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Herbert L Calhoun "paulocal" RSS Feed (Falls Church, VA USA)

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Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam
Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam
by Zainab Salbi
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.70
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Archeology of fear: How a child learns the ways of tyranny, July 25, 2014
This book brings a stark and frightening realness to the meaning of tyrannical fear, as it is told through the rich and intelligent mind of an 11-year old, as she matured into full womanhood. Zainab, Salbi, the eldest child of Saddam's private pilot, rummages back through her childhood, sharing with us vivid mental pictures of what the psychology of fear under a brutal dictator is really like.

Social, psychological, political and economic existence as a member of Saddam's inner circle was always a zero-sum game among those vying for Saddam's attention. It was a brutal and vicious game that Saddam played using the members of his inner circle as his chess pieces. Winning the game placed you at the pinnacle of attention only for a moment. Everything that Saddam gave with one hand he retook with the other. All his gifts came with a heavy price tag. Those who began by enjoying his favor, were showered with glittering gifts, meaningless state honors, and otherwise lauded with Saddam's attention... And then the game took a more sinister twist as it began all over again: but this time with the previous winner, in the barrel.

Pitting sycophants who had no choice in the matter against each other in a desperate game of psychological Russian Roulette -- their vain search for validation and for some non-existent love and glory from Saddam Hussein -- was a demeaning and undignified fool's game that those in his inner circle had no choice but to play. For "opting out," garnered exactly the same penalty as "choosing to play:" eventually coming under suspicion as of questionable trust as in subversive. This led directly to being investigated by the Mukhabarat, who would then open a secret dossier on you; and then on to the inevitable torture and interrogations designed to wring Saddam's version of the truth out of you. Saddam's truth was always exactly what he wanted it to be, which usually meant the accused was guilty. And then finally the old familiar coup de grace: an ignominious disappearance; and if one were lucky, death by a shot behind the ear.

Zainab was lucky than most of us to have had two incredibly loving parents: One gave her the wings to fly, and the other pushed her out of her cage. But being the courageous woman she eventually grew to be, as founder of "Women for International Women," she elected not to take either of her parents' recommended flight paths. She flew solo and found her own way around and across the world.

A wonderfully uplifting and well-told story: [They shoot Iraqis behind the ear don't they? No, didn't you know, they all die in car accidents on the motor way? Yes, of course, what is wrong with me? I knew that.] Five stars

The Eichmann Trial (Jewish Encounters)
The Eichmann Trial (Jewish Encounters)
by Deborah E. Lipstadt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.86
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Book Despite my best efforts to discredit it, July 23, 2014
From the outset of this book, I kept trying to find ways to discredit it, since many of its arguments ran counter to my own, and since it set up as "straw men," the trial against a "holocaust denier," and a similar entitled book by Hannah Arendt -- a recently deposed intellectual hero of mine. However, try as I might, this author "kept coming up with the goods."

And while it may seem childish on my part to have excommunicated Hannah Arendt from my own self-conceived, private moral/intellectual universe -- after discovering that she was not only a protege, and lover/student of the Nazi-philosopher, Martin Heidegger, but also was the only Jew to come to his defense in the trial in which a WW-II dossier had "outed" him and his writings as secretly sympathetic to the Nazi cause, and as one who had been "pegged" by Hitler to be the Nazi's own "in-house" ideological philosopher.

The reader may recall that in her book, Arendt took an avowedly philosophical, intellectual, and humanistic approach to the trial and brought them all to an emotionally arousing neatly-dovetailed conclusion. What the present book may lack in emotional arousal, philosophical deftness, and intellectual sophistication, it more than makes up for with a relatively coherent treatment of all the important nuances that lay at the root of the trial and its preparations -- which arguably were more important that the trial itself.

Reading the two books together makes for an interesting intellectual juxtaposition that in the end is a necessary and satisfying whole that is comfortably larger than the sum of the parts.

The strength of the present book is that it neatly enfolds the trial into the biography of the defendant -- an uneducated, politically unsophisticated, nondescript, technocratic functionary whose anti-Semitism and ego, evolved together precisely in tandem to meet the needs of his advancements into an anti-Semitic Nazi SS General. It is amazing how simply and how smoothly this approach lays everything about Eichmann bare -- even if it does not quite always explain everything that is important about the trial.

In this latter regard the author did her level best to try to tie up all the loose ends, but that, in my view, was a task better left to Ms. Arendt, and her philosophical and moral approach, which came blazing around the curve in the final stretch to do all the heavy-lifting. So despite this book, I was able to know the unbiased moral story quite well by having read Arendt's book.

To have begun the book about holocaust denial, an easy but wholly irrelevant foil if ever there was one, was to get the manuscript off on the wrong foot and bogged-down in irrelevancies in a big way. But it also got me, and perhaps other readers, to thinking about a whole host of other related issues, like: What about the other 11 million Poles, Slavs, Russians, Gypsies, homosexuals, and religious and political prisoners that Hitler gassed? Indeed, why is it that the European Holocaust is always reduced to and restricted only to Jews? Second, why is there only one state in the whole world that is race-based, as in Israel "the Jewish State?" Third, what gives Israel the right to kidnapped an individual from another sovereign UN member state, in clear violation of international law, and then try him in the courts of the kidnapping state?

Does this not by definition make the trial illegitimate? Is this not what special war tribunals are set up for? It seems to me that Eichmann's crimes were committed before the state of Israel existed and therefore should be considered legally vacuous and moot by customary and standard international law, no? Does this not by definition make using Israel as a venue, little more than a "show trial" at best, and a dramatic farce of international law at worse? Eichmann was charged with murder, yet there was not even one scintilla of circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution that he actually murdered anyone? What about the glaring moral similarities of the Israel today, vis-a-vis the Palestinians; and Nazi Germany vis-a-vis the Jews, during WW-II: viz, Jews were stripped of their citizenship, forbade to marry Germans, and herded into unspeakable ghettoes, etc, just as is done to today's Palestinians? But more than that, the Palestinians are repeatedly bombed into oblivion, denigrated and humiliated before the international community as Israeli's coward leaders continue to hide behind the U.S. politicians they own? and finally, a point that is never raised is this: What about the Arabs today, who fully embraced not just the anti-Semitism of Hitler but all the other racist tripe that goes with it; aren't they too even today still both fascist and racists as well as anti-Semitic? Why are the Arabs as a group never called out for their fascist ways as well as for their latent racism as well as their anti-Semitism?

And while the author did give reasonable answers to a few of these questions, the continuity of the book had already been severely undercut, by introducing the easy but loaded discussion about holocaust denial. That discussion, which was mostly an irrelevant sideshow, proved absolutely nothing. It was such an unnecessary distraction, that from the outset I began to distrust the author's bonafides.

However, in a manner of speaking, she did somehow save the manuscript by giving us such a vivid psychological picture of Eichmann, who had attended the same High School in Linz, Austria as Hitler; had been recommended for his first job by wealthy Jewish neighbors; and had just wandered into an NSDAP office and signed-up to become a Nazi out of the same ignorance that also caused him to sign-up for the SS. This all had happened at a time when the Nazis were not yet on the German political map.

Eichmann "made his bones" as many politicians who eventually rise to power (like Hitler himself), by spying on their political adversary and then by writing a paper on what he had seen. Eichmann was a complete blank slate, and once he was on the Nazi conveyor belt, there was no way for him to get off even if he had wanted to, and he never wanted to. The trial, except for the emotional catharsis, it brought to holocaust survivors was an anti-climatic event. Three stars

Collins Latin Concise Dictionary (Harpercollins Concise Dictionaries)
Collins Latin Concise Dictionary (Harpercollins Concise Dictionaries)
by Harpercollins Publishers
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars More useful than it seems ..., July 21, 2014
Next to "Le Mot Juste,", I find this Harper Collins, concise dictionary almost as useful as a normal English or crossword puzzle dictionary. Obviously this is owing to the fact that so much of english has latin origins and roots. The bonus though is that it is four dictionaries in one: latin grammar, latin dictionary, brief summary of Roman history, culture and life, and a brief dictionary of "most often used latin idiomatic phrases and expressions." A well-deserved four stars.

Why the Confederacy Lost
Why the Confederacy Lost
by James M. McPherson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.69
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5.0 out of 5 stars The African-American Role in the Union Victory, July 20, 2014
In this edited collection of five well-argued articles by several renown Historians, we discover that the outcome of the war was never a foregone conclusion. The author, of course does not take sides but allows his contributors to have their say.

In the first article, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian, James McPherson, makes the same argument that many Rebel soldiers made, that the Union Army had something to say about why the South lost, and in particular, the Union Generals, who persevered even when the going got tough and the outcome remained in serious doubt. Archer Jones, in the second article, believed the battle ended as a strategic draw, owing primarily to the fact that politics kept intervening to drive strategy on both sides.

Gary Gallagher, in the third article believed that the role of the generals on both sides were decisive and that in this battle of the generals, Sherman and Grant edged out Lee. Reid Miller, in the fifth article, argued that the Union's decisive advantage in numbers and industrial might, in the end proved decisive. However, the most convincing argument in my view was made in the final article by Joseph T. Glatthaar, entitled, "Black Glory: The African-American Role in Union Victory." A summary of Glatthaar's story makes up the body of this review.

To wit: On the eve of Lincoln's preparation to run for a second term, for the Union at least, and as late as January 1863, at best the status of the battlefield situation was a stalemate. And thus, taking into consideration all of the North's strategic advantages going into the war, Lincoln feared that many voters would interpret the stalemate as exactly what it was: a very likely emerging defeat for the Union Army.

Even as brilliant a thinker and Lawyer as Lincoln was, he apparently was still late in seeing the situation clearly for what it was. The North needed to use its only remaining hole-card: enlisting the more than half a million black men to the Union cause. The only pregnant question left for a strategically sensible Union General to ask President Lincoln, even a racist general, was this: For God's sakes, considering how valuable blacks are to the cause of the war on both sides, why have black men not already been "impressed" as soldiers to fight for the Union cause? It was the same question Frederick Douglass also had asked Lincoln on many occasions.

Glatthaar claims that there is a single incontrovertible answer to that pregnant question: America was saturated with racism, both North and South. Neither side wanted to see the slaves be allowed to rise from their lowly caste status to that of Civil War war heroes. Both sides preferred to maintain the fiction of black inferiority rather than use the only trump card either side had remaining.

In the South, rather suicidally, the whole Southern cause revolved around maintaining completely intact, all the comforts of their idyllic genteel social conditions that slavery underwrote, dramatically reinforced and objectified. To the southerner, it was better to die losing to the North than to destroy the very way of life they had gone to war to fight for and defend in the first place: keeping blacks forever under their boots, as at best third-class non-citizens, was the Southerner's most important reason d'etre. Indeed, how could any right-thinking Southerner justify elevating black slaves, not just to full equality but to full-fledged hero status by allowing them to acquit themselves as heroes on a Southern battlefield?

The very thought was heretical to southern sensibilities. It would be better to lose to the Union than to allow this to happen. So, the best hope for the South was that blacks would simply remain loyal to their brutal Southern plantation masters. And by simply "taking up the slack" left by white farm boys who had to leave the farm and go off to the war front, the best the Rebels could hope for was that blacks would "stay put," and continue to help the Southern cause from behind the lines.

But this "Southern military wet dream," lasted only for the first two years of the war, when this scenario more or less played itself out precisely. At least that is what happened until Union troops began breaking through the Rebel lines to take over major Southern plantations. Until then, slave defections to the Union side had only been a trickle. Slaves had been maintaining the home front while the Southern white boys were "taking it to the Yanks."

The slaves dug trenches, erected fortifications, maintained railroads, mined essential minerals, manufactured war materials, including guns and ammunitions; maintained the plantations, harvested cotton and food crops, killed and dressed hogs and cattle, and prepared foods that fed the Rebel Army.

Despite all this, the Rebels always knew there was "a cliff out there:" that they were whistling past their own graveyards waiting for the next black shoe to fall in the stark contradiction that their increasing dependence on slave support for the successful prosecution of the war, implied. As well they should have been, they were paranoid about possible slave defections; and worse, possible slave insurrections. Always their worse "wet nightmare" was that the slaves would not only defect, but also would then revolt, and then be turned against them as Union soldiers -- literally heroes of the Northern cause and the primary reason for Southern defeat.

However, fortunately for the South, on the Northern side, it was the same white racism (Lincoln's own, his racist generals, as well as the Northern white population's more generally) that prevented Lincoln from seeing and then exploiting these very pregnant Southern fears and military weaknesses.

In fact, rather understandably, it was not until "the run up to the election" for his second term, that Lincoln sensed that the North might indeed be losing the war. And with this perception becoming more and more widespread, went his chances of winning a second term. This pessimistic assessment occurred at the same time that Lincoln was unhappy with his generals, and at a time when there was general disgruntlement about the war across the Northern landscape. This general unease about the likely failure of the war, was accompanied by a precipitous drop in Union recruitment. In fact, there had been recruitment riots in Northern streets against the continued and even increased "impressment" of young Northern boys into the war.

Incredibly, up until this point Lincoln had been obeying the "Fugitive Slave Act." Sending runaway slaves back across the Southern lines where they undoubtedly could continue to be used to further the Rebel war efforts. Only after Brigadier General Benjamin Butler unilaterally refused to hand over three runaway Virginia slaves, did Lincoln begin to take the hint. General Butler had argued that since Virginia had seceded from the Union, the "Fugitive Slave Act" no longer applied to it. Plus, since the slaves were being used for strictly military reasons, they must be considered "contraband of war" and therefore subject to confiscation.

But even this was not enough for Mr. Lincoln. Only after Major General George B. McClelland, (a died-in-the-wool racist like Lincoln himself), argued that it made no sense for Lincoln to defend slavery (by sending slave defectors back, when it was the very defeat of slavery that was the reason for the war in the first place), did Lincoln finally realize that the demands of the war must outweigh traditional Northern racist values and beliefs. Only after his own racist generals chastised him on this very point did Lincoln relent and decide on a slow path towards emancipation. But even here he wanted to maintain the option to send blacks back to Africa.

Once convinced, Lincoln had planned to announce the Proclamation in January 1863, but the Union Army's military situation was so dire at that time that it would have been embarrassingly obvious that "impressing" black soldiers at that time was surely the desperate act on Lincoln's part to try to save the North from certain defeat -- and at the same time save his re-election chances.

So, it was not until September that the situation on the ground improved well enough for Lincoln to announce his proclamation without appearing desperate for black intervention to save both Lincoln's military and Lincoln's own political bacon. As a result, nearly two hundred thousand black soldiers did eventually "saddled-up" in the last two years of the war to help the Union forces "rout" the Rebel's poisonous pro-slavery, and slightly more racist cause.

However, unfortunately, as we now know the rest of the story, those black solders were not to be deemed heroes of the war, or even of their own self-emancipation, or, for that matter, heroes of the Northern cause, as the South had expected them to become -- and as they had every right to be regarded. This part of Civil war history, black military heroism, was quietly buried with the dead soldiers on both sides -- never to be mentioned again.

And although slavery as a legally sanctioned institution did end with the South's surrender, and the eventual adoption of the 13th Amendment -- not with Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as many Americans, including blacks, still think was the case -- the poisonous, slightly more racist Southern way of life did not end with the South's military defeat or with the Emancipation Proclamation. As I like to say, and as contemporary history seems to have confirmed, the North may have won the shooting war, but history since, proves that the South won (and is still winning) the cultural war. We now have "southern style racism" and "vulgar racist Southern conservative politics" from sea-to-shinning-sea.

As "the rest of the story confirms:" Lincoln was assassinated, and as part of a deal that resulted in Rutherford B. Hayes' election to the presidency in 1876, the North betrayed the cause of racial equality by turning its back on the freed black men of the south who had helped them win the war.

Without a single shot being fired, and in a precedent unheard of in world history, the North simply handed over its military bounties back to the rabid racist Southerners who had started the Civil War in the first place. What they got in return was a compromised resolution of Hayes' "contested election," the Dred Scott Decision, which essentially retained slavery by other means in perpetuity, Woodrow Wilson and the revival of the KKK, and for the first time, as DW Griffith's vulgar film still reminds us, America became "One Racist White Nation United under a jealous and racist white God. And it has remained that way ever since. Five stars

Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America
Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America
by Jack N. Rakove
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.79
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5.0 out of 5 stars Did the Founding Fathers fail the Litmus test of Freedom?, July 15, 2014
by Jack Rakove

The moral Litmus test of the Revolutionary Generation

In this Pulitzer Prize winning book, entitled "Revolutionaries," about the American Revolutionary generation, the author, Jack Rakove, barely contains his romantic patriotic fervor enough not to allow it to get in the way of, or out in front of, the facts and motivations of our founding fathers. That he was able to walk this historical tight-rope without falling on his face, when so many other Historians have come crashing to the ground, is no small accomplishment. And arguably, is probably as much responsible for his winning the Pulitzer Prize as is his engaging and well-written narrative of the revolutionary period.

To cut straight to the chase, my agenda has always been an open one. It has been a quest to either confirm or deny (and then to expose) the Founding Fathers as either being men of high moral character and sound far-reaching judgment; or morally narrow-minded incorrigible racist hypocrites.

Always I have been willing to settle for whatever the facts might reveal, although I would be disingenuous if I were not to admit that my suspicion has always been that the latter is more likely to be true than the former. My suspicions are of course constantly being reinforced when I see how the American experiment in un-racial democracy has unfolded and misfired at every decisive inflection point throughout American history, including during the revolutionary generation.

It goes without saying perhaps that I have read (and reviewed) enough books on either side of this moral issue to qualify as someone who has at least taken this matter very seriously if not made me a self-declared arm-chair expert on the matter. Thus, this honest, balanced, well-written Pulitzer Prize winning book for me was to be one component of a two-pronged litmus test of my quest. The other component was to be the positions the founding fathers took respectively on the only moral issue of the day, one literally begging for a moral resolution throughout the founding generation: freedom for America's black slaves.

What we discover here in this carefully written Pulitzer winning book leaves no further doubt on this matter. Even as the author undoubtedly would have preferred not opening up this can of worms, clearly in good conscience he had no choice but to do so, and then he had no choice but to allow the chips to fall where they may. All of the chips fell resoundingly on the side of our founding fathers being morally incorrigible racist hypocrites, period.

Never is this issue brought into starker or more self-evident relief than in the discussions during the most trying times of the war -- on whether to grant freedom and citizenship to slaves who were then (out of dire necessity) about to be impressed into the Continental Army to fight against the British for "white only colonial freedom."

In discussions between the famous patriot Patrick Henry and his son Jack appearing on pages 238-239, Jack argued for granting slaves their full freedom and citizenship just as their enemies the British were already doing. His father, one of the most revered of American patriots averred nay. And several days later, the best proposal the Continental Congress could come up with was one made by the very architect of the Constitution, James Madison, who suggested that instead of granting slave soldiers their freedom, that "white soldiers drawn from the lower ranks, should be made slaveholders" -- presumably so that their slaves could then, instead of fighting, be left to tend the farms while the white boys fought the British for white only freedom?

The Continental Congress rejected Madison's idea -- as well as all others that suggested either freeing slaves who fought on the Colonial side, or making them citizens afterwards. They did this in the clear moral light of day while they prayed to their own white God for victory over the British. They did this cleared-headed and at the same time that the British were granting slaves their freedom as well as British citizenship as an automatic condition of military service? (Go figure?!)

Could the moral issue of where the revolutionary generation's heart lay on the issue of freedom be made more stark, or more clear? I do not think so. The quest has ended; the Founding fathers failed the litmus test. Amen Five Stars

The Conspirators: Secrets of an Iran-Contra Insider
The Conspirators: Secrets of an Iran-Contra Insider
by Al Martin
Edition: Paperback
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3.0 out of 5 stars This Story has considerable face validity, July 14, 2014
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If this author is to be believed, then the nightmare that General Eisenhower predicted in his farewell address, has already arrived. Behind the screen of "national security secrecy," our democracy has been hijacked and turned into a full-fledged rightwing "Criminocracy."

According to Al Martin, the umbrella used to do so has been the "Iran-Contra scandal." Martin, once an insider, is now on the outside, and yet, somehow, so far has lived to tell his story. And his story is this: The "Iran-Contra scandal" was much more than just a single series of "guns for hostage transactions." Indeed, it was a carefully constructed framework for still-running series of state sponsored criminal enterprises, all run out of the Republican Party. It is a framework that was established during the Reagan administration mostly under the tutelage of George HW Bush, obviously taking advantage of Reagan's not paying attention to what was going on right under his nose in his own administration. The organization is called "the Cause" and "the Enterprise."

Reagan and Bush's "Big Dog" rightwing anti-Communist life-long political contributors financed the initial layout to get the organization up and running, after which it generated enough income off the backs of American taxpayers on its own to be self-sustaining. And here we are talking about hundreds of billions if not trillions of taxpayer dollars.

The "Enterprise" consists of a cabal of about 5,000 individuals that include high level intelligence agency operatives (of which Bush and his sons were key players), high-level like-minded ultra-conservative military officers, key political operatives on the opposite side of the political divide (like the late Ron Brown, Bill Clinton, and Janet Reno) and intelligence assets in Israel and Latin America, and especially in Honduras and Haiti.

According to Martin, these elements came together in a conscious if not always a carefully planned, well-mapped out, or carefully orchestrated conspiracy. However loosely designed, it was nevertheless an intentional criminal strategy, designed to systematically engage in bank, insurance and stock fraud; extensive drug trafficking (as much as 50,000 kilograms per month) and gun-running (enough to arm a 50,000 man contra army) -- as well as one that engaged in as many as 400 murders (terminations) by the group's own designated hit teams to silence those who would betray the group's existence to the American public.

The Iran-Contra scandal we read about in the newspaper, bears little or no resemblance to the much larger, much more sinister behind the scenes version given here. Here the author takes us through a series of seemingly familiar criminal vignettes of which "we the people" in truth only caught a brief glimpse of. And while we may have recognized Reagan's trading missiles for hostages in order to scuttle Jimmy Carter's re-election chances, or later, the crashing of Barry Seal's and Eugene Hasenfus' C-130 in the Nicaraguan jungle en-route to Managua from Mena, Arkansas, loaded with guns bought with tons of cocaine, the truth is that this is not even half the story. The rest of that story simply stretches credulity and extends far wider and deeper than any of us could ever possibly have imagined.

In reading this book, since Martin survived to tell about it, I had to turn my own "crap detector" on, in order to screen Martin's revelations as possible "planted" CIA disinformation. But his story has considerable "face value" since some of the same characters (the usual suspects) that showed up in Dealey's Plaza on 11/22/63, and at the Watergate Hotel, make more than just cameo appearances in Iran-Contra too.

So, my conclusion is that if this is indeed part of a CIA disinformation program, it is much too sophisticated and much too fine-grained for my "crap detector" to discern the difference. Therefore, until I can find an independent, confirming (or disconfirming) alternative source, I am forced to give this author the benefit of the doubt. Three stars

The Story of World War II: Revised, expanded, and updated from the original text by Henry Steele Commanger
The Story of World War II: Revised, expanded, and updated from the original text by Henry Steele Commanger
by Donald L. Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.42
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Confessions of a WW-II Junky, July 12, 2014
Donald Miller's book is a worthy extension of Henry Steele Commanger's book "The Story of the Second World War." It is what Commanger's book would have been had Commanger interviewed more of the survivors of WW-II, and had he had access to the same rich historical documents and data from the archives of WW-II that Miller had access to here.

Even though the U.S. mainland was not invaded as was the case in Europe, and especially Russia, we nevertheless are a nation shaped by that war. WW-II was a "felt" experience for most U.S. families. Few families escaped the hardships of that war, and even fewer escaped stories of the war from family members who had served in it. In this regard, my own extended families were no exceptions.

With a grandfather who had returned from WW-I as a "colored soldier," who spoke fluent "pigeon" French, I was too young to interrogate him about what happened to him during that war. Only through extensive research was I able to determine that Silas Brown, "probably" was one of the colored soldiers "loaned out" to the free French forces as a distinct all-colored (but French, not American) unit. My understanding is that they acquitted themselves well despite the racial hatred they received from their own countrymen, (and despite lies told about them by their own racist commanders) both in that war and upon returning home from that war. The vicious racist attack upon them during the racist Wilson administration is well-documented WW-II American history.

Likewise, I discovered only indirectly, not first hand, that my stepfather, Carl A. Redus, served as a cook on a navy ship while serving in the Pacific. My uncle, Nathaniel Ross, also served in New Guinea as an army foot soldier, and he alone told stories of the native Guinea's confused reaction to black American soldiers when they landed there.

Then there were the stories I pulled out of by biological father, Ralph Calhoun, who died at the age of 89 on April Fool's day 2011. While we were sharing the vicarious experience of watching the D-Day landing as it unfolded in the intense first 29 minutes of the movie "Saving Private Ryan," my father, while genuflecting with great emotions, for the first time revealed that his unit had arrived on Omaha Beach on D-Day plus nine. He drove a tank refueling truck to the front on a daily basis. The casualty rate for tank refueling driver's was high enough that rather than leave base with a mechanically suspect truck, he would purposely strip the fears and return to the bay for a mechanically more sound truck that had a higher chance of making the round trip.

What his story lacked in heroism, was made up for by the fact that it involved an imaginative and resourceful life saving maneuver. As I was to learn that same day, he also survived the cold of the battle of the bulge. He told a story of lighting tank fuel on the ground and using it to cook on? For the life of me, it was such an incredible story that I distrusted it until I later found it to be true: Given the right temperature and proper mixture, you can actually light gasoline without it exploding in your face!

And while these do not exhaust the stories of my extended families' war experience, and certainly do not compare to the rich mixture presented here, they too do, however minimally, make up a part of same WW-II narrative.

As a black man who escaped Vietnam with exactly the same deferments as Vice President Dick Chaney, I could not avoid the stories of the way black soldiers were treated during WW-II. In fact one of the vignettes that stuck with me, is the statement made by Lieutenant Vernon Baker of the crack 370th all colored combat team, the so-called Buffalo soldiers -- unwanted but nevertheless well-decorated when they were stationed in Italy as cannon fodder.

On page 248, Lt Baker is quoted as saying: "The black men I knew, wanted to get into combat and smash the enemy ... We wanted to defend our country but at base camp in the South and overseas in Italy we faced the most vicious kind of racism, and that soured a lot of guys ... I tried not to let this get to me; I focused on being a soldier and surviving, but sometimes it was hard to tell who the bigger racists were -- the Germans in front of us or the commanders behind us." Lt Baker claims further down in his story that the reason their white foxhole mates so hated them, is because many black soldiers returned from Italy with Italian wives.

This was from the group of white men, that Brian Williams consistently referred to as our "Greatest Generation?" Sure, along with all of Europe (especially Russia), they fought Hitler and won, but in "mind and spirit" they WERE Hitler (and arguably still are)? If this indeed was our "greatest generation," then I sure would hate to see what our "worst generation" would look like? By the way, the Russians lost 27 millions, while our "greatest generation," in comparison, lost a palsy 500 thousand. Four stars

The Production of Reality: Essays and Readings on Social Interaction
The Production of Reality: Essays and Readings on Social Interaction
by Jodi A. O'Brien
Edition: Paperback
Price: $77.36
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5.0 out of 5 stars What sort of creature is the Human Being?, July 10, 2014
A series of theoretical answers are given to that question in this book. It uses as its framework, the Symbolic Interactionist approach. Through a series of questions and answers, probings, the loading of data analyzed through the prism of a single theoretical framework, and studying a wide but balanced collections of real examples, we begin to get a clearer picture of how it is shaped, and what is produced, as human reality.

In some cases our long-held understandings will be shattered -- such as in the case of the reified dichotomy we often use to describe our interactions: between the cold logical reality that we have trained ourselves to see (as being above and and in some ways better than) raw human interactions, and the hot reality of emotions and social nuance that ultimately constitutes and defines them. In others, our long-standing understanding will be reinforced -- such as in the fact that the relationship between micro (individual psychology) and macro (group, societal and cultural meaning) should not be a hierarchy but very definitely should be a dynamic and reciprocal democracy.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, the well-chosen articles in this book help us to fully understand that reality is the ultimate output and production of human activity, an activity in which the hardware is neurological and cognitive functioning, and the software is the store of day-to-day human interactions.

Thus, Social Psychology using the Symbolic Interactionist approach as a framework, is but one way to explore the essence of how and to what extent social interactions constitute the production of human reality. There are other approaches for sure, but the value of this one is that it puts our own psychology in the driver's seat. From the Symbolic Interactionist approach, we get to see how we as individuals affect (and are affected by) the reality we help produce. Thus there is "value added" in this approach.

Some of the questions posed are the following ones: How much of what is considered real depends on how we look at something? How much depends on our own personal investment, or in the rewards we get from the way we see things? How does social change occur if people lack the courage to act on their dissatisfactions? What is the difference between germs, monsters conjured-up in nightmares, and Gods and Angels? Why won't some people eat bugs, but will eat burnt cow body parts?

In each case, cultural knowledge and understanding is the situationally defined parameter: There are societal rules for determining what is real and what is not. These rules allowed us to organize and make sense of our experiences. When people interact with each other, they invariably do so according to established and accepted rules called "norms." Taken out of the context of a given culture and set of norms, the rules might seem silly, even dangerous -- like not believing in gods or angels or germs.

Social Psychology is the relationship between the individual and the rules and patterns that constitute society. The pattern of conduct expressed is socialized behavior. This book tells us how the human becomes socialized and what that means for the transmission of culture, building social institutions, and maintaining society and cultural processes in a steady-state. It is the most comprehensive book I have read to date on social psychology and the functioning of society. Ten stars

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece: A comprehensive history with 1000 photographs
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece: A comprehensive history with 1000 photographs
by Nigel Rodgers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.04
36 used & new from $10.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Short, sweet and informative, July 6, 2014
Western civilization has been shaped as much by ancient Greek culture as it has by any other culture. This impressive, well-written, beautifully illustrated book reinforces this truism in an unforgettable way. The first half focuses on Greek political and military history, covering the rise and fall of Athens, including the wars with Sparta and Persia. Legendary Ancient Greek heroes, from Pericles to Alexander the Great, make cameo appearances throughout the book. Battle plans and maps chart the military history as the Greek city-states wage campaigns against their enemies and then against themselves.

The second part focuses on Greek influences on art, architecture and society. All of the great temples, building and sculptures also make their appearances in beautiful glossies. In context, we learn about Greek legends and myths of Greek gods from Athena to Zeus, and from Aphrodite to Apollo. We get the stories of the lives and works of great Greek writers and historians from Plato and Homer to Aristotle.

For those looking for a quick short entertaining review of what the years have washed away from memory, this litle book is difficult to improve upon. Four stars.

Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution
Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution
by T. J. English
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.04
164 used & new from $0.45

3.0 out of 5 stars Has the Criminal Brain-trust that descended on Cuba moved to the Mainland?, July 6, 2014
Outside of movies and novels, this is the first detailed factual English language version of the true story of the mob era in Cuba. It is a short story, most details of which we already know:

With Batista as his "front man," Meyer Lansky, of the Jewish branch of the American mob, and with his Sicilian partner in crime, Lucky Luciano, tried to turn Cuba into a "Capitalist Shangri-La," -- into a virtual criminal state that would be his own private criminal launchpad for criminalizing the rest of the world. Had it not been for a lowly lawyer/politician turned revolutionary rebel, Lansky undoubtedly would have succeeded.

Flugencia Bastista was Lansky's number one tool. As the head of a triangle of corruption that involved himself, as Cuban President, US Corporations and the mob, Bastista's number one job was to keep the public docile while Lansky's devious plans for Cuba unfolded.

However, as it turns out, mobsterism and this triangle of corruption was little more than a constant reminder to rank-and-file Cubans of their lack of independence -- a constant symbol of a colonial past that in reality, over the course of Lanksy's stay, had become a veritable bitch's brew of high-stakes gambling, secret revolutionary plots, violent repression, prostitution, crime, debauchery, and gangsterism. In short, mob-run Havana, was a living symbol of everything bad about Capitalism and colonialism. It was colonial style capitalist exploitation at its most venal.

Thus, for Cuba, a show-down was destined to occur.

After reading this book, and after four terms of Bushes, two of Clinton, and now two of Obama as American presidents, it is difficult not to conclude that the same criminal-political axis that took over Havana a generation ago, seems now, like a bad season of locust, has now descended on the U.S. And in the process have killed JFK, RFK, MLK and Malcolm X, virtually taking over the political machinery of the U.S.

Working hand-in-glove with government, politicians, business and their lobbyists, law enforcement and intelligence assets, as they did in Cuba a generation ago, in the U.S. they now stroke the underbelly of American capitalism, forming a kind of shadow government that acts as an untouchable "criminal brain trust," one that is rapidly stripping the U.S. of whatever little democracy it had remaining.

Inspired by moral rot as much as by Jose Marti, poet-journalist martyr, Fidel Castro, a lawyer/politician walked into the Cuban drama via the Sierra Madeira mountains determined to take back his homeland. His version of the Cuban drama unfolded on a parallel track with Lansky's dream of making Cuba a global crime home base. Lucky for Cuba, Castro won. It does not seem that the U.S. will be so lucky. Three stars

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