Man of Tomorrow

The Book of the Week is “Man of Tomorrow, The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown” by Jim Newton, published in 2020.

Born in April 1938 in San Francisco, Brown had two older sisters and one younger. His father, Pat, was Democrat governor of California in the early 1960’s. Jerry became a devout Jesuit while in college. In 1961, he began law school at Yale, where his tuition was paid via a foundation program that benefited children of California officeholders, run by philanthropist Louis Lurie.

In the mid-1960’s, California governor Ronald Reagan signed bills for laws for three different, moderately liberal causes. The first bill raised taxes. In July 1967, after a scary incident involving the Black Panthers, Reagan ratified the Mulford Act, which outlawed the carrying of a loaded firearm in public. Thirdly, the same year, Reagan (grudgingly) legalized abortion for pregnant Californians whose lives were endangered or who were victims of rape.

Helped by name recognition via his father, after getting elected as California governor in 1974, Brown, fatalist though he was, proved to be an environmentally friendly politician. In autumn 1976, he signed 21 bills intended to provide pollution protection for his state’s coastal areas. Yet, he cut spending and shrunk government– defying his party’s reputation.

During his religious phase as a student and thereafter, Brown spent long hours in philosophical contemplation in order to hash out his political views. He effected prison-sentencing reform that changed “doing time” from rehabilitation to punishment.

However, California’s whole criminal justice system is arbitrary– changing with the tenor of the times, and by imposing sentencing guidelines, as the new law did, at least judges would presumably have been less biased (differ less widely) in meting out punishment. And in his second time around as governor (he was elected again in 2010, and was reelected), he issued a lot of pardons and commutations because he still had faith in humanity.

One issue that affected others was an initiative in which the California government auctioned off quantities of the state’s polluters’ emissions, providing the state with revenues it could use for pet projects of the governor. In the 2010’s, Brown was planning a high-speed railway, wanted to protect poor communities from environmental damage, and (obviously) needed to do maintenance for forest-fighting prevention.

In his four terms, Brown mulled over whether to sign or veto more than twenty thousand potential laws. In 2018 alone, he deemed 201 out of 1,016 of them, unworthy of his support.

Read the book to learn of California history, the history of its popular culture, the forces behind the rise of Brown’s popularity there, and the issues that shaped his actions.

Vigilance

The Book of the Week is “Vigilance, My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City” by Ray Kelly, published in 2015.

Born in Manhattan in September 1941, the author grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens county, the youngest of five children. He was a cadet for the New York City police department (NYPD) while attending college, where he majored in business.

In 1964, he was a U.S. Marine and “… getting sent to the Southeast Asian nation [Vietnam] was still seen as a perfectly fine posting… an exotic place where you could go and be an adviser, play at some guerrilla warfare, obtain command and experience, and learn about a different culture…” He went there and actually enjoyed the life-threatening aspects of soldiering.

In the early 1970’s, the author was assigned to the vice squad, whose subdivisions kept pimps, prostitutes, numbers-racketeers, and drug dealers in line. That last category changed their products through the years, from opium, pot and acid, to heroin and pills. In the mid-1980’s, the crime rate soared with the introduction of crack-cocaine.But rather than blame an increase in crime on social ills such as drugs, family breakups and poverty– the mayor of New York City in the early 1990’s, David Dinkins– appointed the author as police commissioner, who changed the NYPD, starting in October 1992.

The author engaged in operations management to determine the number of cops (of a total of about 25,000) required for specific types of calls, to deploy the city’s resources wisely. He thought Dinkins deserved more credit than he got for lowering the crime rate.Beginning in the mid-1990’s, the author earned a law degree, and worked in a few different capacities in white-collar law enforcement on behalf of the federal government. He bragged about helping with big drug busts involving Mexican marijuana, Federal Express, cocaine cartels and Mexican banks in the late 1990’s. He also bragged about foiling a terrorist plot involving a car bomb at Los Angeles airport at the end of 1999. After 9/11, he felt there was a crying need to dispel inter-agency rivalry in United States law enforcement. He favored consolidating agencies to form one, that would be responsible for homeland security.

Incidentally, the personal accounts of senators Tom Daschle and Robert Byrd contained starkly different recollections as to how the Department of Homeland Security was formed. The reason was that: Daschle and his staff were subjected to lots of trauma and massive disruption as victims of an anthrax attack in 2001 so they personally witnessed the problems with American law enforcement and saw the need for one department, whereas Byrd’s office experienced no such ordeal, so Byrd zeroed in on George W. Bush’s political exploitation of the situation.

BUT– not only did the Bush administration chaotically rush into consolidating departments, it also failed to provide job security and benefits for newer employees. In law enforcement especially, that is an invitation for trouble– that means higher turnover than otherwise among employees who have access to weaponry and sensitive data. Enough said.

Anyway, the author became NYPD police commissioner again with mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002. He created counter-terrorism and intelligence departments. His idea of policing involved the “three C’s” of Counter-terrorism, Crime-fighting and Community relations. He took credit for technologically modernizing the NYPD. For, in the single-digit 2000’s, “… We had twenty different databases that didn’t speak to each other and were almost impossible to search. Each division, bureau, and unit had its own hardware and software and its own unique way of maintaining the files.”

Beginning in 2003, the NYPD stationed (anti-terrorism) detectives in major cities around the world, starting with Israel, of course. The author felt that international cooperation was an important element of countering threats from abroad. He wrote that geopolitical pressure between or among allies brought to bear on rogue states, could deter attacks. He boasted that in 2006, his team foiled a plot to blow up the Hudson River tunnels in Manhattan.

In 2013, he launched a social-media operation whose goal was to detect online activity that would result in gang activity on the streets. The author expressed his views on a few other topics; he believed:

  • body-cameras should be used by law enforcement officers, as they protect both officers and the public;
  • there should be diversity in hiring of officers, as their jobs are a community-oriented service, and should be a reflection of the community; and
  • military equipment should be used by local law enforcement only as a last resort.

Read the book to learn additional details of the author’s life and career.

Call Me American

The Book of the Week is “Call Me American, A Memoir” by Abdi Nor Iftin with Max Alexander, published in 2018.

“There were more guns in the city than people. There was more ammunition than food. It became a thing to own a gun to save your life. Most people slept with a loaded AK-47 sitting next to them.”

The above was the author’s description of lawless Somalia (not the future United States) during the 1990’s.

Somalia, formerly two different colonies– of Britain and Italy, became a sovereign territory in 1960. Born around 1985 in Somalia (where birthdays aren’t important), the author had an older brother and later, younger sisters. Years before, his father’s side of the Muslim family, the Rahanweyn clan (farmers and nomads) was forced, due to drought, to give up herding as their livelihood. Fortunately, the father was able to become a professional basketball player. The mother was a traditional female of Islam– expected to bear and raise the children, and do all the chores and housework.

At the dawn of the 1990’s in Somalia, tensions boiled over between two of the five clans who desired to run the government. Warlords took to fighting that involved looting of shops, bullets and rocket fire. Rebels ousted the “president.” Former government employees fled to America, Canada or the United Kingdom.

Common people like the author’s family who were forced to evacuate their Mogadishu homes were caught in the crossfire of the anarchy, and died anonymously and were left in mass graves in droves from the usual causes– bullets or other weaponry, disease and starvation.

The family had no car, so like thousands of others, they walked miles and miles along unpaved roads with cows, donkeys, dogs and chickens, trying not to get arbitrarily shot by sadistic child-soldiers for being in the wrong tribe, or blown up by rockets (supplied to the anti-government Somali rebels by Ethiopia, sworn enemy of Somalia). Occasionally, they got an extremely crowded truck ride from a driver who had no beef against their tribe. Word-of-mouth rumors led them to believe that the city of Baidoa was a less dangerous place to be than Mogadishu. But that was a relative assessment.

In October 1993, sixteen American soldiers were killed in a Black Hawk helicopter attack at the hands of Soviet weaponry supplied to Somali soldiers. In March 1994, the Americans left Somalia. Ethiopia and Kenya supplied qat to Somali soldiers.

Beginning in the late 1990’s, the United States government paid the warlords (as though they were bounty hunters) to catch radical and foreign Islamists. In the single-digit 2000’s, the warlords assassinated the chairman of one of the five merged Islamic Courts that resolved local legal disputes in Somalia. The merging set the stage for a radical Islamic takeover, but ordinary Somalis were angry at the Western-backed warlords.

As a way to escape the trauma and wreckage around him, in the late 1990’s, the author got caught up in the American pop-cultural scene at local storefronts that: sold boom boxes and cassette tapes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, reggae and hip-hop music; and screened American movies such as Terminator. He passionately learned English and hip-hop dancing from them.

When the author’s family’s circumstances improved, his horrified parents administered the usual beatings when he put up posters of American cultural icons on his bedroom wall, including one of Madonna in a bikini. His mother thought of the United States as a Christian (evil) country.

However, the author was sufficiently street-smart to complete his seven-year education of memorizing the Koran in Arabic, all 114 chapters, 6,266 verses of it, even though the headmaster of his madrassa was a corporal-punishment tyrant.

Read the book to learn further details of the major ironies, among others, that graced the author’s incredible story: 1) the combination of his (sinful) passions and (highly praised) education that provided him with survival skills in a country where life was cheap and any minute could be one’s last; and 2) “Pictures and names associated with America were crimes, not counting the pictures and names on the American dollar bills that they had in their pockets.”

Secrets of the Kingdom

The Book of the Week is “Secrets of the Kingdom, The Inside Story of the Saudi-U.S. Connection” by Gerald Posner, published in 2005. There has been a two-faced relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia (also called the Kingdom) for forever. The author provided numerous examples (it got a bit tabloidy) of the greed and power-hunger of historical figures who have adversely affected countless people’s lives by controlling oil prices one way or another. The consequences of the power-brokers’ actions have run the gamut from inconvenience and economic hardship to ruined lives and needless deaths through the decades of the twentieth century into the twenty-first.

In 1973, Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal told Aramco (the oil company jointly owned by the United States and Saudi Arabia’s royal family) to refrain from shipping oil to America to create an artificial oil shortage to push prices up, leading to record profits for mostly the royal family and Aramco. Another excuse for having fun with oil-pricing was the Yom Kippur War.

By the mid-1970’s, Faisal and his family members were deriving inconceivable riches from oil. American businesspeople of all kinds (including executives of financial institutions) were overly eager to get the lucky Saudis (numbering in the thousands) to spend those riches on the trappings of modernity and luxury goods. The Kingdom imported foreigners to fill undesirable jobs, and contracting jobs.

The United States government became an accomplice to the culture of corruption (bribery and money laundering) that permeated the country. There was also a culture of anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic practices, called the “Arab boycott” (for more information, see this blog’s post, Bitter Scent). In March 1975, King Faisal was assassinated but not much changed.

June 1977 saw president Jimmy Carter of the United States sign an anti-Arab-boycott bill (which got an “A” for effort), but even his policies were handcuffed by the Saudis’ control over oil prices. Inter-agency rivalry raged between the National Security Council and the Justice Department over suppressing the latter’s investigations into Aramco’s (secret, highly lucrative and criminal- in American civil law) transactions.

In the late 1970’s, U.S. colleges such as USC, Duke and Georgetown got small endowments from the Saudis for creating Islamic or Arab studies departments. Even the Smithsonian jumped on the bandwagon.

To make the 1970’s an even more eventful decade for oil-pricing manipulation, there occurred the American president-Carter-brokered peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. The Iranian Revolution prompted the president to send American troops to the Kingdom to protect the oil there. But refused to sell it missiles. So it got missiles from China.

Yet more ugliness that affected geopolitical dynamics included a terrorist attack in Mecca in November 1979, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the following month; not to mention the Iran-Iraq War. Around this time, the United States became the globe’s biggest importer of oil from the Kingdom and a supplier of weaponry to it.

In June 1982, King Fahd became the new leader of Saudi Arabia. Radicals forced Islamic extremism on ordinary Saudis– telling them when to pray, how to dress, how to eat, how to live, and whom their enemies should be– non-Muslims, Israelis, Jews, women.

Greedy American dealmakers didn’t care. They secretly knuckled under on the Arab boycott, even though it was against American law. They hoped to make, or were making megabucks, in the Kingdom and other Arab nations. This included former president Carter, who needed money for his presidential library. He allowed weapons seller Adnan Khashoggi to hold a 1983 fund-raiser for him in New York.

Lest one forget that the Iran-Contra Affair revealed honor among thieves– even sworn enemies (!): In 1983, “Israel supplied the weapons [missiles to Iran] and the Saudis paid for them.”

In 1985, Saudi Arabia bought military planes from Great Britain instead of from the United States, as the Israel lobby in America did achieve small victories from time to time. Nevertheless, terrorist attacks continued through the 1990’s.

Fast forward some years. As is well known, 9/11 was a particularly thorny, game-changing event for everyone involved in Middle Eastern politics, as a significant number of Americans died. It led to many outrages, but initially, little punishment for the planners, aiders and abettors (mostly from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia– NOT Afghanistan and NOT Iraq) of the terror attacks.

The George W. Bush administration coddled almost three hundred outright terrorists, government officials and royal-family members who had special knowledge of and ties to the guilty, by allowing them all to leave the United States on seven private flights while all other flights were suspended, within a week of the attacks. Those special people were never questioned, though they would have been valuable witnesses in connection with the investigation into the attacks.

Read the book to learn about a wealth of other ethical conflicts American government and business leaders faced, and still face in trying to: keep oil prices low, minimize worldwide bloodshed, and make maximum profits (never mind ethics); and additional history on the Kingdom, including its relationship with Osama bin Laden, and a national security scheme it allegedly put in place that, if triggered, would deliberately (!) make it a cancer cluster like Chernobyl. Forever.

West of Kabul, East of New York

“For all of us, surrendering to diversity is probably the only plausible path left to attaining unity. The international community is supposedly committed to helping the country rebuild, but the lost world will not be constituted. Whatever rises from the rubble, will be something new…”

The author wrote the above about Afghanistan, presumably after 9/11.

The Book of the Week is “West of Kabul, East of New York, An Afghan American Story” by Tamim Ansary, published in 2002.

Born in Kabul in Afghanistan in 1948, the author, who had an older sister and much younger brother, lived a childhood typical for his time and place– primitive living conditions, but in a communal space with multi-generational households of extended families.

In the mid-1950’s, the author’s father, through his former classmate, got a job on a U.S.-sponsored irrigation project, helping to further Afghanistan’s technological advancement. The goal was to “…sell the harvest for cash abroad, and use the currency to buy machines.” The author’s family lived in a corporate village with American expat families. They had Western leisure facilities– tennis, swimming, bicycling, square dancing, American music.

However, the project failed because the Helmand river branches changed their courses, so salt contaminated the water. Later on, water shortages, rather than lack of know-how or aid, caused crops to fail, when land reform (alleged equitable re-distribution of land among the peasants) was instituted.

In 1959, royal-family females were allowed to doff their veils, and coeducation was introduced at the local high school: about one hundred boys and four girls. Ironically, it was the Communists who forced the schools to educate the females, but (Muslim) Afghan leaders with old-school tribal and clan sensibilities got angry at that. Religious zealots (mullahs) in Kandahar incited a riot, in which some people died. “Within hours, the government put tanks on the streets [in Kabul] and jets in the air.” It had actually been a planned anti-Western campaign, but luckily, it failed.

Grades at the school, in a rural village, were based on only exams thrice every year in each of eighteen subjects. A few men (in their twenties) from the Soviet-trained military were sent there to get educated. Schools in Afghanistan’s cities got aid from the West.

The author’s mother was an American citizen, so when political turmoil flared in Afghanistan, and the author was awarded a high school scholarship as a sophomore in America, he, his mother and siblings moved to the United States. The author’s father was a citizen of only Afghanistan, but he could have become a college professor in America. Nevertheless, he chose to stay in his native country.

In the early 1970’s, the author found a community that mirrored his childhood’s– with an extended counter-culture “family” in Portland, Oregon. In 1979 (the year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan), while in Morocco, he met Sunni Muslims who didn’t pray in the mosques.

One of them explained that, “Because the religious scholars have sold themselves to the governments… When the people are lost, the gangsters are safe.” There must be the right balance of power and integration between a nation’s leaders and the people, politically, economically and culturally (including religion). If the government acquires too much power, the people become lost. If the people acquire too much power, there’s revolution.

Individuals’ mentalities are shaped by their experiences. The author’s much younger brother, Riaz, when he became an adolescent, apparently had a bad experience of culture shock after the family moved to the United States. Riaz’s early Afghani childhood in the late 1950’s must have been a comforting, happy experience. For, in early adulthood, he turned to radical Islam in finding his identity.

Read the book to learn how the author coped with reconciling the cultural clashes he encountered in his life.

The Passion of Ayn Rand

The Book of the Week is “The Passion of Ayn Rand, A Biography” by Barbara Branden, published in 1986.

Born in St. Petersburg in February 1905, Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) Rand, whose father was a chemist, spent her early childhood in a cultured, Jewish family in Petrograd. After graduating from high school in the Crimea, when the family was poverty-stricken and starving due to the Bolshevik Revolution, Rand taught literacy to Red Army soldiers.

In the early 1920’s, the Russian government evilly schemed to allow “former bourgeoisie” such as Rand’s family to work in cooperatives until it felt sufficient assets were accumulated, at which time it stole those assets by force. Its attitude was: “… workers and peasants were extolled as the highest types of humanity, and intellectuals, unless they employed their intelligence in selfless service to the state, were denounced as parasitical.”

Rand was headstrong in her desire to flee to America and never return to Russia. She eventually got her wish in the mid-1920’s, thanks to her mother’s distant relatives in Chicago. After overcoming numerous obstacles, she lived with her Orthodox-Jewish relatives, and later, struck out on her own in Los Angeles. She was driven to become a writer and let nothing stand in her way.

Rand eventually wrote what became a very famous novel– Atlas Shrugged— whose theme was that if intellectuals are the ones “…who make civilization possible– Why have they never recognized their own power? Why have they never challenged their torturers and expropriators? … it is the victims, the men of virtue and ability, who make the triumph of evil possible by…” being too nice to their oppressors.

Rand thought that the American government, with its anti-trust stance, was persecuting industrialists. She thought the latter deserved to enjoy every last penny of the fruits of their labor because they were the economic engine of the nation.

In rebelling against her former country’s socialist economic system under its Communist political system, Rand thought workers were becoming too powerful, and she denounced them as parasitical. She dogmatically advocated an extreme version of “survival of the fittest” or Libertarianism.

However, when government becomes an accomplice to its donors’ activities that involve excessive greed, conflicts of interest and unfair economic advantages– society becomes economically unbalanced as wealth becomes too concentrated in a tiny percentage of the population; this situation foments class resentment. For additional information on this situation, see this blog’s posts:

  • Wikinomics / Courting Justice
  • What’s the Matter With Kansas
  • Street Without A Name
  • Sons of Wichita
  • Outsider in the White House
  • Crossing the River
  • Burned Bridge, and
  • Forty Autumns.

Whittaker Chambers wrote in his negative review of Atlas Shrugged, “Miss Rand calls in a Big Brother of her own… She plumps for a technocratic elite… And in reality too, by contrast with fiction, this can only head into a dictatorship…”

Rand formulated the theory of Objectivism, whose purely capitalist-free-market-oriented, rational thinking completely rejected religion. Yet she never did explain– in her lucrative lectures to big-name, elitist, politically liberal (ironically!) American colleges, how that squared with her total rejection of godless Communism / Socialism.

Incidentally, the main character of the novel itself– whose cult of personality persuades intellectuals from all walks of life to go on strike– says, “Force and mind are opposites, morality ends where a gun begins… It is only in retaliation that force may be used and only against the man who starts its use.”

Along these lines, gun-control advocates in the United States have been too nice for too long. Except for short periods, whenever there’s been a proposal to:

  • curb the bearing of arms (not even all arms, just the most destructive ones–that are overkill for hunting or local law enforcement), or
  • enact stricter background checks on the granting of gun permits or licenses,

the opposition has repeatedly, through propaganda and money, convinced enough significantly powerful people that:

  • no stricter background checks should be done, and
  • no firearms should be banned pursuant to the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

Sources with more information include this blog’s posts:

  • A Good Fight
  • Undercover, and
  • Savage Spawn.

If America wants to return to “normal” (have pre-COVID gatherings of a large number of people in one place), it needs to put ILLEGAL-gun control at the top of the agenda.

Anyway, read the book to learn of Rand’s biographer’s relationship to Rand, a wealth of additional details on Rand and how she acquired her wealth, the romantic subplot in the soap opera of her life, and much more on her theories, writings and lectures.

Tower of Babble / The Weight of the Mustard Seed – BONUS POST

The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Tower of Babble, How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos” by Dore Gold, published in 2004.

“It is telling that the United Nations could not even reach a working definition of the very thing [“aggression”] that it had been created to prevent… [and to the book’s writing] Rather than outlawing terrorism, the United Nations was finding ways of condoning it as a legitimate form of political expression.”

This was an oversimplified, disorganized book-long rant on the United Nations’ history of handling conflicts in the hotspots of the world. It is possible the author thought that high schools might use this as a textbook, or perhaps this too-cursory volume would be a quick, easy reference tool– for newly minted UN employees, foreign correspondents or foreign service officers– to be used to acquire a little context on the places to which they would be traveling to, or assigned in the future.

The author provided summaries of the UN’s role in major international hostilities and events, such as those of the Palestinians and Israelis, India and Pakistan, North Korea and South Korea, and China and Tibet, among other countries with tribes warring within, between and among; plus the Korean War, Congo in 1961, Hungary in 1956, the Suez Canal Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Six-Day War in 1967, UN Resolution 242, the First Gulf War, the Iran-Iraq War, human rights abuses of the Kurds in the 1980’s, the Oil-For-Food Program and Kofi Annan’s various misdeeds, genocide in Rwanda, anarchy in Somalia, genocide in the Balkans, Hezbollah’s terrorist acts in Lebanon, and Hamas in connection with refugee camps in Lebanon.

Yes, this book could be a starting point. However, it takes years to get a well-rounded education in geopolitics. Readings in modern international history should include, if possible, numerous personal accounts of each of the major stakeholders in the conflicts.

In the too-long introduction (which should have been included in the book-at-large), the author argued that the United States was justified in punishing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003. He wrote, “… the UN’s failures mean that in some situations the U.S. is compelled to protect world order by itself, or within more limited coalitions outside of the UN.” For arguments against the war, see this blog’s posts:

  • From Jailer to Jailed
  • Second Chance
  • Halliburton’s Army
  • The Good Fight
  • The Greatest Story Ever Sold
  • Fire-Breathing Liberal
  • Sleeping With the Devil
  • Talking Back
  • Waiting For An Ordinary Day

and the post below.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “The Weight of the Mustard Seed, The Intimate Story of an Iraqi General and His Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny” by Wendell Steavenson, published in 2009. This slim volume contained a rambling, disorganized collection of descriptions of a patriarch and his family, his colleagues, and a “where are they now” epilogue.

The patriarch, Kamel Sachet, had a successful military career largely similar to hundreds of other Muslim Iraqi men born just after WWII– until their lives and those of their families were turned upside down or cut short by Saddam Hussein’s regime, which began in 1979.

The ruling Baath Party favored funding education and economic diversification to reduce total dependency on oil revenues, and was not averse to Western cultural influences.

Nevertheless, according to the author, with the increasing governmental crackdown on dissidents through the years, the Iraqis chose to either drown their sorrows with alcohol or become more religious. The women stopped wearing makeup, and covered up their bodies with clothing; the men prayed five times a day and memorized passages of the Koran.

Tribal or religious leaders were replaced by political (Baath) leaders. Traditionally, from the cradle to the grave, Iraqis were told what to think, how to behave, how to live. For the most part, they were not independent thinkers.

The Sachet family, which had nine children, took solace in the tenets of Islam. The head of the elementary school where the wife taught told her that she needed to be an active Baath Party member, or she would be fired. So she began to attend the mandatory weekly meetings and paid her financial dues.

The author interviewed a major in the military (a doctor, really) in the army medical corps who had met Mr. Sachet, a then-lieutenant colonel in a military prison in 1983, during the Iran-Iraq war.

The doctor was in a military prison perhaps because he was a Shia from the shrine of Kerbala. He was fortunate in that his friends in high places got him released after he signed a statement confessing to a few misdemeanors, including “… having improper relations with the nurses at Rashid hospital…” Sachet was there because he refused to join the Baath Party.

The two were both released after some months of torture and humiliation. The former was forced to witness six executions of soldiers accused of desertion. The accused each got thirty bullets to the head.

By spring 2006, there was anarchy in Iraq, as the Americans, Kurds, Sunna and Shia were loath to lead the country: “… everyone had a gun and every political leader, sheikh and neighborhood don had an army / bodyguard / militia.”

Read the book to learn of the personal stories of the victims.

Educated – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Educated, a Memoir” by Tara Westover, published in 2018.

This was an emotionally jarring autobiography of a female whose dysfunctional family members were the major influences in her life. Born in 1986 in rural Idaho, the author was the youngest of seven children. Her father– a fanatically religious Mormon– home-schooled his children, asserting that public school would brainwash them. The author’s mother taught her basic reading and math, but little else academically. Three of her older brothers rebelled, and left home as soon as they could. One of those– who had a thirst for knowledge– worked his way through college, and inspired the author to do so.

Morbid curiosity will keep the reader in suspense throughout this ghastly book that recounts a series of life-threatening injuries, traumatic and violent scenes of family strife, interspersed with anecdotes that spur the reader to cheer the author on during her journey toward self-awareness, healing and profound insights about her life and her family members. Read the book to learn all about it.

ENDNOTE: It took the above author a long, long time. Just as when someone has a lifelong dream, it isn’t usually achieved immediately. He or she is not going to change their mind about it. They’re going to pursue it relentlessly. In an ideal world, the one who prepares for it properly deserves to get it more than others. However, in the world of United States politics, an infinite number of factors complicate the process.

Cooking With Grease

The Book of the Week is “Cooking With Grease, Stirring the Pots in American Politics” by Donna Brazile, published in 2004.

The author, like any female (Barbara Boxer was another one) who has achieved prolonged success in politics while almost never compromising her principles, deserves bragging rights. On top of that, as is well known, the African American Brazile suffered additional infinite indignities due to her skin color. She recounted many of them in this book.

Born in December 1959 in New Orleans, Brazile was the third oldest of nine children. She grew up in Kenner, a neighboring small city. From there, one had to take the scenic route on more than one public bus in order to get to New Orleans.

Brazile was a bossy, precocious, entrepreneurial tomboy at an early age, but was frequently physically punished for wrongdoing as well as for ideological disagreements with her mother or grandmother. After the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in spring 1968, she attended a Baptist church service at which blacks still sat in the back pews. So Brazile’s political awakening and education started when she was eight years old.

By 1970, she was assisting a woman in her neighborhood with a voter-registration drive with respect to elections for mayor and city council. A few area residents were afraid to vote for fear of retaliatory violence. In August 1971, the author was forced to attend an integrated school in the next town over. She wrote, “Busing was one of the worst public policy decisions ever made.”

On her first day at school there in Metairie, white parents of the local students threw eggs and tomatoes at her and other blacks, and cursed them out. The school principal saw Brazile as a peacemaker and cut her some slack in small increments in order to make the best of a bad situation. She organized protests, and rebelled in various ways, such as refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

In 1984, Brazile worked seven days a week, upwards of eighteen hours a day for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. In 1988, when she worked for presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, she was forced to enlist the help of a white friend to rent an apartment in Boston.

Brazile felt that her bosses were giving insufficient attention to racial issues and thus losing the black vote. Of course, the opposing candidate would smear them if they did address taxes, crime, welfare and affirmative action. The tension was too much for her, and her mouth got her into trouble. She took heart later in her career, as “To his credit, Bill Clinton surrounded himself with African Americans, and we were always strategizing.”

George W. Bush’s presidential run started way before 2000. His camp spread lies and smears early and often. In fall 1999, when Brazile was asked to make Al Gore’s presidential campaign leaner and meaner, she used all the brains she had, and all the brains she could borrow. However, there were lots of problems. When speaking to her– unlike when it spoke to anyone else– the media focused on her skin color. By June 2000, Gore’s side felt the author had become disposable because African Americans’ votes, which the author had garnered, were pretty much assured.

The Gore team was largely comprised of highly compensated consultants who believed the conventional wisdom that spending the bulk of their limited budget on airing attack-ads just before election day was the way to go. Brazile contended that personally visiting fickle voters in swing states would be more effective.

On election day, the Bush camp pulled all sorts of dirty tricks to minimize the votes for Gore; mostly in Florida:

  • Absentee ballots were deemed disqualified because signatures weren’t “certified” even though they didn’t need be certified;
  • Ballots in the Creole language weren’t available to voters;
  • Voters were told they needed two or three (!) government-issued forms of ID in order to vote (but it’s very difficult for poor people get a driver’s license or passport, let alone both);
  • In Chicago, police targeted cab drivers for violations when the cabs were taking poor passengers to voting sites;
  • In Tallahassee, law enforcement wouldn’t let people enter a voting site;
  • Some polling places claimed to be out of ballots or claimed it was too late to vote when voters arrived shortly before the places closed;
  • Some voting venues held criminal background checks of voters, and deemed those voters supposedly ineligible to vote; and
  • of course, it was discovered that some ballots were thrown away.

Read the book to learn about a slew of triumphs, and other trials and tribulations Brazile experienced up until the book’s writing, and the kind of cuisine she and her family enjoy.

Armenian Golgotha

The Book of the Week is “Armenian Golgotha, A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1918” by Grigoris Balakian, translated by Peter Balakian with Aris Sevag, originally published in 1922. [Armenian, not American.] This large volume recounted the author’s personal experiences during the decade he became a victim of tensions that boiled over between Turks and Armenians in Turkey during and after WWI. As is well known, hatreds between peoples ebb and flow, but it was the first time in human history that one specific ethnic group sought total extermination of another.

The author pointed out that, “… the principal causes of a country’s downfall are internal dissension, violent partisan struggle, lack of religion, political crime, and economic unraveling; all these per se bring with them unbridled excesses.”

On the eve of WWI, the author of this personal account was a reverend who had gone to Germany to study. The outbreak of war prompted him to go from Berlin to Constantinople via rail and steamship (a two-week trip) to fight on behalf of his people, the Armenians. He was street-smart, and declined to go the rural Turkish diocese of Erzinjan, despite having been named to the position of locum tenens there. Another minister went in his place, and was shot and dismembered by the Ittihad Special Organization. Such atrocities were to be repeated in spades for the next several years.

Pasha Talaat, the interior minister of Turkey, had a secret service working for him, reporting all lifestyle-information on Armenians in Constantinople. He wanted to finish the job that was started in 1909– a small-scale massacre of a few tens of thousands of Armenians. The naive victims had no clue what they were in for. They believed the pervasive government propaganda that told them everything was dandy. No one wanted to believe they were in danger.

The Ittihad government in Turkey executed its unspeakable horrors methodically. It divided the Armenian population into various segments in order to commit its now-infamous genocide. Different groups in different parts of Turkey were subjected to largely similar treatment: were sent reassuring messages, disarmed, stripped of their assets, arrested, deported purportedly for their own protection (from the Russians), and were finally hacked to death by sociopathic, sadistic common Turkish people, largely with martial-arts weapons and timber and farm implements, not with firearms. The females were put through the same process, but they were raped before their deaths, except for a small number, who were forcibly converted to Islam and sent to Turkish harems instead.

The Turkish authorities began by conscripting all Armenian males between the ages of twenty and 46, sending them to the fighting at the Russian border. Then they enslaved them in road-building in the interior of Asia Minor. Unsanitary, cruel, starvation conditions resulted in many deaths. In summer 1915,the Minister of War ordered Turkish soldiers to ruthlessly slaughter the remaining survivors. There was a small resistance movement in the mountains, but it was weak. Of course, too, there were unsung heroes– German, Swiss, Austrian and Italian civil engineers working on the railroad who secretly tried to save Armenian lives.

The author was able to pull some strings through his contacts so that he escaped conscription. However, he was eventually arrested and made to travel for months in a caravan of tens of people like himself, about half of whom survived, suffering near-death experiences over and over. A few of them had been able to bring some of their wealth with them in the form of gold coins, with which they were able to bribe local officials and law enforcement.

Read the book to learn every emotionally jarring detail of the author’s story; and: the Germans’ connection to, the historical backdrop of, and about the three Turkish leaders most responsible for, the whole sordid affair; and the fates of the major figures involved.