March - April 2008 columns

CONNIE MARTINSON TALKS BOOKS

 

04/25/2008

The title of J. Robert Beyster’s book is “The SAIC Solution : How We Built an $8 Billion Employee-Owned Technology Company”(Wiley $27.95). At age 45 Beyster, with a wife and three kids, left his job at General Atomic to start his own company. Not only did he believe in himself, he put his own money into the company. Although he did have investors whom he claims have multiplied their investment by ten fold, he advises against venture capital and he is adamant against being an IPO. He told me,, when we taped, that he was upset that after he retired from SAIC in 2004, in October of 2006 the new management took the company public. But during his regime, he developed the largest employee owned research and engineering company in the United States.

His firm worked on everything from tracking terrorists to tracking a cancer website. It is interesting that any engineering or technology expert who joined the company, not only did they have to work in their fields, they had to be sales force for their ideas. The leaders at SAIC were expected to experiment with new business entities, they were given control over pockets of money that they could use to invest in growing their organization. He developed an incentive and stock ownership system with recognition for outstanding performance.

The company grew from small business to word of mouth which extended to government contracts. The SAIC’s portable , combat-rugged communications work stations have served the needs of all U.S. military services. Beyster was convinced that his company could come up with a solution for the Stars and Stripes to win back the America’s Cup from Australia in 1987. Neurosurgeons can now see the location of their surgical instruments in a system developed with SAIC expertise. From submarine noise trials to NASA’s space shuttle and building the International Space Station. SAIC has had a role.

When Bob Beyster retired from SAIC, he has put his time to supporting the Foundation for Enterprise Development and the Beyster Institute at the University of California, San Diego. In an afterword he critiques his management and admits that he thought that employee ownership would sweep the world. He discovered that the world was not ready for it. Or as his wife’s mantra says, “None of us is as smart as all of us”.

The examined life makes for interesting reading, especially when it is written by Charles Handy, his book is “Myself And Other More Important Matters”(Amacom $25.900). Handy was born in Ireland where his father was a Protestant minister, and his mother was intent that he did not develop an Irish accent. Charles Handy is the founder of the London Business School, the first business school in England, which he laughingly told me was considered a “trade school”. After Oxford, his business life began with Royal Dutch Shell in Borneo. Shell later sent him in 1966 to the Sloan School at MIT for a Master’s Degree in Management, and to learn how the Americans do it. I was pleased to read that he referred to Harold J. Leavitt’s ideas on business management on page 66 which he used back in England.

Along the way he has been Warden of a house at Windsor Castle . I asked to whom he reported? His boss was Prince Philip. Handy had a four year contract with Windsor and at the end of the third year he offered to resign so that a new person could come on. He was quite surprised when they accepted his offer. At that point in time, he was host of the BBC’s ‘Thought for the Day” which did not pay that much, it was thanks to his wife’s investment in property . They could rent the flats out and still have an income. Handy is charmingly honest and philosophical about money and its importance in life. Although he poses the question, when is enough enough?

Handy muses on what he calls a “portfolio life”. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have an interesting marriage. She is a photographer who uses her work like a therapist taking photos that show the subjects many parts. In her case, she is a photographer, a cook in the kitchen and Charles’ manager/agent. He is in demand as a corporate speaker. His literary agent never thought his books would be successful. Handy proved otherwise with his “The Age of Unreason” which has become a classic.

It is a delight to talk with Charles Handy because he is an unabashed lover of America. At the time we spoke he was a visiting professor at the Claremont Graduate University Peter Drucker Institute. This book is a treat to read, honest, intelligent and funny. Handy told me that usually his books are published by the Harvard Business School Press but that they do not publish autobiographies which is their loss as there is more business intelligence here than in most academic books.

Even a successful celebrity chef on a “Food Channel” show has to worry when she is turning 50 and there are those damn ratings that are lower than the year before. Kate Jacobs has written the novel “Comfort Food”(Putnam $24.95). Gus Simpson, host of “Cooking With Gusto” , is facing that number 50 , at the same time her producer and the head of the network want her to partner with a young, former Miss Spain, Carmen Vega, who may be the girlfriend of the network head.

From taping the cooking show in her home, the network wants it to be live. Gus has two grown daughters, one is the serious Aimee, who handles her mother’s business affairs until it turns out the financial manager has run off with Gus’s money. Her younger daughter, Sabrina, is an habitual engaged female. She is afraid of commitment even to cancelling her wedding on her mother’s show at the moment she is to be on stage. But all is not gloom for Gus, there is handsome Oliver who is young but a formerly successful banker who has taken to cooking.

It is a feel-good book with a happy ending but written with humor. I did ask Kate Jacobs about a book about cooking without recipes? She said that she was putting some on at her website.

Meanwhile, see you at the Los Angeles Times and UCLA Book Festival on Sunday at Rolfe Hall at 1:30pm.

www.conniemartinson.com is seen and streamed at 3pm & 11:30pm from www.lacityview.org ch.35


04/18/2008

Why is this night different? Because instead of a bottle of wine, bring a book that will last forever. Here are some suggestions.

“Israel at Sixty: An Oral History of a Nation Reborn”(Wiley $30.00) by Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald S. Strober. Using a chronology that dates back to 1200 B.C.E. when the Jews arrived in the Land of Israel and the momentous date of May 14, 1948 when the State of Israel was established and all the other important dates to May 2007 when the Israeli Government commission released a report on the conduct of the Lebanon War. The book covers the history from the point of view of those who were there.

The first section begins with the climate of the times with the Nazi party and Hitler’s Final solution. The sections are validated by brief comments such as Shabtai Shavit, former head of Mossad. “Both my mother’s and father’s families perished in the Holocaust. My mother was one of eight children, and only one of them survived. In the fifties, he immigrated to Israel. And he succeeded in saving his wife, his daughter and his wife’s sister, and all of them came to Israel”. Later he comments on the Zionist spirit and how he was brought up based on Jewish history and tradition and Zionism. Natan Sharansky recalls his early years in prison in Russia and the miracle of Israel and democracy.

There are graphic photos of damage done in the wars, but there is also the photo of Joshua Matza praying at the Western Wall in June 1967. There is a section on Terrorism and “ The Beginning of Palestinian Self rule”, ending with “Challenges to Israel In The First Decade Of The Twenty-First Century”. The last comment is given by Yehiel Kadishai, a long time personal aide to Menachem Begin and later to Yitzhak Shamir, “The Jews are a strong and wise nation. We are so strong that the British, the Germans, the Americans, the Dutch, and the Danes won’t be able to destroy us. Not even the Jews will be able to destroy this country!”

A book that will both help and explain is Rabbi Sherre Hirsch’s “We Plan, God Laughs : 10 Steps to Finding Your divine Path When Life Is Not Turning Out Like You Wanted” (Doubleday$18.95). Rabbi Sherre as she is known to her large following is an extraordinary person. I realized this at her book party at Intuition where over 200 people showed up. She was a rabbi at Sinai Temple for eight years and is the Spiritual Life Consultant and a speaker for Canyon Ranch.

No one gets through life Scotfree. Life is not turning out like we expectd. Where is “happily ever after”? I love the fact that even God has plans that didn’t work, remember Adam and Eve? They had only one rule and they broke it. Moses broke the first set of the Ten Commandments. In real life we can say when there is an accident and some one’s life is totally changed, “It wasn’t supposed to happen”. Or when a young couple loses their baby. Life divides into ‘before and after”. Then there is the lament “If only” about life’s expectations. Rabbi Sherre asks, “What do you expect of yourself now?” Quoting from the Talmud “Act while you can. This is the moment you will begin to change”.

Who was the first identity thief? Jacob, Esau’s baby brother whom he later forgave. Rabbi Sherre writes, “We can hold on to resentments for a lifetime. “Why” is a never-ending question. We can hold on to our resentments so tightly that letting go seems impossible. The past is part of who you are, but it is not all of you. It happened.” So who will you forgive and who will you ask for forgiveness? A small book with a powerful message and provocative questions to share with those you love.

Another perfect book for Passover is Nancy Rips “Seder Stories: Passover Thoughts on Food, Family & Freedom” (Cumberland House Publishing $14.95). Again this is a book of reminiscences but I do love Louie Kemp who begins with, “My favorite Seder was with Marlon Brando”. Louie was visiting in Los Angeles and Marlon said, “Passover – I’ve always wanted to attend Seder. Can I come with you?” Elie Wiesel recalls the Seders of his early years pre-Holocaust and then rites, “I still follow the rituals , of course. I recite the prayers, I chant the appropriate psalms, I tell the story of the Exodus, I answer the questions my son asks. But in the deepest part of myself, I know it is not the same. It is not as it used to be.”

Nancy Rips has a chapter entitled “The Dysfunctional Family Seder survival Guide. It is a survival guide for the “good times” when Aunt Rose, Uncle Joey, Cousin Phil, and Niece Myra are all in the same room. You can change the names to those who fit the bill. As for next year in Jerusalem, Leslie Koppelman Ross reminds that in India they use to pass the Seder Plate over the heads of everyone at the table to acknowledge that as the world turns we were slaves first, then we became free.

Nancy Rips is a longtime bookseller who started collecting Passover stories as a volunteer to an Omaha seniors center.

And if at the last minute all your recipes look boring, Phyllis Glazer with Miriyam Glazer will give you a world of new tastes from around the world in “The essential Book Of Jewish Festival Cooking: 200 Seasonal Holiday Recipes & Their Tradition”(Harper Collins $29.95). You can always give it to the relative who has the reputation for tough brisket. So next year may not be in Jerusalem but it will be a better dinner.

www.conniemartinson.com streamed at www.sfgtv2.org at 9am daily and www.lacityview.org at 3pm and 11:30pm ch.35.


04/11/2008

NOT ON FILE


04/04/2008

NOT ON FILE


03/29/2008

They were the best brownies I ever tasted, actually they are called Black Forest Brownies and the recipe is on page 322 of “Carrot Cake Murder”(Kensington $22.00) by Joanne Fluke. This is the tenth in her murder/recipe series that take place in Lake Eden, Minnesota where Hannah Swensen runs the Cookie Jar Bakery and functions as a murder detective on the side. There is a family reunion taking place for her partner, Lisa’s family. Who should show up but long absent Uncle Gus who is a blow hard about his successes. Or does he have those successes when he is found murdered the next day with an ice pick stuck in his chest. Enter Hannah, her boyfriends, Mike, the detective, and Norman, the dentist, and her character mother, Delores, who wouldn’t dream of putting her hand on or in an oven, she writes books. Uncle Gus has returned, not for love but for a baseball card. This is a fun, light book, and as I said, the best brownies. Joanne Fluke will be one of the authors at the annual Friends of the Brentwood Donald Kaufman Library on Sunday, April 13 at 2:00pm.

Other authors will be Frances Khirallah Noble who has written “The New Belly Dancer of the Galaxy”(Syracuse University Press). It is funny and poignant. A middle-aged optometrist named Kahil Gibran Hourani of Syrian-American heredity is going through a mid life crisis with a crush on a client who is competing for the title of “New Belly Dancer,etc.” He lies to his wife that he is going to a convention in Cincinnati when he is really heading for Santa Vista by hired car. He is having conversations with his dead grandmother, Situe. Because of his nervousness and his dark complexion, he is suspected of being a terrorist, which leads to some of the funniest situations. Other authors are Gerald Gardner, co-author of “80” and Sonia Levitin who will talk about converting her novel “The Return” about the Ethiopian Jews into a musical. I will be moderating.

T.Jefferson Parker, author of “L.A. OUTLAWS” (Dutton $25.95) has created a fascinating character, Suzanne Jones, a school teacher by day, and Allison Murietta, an outlaw by night, although if you asked her she would prefer a Robin Hood who gives to the poor. As Allison she has figured out how to con the con artists. Put an ad in the Auto Trades for a 2005 BMW 525 low mileage, etc. and a price that is three or four thousand less than its worth. She gets responses but it is the one with greed who offers a thousand less in cash. Bingo! When the hot shot shows up, Allison pulls out her favorite gun, Canonita pointed at his heart and relieves him of his cash. She leaves a card that says, “You have been robbed by Allison Murietta. Have a nice day.” And that is only the first five pages.

The real action begins as she goes after forty thousand dollars of diamonds that are to change hands that night in a garage. When she gets there, she finds that the two gangs have wiped each other out. She takes the diamonds, gets out of her Murietta costume and as Suzanne Jones intends to return to her ranch near San Diego where her live-in and children live, when she is stopped by J.C.Hood, a policeman, who is young, attractive and taken with Miss Jones. But there is a third element that will threaten her, a hired killer who is sent to get the diamonds back and teach her a lesson.

Jeff Parker gives his characters a human dimension that separates him from most thriller writers. Lupercio, the hired killer, is also a family man with daughters, J.C. Hood has problems with his father, and then there is Allison’s mother who fears that the only ending will be her daughter’s death. Jeff Parker usually does what is called in the publishing trade, a “stand alone” book, but this time he leaves the reader with an option that there could be a sequel. Jeff told me, when we taped, that he liked using the Los Angles milieu after all his books on Orange County.

April is definitely not the cruelest month for those who love books. Tuesday,April 15th is the 16th annual Claremont Graduate University of the Kingsley & Kate Tufts poetry awards to Tom Sleigh who wins $100,000 and Janice N. Harrington for $10,000 for first published poetry book. April 26th and 27th are the glorious days of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, I will be moderating a panel on Sunday, April 27th at 12pm in Rolfe 1200 entitled “Fiction from the Heart” with Karen Mack , Jennifer Kaufman, Leslie Lehr and Laurie Viera Rigler.


03/22/2008

NOT ON FILE


03/15/2008

Manil Suri’s “The Age Of Shiva” (W.W.Norton $24.95) is the book that book clubs will be reading and discussing this year. It is a superb book. The story is told by Meera, the middle daughter of a well to do family that had come to Rawalpindi after the Partition of India and Pakistan. This was the great switch of Hindi and Muslin populations, not without anger on both sides.

Meera’s older sister, Roopa, was so indulged as a child that when she hated having another baby in the house, Meera was sent to stay in the country until she was three months old. Roopa has maintained her position over Meera in the family. The father, Paji, is a secularist intellectual book publisher who would prefer to have his daughters graduate from college and have a career than be a grandfather.

It is 1955 when the book opens, and Roopa is being romanced by Dev, with Meera as their beard. Dev is from a poor religious family who hate the Muslim contingent who took their homes in Pakistan. Dev’s ambition to be a pop singer in the Bollywood movies is not what Paji wants for his daughters. Roopa marries her family’s choice, but Meera is seduced by Dev and she insists on marrying him. Manil Suri paints the picture of the girl who is used to tile bathrooms and luxury going to live with outhouses and two couples to a room. Meera becomes accustomed to this life and makes friends with her sister-in-law, whose family had been murdered by the transition. When Meera becomes pregnant, her father offers Dev an apartment in Bombay, college tuition for Meera and introductions for Dev to film musicians if Meera will have an abortion and go back to school.

Meera and Dev move to Bombay. Always Meera will rebel against her father’s demands. She flunks at school. Dev is a failure as a singer. They have a son, Ashvin, with the approval of her father. When Dev is killed in 1971 on the bridge leading to Bombay Central after the bombs had fallen and the all clear sirens has stopped. It had not been a happy marriage and when her son asks why she is not crying, “I tried to muster the tears that would comfort you, but they did not come. The vow to never cry again, from the day I married Dev, still held me in control.”

Meera becomes obsessed with her son, Ashrin. She lives for him, over protects him and sleeps in his bed with him. It is Ashrin who will ask his grandfather to send him to boarding school to get away from his mother. At the end , he is off with school chums rather than returning to spend his vacation with Meera and she is deciding to get her teaching credentials in order to teach sixth grade.

It is hard to summarize a 450 page book that covers political history of Indira and Nehru along with the families. Suffice to say, those book clubs will find a myriad of subjects. When I talked with Manil Suri, he told me that his father had suffered that transference from what was India to Bombay where he grew up. Manil’s day job is Professor of Mathematics at University of Maryland. As for the god, Shiva, Manil talked about Shiva’s wife, Parvati, who created a son from her own body. Manil told me how India is changing every time he visits which is three times a year, it is the infiltration of American and Western influences, which may be his next book.

Sylvia Boorstein, PH.D. has written “Happiness Is an Inside Job” (Ballentine Books $22.95). Sylvia has been a psychotherapist for over thirty years, but it is in her work and study of Buddhist teachings that she has found answers to achieving happiness. The secret is our ability to connect with kindness and caring for not only ourselves, but friends and family. It relates to three concepts – Wise Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration.

The enemies of true happiness are indifference, pity, envy and jealousy. Envy and jealousy are when other people’s joys are joys we covet or when we require something in return for our friendship. All of the near enemies are unhappy tense states, which create distance and isolation. Dr. Boorstein told me that when there are situations where she is hesitant about doing something in kindness she anticipates how bad she will feel if she doesn’t act. Her book is enlightened by her stories of her husband, a doctor, who helped save a life on board a plane, her son and daughter-in-law and her treasured friendships. Her mantra is “May I meet this moment fully. May I meet it as a friend.” And it is vital to know what direction you are heading in.

Judith Miller, one of my favorite antique experts, has written “A – Z of antiques & Collectibles” (DK Publishing $30.00). From Acanthus, which is a Mediterranean plant that is the inspiration for the 18th century motif for furniture and metal work , to Zoetrope which was an optical toy that was a fore runner of animation. In 1834 it was called the wheel of the devil. The images are put on a sheet of paper and inserted in a drum with slits that can be rotated on a stand around a horizontal axis. In over 400 pages, she identifies the antiques and collectibles and clarifies the styles, designers, makers and factories, etc. This is not her book that gives the reader the current prices, that comes later.

Book events this week included Budd Friedman’s reception for Richard Loglin “Comedy At the Edge” . Paige Adams-Geller and Ashley Borden had a remarkable book party for “Your Perfect Fit”(McGraw Hill $16.95) which combines style and nutrition and exercises for that perfect fit for Paige’s designer jeans. She assures me that she will have carbo jeans this summer for those of us who hate to carry a pocket book.


03/08/2008

John Rechy has given his recent book, “About My Life and the Kept Woman”(Grove Press $24.00) a disclaimer. “This is not what happened. It is what is remembered. Its sequence is the sequence of recollection”. He was twelve when his sixteen year old sister Olga who was slightly pregnant was marrying her football-captain sweetheart, against the forbidden wishes of his most difficult father. It is at the wedding reception that he sees Marisa Guzman, the Kept Woman of Augusto de Leon, who has been ordered not to return by her father. She is sitting in a dark room smoking a cigarette, in a corner of the room is a young girl pretending to smoke the same way.

The young girl plays a recurrent role in Rechy’s life. She is Alicia Gonzales when he meets her, she becomes Isabel Franklin, a non-Mexicano in high school. Years later she will become the wife of a San Francisco columnist who turns to John Rechy to testify against his wife. John refuses to acknowledge that he knew her.

John received a fifty dollar scholarship from the El Paso Times that allowed him to go to Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy where he majored in English. In the book John rites about growing up in El Paso, his mother was from Mexico, his father’s family was half Scottish and Mexican and were quite well-off under the former President of Mexico. The father had been a musician and orchestra leader, but in the United States it was financially down hill. He would have out bursts of temper that would pick on John, the youngest in the family. At the same time, there were sexual implications to his attention.

As the family sunk in depths of poverty, they moved into welfare housing. John told me that his happiest day was the day he bought his mother her own house. She was the most important woman in his life and today, tears come to his eyes as he talks about her and her death. As a means of leaving El Paso John enlisted in the army during the Korean War, except he got sent to Germany where his adventures including his sexual experiences in Paris would make a book on its own. After his return he applied to Columbia University to study with Pearl Buck. He was not accepted. It was a depressing time in his life. I did ask him if he thought his life would have been different.

Hard up for money, he found he could earn money hustling. He also got work as a paralegal. He writes about the thrill and the need for more and more. He writes, “A rigid set of requirements was evolving for my life on the erotic streets, and the main one was this : to be desired without reciprocation.”

John splits himself into Johnny Rio the handsome boy hustler who comes to Hollywood where he scouts men on Sunset Blvd. and where he is invited to George Cukor’s and to Christopher Isherwood’s home. He tells a funny and ironic story of Isherwood, with whom he would like to discuss his writing but who has other things in mind. Rechy has quite a few photos of “Johnny Rio” in hustle garb. Of course that was then and this is now, Rechy still looks great for a man in his seventies. But as he says hustling is for beautiful young men.

Eventually after many rejects, John found the right publisher in Don Allen of Grove Press. “City of Night” was published in 1963 to mixed reviews to say the least. John writes of battling with the late Barbara Epstein of the New York Review of Books to give him space to rebut the venomous review. He finally got it thirty years later.

In many ways, John is an enigma. He is one part the Hustler who is arrested by the Vice Squad in the park and who stands trial with the threat of prison time. But who still needed the rush of the thrill. The other side is the writer who has written over fourteen books and an interesting play and who is a Professor of creative writing at the University of Southern California. John is renowned for developing writers with their own voice who do not mimic him. Ask Gina Nahai about his teaching.

I asked John about a story of him teaching, going home and putting on his Johnny Rio clothes and going to stand in Santa Monica. He interrupted me to say, that the story of him standing there and a student driving by, stopped and said, ”Hello, Professor Rechy, are you out for the evening?” It was absolutely true. It is twenty years later and John dedicates the book to his mother and his dear friend, Michael, who came with him to the studio.


03/01/2008

S.David Freeman, currently president of the Port of Los Angeles Commission, and an activist for energy conservation, has written “Winning Our Energy Independence”(Gibbs-Smith $19.95). The magic words are renewable resources. Solar and wind power, ethanol and biofuels, geothermal energy, hydrogen and other renewable resources are key to our future.


Freeman calls oil, coal and nuclear energy, our greatest dangers. Oil and our need for it underlies the United States of America’s foreign policies. Coal is the cause of acid rain and black lung disease. And nuclear waste is the end product that defies solutions. Freeman points out that coal and nuclear plants are old and should be phased out over the next thirty years. He points to Sacramento which has the first Municipal Utility district solar array which , built near the decommissioned Rancho Seco Nuclear Station , produces enough electricity to power 2,200 single family homes. Other future sources of energy are Tidal power, Fusion power and Magnetic, which he explains on page 64.

Freeman has had an interesting career in Washington, D.C. from helping to bring about the Environmental Protection Agency under Nixon , headed the Tennessee Valley Authority under Jimmy Carter to serving as general Manager of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. He told me when we taped that they paid people to trade in their old refrigerators for new efficient ones and they convinced residents to paint their roofs white, as the white reflects the heat and cuts down on use of air conditioners. One bit of advice is to make sure that your refrigerator is not near your heating source as it causes the refrigerator to work overtime thus using more electricity.

He uses Sweden, Iceland and Brazil as examples of countries that are energy intelligent. Sweden uses renewable energy and nuclear, although he doesn’t mention what they do with their nuclear waste. Iceland is unique in that they have a surplus of geothermal and hydropower. They have a hydrogen fuel cell bus, by 2050 all motor vehicles must run on hydrogen. Brazil has cars that run on flex-fuel and 48% use pure ethanol.

He makes note of Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa putting great emphasis on making Los Angeles the greenest city in the world. Freeman managed the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power from 1997 to 2001. There is enough wind in the Tehachapi Mountains to power about 1.4 million homes, as well as the solar power from the Mojave Desert. As for the shock at the gas station, think in terms of plug-in hybrids, biofuels and all-electric vehicles.


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