The Book of the Week is “A Sea In Flames, The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout” by Carl Safina, published in 2011. This is a description of the disaster that spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico starting in late April 2010.
British Petroleum (BP)– the oil company– was the major party responsible for killing eleven workers and causing ongoing long-term emotional trauma and major financial hardships for thousands of people. BP’s poor safety record, and favoring money over human beings made it more of a scapegoat than the other parties involved– Halliburton, Transocean and other subcontractors that were providing equipment and services for deep exploratory drilling.
The accident’s aftermath was a cluster screw-up. Both plugging the oil leak and cleaning up the oil were uncharted territory, literally and figuratively. Previously, greedy politicians had been loath to regulate the oil industry because they needed the industry’s campaign contributions to win elections.
A month after the disaster, President Obama prohibited deep sea drilling for six more months. Even so, in June 2010, a federal judge nixed such legislation for economic reasons. It was clear that the government continued to woo the oil companies, at the expense of the victims. That judge cared more about the nation’s fiscal health than about people’s health and the environment.
The victims include not just humans, but civilization as a whole. This blogger contends that it does not matter that the victims are voters. They are easily psychologically manipulated. The oil mess has incalculable, ambiguous biological and environmental consequences. However, hard economic numbers win elections because money is more important to voters, too. Voters will readily believe a storm of economic misinformation, including the incorrect notion that clean fuels cost more than fossil fuels. Electoral mudslinging that asserts that the opposing candidate allowed serious health problems and scary ecological goings-on to occur, to which oil contamination might or might be attributable, do not win elections.
This is just one more depressing piece of writing that reminds us that we are all destroying our earth.
The Book of the Week is “To the Heart of the Nile” by Pat Shipman, published in 2004. In the 1840’s, when a little girl, later named Florence, was orphaned by revolution in the land that is now Hungary, she was sent to live in a harem.
By a strange twist of fate, Florence, with an Englishman, Sam, (with a retinue of servants) ended up going on expeditions in what is now Egypt and the Sudan to find the sources of the Nile, and stop the slave trade. They “made detailed observations on the climate, the terrain, the people, the animals and the plants,” all the while braving disease, near-starvation and tribal warfare. That last life-threatening condition required delicate negotiations with a tribal chief.
On one occasion, Sam gamed the situation correctly. He boldly “ordered his headman to raise the Union Jack… Sam asked these delegates [officials of the enemy tribes] how they dared to invade a country [the Sudan] under the protection of the British flag.” They obeyed his order to evacuate the area. The tribal chief who was allied with Sam “was awestruck by the power of Sam’s magical flag and… rewarded Sam with huge quantities of [smuggled] ivory.”
Sam refused to accept the ivory, as he was disinclined to tarnish his reputation with criminal and morally reprehensible pursuits. He was more interested in exploration and annexing the Sudan for the United Kingdom.
Read the book to the learn the outcomes of Sam’s and Florence’s adventures.
The Book of the Week is “Savage City” by T.J. English, published in 2011. This book highlights particular incidents in the lives of three people– two black men and a white police officer– in New York City between 1963 and 1973. All three– George Whitmore, Dhoruba al-Mujahid Bin Wahad, and Bill Phillips– experienced the city’s criminal justice system for prolonged periods, subject to the whims of cultural and political forces.
The author describes the era as one of racism, violence, corruption and injustice. He discusses the activist political group, The Black Panthers, formed in 1967, at length. The white Irish Catholic forces of the law charged the African American group with conspiracy after several ugly incidents.
Another group, the BLA (Black Liberation Army), formed in 1971, was involved in more of same. “It was a bitter harvest of BLA shootings, bombings, and threats against the police…” Autumn 1971 saw the aforementioned Bill Phillips of the NYPD (New York Police Department) turn informant to expose the rampant corruption in his organization.
Read this set of sordid anecdotes to learn the details of the moral bankruptcy and negative traits of human nature that pervaded the aforementioned decade.
The Book of the Week is “The Birthday Party” by Stanley N. Alpert, published in 2008. This is the personal account of one man’s harrowing experience of being kidnapped off the streets of New York City by a group of dangerous criminals at their whim. On his birthday.
Alpert’s nerdy personality made him an easy target. Ironically, however, he had the street smarts that allowed him to maximize his chances of survival. Read the book to learn how this suspenseful, emotional cautionary tale played out.
The Book of the Week is “Among the Thugs” by Bill Buford, published in 1992. The author describes how the herd mentality in humans can start a riot.
Buford provides the example of European football supporters (who would be called soccer fans in the United States). Most of them work at blue-collar jobs during the week, and on the weekend– attend a pro football game at the stadium. Prior to and during the game, they drink a vast quantity of alcohol. The situation often turns violent after the game. Most people do not conceive of themselves as susceptible to the herd mentality– it is those hot-tempered people who cause all the trouble.
Read the book to see how people who are usually rational can get emotionally pulled into exhibiting extreme behavior, becoming a danger to themselves and others.
The Book of the Week is “Tokyo Vice, An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan” by Jake Adelstein, published in 2010. This is a memoir about an American who went to work for a major newspaper in Tokyo in the 1990’s, and ended up investigating one of Japan’s major organized crime groups, the Yakuza.
Attaining fluency in Japanese was a major hurdle for him, but he managed. He discusses in detail how he survived his training, and the Japanese journalist culture. This includes personally visiting the home of the local police chief, and bringing ice cream for his kids. That is how Adelstein was able to report crime news before the competition. Unfortunately, he was a bit too passionate about rooting out corruption. For, he put himself and his family in danger. Read the book to learn their fate.
The Book of the Week is “Coronary, A True Story of Medicine Gone Awry” by Stephen Klaidman, published in 2007. This book recounts what happens when people are afflicted by certain aspects of human nature: greed, power-hunger and fear. It is a sensational story, the kind even tabloids could not fabricate.
In the 1990’s and single-digit 2000’s, there was a cardiac surgeon, one Dr. Moon, who exhibited the first two aspects in spades– instilling dire panic in impressionable patients, telling them that their clogged arteries could kill them at any second, and therefore, they had to be scheduled for triple or quadruple bypass surgery within the week. Those patients underwent the rigorous, dangerous, and worst of all– in the vast majority of cases– unnecessary procedure, taking weeks to recover, getting saddled with medical bills.
Dr. Moon loved the control he had over people, and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. His reputation was sterling, due to word-of-mouth and great public relations (people truly believed he saved their lives). The hospital where he committed his medical malpractice was one owned by the then-disreputable holding company, National Medical Enterprises (which later changed its name to Tenet Healthcare).
Wait, there’s more! There were other greedy parties involved in the story. Three people saw what was really happening, and found a way to capitalize on the situation. They brought a Qui Tam lawsuit against the doctor and his accomplices. This means they accused him of bilking Medicaid and Medicare out of big bucks by billing the federal government for unnecessary surgeries. They were expecting to reap a large reward for reporting the errant doctor.
Read the book to learn the sordid details and outcome of this extreme saga.
The Book of the Week is “The Deserter’s Tale” by Joshua Key and Lawrence Hill, published in 2007. This is the intense story of Joshua Key, who was assigned to an outfit of the U.S. Army that he claims committed war crimes in Iraq.
Finding himself in a financially desperate situation with a growing family, Key decided to join the army. A promise was made to him that he would stay stateside. Instead, after training, he was sent to Iraq early on in the Second Gulf War. When posted in Ramadi, his unit was ordered to raid homes of civilians to search for contraband, weapons and signs of terrorists or terrorist activity, but never found any. He writes that all Iraqi males five feet or taller, regardless of age, were detained by his fellow soldiers. He was never told by his commanding officer where they were taken or what happened to them. The females were terrorized by the unnecessarily rough treatment of the males at the hands of the American soldiers. Not only did the soldiers use scare tactics, but they arbitrarily looted and then trashed the civilians’ residences.
Key says he participated in the attacks, but did the minimal damage he could, while still obeying orders. He writes, “My own moral judgement was disintegrating under the pressure of being a soldier, feeling vulnerable, and having no clear enemy to kill in Iraq. We were encouraged to beat up on the enemy… Because we were fearful, sleep-deprived, and jacked up on caffeine, adrenaline, and testosterone, and because our officers constantly reminded us that all Iraqis were our enemies, civilians included, it was tempting to steal, no big deal to punch, and easy to kill… I witnessed numerous incidents of needless brutality and murders of civilians.”
Read the book to learn what transpired when the situation became intolerable for Key.
The Book of the Week is “Catch Me If You Can” by Frank Abagnale, published in 2000. This is the memoir of a guy who enjoyed the challenge of committing white collar crime.
He executed his first exploit as a teenager, using his father’s credit card to gain an extra gift from a promotion at various gas stations. Later, he described how much trouble he went through just to forge checks. He had a tremendous ability to outsmart the authorities, but eventually he was caught, and thrown into isolation in a French prison. Needless to say, this was not exactly a fun experience for him. French justice was not kind to him. He described the extremely harsh physical and psychological conditions. Read the book to learn how his prison time and other experiences caused him to take a new life direction.
The Book of the Week is “Birthright: Murder, Greed and Power in the U-Haul Family Dynasty” by Ronald J. Watkins, published in 1993. This is a cautionary tale about an American public corporation whose founder failed to take steps to secure control of his company. L.S. Shoen “lacked the heart to dilute the shares of his oldest children. If he had issued himself more shares, he could have guaranteed he would always have control or if he had modified the rules, only a supermajority of shareholders could have ousted him.”
The company’s stock situation aside, the story began after WWII, when Shoen started his truck rental business. The business proved successful until his children attained adulthood, at which time, he favored two of his sons, who drained the company’s resources on their expensive hobbies. This bad situation led to a legal dispute among family members over company ownership, that resulted in murder. The newspapers mockingly reported the court battles as a family fight among “the idle rich”, as the majority shareholders were publicly viewed as heirs to the family fortune.
One of the sons was suspected of perpetrating the said murder. This is an extreme story, because even when American family members are fighting over company ownership, they rarely stoop so low as to terrorize the rival camp by killing someone.