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.

Whistles From the Graveyard

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The Book of the Week is “Whistles From the Graveyard, My Time Behind the Camera on War, Rage, and Restless Youth in Afghanistan” by Miles Lagoze, published in 2023.

In 2009, the author joined the Combat Camera division of the U.S. Marines in the war in Afghanistan. Very few people will recall now, that in 2003 the George W. Bush administration aired an ABC-TV reality show (that was soon cancelled due to poor ratings) of his version of that war.

It seems U.S. presidents after Nixon have accepted the fact that they are in a fish bowl, so they have made legacy-oriented practices a point of pride, maximizing propaganda on projects for which they have wanted to be remembered, mostly through their privately-funded presidential libraries.

The most unethical presidents have kept materials to themselves, to be discovered after their deaths as a way to prove they were not just leaders of the free world– but king of the world (Nixon, George W. Bush, Trump).

After the Nixon tapes, the following wanted to be best known for:

  • Ford: the celebration of the United States’ bicentennial;
  • Carter: Camp David Accords– a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt;
  • Reagan: his bringing about the fall of the former Soviet Union (all by himself (!); never mind the heavy dose of his wilful ignorance and plausible denial of the CIA’s international adventures);
  • George H.W. Bush: America’s glory in winning the First Gulf War;
  • Bill Clinton: resuming the dialogue on national healthcare in a big way, and (the lies of) his administration’s giving rise to almost a decade of peace (except for a few terrorist attacks) and prosperity (including balancing the national budget);
  • George W. Bush: (the complete and utter nonsense of) his administration’s bringing democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq (good luck with accessing those classified documents);
  • Obama: pushing through national healthcare and getting rid of Osama Bin Laden (even he hired a videographer in order to make his entire administration a reality show, but king of the world? His political enemies accused him of going on an “around the world apology tour”);
  • Trump: building a wall (?) protecting the nation from a pandemic (?) However, he kept classified documents, and grabbed as much money and power as possible during his time in office, just in case a court rules that executive privilege would protect his every move only during his time in office.

Anyway, according to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, and a Bibliography), the author wrote that medical discharge from the U.S. military confers enormous monthly payments (compliments of American taxpayers) for the rest of one’s life. Some of the young men who volunteered to go to war, changed their minds about fighting, and wished injuries upon themselves in order to get medically discharged. Not the author.

Even so, the author was reluctant to use his gun during the few times when he was told to. Most of the time, he was a camera operator of footage containing frat-boy shenanigans; some of it cold-hearted, sadistic, disgusting, and always insane (mutilated bodies, cruelty to animals, etc.).

After he came home upon completing his four-year military contract, he and a friend decided to make a video of the war, which he posted on YouTube. He described his role as “The souvenir aspect of war tourism for the young and depraved of American society.”

Read the book to learn more about the author’s experiences, and how he and his military buddies fared after they came home.

The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty

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The Book of the Week is “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, How We Lie to Everyone– Especially Ourselves” by Dan Ariely, published in 2012.

The author presented one way human beings think about ethical behavior in a given situation: the Simple Model of Rational Crime (SMORC). It says someone would do a cost / benefit analysis in order to decide, for instance, whether to park illegally because they’re late for a meeting. Of course, a major factor in their decision-making includes how likely they are to get caught, and if they are caught, how willing they would be to bear the consequences.

The author wrote that SMORC doesn’t take emotion and trust into account, so most people wouldn’t engage in that kind of moral reasoning. With only reciprocity as the sole consideration, an individual using SMORC would require contracts for almost every ethical dilemma. He would spend most of his life in legal battles and litigation; like, Howard Hughes, Ted Turner, and Donald Trump.

Although the author failed to distinguish between guilt and shame, he cited numerous behavioral-economics studies he and other professors conducted (on mostly American subjects) to learn the causes of dishonest behavior, and ways it can be curbed.

The author realized that in a matter of weeks, even he was getting brainwashed by the propaganda of his bosses, because he was receiving generous compensation for serving as an expert witness.

Two ways to reduce cheating included:

  • Having people read or sign an honor-code document (such as the Ten Commandments, or an agreement not to cheat on an exam, or a set of rules, which, if broken, would give them an unfair advantage) before completing a particular task, taking a test, or competing.
  • Having people put their signature at the top of a document, and then fill in the info (such as on an application or tax return), rather than fill in the info and then sign at the bottom.

Read the book to learn of additional ways society can spread more ethical behavior (yes, it can be contagious!) so as to stave off the collapse of modern civilization just a little longer.

the (sic) Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl

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The Book of the Week is “the [sic] Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl, How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis” by Arthur Allen, published in 2014. This disorganized story presented horribly confusing time frames, alternating between scenes of the main characters, with a large amount of historical context thrown in– which made the book’s title misleading, besides. But it provided information on a lesser-known aspect of WWII: the evolution of the typhus vaccine that saved countless lives.

Anyway, in 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire drafted the two doctors described in the story, as medics for the Kaiser’s army. Dr. Rudolf Weigl was born in 1883 in what is currently Czech Republic. Dr. Ludwik Fleck was born in 1896, and was Czech, Austrian and Polish. They both lived in the city of Lviv (aka Lwow or Lemberg) for a significant period in their lives. Weigl studied typhus there at the Polish National Health Institute of Hygiene (PZH).

Fleck opined that the contradictory medical journals of the 1930’s weren’t particularly useful, so doctors needed to use their personal smarts when diagnosing patients. Patients could be carriers of an illness, but not have symptoms themselves. For decades, Weigl was experimenting nonstop by breeding body lice (rather than head lice) as the spreaders of typhus– that fed on human blood. The guts of those lice were then injected with typhus-contaminated blood solution. He developed a vaccine that worked better than the competition’s.

Later on, during WWII, the German military ordered Weigl to refine the vaccine (because different strains of typhus appeared) to protect its soldiers. Fleck’s immediate boss was a spy for the SS (Security Service) who ordered him to do medical research that minimized the possibility that Aryans would contract a disease such as typhus, in the name of creating a master race. His ultimate boss was Heinrich Himmler.

Beginning in autumn 1939, new Soviet bosses imposed their will on Fleck and Weigl. Fleck previously had a private medical lab, but he was named head of the microbiology department of the new Ukrainian Medical Institute, led Lviv’s Sanitation and Bacteriological Laboratory, and conducted research at the new Mother and Child Hospital.

Weigl received and took the savvy advice that he should avoid joining the Communist Party, because inevitably, eventually, Stalin would turn against him and he would be thrown in the gulag, or worse. He also heeded the warning that he should engage in corruption only insofar as it helped him survive. Excessive corruption would get him in trouble. Different armies took over certain territories in Eastern Europe during the war years.

Beginning in summer 1941, fearing for his and his family’s life, Weigl cooperated with the Nazis rather than the SS and local German leaders in Lviv. His reasoning for insisting on keeping his private lab was that, if the Nazis killed him, he’d be viewed as a martyr. He let a German VIP help him supervise the research, though. He saved hundreds to thousands of lives of Jews of Polish origin. Their false identity papers allowed them to be hired as medical guinea pigs by having body lice feed on their blood.

Starting in the early 1940’s, the Nazis needed medical doctors who happened to be Jewish, so they spared them, but they compelled them to commit atrocities doing research. During wartime typhus epidemics, deaths of Polish and Soviet Jews were significantly higher than those of people of other ethnicities due to anti-Semitism. For, the Nazis ordered medical doctors to refrain from treating Jews in their quarantined ghettos. The SS needed the Jews’ slave labor in factories to further the war effort, so the Jews weren’t confined to the ghettos. They therefore spread typhus, anyway.

Through the years, the constantly-improved vaccines developed by Weigl were used (and spread far and wide in black markets) in Ethiopia, Manchuria, North Africa, and Eastern Europe. Britain, however, decided to take steps to kill the lice rather than muck about with a typhus vaccine.

Read the book to learn how American soldiers fared during times of typhus epidemics; plus much more about vaccines other than Weigl’s, about the Soviets on the Eastern Front, the history of Buchenwald, the adventures of Fleck and his family at Auschwitz, the fates of the people associated with different vaccines, and other ways various peoples combated typhus.

Shanghai Acrobat

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The Book of the Week is “Shanghai Acrobat, The True Story of Courage and Perseverance from Revolutionary China” by Jingjing Xue, translated by Bo Ai, published in 2021.

Born in 1947 in Zhejiang Province in China, the author was sent to live at an orphanage when he was two years old. He never did find out exactly why, as his biological parents were alive. Anyway, the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe recruited him when he was nine years old. Other members of the group were as old as fourteen. He happened to possess the right temperament to endure its rigorous training (that included corporal punishment) and get good at balancing on his hands in various precarious positions.

There were daily academic lessons, too, and a lot of political ideology thrown in. The instructors constantly emphasized the teachings of Mao Tse Tung, and bragged about what a prosperous, wonderful country they lived in. Mao took the calculated risk of allowing performers and athletes to travel outside China where they might learn about other peoples’ lifestyles and defect– so that he could show off his own people’s greatness.

By the late 1950’s, the author was traveling and performing with the Troupe. In 1960, they went to cities controlled by the Soviets, and ironically, to African countries (such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Guinea and Morocco) whose native peoples were starting to throw off their colonialist yokes.

In the early 1960s, owing a ginormous monetary debt to the Soviets and not wanting to pay it, China decided the Soviets were wrong to stomp on the memory of the great leader Stalin (who had died in 1953 and whose crimes were revealed a few years later); Mao theatrically broke off diplomatic relations with the Soviets.

In 1967, Mao capriciously imposed his new twisted logic (a different set of ideas from that of his previous campaign)– the belief that the lowest economic class (the workers, the peasant-tenants) needed to fight the higher economic classes (the bosses and landlords)– because capitalistic activities were anathema. There were a few occasions in which the author was yelled at for saying the wrong things to some non-Chinese people, even though he thought his comments would jive with Mao’s teachings.

As part of the new campaign (called the Cultural Revolution, begun in 1965) to rid China of the dissidents of the moment– performing acrobatics was out of fashion. The radicals loyal to Mao policed the Troupe, finally disbanded it, and psychologically and physically tortured the director in public self-criticism meetings. The author’s acrobatic career was (temporarily, though he didn’t know it at the time) over. He was sent to the countryside for “reeducation.”

With 20/20 hindsight, the author wrote, “To those of us who had been through the Cultural Revolution, the Watergate political scandal was nothing. We couldn’t understand how the American people could force Nixon to resign for ‘peanuts.’ ” It is unclear what kind of propaganda the author and his contemporaries were fed to come to that conclusion.

For, they might have known nothing of Nixon’s real war crimes. But even if Nixon had been innocent of war crimes, he and his underlings still committed election crimes, and worst of all, violated his numerous enemies’ civil rights– evil actions that were considered against the law in the United States. The last fifty years have seen a bit more moderation in China’s political leadership. And radicalism in the United States.

Human nature is such that there has been some convergence (!) between China’s and the United States’ ideologies in:

  • surveillance of citizens
  • incarceration of citizens
  • economics
  • education, and
  • other areas of life.

It’s all in the propaganda fed to the people.

Read the book to learn much more about the author’s life and times, and his fate.

The Preacher and the Presidents

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The Book of the Week is “The Preacher and the Presidents, Billy Graham in the White House” by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, published in 2007.

Billy Graham was one of the most famous Christian preachers in the world from the middle of the twentieth century, into the single-digit 2000’s. He was a religious version of Rush Limbaugh. Although he was raised as a Presbyterian, in 1939 he earned his Baptist-minister certificate from the Florida Bible Institute. By 1949, he had become president of a Bible College, and he had founded a radio station. He spouted propaganda on various political issues through the years, but claimed he was nonpartisan, and claimed he wasn’t aware of the implications of his speechifying.

Graham got friendly with as many powerful, influential people as he possibly could, including American presidents from Truman through Dubya. He rubbed shoulders with publishing magnates Henry Luce and William Randolph Hearst. His philosophy was, believe the Bible or leave the ministry. He was a true, literal believer. Graham told worshipers in Los Angeles that the Soviets were planning to attack the U.S. with nuclear weapons because they were sinners. Yet, he preached love rather than fire and brimstone.

In January 1952, Graham held a religious rally– er, uh, revival in Washington, D.C. He invited president Truman, who didn’t like him because he was a grand-stander. About eleven thousand people attended. “To keep his finances transparent, he [Graham] insisted that crusade accounts be audited and published in the local papers when the crusade was finished.” (Apparently, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker didn’t get that memo with regard to their ministry.)

Graham continued to identify himself as a staunch desegregationist. He delivered sermons to that effect in president Eisenhower’s second term, after racial incidents. A common situation cropped up when Graham courageously took a stand on controversial issues. People on each extreme side of the political spectrum complained he was doing too much for their opponents, or not enough for them.

But Graham was still ever-popular through the 1950’s. In 1957, about two million people attended his 97-day crusade (which was publicized via prayer chains in fifty different countries, leaflets, mailings and bumper stickers) at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He strove for quality over quantity in holding only a few crusades a year, but Martin Luther King, Jr. was constantly on the move for the Civil Rights Movement, spreading himself and his resources too thinly.

Graham prayed at president-elect Nixon’s 1969 inauguration. A few days later, he spoke at the National Prayer breakfast, and presided over a church service at the White House; all these events jammed into a few days to provide efficiency for Secret-Service security. “Whatever else they were, the [religious] services were a great opportunity for arm-twisting, fund-raising, loyalty-testing. [both for Nixon and Graham].”

Also in early 1969, the government was drafting young men working full-time for (college) Campus Crusade for Christ (Graham’s organization) to fight in Vietnam. Graham pulled strings so they would be treated like ordained ministers and evade conscription. However, in late April 1970, Nixon said that it was up to the United States to save the world, be its police officer, lest free nations were threatened with dictatorship and anarchy. Never mind that America had been an aggressor for two decades in so many little global wars, replacing one dictator with another, and had been bombing Cambodia for the year prior(!)

Also in 1970, the president held a July 4th event called Honor America Day in Washington, D.C., to help ordinary Americans calm down. It featured interfaith speakers and celebrity singers, and attendees from all walks of life. Nixon himself, however, didn’t personally attend. He was at his San Clemente property. Later, the media revealed that the event had been a nepotistic donor-fest presented by J.W. Marriott and Nixon’s brother, Donald. Once again, there is nothing new under the sun.

A dress rehearsal for the Patriot Act was proposed in the summer of 1970. It was called the Huston plan. It would have legalized a bonanza of spying in America, like there is currently. Through that plan, Nixon wanted to get rid of influential antiwar troublemakers, but FBI head J. Edgar Hoover opposed it. Even so, as is well known, the Nixon administration committed countless evil acts in order to “… stop leaks, track down traitors, punish enemies, and ensure domestic tranquility.”

In mid-October, 1971, Charlotte, NC enjoyed a holiday named “Billy Graham Day” with a parade and school and government closures. Nixon and Graham rode together in the motorcade. The Secret Service barred anyone who appeared to be a demonstrator, from entering the Coliseum — the venue of a political rally– er, uh, a speaking event. In early 1972, the White House perceived that Jews dominated the American media, so they attacked certain of its members.

As is well known, in the past century, separation of Church and State has waxed and waned in this country. But the main reason for the separation is that civil law must trump religious law, as this nation’s diverse people have diverse religious beliefs. Graham always used the technique of “whataboutism” whenever people pointed out Nixon’s high crimes and misdemeanors, using the cliched excuse: He who is without sin, cast the first stone.

In the mid-1980’s, for the 1988 presidential race for George H.W. Bush, an evangelical political-consultant prepared a 57-page briefing book for wooing devout Christian voters– identifying their demographics, denominations, leadership and beliefs; providing a glossary (with such entries as, “born again”) and recounting how Reagan had wooed them.

Read the book to learn numerous other factoids on Graham’s life, career and political impact.