Law Man – Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed the book “Law Man” by Shon Hopwood published in 2012. In this personal account, Hopwood details his actions as a bank robber, and their consequences, complete with the romantic subplot.

In May 1999, the author was permanently placed in prison in Peoria. He felt relief because “Mostly I wanted my hard time to begin so it would start to end.” He told the reader of the term “chester”– short for “child molester.” Luckily, early on, Hopwood found an inmate who became his mentor, who taught him how to fashion a wooden-handled steel rod; the best weapon in the prison– which housed a metal fabrication plant. “… you can run it straight through a man’s liver. But what’s better is a lot of friends.”

More than three quarters of the prisoners were wannabe rap stars. Hopwood wrote, “You must have a job in prison; it’s not supposed to be a vacation, after all.” Postage stamps were the major means of exchange. Whenever the post office raised the price of stamps, the prison economy was disrupted.

On one occasion there was a gang brawl in the exercise yard involving attempted murder, resulting in a four-day lockdown of the entire prison. “In a world of attention-craving narcissists, lockdowns border on cruel and unusual punishment.”

Read the book to learn how the author was responsible for a change in a major legal ruling, an occurrence whose odds were akin to winning the lottery.

The Astonishing Mr. Scripps

The Book of the Week is “The Astonishing Mr. Scripps” by Vance H. Trimble, published in 1992. This large volume documents the life, among other family members, of Edward Willis Scripps, born in June 1854, the 13th child of James and Julia Scripps. He became the head of the nation’s first newspaper chain by the end of the 19th century.

Prior to journalism, starting at twelve years of age, Scripps was required to assist his father at bookbinding, on the farm and at a sugar mill. He quit school at fifteen. In 1872, after dabbling in a few other ventures, at eighteen, he escaped a life of manual labor to help his 38-year old older brother in the print shop at the Detroit Tribune. The culture was such that journalists had to frequent a bar in order to get good assignments. There was peer pressure to drink.

About five years later, Scripps moved to Cleveland to start another newspaper there. He wanted to sell the paper on the streets, rather than through the customary routes with paperboys. “A newsboy could buy copies wholesale at the pressroom door for half a cent, thus earning fifty cents for each hundred sold.”

The composing room was where the ad and editorial departments had a conflict because advertising copy and news stories competed for space so the one that was typeset second got short shrift at deadline time. Scripps’ paper favored blue collar readers. Its rivals were read by wealthy, industrialist readers. Scripps supported trade unionism and opposed the capitalists. He tried to maximize revenue from subscribers rather than advertisers so he could write what he wanted; he thus didn’t have to print what advertisers told him to.

In 1880, Scripps started yet another newspaper in St. Louis– the Evening Chronicle. A competing paper, the Post Dispatch, was bribing the Chronicle carriers to transfer their route customers to the Post Dispatch. That same year, during the presidential election, the Chronicle’s circulation jumped to 13,000 and afterwards, fell back to 10,000.

In early 1881, when James Garfield was inaugurated U.S. President, Scripps wrote, “Hence we are writing the thing up from home [St. Louis], dating it from Washington and putting big headlines over it. Of course it is fraud, but there is no greater fraud than the doubt whether the country ever had a president with a title honestly acquired.”

The four newspapers were losing money, so in 1888, Scripps formed a “syndicate”– consolidated them– to achieve economies of scale and make them profitable. Nevertheless, he still imposed draconian, petty cost-cutting measures on his employees the following year, such as making reporters pay for work-related costs like transportation, pencils, business cards and promotional copies of the paper.

On the home front, Scripps’ wife had gotten pregnant seven times in twelve years. Four children lived to adulthood.

In 1904, Scripps knew it was a conflict to “… pollute its columns with noxious hucksterism. America’s press would never be truly free and honest until newspapers flatly refused to print any advertising matter at all.” Wealthy merchants could threaten to bankrupt a paper by not advertising. Scripps looked for a city where a paper could stay in business through circulation revenue alone. He thought the paper should be an instrument for fighting oppression and improving quality of life: “… better sanitation, better education, better and healthier and more moral amusements, better homes, better wages, better sermons in our churches, better accommodations on street cars.”

The two conditions required for success with an advertising-free paper are: it must be interesting and have prompt and dependable delivery. But for Scripps, the costs exceeded the profits because he had to pay printers, pressmen, reporters, circulators, rent, utilities, etc. This blogger believes that in the 21st century, many online publications have the aforementioned conditions; however, a third condition includes the fact that readers must be willing to pay for the product.

In 1915, Scripps invested in Max Eastman’s radical weekly “The Masses” – ironically named, because the weekly’s focus was not on the downtrodden, but America’s elite. Eastman’s 22 liberal contributors submitted articles for free. The paper still operated at a loss; circulation was stagnant. There is nothing new under the sun.

Scripps wanted his teenage son Bob to work, saying “I do not want to you to be a simple onlooker and student and critic of life…” Around 1913, Bob had an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner, just like in the movie “The Graduate” (1967). Only, Bob was under 18 years old. There is nothing new under the sun.

Unsurprisingly, Scripps was a cynic. He was “… convinced, rightly or wrongly, that altruism, which is almost universal, is still almost universally a minor motive in a man.”

Read the book to learn the history of the wire services, how the people at the Scripps newspapers coped with local political corruption, how they shaped policy in Washington, survived natural disasters and wars, company power struggles, and the consequences of the Scripps family’s alcoholism.

On the Firing Line

The Book of the Week is “On the Firing Line” by Gil Amelio with William L. Simon, published in 1998. In this informative book, Amelio chronicles his short tenure as Apple Computer’s CEO from early 1995 to mid 1997.

Some might say Amelio made a foolhardy decision to take on the challenge of turning Apple around, when he had a secure and promising future as the CEO of National Semiconductor, whose recovery he had spearheaded. Throughout the book, he discusses the series of difficulties he faced and admits his errors in judgment.

Amelio handed grist to his critics on a silver platter because he allowed his employees to talk to the media, which had a field day on many fronts. The media also played him for a fool.

There were numerous factors out of the CEO’s control that also gave him a tough time. His predecessor allowed extreme price cuts on Apple’s products, and the sales team was playing a short-sighted game– a vicious cycle every holiday season, whereby they would give deep last-minute discounts to retailers to move inventory, putting a better face than otherwise on the financial condition of the company, as its fiscal year started on October 1.

Amelio was distressed to find that the corporate culture was fragmented along departmental lines. The engineers worked on products the sales department had no intention of selling. “Apple never had an official statement of strategy – which inevitably means that every executive, and most managers, design their own versions. Everyone pursues their own goals, rowing frantically but each pulling in a different direction.” One reason was that managers knew the company was in dire financial straits and feared their projects were going to be cut.

Some thought Amelio desperate and a sellout for holding meetings with the enemy, Bill Gates, to propose making Apple products compatible with Microsoft products. Nonetheless, he was wary of Gates because Gates was unreasonably stingy in his negotiations.

With Amelio at the helm, performance of the desktop models improved tenfold but sales fell. He attributed this to the presence of a subjective element in people’s reaction to Apple “…irrelevant to product quality, and has … a lot to do with what they read in the newspapers and how comfortable they are with the state of the company.”

Read the book to learn: how Amelio was too trusting when he negotiated his employment contract; about the fronts on which he did make progress, and how he was done in by Steve Jobs.

The Impossible Rescue – Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed “The Impossible Rescue” by Martin W. Sandler, published in 2012.

This ebook describes the 1897 disaster in which eight whaling ships were hemmed in by mid-autumn ice for months when unexpectedly severe weather struck Point Barrow, Alaska. The total 265-member crews faced starvation, as they had insufficient food supplies for surviving more than a few months. They were subjected to darkness day and night, and temperatures tens of degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The whalers’ volunteer-rescuers consisted of a few small parties of local natives and men from the United States who, at different intervals, coming from different directions, braved blizzards in trekking more than 1,500 miles overland with varying numbers of dogs, sleds, reindeer and hundreds of pounds in supplies. [It might be recalled that America purchased the territory of Alaska in 1867, and Alaska became a state in 1959.]

What the men did entailed life-threatening risks and extreme sacrifices. One of the groups was traveling with both dogs and reindeer simultaneously.  When sleds are pulled by both kinds of animals, “…the dogs follow their natural instincts to attack the deer.” Even keeping the dogs as far back from the deer as possible proved quite difficult.

Read the book to learn what happened to the rescuers and the rescued.

No-Man’s Lands – 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.

In the Heart of Life: A Memoir – 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.