Category Archives: Uncategorized
The title alone is enough to grab a person’s attention. Because of the subject matter, it was bound to stir controversy for it touches a topic that remains taboo thirty-seven years after its publication. And with the events this past week regarding the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the contents of this book are as important now as they were then. Before you attempt to read this book, it is critical to understand the difference between Judaism and what is referred to as Zionism. There is a fundamental difference between the two that is often forgotten as charges of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias are leveled against those who dare to speak out. However, what I have learned from this book, is critical to understanding how our world functions and why peace is seemingly an impossible objective to accomplish in the Middle East.
For those who are of the Jewish faith, before reading this book, you must understand that you will learn many things that are not pleasant. And the temptation to feel or believe that the author is an anti-Semite might rise to the surface. But I caution you that any notion of Paul Findley (1921-) being anti-Semitic is far from the truth. In fact, Findley was U.S. Representative from Illinois from 1960-1982 and supported Israel at many times during his career. I firmly believe it is underestimated by many Americans, how much power and influence the Israeli lobby holds over the U.S. Government. Foreign policy and aid is highly scrutinized by the lobby and anything deemed to detrimental to the existence of Israel is quickly condemned and crushed, even at the expense of possible peace with its Arab neighbors.
I can only imagine how much pressure Findley had to endure to see this book all the way through. He discloses the difficulty in finding a publisher for a subject which many were reluctant to touch out of fear of severe backlash. In staying the course and braving the opposition, he has compiled the book that should be read by every American concerned with the past and future of the United States. You might ask yourself, is I agree with the material in the book, does it make me anti-Semitic? No it does not. Personally, I have Jewish friends and even dated a woman of the Jewish faith. I was never taught hate growing up and my parents invited everyone into their home regardless of creed, ethnicity and even sexual orientation. However my parents did teach us to examine all sides of an issue and make a decision based off of what is known and not by what is assumed. And it is for that reason that I believe this book is a critical read.
The book is not only an account of Findley’s difficulty in taking a strong stance on the Israeli lobby, but other politicians throughout history who have taken on the machine. Some of the names will be familiar to readers such as Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) and William J. Fulbright (1905-1995). Other names will be known only by few but their stories are as important as the rest in understanding the costs associated with speaking the truth about U.S. foreign policy regarding Israel. Careers were destroyed and lives ruined by those with a vested interest in maintaining a power hold over legislation and the media. The stories are too high in number to reveal here but I can say is that you might be surprised at how many people have had their lives ruined by the Israeli lobby for even questioning U.S. foreign aid to Israel of the occupation of the Gaza strip. Others have had their lives ruined for even meeting Arab officials from the PLO including Yassar Arafat (1929-2004) himself.
Findley has provided a staggering amount of information which is bound to confuse and in some cases anger the reader. But it is imperative that the reader recognizes that difference between the Israeli lobby and ordinary Jews in America who do not support what Israel does but are obligated to remain in silence and show unwavering support. As with any story, there are multiple sides and what sometimes seems to be black and white, will be revealed to have many shades of grey. The truth is rarely pleasant and in some cases upsetting. But if that is what the reader seeks, then books such as this are a necessity. The courage exemplified by Findley and others who have dared to speak out has give us the knowledge we need to make informed decisions before we lend our support to movements and causes.
As the book approached its end and I continued to digest everything that Findley had disclosed, I was haunted by the thought that there may never be true peace between Israel and Palestine. But if that is the ultimate goal then the first step is re-examine U.S. foreign policy. And doing so does not make anyone anti-Israel or anti-Semitic but an advocate of genuine and long-lasting peace. Furthermore, we are forced to remember that Judaism is one of the world’s oldest religions, observed by millions of great men and women and unrelated to many of things we learn through Findley’s words.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple” – Oscar Wilde
October 10, 1967 – Argentine newspaper Clarin announces that Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) has died in Bolivia on October 9 after being capture with a group of guerrilla fighters attempting to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America. In Buenos Aires, his family receives the news of his death and is completely devastated. Juan Martin, his younger brother, races to his father’s apartment where his mother and siblings have gathered as they attempt to piece together the last moments of Ernesto’s life. Che was secretly buried in an unmarked grave and his remains remained hidden for thirty years before author Jon Lee Anderson convinced a retired Bolivian general to reveal the grave’s location. His remains were returned to Havana on July 13, 1997 where he was buried with full military honors on October 17, 1997. In death, Che’s legacy grew exponentially and even today in 2017, he is the icon of revolution around the world. But after his death, what happened to his family and where did their lives take them? Juan Martin, at seventy-two years old, has decided to tell his story and reveal to us many facts about the Guevara family that have sometimes been overlooked by history.
Before reading this book, I was already familiar with Che’s story, having read Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, Remembering Che: My Life with Che Guevara and several others relating to the campaigns in Cuba, the Congo and Bolivia. But I was always curious to know how Guevara’s fame affected the lives of his family. A couple of months ago, I watched an interview with Juan Martin from Buenos Aires that appeared on the news station France24. And it was then that I learned of his book in which he reminisces about his famous older brother. And what I found in the pages of this book is a story that should be read by those who admire Che and even those who loathe him. I would like to point out that the book is not a glorification of his brother. Without question, they shared a special bond and he remembers him with fondness but admittedly, he was fifteen when Che died and did not have the decades long relationship with him that his parents and older siblings did. Nevertheless, he shares many great details about their lives, shattering long-held myths about the Guevara and Lynch names.
In death, famous people sometimes become larger than life and their stories are retold but often misinterpreted and sometimes outright distorted. It is well-known that Che was very close to his mother, but as Juan Martin shows, Ernesto even tested her patience at times and his relationship with his father was not as great as some have been led to believe. They had many battles and never completely saw eye to eye on various issues but it in the end the elder Guevara supported his son and benefited from his legacy.
To understand Che’s life, it is necessary to trace the family’s origins several generations back. Juan Martin provides a short biography to clear the record about the family name. What I found interesting is that their family life was far from upper class and was highly nomadic. Money was usually and issues and several moves between Rosario, Misiones, Alta Gracia and Buenos Aires proved to be a challenge for the family of seven. But incredibly, they maintained strong family bonds that were desperately needed following Che’s death. The events in Cuba would change the family’s life forever in more ways than one. What is often misunderstood is that while Che had enormous success in Cuba, his accomplishments received little to no acknowledgement in Argentina. And having been there myself, I can attest to the fact that you will not find monuments or murals to him rampant throughout Buenos Aires. And following his death, the family would have to fear for their lives as a brutal dictatorship under Juan Peron locked the country in a vice grip and leftist organizations were persecuted beyond belief. And it is this part of the story where Juan Martin’s life takes on a life of its own.
Juan Martin Guevara spent eight years in incarceration for suspected leftist activity. His wife Viviana was incarcerated for an equal amount of time. In fact, most of Che’s immediately family were forced to leave Argentina as the government initiated a crackdown on anyone suspected of being communist. And during that time, the Guevara name was suspect to immediate suspicion. He along with millions of other Argentines lived through the tragedy of the “disappeared” in which an estimated 30,000 Argentines are believed to have been seized and murdered by nefarious elements within the government. The Falklands War followed in 1982 and the country reached its breaking point under the government of Carlos Menem (1930-) when the convertibility system imploded and the Corralito was imposed on Argentine citizens limiting the amount of money people were allowed to withdraw from their bank accounts. Today he is still going strong, having lived through appendicitis, hepatitis and even a heart attack while in prison. Sadly, his older sister Celia, who he describes as being just like Che in many ways, has steadfastly refused to discuss her famous older brother, never recovering from his death and according Juan Marin, completely unaware he had written this book. His children grew up in Cuba and now live in Europe and other parts of the world. Four of Che’s five children still reside in Cuba where his daughter Aleida and son Camilo carry on their father’s legacy. And Fidel, who died on November 25, 2016 makes his presence felt in the book providing many gestures of good will for the Guevara family as they made a new life in Cuba.
Che will also be a controversial figure but with this book, Juan Martin has in fact shown more of the private side of Che and relayed the truth about what their family life was really like as they grew in Argentina. There are many parts of the book which are said and also shocking but necessary to understand the political climate that existed then and continues to plague Latin America. In the end, this is a fitting tribute from a younger brother to an older sibling, whom he misses dearly and idolized.
America continues to find itself in the midst of social and political upheaval. The era of Jim Crow and racial persecution are reminders of a not too distant past. The young generation of today will have their own causes to fight and believe in and some of them will resemble the monumental effort behind the push for racial equality that culminated with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. James Baldwin (1924-1987) served as an unofficial historian, transforming what he witnessed into the books he left us with that examine the ills of society and human nature. Race and sexuality have been the focus of several of his works based in part of his own ethnic makeup and homosexuality. In the classic Giovanni’s Room, he addressed the inner conflict faced by those who struggle with bisexuality. In this book, he once again touches on that topic and love in general while supplementing the main topics with the complicated and tragic concept of human nature.
The story begins in Harlem, New York as we are introduced to a musician named Rufus Scott. He has just met a recent transplant to New York City from Georgia named Leona. Sparks fly between the two and Rufus invites her to an after party at the apartment of a friend. It is there that they come intimate and that encounter sets into motion a chain of events that affects nearly every single character in the book. Rufus’ best friend in Vivaldo, a young Italian from Brooklyn. He is involved with an older woman named Jane, who has a drinking problem but somehow manages to function and continue painting. At first, Rufus and Leona are on the path to love but reality quickly sets in. You see, Rufus is a Black American and Leona, a white woman from the South. And this is before laws against interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Their trials and tribulations are heartbreaking and Rufus struggles with Leona and himself all the way to the end. Incredibly, the two of them only take up a third of book, the rest is devoted to Rufus’ friends and former flame, who all converge to add unexpected twist and turns to each other’s lives.
Readers beware, this book is not for the faint at heart. The language at times is crass and the speech blunt. But Baldwin did not write this for an afternoon special, this is an unfiltered look into the relationships between friends and lovers of both sexes. Rufus’ younger sister Ida, eventually falls for his friend Vivaldo and in some way, they become a reincarnation of Rufus and Leona with a few notable exceptions. Ida becomes part of the inner circle of Richard and Clarissa “Cass” Silenski, Steve Ellis, and Eric Jones, the wildcard of the group who will remind readers of the character David in Giovanni’s Room. Those familiar with Baldwin’s life will recall that he not only died in France but spent a considerable amount of time in his life there and in Istanbul, Turkey. Paris is a part of the book and the place in which we learn more about Eric Jones, the “prodigal son” who returns to the United States even more uncertain of his understanding of what love truly is. His partner in France, Yves, is scheduled to arrive in the United States a few weeks after he arrives but before he does, Eric impacts the story in a major way which will never be forgotten by any of the characters. Incredibly, despite all that happens in the book, the story still belongs to Rufus who none of us can forget for too long as we make it through the book. And I do believe that at some parts of the book are based off of Baldwin’s life experiences or at the least, the characters composites of people he did know.
Where the book truly shines is in its examination of infidelity and the struggle that plagued interracial couples. Monogamy proves to be difficult for the characters in the book but we are reminded that they are human beings and humans do fail and make mistakes. But if we look past the shocking revelations, we can see the characters making a valiant effort to show us how and why we sometimes do the things that we do. And for those readers who have a spouse of love interest of a different background, the story of Rufus and Leona followed by Ida and Vivaldo will touch you directly as you find yourself able to relate to some of the challenges they face. Times have certainly changed since Baldwin finished this classic in 1961, but what is paramount, is that it takes a large amount of courage, sacrifice and understanding when one is involved in an interracial relationship. But love can and does prevail, and Baldwin does a great job of showing us the complicated ways in which we are able to make it last. I have always understood that it is far easier to hate someone than it is to love them. Loving another person is truly one of the hardest things we ever have to in life. But the reward is both fulfilling and to those who are the recipients of our affection.
Baldwin truly shines here, and the book is one of his greats. This is New York City and the story of a group of friends, bonded by tragedy and nearly separated by love, sex and the demons that come with all parts of life. And when you have finished this incredible story, you will have more of an appreciation for one of the greatest writers America has ever produced.
Every year that I age, I have noticed that I have a growing appreciation for classic literature and the works of other authors that are no longer with us. James Baldwin (1924-1987) is near the top of my list of authors whose books are critical to American history and the current day state of affairs in the United States. The Harlem native who took his last breath in France, stands out as a commentator on race in America. His observations which he then put into words, were sharp, analytical and deeply profound. Baldwin lived what could only be described as an eventful but complicated life. He was a Black American and homosexual in a time in which both were considered to be crimes of the highest nature. America had yet to see the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and homosexuality was still considered a crime against nature in many states. Baldwin was both and carried himself with an aura of confidence and intellect that has remained impressive many years after his death. In this short but intriguing book, Baldwin comments on race in America based off of his experience and encounters with White Americans and even Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. He never joined the nation but his account of his meeting with Muhammad is one of the highlights of the book. Racial discrimination is never an easy topic to discuss and many of us would prefer to discuss more pleasant issues. But Baldwin was a master of taking a explosive topic and relaying it to the reader in a way that forces one to do deep soul-searching if they are not African-American and reevaluate their own existence if they are.
Too often, it is assumed that books about racial inequality are attacks against White Americans. That is not Baldwin’s goal. In fact, Baldwin’s social circle was very diverse, consisting of White Americans, Black Americans, Europeans and Turkish individuals among others. In fact, in the book there is a part in which he feels conflicted about his White friends and his own social situation in America. His experience is not meant to demean or drive a wedge between friends but highlights the inner conflict that can engulf anyone. The key to appreciating Baldwin’s work is to remember that it was written in a time period that is much different from 2017. Jim Crow, voter suppression, poverty and class based war made life deplorable for minorities and poor White Americans. And before the courage of the Loving family, interracial marriage was illegal throughout the country. Every great movement needs voices like Baldwin, to remind of us where we come from and what we need to do in order to move forward. It is a shame that today, his voice has been largely forgotten by a generation that has no connection of one of the greatest writers in American history.
I truly wish Baldwin had completed more books before his death. His mind was uncanny and we are fortunate to have the works that he left behind. This book is not just for Black or White Americans, but for anyone who wishes to examined and understand America’s unpleasant history with racial equality. History is not always pleasant but the darkness in it, helps us not to make the same mistakes again but to try a different path that works and exemplifies what progress truly is. Baldwin does it again with another classic.
Harlem, New York has been and still is crucial to New York City politics. The area that was home to the majority of African-Americans has been affected by the wave of gentrification that has reached nearly every major city across the nation. Musicians, actors, gangsters and politicians have found fame and fortune in the neighborhood with a storied past. And of all of the colorful characters to use Harlem as their base of activity, perhaps none is as famous as the late Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972) There is a street named in his honor in the area but sadly, the generation of today is largely unaware of his story and his contributions to American society. He has been described as flamboyant, stubborn, cunning and of great intelligence. He earned the affection of his congregation and millions of minorities and the wrath of presidents and senators determined to put an end to his career. Forty-five years have passed since his death on April 4, 1972. Cancer proved to be his biggest opponent, taking his life at the age of sixty-three. But who was the real Adam Clayton Powell, Jr? And why is he so important to the Civil Rights Movement and the African-American experience? Wil Haygood has researched Powell’s life and compiled this definitive account of the late congressman’s life.
Powell’s life was anything but ordinary and Haygood brings the past alive as we become more acquainted with Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. as we follow him through life as he attends Colgate University, succeeds his father as pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church and takes the plunge into politics. Legendary figures of the past make an appearance throughout the book, some of whom are still alive today. Some loved him and some hated him, but all can agree that there was no other like him. The Powell amendment, which mandated the withholding of funds to cities that refused to follow federal law mandating desegregation was a landmark piece of legislation and remains his crowning achievement. But for all of his highlights, there was also another side to the famed politician. And Haygood, as a biographer, does not avoid the darker parts of his life.
Several marriages, a playboy like lifestyle and a larger than life character are just some of the many dimensions that composed Powell. The revelations in the book are not easy to accept but they reinforce the notion that in life we do have to take the negative with the positive. And flawed as he was, he lived his life on his own terms and without compromise. Today, many would not blink an eye to the escapades of Powell but in his era, far more conservative than today, Powell was pushing the boundaries of acceptability at every turn. And for millions of young men and women of color, he became a source of pride and inspiration. His power allowed him to move through political circles but also earned him the wrath of powerful enemies who would come together as the cast of villains in the hearings that resulted in Powell losing his congressional seat which he eventually obtained again following a successful litigation campaign.
Life for Powell was fast and full of highs and lows. In hindsight, we can see the habits and decisions that led to his early death. And in death, he is remembered as one of Harlem’s greats. Powell’s is long gone but through this book, his memory to continues. The children of Harlem and across the nation today have no connection to Powell, but if he were alive, he would be fighting right now in their best interest. And for New York City residents, we should remember his life every time we drive down Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. This is his life, the story of a New York City legend whose legacy shall never fade. Haygood’s book is a welcomed addition to any library.
The death of Idi Amin Dada on August 16, 2003, caused a stir of emotions in Uganda, the country he once ruled with an iron fist. His name is infamous and the crimes of his regime are endless. He ranks high among the worst dictators in world history and is a case study of the rampant abuse of power by a malevolent tyrant. Actor Forest Whitaker brilliantly played the late dictator in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland. The film was fictionalized in part, but Whitaker capture the essence of Amin’s character and his performance was nothing short of phenomenal. The real Idi Amin was far worse as we know and there is a chance that the true number of the crimes committed by him and his henchmen will never be known. The fates of hundreds of Ugandans remain a mystery with no sense of closure in sight. Nearly four decades have passed since Amin fled into exile but he is a permanent part of Ugandan history. In this book by journalist Andrew Rice, we take a different look at the Amin regime, not through his life but through the lives of those who served him. The lives and stories intersect around the murder of Eliphaz Laki, the former county chief of Ibanda, Mbarara. In 1972, he was apprehended by Amin’s enforcers, led by Yusuf Gowon, assisted and abetted by Nasur Gille and Mohamed Anyure. His murder was covered up until his son Duncan returned to his native country in a quest to find his father’s killers. Duncan emigrated to the United States, settling in New Jersey with his wife. Their union produced four children and Laki supports his family as a lawyer. But the laws of the United States are different from Uganda as we see in the book. This is his story and a step back into time as we revisit the Protectorate of Uganda under the all watchful eye of Amin.
Before you open this book, I recommend that you remove any pre-conceived notions about Uganda. Personally, I found that after reading this book, there was much about the African nation that I did not know. In contrast to the picture of Africa being a land of savages, the truth is that colonialism, tribalism and corruption combined to eliminate any semblance of a properly functioning society. As Rice follows Duncan on his mission to bring his father’s killers to justice, the complex web of jealousy and suspicion ignited by Amin’s paranoia becomes evidently clear. Tragically, what could have been a great country, seemed to regress upon finally gaining its independence. In the book, as each character is introduce, Rice retraces their history, explaining in detail why they’re relevant to the current story. Expectedly, former leader Milton Obote appears throughout the story as he and Amin end up on a collision course for control of the country. The book develops into a history lesson on Ugandan politics and is a social study of the issues that continue to plague it today. It should be pointed out that the book is not a biography of Amin. In fact, as Rice points out, Amin’s early life is highly obscure and his exact date of birth was never been attained. The focus instead is on Duncan’s investigation with the help of a local investigator, Alfred Orijado. Their investigation leads them to the three suspects who are arrested and interrogated before signing confessions explaining their role in Eliphaz Laki’s death. And similar to the former Nazi officials, the Nuremberg defense once again rears its ugly head.
The trial eventually reveals the many flaws in the Uganda system while highlighting the progress that had been made administratively under the direction of former President Yoweri Museveni. Along with Amin and Milton Obote, Museveni is a permanent fixture in Ugandan history with the distinction of having served thirty-one years as the ruler of Ugandan. He has been called a dictator and if he should move to change the law to exempt him from retiring at the mandatory age of seventy-five, the accusations will hold more weight. Nonetheless, he is a walking piece of history at the age of seventy-one, having witnessed Uganda’s darkest times first hand. His prominence is slowly slipping as younger Ugandans look towards a brighter future with change in a new direction.
Westerners may find it hard to relate to the events in the book. For those of us lucky enough to have grown up in the United States, a civil war is unknown to us personally and something we have read about in textbooks. But for immigrants from Uganda who remember Amin’s reign, the terror remains with them every day reminding them of how tragic their lives once were. And while the ending is not what the reader may expect, the book is invaluable is showing what life was like in Uganda during that era. In death, Amin has joined the ranks of Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and other dictators whose dark legacies continue to haunt the nations they once ruled. Uganda continues to heal and the story of Eliphaz and Duncan Laki, is just one of thousands to be told about the maniacal Idi Amin Dada.
Wagner Moura became one of Netflix’s most memorable faces when he assumed the role of infamous drug czar Pablo Escobar in the hit series Narcos. The series, while based off of true events, is also a fictional account of the late kingpin’s life as a cocaine trafficker and public enemy number one in Colombia. The received rave reviews and I enjoyed it immensely. I was aware of Escobar’s story before watching the show and knew that the producers would tweak some parts of the story to enhance its seduction. The created a hit that will remain one of the best products of the digital behemoth. But some of us may be asking ourselves, how much did Netflix get right? And what did they change as they filmed the show? Shaun Attwood goes behind the camera and revisits the real story of Pablo’s rise and downfall that lead to his death on December 2, 1993 in the city of Medellín.
Attwood gives a brief recap of Escobar’s early life before returning the story at hand, his time as a narco. And it is here that the story quickly picks up speed. Netflix changed some of the names of the major players in the story most likely for either legal or creative reasons. For some readers, they may need to quickly catch clips of the show to match the characters. The deaths are also different but follow the same narration as the show. Pablo once again takes center stage with a supporting cast of deadly enforcers. Combined with the animosity of rival cartels, law enforcement, revels and a president determined to see Escobar fall, the war on Escobar and drug trafficking nearly turned Colombia into a bloodbath. The violence and increase in American consumption in cocaine, earned Escobar the wrath of Washington, then under control of President George H.W. Bush. Attwood probes in the battle between the two and Washington’s many actions to bring the drug lord down. Some are familiar but other information might be surprising for some readers who were unaware of the extent of Washington’s involvement in Escobar’s apprehension.
In spite of changes by the producers of Narcos, the show did an excellent job of telling the story. The actors in the show all did an incredible job of bringing the past alive again in stunningly vivid detail. The cinematography was beyond amazing and Colombia became enchanting real, a beautify country caught in an unfortunate situation. As I read the book, I involuntarily pictured the actors from the show as I read the conversations that are put on display in the book. And although their faces and names are changed, their roles in the story are not. To be fair to Attwood, the book is not a biography of Escobar, so readers in search of that will be disappointment. But for those who want to know what was changed during the filming of Narcos and what really happened, Attwood does a great job of putting it together in a narrative easy to follow and thoroughly engaging.
Twenty-three years have passed since his death but Escobar continues to live in pop culture, documentaries and on the internet. To be fair, a large number of traffickers existed at the time Escobar made his name. Some of them are still alive today while others are incarcerated or deceased. Regardless of their present status, none have come close to matching the man who could arguably be called narco number one. In future years, he will continue to fascinate and mystify and his story is re-told and readopted for the silver screen. In death he has become martyr, icon and glimpse into Colombia’s dangerous past. Narcos has yet to be discovered, but more viewers will tune into the show and have many questions about the true story. With books such as these, they will find the answers that they seek.
Grandmothers 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.
On March 20, 2003, the United States military invaded the Republic of Iraq. The invasion marked the second time US and Iraqi forces faced off in armed conflict. Saddam Hussein, the ruler of Iraq was deposed and fled into hiding. He was captured several months later on December 10, 2003 and three years later, executed by hanging. Over 10 years have passed since his death and Iraq continues to struggle with stability in the face of internal factions divided along tribal and religions lines and the emergence of ISIS intent of claiming their portion of territory across the Middle East. After he was captured, he was debriefed by American forces. The man who many Americans had seen as a powerful dictator on television, was reduced to another captured fugitive on a most wanted list. His appearance before cameras with a full beard and unkempt hear, remains one of the most popular images from that decade. However, it was a stark contrast from the man who allegedly had his mind-set on the destruction of America. But is that was Saddam Hussein really wanted? And what were his thoughts leading up to and during the invasion? John Nixon served as a former Senior Analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency and was tasked with debriefing the fallen dictator. This book is a recap of his career and the conversations he had with Hussein following his historic capture.
I believe that in order to truly enjoy this book, it is necessary for the reader to abandon any pre-conceived notions he or she might have about Hussein. While he was in fact a brutal tyrant, he did serve as Iraq’s head of state and provides insight to the decisions and non-decisions prior to the U.S. invasion. Prior to reading the book, I knew that Hussein was one of the worst rulers the world had seen. But I was curious as to what he truly thought about U.S. foreign policy towards his country. His answers a lot of questions and also clears up a few long-standing rumors. After finishing the book, I did not come away with a favorable impression of Hussein. Neither did I feel any more antipathy towards him. I do empathize with the men and women of Iraq who suffered under his reign. And I do feel that he was either unable or unwilling to see the error in his ways. At one point during the book he makes it clear that ruling Iraq was no easy task because of several factors and fears. Perhaps he is right, after all he would know better than any of us. I did find it easier to understand why he did not fully prepare for the invasion but found it increasing difficult to find any justification for the invasion. I never believed in the invasion and after reading Hussein’s answers, it seems even more bizarre and highlights a terrible moment in U.S. foreign policy.
It may sound ridiculous to some but during the book, it seemed absurd that the Hussein that is captured was the leader of Iraq. Perhaps his capture served to humble him slightly but I had trouble looking at him in the same way. Was he naive about some things? Absolutely. Was he also defiant? Yes he was. But the real question is was he a threat to American security and did he plan to kill both George H.W. Bush and the daughters of George W. Bush? Nixon touches on those topics and the answers just might surprise you. Nixon did an excellent job of remaining unbiased throughout the book. At no time does he praise of show disdain for Hussein. He does point out errors in Hussein’s answers and does make comments about his character but he gives a balanced account and lets the former ruler speak for himself.
Saddam is by far the highlight and main topic of the book. But where the book also piques interest is in Nixon’s account of the meetings with President Bush. His memories help shed light on what the White House was thinking and willing to believe as the events were taking place. And although I’m sure the book was heavily vetted by the CIA and perhaps the Obama administration, Nixon is quite frank in his assessment of both cabinets. He also points out where the ball was dropped and the difficulty America has in understanding our counterparts in the Middle East and in particular, Iraq. The book is not the end all account of the story of the invasion but it is a great read to understanding the mind of Saddam Hussein.
On the nights of June 27 and June 28, 1969, riots occurred that changed the history of New York City and gave strength to the movement for equality and legal rights for gay men, lesbian women, transgender and transsexual people. The incidents became known as the Stonewall riots, and took place in and outside of the Stonewall bar in Manhattan’s West Village neighborhood. The bar is no longer there, but on those hot summer nights in 1969, the LGBT community made a stand that shocked not only the New York City P0lice Department but an entire city. The episode stands out as one of the movement’s most powerful moments that has never been forgotten. David Carter presents to us an investigative report of what really happened during the Stonewall riots and allows us to understand why and how they came to be.
Today it is hard for some to imagine the enormous struggle faced by gay men and lesbian women in their search for equality. Same-sex marriage and strides in all sectors of society have removed the early struggle from public awareness. However, less than 50 years ago, a new revolution based on the civil rights movement and inspired by its fallen heroes emerged as the LGBT community stood up and said no more. Carter exhaustive researched the riots and spoke with many of the first hand witnesses including the late Seymour Pine, a former Inspector for the New York City Police Department, whose raids on the Stonewall served as the catalyst for the riots to follow. Pine provided invaluable insight into the raids and up until the time of his death, made it clear the he was following orders and not a personal vendetta.
The beauty is Carter’s book is his ability to take us back into time to see what it was like to be a gay man or lesbian woman in New York City at a time when harassment, imprisonment, discrimination and acts of violence occurred regularly. The incidents that take place in the book prior to the riots are ugly and shocking but reveal the true nature of the officers who patrolled the streets and the unfavorable light in which homosexuals were placed. Carter also introduces us to the major characters in the book, some of whom are still alive today and serve as a part of the past which we should not forget. The youth of today will not recognize their names but to an older generation of activists, the names of Harry Hay, Dick Leitsch, Randy Wicker, Frank Kameny and Martha Shelley are among the pioneers of an exceptional movement. Their efforts and visions paved the way for the rise of organizations that would play a central role such as the Mattachine Society, Homosexual League of New York, Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance.
Sadly, many of the pioneers of the movement are no longer with us. The emergence of HIV and AIDS resulted in the deaths of thousands of gay men. The gay cancer as it was known initially, claimed lives unrelentingly before Washington finally addressed the growing crisis. The epidemic served as one more major obstacle to be overcome by the LGBT community in their quest for equality. The advancement of LGBT people today is a testament to the hard work and tireless efforts of thousands of men and women who risked their lives in the name of freedom. Their struggle continues and as they continue to make strides and face uphill struggles, the events of Stonewall will remain fresh in the mind as a reminder of the power of resistance. Further, the events of those nights force us to examine our own actions and beliefs towards those who are different.
The village of today in New York City is a stronghold for the LGBT community. For those who visit, it is to be understood that it is their haven and you are a visitor. Their lifestyles are sometimes unconventional and in some cases shocking and in others, flamboyant. But they do not ask for approval, only respect and understanding. And if we are to forget that, then we run the risk of seeing the events of Stonewall replayed before our eyes. This book is a good place to start for anyone seeking to understand the beginnings of the gay rights movement in New York City.