I Should Have Honor

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The Book of the Week is “I Should Have Honor, A Memoir of Hope and Pride in Pakistan” by Khalida Brohi, published in 2018.

Pakistan’s Muslim men have a tradition of arranging marriages for their prepubertal daughters to clans they deem worthy. None of the female family members have any say in the matter.

It was through a stroke of great good luck that Grohi’s father (born in the mid-1970’s) received an education, instead of facing a fate of ignorance, poverty, goat-herding and hard manual farmwork as his siblings did. Too, the author won the “world parents lottery” in many ways. Her father refused to agree to marry her off before she was born (!) Her parents provided the same resources and opportunities to her and her sisters, as to her brothers. She attended school and was allowed to do almost anything her male counterparts were allowed to do.

The author was born in the late-1980’s, although when she began to travel internationally, her later-created identity documents were inaccurate by about a year. She became fluent in English and Brahui. During her childhood, her financially struggling, ever-growing family moved around a lot. At first, they lived in multi-generational households in rural villages and later on, upgraded to the cities of Hyderabad and Karachi.

Even so, Grohi’s mother and females in her large extended family were still enslaved in a life of domestic chores, which included feeding their farm animals and making cow-dung patties to be burned in cooking-fires. In other words, in most Pakistani Muslim households, the females were kept barefoot and pregnant.

On an even more extreme note, in the single-digit 2000’s (!) the males were allowed to physically abuse their wives (for any reason they rationalized, or none at all), and allowed to kill a female who brought shame to the family through misbehavior such as eloping. The latter situation occurs about a thousand times a year in Pakistan. Gossiping is the number one activity in rural-village communities, so everyone was under pressure to conform to the elder males’ rules.

The author realized that religion, caste or tradition had nothing to do with how such a punishment was justified. The elders were simply alpha males with hubris syndrome who were insecure, or enraged at the disobedience of their daughters. Grohi tried to change that. She founded a non-profit organization that empowered females by spurring discussions in Pakistan and internationally regarding gender equality. After much trauma, she was forced to switch to a less confrontational approach– by apologizing to the males, and convincing them:

  • that physically harming females was dishonorable;
  • that allowing female family members to work outside the home would financially help the household (and for that, they might need education), and
  • that the points above were their idea.

Read the book to learn an additional slew of information on the author’s family, and her trials, tribulations and triumphs in trying to change Pakistan’s entrenched gender-segregated, cruel culture.

The Longest Race

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The Book of the Week is “The Longest Race, Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team” by Kara Goucher with Mary Pilon, published in 2023.

Born in 1978, the author grew up in New Jersey and the Duluth, Minnesota area. Goucher became a professional runner. Like many of her fellow athletes, the author– who experienced an early childhood trauma– found at a young age that competing in footraces is cathartic.

Goucher focused on her training and reaching the finish-line first, rather than getting all worked up about the numerous stressful situations she endured in everyday living. However, she rationalized away some of the wrongs committed against her, because speaking out against them would ruin her career, her marriage, her friendships, etc.

In the United States, the way runners go professional is to convince a corporate, non-governmental sponsor to pay them to race. Goucher and her husband both signed contracts with Nike, the monster-sized corporation best known for making athletic shoes. The company provided her and her fellow runners in her working group with the best, cutting-edge scientifically and technologically advanced resources for winning races.

However, the Gouchers’ status with Nike was as independent contractors, so they had less legal recourse than that of employees with regard to any illegal goings-on in their field of work. Their coach and immediate boss was the celebrity runner Alberto Salazar. In the single-digit 2000’s, he led the “Oregon Project” which was an attempt to help Americans win races again around the world; their victories had been woefully plummeting for years.

Salazar did boost Kara’s confidence and helped her perform better than she thought she could. But, his behavior and many of his training practices were inappropriate and illegal. He and his colleagues (an alleged psychotherapist and medical doctor) wielded a lot of power over the Gouchers, who owed their careers to their sponsor. Salazar’s underlings hewed to his training methods through fear and force. “He [Salazar] got testy when called out for having a third drink. I could only guess how he would react to being called out about sexual harassment.”

As a female, Kara had to deal with Nike’s double standard of suspending her pay when she ran an insufficient number of races in a specified time period pursuant to her contract. Male runners were punished this way when they got caught in doping scandals or had injuries. She was subject to those same conditions, but she couldn’t race because she was pregnant. In connection with exploring her career options, Kara wrote, “… I found myself again and again in rooms of male executives explaining women’s running to me. There seemed to be more interest in how I would look on a poster than in how the sport could evolve.”

Fighting “City Hall” in so many different areas of life is difficult. Anyone who attempted to do so in professional running in the single-digit 2000’s would have to deal with Nike. It held a near-monopoly with overwhelming power and influence over regulators. Whistleblowers would suffer doxing and death threats.

BUT, it is an age-old truism that when more and more courageous people come forward with firsthand information about wrongdoing by an institution or a particularly powerful individual– the less the harm that will be done in the future because the collective mood of the community will shift against the wrongdoer. Eventually.

Read the book to learn lots of additional details of the Gouchers’ experiences in their professional running careers– their trials, tribulations and triumphs.

We Were the Future

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The Book of the Week is “We Were the Future, A Memoir of the Kibbutz” by Yael Neeman, published in 2016. Readers might argue that the author and her cohorts were raised in a cult– brainwashed from birth. The kibbutz movement strove for 100% socialism– the economic system in which all the people (not the State) collectively owned everything; and collectively governed themselves.

In 1947, the total population of kibbutzim as a proportion of Israel’s (Jewish) population reached a high of 7%. It waned after Israel achieved sovereignty in 1948. The first half of the 1950’s saw global historical events (the trials of: Prague [1952], the Doctors in the U.S.S.R. and the Rosenbergs in the U.S. [both 1953]) that were jarring to Jews. The kibbutz movement split over ideological disagreements, especially after Stalin died in 1953 and his crimes were revealed in 1956. Adults around the the author held zero discussions about this recent history.

Neeman was born in 1960 in Kibbutz Yehiam (founded in 1946) in Western Galilee near the border with Lebanon. Her kibbutz was a branch of Hashomer Hatzair (meaning “Young Guard”), the movement’s umbrella organization that began in 1913. Their motto was, “For Zionism, Socialism and Brotherhood Amongst Nations.” Her children’s group consisted of eight boys and eight girls, who did everything together, every day. She was raised among them by women who collectively took care of the kibbutz’s children grouped by age; she visited with her biological parents, but didn’t live with them in the same building.

The lifestyle encompassed a number of major ideas:

  • “Family and education in the rest of the industrial world were considered bourgeois institutions.”
  • “Everyone knew after all, that work [on the kibbutz] was more important than school, more important than anything.”
  • Egalitarianism for all the people was key– all decisions were made by committee.

Contradictorily:

  • There was a hierarchical division of labor– upper and lower. The former consisted of high-level positions in the fields and factories; held by the founders of the kibbutz, the (mostly Hungarian) First of May group. The latter consisted of low-skilled, dead-end jobs such as peeling potatoes.
  • The kibbutz undertook a number of enterprises through the years, including a banana “plantation” which was the most “profitable.” [these words with nuanced meanings were translated from Hebrew, but even so, these were capitalist endeavors.]

Kids whose behavior was troublesome were exiled from the kibbutz, and sent to a “special institution.” At twelve years old, all the conforming kids began to attend what amounted to boarding school, located off the kibbutz campus. They had previously received an eclectic education of hands-on instruction on a myriad of topics. Beginning in adolescence, they were allowed to shape their own education, or lack thereof.

Currently, analogous experiments are underway in American education in which adolescents are placed in front of computer screens with no teachers. Educrats and profiteers expect the software to teach them. At that age, most kids have neither the judgment nor the discipline to acquire the knowledge and skills required for becoming mature, responsible adults who can financially support themselves.

Kibbutzniks were afforded too much freedom and not enough guidance and supervision within their tiny, limited community in their early childhood. So they had a rude awakening when they were permitted (on rare occasions) to see how other kids in the rest of the world lived.

One other interesting factoid: Neeman wrote, “In our biological home, we [she and her three siblings] were already allowed to smoke on Purim when we were in the first grade.”

Read the book to learn about a boatload of other ways Neeman’s upbringing was extremely unconventional due to her fledgling homeland’s exceptionalism.

Cuba on the Verge

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The Book of the Week is “Cuba on the Verge, 12 Writers on Continuity and Change in Havana and Across the Country” edited by Leila Guerriero, published in 2017.

After Cuban leader Fidel Castro died in November 2016, there was a slight relaxation of economic restraints on the common people. Under the one-party rule of Castro’s brother Raul, Cubans could engage in entrepreneurial pursuits– serving tourists through renting out their homes or turning their cars into taxis, supervised by the government. Americans have begun doing the same in the last two decades, but through centralized corporate entities such as Airbnb and Uber.

Ironically, under Fidel’s leadership, Cuba developed a reputation for literacy and affordable, quality healthcare; during which time, America developed a reputation for deleterious (greedy!) practices in education and healthcare.

At the book’s writing, Cuba required working mothers to take paid maternity leave halfway through their eighth month; the paid leave continued for four and a half months after the births. An additional year was optional, for which mothers received sixty percent of their wages. Further, abortions were not only legal, but used as a form of contraception, with neither shame nor emotional hysteria generated by political activists, attached. On the other hand, the Cuban government spies on its people 24/7.

Cuban children are taught sex education beginning in the fifth grade. So kids are sexually precocious, as they learn from their older siblings. They are casual about relationships, so there are no hard feelings when families become fragmented, but there are many latchkey children, and males dominate.

After the Soviet Union broke up, Moscow’s government no longer funded Cuba’s economy. Beginning in the 1990’s, this “Special Period” saw severe shortages of basic consumer goods such as health and beauty aids and clothing, not to mention food. Unsurprisingly, domestic violence spiked.

People sold their jewelry at government trading posts in order to survive. They received mostly Panamanian goods in return. They adopted casual dress all the time– flip-flops, shorts, T-shirts– even where formal clothing had been worn previously, such as the theater. Counterfeit big-name goods flooded the market, sourced mostly from Miami, Panama, Madrid and China.

Yet another cultural change included males’ taking on of domestic chores and child-rearing, as more women could earn money through prostituting themselves. Socially-skilled men collected and sold coconuts from private properties, or sought out sexual relationships with visiting of out-of-town women who paid their everyday expenses.

Read the book to learn of the numerous other ways Cuba changed in the 1990’s, and ways it hasn’t– such as in its practices of numerology and witchcraft and in its love of baseball.

Warnings

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The Book of the Week is “Warnings, Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes” by Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy, published in 2017. The authors explored the concept of “sentinel intelligence” which means that certain members of humanity have a sixth sense for future dangerous occurrences. The one who issues a warning in connection therewith, is called a “Cassandra.” The Initial Occurrence Syndrome means humans find difficulty in acknowledging that an extremely improbable event could happen, simply because it has never happened before.

The authors recounted various instances in which Cassandras spoke up prior to horrible events. A few of the events they described should not count in the annals of Cassandra-warnings; wars, for instance. There are going to be needless deaths and ruined lives in any and all wars. Predicting what is going to happen when tensions are rising in the hotspots of the world is not rocket science. Those who see them are not Cassandras. People like them are basically Nostradamus. He got famous in the 1500’s for “predicting” all kinds of catastrophes that are inevitably going to happen to human beings, such as wars, pestilence and natural disasters, over the course of centuries.

Also, the authors failed to define “catastrophes” referred to in their book’s title. They might want to refine their description of Cassandra events. The difference between Nostradamus’ and Cassandra’s premonitions is in the specificity: Cassandras identify one individual and/or entities around whom or which one specialized scandal is brewing, or describe signals around which, say, a natural disaster, financial crash or pandemic is coming, within a relatively short time frame (i.e., a Jeffrey Epstein or a Chernobyl).

One good example the authors provided, was the Bernard Madoff scandal. Madoff was a specific criminal– a power broker who harmed a significant number of people in a community. The circumstances were not a general, ongoing situation like welfare fraud or insider trading.

However, the situation still all boils down to how one defines “catastrophe.” There were various Cassandras who claimed to know the different events associated with Donald Trump that have actually come to pass. If one defines his getting elected in 2016 for instance as a catastrophe because the community harmed was the entire United States, then yes, its qualifies as a Cassandra event.

Anyway, the authors explained how a Cassandra in the securities industry helped forward the women’s movement. She issued a warning before a financial crash. She garnered kudos when she turned out to be correct. At the book’s writing, though, another female Cassandra issued a warning in the field of public health. Of course, a white male made a sexist remark about her appearance in an ad hominem attack. That’s how critics seek to discredit female Cassandras.

In another of the authors’ Cassandra cases, in July 2004, the federal U.S. agency FEMA (which provides disaster assistance) and the Army Corps of Engineers held a severe-storm-drill in the New Orleans area, but didn’t take it too seriously. Insufficient funding was provided to make specific plans regarding evacuation-transportation for people who were unable or unwilling to heed the evacuation order.

Nevertheless, the Coast Guard and (federal agency) Wildlife and Fisheries did. At the end of August 2005, they were somewhat prepared when Hurricane Katrina actually hit Louisiana. But hilarity did not ensue. Many needless deaths and ruined lives did, as the aforesaid New Orleans residents couldn’t be evacuated. Of course, the exacerbated disaster aftermath was caused by honest ineptitude, profiteering and opportunism rather than malicious intent. Beforehand, there were a few Cassandras who tried to tell others that a “Katrina” was on the way.

The reason Cassandras aren’t listened to, is that they tend to be gadflies in their organizations. There are: clashing egos, jealousy, and inter-agency rivalries. Cassandras are outspoken, and their mouths get them in trouble. They begin their careers as idealists, and usually end up disillusioned, frustrated, cynical and emotionally burned out. They embarrass powerful and/or monied groups whose support they need to keep their jobs.

Read the book to learn about many more Cassandra events, and the authors’ suggestions for encouraging Cassandras to come forward (Hint: one idea is to revive the White House group from the Reagan Era that evaluated foreign policy threats– but expand it, to take other kinds of disaster-preparedness measures).

one THOUSAND wells (sic)

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The Book of the Week is “one THOUSAND wells (sic), How an Audacious Goal Taught Me to Love the World Instead of Save It” by Jena Lee Nardella, published in 2015.

Born in the early 1980’s, the American author– raised in a strict Christian household– became an idealist, passionate about helping the downtrodden. By her teens, she was volunteering at a Colorado Springs homeless shelter. She worked at an orphanage in Tijuana. In college, she got to meet and work with the Christian music-band, Jars of Clay.

Together with other groups over the course of a decade, the do-gooders who formed a humanitarian organization in 2005 called Blood: Water Mission, would bring uncontaminated blood (for medical purposes) and water (for basic drinking and cleaning) to various underprivileged communities in Kenya, Rwanda, Central African Republic, Uganda, and other African countries. They would help them with the three major components of improving Africans’ health: clean water, hygiene and sanitation.

One of the first of many, many things the author learned in her quest to save lives, was that most Americans’ first impulse is to throw money at a complex problem to solve it. They mean well, but their white-savior-complex is a wrong-headed approach. As she gained experience in providing international aid to poverty-stricken, poorly-educated rural communities, the author saw how villagers were initially skeptical about aid workers’ promises; in the past, so many aid workers had failed to follow up or do anything.

The author’s group eventually elicited a grateful, cooperative response because an educator involved the villagers in raising their own standards of living. A few different aid groups who handled various aspects of a water project, did what they said they would do.

If their projects succeeded, women and children (before school– if they were lucky enough to attend) wouldn’t have to spend hours every day trekking on foot to a water-well or river (which might be used by hundreds of households, and was usually polluted with germs and who knows what else) located many kilometers from their living areas. Blood: Water completed one specific project in Rwanda that allowed eighteen hundred villagers to partake of clean water. Such a basic victory produced a great ripple effect in the community. School attendance soared because:

  • kids were neither fatigued by water-fetching nor plagued by water-borne illnesses (and all the people by other illnesses, for that matter) anymore;
  • villagers were neither sickened by, nor dying from the water they used; and
  • villagers had more time on their hands.

However, the author had rude awakenings on various fronts– a water project that failed, fund-raising struggles, and an episode of corruption by a local male aid-coordinator. She was also forced to do some soul-searching on her religious beliefs. She finally had to accept that it is better to have unanswered questions than unquestioned answers.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details about all of the above.

Settle For More

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The Book of the Week is “Settle For More” by Megyn Kelly, published in 2016.

Born in November 1970, Kelly was raised Catholic in the suburbs of Syracuse and Albany in New York State. She conveyed a few simple principles on life. One is, “The only place ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ is in the dictionary.”

The late, great college basketball coach John Wooden said one should be worried about one’s character, not one’s reputation. The true test of one’s character is: how you treat people who can do nothing for you. Like so many others, Kelly got caught up in worrying about her reputation when Trump and his followers smeared and lied about her.

Anyway, Kelly wrote that there occurred an egregious breach of journalistic ethics during 2016, leading up to election day. It was this: some idiot-box interviewers of Donald Trump told him prior to airtime, the critical things they would be saying about him, so they would appear to be “fair and balanced” in their reporting. Trump knew to behave himself and didn’t react with hostility to those questions or comments. Scripting and rehearsals are the new unethical normal in “journalism” nowadays.

Unsurprisingly, Kelly was the victim of a misogynistic Tweet by Trump. He knew this Tweet would become the subject of a 2015 post-debate news story, rather than her debate questions and his non-answers. He is, after all, the master manipulator of distracting messaging. His distractions are analogous to the scene shown during the closing credits of the movie Animal House: While a parade is passing through the college town, a frat boy says to a guy, “Look at my thumb.” The guy does and the frat boy sucker-punches him and says, “Gee, you’re dumb!” the same way Trump makes outrageously offensive comments for shock value, and then watches the fireworks.

In 2016, Kelly was forced to confront an ethical dilemma in connection with sexual harassment in her workplace– Fox News. Having succeeded in two male-dominated fields, she advised her female readers to get some advice on how they sound, and the clothing and makeup they wear so that they will be taken seriously by their male coworkers and bosses.

That said, it is unclear whether Kelly had the authority to choose the photo (in which she is wearing skimpy clothing) appearing on the front cover of the hardcover version of her book. The question is, would a male TV-news-show host wear a sexy shirt in the cover-photo of his book? Resounding no.

Kelly’s choice in that photo could have been an act of rebellion, or an act of naivete and poor self-awareness, on her part. With it, she hurt her cause of telling female readers to behave in ways that even the playing field with their male counterparts. If Kelly couldn’t control the photo on the cover, one might suspect her publisher was engaging in political retaliation.

Nevertheless, read the book to learn about how Kelly became super-successful as an attorney and as a TV “news” anchor, and how she was also able to have a family life in her time and place in the United States, despite the fact that her society gives males advantages over females.