Month: February 2017

 

jean-williams-franks-2Grandmothers are one of the most sacred parts of the family structure. In some cases, the grandmother also takes on the role of the child’s mother. Their wisdom gained through years of rearing children and watching them grow into adults gives them a unique perspective of life. My maternal grandmother, Jean Williams Franks (November 18, 1934-February 14, 2017) departed from this earth on Valentine’s Day at the age of eighty-three.  She died peacefully at home after two years of declining health.  She resisted to the end but was unable to overcome the conditions that continued to plague her. She is survived by many relatives, friends and others who knew her in passing.

 

This blog is for book reviews and this post will seem unusual but there are a couple of reasons why it is her.  You see, my grandmother was a secretary for several decades at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.   She was an excellent typist and highly detailed.  And she encourage all of us to focus on our reading and writing skills.  Her home always had its share of books. In fact, I have one of her most-cherished; a book from the famed Pan Am Airlines that was published in 1958.  In addition, she also had in her possession, license plates from the states of New York and New Jersey that were over forty years in age. To say that she was nostalgic would be an understatement.

In addition to her interest in reading and writing, she also allowed me to perfect my typing skills through the endless use of her computers as I moved through college.  She would hear me typing and comment here and there on what I need to work on.  I will never forget her admonishment towards my brother and I to drink more water and use our minds. Today, I do both of these extensively.  Travel was one of her true passions and from her, I have gained my love of traveling which has influence my selection of reading material that appears on this blog.  Whenever I saw her, she would always ask how long it would be before I was out of the country yet again.  No matter where I was going, she was always happy that I was going somewhere.  Throughout her life, she never let anything stop her from seeing the world and she truly loved people.   Conversation was her love and she engaged anyone who was willing to listen and respond.  Tomorrow she will be laid to rest and that act will be the final stage in the changing of the guard for my aunt and mother will now assume the roles that she once assumed.

The beauty in her life was that she gave something to everyone that she met in many different forms.  Though she never was able to really see this blog, I know she would be thrilled that her first-born grandchild had tapped into the gifts of reading and writing to apply them towards a positive cause.  As I write, I can see her smiling in satisfaction that her endless efforts to keep us on the right track did in fact pay off over time.   And in the future, as I continue to write, she will appear in my thoughts repeatedly.  She is no longer in pain and has moved to a place which we all shall see one day.   But until then, we will serve ourselves best by living the life that we have and enjoying each day.

Tupac Shakur once said “death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside while still alive”.  Our time on this earth is limited and we do not know when we will take our last breath.  We come into the world, learn from those who are already here and through our experiences as we age and mature.  And at some point, we leave behind our friends, family and those who we have crossed paths with. But our actions, words and thoughts stay behind and live on in the memories of those we have touched.  And in that sense, we all have the ability to live forever.

“For Whom The Bell Tolls, It Tolls For Thee”- John Donne

Uncategorized

20180602_215638Jazz music is as American as apple pie and fireworks on the 4th of July.  Its popularity has resulted in jazz festivals around the world .  The festival in Berlin is among the most popular in the world. Some of the greatest musicians in history made their names famous through their talents of the wide range of instruments that gave us the many great songs that have been studied and imitated to decades. Among these legendary artist is the late John Coltrane, who performed with the all time greats such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Charlie “Bird” Parker.   Davis is still the best-selling artist in jazz history with his 1959 album Kind of Blue.  And his influence on jazz continues decades after his death.  However, true fans will be quick to remind you that while Davis is a legend in his own right, there were others who left a lasting legacy on jazz.  While he had an unassuming presence, John Coltrane is always named among the top recording artists of his time and has influence a legion of musicians.  But behind the saxophone, who was the real John Coltrane?

J.C. Thomas explores the life of Coltrane in this biography of the late star.  The book does not follow a traditional biography format.  What Thomas has done is to mix biographical data with recollections from those who knew Coltrane.  The unusual approach makes the book even more enjoyable and helps the reader grasp the mystique of a legend. Coltrane did not leave an autobiography and tragically he died many years before he could complete one. His sudden passing on July 17, 1967 at the age of 40 caused the jazz world to reel in shock at the loss of a legend in the making.  However, Thomas was able to examine his music and converse with those closest to him to give us the most complete picture of this short and incredible life that began in Hamlet, North Carolina and ended in Huntington, New York.

Music is a central theme in the book for obvious reasons, however we also learn about the many struggles that plagued Coltrane throughout his life and might have played a role in his gradual decline and eventual death.  There are successes in the book that cause the reader to breathe a sigh of relief. But his tragic fate also causes us to wonder what if he had lived.  His belief in faith and enthusiastic study of other religions placed him on a spiritual plane that was manifested in his songs which became more dynamic as he aged and matured.  Thomas takes us on this ride with Coltrane as we learn about spirituality in a different way from which we are used to.  The application of his newfound spiritual beliefs to his music enable him to be in  a place resulted in his ascension as one of the true pioneers of his genre.

Reviewers of the book have given favorable ratings and one even said this was the cliff notes version of his life.  While that statement is not far off the mark, the book was not intended to be the end all account of Coltrane’s life.  In fact,  I think the book serves him well and allows us to step inside the mind of the master himself.  Personally, I enjoyed the anecdotes throughout the book. Some were downright hilarious and others interesting for they show the mystery that surrounded Coltrane and still does to this day.  His widow Alice said that he did not speak often but when he did he said quite a lot.  Methodical, controlled and visionary, Coltrane remains a musical icon.  His albums A Love Supreme and Blue Train are ranked 27 and 28 on the list of best-selling jazz albums by the RIAA.  His fans would undoubtedly rank them higher than that and I would hard pressed to argue against it.  For those who want to know more about his fascinating and brief life, this is the place to start to learn about the man they called Trane.

ISBN-10: 0306800438
ISBN-13: 978-0306800436

Biographies

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The 2016 presidential election campaign will be remembered by voters as one of the most bitter and comical races ever seen.  The actions of both candidates ranged from disappointing to the surreal.   The Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State and Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, was often referred to as a liar and criminal by her adversary.   Her supporters believed that the charges were unfounded and amplified by a Republican candidate that capitalized on fear, despair and paranoia.  But the question remains even after the election, what was really going on behind closed doors in the Clinton campaign and was criminality involved?  Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D., examines the history of the former first couple in this investigative report that dives deep inside the Clinton Foundation and its many ties to corporations, crooks, thieves and the power-hungry elite.

Supporters of the Clintons will find this book hard to accept.  However, Corsi has done his homework and details the complicated web of financial deals and exploits that have resulted in millions of dollars in revenue.  For those who voted against Clinton, many of the facts in this book might already be known. And for others, the book will leave them indifferent towards Clinton.  In fact, it could be argued that in spite of the information in the book, she could have been a good president.  As it stands now, that is something we will never know. What we do know through Corsi’s book, is that there is more than meets the eye with regards to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The story begins in 2001 following the devastating earthquake that struck Gujarat, India on January 26, 2001.  Out of this tragedy came the American India Foundation and the beginning of a long list of shadowy figures, questionable acquisitions, offshore accounts, nearly non-existent bookkeeping, insufficient auditing and a very dark legacy.  Corsi has carefully researched each and explains all of them in detail.  The revelations are shocking and eye-opening.  Incredibly, Corsi states that the reason behind his book was to prevent future first couples from following the lead of the Clintons once they have left office. He is not a law enforcement offer and does not have any legal authority to bring charges against the Clintons or commence any investigative committee.  But he does a provide a voice of reason in trying to make sense of how the Clintons have become exceedingly wealthy following their time in the White House.

Following his service as president, Bill Clinton became an even bigger celebrity bringing celebrity star power and political clout to charity groups worldwide.  And as valued public speaker, he found himself in high demand at organizations, school and other public events worldwide.  His travels and speeches have earned him great wealth, far more than most would believe.   To say that it is unreal would be an understatement. And after the reader has finished this book, he or she will see the former commander-in-chief in a different light.  In this review I make no attempt to demonize Mr. and Mrs. Clinton.  It is not my place nor my intention.  Corsi also does not appear to have a personal vendetta.  In fact, he never mentions his political affiliation if any.   But he does make it clear that he feels that what has happened as a result of their actions, is both regrettable and unfortunate.  And also highly suspicious and in some cases possibly illegal.

The Clinton Foundation and it subsidiaries formed a nucleus of companies determined to make as much money as possible regardless of those affected.  The American India Foundation is the tip of the iceberg and is followed by other scandals such as UNITAID, the Haiti earthquake relief effort, Ranbaxy, the 2004 Tsunami, Uranium One and the email scandal that erupted during her second presidential campaign.  The information is sobering and absurd but it is necessary in understanding how charities are supposed to operate and why many people feel that they never have good intentions.  Sadly, this book confirms what many have believed about global initiatives and the true nature of the Clinton family.

Today, Hillary is out of the public spotlight on a daily basis.  It should be noted that she did in fact win the popular vote by several million votes.  And while she did not win the needed 270 electoral votes, she earned the votes of millions of Americans who believed she was better for the country in the long run.  Have millions of people read this book? Probably not.  Would they have voted differently if they had? Possibly.  Now that the election is long done and she is not in the oval office, most will not care about the book at all for it is not relevant to the current state of the union.  However, I feel that the target audience of this book is America’s youth for they are the future of this nation and will become the politicians of tomorrow that hopefully not make the same mistakes made by the power couple.   This is the inside story of the Clinton empire as dark as it gets.

ISBN-10: 1944229337
ISBN-13: 978-1944229337

Investigative Report

20180603_134806.jpgThe election of Barack Obama to the office of President of the United States marked a turning point in American history.   His successful campaign and subsequent eight years in office vindicated the late Robert F. Kennedy who in 1961 said he believed that in forty years a negro could be president.  At the time the thought seemed absurd as American struggle with social division fueled by ethnic discrimination.  But if we look back on his words, we can see that his foresight was not only accurate but uncanny.  From time to time I think back on the many quotes from him regarding his views on society.   His assassination during the 1968 presidential race left a void in the United States that has never been filled. He remains one of the most popular, unpopular and tragic figures in the history of this nation.

Following the death of John F. Kennedy, life took on a different meaning for the former Attorney General.   He became the patriarch of the Kennedy family and struggled with his own future and emotions resulting from the untimely death of his older brother.  As a member of the president’s cabinet and younger sibling, he was present during ever major crisis faced by the new administration. The wisdom and insight that he gained from his time in service of the country makes him one of history’s wisest witnesses.  The Kennedys have always been controversial. Most people either love them or hate them.  No matter which side of the fence you find yourself on, one thing that is true is that the election of John F. Kennedy was one of the brightest moments in world history.   From 1964-1967, Kennedy gave closed-door interviews to Anthony Lewis (1927-2013)who worked as a columnist for the New York Times, John Bartlow Martin (1915-1987) who served as an Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) who served as JFK’s special assistant and John Francis Stewart who was chief of the Oral History Project at the John F. Kennedy Library from 1966-1969.   The interviews sat dormant for over 20 years before this book was published in 1988. They were then edited and composed into this insightful account of the workings behind the scene in the Kennedy administration.

Kennedy was always very frank in his statements and never one to sugar coat anything. This book is no different.  In fact, he is even more frank and I believe part of the reason is because not much time had passed between the assassination in Dallas and when he began to sit down for these interviews.  The wounds were still open and many raw emotions were in play.  However to his credit, he answers each question directly and quite extensive. Only on a handful of times does he express disinterest in speaking about a certain topic. Considering what had just happened to his brother, it was remarkable that he was able to sit down and open up about a lot of topics.  But the one topic he does not discuss at all is the assassination itself.  He does talk about a few events following the murder and in particular his encounters with the new president Lyndon Johnson. It is no secret that the two did not get along and Kennedy does not hide his contempt for Johnson.  He gives clear reasons for his dislike for Johnson and leaves it up to the reader to decide whether they’re justified or not.

In addition to Johnson, Kennedy is asked his opinion about many other political figures at the time and he gives his honest opinion on all of them.  What I came to find in Kennedy was a man rigidly principled in a world where things were either right or wrong but not so much in between.  In his eyes either you were effective at your job or you were of no use.  As cold as it sounds to the reader, for a new administration that survived one of the closest elections in history, a senate filled with rabid Democratic southerners opposed to the “Catholics”and civil rights, a tight ship was needed in order for the new president to enact domestic legislation and compose effective foreign policy.  When his brother appointed him as Attorney General, even he thought it was a mistake.  But as we can see in hindsight, it was one of the best decisions made by John F. Kennedy.   The level of trust and dedication exemplified by Robert Kennedy to his brother, the administration and the country are inspiring.  Of course, we could point out many errors made along the way.  The same could be done with every administration.  However, their vision to steer America on a new path was bold and unprecedented a time when America was still struggling with a dark and violent past.  The challenges they faced through opposition and inefficiency are cleared explained by Kennedy giving us a sense of the staggering amount of difficulty JFK faced in dealing with the Senate and House of Representatives.  Incredibly, in spite of the opposition, they succeeded on many fronts and would have continued on the same path.

President Kennedy served in office less than three years.  But in those three years, he faced some of the biggest threats to the safety of the United States. Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam put the world on edge as democracy in the west came face to face with communism in the east, backed by the ideology of the Soviet Union, the nation’s fiercest opponent.  As they weathered each storm, they stood side to side making critical decisions to carefully avoid the outbreak of a nuclear confrontation.  And it may scare some readers to learn just how close we came to war with the Soviet Union. The place where it would have happened might surprise you as well.  There are other small tidbits of information revealed by Kennedy that cast light of the severity of maintaining world peace.

The questions he was asked were strictly about the administration. There are nearly no discussions about the personal lives of anyone except for a question regarding the rumor that JFK had been married prior to meeting Jackie. The reason is that the interviews were done for the JFK Library and needed to be as exact as possible. Furthermore, there are plenty of books that tackle the personal lives of the Kennedys.  The most popular being Seymour Hersh’s The Dark Side of Camelot. This book is Kennedy’s show and he shines in his assessment of what it was like helping his brother run the country and the many challenges and successes they had.

ISBN-10: 055334661X
ISBN-13: 978-0553346619

Political Memoirs

51nrsryomzl-_sy346_On October 10, 2016, the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, closed its doors after 21 years in business and just hours after the second debate in the 2016 presidential race.  The casino was the vision of Donald J. Trump that became a reality.  At the time it opened, it was the largest casino in Atlantic City and rivaled the highlights of the Las Vegas Strip.  Its closing closed another chapter in the sad history of Atlantic City, the coastal town that was once the gambling mecca of the east coast of the United States and home to many of the greatest boxing events during the 1980s.  Today, the town is a remnant of its former self. Several well-known casinos closed years ago never to be replaced resulting in large sections of Atlantic City having no structures in place at all. The life that was once the backbone is now gone having been replaced by a feeling of dread and desertion. Only time will tell what will happen to the struggling city and it remains to be seen if the current president will do anything to help the place in which he earned and lost millions of dollars.

As a kid, I always looked forward to the times when my grandmother and mother would take my brother and I on a multi-day stay at Bally’s on the boardwalk.  Only a little over two hours from New York City, Atlantic City was a top destination for many people in New York, northern New Jersey and other parts of the tri-state area.  It also attracted millionaires, billionaires and scores of celebrities. To be honest, I never saw Donald Trump there and as a kid, he was the last thing going through my mind.  But I did walk past the Taj Mahal and stand in awe of its size.  To think that it is no longer a functional part of the famed boardwalk is both heartbreaking and a sad reality of the repercussions of financial mismanagement.  And for the reader to understand how and why Atlantic City has been on the decline, it is necessary to revisit the actions of one of its greatest and worst entrepreneurs.  John R. O’Donnell worked for the Trump Organization for three years before handing in his resignation.  In 1991, this book was released to the public and re-released in 2016 as Trump began to focus his efforts to win the oval office.

From the cover of the book it is hard to get an idea of what the book is about. This is not a biography of Trump.  O’Donnell does provide some biographical information but it is brief and in no way critical to the story being told.  This book is strictly about the casinos in Atlantic City under Trump’s control and O’Donnell’s experiences while working there.  There are those who will tempted to write off the book as an attempt to defame Trump’s character and cast judgment on his ability to lead the country. I disagree.  O’Donnell never says he hates Trump but only reports what he saw , heard and observed while running Trump’s casinos.  In fact, O’Donnell primarily worked at the Trump Plaza but also gets dragged into the debacle that became the Taj Mahal. He enjoyed his work but found himself not enjoying his environment and his decision to leave clearly reflects this.  But even as he resigns he does not go out of his way to bury Trump in the book.

No one can deny that Donald Trump has had success in the financial industry.  His name has been attached to some of the biggest projects we have seen in the last 30 years. But the truth about his involvement in those affairs and how much he really did do has always remained shrouded in mystery.  O’Donnell lifts the veil on some of these things allowing the reader to see what the real Trump is like behind the scenes. And what we see is a businessman who is calculating, cunning, insensitive, unrealistic and ultimately supremely overconfident. At times he is his own worst enemy and his casino empire borders on collapse in only a few short years. His personal life is marked with scandals, infidelity,  personal shortcomings and the deaths of several people close to him as acquaintances and business associates.  Gossip seekers will not find any smoking guns here but O’Donnell does touch on the Marla Maples situation that helped caused one of the biggest divorces in history between Trump and his then wife Ivanka.

The book almost reads like a tragic play at times with the main character, the emperor, unable to see all that is around him although is eyes are wide open.  O’Donnell is the voice of reason throughout the book but in the final analysis, he is resolved to make his exit stage left.  Many years have passed since Trump dominated and manipulated Atlantic City. Today he holds the highest office in the nation. But the question remains, has he learned from his days as a casino mogul or will he continue to make the same mistakes and hold on to his beliefs about himself and others that contributed to his prior failings?   Further, what will happen to the United States now that he is in office?  Time will answer these questions  and others that arise and for the voters and readers of this book, only they can decided what type of leader they believe he will be.

ASIN: B01DD2P5DI

Journal

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The evolution of medical care in the United States is as scary as it is fascinating.  Today it is hard to fathom the once draconian methods physicians used to treatment even the most common ailments.  In fact, methods were so primitive, a patient was more likely to die at a hospital than at home. Of course now, the opposite is most likely to happen. America is home for some of the best hospitals in the world and cutting edge medical care.  But the path taken to reach this point was long, torturous and in some cases, shocking beyond belief.  At the center of the development in hospital care was a facility that became an icon in New York City, Bellevue Hospital.  The hospital which is still open today, has a long history that is largely unknown.  And the patients admitted there today are most likely highly unaware of the hospital’s storied past and how it came one of the City’s leading medical facilities.

Pulitzer Prize winner David Oshinksy has compiled this incredible investigative report into the history of Bellevue.  And it is all here; the good, the bad and the extreme ugly.   Through exhaustive research, he has carefully reconstructed the history of the hospital and others in the City of New York.  And although Bellevue is the subject of the book, the provides fascinating details about the origins of other hospitals in the City, some of which are no longer in existence.  St. Vincent’s is the first to come to mind.   The founders of these hospitals and the early pioneers of treatment there have been forgotten over time but Oshinsky brings them all back to life as he examines their lives and their contributions to the field of medicine. The book feels like a step back into time to an era in which emergency care often resulted in an emergency itself.

As a native New Yorker, I have passed Bellevue both on foot and by car dozens of times. In fact, my mother had a brief admission there several years ago.  However at no time was I even vaguely aware of the importance of the place in which I stood.  The history contained within the walls of the hospital is nothing short of astounding.  And having read this phenomenal work, I can exclaim that I had grateful for all of the advancements made in the field of medicine.  And I know that I do have to go to Bellevue, I will be in the care of the some of the best physicians New York City has to offer.  But as Oshinsky shows us, Bellevue also has a very dark past that often bordered on the unreal.

It will be hard for readers to imagine what medical care used to be like during a time when doctors were still learning how to treat even common conditions.  In an era before anesthesia, antibiotics and even proper sanity conditions, most patients entered the hospital and never left.   Those who did die, ran the risk of ending up in potter’s field which at the time existed in more than one location in the city.   As plagues swept through the City, the death toll mounted as doctors struggled to keep up.   Their attempts to treat the conditions and the solutions employed were beyond surreal and today they would be considered criminal.  Bellevue, while an early pioneer for above standard medical care, was not exempt and carries to this day, a fair number of its own horror stories that turned a blossoming hospital into the scorn of the City.  These stories included horrific medical practices, insufficient security and criminal neglect.  However, through every major crisis faced by the City of New York, Bellevue’s doors were always open and have remained so to this day. Even in times when ethnicity determined where you received medical treatment and mental institutions could not contain the sick, Bellevue took in all comers and that tradition has continued.

For those who are history lovers and want to know about the City of New York and in particular Bellevue hospital, this is the place to start.  Not only will you learn about Bellevue, but you will also learn about the history of the medical field in the United States and see how far society has come and how are we still have to go for the past is always prologue .

ISBN-10: 038552336X
ISBN-13: 978-0385523363

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