Marilyn Monroe – Causes of Tragic Suicide

August 7th, 2016

#sexualabuse #MarilynMonroe #sexsymbol #suicide

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Marilyn Monroe is arguably the most well-known celebrity of all time in the entertainment industry. Her achievements as an actress have earned her recognition and honors throughout the world. The popularity of her films, thanks to the availability of DVD versions and streaming services, ranks high against the many legends of the movie industry. The surge in the number of readers visiting this site in response to the reviews of the two volume definitive biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe by Gary Vitacco-Robles attests to a sustained high level of interest in the star. Given the reaction to the reviews, we are pleased Author Vitacco-Robles has consented to answering a questions questions for our readers. What follows is the first of four installments of an interview with the author.

Why do you think Marilyn Monroe is so well remembered? Why does she stand out from so many others who were clearly very talented, beautiful and dedicated?

My thesis about Marilyn is that she is a psychological, cultural, and spiritual phenomenon. Her childhood situation and its impact on her attachment challenges, her family history of mental illness, and death by suicide makes her a salient subject to educate the public about childhood abuse & neglect and mental health issues. Culturally, Marilyn impacted us in the 1950s and 60s and endures as an icon; subsequent to her death, each decade and each generation reinterprets her life.

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Spiritually, Marilyn engenders empathy and compassion in those born in the generations following her death who project their own subjective interpretations onto her extraordinary life. She recognized this quality in herself and once said, “People don’t see me; instead they see a mirror. Marilyn continues to symbolize the American dream. She rose from poverty, worked hard, and succeeded against the odds, never losing sight of her humble beginnings and relating to those who also struggled. She was honest about her limitations; studied acting at the height of her fame; and had a deliciously appealing self-deprecating humor.

Marilyn’s legion of predominantly male biographers was seduced by her physical beauty and complex nature, but completely overlooked what I had seen as so obvious. She was a resilient survivor of abuse and mental illness who became a goddess, a legend, and an icon. She inspires young people today, and her tragic death does not mar this image. By revealing her vulnerability and humanity, Marilyn endures as a beloved American treasure. Part of her enduring appeal may be the empathy her pain and life experiences evoke in each of us. ‘I knew I belonged to the public and to the world,’ Marilyn wrote, aware of the emotional chord she struck in her audience, ‘not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.’”

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

Marilyn was a rare constellation of circumstances that makes her so intriguing to each subsequent generation. She was a unique personality with a specific background and psyche drawn to a career that brought her to the public’s awareness. She emerged at a watershed time in American history, the post-war era, on the brink of a sexual revolution, when roles were rigid.

Marilyn was the underdog, American’s parentless “orphan”. Mid-twentieth century media was different. Despite her great gift of managing the media and promoting herself in her early years, Marilyn knew how and when to withdraw. During the Arthur Miller years, the peak of her success and fame, she fled to New Year and Connecticut and lived a rather private life.

There are infinite possibilities for a similar constellation of factors for another personality to resonate so deeply to the public, however, I cannot identify a current example.

You have refrained, quite admirably, from expressing your own judgements about the people who came and went in Marilyn Monroe’s life. Surely you have opinions about those who were most supportive to her and those who made her life more difficult. Would you care to be more specific now? What’s your opinion of Dr. Ralph Greenson, for example? Lee Strasberg? Paula Strasberg? Any others? 

People are rarely all good or all bad, and even in unhealthy relationships marked by abuse, there can still be loving feelings. The two are not always mutually exclusive. As a therapist, I can be objective and see various perspectives; however, at some point, one can identify egregious acts. Also, writing about individuals who are long deceased is challenging; they are no longer present to interview. I diligently worked to unearth various versions of events and presented each, usually concluding what is most likely or least likely, or presenting what facts remain and allow the reader to draw a conclusion.

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II - Cover

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II – Cover

Greenson was over his head in working with Marilyn. Although well-intentioned, he could also be grandiose and self-serving. Marilyn was also a most challenging patient, but he needed supervision, and he turned to his office male, Dr. Milton Wexler, who was himself investigated for slapping a female patient with Borderline Personality Disorder. This act makes me question the supervision Wexler provided; Wexler admitted his behavior.  It was Wexler who encouraged Greenson to virtually adopt Marilyn into his family. Greenson fostered dependency and failed to empower Marilyn. He assessed her as damaged, fragile, and needy. He wanted to rescue to her, parent her, protect her. In the end, he knew he had failed and felt very guilty. His daughter said he had never lost a patient to suicide and never really recovered.

Lee and Paula Strasbergs were opportunists, but I also believe they loved Marilyn. Marilyn could be vulnerable and elicited both rescue and protective impulses in others. At times, Marilyn surrendered her power and autonomy to others and projected onto them her fantasy of protector. There is an interactive feedback loop in these dynamics on the part of both Marilyn and others. The Strasbergs also recognized a talent in Marilyn and believed they were helping her achieve her goal. They were gurus. Marilyn, insecure and believing them to be experts, became dependent upon them; Lee needed a gifted student to succeed as Stella Adler had found in Marlon Brando. He took some credit for assisting Marilyn achieve her dramatic success in Bus Stop. Marilyn’s celebrity, in turn, promoted Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio, and she participated in fundraisers until her death. I often wish Arthur Miller would have supported an ongoing created relationship between Marilyn and Milton Greene.

In ICON, I explored Marilyn’s many supportive relationships often overlooked. Until her death, she maintained a close relationship with the mother and sister of Fred Karger, her vocal coach in 1948 and the first man with whom she certainly had a sexual relationship following her divorce. There are many others: Norman and Hedda Rosten; Ralph Roberts; Rupert Allan; Allan Snyder; Xenia Checkov, the widow of an acting coach; Sam and Anne Shaw and their children; Inez Melson, her mother’s legal guardian.

Tour work with childhood victims of emotional abandonment and abuse clearly provided an overlap with your interest in Ms. Monroe. Can you expand on that for readers, please?

For thirty years, I have worked with children in the child welfare system who have survived trauma (sexual and physical abuse and neglect) as well as adults with chronic and persistent mental illness. My fellow clinicians who work in the mental health field might see ICON as the longest biopsychosocial assessment summary in history.

Icon" The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe - Volume I Book Cover

Icon” The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – Volume I Book Cover

My first position as a therapist was in a program specializing in trauma-informed treatment of youth and families who had survived physical/sexual abuse and neglect and children with sexual behavior problems. I became licensed as Mental Health Counselor in Florida in 1997 and became a Nationally Certified Counselor in 1998.

I intended this research and writing project to serve as a diversion from my clinical work as a licensed mental health counselor and program manager of an outpatient clinic, however, I selected a remarkable subject who only brought me closer to my work.

Marilyn Monroe began her life as Norma Jeane Baker and survived a childhood marked by complex trauma; she was raised in foster homes and an orphanage as a result of her mother’s psychiatric instability and her father’s abandonment.  She battled major depression and bipolar disorder during a time when she had limited treatment options. She survived domestic violence and suffered from endometriosis which resulted in chronic pain and the inability to have children. Marilyn was also the first public figure to openly discuss childhood sexual abuse during a time in history when the topic was minimized, if not denied by the culture at large.

Marilyn also appears to have experienced the symptoms consistent with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. Marilyn is an illustration of many of the children & adults I have served over the years. My professional expertise and experience allowed a perspective missing in former biographies of Marilyn. I believe it is impossible to accurately depict this woman without the context of her mood, personality, anxiety and substance use disorders. Today we have an abundance of information about early brain development, early childhood social and emotional well-being, and behavioral health issues that allow us to better understand Marilyn and her unique constellation of issues which resulted in the trajectory of her life and early death.

As mentioned earlier, this article is the first in four installments. Please watch this site for related posting of our interview with Author Vitacco-Robles.

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Marilyn Monroe – A Definitive New Biography by Vitacco-Robles

July 15th, 2016

#MarilynMonroe  #Movies #Hollywood

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

Marilyn Monroe is an enigmatic figure in the history of the entertainment industry. Half a century has passed since her death, yet she is remembered today as if she were yet alive. Her story has evolved into legend. Breathtakingly beautiful, talented and charismatic, she begins her career in the heyday advent of the movie industry. The widescreen CinemaScope technology and stereophonic sound present her on the wide screen as sensual, alluring and innocent – the undeniably seductive child-woman somehow untainted by the world. She was so compelling in her portrayals that two of her more successful films (Some Like It Hot and The Misfits) were produced in black-and-white. Other glamorous stars preceded her, but none secured the same lasting impact.

Marilyn Monroe is both the product and the victim of twentieth century America as the country moves into new-found affluence after World War II. The age is witness to the rise of materialism, the redefinition of sexual values, the questioning of the place of women in society and the leaderless rebellion of youth against the established order. Monroe’s name is associated with some of the elite of the era, Carl Sandberg, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy Frank  Sinatra and Clark Gable among others.  It would only follow that many would try to exploit her memory for personal advantage. Over 600 books have been published about her. Many accounts distort the collective memory to such an extent the task of untangling and clarifying Ms. Monroe’s story takes on monumental dimensions.

Unassailable Credibility . . .

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Gary Vitacco-Robles was not one to be deterred from the challenge of making certain truth would prevail. His two volumes, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volumes I and II constitute the definitive biography of the great actress. (See the earlier review of Volume I click here on this web site.) That Vitacco-Robles cares, and cares deeply, for his subject is clear. His compassion and sensitivity are never more obvious than when he addresses the less-than-glamorous episodes in her life. Readers can expect to be impressed with the depth of his research. Every scene is filled with poignant detail. His credibility is unassailable and thus the power behind his narrative flows from genuine empathy for his subject.

Volume II covers the turbulent years from 1956 to 1962, the year the star died of a tragic, accidental overdose. By 1956, Ms. Monroe has gained star status. The Seven Year established her securely as a box office draw. Successes followed including The Prince and the Showgirl, Bus Stop, and arguably the greatest comedy of all time, Some Like It Hot. The world comes to know the screen persona of the actress. What becomes central to the spiritual and psychological plight for Ms. Monroe is that the world does not know her for who she truly is. “Do you want me to be Marilyn?” she teases one guest. In private the actress finds the adulation, addressed as it is to a characterization, void of the affirmation she desperately seeks. She struggles with depression, the anguish of bipolar emotional swings and the unfulfilled yearnings with their roots in a deprived and abusive childhood. Vitacco-Robles has the professional credentials to state his own analysis, but he remains objective and quotes other authorities who knew Ms. Monroe whenever he wants to write about her tormented mental state. Throughout, the author is even-handed and balanced in presentation; neither apologist nor critic. He treats the actor’s professional growth in the same manner. Monroe’s contemporaries observe that she is at the height of her talent and growing as an actress at the time of her death.

Marilyn Monroe in the  Iconic Publicity photo for The Seven Year Itch

Marilyn Monroe in the Iconic Publicity photo for The Seven Year Itch

Several persons emerge from the author’s narrative as major influences in the star’s life. Arthur Miller’s emotional withdrawal from her while they are married leaves readers questioning the depth of artistic sensitivity. Joe DiMaggio’s devotion to her throughout her life is moving. Lee and Paul Strasberg seem to thrive on keeping Marilyn dependent rather than helping her move toward a more autonomous self-sufficiency. Readers may also conclude that Psychiatrist Ralph Greenson is guilty of cultivating a dependency. Monroe was on the verge of firing him at several points.

Approaching Ridicule . . .

Surprises await also. Ms. Monroe’s performance of Happy Birthday at JFK’s party can be seen on You Tube today. It may appear to be spontaneous. Not so, however.  It was rehearsed and she was very nervous before the performance. It was suggested that she appear in a more modest formal gown, but she decided to surprise the President and those attending with something of  her own choosing. The dress she selected was sewn on her. She wore no under garments. Emcee Peter Lawford, who was instrumental in bringing Ms. Monroe and JFK together in his home, built his introduction of the actress on a belittling patter that approached ridicule.  The “audience roared,” the author reports, when she crossed the stage.. Her seductive presentation borders on travesty, especially in the face of the rumors that were flying about her and the President. Public values were very much in transition at the time, but even today, many would see her act as an affront to the decorum expected in the presence of a head-of-state. “That was poor form on her part,” Mort Viner, Dean Martin’s manager said. Many would agree. The President, in acknowledging her performance, observes with humorous sarcasm that he enjoyed being serenaded in such a “wholesome” manner and the line drew a laugh from the crowd. Sarcasm is always a mixed message. Audience members may have roared at her appearance but for the most part it was at her expense.  One wonders whether she realized at some level that she may have discredited herself. At the very least, she was not well served by those who rehearsed her. Nothing highlights the dichotomy between the performing Marilyn and the private Marilyn as much as this short historic appearance. The author does not report that private Marilyn drew any satisfaction over how her performance was received. “I  liked it,” she said in response to a direct question about the party by reporters afterward.

Her Own Glittering Mist . . .

Arthur Schlesigner, Jr., JFK’s biographer, made a journal entry that speaks for most when he wrote, “I do not think I have seen anyone as beautiful. I was enchanted by her manner and wit, at once so masked, so ingenuous and so penetrating. But one felt a terrible unreality about her-as if talking to someone under water. . . . One never felt her to be wholly engaged. She receded into her own glittering mist.”

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II - Cover

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II – Cover

Vitacco-Robles, as an author, refrains from moralizing and passing judgement. Readers, however, will find the story he has presented as moving and tragic, so much so that one may feel Marilyn Monroe’s legacy looms much larger than her artistic achievements. Her performances will attest through the ages to the depths of her enormous talent. Given her kindness to others, her generosity and her forgiving nature, she stands, however, for so much more. It is not too difficult to imagine that she would have done everything within her power to make certain no child would ever again experience the horrors that she endured during her early years. Her memory needs to be invoked in every effort to assure a better world awaits the birth of every child than the dreadful circumstances she was born into. The psychological damage and painful disorientation of her early years remained with her throughout her life. It crippled her, locked her in “her own glittering mist” as she searched for fulfillment and true happiness. Her life is proof that no amount of fame or fortune can compensate for the loss of the nurturance, love and affirmation every child needs to establish a thriving, healthy sense of self and a belief in his or her essential worthiness.

Turning to conditions under which Ms. Monroe worked, the author provides insight into the workings of the major Hollywood studios. Marilyn Monroe was a money maker for them but she was never treated with the respect she deserved. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were driving the studio into bankruptcy with their self-indulgent behavior and shoddy performances on the set for Cleopatra. Yet they were coddled and catered to. Ms. Monroe may have had problems with punctuality and keeping her commitments to appear but her performances were always exceeded expectations. Yet she was ostracized and threatened with termination. The harsh uncharitable treatment kept her mindful of her the painful abandonment and abuse she experienced as a child.

Vitacco-Robles’s writing style is sturdy and straightforward. There are moments when the author could have moved his story along more efficiently had he used footnotes to provide background data. On occasion the central story all but surrenders to detail and the trail of the narrative fades. The author includes an appendix that provides a synopsis of each of Monroe’s films. Extending the practice to include background information on some personalities and events would have served equally as well. These are the minor shortcomings of an impressive work of unflinching objectivity. Marilyn Monroe’s talent and memory deserved a biographer who brings to his task a dedication and skill that is worthy of her as a subject. Vitacco-Robles had done just that. He has paid her the highest possible tribute in completing this most memorable biography.

This review initially appeared in somewhat condensed form on the web site bookpleasures.com

Thanks for visiting my web site. Look for an interview with Gary Vitacco-Robles to follow this review. While you are here, please let me invite you to check some of the other pages of my site. Please feel free to enter your comments on this or any other feature in the area provided below.

The Honeymoon – A biographical novel of the life of George Eliot

May 6th, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

 

#georgeeliot #marianevans #engishlit

George Eliot’s Silas Marner was required reading in English lit when I was a sophomore in high school in the 1055. Written in the previous century, there was no way we guys would admit to liking the book. It was so old. Nothing in the days of George Eliot had any bearing upon our current time. Richard McCormack was our teacher, a gentleman through and through. We nicknamed him “Silas” because of his affection for Eliot’s novel. (I wonder if he ever found out.) By the time I began teaching sophomore high school English in 1962, a profession I undertook thanks to men like McCormack and my senior year teacher Richard Bisbee, Eliot had been dropped. Thorton Wilder‘s The Bridge of San Luis Rey had taken its place along with Hawthorne‘s Scarlet Letter (“How come she had the baby if she wasn’t married, Mr. Hohn?”) and an abridged version of Melville‘s Moby Dick.

I suppose the change was for the better. Kids took to the new selections readily. But I remembered McCormack and Silas Marner. My senior year in college, I represented my school at the annual Minnesota English Majors Convention and delivered a paper on George Eliot’s Middlemarch which is revered today as one of the great novels of the English language. I hoped I could produce a copy of my paper in preparing for this post, but alas, it vanished somewhere along the way. Prof Stephen Humphrey* helped me prepare the work for presentation. At the end of the conference, he said, “Your ending was especially strong.” I was surprised. He had never seen the ending. I had gone over most of the paper with him on at least two occasions. But the ending,  I had written it in my pajamas the morning of my presentation.

Prof had reason to be pleased with my ending, or at least relieved. The year prior, a senior with the first name of Paul  presented a paper on Shakespeare‘s King Lear at the convention and pretty much embarrassed Prof and the school by failing to draw any conclusion in his report or resolve it with closing remarks. “That’s it,” Paul said unapologetically as he stopped without abruptly with his unfinished paper.  To this day, I thought Prof should have checked Paul’s work. But then he never checked mine to make sure I finished it. I can only guess that Prof trusted us as scholars to do our utmost. Why I postponed writing the last two-and-a-half pages until the very last minute mystified me for years. Now that I write frequently, I have come to realize that I learned a great lesson from the experience.

Cinch Everything  up . . .

George Eliot - Marian Evans

George Eliot – Marian Evans

Much of writing is exploratory, a poking and probing in the hope that the ideas just beyond my reach are viable and worth my time to run down. Once into a piece, however, I know that it must go somewhere, not ramble along like this posting is at the moment. I have learned patience. It is important to yield to impulses, apparent non sequitors that actually do lead somewhere after all. Some become sequitors, but like so many random articles throughout the house, all the ideas need finally to be rounded up to a conclusion. Readers expect closure. Sustaining ambivalence can lead to madness. So, as a piece feels as it wants to close, as I find myself exhausted of whimsy and inspiration alike, I try to embrace everything that found its way onto the screen (yes, the screen; not the paper – ah technology). Then, like a draw string on a large plastic bag, I cinch everything up. Pull it together with a knot of finality and pitch it out — out in front of others for their judgment.

I’m not there yet with this posting.

Prof Stephen B. Humphrey was a major influence on my choice of the teaching profession also. Students admired him. He taught courses in the modern novel and in modern poetry. Both were favorites. We called him the “silver fox,” hardly original, but word reached us that he was pleased. His choice for his class of an early novel was The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler. Anthony Trollope also worked his way into the syllabus, although I can’t recall which of his novels we read (a bad sign, I’d say). Trollope, however, was cited by George Eliot as one who had tremendous influence on her and she said Trollope’s Barchester Towers inspired her to write Middlemarch, which brings me  full circle and back to the real topic of this post.

I was pleased recently to note that a new book has come out on the life of George Eliot. Richard McCormack would be pleased,. may he rest in peace. Dinitia Smith’s wonderful new book The Honeymoon, recently released, is a biographical novel of the life of Marian Evans.

Whisperings . . .

Dinitia Smith, Author

Dinitia Smith, Author

The Honeymoon opens with Evans as a wealthy widow at age 60. Evans gained fame as a novelist under her chosen nom de plume, George Eliot, during a time when women writers could not expect to be well received. Johnnie Cross, an elegantly handsome bachelor of 39, moved gracefully among the better circles in London society. Never much of a ladies man, whisperings drifted about whether he might be a “Nancy man” in the terms of day. Johnnie kept a secret certainly, one few knew. He withheld it from Evans even after they married.

Author Dinitia Smith sets up her biographical novel with the two unlikely newlyweds starting their honeymoon in Venice. Readers sense immediately that something is going very wrong. The stench of the canals, the sweaty, sneering gondolier taking them to their hotel, brown knots of feces bob in the water, all register with Evans. The canal is an open sewer – hardly a romantic setting.

When they arrive at the hotel, the manager recognizes Evans as George Eliot, the famous novelist, and the anonymity she hoped would keep their time together private is shattered. Cross becomes angry. He begins pointing out the sites of the city to his bride. He is so obsessed with the task that his wife cannot coax a smile to his lips. The next morning, she awakens to find him still in his evening dress (they slept in different rooms) which he insists on wearing to the beach regardless of how inappropriate his apparel may be. When he wades into the water fully clothed, Evans pleads with him to return to shore. The honeymoon is turning into a nightmare. With the irony of her title established, author Smith leaves the newlyweds and backtracks to explain how this mysterious state of affairs came about.

The Honeymoon = Book Cover at Amazon

The Honeymoon = Book Cover at Amazon

Marian Evans was born on the estate that her father manages for the wealthy owners. She and her father were very close. Very bright, Evans’ finds herself at home in the company of some of the greatest liberal minds of the time. Her androgynous physical appearance leaves her yearning for love, especially after her father dies. Free love is in fashion among the literati of England. Evans yields to several men, but as they have other alliances, she is abandoned, heart broken and lonely. Seemingly resigned to her fate as a single woman, she begins to write, first for periodicals and eventually publishes a novel which becomes popular and favored by critics. She meets George Lewes, who is married, and the two leave for the continent where they set up household and pass as husband and wife – a la Mary Godwin and Percy Shelley a generation earlier.  Lewes becomes the love of Evans’ life. Smith presents their relationship with poetic sensitivity, a fulfilling relationship for both of them.

Evans is devastated when Lewes dies,. She returns to London to find whatever comfort she can among friends who include the greatest minds of the time. Her novels are praised by Turgenev, Ruskin, Dickens and Spencer, to name a few. One who attends her during her grief is Johnnie Cross.  He pledges his love to her and vows to devote himself to taking care of her. Evans has misgivings because of their age difference, the awkwardness likely in any physical intimacy and sends Cross away. He persists, however, and she eventually agrees to wed and the stage is set for the honeymoon.

The Honeymoon is compelling, compassionate biographical novel, a story best told by a woman of Dinitia Smith’s abundant talent and insight. The author describes her protagonist’s experience in finding the joy of her own writing voice as “. .  . arriving at the point where the words became a melody, took on life, filled the page, became, finally, a symphony.” The phrase could only come from another writer, one who knows the joys of gaining entry to the flow a piece, and the same phrase applies to The Honeymoon as Smith demonstrates her mastery of the language. Her phrases flow. They entrance. She slips into her heroine’s thoughts so unobtrusively readers do not recognize the change in perspective. Evan’s thoughts and feelings pour out onto the page with stunning authenticity. Smith transports her readers with the sights, sounds, scents and textures of her scenes. Marian Evans’ life story is well worth the read. The author’s style in presenting The Honeymoon is a masterpiece of contemporary writing – a study in itself.

Fifty-five years have passed since I delivered my paper on Middlemarch. There something very reassuring in realizing George Eliot’s work remains under discussion and that she as an author still commands the attention that she deserve.

* An internet search produces nothing on Stephen B. Humphrey except notes on the theater named after him on the campus of St. John’s University. Prof was very self-effacing. It is a credit to St. John’s that they honored him by naming the theater after him. Nevertheless, somewhere amid all the historical photos, one would hope to find a photo of Prof.

This review first appeared in bookpleasures.com in a somewhat condensed version.

Thanks for visiting my web site. While you are here, I invite you to look through the other pages and please feel free to enter a comment in the area provided below.

 

Black Panthers at War – General Patton’s African-American Tankers

April 23rd, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Mention the Black Panthers, and anyone born after World War II will probably recall the political party that was founded as part of the Black Power movement in the 1960s. Less likely is that anyone recalls a group of African-American G. I. tankers who fought under General George Patton in his armor campaign in Europe in 1944 and 1945. In The Black Panthers at War, author Gina M. Dinicolo mentions the men of the 761st tanker company adopted the name “Black Panthers” for their group, but history proves that the designation did not stick. By contrast, consider the legendary African-American fighter pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Red Tails made history escorting allied bombers on raids into Germany. Or the Red Ball Express. African-American drivers kept the allied forces supplied as they pushed across Europe. Their commitment and endurance completing 36 hours stints in the cab garnered recognition and praise.

Institutionalized Prejudice . . .

African-Americans were relegated to support functions for the most part in World War II. As cooks, truck drivers, mechanics and logistical support, few were exposed to combat. Author Dinicolo points out that the prejudice against blacks was institutionalized in the years leading up to WWII. Army manuals stated that the performance of black Americans was expected to be less than that of whites. Her introduction focuses on the racial tensions and violence that were part of life in the U. S. during the years leading up to the war. The prevailing prejudice was blacks did not possess the skills or the willingness to fight. The armed forces remained segregated during World War II, but the demand for manpower dictated that blacks were needed on the front lines. They would go into combat, however, as a black unit, perhaps led by a white officer, but black throughout the ranks.

Cover: The Black Panthers at War

Cover: The Black Panthers at War

Nobody today doubts the ability or willingness of African-Americans to perform valiantly in combat. Viet Nam dispelled that final shard of ignorance and bigotry. Writing of the 1940s, the theme of lowered expectations of minorities is carried out through the final chapter of Black Panthers at War. One chapter is dedicated to baseball legend Jackie Robinson who was court marshaled on a charge of being disrespectful toward a fellow white officer. Robinson was acquitted but left service because of the charge. Aside from detailed reporting of the frequent incidents of discrimination within the ranks and among the civilians, the author does not expand her perspective beyond the context of the time in which the action she reports took place. Her book adds little in helping readers understand the nature of prejudice and its implications as the conflict and misunderstanding continues through to the present day.

Dinicolo makes an all-out effort, however, at claiming the tankers’ share of fame and recognition, but her story drops several rounds short. It fails to enshrine the heroism and sacrifice of the men it is all about. Dinicolo’s flaccid prose doesn’t create a sense of tension and eminent danger. By attempting to provide the stories of several men in the 761st, her narrative becomes diffuse and superficial. Her prose doesn’t excite much empathy or compassion. The battle scenes are not dramatic, with little sense of challenge or urgency. She relies heavily on mundane modifiers to lead readers. Economy of expression is sacrificed to stating the obvious.

For example: “Germans would kill anyone trying to take the town.”

Dusk becomes “A shortage of daylight . . . “

“Enemy fire resulted in a series of tremendous explosions.” (What else?)

As an author, she’s not in the battle, not with her troops.

Well Grounded in the Facts . . .

Gina M. Dinicola, Author

Gina M. Dinicola, Author

Dinicolo follows several men from enlistment to the battlefield. She is well-grounded in the facts about their training and the battles in which they participated. But her ultimate failure to identify with her subjects becomes evident when she refers to the infantry as “doughboys,” a World War I nickname long out of use by World War II. Dinicolo compounds the gaff by shortening the nickname to “doughs,” a title of her own creation never to be found in print or film about WWII.

A model for any writer in undertaking a military history of any group is Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. Ambrose captures the Esprit de corps of his company, provides insight into his subjects without resorting to lengthy biographical sketches, and holds the readers by organizing his story around various themes, whether the conflict with the officers in training or the horror of post traumatic shock syndrome. Readers realize the Ambrose’s intention. Dinicolo, on the other hand, adds too much to the mix, almost as if she is compensating for a lack of dramatic focus. The men of E Company in Band of Brothers may, in the final analysis, simply have been another group of guys – white guys – caught up in a war like thousands of others their age. Ambrose found the unifying heart to their efforts. The same story could have been written about nearly any other company in the U.  S. Army at the time, but E Company is proxy for all of them. Readers take their experience as representative of all the G. I.s.

The same opportunity was available to Dinicolo. But she relied more upon the 761st being African-American to set them apart. Otherwise, their experience was much like any other company in the conflict. with the extraordinary exception that they faced prejudice, derision, and bigotry and served anyway. They fought for a county that treated them as second-class citizens. What Dinicolo fails to develop is why these brave black men fought. Blacks in the United States did not see World War II as a white man’s war. They saw it as every man’s war. A war against their country, inequality notwithstanding. A war for democracy. A war against tyranny, injustice and the exploitation of others – conditions of life that African-Americans endured in varying degrees in the U. S.

Blacks Harbored No Doubts . . .

Black Panthers at War chronicles the achievements of very brave and talented soldiers. Any criticism of the work about them should not detract from the magnitude of their accomplishments. That said, any student of World War II and the history of racism in America will find it hard to avoid being disappointed in Dinicolo’s work. Blacks, after all, harbored no doubts about their ability. What they achieved is not the greater because white America thought they were less than capable. Astonishment on the part of any is indicative of prejudice. In an ideal world, their accomplishments would never have been set apart because of race. Instead, they would be recognized for their extraordinary valor, tenacity, skill and drive.

A byproduct of finding one’s rightful place in a society is that achievements, more often as not, go unnoticed. Being part of the crowd carries some assurance of anonymity. Dinicolo never claims the record of the 761st is exemplary because of the racial mix of the company. On the other hand, she does not establish the dynamics of the group or the heroic dimensions of their achievements on a scale that makes them any more exceptional than what others experienced and survived. The same could be said of Ambrose’s Company E. The difference between the two groups is not race but the way in which their stories are told. Black Panthers at War is rich in subject matter. Too bad so little is explored at any depth.

This review first appeared in bookpleasures. com, a web site in somewhat shorter form.

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Blending Families Successfully – Destined to be a Classic

January 30th, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Blending Families Successfully, by George S. Glass, published in 2014, deserves much more attention than it is getting for all the wisdom brimming between its covers. Dr. Glass is a board-certified psychiatrist with years of experience in counseling parents and individual clients. In Blending Families, he gets out from behind the desk very quickly and speaks to his readers directly in an authentic conversational tone. The result is a genuinely warm, caring guide through the stormy passages following the collapse of a marriage and all the goes into starting over again.

Blending Families Successfully is the second book to be reviewed on the web site. She my earlier post on The Overparenting Epidemic.

Second Marriages Fail . . .

The rate at which first marriages fail has dropped over the recent decade, but the percentage ending in divorce is still very high when measured against historical norms. Worse yet, as Dr. Glass points out, second marriages fail at a greater rate than first marriages. One major contributing reason is that remarried couples clash over how the children of the new family are to be guided and raised. Glass begins his examination of the reasons behind these failures by focusing first on the difficulties the newly divorced parents face. Any reader who has lived through divorce will feel right at home with a chapter entitled “How Did I Get Here?” Most will recognize that awful feeling of having lost direction in life and contact with the true self. Glass knows. He shares of his own experience, from the many years he continued as a single parent through to his own remarriage and the blending of the family to include his children and his wife’s, and (yeah, get this) their own new baby. Within a few pages, most readers will very much in touch with the author and sense his presence.

George S. Glass, MD - Author

George S. Glass, MD – Author

“Divorce can render even the most secure person a mess,” Glass declares in an early chapter. A great deal of trust goes into every act during the normal day of a married couple. It may be as simple as trusting that the bills will be paid or the car serviced. But when a couple separates, the to-do list is refreshed right from the start. Going to a PTA meeting brings back painful memories have attending with a spouse. The future is not clear any more. Or as Glass observes, “It (divorce) creates vulnerability were it may have not ever existed.” Alarming and realistic as that description may be, it is a comfort to those who have suffered the mental disorientation and anguish that accompany the loss of marriage. The author knows all about what lies in store. He knows what it takes to get through it all.

Children Come First . . .

Glass focuses on the children of the broken marriage. “No matter how chaotic, unhappy or disinterested their parents may have been, children, particularly younger ones, prefer an intact family. . . . More than that, it (divorce) almost always comes as a shock to them and one they will always remember as an event that changed their life.” The author cautions against dismissing the children’s concerns. The suggestion that they may be better off after the divorce than if they continued in a household where strife ruled is often a statement of denial. Continued concern for the welfare of the children is a must. As the author writes, “In my practice, I can often date the onset of an individual’s loss of self-esteem, lack of motivation or poor performance in school to this point in their life, when a divorce changed everything.” In a later chapter, he reminds readers, “They (children) need time to grieve the end of their biological family before they can move on and greet a new life.” Bringing a partner into the home to share the bed while the children are there and have not had a chance or the time to adjust is a serious mistake, one that will lead children to believe they do not count.

Dr. Glass takes an almost avuncular tone in some of his advice. “If you fall in love – or think you have – too soon after the divorce it probably means you haven’t examined yourself sufficiently.” Don’t be in a hurry, he admonishes. Get to know yourself first, the new person who emerges with renewed self-assurance and strength.

Blending Families Successful - cover

Blending Families Successful – cover

The most frequently visited posts of this web site over the years have been articles concerned with step-parenting. (The click here for the most recent of those earlier posts.) The amount of correspondence this column has received attests to the ongoing challenges and rewards to blending a family. Glass, again, insists on being realistic. He writes, “Life as a step-parent can run the gamut from the best experience in your life to the worst, and quite often it provides both.” The line brings to mind a man who remarried when his own children had left home and took on the role of stepfather to a seven-year-old stepson. “Things went well between us,” he said, “because I played with the little guy – a lot. There was no need for discipline, and when there was, his mother handled it. One evening, after he had graduated from college and moved away, my wife and I went to visit him and he invited us to go out for dinner. At the end of the meal, he said, “You know, I have always loved my dad. We stayed in touch all through everything that happened. And that was great, but what you guys, you have been my parents. I am so proud of what he said.”

As mentioned earlier, what makes Blending Families Successfully so very comfortable is the author’s reporting on his own experience. But the book goes well beyond the story of his blended family. The selected episodes and the words Glass shares from his work with clients are especially poignant. Readers draw comfort from the realization that others have lived through the same painful, confusing passages. Non-judgmental and compassionate, Dr. Glass gives direct advice. No psycho-babble. The advice is laced with understanding. Go slowly. Be patient with yourself. Glass knows current trends and fads. He offers advice about dating, when to introduce children to a special other, how to manage expenses after the marriage, relations with former spouses, how to communicate with the ex, and many other areas of concern.

This reviewer, thirty years into his marriage and blended family, found the book full of insight and sound advice from trying to save a failing marriage  through starting over, remarriage and from there on to the end of your days, Blending Families Successfully belongs on your bookshelf. To be read, certainly, but also to be retained as a reference, as a guide, as a comfort. Glass is a name that should become synonymous with blending families as Dr. Spock is with raising children. Blending Families Successfully is destined to become a classic. Counselors everywhere should make it available to the clientele.

This review initially appeared in somewhat condensed form in bookpleasures.com, a web site dedicated to reviewing books.

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Michael Sears’ “Saving Jason” Doesn’t Raise the Bar

January 22nd, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Saving Jason by Michael Sears is a faced-paced, contemporary mystery that most readers will find hard to set aside. Sears covers all the bases for the genre in this, his fourth novel. Jason Stafford, his hero, is a wealthy New Yorker with a tragic past. His first wife, a model (of course), was murdered, leaving him to raise their autistic son who carries his father’s name. Stafford himself is an ex-con, having done time for some shady brokerage dealings. He handles his wealth with ease, and upon his release from prison finds himself another model to take up with. She becomes pregnant and he gets on board again with an old boss at Becker Financial who pays him seven figures just poke around and make sure nothing is beginning to smell like trouble in the firm.

Stafford encounters a suspicious aroma in the small brokerage firm, something to do with penny stock, which true to its name, usually sells for less than a dollar a share and is not subject to oversight by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Stafford’s boss, Virgil Becker, is not convinced anything is out of line but gives his super snoop free rein to follow his instincts. Stafford checks in with the firm’s compliance officer to make sure that he is not at cross-purposes with them. The courtesy puts him in the presence of yet another beautiful gal, who despite her svelte looks and manner, is really a tough cookie who runs a tight ship. She’d rather Stafford just stay out of her way.

Michael Sears, Author of Saving Jason

Michael Sears, Author of Saving Jason

Stafford, however, is his own agent. Compliance be damned. The trading activity in penny stocks bothers him, although on the surface everything appears completely legit. He quickly discovers that there is more than what meets the eye to the suspicious transactions. Nosing about, he gets chased out of a Long Island pasture by two bull bison, his life threatened by thugs he doesn’t know and stalked by a politically ambitious District Attorney who insists Stafford knows more than he is letting on. Truth is, Stafford doesn’t know all of what’s going on. His investigation is spelling trouble for everyone including Virgil Becker who’s arrest in a sham publicity stunt by the DA but scandalous enough to put Becker Financial in play as a takeover. It’s a perfect storm and Sears orchestrates everything magnificently.

In the middle of everything, Stafford maintains his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend. She’s a physical therapist and a looker that might have a guy consider throwing his back out. Marriage is not in the wind, not with an independent contemporary New York City woman. She helps Stafford care for his seven year old autistic son, and it is the relationship between the father and the son that becomes the soul of the story. Sears is at his best with it. The crusty, cynical exterior to Stafford gives way to a genuinely caring, nurturing father. The son, referred to as “the kid,” is realistically depicted with just the right touch of humor and a large measure of compassion and understanding – and endearing picture of both.

Saving Jason - Book Cover

Saving Jason – Book Cover

To escape the threats and harassment, Stafford and his son are taken into the witness protection program. They are whisked out the wide open spaces of the southwestern dessert. The plot, complicated as it is, bogs down a bit as this point, or perhaps it’s Stafford’s own boredom at being so far away from the action that makes it feel that the story has come to a standstill. But wait. Whoever wants a piece of Stafford is on to him and his son. They are found in hiding and are forced to move — just what the book needs to keep the story going. And if being charged by bison seems a stretch, or a throttle-to-the-firewall chase of semi-trailer tractors (Stafford had never driven one before), how about a herd of javelinas (forty-pound stubby wild dessert pigs) charging the shooter drawing a bead on Stafford. The little buggers knock the guy down. He misses his shot, and to top it off, the dude breaks his leg in the attack so he can’t continue in pursuit. Javelinas have been known to attack, but the timing on this is too contrived. Sears charges on with detailed machinations that have one hacker genius cause the stock market to drop. It’s fiction, right? The concepts and the terminology are all there, but bank ownership of penny stocks on margin and an artificially induced drop in the market to trigger margin calls? Sorry. (Too much for this retired stock broker.) Authors fail anytime a reader is forced to recognize that a story is fiction

None of the credibility issues matter, however. Why? Because Michael Sears can write. He has Stafford coming off as a well-rounded, completely credible protagonist. Sears’ narrative is fresh, sensitive, full of humor and human understanding and thoroughly engaging. Saving Jason is a very entertaining novel by a writer who has the capacity, talent and the insight to produce a classic. For all of its charm, however, Saving Jason slides under bar rather than forcing it to be raised.

This review first appeared in slightly altered form on the web side bookpleasures.com.

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Helicopter Parenting – Overparenting an Epidemic

January 13th, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

Helicopter parenting is the term for it. In The Overparenting Epidemic, George S. Glass, MD and David Tabatsky cast a wide net. The authors want to engage parents in an examination of their own parenting practices. Toward that end, the authors gently guide readers with self-assessment exercises and oblique anecdotes about some of the outlandish things others have done. They want readers to buy into the possibility that, yes, they too might be guilty of overparenting.

Because of the amount of time Glass and Tabatsky spend on explaining the syndrome, it is obvious he realizes most parents will not see themselves in the mirror that is being held up to them. Parents with unruly, self-absorbed, disobedient children seem overly confident that their approach is the right one. They know. Everyone else is unenlightened. Perhaps they have formulated their helicopter parenting style in reaction to the way they were raised and that adds unlimited energy to their quest. The outsider, even if a family member, can only guess at what drives them. The subject of raising children is one of those volatile issues that almost never gets discussed.

Parents of today are the progeny of the boomer generation, a generation that has enjoyed the highest standard of living, even at lower economic levels, than ever before in our history. An era of technological abundance challenges parents today in a manner none could anticipate twenty years ago.  A boy’s father years ago could help his son fix an electric train. Doing so provided an opportunity to be together and bond. A father today cannot be expected to repair a handheld device that puts television, games, a camera and a telephone into a child’s shirt pocket.

The authors give a quick history of child raising theories from Victorian times through the current time. Dr. Spock, the oracle of the mid-twentieth century, is cited by Glass as often misunderstood. They also provide a summary of the parenting styles; i.e. authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive.

"The Overparenting Epidemic" by George S. Glass and Book Cover

“The Overparenting Epidemic” by George S. Glass and David Tabatsky-  Book Cover

Overlooking the phenomenon of self-deception, they offer a multiple choice instrument to help a parent-reader identify his or her parenting style. This is all very helpful material, but the cure only begins with the diagnosis. Commitment to making a change is the next step, and it may involve profound adjustments in how an adult sees the parenting role. Deep personal reflection, no small undertaking in itself, is part of the process. Some parents pour too much of their own well-being into succeeding at raising their child. To compensate for their own unfulfilled aspirations, some raise the bar too high for their youngsters. The consequences are never apparent in the moment. Children are to be delivered into adulthood as stable, productive, secure, happy individuals. With the finish line always in the future, denial comes easy. Until that day arrives, the parents know best, for good or ill, and push ahead ignoring the signs that common sense might tell them that they could  be taking the wrong approach.

Helicopter parenting is not by definition permissive. It can be authoritarian, restricting children from activities their peers enjoy. No TV with parental approval. DVDs likewise. No fast food. The parenting style can be intrusive. The American culture is gross and course, and children need to spared from experiencing it. Parents become directive at school, at scouts, on the pee-wee sports field.

Parents can be permissive in some areas and non-negotiable in others. An uncle reported that he called his brother’s family during the Christmas season to extend his best wishes. “The boys liked their toys,” his sister-in-law reported.*

“Can I just say ‘hello’ to them?” uncle inquired.

“Hans. Dillon. Your uncle wants to talk to you. Come to the phone.”

A long pause.

“They said they don’t want to talk to you.”

“What the hell was I supposed to do then?” the uncle concluded in relating the event. “Tell her that she should put her little punks on the phone to teach them politeness and concern for others?”

George S. Glass, MD - Author

George S. Glass, MD – Author

“Their mother fixed three meals for six people when we were there,” a grandfather reported. “A separate meal for each boy because the mother knew that neither one would eat what was placed on the table for the adults. They also would not eat what the other wanted. Then, finally she set the meal for the adults. Whatever happened to ‘clean your plate?”

To counter the energy driving parents in their mission, Glass admonishes over-protective parents to “let go.” The regrettable truth is the message may not be enough to bring about the changes to help both parent and child find every day a happier place to be. Too many parents are driven to make up for the perceived failures of their own parents. They establish their own approach out of their own feelings of insufficiency and low self-esteem. Their children will do so much better. The tragedy is, of course, as children attain legal age, the unhealthy entanglement goes on and on. Glass, himself, suggests at one point that parents may need their own twelve-step program to disengage from an obsessive and damaging parenting style.

The damage done, as mentioned earlier, will become more apparent as the children move through adolescence and into early adult life. Those who have not learned who to relate to others, even if it means insisting on traditional conventions of polite behavior in the home, will continue to find it difficult to connect with others. “I might as well not bothered,” an aunt reported. “I hadn’t see those two girls in at least a year. There I was, in the hone, and they didn’t so much as say ‘hi,’ let alone give me a hug. They walked right by me as if I wasn’t there.”

Children who grow accustomed to having parents jump in and save them from failure or a difficult relationship often grow up expecting rescue rather than fending for themselves. They may have difficulty handling the complex feelings of failure when it occurs in real life — and failure is part of life. Glass urges parents allow children the freedom to experience life within the manageable dimensions of childhood, even if it means occasional disappointment and failure. The doctor has a contemporary message that echoes Kahlil Gibran, Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you.

Author David Tabatsky

Author David Tabatsky

Children who are not taught to respect boundaries and the property of others may find it difficult maintaining proper decorum as adults. “The minute they entered the house,” one man reported, “my grandsons disappeared. We found them when we heard them jumping up and down on our bed in the master bedroom. Imagine! When I was a kid, you didn’t go into a parent’s or a grandparent’s bedroom, let alone jump up and down on it. ‘Get off the bed,’ my son ordered. They stopped jumping but they didn’t get off the bed. They sprawled out on it and looked at him. He didn’t say another word. I guess that was good enough for him. They didn’t obey him and he didn’t insist on it.”

Estrangement of grandparents from grandchildren often results when the family elders lose patience and find they cannot agree with the way the home is being run. “The inmates are in charge of the asylum,” one grandmother remarked in grim humor. At its most destructive, the rift can carry through to creating distance between the parents and the grandparents. “When they finally left,” one grandfather reported, “I needed to get massage therapy to take the knots out of my upper back. I was that tense. You can’t tell anyone what your really think, you know.” A conflict in values is the most difficult to resolve. It often results in limiting contact and remaining distant.

Author Glass appeals to parents to use common sense. He realizes that helicopter parenting is as damaging for the adults as it is for the children. He urges parents to take a minute and consider what they are doing. The chapters toward the end of the book give advice that is tailored to the various scenarios that can be found in the home of parent who does not let go, use common sense, and trust that their child has all the resources necessary to him or her to deal with the day-to-day world.

The weaknesses in the book lie not in the message but in the delivery. The book needs to be tighter. Examples of overparenting abound, to the point of numbing redundancy. Rhetorical questions are over used. Readers will consider Dr. Glass’ analysis and recommendations because of his experience and credentials. They don’t need to be goaded into thinking by a barrage of rhetorical interrogatives.

Most readers will get past these shortcomings because the book is timely and important. Glass avoids jargon and psyche-speak to produce a work that is clear in its message. Dr. Glass is preeminently qualified as the author and his work should prove to be an important guide to parents everywhere.

*Quoted statements are fictitious and for illustrative purpose. They are not from the author’s book.

This review initially appeared in somewhat reduced form in bookpleasures.com.

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Elephants, Mankind’s Last Innocence Endangered

December 28th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

When Cecil, a magnificent twelve year old male lion, was killed by Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, the world took note. Finally, a cowardly act so outrageous in its cruelty gave rise to an outcry from thousands. Perhaps now, in the anger and grief, attention will be focused on the barbaric slaughter of the animals of the wilds of Africa. One person who has taken up the cause in a persuasive and powerfully eloquent manner is Mary Baures. A psychologist, Baures pours her clinical knowledge and compassionate nature into her book, Love Heals Baby Elephants: Rebirthing Ivory Orphans. Her depiction of the plight of the elephants and rhinoceros is impassioned, poetic, poignant and compelling. She describes Cecil’s death in a manner worth repeating to keep the horror of Palmer’s cruelty well in mind.

His (Palmer’s) Zimbabwe guides tied a dead animal to the back of their vehicle and lured Cecil, a beautiful, black maned lion with twelve cubs to protect, out of a safe area in Hwange National Park. They chose him because he was massive, a warrior with big black chunks of dreadlocks. They shined a spotlight on Cecil to blind him, then Palmer shot him with a bow and arrow. Cecil was injured from the first shot but escaped and fought to live forty-four hours while the crew tracked him and killed him. The team . . . tried to destroy the GPS tracking collar, probably visible when they led him out of the park and into the spotlights before the kill. Palmer butchered an Oxford University research subject ….

Author Mary Baures

Author Mary Baures

To drive her point home that Palmer is typical of the sport hunters who are the scourge of the savannas that are home to the beasts of the wild, Baures at one point observes. “Palmer’s treatment of his victims mirrors those of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.”

Baures also mentions Jimmy John Liatuad whose obscene pictures depicting him standing two-thumbs up on his kills, including an elephant and a rhino, should inspire a boycott of his Jimmy Johns restaurant chain. Liatuad is a coward, a bully and a mindless killer.

Baures’ plea is all the more powerful because she brings her trained eye to her subjects. She cites examples of creatures working out of a sense of compassion for one another. Baboons, in one situation, drop mangoes from the tree tops to an orphaned baby elephant so that it can survive. In another, a hyena protects an orphan baby elephant from attack by a pack of her own kind. Her descriptions of the nurturing and rebirthing of the tiny orphans is especially moving. The newborn of the elephants, like humans, take much longer to reach maturity than other mammals. The horror of seeing the mothers slaughtered in front of their eyes is traumatizing, just as it would be for a human child. They need to recover physically and psychologically. Most, tragically, do not. Only about one-third of the orphans are ever rescued. Some die after rescue because of the severity of their injuries and the shock of seeing their mothers butchered. Those who do recover must learn to trust again, most of all the humans, representatives from the same species that killed their mothers. The miracle is that the tiny creatures, with the support, nurturance, and affection of the rest of rescued herd, eventually learn to accept others again, find a home and learn to play among the their new found friends. Eventually, and probably with greater discernment than most humans, they find a way to accept the attention and love of their human keepers.

We have stepped outside of nature . . .

Men are capable of outrageous cruelty toward their fellow beings because we have stepped outside of nature. The author quotes Albert Einstein observation that the task for humans “is to widen ‘our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature.’” The enormity of our crimes against our fellow beings is staggering. “Fifty years ago,” the author reports, “there were 450,000 lions. Now (2105) there are only 23,000.” At one time, three million elephants roamed the African savannas. Their number has been reduced to 30,000. Yet the slaughter continues.

Elephants at the water hole. Once they numbered 3,000,000, Poachers and reduced their number to 30,000.

Elephants at the water hole. Once  3,000,000 strong, poachers have reduced their number to 30,000.

The ivory trade funds organized crime who attack with helicopters, off-road vehicles, rocket launchers and rapid-fire semi-automatic weapons. To prevent detection, they use gun silencers and sedation to capture their prey who they butcher in the field and leave the caucuses to rot, often with their babies clinging by the remains, vulnerable and alone. Baures supports her statements with facts. She writes, “The illegal wildlife trade is the world’s fourth largest criminal activity, with annual profits of $20 billion.” She reports that 1,200 rangers from thirty-six countries have been killed in the line of duty. Rangers are charged with the task of protecting the wildlife in their area.

Baures’ reporting is balanced. She justifiably rails against the cruelty, insensitivity and horror of the hunting and harvesting body parts. She balances her righteous condemnation with insight into the wonder and awe of the creatures she observes. Elephants have brains four times as large as human brains. Their capacity for memory is not a myth. They exhibit psychic abilities far beyond those known to most humans. They have an inspiring capacity for love, compassion and sharing affection. One event report was especially moving:

Mystical knowing . . .

When Lawrence Anthony, the elephant whisperer, died in March 2012, thirty-one elephants from two herds arrived after traveling 112 miles. The marched in a solemn line for hours to pay their respects. . . . They were led by Nana, the matriarch, and had not been to his (Lawrence’s’) reserve at Thula for a year and a half. They continued their grief vigil for two days before heading back to the bush. Their knowledge of his passing speaks of the mystical knowing of elephants. (Reviewer’s note: Nobody told the elephants of Lawrence’s death.)

“They are loving,” Baures writes, “wise and peaceful. Perhaps the telepathic abilities of elephants come from their rootedness in the Earth and their collective sense of self.”

“Unlike us,” the author observes in a later passage, “they don’t conceive of themselves as separate from other creatures or from the vast universal mind. Love melts away the boundaries between self and other creatures and may explain elephants’ extraordinary knowing.”

“You are our last innocence,” Baures writes.

A young elephant, probably an orphan. Look at the eyes of the intelligent animal.

A young elephant, probably an orphan. Look at the eyes of this intelligent animal.

Readers are urged to buy the print versions of Love Heals Baby Elephants because of the many wonderful pictures included in the text. This reviewer found the Kindle format too confining and lacking in detail when viewing the photos. The book has a casually rushed feel to it which is completely understandable. Given the Palmer horror, the time was at hand to get the word out. The flow of the book is almost conversational. Also, the title is a bit misleading because the book is not confined to discussing only elephants. Wait until you read about the ostriches Pea and Pod and the great fun they have playing among the behemoths of wild. The plight of the rhinoceros also falls within the author’s concern. Black rhinos have been driven to near extinction in malicious harvesting of their horns in the false belief that powder made from them is an aphrodisiac. (The horns consist of tissue much like fingernails, with no food or  medicinal value.) Ms. Baures has a straightforward, easy to read literary style. While her subject at times becomes somewhat technical, her explanations are in the language of a layperson and easy to follow. Her poetic nature shines in passages, some planted like gems and set out as pleasant, insightful surprises for the reader.

Years ago, Rachel Carlson wrote Silent Spring which became a bestseller. Mary Baures deserves that same recognition for the power of her compassionate message. Hopefully she will be as instrumental in forcing a long overdue change and that as humans everywhere we grow in our awareness that we are sharing our Earth with our fellow creatures. They deserve our respect and compassion. We diminish ourselves every time we forget our relationship with them.

Thanks for visiting my website. While you are here, I invite you to look through the other pages and posts. Your comments are also welcome. Please use the area below.

Philip Kenney’s “Where Roses Bloom”

December 13th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

Where Roses Bloom, Philip Kenney’s recent book of poetry, is an impressive body of work, especially when the poet’s novel, Radiance, is included in any consideration of the author’s output. The title might suggest sentimentality in his approach. “Roses,” as a word, has many connotations. But do not be misled. Kenney’s work is fresh, challenging, and poignant.

Kenney is thoroughly at home in the contemporary poetic aesthetic that decades ago abandoned traditional form, rhyming and meter. Readers invoke more subjective standards in judging a poet’s work. The two measures that come to mind immediately for Where Roses Bloom for this reviewer are accessibility and perspective. Kenney’s work is immediate. Readers are engaged and enthralled rather than mystified or perplexed. Kenney wants to reach his readers. His work evokes feeling through freshly moving scenes and situations that ring with authenticity.

As for perspective, Kenney places himself as the poet staunchly into his verse. He has a unique voice. He has not hidden behind convention, intricate conceits or gimmicks. Perspective, after all, helps the reader establish the author’s proximity to the concepts and feelings of a work. At one extreme, the poem can stand alone as a work of art saying little or nothing about the poet. Some of the greatest poetry in the language represent the standard in this regard. John Donne, Alexander Pope, John Milton. William Carlos Williams. The poet is in the work by implication as the mind and heart behind the composition.

Phil Kenney, Poet and Novelist

Phil Kenney, Poet and Novelist

At the other end of the continuum, verse is inseparable from the poet. The writer’s thoughts and feelings are presented as such. The writer is in the poem in person. Disaster can lie at either end of the continuum ranging on the one hand from self-indulgent, narcissist compositions to cerebral esoteric works on the other that come off as clinically precise but fail to give readers a handle or buy in.

Kenney is in his poetry. Readers can feel his presence.

Where Roses Bloom is almost three books in one based upon the subject matter and the approach Kenney takes. The first is a short collection of longer poems about others Kenney has observed. These poems struck this reviewer as a in the tradition of Edward Arlington Robinson (Richard Cory, Mr. Flood’s Party) in that the focus is on appearances and the extent to which people will go to maintain an image, or if not an image, a state of apparent composure. Kenney is a psychotherapist. He is a seer. In his Preface, he carefully explains that the personalities depicted in his poetry are composites and do not represent any one person or character. As he writes of himself in The counselor: A self portrait

To me I resemble the tavern keeper

All day behind the counter

Not knowing who will drop by,  I listen

And fill the classes.

In the same poem, he writes:

Next to the wisdom that is yours I sound abstract,

Contrived, while yours is the beauty

Of flowers blooming on a desert floor.

In Toes, Kenney draws one man’s story to the end as follows:

He never spoke a word of those toes,

Though for years they had not straightened,

For years they tucked their heads

Under the ball of his foot,

Like frightened snails in a shell

And never came out.

Observations as captured in the imagery in the passage above set Kenney’s verse apart. Metaphors represent thought and feeling in a way that is emphatic and powerful. In some passages, as in the above also, the poet may work a little too hard for his reader and economy is forfeit. The repetition of “for years” is superfluous and the passage could effectively ended on the penultimate line after the word “snails.”

Philip Kenney is a father, a husband, a son, a brother and a pet owner. In this second group, he writes about all. He seems at his exuberant best when writing about his two sons. Saturday, for example, is “The day of bacon and French toast: Hoping the boys will sleep in.” In Make me into something, he writes:

Once upon a time, when they were little boys,

A collection of wiggles and shrieks,

I threw them to the couch and made each into pizza pie.

It was a dramatized game of tickle, which is

Travel to the outer limits of pleasure.

Some of the longer works really are prose poems. The generous phrasing takes the reader by the hand to assure nothing slips past. A few lines later in the same poem, he continues:

Rolled out the dough, rolled it back I into a ball

Kneaded it with my fingers (this killed them)

Flipped it high in the air, twirling like a galaxy,

Spread it out on the board, gingerly applied the sauce

And cheese; pepperoni sent the squealing to heaven.

Any man who has been a father to sons feels the fun and laughter in this piece. His poem Georgio, Georgio, Help! is filled with the same glee. The passage quoted is but one of several moving poems Kenney has composed and dedicated to his sons. They are full of fun, whimsy, tenderness, and, yes, love.

Of his elderly mother’s efforts at signing a birthday card, he writes, The failed attempts stained a happy greeting. They lay on the paper like dead inchworms Dried out and curled up. The poet’s mother is the subject of another moving piece, Her last possession, which closes with the stanza below:

You and I can’t comprehend

Existence without memories –

But there she is

Walking down the corridor,

A smile, that determined look,

Her last possessions.

For all the intimacy conveyed – the preciousness (at the risk of using the abused word) – readers will come to know Kenney as an observer of all the life around him. He relates to his everyday surroundings. The squirrels, the birds, the moon, the sun, a daddy-longlegs, even a fugitive from justice are all in his world with him. Readers find him immersed rather than standing apart. He writes of being nearly overwhelmed, and if not that, of bringing his perception of his own life down to the smallest things that are close at hand and real for him. Touchstones. In the refining and narrowing of his focus, readers come to know a man who is very much aware of himself, the mystery of his existence, and the joys that are available to him every day. Humility enables vision just as pride or avarice diminish it. There is no grandiosity in Kenney’s work. He is a keen observer.

Kenney’s wisdom shines in several of his poems. In a third grouping of compositions, his tone turns more pensive. His subjects, more universal. His comments about what troubles about the world today are often oblique, as in Hours of Blue, he writes:

We the tall strangers, oblivious

To the blisters on our skin

To the eruptions in our brains

Lost wanderers, fearful of dying

Fearful of longings, unable to stop the plunder

Unable to listen, or be quiet.

Or more allegorically in What the cats trust

Instead of believing in the forgiveness of God

Why not recognize the absence of judgement?

And stop setting up rituals of repentance.

And when the hand of being

Picks you up from beneath the wheels of a car,

Don’t swipe at this with your claws.

Where Roses Bloom - Cover as Presented on Amazon

Where Roses Bloom – Cover as Presented on Amazon

All of Kenney’s poems seek a reassuring resolution. He is no cynic. That said, readers will not come away from his work with an understanding of his beliefs or admonitions of faith. The poet stands for peace. Peace within. Peace in the world. If anything, he urges movement away from trouble, tension and distress toward acceptance, contentment, and serenity. But he doesn’t preach. He demonstrates. He urges. He portrays. The scope of his work spans most of the stages of life – childhood, the ages of love, of parenthood, of the diminishing years, of old age and passing beyond. His work could be tighter. He could leave more to the reader than he does. Pagination orphans lines at times that can result in a poem being misread if the reader is not alert. He could find alternatives for words like rose, precious, cherish – typical stock response evokers, but his integrity and the authenticity of his vision is never in doubt. His images are fresh and arresting. He knows his subject. He doesn’t talk about anything but of it. Where Roses Bloom needs to be read and reread. For the book is indeed like a bloom itself and it opens to yield more every time it is shown the light.

Thanks for visiting my web site. Philip Kenney’s books are available at Amazon. Simply search under his name. While you are here, I invite you to look through the other pages of my site. Please feel free to enter a comment in the area provided below. May the joys of the holiday season be with you.

Windows 10 — Efficiency Sacrificed to Non-essentials and Glitz

November 18th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer

John J. Hohn, Writer

Windows 10 is a mess. I wish like the hell I had never upgraded  I had been using XP on my laptop and Windows 7 on a second machine. Microsoft withdrew support for XP. My old laptop was wearing out. So I made the leap and find myself wallowing in regret. There is no way, after three months on Windows 10, that I have run into all of the glitches, bugs, and  design flaws. I expect to find more, but here are just a few that I have encountered so far.

The “Start” icon in the lower left hand corner calls up more options than one would ever care to explore. Not to worry. The files for the “Start” routine became corrupted within days of use. Checking the internet, legions of other users reported the problem. To their credit, Microsoft contacted me. They suggested a couple of fixes. Neither worked. They then referred me to the “Help” facility. That’s a joke. It was not on line over the weekend. The same tedious options are used to channel my inquiry. To keep it minimally staffed, they refer users to a users’ group. It’s a cool move when you think about it – letting your customers perform service for one another. I lost patience.

Microsoft is making tons of money. Bill Gates is one of the world’s richest humans. So why not give back to the people who have purchased your products in the form of truly proactive assistance? Besides, with a problem as widely experienced and reported as the corruption of the “Start” routines, why hasn’t it been fixed with a download? Duh!

I found the right clicking on the “Start” icon gives me an old fashioned, familiar menu – you know the kind we used for years before Microsoft decided their clients were illiterate and needed pictures. The menu is fine with me. I can go where I want without walking through a parade of promotional material.

Sheer Redundancy . . .

Somewhere someone wrote that if you take a watch apart often enough you will end up with two watches. That’s what has happened with Windows 10. You have the usual breakdown of the file storage sites and files that you are accustomed to seeing. They appear under a caption “Easy Access.” But what doesn’t make sense, is a duplicate listing of the same storage points and files appear just below it. Presumably the second list is the “Difficult to Access” files. This is sheer redundancy with no clear purpose except to confuse the operator. Some of your files will get stored under “Easy Access” and some under the second listing, and you will never know for sure which to call up first. Dropbox, to illustrate, can be completely empty in one list and full of items in the other. The same is true of Downloads. You can check your Downloads file and find all kinds of goodies, but try to find any one item to attach to an email and you get taken – you guessed it – to the second Downloads area that doesn’t have anything in it. To overcome the problem, you need to go to Downloads, find the file you want, open it and then save it an area that you can get to when you want to attach it to an email.

I yearn for the elegant simplicity of XP. Remember how on Windows Explorer, you could split the screen and list all your files and storage areas in a column on the left and open any file you chose on the right. Then a simply click and drag and files could be dispatched with ease to the location you desired. Windows 10 is like the watch taken apart too many times. You can no longer split the screen and drag files. Now, if you open a file, the only way to reassign it to another area or folder is to answer a “Send To” prompt. Yeah, right! Who remembers the exact name given to the receiving file? It’s not right there on the screen for you. You do not get a browsing tool to go look for it. Take a couple of stabs at remembering the exact name of the file you want to send something to and if you are lucky, the file gets moved. If you are unlucky, which is most of the time, the transfer fails, and you need to close out the explorer file, look up the exact title to the intended receiving file and then start all over again. In desperation, I finally created a “Collection” file under “Documents” and I send everything there first so that later I can open it up and resend to storage file I want.

Suppose you want to upload photos directly from some other medium like a camera memory card. Time once was that you got a listing of everything on the card, and it was possible to see more than the “Detail.” Icons (little reproductions of the photos) were available. Not now. Only “detail” is provided. In order to file photos, you must open the card, click through all of the “Detail” nomenclature to get an image to identify the photo. If you want to refer back to a given photo for any reason you should rename the photo so that you will find it when you call it up into a document. Either that or write down the detail – yet another extra step.

Direct downloads from your camera’s memory may not work because Windows 10 will not recognize the format of the item to be imported. Be sure, therefore, to use a memory card in your camera. One family reunion with ever photo recorded in the camera’s memory is still there for me.

A Lot More Complicated . . .

In summary, moving files around is just a hell of a lot more complicated than it needs to be. And never ever hit “search” for anything. If you do, go out for coffee because, with a larger hard drive, Windows 10 searches all of it. Too bad. I am no programmer, but wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to put a marker at the end of the segment of the drive to designate the end of any recorded material and then search up to the marker but no farther?

Speaking of photos, the photo viewer that comes with Windows 10 is very limited. You can no longer crop photos. This is a severe deficiency. Where once the off center or poorly composed shot could be quickly adjusted, now you need to go to a different program or internet site to achieve this simple edit. This means moving the file of the photo, of course – a step that was not necessary under the earlier photo viewer. In addition, and all the more damning, the photo viewer of Windows 10 does not allow you to save a photo to a designated file. You need to go back to the source media, find the file, and retrieve it into some other program. The ability to “save-file” and “browse” is no longer available. This is a giant step backwards, easily enough to make me wish that I could dump Windows 10 and go back to some earlier version. What were they thinking?

Microsoft’s motives for limiting the photo viewer program become somewhat clearer when you consider that they include a download program entitled “PhotoDirector.” I pulled it up just to see what it had to offer and could not get it to perform even the simplest tasks. There’s nothing user friendly or intuitive about it. When I finally did get a photo loaded to edit it, the program could not perform the task I requested. I was directed to download AND PAY FOR a more extensive version. They take something away, in other words, and you need to pay to get it back.

Lost in the Non-essentials – Glitz yes; Guts, no.

I use Microsoft Word. I needed to buy a newer version of Office so that I would have word processing capability compatible with Windows 10. I intend to review Office at a later date. But here again, a lot of attention is paid to the accidentals and non-essentials. It takes more rather than fewer steps to move about in the Word program. An array of rarely used formats greets the user upon opening Word. A right click produces more choices in editing text than you will ever use but efficiently blocks out a large portion of text in your composition. Experienced users familiar with “Control” commands will find this a nuisance. Most annoying is that the tool bar always defaults back to “File” after executing a demand when it would be to the user’s advantage to remain on the most recently used menu A limited number of fonts is provided, some with new hybrid names. Courier is not one of them, probably because it is an efficient draft font that doesn’t call for quarts of ink in printing a manuscript. All of the fonts seem too heavy and ink squandering. Microsoft has favored printing manufacturers. Ink is expensive.

I have been around computers since the mid-1960’s when I worked for as a a field implementation specialist for a major insurance company as it moved into electronic data processing. I worked with EDS in helping design the paper flow procedures for the model Blue Shield claims processing program that EDS installed throughout the country. I was a salesman for a Digital Distributor (OEM) until the minis lost out to desktop IBMs. At a low point in my career, I sold MS-DOS machines for Radio Shack, or TRS-DOS of the day. I have owned a personal computer for more than 35 years, starting with a Radio Shack Model III. I mention this only to establish that I know whereof I speak.

I would estimate that 60 percent of my work with a computer is word processing, 30 percent internet including email and 10 percent photo work. This changes hit me where I am the most productive, and I can’t imagine what inspired the changes in Windows 10. It appears that the designers and programmers have become lost in miscellany, nonessentials and accidentals. They have forsaken the basics. Microsoft has clearly lost touch with their consumers. Two stars, folks, and that’s generous.

Addenda (Stuff I keep Finding In addition to the above)

Using Dropbox, icons are not available for viewing. Only the detail view (i.e. jpf1234). Above I recommended that files be renamed so they can be readily identified when accessed from a different program (i.e. email attachments, Word, etc). That’s still a good idea but you need to know that Dropbox with still carry the original file with the detail caption. You end up with duplicates in the Dropbox, in other words. Not very efficient.

 

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