The Long Game

The Book of the Week is “The Long Game” by (Senator) Mitch McConnell, published in 2016. This is the autobiography of a Republeral (Republican Liberal).

Born in 1942 in Alabama, McConnell survived polio when he was a toddler, thanks to his mother’s endless patience in treating him with prescribed exercises. His father fought in WWII. He spent his later formative years in Georgia and Kentucky.

Although he acquired a law degree, McConnell disliked practicing law. Aspiring to a political career,  he had already been elected to leadership positions in high school and college. In 1997 in Louisville, Kentucky, when he ran for a Jefferson County judgeship, he promised to eliminate corruption and patronage among the Democrats.

Instead of elaborating on whether he actually fulfilled those promises, the author admitted that he glad-handed every voter in Kentucky in order to prepare to run for a higher elected office– Republican U.S. Senator. This book had zero about what he did in his two terms as a judge.

In 1984, during McConnell’s Senate race, he hired Roger Ailes, who produced ads that humorously cast aspersions on his opponent. When the opponent ran radio ads, he responded in kind with equal air time. Money was no object. His miraculous comeback resulted in a victory by 5,100 votes– 1 vote per district. The recount took two weeks.

McConnell’s stances on numerous issues were incongruous with his party (Republican). He took a Liberal stance when he voted in favor of economic sanctions against South Africa and in favor of free speech issues, even when it came to flag-burning.

McConnell opposed campaign finance reform, but offered an invalid argument against it. He reasoned that the (illusory) Liberal media bias was so strong that limiting “soft” money political donations would limit a candidate’s ability to purchase equal media time for issue ads appearing in a liberal media outlet. However, soft money donations are fungible— not always spent on ads.

The author’s second wife was a Chinese overachiever. In the summer of 2000, she delivered a speech about her experience as an immigrant, and agreed with “… [George W.] Bush’s belief that immigration is not a problem to be solved, but a sign of the continuing appeal of the American dream.” This viewpoint is not usually held by Republicans.

McConnell could not have been clearer about his hero-worship for George W. Bush. One line went, “I think George W. Bush was an outstanding wartime president.” To push the point, the author made outrageously, ridiculously dishonest statements about the war the president started in Iraq; two included: “Morale was very high– among both our troops and the citizens of Iraq.” and “There was simply no question that on the military and tactical levels, the [General David] Petraeus plan had been a tremendous success…” According to most Americans and even government officials, the war actually turned out to be another Vietnam.

Senator McConnell could not get enough of George W. Bush’s Republican Conservative cronyism. He resoundingly voted yea for the president’s alleged deficit reduction bill that imposed austerity on Medicaid, Medicare and farm subsidies, an energy bill, and legislation relating to the Alternative Minimum Tax. The senator wrote that when the economy crashed in 2008, prompting bailouts for only the financial institutions with friends in the Treasury Department– “We had saved the economy from complete peril (and in fact the money given away through TARP has since been repaid with interest).” Was the money a loan or was it given away?

Yet one more head-shaker in McConnell’s book mentioned how, in 2008, when the nation chose Obama as its next president, the author was thrilled that it had elected an African American. Yet he also characterized the new leader as a great speaker, but a poor negotiator, condescending, and a critical lecturer in meetings. Vice President Joe Biden, on the other hand, was honest in expressing his side’s goals and was willing to compromise without offending his counterpart.

The legislation that eventually became Obamacare needed to contain a vast quantity of “pork” or else the Democrats couldn’t have gotten even a sufficient number of their own Congress members to vote for it. Further, McConnell complained bitterly that in 2014, Harry Reid had changed the rules of the Senate to favor the Democrats. In the mid-1990’s, Republicans owned Congress and treated it as their personal fiefdom. Excuse the cliche, but “Turnabout is fair play.”

Read the book to learn of McConnell’s scholarship program at the University of Louisville, and how he finally reached the peak of his career (with the help of two traits– patience and perseverance), despite other crazy contradictions in his words and actions.

Johnny Carson

The Book of the Week is “Johnny Carson” by Henry Bushkin, published in 2013. This is a biography of the most popular late-night TV talk-show host of the 1970’s and 1980’s, as seen through the eyes of his attorney and closest non-spouse confidant in those decades.

Carson might have been a natural at stand-up comedy and interviewing celebrities, but his personal life was always a shambles. His psychological troubles began in his childhood. Both of his parents were emotionally distant, but his mother was a particularly detestable creature. Her treatment of her son gave rise to lifelong self-destructive behavior patterns in him, such as excessive drinking, smoking, and Jekyll-and-Hyde episodes.

A man typical of his generation, Carson believed all of the female stereotypes, and his confirmation bias inevitably led him to meet and marry three gold-digging, emotional women, and pay them big bucks upon divorcing them. He died before divorcing the fourth wife.

During his marriages, he was continually paying for his infidelity by showering his aggrieved partners with expensive gifts. Once he became a member of the super-rich set, he behaved like many of them, sparing no expenses on residences, vehicles and clothing, and throwing money at problems to make them go away.

Up until the 1970’s, prior to acquiring excessive wealth, however, Carson was getting swindled by all of the business professionals he had hired. He had naively chosen to associate with untrustworthy individuals. Upon meeting Carson, the author– who had barely started his career but had savvy legal bosses–  sorted out his financial dealings. He re-negotiated various legal situations to not only stem the bleeding, but maximize earnings for his new boss.

Read the book to learn much more about the impact Bushkin had on Carson’s life, and vice versa.

Appetite for Self-Destruction

The Book of the Week is “Appetite for Self-Destruction, The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age” by Steve Knopper, published in 2009. This is an account of how the American music industry, for the most part, reacted badly to the jarring changes wrought by technological advances starting in the late 1970’s.

For decades prior to the 1970’s, the music market in the United States had had a shady reputation– involving drugs, kickbacks, bribes and cronyism, among other vices.

Even after CDs proved to provide sound that was superior to plastic records, entities in the music industry supply chain resisted making CDs because it necessitated the reconfiguring of their: factories, marketing materials, store displays, etc. Modernizing everything was expensive.

In 1978, the Sony CDP-101 could play the first CD title:  “52nd Street” from Billy Joel. But only in Japan. PolyGram Records, CBS Records and Sony understood the value of the new product. Arista Records, Capitol Records and EMI didn’t.

In addition to the widespread introduction of CDs in America by the late 1980’s, the sale of CBS Records was another disruptive force in the industry, resulting in power struggles and lots of layoffs. The old-school record labels depended on MTV, radio and music stores to distribute their wares for another decade.

The tail end of the 1990’s saw a new technology that really turned the industry on its ear:  the World Wide Web. It enabled people to create software that allowed free (no-cost and no restrictions) electronic-music-file sharing. In December 1999, the organization regulating intellectual property rights on music, the RIAA, sued one of the major organizations doing the sharing– Napster– for copyright violations. By the following summer, the latter had approximately nineteen million users per month.

Read the book to learn of the outcome of the above and other legal battles; the new 1990’s and early 2000’s music conduits and devices, their relationships to the laws on music piracy; and many other actions taken by the American music industry that have fueled the current state of digital music sales.

50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People

The Book of the Week is “50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People” by Sally Beare, originally published in  2003. The author visited five places in the world where people are unusually long-lived. She argued that their lifestyles account for that phenomenon.

The residents of Okinawa, Symi, Campodimele, Huza and Bama all have insular cultures and an absence of pollution. Three of the above-named places are in Asia and two are in Europe.  The societies’ economies are self-sustaining agricultural and/or fishing and/or herding villages. They engage in rigorous manual labor– lots of exercise– and have the healthiest diets on the planet. Also, they don’t smoke.

Their diets consist mostly of raw or lightly cooked leafy greens, whole grains, seafood, soy products and other legumes, and fresh fruit; plus, hundreds of different herbs, locally grown. They might flavor their food with extra virgin olive oil, capers, garlic and onions. If they have alcohol, it is rice wine, in moderation. Daily beverages include green tea and calcium-rich water.

The author claimed that the farming societies used no pesticides, artificial fertilizers or genetic modification that generate higher crop yields. Yet the societies had adequate food, insects and birds in the food chain that eliminated pests that would harm the crops.

“Most genetically modified crops grown in the United States are corn, canola, and soybeans, as well as cotton, papaya and squash… Genetically modified crops have nothing to do with feeding the world and everything to do with the billions of dollars they are worth annually.”

The author mentioned Monsanto as just one monster-sized corporation that creates substances that contaminate America’s food supply. Disclosure of the data collected by various entities on carcinogens and other harmful food additives created by Monsanto, has been suppressed with cooperation by the U.S. government, just like with the tobacco companies in previous decades.

Read the book to learn which specific foods cut the risk of cancer, and why they do so; and the specific foods, exercises and activities that can help retard aging.

Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

The Book of the Week is “Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” by Al Franken, published in 2003. This was a comedic look at news reporters, commentators, politicians and even media outlets who and that intended to deceive, and succeeded in deceiving viewers, listeners and readers via distortion, misleading statements, exaggeration, outright fabrication and all shades of falsity in between. Franken did his homework with the help of Harvard students, and called people to get information directly from “the horse’s mouth.”

First, the author provided credible research results showing that there was no liberal media bias at least up until the book’s writing. In fact, one of countless examples was that Al Gore was covered more negatively than George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Further, after the Monica Lewinsky story broke, former President Bill Clinton was criticized nonstop by media people of all persuasions.

At that time, cost-cutting measures in the media had also taken hold. In-depth reports cost big money– compared to two pundits who read one tabloid article on a popular political issue, and then heatedly argue on camera.

Franken provided ample evidence that political commentator Ann Coulter produced little or no support for her supposedly factual statements on conservative issues mentioned in books she wrote. The few sources she mentioned were in hard-to-find endnotes.

Former president George W. Bush lied numerous times during his 2000 presidential campaign and thereafter. One particular set of lies was about past crimes he committed for which he never spent a day in prison: insider trading, cocaine possession, drunk driving, and going AWOL from the National Guard.  The author cited reliable sources– it wasn’t just tabloid gossip.

When the book went to print, a particular Fox political show with four commentators which claimed to be “balanced” actually featured “…two hard-core conservatives and two centrists.”

Bill O’Reilly (remember him?) prevaricated pathologically. He had a “… shopworn inventory of boorish tactics– bluster, bullying and belittling– in order to advance a thinly disguised conservative agenda.”

Dick Cheney contended that his and Halliburton’s profiting in an extremely, extremely large way through Halliburton’s secret subsidiaries was unrelated to the United States government. Yet his company was able to completely ignore the law to do business with Iran and Iraq, anyway. In July 2000, Cheney made known on ABC’s This Week that he was allegedly ignorant (willfully ignorant, if he was, which is unlikely) of Halliburton’s business deals in Iraq. This continued while America  went to war with that member-state of the “Axis of Evil.”

The Wall Street Journal also insulted the intelligence of Americans by giving credit to former President George W. Bush for the drop in crime during the years former President Bill Clinton was in office (!)  Dick Cheney tried to credit his boss’s administration for the effectiveness of the American military in Afghanistan and Iraq. But in August 2000, prior to the wars, he said “A Commander in Chief leads the military built by those who came before him.” That would be Bill’s Clinton’s lookout, not Bush’s.

Although Sean Hannity probably truly believed what he was saying, he meant to dishonestly sway his viewers:  “I think the weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq] will be found. I don’t think we don’t have any doubt about that.” He gives viewers the false impression that he knows something they don’t know. And they believe him; otherwise, they wouldn’t watch him. In late May 2003, speaking to TV viewers in Poland, President Bush announced, “We found weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq].” Rush Limbaugh uttered similar opinions in the same vein. The dishonest utterances just went on and on.

Read the book to learn of a boatload of people and entities who and that, twisted the truth on important issues; to name just a few issues: George W. Bush’s tax cut, his education program erroneously entitled “No Child Left Behind” and the horrible pollution of both hog farms and coal mining operations resulting from Bush’s relaxation of health and safety laws; and the adversely affected parties– taxpayers, students, and residents near the farms and mines.

Endnote: It’s a shame that this physical book lacked an index, which would have outed the liars in a comprehensive list, immediately. Since the author was already stooping to their level in name-calling, he should have gone all the way and saved his critics time by telling them where they were mentioned. Franken would not have had to reply to a significant additional barrage of inane online comments. Lazy, angry people who don’t do their homework are going to lash out at people who attack their side with factual research results, even if they have the most comprehensive research tools in the world.

Lastly, this was a book of jokes, but it actually covered lies about serious issues– life and death, money, education, etc. The nation is still lying about serious issues, and it appears that’s not going to change anytime soon.

Start-Up Nation

The Book of the Week is “Start-Up Nation, The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, published in 2009. The authors of this extended essay ponder why Israel had, at the book’s writing, a huger number of tech start-ups than all other industrialized nations, second only to the United States’. The reasons range from the cultural to the political to the economic.

The Israeli corporate and military mentality involves: complete focus; learning from errors (which are tolerated and treated as learning experiences); constant debriefings and self-criticism sessions; endless, heated debate; and empowerment of employees at all status levels to use their initiative and resources– even to the point of upstaging their bosses with their input. This atmosphere encourages independent thinking, and discourages herd mentality and blind obedience.

Militarily, all Israelis serve a minimum of two to three years and then become reservists for two more decades. Close social ties are formed that foster business relationships later. The exceptional rising stars participate in special nine-year training programs that create  “foxes” rather than “hedgehogs.” Foxes use diverse skills from operating and maintaining high-tech equipment to imaginatively solving problems.

After serving their country, many Israelis then attend university. Finally, employers consider quality and quantity of military experience as major hiring criteria.

The authors provided real-life examples of how the traits Israelis possess cause them to gravitate toward entrepreneurial ventures. In 1965, in one instance, kibbutzniks digging a well hoping to find drinking water instead encountered warm, salty water. A creative academic advised them to breed tropical food-fish. By-products of the fish-farm were used for fertilizer for their olive and date trees.

Read the book to learn of additional characteristics of and actions taken by Israelis and their government that have helped them achieve technological advances in various economically rewarding areas, including medicine, auto manufacturing and computing.

Ethel Merman, An Autobiography

The Book of the Week is “Ethel Merman, An Autobiography” with George Eells, published in 1978.

Born in 1912 in Astoria (a section of Queens in New York City), Ethel Merman started singing when she was five years old. Her parents encouraged her to do so. By the tail end of the 1920’s, she had acquired stenography/shorthand training and had become a secretary, just in case the show business thing didn’t work out.

Working full-time during the day, and singing in dives at night and on weekends, Merman was extremely lucky to be “discovered” in a matter of a few years. She got herself an agent and was off and running. She played in big-name clubs, movie venues and vaudeville theaters in and around New York City– doing five shows a day at the Brooklyn Paramount. She got to meet celebrities like singer Guy Lombardo and composer George Gershwin. She sang in the musical “Girl Crazy” on Broadway.

Merman never had singing lessons or a vocal coach; she was just a natural. Early on, Ginger Rogers got paid $1,500 a week, while Merman got $375. For a number of years, Merman moved back and forth between Los Angeles to make movies, and New York City to appear in Broadway musicals.

In the 1930’s, Broadway musicals thrived. The culture was such that “Nobody worried whether it [a song] fit logically into the score, and the successful songwriters thought more about reaching the top of the Hit Parade than integrating the song into the story.” She played Annie in “Annie Get Your Gun” eight times a week for two years between 1945 and 1946.

The one beef Merman had about her fabulous career, though, was the media’s intrusion into her private life. Read the book to learn the details of her almost instantaneous and long-lived success, her psychologically troubled love life, and much more.

Rat Island

The Book of the Week is “Rat Island” by William Stolzenburg, published in 2011. This series of anecdotes described what frequently happens when some humans observe that a particular species is in danger, and with the best of intentions, attempt to counteract the perceived adverse effects of the situation.

Such campaigns have been repeated for centuries, always with unintended consequences and mixed results. For, the people involved have impure motives, and the manipulation of nature over the course of decades inevitably results in a “pox on everyone’s house.”

In the 1800’s, for instance, explorers introduced cats to eliminate an excess of rats in Oceania. Unsurprisingly, the food chain was disrupted, and the rabbit population increased. Rabbits killed the sheep in New Zealand, upsetting the people there. The latter took action by bringing in ferrets, weasels and stoats. The duck and parrot numbers were negatively affected.

Sometimes people are the predators. Other causes of the near-extinction of a species include statistically unusual weather, oil spills or disease. In New Zealand, people almost eliminated green parrots, poaching and smuggling them for their looks.

In another instance, the kakapo (another bird) was endangered by other animals. In the mid-1890’s, some sympathetic New Zealanders therefore sequestered the birds on an isolated island so they could multiply in peace. However, weasels found their way into the protected habitat, anyway.

Some tools of the trade among supposed “friends” of the environment who are only trying to prevent extinctions, include:  poison, guns, traps, hunting dogs, and ammunition shot from helicopters. And on at least one occasion:  hormonally-juiced Judas pigs that led to a spike in the number of eagles and drop in foxes on one island. Moreover, there are people who derive pleasure from cruelty to animals in the name of saving endangered species.

Read the book to learn of the checkered fortunes of the birds of the Aleutian Islands and Anacapa Island, the wildlife around Bering Island and other regions, and the constant tug-of-war among government agencies (such as Fish and Wildlife) responsible for those regions, conservationists and animal-rights activists.

Clinton and Me

The Book of the Week is “Clinton and Me, A Real Life Political Comedy” by Mark Katz, published in 2003. This is the engaging story of how an incurable wiseass used his comedic talent and skills in the political arena.

Born in 1963 in Brooklyn, the precocious author  received a political education in his formative years, thanks to the Watergate hearings. He was a class clown in school, no doubt. Careerwise, he began as a low-level staffer for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Next he cut his teeth as an unpaid volunteer on the Mike Dukakis presidential campaign. “My year on the Dukakis campaign sensitized me to the outrageous, insidious and coded tactics…[of evil, mudslinging political consultants]” Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. Katz then did a stint copywriting in general advertising prior to the advent of the World Wide Web.

Finally, the author parlayed this foundation into a relatively brief but rewarding set of adventures writing jokes contained in speeches for President Bill Clinton. Read the book to learn the lessons the author learned, in making a living for a politician soliciting laughs.