another person’s behaviors before the fact, are hurtful and/or life-threatening and worrisome to others, but the selfish behaviors continue, anyway. During the healing process, she overcomes her skepticism of psychics.

After the tragedy, the author helps to create a press conference of her own and the media’s self-importance at which famous newscasters, such as Dan Rather “implored the audience to be aware of the individuals who risk their lives every day to bring us the truth.” This blogger thinks this is a self-evident message, especially in war zones (and has its exceptions). Eldon writes that by the late 1990’s(!), increased awareness of this issue prompted press outlets to provide certain correspondents with life insurance and to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by news personnel.

Nevertheless, the first half of the book is suspenseful. The author deserves credit for revealing embarrassing, even shameful details about her past.

Read the book to learn what the author and her daughter do in their attempt to get some closure with respect to their pain.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria

The Book of the Week is “First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria” by Eve Brown-Waite, published in 2009. This is the personal account of an adventurous idealist.

Although Brown’s late 1980’s Peace Corps experience in Ecuador prompted a painful realization about her interactions with a certain adult when she was an adolescent, there also occurred growth. Previously, she had fallen in love with her Peace Corps recruiter, who got a micro-financing job with the international aid organization, CARE. In August 1993, they ended up in Arua, Uganda.

They brought with them two pet cats, a cappuccino machine, a TV and a VCR.  They had to have shots or medication to protect against malaria, yellow fever, typhoid and cholera. Brown was afforded a mentor who taught her the culture of the locals. She was advised not to purchase the cows in the open-air market with no flies on them– those cows had been sprayed with insecticide. Poisonous grasshoppers made holes in the laundry on the clotheslines, but other ones were edible.

Brown and her husband lived richly compared to Ugandans. Instead of cooking over an open fire, they used a propane-powered stove and refrigerator. Her expatriate multi-family compound had electricity from 7-10 nightly– absent a war, political crisis, or thunderstorm. The expats drank gin and played badminton and tennis. Sometimes goats wandered onto the court.

“It was common for men to hold most of the positions of authority in rural Uganda, even thought it appeared the women did most of the work.” The women did the domestic chores and the childcare while the husbands were out of the country on business for long periods. Brown searched in vain for work in her field of AIDS-prevention education. Once, she happened upon an alternative-medical facility. The doctor there believed that AIDS could be contracted through sex, which was curable, or through voodoo hex, which was incurable.  Meanwhile, she did a lot of cooking and shopping. The expats enjoyed culinary diversity that included “…fish, chicken stews, curries, rice pilaf and fresh bread.” The area’s gardens yielded tomatoes, mangoes, potatoes, rice and okra.

Brown’s husband financially supported the kids in the community who begged most aggressively. There were food, clothing, medication and school fees to pay. On occasion, the couple took long road trips and were compelled to take kids to a family member, in the CARE Land Rover. The ultimate destination was an urban area with better medical care than Arua (which isn’t saying much). The roads were potholed, “…clogged with bicycles, pedestrians and dangerously overloaded commuter vans.”

The civil service appeared to consist of lazy bureaucrats. In the month of February, Brown needed to pick up packages at the post office. Those packages had been sent to her back in December. She was told to go to the customs house, reachable by a very short walk. The customs officer told her he needed to go to the post office with her. However, it was 4:42 and the post office closed at 5:00. Ugandan bureaucrats never walked anywhere, and the officer didn’t have access to a vehicle.

In 1996, the civil war in Uganda was serious cause for concern. Anti-government guerrillas were engaged in bombings, hijackings, and chopping off of facial features of villagers. Read the book to learn of whether Brown ever got her post-office packages, about her medical and family adventures, the terrorist incidents that occurred in Arua, and about other aspects of living in a rural village in Uganda in the mid 1990’s, as seen through American eyes.

American Radical

The Book of the Week is “American Radical, The Life and Times of I.F. Stone” by D.D. Guttenplan, published in 2009. This is the biography of a muckraking journalist, who wrote of “good, honest graft” and the “…human wreckage piling up around me.”

He was born Isadore Feinstein on Christmas Eve, 1907 in Philadelphia. He spoke Yiddish as a second language. In 1924, because his grades were below Harvard standards and there was open enrollment for local residents, “Izzy” as he was affectionately known, began attending the University of Pennsylvania. He changed his name to I.F. Stone at the tail end of his twenties.

The year 1955 saw Congressional surveillance of Stone’s weekly publication “Weekly.” Stone launched lawsuits against his oppressors, arguing that public moneys should not be used to violate his 1st Amendment rights to privacy and freedom of the press. He would have lost his lawsuits but for a curious situation.

James Eastland, chief counsel and chairman of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, included the New York Times as one of many newspapers and magazines he was surveilling. Stone had embarrassed the Times for pointing out inconsistent behavior: the newspaper’s firing of its employees who were accused of Communist leanings. Yet the Times had published articles arguing for civil rights, anti-segregation, condemning McCarthyism and immigration restrictions. The Times was indignant because it thought it was being singled out for investigation by Eastland. Eastland dropped his investigation.

Other organizations accused of harboring Communists included the Boy Scouts, Voice of America, the USO and YMCA. The Justice Department‘s whole roster of professional informers was finally discredited…” when an ex-Communist admitted to fabricating the allegations against the organizations. In fall 1955, finally, there was vindication of Stone and other activists who were under threat of arrest or deportation or subpoena.

This blogger believes the author’s historical accounts are misleading in spots; he implies that in 1948, when the Israelis had achieved military victory over the Arabs in their war for an independent homeland, the Arabs fled. Historical accounts other than this book say that the Israelis subjected the Arabs to a forced evacuation from their homes where they had been residing for generations.

The result of the Hungarian uprising of 1956, according to the author, was cause for celebration for Stone, because a new government was installed that would impose socialism, and Stone was all for socialism. The author neglects to mention that the Soviets crushed the revolt in an orgy of bloodshed. Then the author goes on to say that Stone misread the Suez Canal Crisis.

Nevertheless, read the book to learn modern history through the eyes of a smartass reporter who called a spade a spade most of the time.

Roses Under the Miombo Trees

The Book of the Week is “Roses Under the Miombo Trees” by Amanda Parkyn, published in 2012.  This is a four-year chronicle of a family in Rhodesia in the early 1960’s. The country at the time was comprised of three territories, one of which later became the country of Malawi.

When she was in her early twenties, the author, an Englishwoman, married a Rhodesian. They, as light-skinned people, had all the creature-comforts a former British colony had to offer: tennis, golf, bridge, swimming, and yachting. However, technology in entertainment and telecommunications was behind that of the United States. Few people had television in rural areas, and telephone calls still had to be made with the help of a live operator. One of their neighbors had a tennis court made of dead anthills, that had been shaped with water and sun-dried.

The author describes their social life and how it changed as her husband was transferred to different territories in connection with his employment; the birth of their two children, her love of gardening and the job performance of the household’s dark-skinned domestic servant.

Read the book to learn the details of the ups and downs of the family’s life, in their specific time and place.

How to Castrate A Bull

The Book of the Week is “How to Castrate A Bull” by Dave Hitz with Pat Walsh, published in 2009. This ebook chronicles Hitz’s career, describes the ups and downs of the tech company he co-founded– NetApp, and imparts wisdom on management, leadership and interesting trivia. A flash drive can store a small amount of personal data of everyone on earth, a hard copy of which would represent 20 million pounds of paper.

NetApp was a start-up in the early 1990’s that built and sold business-to business, a “…network storage system in eighteen months with eight people and $1.5 million.” It went public in November 1995. A start-up has to sell something people are willing to pay for, such as a physical product, or advertising.

During the year 2000, NetApp’s share price tanked– as did that of many other tech stocks– plummeting from $150 to $6. The company delayed laying people off, and did not speak of it, as long as possible. “We announced layoffs one day and did them the next.” Hitz thinks taking care of such unpleasantness quickly is the best policy. Prolonged “palace intrigue” is bad for the work environment. Employees who know their last day is in the future are going to have less than optimal productivity, loyalty and a stable emotional state, to say the least.

When it came time to write the section on the NetApp’s philosophy in the company manual, Hitz says, “Company values only work if the leaders say, ‘These are things I really do believe. If I violate them, please call me on it… Values should remain constant, but appropriate behavior will change as a company grows.” When an employer provides “fun stuff” or free food to its employees, “that’s a symptom of good culture, not a cause of it.”

Read the book to learn Hitz’s explanation of how NetApp became a tremendously successful company, and how it fared after the dot-com crash.

Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed the ebook “Moving Beyond Words” by Gloria Steinem, published in 2012. It is a collection of articles about Phyllis Freud (a fictional character created to explore how things would be if Sigmund Freud was a female), Steinem’s experiences working at Ms. Magazine in the early 1970’s and other topics.

At Ms. Magazine, Steinem writes that it was like pulling teeth to try to convince Philip Morris to advertise its Virginia Slims cigarettes without the slogan “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” in the magazine. “No amount of saying that we, like men, are a segmented market, that we don’t all think alike, does any good.” Through the years, Ms. lost a vast quantity of ad dollars for sticking to its guns, not only at the hands of Philip Morris. “…But no matter how desirable the Ms. readership, our lack of editorial recipes and traditional homemaking articles proves lethal.” This, despite the fact that the Ms. ad sales reps did their homework in providing ample evidence of women’s lifestyle changes, to potential advertisers. Four years of research went into showing that “…women make their own travel choices and business trips” to try to persuade airlines to advertise in Ms. The airlines made various unrelated excuses for advertising elsewhere. The late 1980’s saw the financial troubles of the magazine continue to worsen– not caused by poor subscriber demand, but caused by misguided advertising departments run by men.

In her 1990’s article on economics, Steinem opines that her checkbook was a reflection of her values– what her spending consisted of, and in what amounts. This blogger thinks that the modern-day equivalent of that is physical keys and online passwords. The author also discusses unequal pay for men and women: “Because I was helping to establish speaking fees for other feminists and was giving away some of what I earned, I had become part of the problem.” Recently, this blogger has observed women doing themselves a similar disservice–perpetuating the degrading of all women with their behavior– but might not realize it: Many women post profile-photos on job websites, in which they are nearly topless. This blogger guesses that they think looking sexy will advance their careers. Wearing a strappy or sleeveless top in a professional photo is inappropriate. It’s as unprofessional as wearing flip-flops in a white-collar office. Wearing a top with short sleeves at minimum, would be appropriate. It appears that they want to be treated like sex objects rather than as professional workers who want to be taken seriously.

Read the book to learn of Steinem’s views on and/or experiences with Freud, the strongest woman in the world, working for a women’s magazine, Victoria Woodhull, economics and aging.