Book Review – Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

March 31, 2008

brothersbookcvr.jpgBrothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

by David Talbot, Free Press a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, NY, 2007

This is a riveting expose of the Kennedy era through the eyes of John Kennedy’s most trusted adviser and confidant, his brother Robert Kennedy and other close friends from that era. It begins with John F. Kennedy’s presidency in January 1961 and continues through his brother, Robert Kennedy’s assassination, on June 6, 1968.

Using startling new evidence and interviews, the author reveals for the first time that Robert Kennedy did not believe the Warren Commission’s lone gunman theory and was convinced his brother was the victim of a conspiracy. When he became president he intended to re-open the Warren Commission Investigation into his brother’s assassination.

 

Previously unknown and chilling facts about the era are uncovered. The historical characters come to life in the pages of this book. The reader will be pulled into the events as if they were there. For example, the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff of the American military planned to carry out a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union in the early 1960s to remove the communist threat. President Kennedy asked them what American losses would result. The reply was, “only 20 or 30 million deaths, and a few major cities would be obliterated.” It was inconceivable to him they would seriously consider such a thing. During his entire administration the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the military were conducting operations that he would not sanction, yet they went ahead regardless.

Some key points made by the author put this era in context,

          This was the height of the Cold War and the communist threat was the dominating fear of the CIA, FBI, and the military.

          The use of nuclear weapons and nuclear war were not unthinkable concepts to the military.

          The CIA was fixated on Fidel Castro’s Cuba and overthrowing its socialist government.

          The assassination of Castro was actively pursued with the help of the Mafia and without Kennedy’s approval or knowledge.

Any and all attempts by Kennedy to ease tensions with the Soviet Union were strongly opposed by the military and others who said he was “soft” on communism and believed as a result he was endangering the security of the United States.

He was opposed in his attempt to assist Martin Luther King, Jr. and his drive for civil rights for black Americans. The resulting split in the Democratic Party seriously endangered the re-election of Kennedy in 1964. If he did not win the state of Texas in the election of 1964, he would not be re-elected, hence the urgency of his trip to Texas in 1963. He needed to attack extremism in America and promote his view of world peace that relied on peaceful co-existence, not nuclear confrontation.

Reading this book made me believe in conspiracy simply because he had so many powerful enemies who had the motive, means and opportunity to murder the president. The author answers another statement made by those who don’t believe in conspiracy – “someone would have talked”. Talbot documents the fact that many reliable witnesses have talked over the years. They have not been taken seriously, eliminated, or their testimony buried. Although the story is woven into the assassinations of both John and Robert, it is not a true assassination book. It doesn’t advance a specific conspiracy scenario, rather it summarizes the most significant theories on the subject. What he does do most effectively is lift the veil on the many enemies of the Kennedy presidency. Bottom line thesis the book seems to advance is that Kennedy’s approach to the Cold War was so revolutionary, sinister forces fought to end it.

To anyone interested in the history of this era, this book will be a page-turner. I read it in a couple of days and couldn’t leave it alone. Talbot has so well-researched and documented his story the reader will be thinking about it for a very long time. It reads like a thriller. He accomplished the goal of examining the Kennedy Era through the eyes of those who lived it. After reading this book I am amazed that nuclear war did not occur.

Previously unpublished interviews with Jackie Kennedy and Robert Kennedy concerning the events of November 22, 1963 and their aftermath are a highlight of the book. Jackie’s descriptions of the bloodbath inside the presidential Lincoln are especially gut-wrenching. These descriptions serve to force the reader to look beyond the Zapruder film and realize the human carnage that was taking place.

The final question posed by the author is, “Why should we care after all these years?”  His book argues that democracy is threatened by lies and untruths perpetuated by governments. For this reader, a child of the sixties, the Kennedy assassinations were the beginning of my cynicism of governments. This book reconfirms my beliefs.

The author, David Talbot is the founder and former editor-in-chief of Salon, one of the most respected on-line magazines. He has written for The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and other publications. When Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Talbot was a sixteen-year old worker in Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency.

This was the most thought-provoking book I have read for a long time. I highly recommend it.

  


Writing: Resources and Ideas

March 26, 2008

I love to write and am a freelance writer who is into history. I use my blog as incentive to write and to hone my skills. My goal is to get published in mainstream magazines and to get my book project published.

Recently on the advice of others I obtained some excellent sources of ideas that also serve as quick references. I highly recommend having them close at hand.

1. Almanac: New York Times World Almanac
Not only a truly awesome book of facts, but if you leaf through it at random with notebook and pen in hand it’s surprising the ideas you can come up with.

2. Desktop Concise Encyclopedia: The Penguin Concise Encyclopedia.
Although only one volume, it is amazing how much info this contains. Again take the time to read it at random every now and then, ideas will be found.

3. AP (Associate Press) Style Guide.
A must in my opinion and at around $12 US it’s a bargain. Most of the major news sources and modern publications use it.

4. World Atlas: I have an 8 1/2 x 11″ size one that fits into my backpack and yet is very well done. It is indispensible for seeing where countries fit into the world. Not only do you need to know about the country, but its setting in the neighborhood, for example what countries are adjacent to it.

5. National Geographic Magazines.
I am fortunate to have a large collection of these. Great for finding article ideas. I also have the 100 year index they published in 1988. Invaluable quick search for subjects that they have covered, especially on the obscure.

6. Time/Life Yearbooks.
These are usually on the newsstands yearly and older issues can be picked up cheaply at garage/yard sales. Nice source of information for a specific year. They are a great addition to your reference library.

7. Dictionary and Thesaurus.
This goes without saying. Far better than those in word processors.

So with these in hand I can now write, write, write……….if only I can find the energy and time. Seriously though, I highly recommend these as excellent items to add to your writers library.


Travels With The Gang: Christmas in Maui

March 25, 2008

damiangirls.jpgI know it’s a little late, but I finally put my notes together and here is another adventure we had with the kids. Over Christmas our family vacationed in Maui.

Here I was planning on confining myself for nine hours on an airplane with the gang. Was I crazy? Damian, my dynamic six year old, and three year old twins, Claire and Livia. Would this be a vacation? Sure I thought hopefully. The time in Hawaii maybe, the flight, well that might be another story.

My wife and I loaded their carry-ons with games, coloring books, markers, books and of course goodies and snacks. Will there be enough to last nine hours? That was the million dollar question.

The trek starts with waking them out of a sound sleep at 2:30 in the morning. As usual when you want them to wake up, they want to sleep. You can bet that if we wanted them to sleep, they would be up and ready to go.

Finally we get up. Next we are waiting for the cab to take us to the airport. The cab shows up at 3:30. We load up and then the cat escapes into the cold darkness. Damian and I are chasing it around the yard and it is managing to make us look like fools. At last we pounce on her and toss her back into the warmth of the house, With the cat rescued from death by deep freeze we are on our way to the airport.

At the airport we get lucky and are near the first of the line. Check in, customs pre-clearance and security goes well. Damian is convinced to remove the wheels from his Heelies. Claire refuses to let security x-ray her “little Barney”. This is one of her favorite stuffed toys, she is a Barney freak, and she is not about to part with it. Finally we manage to get it in the x-ray and returned to her. God knows it might have contained a bomb.

The first leg of the flight, Calgary to Denver, goes well. Kids are on their best behavior. The food holds out and the batteries are still working.

Damian sits with me and says, “Dad when we get to Maui I am going to run into the room, get my swim suit on, and jump into the pool.” I decide then and there I better catch some zzzz so I can keep up with him. So I make that my goal. We’ll see how that works out.

Next we board the plane to Hawaii. After sitting on the tarmack for over one hour waiting for “connecting” passengers and their bags, we finally start moving. Halfway through the flight, “the boy” decides it is time to pester the sisters. Hell, it’s been way too quiet and uneventful, at least in his opinion. A melee ensures and separation is the order of the day. When we finally get his “engine” at an idle peace settles over the passenger compartment of the jetliner.

Food has run out and we still have 4 hours to go! My kingdom for some M&Ms. Are we there yet? No that is not the kids braying that, it’s me desparately hoping the pilot has made a mistake and the islands will suddenly appear and we will be on solid ground where I can actually give them a timeout.

Turns out that United Airlines has a contest to see how long it takes to get halfway. I can tell them. It takes several fights and lots of crying, from the kids, and parents before reach that milestone.

They say that countries will always find a way to start a war. My kids parallel the Middle East, any excuse will do. Share is not a word in their vocabulary.

Finally we are at the condo. Very nice one bedroom with large pullout in the common area. The kids decide they all want to sleep in the king-size pullout. They are so tired that it works out well. Damian in the middle with sisters on either side. Big brother is so good to them.

Before bed they go swimming with Uncle Mac, Colin and Caleigh. Meanwhile Cindy, Karen and I hike down to the nearest store for some provisions. The road is super busy with little or no sidewalk. It is so dark it is dangerous walking. We return with basics for the morning.

We are all so tired. To bed with plans for finding a nice beach in the morning.

To Lahania today and the supposedly number one beach in Maui just to the north. It was OK but lots of rocks. Very hot today. Damian and the girls had a blast in the sand building sand castles and burying Uncle Mac. Tried to get on glass bottom boat but full up so will try again tomorrow. Lahania is an historic whaling town from the 1800s with many old buildings. The old court house and jail had a huge Banyan tree in front. This building was once the capital of Hawaii. It is the spot where the official ceremony took place lowering the Hawaiian flag and raising the American flag. This made Hawaii a territory of the United States in 1888. The tree resembled an octopus with its many convoluted branches. Kids climbed all over it before we realized that we weren’t supposed to do that, oh well the kids had fun. Tomorrow snorkling and perhaps the glass bottom boat. Sure beats the heck out of the snow and ice of Calgary.

Snorkling at a local beach today. Lots of fish and a reef/rock formation that came right into shore. Not deep and good viewing. Saw about 20 different species of marine fish.

Back to the condo and a steak barbeque this evening. Christmas Eve. Strange but true. Christmas Day will be a luau on the beach. Maui is fantastic.

Christmas morning we went to Big Beach down the coast from Kihei and relaxed in the sun. Later in the afternoon we went to Lahanai to the luau. The dances and such were excellent, but food was terrible. What a disappointment. All in all a good time though. They did have a special buffet for the kids with chicken fingers and fries.

I was dreading the flight home because sister-in-law and family wouldn’t be with us. They left a day earlier, we had to spent an extra night in a hotel near the airport. I extended the rental car which was one of the smartest things I did. We spent the day at the local mall and took the kids to two movies before heading to the airport.

Turns out we were worried for no reason. The kids were so exhausted that they slept all the way back to San Francisco and then to Calgary. Damian was awake for the last two hours, but he and I watched The Simpsons on my laptop and he drew pictures.
 


Travels with the Gang: Are We There Yet? God I Hope So.

March 21, 2008

cindykids2008.jpg

My Loving and understanding wife with the gang. 

Our family is used to traveling in our Dodge Caravan minivan. There are five of us. Two adults, a 6 year old boy, and twin girls 4 years old. We love to travel, but five persons in the van is getting unmanageable. Road-tripping is Mom and Dad’s favorite thing to do, that is, move from place to place seeing the country. The kids don’t mind staying in one place, but I want to show them various attractions in Canada and the United States. Well we bought a motorhome this year and hope to use it to explore this summer and in the future. This should give the kids more room to play games, watch TV, or read books as we travel. It’s got to be better than our typical travel day in the van.

We get up after a night at the hotel, usually in an uncomfortable bed, and rush downstairs to take advantage of the “continental breakfast” offered by most chains now. To their credit, these are now more than just danishes and toast. Cereal, fruit, waffles, muffins, and even eggs are now provided.

After breakfast I start packing the luggage down to the van, making sure to remember teddy bears and other stuffed friends. This usually takes a couple of trips.

It’s time to head out for the day. Before leaving we make sure the movie players are loaded with the selected entertainment. This is decided after a heated debate amongst the viewers. By this time Dad is ready to head back to the room and let them take off by themselves. However, with a large coffee in hand, provided by a loving wife, I am trying hard to ignore the sounds of open warfare coming from the rear of the van. Thank God for Ritalin!

The next major point of contention is the choice of cuisine for lunch. Which choke and puke should we stop at? Let’s see,McDonalds has terrible food for adults, but does have Kid’s Meals with a toy for the little ones and a play area to tire them out. It takes Mom and Dad all of ten seconds to wheel into McDonalds. We get a table, order the food, and the kids head for the play area. My wife and I actually get to talk to each other one on one for a few minutes. After some downtime we take the kid’s food with us, they don’t eat in the restaurant because they’re too busy playing. They eat in the van. Oh by the way this gourmet meal costs around $30-$40 for the five of us. But hey, the kids burned off some energy and have “food” to eat, Mom and Dad had conversation, but the downside is my stomach now feels like a garburator.

Finally as the day draws to a close, we start looking for a hotel. It has to have a pool and continental breakfast. This way I can take the kids to the pool to tire them out and give Mom a break. Because generally we don’t know where we will end up, reservations have not been made. Luckily finding a room isn’t too hard if we stop a little early. I manage a workout session consisting of unloading the van and manhandling the luggage into the hotel and up the elevator, or sometimes the stairs. I can’t believe that some of these places don’t have an elevator. It’s clear to me that the designer never had to pack the luggage for five people up to his room at the end of a long day.

Next we find a fast food or family restaurant and take the desparados for supper. If you’ve never taken three little ones to a restaurant, you haven’t lived. First we wait for a table, then wait for our order to be taken, then wait for the food to come, and then wait for our bill. All this time the kids are amusing, and I use that term loosely, the patrons and staff with screaming, throwing things, and running wildly from table to table. I’m sure that as soon as we leave the manager calls all the other restaurants in his chain and warns them of our approach. That must be why they always ask where we are headed.

To close out the day the kids get ready for bed and watch TV in the room. Never have I appreciated the power of the boob-tube, than at this time. Finally we all go to sleep ready for another day in the jungle of fast food, paved interstates, and hotel/motel accomodation.

The motorhome just has to be better than this. Come back soon for another episode in travels with the gang.


10 Things You Should Know About Human Genetic Engineering

March 18, 2008

dna_overview.pngI just read a novel by Michael Crichton titled, “Next”. Crichton is best known for his techno-thrillers such as “The Andromeda Strain”, “Jurassic Park”, and “Prey”. He is also a medical doctor so quite a few of his books have been based on some kind of medical or scientific research. “Next” is a science-fiction novel set in the near future where human genetic engineering is part of everyday life. The possible ramifications and misuse are addressed via the fictional plot. However, Crichton always bases his books on science. The book was well-researched and based on factual information. He cites his sources in the back and has an afterword outlining his predictions and opinions on the entire subject. I highly recommend it. After reading this book I wanted to know more and thought some basic facts I uncovered would be worth writing about. (Left, above: human DNA structure)

1. What is genetic engineering?
Simply stated, it is the controlled modification of some part of the genes or DNA of a person. In other words, it is now possible for scientists to change human capacities, physical, cognitive, or emotional.

2. What techniques are used?
There are two types genetic engineering, Somatic and Germline. Somatic involves adding genes to cells other than egg or sperm cells. The treatment of diseases caused by defective genes through gene replacement is an example of this technique. These changes are not be passed down to offspring.

Germline engineering consists of changing genes in eggs, sperm, or very early embryos. Such changes are inheritable. This technique could result in perpetual and irreversible changes in humans. For this reason, it is very controversial.

3. What benefits could come from human gene manipulation?
Possible cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, MS, and others. Great progress is already being made.

4. What is a “gene patent”?
Genes that have been manipulated into a new form can be patented in some countries. Companies and researchers are allowed to do this in the United States. Many other countries do not recognize these patents.

5. What are “stem cells”?
These are the basic cells of life that have not developed into a particular type of cell yet. For example cells being in the development of a human being from stem cells to heart cells, liver cells, skin cells, etc. The advantage of stem cells is that scientists can “tell” them to develop into whatever type of cell they need for therapy. New brain cells could be created and used to replace damaged ones, at least that is the theory.

6. What is cloning and is it possible to clone humans?
Cloning is reproduction of a species without cells from both sexes. Sheep, frogs, cats, dogs and other animals have been successfully cloned. Human beings are animals therefore it is entirely possible. No one is saying it would be easy, but possible – Yes.

7. What would be the main reason for cloning humans?
So organs could be harvested. Of course this would mean death for the clone.

8. Isn’t it illegal to clone humans?
Yes but not in all countries.

9. How soon could we see humans successfully cloned?
Likely within five years.

10. Do stem cells have to come from human embryos?
Not anymore. Scientists are now able to obtain stem cells from other organs within the body.
 


Firsts

March 13, 2008

Several bloggers have done this lately. I thought it would be an interesting way to look back in time, so here is my version.

1. Who was your first date?
A girl name Terry who was in my class. I remember it took me forever to work up the nerve to ask her to a dance. I think I was around 15 at the time.

2. Do you still talk to your first love?
No. My first puppy love was at age 14 and her name was Crystal. We met while vacationing at a resort. Apparently she married and had several children. I never saw her again after that summer, except we did write letters back and forth for a while.

3. What was your first alcoholic drink?
Vodka and orange juice. A couple of my buddies and I tied one on when we were about 16. Certainly something I am not proud of, but I was so sick that it’s something I haven’t forgotten.

4. What was your first job?
My first part-time job was working at the local IGA grocery store. I worked there through all of high school. Started when I was 15. The first full-time job was in June 1969. My employer was Babcock & Wilcock. I was a timekeeper/first aid man on various construction sites. There was lots of shift work. I remember the starting wage was $3.00/hr and after three years I got up to $5.00/hr.

5. What was your first car?
First car I owned was a 1969 MGB sportscar. It was a snazy convertible. I had lots of fun for a couple of years, until I had an accident and couldn’t afford the insurance, so I traded to a Toyota Corolla. Before cars I did have a couple of motorcycles, a Yamaha 100cc Twin and a Yamaha 350. Got my first one when I turned 16 and got my licence.

6. Who is the first person you thought of this morning?
My beautiful wife Cindy. I get up early, around quarter to five, and it is very difficult to leave the warmth of the bed.

7. Who was the first teacher who influenced you?
I don’t remember at all. The one teacher that really sticks in my mind is Gerald Kelsey who was my grade 8 teacher and also principle of the elementary school. I was severely challenged by math. He took the time to work with me after school several times a week. If it weren’t for his patience and perseverance I would likely still be in that grade.

8. Where did you go on your first ride on an airplane?
In 1957 I went for a helicopter ride in the small town I lived in at the time, Iroquois, Ontario. It was part of their Christmas celebrations. Santa had arrived via the chopper and Dad arranged for us to have a ride.

9. Who was your first best friend, and are you still friends with him/her? When, high school? Elementary school?
I had two very best male friends all the way through high school. Unfortunately I lost touch with them over the years. Recently I found out one is a drunk and the other has passed on. Very sad all in all.

10. What was your first sport played?
I played little league baseball when I was around 10 or 11. I was a pitcher.

11. What was the first movie you saw?
Bambi when it first came to the screen. My folks took us to see it in Ottawa. It would have been in the 1950s, but I’m not sure of the year. 

12. What was the first concert you ever went to?
The Rolling Stones in 1964 in London, Ontario. They had just released “Satisfaction”. I remember how conservative they were at the time dressed in suits and not dancing around the stage like they do now. I also remember girls fainting and pulling off their clothes in a frenzy.

13. What was the first foreign country you went to?
The United States because I lived across the St. Lawrence River from it.

14. What was your first run-in with the law?
The police rousted a bunch of us who were at a bush party. Nothing serious though, they just told us all to go home.

15. When was your first detention?
It is hard to remember since I got so many in high school, but I was likely about 14.

16. What was the first state/province you lived in?
New Brunswick because I was born there. We left in 1955, when I was six, to live in Ontario. I left in 1977 to move to Alberta where I still reside.

17. Who was the first person to break your heart?
A girlfriend I had in high school. She was a minister’s daughter, but you would never have known it. She was a wild one let me tell you. She ended up marrying one of my best friends.

18. What was the first world event that influenced you or that you remember the most?
The Kennedy Assassination – the killing of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963 still fascinates me. I was only 14 years old at the time, but from that point forward my interest in world events and history knew no bounds. For me it was a life changing event.

If you enjoyed this why not try this exercise yourself. I know I had a few chuckles jotting these memories down.


Do-It-Again Dad – Stupid Things People Say

March 12, 2008

I am soon to be 59 years young. My first marriage failed, but not until I had two wonderful daughters. Then I was single-again for 14 years. During this time I had a blast, but there was always something missing. I had a hole in my heart.

Then I met the love of my life, my true soulmate. It didn’t matter to either of us that she was 20 years younger than me. She had been married before and also needed to find her soulmate.

She had always wanted children and although I didn’t feel that need, I loved her deeply and her happiness was the most important thing to me. We now have a six-year old son, and four-year old twin daughters. I can’t imagine my life without these new little ones. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned people like to toss out offhanded remarks. Now I’m sure these are not intended to be cruel, but they do grate on us. Here are some things that others, who have absolutely no concept of my life situation, like to say,

Comment: You just did this to stay young?
Answer: NO I did not, and what is it to you anyway.

Comment: Oh yeah you robbed the cradle with your young wife.
Answer: No I didn’t go looking for a younger woman. The point is we got married because in this life you only get so many chances at love and when you find happiness you grab it. By the way don’t ever let my wife hear you say this.

Comment: Sure glad it’s you and not me with three young kids at your age.
Answer: You know you’re right – I’m glad its me and not you too.
(My wife and I consider this to be the stupidest comment we get.)

Comment: How do you manage at your age? It will lead you to an early grave.
Answer: So what, I have more love in my life now that I’ve ever had before.

Cindy, my wife, is beautiful in every way and my true partner in this life. My children from my previous marriage and the little ones I have now bring me joy and love. The best legacy a person can leave behind is his or her children.

Cindy if you are reading this, I love you with all my heart and all my soul. Forever and always.


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