Archive for 2014

Southland by Nina Revoyr

August 8th, 2014 — 4:47pm

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 4.16.25 PMSouthland by Nina Revoyr– Having recently read and reviewed a great book mostly about social justice in Los Angeles ( see previously reviewed book in this blog) which included some insight into the history of racial conflicts and violence in this city, I was very receptive to picking up this novel. In fact, it did deal with these subjects with a compelling storyline which focused on the struggles of Japanese-Americans including their relationships with African Americans in Los Angeles over the past 50 plus years.

The opening setting is the 1990s and Jackie Ishida is a Japanese-American young woman, preparing to enter law school and who also happens to be a lesbian whose grandfather Frank Sakari suddenly passes away. She comes into possession of a forgotten old box in his closet, that had a few clippings, some pictures and a great deal of cash with a note that it should be given to Curtis, a young teenager who worked in his old grocery store that was destroyed in Watts riots. It is well known to the family that those difficult times were very traumatic for many people including Frank not only because of the destruction brought about by riots but because in midst of them, Curtis and 3 younger boys were found locked in the grocery store freezer, having frozen to death. It was thought by some that this murder was the work of an unpopular white police officer who was known for mistreating kids in the neighborhood and was reportedly seen talking to them at the store on day of the tragedy. Jackie is moved to try to find more details. She connects with James Lanier, an African American who was Curtis’cousin. Once she talks to him, they team up to try to find out what really happened, in order to try to bring about some kind of long delayed justice. They embark upon a road trip (mostly limited to the Los Angeles area) where they interview several people who could shed light on this dastardly crime.

As the author follows this duo, she also provides flashbacks to earlier times to allow us to understand not only the characters in some depth but also the social climate of Southland, American, also known as Los Angeles. This includes the history of the Japanese who settled in this area and were sent to internment camps during World War II. We also learn about those young men who enlisted and fought in the War including some of the famed accomplishments of the Japanese American 442 regiment. The story that Jackie and James uncover is more than a study of how race relations played out during the past 50 years but it is also is a very personal moving story about her grandfather. She also finds meaningful insight into herself.

This 2003 novel deservedly won several awards. However, it did not hold me on edge of my seat or qualify as a page turner despite it being a great example of a “cold case being brought to life.” Some of the flashbacks, while necessary for insight into the characters, did seem to slow the flow of the book. A good part of the theme of this book also qualifies as an example of the search for biological roots which I have found in many true life clinical cases as well as a major storyline numerous motion pictures. See my blog about this subject.


Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FH - Fiction Historical, FM - Fiction Mystery

Power Concedes Nothing by Connie RIce

July 20th, 2014 — 12:58am

Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman’s Quest for Social Justice in American, from the Courtroom to the Kill Zones by Connie RiceScreen Shot 2014-07-19 at 6.40.49 PM

I seldom go around telling certain people that they must read a particular book. I did find myself dong just that in regard to this book. If you have been interested in the battle for social justice, especially in regard to Los Angeles, you will definitely find this book quite fascinating.

Connie Rice (who by the way is a distant cousin of former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice) grew up as the daughter of Air Force officer who was the great grandson of a slave and a mother who was a high school teacher who happened to be the great granddaughter of a slave owner. Her family moved several times before she completed high school. Her parents valued education and she also was quite bright and ended up attending college at Radcliff/Harvard and then going to N.Y.U. Law School. After clerking for some important judges, she could have worked in a prestigious law firm and have a very respectable corporate or white-collar law career. She certainly went on to achieve an extremely respectable career but she chose to do it confronting civil rights and gang violence. The journey that she has taken, the fights that she has undertaken, the forces that she has confronted, the allies that she has worked with and the accomplishments that she has achieved thus far in her still vibrant career are remarkable and are chronicled in this memoir.

Early in her career, she became a part of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (known as the LDF). It was originally pioneered by Thurgood Marshall, before he became the first black Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. I thought I knew something about justice, particularly how capital punishment, was unfairly administered in the U.S. “I didn’t know jack.” The inside stories Ms. Rice reveals in this fight for justice, were eye opening. However, this phase of her career was tame compared to what was to come next when circumstances brought her out to the West Coast to open the Los Angeles branch of the LDF.

Ms. Rice became squarely involved in the battles for social justice in Los Anglees. She takes us through the Rodney King incident where a black construction worker was stopped by the police and  beaten for no cause. Subsequently there were riots in Los Angeles when the police involved in these beatings were exonerated by a trial, which had been moved to Simi Valley, which was a known area where many police families live. Ms. Rice was in many subsequent legal cases where she sued the police and represented victims of police violence. She also tells about the almost impossible to describe gang violence that existed in certain areas of Los Angeles that became known as the “kill zones.” She was known as the “ lady lawyer” as she was introduced to gang activities by a few former gang member who were trying (with mostly futile attempts) to make changes and were trusted within the gangs. Ms. Rice captures the horrible circumstances inside the gangs where there existed a culture dominated by frequent murder of opposing gang members. Two vignettes that she told will illustrate how bad things were and how vividly she was able to describe them.

#1 A teenage boy was approached by the leader of one gang and asked to become a gang member The boy stated that that his family didn’t want him to join and he was involved in schoolwork. After he politely declined a second time, he was asked to view a DVD. In it was shown his younger sister being brutally raped by gang members. He was then told if he didn’t join the gang, his sister would be raped again and murdered. He joined the gang.

#2 A ten-year-old boy was introduced to Ms. Rice by some gang members. She asked the child how he was involved in the gang. He proudly told her that he “shoots people.” When the gang wanted to murder someone, they lured this person to a street where the young boy was unobtrusively stationed. He pulled out the gun that he was trained to use and shot the victim and ran way.

These were just two of the many stories of how the gangs had taken away the lives of young people in more than one way.

The murder rate in Los Angeles was very high and the philosophy of the Los Angeles Police Department at this time was to “contain” the violence rather than try to eliminate it. There was also a certain amount of violence and corruption coming from the police department itself. Connie Rice was one of the soldiers in the battle to change this situation. She used her legal skills as well as her interpersonal ability to begin a sea change that is still going on in Los Angeles. She worked side by side with gang members, gang interventionists, enlightened members of the police department, politicians and other dedicated lawyers. She told of her experience with people from the gangs to others in the trenches with her. She names names, good and bad, from Mayors, police officers and attorneys. Among others, she developed a close alliance with Police Chief Bratton and up and coming Charlie Beck who subsequently became Police Chief when Bratton retired. One of the heroes of the book was Harry Bellafonte and it wasn’t for his singing. Rather it was for the emotional support he played as a father figure for many gang members as well as for his financial support for various programs. Ms. Rice has been an ongoing witness and a participant to bringing about changes in the kill zones that actually significantly reduced the murder rate there. She documented how each murder that did not occur saved close to a million dollars for society as well as the human savings.

Ms. Rice feels that the battle is not over yet. She champions the ideology of Martin Luther King who predicted that significant change wouldn’t occur until there was a “ radical restructuring of society itself and revolution of values.” If you care about the changes that have occurred in Los Angeles in the past few decades and those that need to occur in the future, I suggest that you should read this book.




Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, P - Political

The Victory Season by Robert Weintraub

July 6th, 2014 — 2:07am

The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age by Robert WeintraubScreen Shot 2014-07-05 at 9.39.58 PM

In order to determine if you might like this book please take the following quiz. Match the names or phrases in column I with those in column II.There may be more than one answer for each entry in column I. Answers are at the end of the review.

I                                                            II


!- “The Man”                                                 a- Joe Cronin

2- Wife’s name is Rachel                                  b- Stan Musial

3- New York Yankees                                      c- Jackie Robinson

4- Brother of “The Hat”                                  d- Enos Slaughter

5- Known for great base running                       e- Ted Williams

6- Brooklyn Dodgers                                         f- New York Yankees

7- Wore number 42                                          g- Dixie Walker

8- “Country”                                                h- Joe DiMaggio

9-“The Cat”                                                 i- Harry Bracheen

10-Married actress Laraine Day                          j- St. Louis Browns

11- “The Splinter”                                          k- Pete Reiser

12- Korean War Fighter Pilot                             l- N.Y. Giants

13- “The Thumper”                                      m- Leo Durocher

14-Played for Montreal Royals                          n- Dom DiMaggio

15-Hero of 1946 World Series                           o- St. Louis Cardinals

16-“The Little Professor”                               p- Boston Red Sox

17- Participated in 1946 World Series                  q- Branch Rickey

18- Larry MacPhail

19-“The Lip”

20-1946 Most Valuable Player Award


There are 37 correct answers by my count. So if you get 12 or more correct , you are batting over 300 which I believe means that you will feel at home with this book. Likewise if you are of a certain age and followed baseball as a kid, chances are you will get great pleasure from this book. Finally, if you are younger than a certain age and just enjoy the history of baseball, you probably will find this book quite interesting.

The book focuses mainly on 1946, the year after the end of World War II but the author Robert Weintraub will frequently dip into the past for background or give some glimpses into what happened to various people years to come after this year. He also includes interesting tidbits about the Nurenberg Trials of Nazi war criminals that were going on during 1946 which are quite fascinating. The book also covers the war experiences of many prewar major leaguers who went off to war, some of whom came back to become household names as major league stars. There is also the account of some baseball players who went off to fight but did not come back or were never able to resume their careers.

1946 was also the year that Branch Rickey decided that he was going to integrate baseball and found a great UCLA athlete to be the baseball player to do it. In this year Jackie Robinson was made a member of the Dodger’s number one farm team, the Montreal Royals. The account of this adventure and the final bringing Robinson into the big leagues the following season, is a good enough reason by itself to read this book. I thought I knew this story quite well but I never realized that when the club owners all voted upon whether to bring him into major league baseball, the vote was 15-1 against doing it with only Rickey voting yes. The account goes on to explain how Rickey was able to pull things off despite this vote by the other owners.

Ted Williams and all the nick names he was given is amply covered in several chapters of this book. The case is made that he probably was the greatest player of his generation despite a mercurial personality that was hard to understand. No doubt he was a great competitor and did mature during his career. He probably was the only player in baseball history who received a standing ovation when he decided to bunt down the third baseline. You may remember there was the “Williams Shift” where the infield was moved around to the right with a short right fielder in place since that is where powerful Williams would usually slam the ball. Williams was usually reluctant to take a nearly sure thing rather than try to power away and pull the ball. He also probably was close to all time high in walks since most pitchers were reluctant to pitch straightway to him anyway.

As someone who grew up in Brooklyn I was most familiar with the Brooklyn Dodgers with Yankees and Giants being also known to me. Even though I was well below my adolescence during the pivotal year of 1946 which this book centers upon, so many of the characters who played a role in this year continued their careers for at least another 8-10 years that they were well known to me. I will have to give credit to Red Barber, Connie Desmond and the then young Vin Sculley who were the Dodger radio announcers and always had great stories about all the players. While I had a familiarity with many of the key players I did not recall much about the pennant race of 1946 and particularly about the World Series. Author Weintraub provided all the details and laid them out as if they unfolding before the avid baseball fan that I was in my younger days. Sometimes, particularly in the World Series, I felt I was almost in the stands watching the Red Sox and Cardinals battle it out and somehow I had stake in the outcome.

The “piece de resistance” was the author’s detailed description and even more detailed analysis of the “Mad Dash.” This was the play where Enos “Country” Slaughter scored what turned out to be the winning run in the final game of the 1946 World Series, from first base on a base hit that was probably just a single by Harry “The Hat” Walker. Exactly how the ball was fielded by Leo Culberson and a microscopic analysis of how Johnny Pesky handled making the relay throw to the plate is only something a true lover of baseball could appreciate. If this is up your alley you are sure to enjoy this book.

Answers: 1bo 2c 3h 4g 5cdk 6cgkmq 7c 8dof 9i 10m 11e 12e 13e 14c

15d 16n 17 abdinop 18f 19ml 20be


Comment » | S- Sports

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

June 10th, 2014 — 6:52pm

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 11.49.07 PMIn Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin – This is a book of several vignettes all taking place in Pakistan, not that long ago. It is about a place where there are modern feudal landowners and many poor people who work for them as servants, maids, sweepers, gardeners and other misc jobs. Some of the landowners are richer than others but no matter what class you are, you live your life with trials and tribulations. There is corruption everyplace. Everybody can be bought. The poor are essentially slaves to the upper class for whom they work. It is possible to get some reprise with sexual favors to the higher ups/ There is no real justice as people favor their families or people who pay them off. Stealing and lying are very common.

In one story a servant girl has a relationship with the master of the house. He dies and the estranged family and the wife and children send her away. In another story a young man from Pakistan goes to college and meets and American girl. They meet his family and his mother thinks that she will never really make her so happy. She isn’t sure either. Another story tells about relationship where a promiscuous young woman is about to settle down with a stable young man whom she believes she really loves but the relationship deteriorates. We meet a poor man who barely subsists with a portable shack and has the most menial job for a great feudal lord. He improves his lot a little by the generosity of a member of the owner’s family.

He finally marries a feeble minded woman and thinks he might have the semblance of family and maybe a child. He ends up with neither as she runs away. He is initially accused of kidnapping her and is beaten by the police. Eventually he returns home. His wife never returns and he dies a sad man.

What can possibly be the point of these stories? Certainly it is to tell us about the essential state of slavery that has existed in Pakistan for many years. Even the good deeds by a few people at times is not shown to be consistent with any real desire of those in power to change things. Certainly those without power are shown to have very little desire or ability to change the status quo. Not being very familiar with the history of Pakistan I can only hope that there has been some radical revolutionary changes there but I suspect neither.

It would be foolish to think that some unfairness only exists in Pakistan We know the history of this country about slavery and the remnants of discrimination that still exists. Despite a growing middle class we witness the lower class struggle in this country especially those who hold the poorest jobs often immigrants. So we can accept this book as more than a story about Pakistan but it still a stretch to feel that this is much of a contemporary tale of our society. It is hard to identify with the characters in these stories and overall it is a sad, depressing book which hopefully will help to keeps alive our empathic ability to change the world and establish basic fairness to all the inhabitants of this planet.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

May 27th, 2014 — 5:13pm

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 6.43.58 PMBel Canto by Ann Pachett– Are there circumstances where a person could fall in love with someone new although he was perfectly well connected and content previously? Could an entire group of people come to love beautifully sung opera although they hadn’t been previously been exposed to it before or if they had, they hadn’t been moved by it? Could a group of people dedicated to a political cause give up their dedication and wish to lead another completely different life style in a relatively short period time? These are some of the questions that gradually emerge as we follow the lives of a group of terrorists and their hostages over several weeks. The setting is a third world country where a birthday party was being held for a prominent Japanese industrialist by the government officials who hoped that he and other well heeled guests might be favorably inclined to bring business to this country. Since the guest of honor loves opera, a very famous female opera star is imported to perform in his honor at the party. The guests also include diplomats from other countries so several languages are spoken at this affair.

Suddenly through the airshafts emerge a group of young terrorists, with their guns led by three generals who hope to capture and take away the President of the country and hold him hostage with the hope of freeing prisoners whom they feel are unjustly in jail. Unfortunately for them only the host Vice President was among the guests and the terrorists were not quick enough to escape. The situation becomes a standoff with the hostages and their captors living together in the large vice presidential mansion behind a large wall with a Red Cross mediator bringing them food and ferrying back and forth the fruitless demands of both sides. The women and ill ones among the hostages with the exception of the opera star were released. Among the captors there were two young women who initially were originally thought by the hostages to be men. Everyone falls into a routine, which includes opera singing every morning. Most of the translations are done by one man, who was the assistant to the Japanese industrialist. The book may be based on an event that happened at the home of the Japanese ambassador to Peru in 1996 but the issues here are clearly the imagination and the story that Ms. Patchett has chosen to tell. What emerges is a study of human relationships and the power of the human voice when it is expressing emotion through singing opera and how these two important parts of life can be connected. The novel has some twists and turns and is a beautiful well written story.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

May 16th, 2014 — 11:19pm

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 4.00.27 PM

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult – This was the second Jodi Picolt novel which I had the pleasure of reading. The first was The Storyteller, which was about the granddaughter of a holocaust survivor who finds herself friends with a former Nazi Concentration Camp guard who killed many prisoners in the same camp where her grandmother was imprisoned. The elderly ill Nazi asks the grown granddaughter to hasten his death. Picoult obviously has the ability to extract the ethical issues which can go to the heart and soul of our humanity. In My Sister’s Keeper a child develops a potentially fatal disease, which is unresponsive to various treatments. Blood transfusions, bone marrow transplant and ultimately a kidney transplant would be necessary to keep her alive. Things look bad for survival, as treatment options appear to be running out. The parents and brother don’t have the right “match” to be useful and a search for the right donor seems futile. However, it is possible for anther sibling, not yet conceived, to be the right match especially if there are genetic manipulation performed which would choose the right embryo – a type of carefully selected artificial insemination using the biological parents. It works out great and the parents see the stem cells from the umbilical cord of the newly born child, which would normally be thrown away being transferred to their ill daughter. On subsequent occasions when there is a relapse, there can be blood transfusions from the younger sister. Even a bone marrow transplant would be life saving.

The majority of the book takes place after Anna the younger sister now 13, has decided to visit an attorney, Campbell Chance and request that she be allowed to make her own decisions on what part of her body is given to her sister. In other words, she wants to be medically emancipated. The author gets into the head of each character as each chapter is written in the voice of one the important players in this real life drama. Katie is the older sister who has been sick most of her life and yet feels close to younger sister who is now resisting giving her what she needs to live. Jesse is the brother who in response to the emotional turmoil in the family becomes a juvenile delighquent and somewhat of a pyromaniac. Brian is the father who happens to be a brave fireman and a caring, loving father to all three of his children. Sara is the mother who clearly would do anything to save her daughter. She happens to be an attorney and it seemed natural to her that when there was going to be a trial to determine if the younger daughter is to be free to make her own decision, she will defend the parent’s point of view that they can make the decisions for Anna. Campbell is the attorney who Anna has chosen to represent her. It turns out that his personal story informs us of another aspect of the dilemma as do the the feelings and experience of Julie, the woman who is chosen by the court to be the guardian ad litem for Anna By providing us with riveting insight into each of these people, the reader is swept up as if we are living through this painful scenario.

Life of course is filled with potential heartaches, which we all must experience, but to varying degrees and at different times Even though we know about the disappointments of life, illness and death that may be around the corner, rarely are there things that we have never heard about. The situation of expecting one child to dedicate and perhaps risk her life to possibly save the life and maintain the well being of a sibling is quite unique. While not exactly the same, it reminds me of Sophie’s Choice. Should the author give us a happy ending or any ending in fact, is an interesting question. Ms. Picoult certainly did not shy away by leaving the ending to our imagination, which a lesser author may have done. We are challenged to think through the horns of this ethical dilemma. We make choices in our mind but we are able to see the where they are going in this story and perhaps in the future with modern technology.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FL - Fiction Legal, M - Medical

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

April 25th, 2014 — 11:42pm

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 1.53.36 PMFifty Shades of Grey by E.L, James|

By the time I got around to reading this book it had sold 100 million copies in 52 languages. It was a hot best seller from the moment it burst on the scene selling 2 million copies during its first month out. The story is simple and somewhat repetitious with a thin plot. Anastasia Steele 21 year old attractive, virgin college girl with very limited sexual experience pinch-hits for her roommate who is on the college newspaper and interviews the scheduled graduation speaker. He is Christian Grey, an incredibly handsome and rich 27 year old, very successful businessman. He is obviously taken with her. He tracks her down and they begin to establish a relationship. She is very attracted to him and one might expect that we would have two people doing what comes naturally. The catch here is while he is very proficient in deflowering this girl and satisfying her sexually, he has special needs. These needs involve acting out his sadomasochistic fantasies where he is the Dominant and she is the Submissive. This involves restraining her, tying her, flogging her and much more. He has a great need to possess her. Where he differs from the individual with a sadomasochistic disorder is that he only wants to carry this out with a consenting woman and he even offers her a detailed contract where all the details and so called limits are spelled out. As they continue to interact sexually and as she contemplates if she will sign this contract, she falls in love with him and wants to please him. She hopes he will love her more than his perverse sexual needs dictate. Needless to say the book is rich in the detail of their sexual interaction. It is clearly written from a women’s point of view. Ana’s arousal is traced in great detail and her orgasms are vividly described in somewhat repetitive language. There can be no doubt that the mass appeal of this book which surely has to be mainly to women comes from the wishful identification with the experience of the main female character. It is not a stretch to understand how appealing it is for a woman to imagine a wealthy, extremely good-looking man who buys her expensive gifts and is immensely attracted to her. There can be multiple components to a woman’s sexual fantasies. One of them could be to be dominated by a desirable man. This storyline tests the limit of that fantasy. While I call this a woman’s book I am sure that I am not the only man who read it. It is part of the common male phantasy to want to dominate an extremely attractive girl, but the extent of Christian Grey’s needs could only have developed by special circumstances. (Remember Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate and his relationship with Mrs. Robinson?) While the roots of these determining factors were clearly discussed in the book, they were not fully expounded upon. Perhaps these are being elaborated in more detail in the newer books of the now “trilogy” which the author has written. I will probably pass on the next two books but I have no doubt they will sell well and ultimately produce a movie which I might just take in.

Comment » | FR - Fiction Romance

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

April 6th, 2014 — 10:03pm

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 8.53.24 PMFlash Boys by Michael Lewis- This book is causing both great interest and high emotion on Wall Street since its recent release. The author, Michael Lewis, has great credentials as a reliable reporter, which he has demonstrated in several important books including best sellers Moneyball and Liar’s Poker. This book mesmerized me but to be perfectly honest, most of the time I did not understand what the author was talking about especially when he was explaining the exact details of how electronic trading really works. Apparently, according to the author, most of the traders on Wall Street also really don’t know what goes on behind the computer screen. However, that is exactly what this book is all about.

Early in the book the reader learns that millions of dollars are being spent to lay a black tube filled with fiberglass cable from Chicago to New Jersey and to make it as straight as possible. This will allow electronic signals that carry information between brokerage houses and the various stock exchanges to flow as fast as possible. One of the goals of this project is to let the people who sign up to use it be faster than all the other guys who don’t use it. However, that is not the whole story. We also learn that some brokerage firms spend lots of money to move their computer servers closer to the main stock exchange buildings in New York and New Jersey in order to shorten the travel time of the electronic messages. We are talking about increasing their speed by thousandths of a second, faster than the blink of an eye. With or without new cable there are all sorts or tricks or techniques to manipulate the speed and timing of the electronic impulses, which convey information involved in buying and selling stock. Certainly, speed really counts but things are even more complicated. Stock traders who do a lot of trades called High Frequency Traders (HFT) have special computer programs that have tricky computer maneuvers. For example, if they have a 10,000-share order they will send out a signal for an order of 100 shares. This allows the computer to figure out the current selling price and then the computer in blinding fast speed sends the rest of the order to various other exchanges and ends up making purchases a fraction of a cent better than if they didn’t have this super speed ability. It gets even more complicated as there are all sorts of commissions and bonuses per share that depend where and when the sale is made. Oh, also there are “dark pools” which are locations in cyberspace where various brokerage firms will make trades from their own clients without routing orders to the various exchanges. This saves money but doesn’t necessarily get the best price for the customers. There are 13 public stock exchanges (NY Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange, NASDEQ and 10 more) plus 45 dark pools.

If this were just a book about computer programing and the ins and outs of the market, I would have given up on it early on. There also is a human side of this story, which is about some of the so called computer geeks that work designing these systems and making them work, as well as some of the higher ups who run the various brokerage and stock exchanges. It should be noted that many of these people earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and some make a few million dollars per year and those at the very top make much more. There are some heroes in this book. One in particular will be mentioned. His name is Brad Katsayama. He and a few colleagues figured out that super speed trading gives certain brokers an unfair advantage. Initially they designed a program to make the information from a trade arrive evenly at the same speed. (Needless to say this is a simplified explanation). They believed that this made for fairer business transactions. Then after many machinations they brought together a team that was dedicated to build their own stock exchange. The purpose would be to run super speed trading that would give no special advantage and no one would get special bonuses or commissions for tricky manipulations in how a block of stock was transacted in their stock exchange, which is named IEX (Investors Exchange). There were some very exciting moments as they built the exchange and waited with baited breath on the opening day to see if it would work and attract what they believed would be fair minded traders. Spoiler Alert! Goldman Sacks led the way and ultimately other firms would follow and IEX became a successful endeavor.

Lest you think that Goldman sacks is presented as one of the heroes of this book, there is a very scary situation described in the book where a man
by the name of Sergey Aleynkove is harshly sentenced to 8 years in jail for “stealing” computer code from them. He was one of those geeks who appeared to be more interested in the intricacies of the electronic trading than getting around the laws and regulations. The explanation for what he did that was shown to us was that while at Goldman Sachs he sent himself emails of the code he was working on which he kept when he left the firm. Most of what he used was open code that meant that it was available to anyone for free on the Internet and the rest of it wasn’t really usable outside of Goldman Sacks. Nevertheless they pressed charges and he was convicted. We are led to believe this is about the paranoid atmosphere when the secret world of electronic trading is being exposed.

The impression that Michael Lewis leaves us with this book is that stock market trading is mostly rigged and there is manipulation, skimming and deception. While there has been a genuine growth from which most investors profit in the long run, the everyday details are dark and dirty. They are also very difficult to understand. They are embedded in the nano second impulses that flash back and forth in the hands of the people who run our financial markets.

Comment » | E- Economic, P - Political

Havana Nocturne by T.J. English

April 2nd, 2014 — 8:09pm

Havana Nocturne by T.J. EnglishScreen Shot 2014-04-01 at 11.10.58 PMI thought that I was a little familiar with the history Cuba. I knew that Spain won its freedom from Spain in the Spanish American War. I knew that during the reign of the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista the United States and large U.S. corporations had a good deal and made lots of money from Cuba.  I was aware in 1959 Fidel Castro and his revolutionary army basically took over the country, nationalized US companies and threw out the Americans as well as many wealthy Cubans. They established a more or less socialistic economy as Batista escaped in exile. I also had a vague awareness that prior to the revolution Havana was a very exciting city with lots of nightclubs run largely by gangsters similar to stories I heard about Las Vegas. 

     This book written by an American journalist T. J. English fills in the details about Batista, Castro and especially the very personal story of the mafia, the mob or the gangsters who in a very deliberate manner conquered the economy of this country and ruled it’s jeweled city of Havana for almost seven years. I am ashamed to admit that prior to reading this book, I had considered that there must have been some redeeming value in Batista, if the U. S. including Presidents Eisenhower and JFK had strongly supported him However, after learning about the suitcases of money that were delivered to Batista in exchange for letting the gangsters take over Havana, I was quite surprised and disappointed.

The Cuban revolution is only a small part of this story that is told in great details (with much documentation and cross referencing in the appendix at the end of the book as if that were really needed.) This book chronicles the life of gangsters, Charles Lucky Luciano and most of all Meyer Lansky. There are fascinating behind the scenes details of historical events that most of us would never have known. We learn that Lucky Luciano might have lived most of his adult life in prison if there was not a deal made with the United States Navy who had a need to catch Nazi sabatours who were operating on the NY and Brooklyn docks where Luciano had the ability to ferret out their identities. This earned him an out of jail ticket and deportation to Italy from where he then traveled to Cuba.

On the other hand, the descriptions of the life and successful business doings of Mr. Lanksy would have to be of interest, and perhaps envy of every Harvard Business School graduate although we would hope they not follow in his unscrupulous side. Lansky knew how to involve his business associates with a piece of the action so for the most part they would be content with hardly a necessary mob hit (although there were certainly a few of them described in the book). In fact, there were the inside details of some of the biggest gangster hits of all time including the notorious Albert Anastasia

The life styles and personalities of several mobsters are describes in detail as there was a quite a large number of them who came to Cuba to seek their fortunes. Particularly prominent along with Luciano and Lanksy was Santos Trafficante Jr. who in addition to having his hooks in Havana controlled activities in Tampa, Florida. Their backgrounds, personalities and relationships with each other are all dissected. For the most part their motive was clear, money-lots of it. They saw Cuba, as a fertile field for exploiting. Havana was an immensely attractive playground for he rich as well as the wannabee rich, all who were drawn to this glamorous city. There also was an account of Frank Sinatra’s acquaintance with the mob and there even was a story about something like an orgy in which a young US Senator JFK was a participant.

English’s writing style is relatively straightforward. The references are in the back of the book but the sequences of events and cast of characters were clearly rolled out as was the various nefarious schemes. At times English would throw in a colorful metaphor such as. “ Throughout the month of December, the island seethed like a bitch with a low grade fever.” Perhaps the only thing that was not clear to me is why the influence of the exiled Cubans mostly concentrated in Florida, to this day continues to prevent the US from lifting the Cuban embargo and developing a reasonable relationship with the Cuban people. Now that Castro himself is in his waning days and island itself as we observed during a recent trip is experimenting with various forms of capitalism, it may be a short time before that occurs. It will be interesting to see when that happens if the mob will creep back into Havana in the dead of night.



Comment » | HI - History, P - Political

Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel

March 16th, 2014 — 3:11pm

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.05.26 PMThank You For Your Service by David Finkel– This is a nonfiction account, which reads more like a novel, of the story what happens to the soldiers who return from Iraq and Afghanistan after being mentally injured in combat. The author David Finkel previously wrote a well-received book, The Good Soldier, about his observations as an embedded war correspondent. Now he closely follows a group of soldiers most of whom know each other as they came home to their families, some with physical injuries but all with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He writes in the third person and there is no trace of the author’s actual presence although it is like he is a fly on the wall, reporting dialogue in their homes, bedrooms, etc. and in the various treatment programs, which attempt to rehabilitate them. The book takes us back to their combat experiences in foreign countries as well as to their battles with their spouses and with their demons. This is a close up view that can get you inside the head of these men and their spouses. It is as if you were the trusted therapist who was being told all. In fact, clinicians in training or those wanting to get experience with this population of people, psychologically impaired by war would certainly benefit by reading this book. There was clear insight into the thinking of all the subjects but there was no simple answer how to treat them or how they can live with the sequelae of this war experience.

The known connection between TBI ((Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD is repeatedly demonstrated although it is not invariable. The soldiers bring back tremendous guilt for what they have seen and done which is not easily alleviated by a rational analysis. Seeing buddies maimed and violently killed in a split second, no matter how conscientiously they tried to hold their fellow soldier’s body together while waiting for a medic or intellectually knowing they had no realistic way to avoid these events does very little to mitigate their guilt. One soldier was faced with an enemy firing a deadly weapon at him while holding a 3-year-old child in his arms. It was a self-preservation act to fire his own weapon and kill his enemy and the child but nevertheless the guilt continues to haunt him. It should not be surprising that the families of the wounded warriors also experience emotional damage. This pain is not only psychological but also physical in the form of what at times is severe domestic violence. There is also the suggestion that the participants in today’s volunteer army may be more likely to have had some emotional instability prior to enlisting. There are no statistics given to support this nor does this diminish the responsibility that we have to the all the heroes whom we meet in this book.

The undercurrent of this book is the subject of suicide. Such thoughts lurk in a large number of these injured soldiers and there are numerous examples of serious contemplations to end their own life with some cases where they carried out this deed. I well remember following the rising statistics several years ago as the number of suicides among active duty soldiers and veterans gradually increased until they were more than the civilian population and then ultimately exceeded the number of combat deaths. This book illustrates the stories behind these numbers by not only recounting the suicidal thoughts and near acting out of them by some of the subjects of the book but also by describing a special conference call held on a daily basis. This was the meeting run by a high ranking General linked to military bases around the world during which every suicide committed by a soldier was reviewed. At one point this was more than 22/day. The goal was the valiant but obviously unsuccessful effort to extract suicide prevention measures from this deadly experience to significantly eliminate this deadly situation.. Although not mentioned in this book, this was during a time that many people including this writer were advocating that families of soldiers who suicide should receive an official letter of condolence by the US President which is done for every fallen soldier and which was not happening at that time.

I came away  away from this book hoping that the emotional toll that warriors of war will pay be factored in along with the loss of life and limb, when anyone on this planet contemplates actions that will lead to armed hostilities.

Comment » | MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry

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