Monthly Archives: November 2013

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Myths & Misconceptions’: Easy-reading Book Reveals a Plethora of ‘Things We Know that Just Aren’t So’

  • By David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Myths & Misconceptions': Easy-reading Book Reveals a Plethora of ‘Things We Know that Just Aren’t So’
It’s always a delight for me to review a book by Philip A. Yaffe, an American writer who lives in Brussels, Belgium, and his latest ebook “Myths & Misconceptions: Things We Know that Just Aren’t So” (Kindle ebook from Amazon.com, 1112 KB, 296 pages print length, Amazon Digital Services, Inc. $6.40) is no exception.
“We all carry around myths and misconceptions because we have no choice. No one can be expert in everything, so we simplify our learning into easy-to-remember snippets, which are often very close to the truth, but never quite there,” says Yaffe.

“Most myths and misconceptions do no harm; however, some of them do,” Yaffe says.

“For example, a misconception about fundamental physics means that people living in cold climates spend a hundred dollars or more every year unnecessarily heating their homes. Likewise, a misconception about basic biology means that people living in hot climates spend hundreds of dollars every year unnecessarily cooling their homes. Aside from wasting financial resources, these widespread misconceptions also use up precious natural resources.”

Yaffe’s book clearly explains these two misconceptions, as well as many others. However, the purpose of the book is not to save the planet, although this would be a felicitous side effect. Rather it is to entertain the reader by pointing out and explaining a plethora of “things we know that just aren’t so.”

Although extensive and wide-ranging, the myths and misconceptions treated in the book represent only the tip of the iceberg. There are just so many of them that to try to deal with more than a selected few would require an entire library.

A second purpose of the book is to sensitize the reader to the dangers of making important decisions based on false or misleading information,Yaffe says. To this end, the book also contains short essays on “How to Check Misconceptions,” “How to Check Myths,” “Conspiracy Theories; How to Separate the Wheat from the Chaff,” and a lesson in critical thinking excerpted from an iconic short story by iconic science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov.

Here’s an excerpt from a book that makes delightfully illuminating reading:A prevalent source of misconceptions is “common sense,” i.e. the idea that something must be true or false simply because it couldn’t be otherwise. However, we live in a world where common sense often breaks down, leading to misconceptions that not only are not close to the truth, they are totally false. 

For example, it is common sense to believe that the Sun moves while the Earth is stationary because we see it happening each and every day, but we know this isn’t true. It is also common sense not to believe that a small lump of uranium could release the same energy as 20,000 tons of dynamite, but tragically we know that this is true (remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki). 

The raison d’être of science is to go beyond the obvious to determine what is real, often with surprising results. Common sense should help us govern our daily lives, but common sense and science are inherently incompatible for the very good reason that they have little or nothing to do with each other. 

When we become aware of a possible misconception, or a common sense idea that may be wrong, we have two choices. We can either ignore it because it is of no significance or interest to us. Or we can check it out because it is of significance or interest to us. If we chose to check it, there is a right way and a wrong way doing so. Here is the right way.

Keep Your Cool

We often become aware of a possible misconception when in discussion with others, i.e. someone says something that just doesn’t sound right. The civilized thing to do is to examine the two ideas, yours and that of your interlocutor, to see if you can easily reconcile them. If you cannot easily reconcile them, the next thing to do is a bit of investigating.

This is often easier said than done. Some people are so attached to a misconception that the very suggestion that it should be confirmed is taken as an affront to their intelligence. Thus, they may become angry that you don’t ipso facto accept their version of things.

Don’t you be such a person. You can argue over an opinion, e.g. which is the best rock band, who is the best rugby player, what is the most beautiful type of music, etc. However, it makes no sense to argue over a fact. Either it is correct or it isn’t. And today with the internet, it is so easy to check it that not doing so would seem to be senseless. If your interlocutor blows a fuse at the very suggestion, then change the subject and check it yourself later on. 

But a word of advice. If your version of the fact turns out to be correct, don’t tell him or her later. Some people — in fact too many people — would prefer to be wrong than to be corrected.

Good advice! I recall getting a hairy eyeball from a fellow copyeditor at the Los Angeles Times when I pointed out an error he made — and it got worse when he persisted in saying it wasn’t an error!
About the author

Philip Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of California — Los Angeles (UCLA)  with a degree in mathematics and physics. In his senior year, he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s daily student newspaper.

He has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and international marketing communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an account executive with a major international press relations agency, European marketing communication director with two major international companies, and a founding partner of a specialized marketing communication agency in Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974.

Books by Yaffe

•       The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional

•       The Gettysburg Collection:
A comprehensive companion to The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional

•       Actual English: English grammar as native speakers really use it

•       Gentle French: French grammar as native speakers really use it

•       What’d You Say? / Que Dites-Vous?
Fun with homophones, proverbs, expressions, false friends, and other linguistic oddities in English and French

•       Belief, Disbelief, Unbelief: A Thousand Thoughts before You Die

•       Extraordinary Ordinary Things: How Did We Ever Live without Them?

•       Myths and Misconceptions: Things We Know that Just Aren’t So

•       One-line Wonders: Humor in the Fast Lane

•       The Little Book of BIG Mistakes

•       The Eighth Decade: Reflections on a Life

Books in “Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists” Series

(at November 2013)

•       Astronomy & Cosmology: Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists
•       Human Biology: Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists

Books in “The Essential Ten Percent” Series

(as of November 2013)

•       College-level Writing: The Essential Ten Percent
•       Human Psychology: The Essential Ten Percent
•       Logical Thinking: The Essential Ten Percent
•       Public Speaking: The Essential Ten Percent
•       The Essential Ten Percent Omnibus: Logical Thinking, College-level Writing, Public Speaking
•       The Human Body: The Essential Ten Percent
•       Wise Humor: The Essential Ten Percent
•       Word for Windows: The Essential Ten Percent

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hunter and Other Stories’: Vintage Dashiell Hammett Stories Still Entertain — and Will Introduce a New Generation to One of America’s Greatest Writers

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
 BOOK REVIEW: 'The Hunter and Other Stories': Vintage Dashiell Hammett Stories Still Entertain -- and Will  Introduce a New Generation to One of America's Greatest Writers
Decades before Quentin Tarantino used the aliases Mr. White, Mr. Brown, etc. in his 1992 debut movie “Reservoir Dogs”, Dashiell Hammett used similar names in his story “On the Make” — included in a collection of Hammett short fiction writing,  “The Hunter and Other Stories” edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett,  (The Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic,  256 pages, $25.00).
The dozen never-before-published stories, the five seldom-seen short fiction narratives and the three motion picture treatments are of particular interest to Hammett scholars — and anyone interested in good, insightful  and very entertaining writing. If you’re a Hammett geek, this book is a must-read, because it shows the Maryland-born writer can handle just about any situation. If you’re an aspiring writer, you’ll learn a lot about the art from one of the all-time masters.

The three screen treatments: “The Kiss-Off”, an unpublished story that formed the basis of the 1931 Paramount movie starring Sylvia Sidney and Gary Cooper  “City Streets”; “On The Make,” the basis for the  1935 Universal movie “Mr. Dynamite”,  and “Devil’s Playground”, unpublished and unproduced, are of particular interest to film buffs. “City Streets” and “Mr. Dynamite” were recently shown on Turner Classic Movies, one of my cultural addictions. (Happy 75th birthday, a day late, Ted Turner, born in Cincinnati Nov. 19, 1938; I beat you by a few weeks, born, South Haven, MI, Oct. 2, 1938! Blessings upon you for starting TCM!)

All the stories and treatments are greatly enhanced for the 2013 reader by the wonderful commentaries by Julie M. Rivett, Hammett’s granddaughter and literary executor, who clearly loves her grandfather’s writing and who provides context for contemporary readers.

One caution for contemporary readers: Hammett used stereotypes that are beyond the pale for most writers today, with exceptions for P.J. O’Rourke and a few others like Irish writer Ken Bruen.  On Page 285, in the “lost Spade” story “A Knife Will Cut for Anybody,” Dundy, a  San Francisco policeman, says of a horrific knife slaying of a young woman from Argentina: “I guess we’re safe in calling it a spick job. They like knives.”

And in the story “Faith” about migratory packing house workers, Hammett says (on Page 90) “The man who had chuckled went to work in the process-room, where half a dozen Americans and as many Polacks cooked the fresh canned tomatoes in big iron kettles.”

The short stories  included in this book are grouped in three categories: “Crime”, which includes the title story “The Hunter”; “Men”, which includes “Faith” and seven other stories; and “Men and Women”, five stories, plus — as in the other sections — an illuminating commentary by  Rivett.

“On the Make” features a private detective, Gene Richmond, who is much more flexible in the ethics department than Sam Spade. Richmond never misses an opportunity to take advantage of his clients, particularly if they’re obscenely rich like Pomeroy in this story. Like Sam Spade, Gene Richmond has “assets” on both sides of the law, to use an espionage term, and the oddly likeable  — at least for me — Richmond is right up there with Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer in grabbing a reader by the throat and not letting go! Richmond is destined to go beyond the bounds of the corrupt times he lives in, but you can be sure he’ll end up driving a Cord roadster — the 1920s or ’30s equivalent of a Corvette or Dodge Viper.

Like the screen stories from “Return of the Thin Man,” edited by Layman and Rivett and reviewed by me on Nov. 2, 2012: link: www.huntingtonnews.net/48389 — the publication of the present book and “Return of the Thin Man” are due to the passion of Julie M. Rivett,  a well-regarded Hammett scholar, as well as Richard Layman, the author of the first full-length biography of Hammett, “Shadow Man”, the definitive bibliography, and other works. Rivett and Layman are trustees for Hammett’s literary estate and have co-edited two previous Hammett volumes: “Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett” and “Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers”.

About Dashiell Hammett

Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories, screenplay writer, and political activist. He created enduring characters including Sam Spade (“The Maltese Falcon”), Nick and Nora Charles (“The Thin Man”), and the Continental Op (“Red Harvest” and “The Dain Curse”).

 

BOOK REVIEW: Jack Taylor Confronts a Serial Killer in Ken Bruen’s ‘Purgatory’

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. —   Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)

  * * *

 

The “mean streets” that Jack Taylor — the protagonist and central figure in Ken Bruen’s “Purgatory” (The Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, 272 pages, $24.00) — walks are in the picturesque port city of Galway, Ireland, not those  of Los Angeles that Chandler’s Philip Marlowe haunts.Taylor, a private investigator who was dismissed from his job in the Gardai, the Irish national police,  lives in a world far removed from that of Philip Marlowe, but when the surface scab is peeled off, it’s not all that dissimilar.

BOOK REVIEW: Jack Taylor Confronts a Serial Killer in Ken Bruen's 'Purgatory'

Both Taylor and Marlowe are heavy drinkers, with Taylor also being a recovering drug user. Both were fired from their law enforcement jobs: Marlowe working for Bernie Olds in the District Attorney’s office and Taylor being sacked for alleged excessive roughness with a speeding motorist who unfortunately happens to be a high profile politician. Bottom line: Jack Taylor’s Galway and the whole country, even,  is just as corrupt as Marlowe’s Los Angeles.  As “Purgatory” opens, Taylor is recovering from the physical and mental wounds suffered in the very recent past, including the loss of two fingers on his right hand. I’ll have to go back and look into Taylor’s life: This is the first Ken Bruen book I’ve read.

Unlike the deadly serious world of Philip Marlowe, Taylor’s is laced with humor of a particularly Irish flavor, including a plea from a nun, Sister Maeve, to find a 17th Century statue of Our Lady of Galway stolen from a church. Bruen’s — and Taylor’s — Galway is a lot like the Florida of Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry and Edna Buchanan, except of course for its much cooler climate.

With the help of a female Garda, Ridge, and his ex-drug dealer, now zen-master friend, Stewart, Taylor is on the road to what passes for recovery: He’s snagged a dirt cheap but quite nice apartment in the aftermath of the recession driven property bust in what was once the most expensive town in Ireland. Private eyes are frowned upon in snitch-conscious Ireland, but Taylor finds enough work to survive.

Taylor’s life changes drastically when a serial killer begins to target the alleged bad people of Galway, starting with the gunshot slaying in midlflight of Tim Rourke, a sixteen-year-old skateboarder. Unlike more advanced cities in the U.S., which have constructed skateboarding facilities to keep the boarders off the sidewalks and public spaces, the officials of Galway are bent on removing anything skateboarders put up.

Shortly after the spectacular slaying, Taylor receives a letter with a newspaper clip of the youth’s death, who’s accused in “the brutal rape and battery” of two young girls — a letter signed  “C33” and urging, demanding even, that Taylor to join in on the vigilante cleanup of the northwestern Ireland city.

As Taylor begins his search for “C33”, with the help of his friends, into his life comes a mysterious dot-com American billionaire Reardon and his beautiful personal assistant Kelly. Reardon is devoting his efforts to buying up as much of Galway as he can, which perplexes Taylor and just about everybody. What’s the crazy (like a fox?) Yank up to, anyway?

Bruen’s prose may be offputting at first, but when you get used to it, it’s strangely poetic. Bruen uses the automatic weapon’s  staccato burst writing style, lacing it with current event allusions to 2012, including deaths of personalities, the Olympic Games, the American presidential election and the Volvo Offshore boat race, which ended in Galway.Unless you are an expert on Irish games like hurling, a form of field hockey, you’ll be confused by some of Bruen’s references. Jack Taylor’s mutilated right hand isn’t much good for firearms, so he prizes his hurley, the stick used in hurling. Below are sources that explain hurling, the Gardai and Ken Bruen.

Ken Bruen

Ken Bruen

About the author
Ken Bruen, born in Galway in 1951, is the author of “The Guards” (2001), the highly acclaimed first Jack Taylor novel. He spent twenty-five years as an English teacher in Africa, Japan, Southeast Asia and South America. His novel “Her Last Call to Louis Mac Niece” (1997) is in production for Pilgrim Pictures, and his “White Trilogy” has been bought by Channel 4, and The Guards is to be filmed in Ireland by De Facto Films. He has won Two Shamus awards by Private Eye Writers of America for the best detective fiction genre novel of the year for “The Guards” and “The Dramatist”. He has also receivedThe Best series Award in February 2007 for the Jack Taylor novels from The Crime Writers Association.
* * *

An American reading Ken Bruen’s “Purgatory” will need some explanation for  traditional irish games, like hurling, a form of field hockey. In one scene, Jack Taylor is armed with a “hurley.”  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurling for more about this traditional game.

Ken Bruen is a best-selling author in Ireland and the UK and his Jack Taylor novels have been filmed in an Irish TV series: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Taylor_(TV_series)

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Blind Justice’: The Tragic Consequences of Well-Meaning But Unwise Decisions

Blind Justice

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

 In my review of Anne Perry’s  “Acceptable Loss”(link: www.huntingtonnews.net/7902) I said it was a sequel to “Execution Dock”, a 2009 William Pitt novel by Perry. This is true, but in the complicated world of Perry, one sequel isn’t enough, hence her new novel “Blind Justice” (Ballantine Books, 352 pages, $26.00) featuring William and Hester Pitt, their adopted street boy Scuff and their friend Sir Oliver Rathbone.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Complicated novels — even uncomplicated novels — benefit from a front-of-the book cast of characters. “Blind Justice” is a perfect example, because it re-introduces characters from previous William Pitt novels. From my earlier-this-year review of Lauren Carr’s “Blast from the Past”:  “‘Blast from the Past’ features a front-of-book cast of characters, making it much easier for readers — and reviewers — to make their way through the book without unnecessary back-paging to dope out who’s who. Every mystery should have a cast of characters.”

Now elevated to a judgeship at Old Bailey, Sir Oliver is a brilliant lawyer who has achieved the peak of success in the legal profession, only to have a miserable home life. Despite his acknowledged brilliance as the “best lawyer in England,” Sir Oliver is plagued by his poor decisions. His decision to defend his father-in-law  Arthur Ballinger — and the outcome of that unfortunate decision has led to his estrangement from Ballinger’s daughter and Sir Oliver’s wife, Margaret.

Sir Oliver isn’t the only one who rushes in where others stop to consider the consequences: Hester Monk’s decision to investigate the finances of charismatic preacher Abel Taft leads to Sir Oliver’s presiding over a fraud trial and his decision to turn over incriminating evidence to one side of the trial but not the other leads to his being charged with a serious legal ethics violation. He’s imprisoned and stands in the dock at Old Bailey — the very court where he very recently presided as judge.

William and Hester Monk — and Scuff — are not people to stand idly by when a friend is in peril, so they investigate the deaths of Abel Taft, his wife and their two teen-age daughters. This investigation could put William Monk’s position as commander of the river police in jeopardy, so caution is needed. The Monks live comfortably, with servants and a nice house, but he depends on his salary to support his family.

I won’t give away any more plot points in this novel, which ranks among the best the 75-year-old Perry has written. Her courtroom scenes have the realism of Scott Turow, the master of contemporary legal thrillers — along with  richly portrayed details of life in London in the mid 1860s.

Anne Perry

Anne Perry

About the Author

Anne Perry is the bestselling author of two acclaimed series set in Victorian England: the William Monk novels, including Execution Dock and Dark Assassin, and the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels, including Treason at Lisson Grove and Buckingham Palace Gardens. She is also the author of a series of five World War I novels, as well as eleven holiday novels, most recently A Christmas Hope (my review:www.huntingtonnews.net/76597), and a historical novel, The Sheen on the Silk, set in the Ottoman Empire. She lives in Scotland. Her website:www.anneperry.co.uk

Publisher’s website: www.ballantinebooks.com

VETERANS DAY (REMEMBRANCE DAY IN CANADA) FEATURE: Big Footsteps: SGT. SAMUEL MOSES HURWITZ

  • By Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben

Shelly Reuben

INTRODUCTION

When we were little kids, we had fathers, brothers, or uncles who walked ahead of us in the snow.  We gingerly placed our feet into their much larger prints, hoping to follow in the footsteps of the people whom we adored.

To our childlike minds, they were giants.  Indomitable.  Indefatigable.  Infallible.

As we grew older, our footprints got bigger and those of our idols often assumed the proportions of ordinary human beings.

Not all, though.

Some, over time, moved into their own immortality.

Sergeant Samuel Moses Hurwitz is one of the immortals.

This is the story of how a short article that I wrote led me on a journey during which I made three friends and I learned much more about my Uncle Moe…the man in whose footsteps I still wish that I could follow.

Every great friendship starts with a split second of magic.

Mine came during a visit to Ottawa, when my sister and her husband told me that the small windows on the side of the Canadian War Museum spell out in Morse code the words, “Lest We Forget.”

When I heard this, I got chills.

That afternoon, I went to the museum.

I visited every exhibit, lingered over every diorama, and marveled at the fierce humor of pilots who painted irreverent images on the fuselages, wings, and tails of their World War II airplanes.

Then I discovered another bit of magic.

Each year on the anniversary of Armistice Day, at the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” a single beam of sunlight streams down through a window high in the Museum’s Memorial Hall, and it illuminates the tomb of Canada’s Unknown Soldier.

More chills.

I drove back to the USA.

My route took me along the Veterans Memorial Highway, where “Lest We Forget” signs reminded me again of how highly Canadians esteem their war heroes.

Greatly moved and slightly overwhelmed, I sat down at my desk and wrote my article about remembrance.

Life went on.

I forgot to remember.

Then, about a year later, I got an email from Gary and Janie Therrien, Canadians I had never met, who had found me through my newspaper column.  They described themselves as the son and daughter-in-law of Ernest Donat Therrien, an ex-Grenadier Guard who had served as a gunner in my Uncle Moe’s tank.

They wrote that on October 24, 1944, Ernest and Moe had been captured by German infantry in Wouwesche Plantage and sent to a military hospital in Dordrecht, Holland.  Ernest Therrien had received shrapnel injuries to both legs, and Sgt. Moe Hurwitz had been shot in his right lung.

At the hospital, my uncle crossed paths with the third person I was to meet as a result of my correspondence with Gary and Janie Therrien.  But before I introduce you to Alfred LeReverend –- Fred to his friends –- I want to give you some background on Sgt. Hurwitz, and tell you about a Quest of medieval proportions worthy of King Arthur and his noble knights.

I’ll start with the Quest.

Gary Therrien says that his father did not often talk about his combat years in Europe, but on one of the few occasions that he did, it was not to him, but to his brother, Len.

“Dad, who was the gunner in Moe’s tank, told Len that his Sergeant was ‘one hell of a man, who never took any shit off of anyone’.”

A huge tribute from a silent man.

Other than that…nothing.

Which brings us to the Quest.

This is how Janie and Gary described it:  “Our fathers never spoke of the war, and responded to the questions of their children and grandchildren with the briefest accounts. It was only many years after their passing, when our son began his own personal quest to honour his grandfather, that we realized we owed it to our fathers, ourselves, our children and future generations to pick up the torch that our son had lit, and try to find out as much as we could of their war experience.”

Their initial expectations were modest.  “The best we were hoping for was to be able to trace the path that the Canadian Grenadier Guards and Mr. Therrien traveled through wartime Europe—we never imagined that we would uncover the story that we have.”

A story which eventually led them on a tour of Normandy, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and France, during which they not only followed the route that Gary’s father had taken, they also met many Europeans eager to thank the children of the man who had helped to save their country, their freedom and their lives.

Gary and Janie Therrien visited a logical (to them) and bewildering (to me) number of places relevant to Ernie, Fred, and Moe, including the Normandy Beaches, the Caen-Falaise Highway, Hill 195, Brugge, Maldegem, Adegem Ecklo, Philippine, Wouwsche Plantage, Stalag XIB, and more, all sites of the 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade and the Canadian Grenadier Guards.

Fortunately, they thoroughly documented their trip and are preparing their own story of this incredible quest.

Which brings me to why I used the word “bewildering.”

I have often poured over newspaper clippings, correspondence, and memorabilia collected by my family about the war.  I have read documents and books sent to me by the Therriens and Fred Le Reverend, as well as pamphlets, memoirs and articles about my Uncle Moe.

Regardless of how many times I review this material, however, I am incapable of grasping or remembering battle sites and military campaigns.

My biochemistry seems to be missing the DNA for geography.

In terms of our story, this translates to a deliberate omission.  Rather than tell you about dates and places, I will tell you about deeds and courage.

Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz was the highest decorated non-commissioned officer in the whole of the Canadian Armoured Corps.

Moe received the Military Medal for heroism and leadership during the epic Battle for the Falaise Road.  He earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Philippine, Holland for capturing 25 enemy soldiers, and accompanied by two Guardsmen later the same day capturing 150 more.

This woefully abbreviated account leaves out such details as “armed only with a pistol” and “dismount and attack on foot” and “without infantry support” and  “pinned under a tree by the explosion” and “personally attacked” and “seized railway station” and “fierce close quarter combat” and “determined and gallant action,” all of which are readily look-up-able in history books about the war.

Moe was one of twelve children born to Harry and Bella Hurwitz in Lachine, Quebec, Canada.  Five of his brothers and one sister also served during World War II:  Archie in the Royal Canadian Air Force; George in the Canadian Army; Max in the Royal Canadian Engineers; Harry in the Royal Canadian Navy; Ian in the Royal Canadian Navy; David in the United States Army; and Esther in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.

And that brings us back to my Uncle Moe.  My mother always referred to her brother as having been a Royal Canadian Grenadier Guard, which, to my mind, put him on a swashbuckling par with The Three Musketeers.  He had been a Golden Gloves boxer, a champion rower, and so good at hockey that he was drafted by the Boston Bruins.

Instead, he joined the Guards in 1939 at the outbreak of the war, “because he felt that getting rid of fascism and the Nazis was more important than playing for the NHL.”

And this is where I deviate from a conventional biography.

Rather than starting chronologically in England where Moe trained to be a Sherman Tank crew commander, and recording his battle-by-battle progress to Wouwesche Plantage, Holland five years later, I am going to introduce you his fellow tank commander, Major Ian P. Phelan, M.C., who wrote “Some Never Die, A Tribute to Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz.”

Time and space limit me to brief excerpts from this beautiful and heart-felt chronicle of a man’s bravery, modesty, indomitable spirit, and iron-fisted resolve.

Major Phelan tells us…

A little over a year ago, on the 24th of October 1944, to be exact, this regiment lost one of its greatest men.  A man whose character, leadership and personality were such that he will never be forgotten.  A man whose name and deeds will live as long as fighting men get together over a tall glass and re-live the chills and thrills of the Grenadiers’ share in the memorable thrust from Normandy to the heart of Germany.

Wonderful stories are told of him.  Many are thrilling, some are sad, all display a strain of courage and steadfastness and human-ness that put to shame the tinsel heroes of the silver screen, and renew in us our wavering belief in the future of the human race.

Sgt. Hurwitz never faltered.  When I questioned him about the very low incidence of major or minor offenses in a troop which was by nature unruly, he smacked one big fist into the other and said, “They know geezly well that I’d beat the stuffing out of them if they weren’t good.”

Everybody liked the Sgt.   He had the happy knack of drawing good men to be his friends and all were proud to be numbered in that charmed circle.  Harry Burfind who drove his tank, could have been a Cpl. fitter with every chance of being a Sgt. eventually but he turned it down flat, “Thanks a lot, Sir, but I think I’ll stick with the Sarge.”

For all his ruggedness and hard exterior he was really very reserved…shy too, and seldom spoke of himself.  Just before we came to France…the Sgt. and I had dinner together.  He spoke of many things that were in his heart.  Of how he was not too sure if he was fully equipped for the struggles ahead of us, of how much the men depended on him and how he hoped he would not fail them…Yet as all the world now knows, never was such a responsibility in more capable hands.

Then came our Big Day and we boarded the L.C.T’s for Fortress Europe.  And to mark the day the Sgt. started to grow his immortal moustache.  Never has there been such an amazing and remarkable growth.  He was a fierce looking individual at the best of times with his heavy black brows and square chin and big hands, but when he started to grow his moustache he was truly formidable and his appearance alone terrorized many a German…

A few days later the biggest armoured push of our time began.  The route was from Caen to Falaise.

The Sgt. never tired.  Never stopping, pausing, hesitating—a veritable tornado of destruction.  In and out of his tank…running with the infantry, on the ground with the other tanks; an inspiration to all and his name a byword where the going is heaviest.

A Captain of the S.A.R’s. tells of the “‘Mad Dash’…when “this man jumps out of his tank and runs…towards a hedge.  He is the fiercest-looking guy I ever saw, with a terrible big black moustache and waving a pistol like a madman.  He dives into the hedge and out comes a Jerry white as a sheet.”

Sten in hand and with a mighty shout he dashes up and down the hedge, rooting prisoners out of their slit trenches.  Suddenly a burning S.P. (tank) blows up with a terrific explosion.  It is a tense moment.  Will the rest of the Jerries seize their opportunity and turn the tables?  But…dazed by the shock, hair and moustache singed by the sheet of flame, one arm numb from the impact of a tree branch which knocked him to the ground, the indomitable Sgt. picked up his Sten and continues his round-up.

Men and machines are starting to show the strain, but the amazing Sgt. crawls 150 yards along ditches and hedges…then with a great shout he jumps up, kicks in the door and sprays the interior with the Sten.  The gun crew surrenders with three killed.

The advance continues.  Lt. Birss is badly burned in a ditch behind his vehicle…the Sgt. crawls 50 yards and drags him back to safety.  He climbs upon the officer’s burning tank and drags a wounded man to safety.  Then he reports to his Sqn. Leader, giving him valuable information that enables the enemy positions to be neutralized and the advance to continue.

That night the knocked-out crews were all evacuated with minor burns and shock, but the Sgt. refuses to go back.  He sleeps for about 20 hours.  Then fully refreshed he asks for a tank and is happy as a king when Major Hale relieves another crew commander of his vehicle and turns it over to him.

The CO calls Sgt. Hurwitz to his H.U.P. and gives the news—the first Military Medal, the first decoration of any kind to another rank in this Div. goes to Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz.

The Sgt. smiles and says, “Well, Sir, I’m mighty glad because the boys will know that their work has been appreciated.  They’re pretty smart you know, Sir, and they’ll know this medal is for them and not for me.”

The CO throws up his hands as the Sgt. Leaves and says, “What can you do with a man like that—he’s so much greater than the rest of us that we can never understand him completely.”

The Sgt. must go on and on.  His appetite for combat is unsated.  A great burning flame of energy and enthusiasm for this task of destroying Germany still burns inside him.  He must fight.  It was as much a part of him as eating and sleeping is essential to the rest of us.  He could never rest.

On Oct. 20th 1944, the weather couldn’t have been worse, rain had been continuous for 72 hours, the ground is mud…every water hole or pool is also bottomless mud that can’t be seen until you are stuck in it.

The night is pitch black.  The narrow road is obstructed by burnt wrecks of the previous day’s attempt.  The fighting is furious…mines and booby-traps are everywhere…more German artillery than we have ever previously encountered peppers us every foot of the way.  Wouwesche must be taken at all costs.  We must push on.

As they near the objective bazookas open up and the third and fourth tanks in the line are brewed up.  The Sgt. comes up on the air:  “I can’t go back.  The road is blocked.  I’ll bull her through and wait until you can send help.”

A few minutes later comes the unforgettable message:  “I am on the objective—I’ll hold her until you can come up.”

Those are the last recorded words of Sgt. Hurwitz.  Fighting words from a fearless heart.

The next morning the regiment is numbed by the news that the Sgt.’s tank is empty and the crew is gone.

Sgt. Hurwitz is gone!

Never!  There was no blood on the tank was there?

Well, you dimwit, how could he be dead?

Rumors, rumors, never anything more.  A week later, dozens of men begin a search of the countryside for signs of the Sgt. and his crew.  But never a sign is found.

The sergeant is gone.

This brings us to the beginning of the end of Moe Hurwitz’s story, and to the beginning of the story of Alfred LeReverend.

Janie and Gary described Fred to me as a patriotic young man who had lied about his age and joined the Canadian Army when he was sixteen-year-old.

Within a year of enlisting, Fred was in the same battle and fighting for the same objective as Ernie Therrien and my Uncle Moe.

Here is how Fred describes it:

“The Grenadier Guards Regiment—Moe’s tank regiment—and mine, the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, were both part of The 4th Armoured Division, which was fighting its way up to Bergen Op Zoom.  The objective was securing the area surrounding Antwerp for safe use of the vital supply port of Antwerp.

“Your Uncle Moe, his tank gunner Ernie, and myself, an infantry dog-face, were each wounded and taken prisoner in the same battle in rural Holland the afternoon of 24 Oct 44.”

Alfred LeReverend and Moe Hurwitz were brought to a military hospital in Dordrecht, Holland.  In his memoir, A Measure of Protest 1943–1945, Fred describes Moe as – “A Real Canadian Hero.”

That first night I sat up with a delirious, badly wounded tank commander from our own 4th Division of the Canadian Grenadier Guards…He’d taken a bullet through his lung and throughout the night he kept reliving, over and over again, his last tank battle.

In his delirium he was shouting commands over his tank radio to the tank driver and gunner and directing fire; and then he would berate himself for being unable to carry on the fighting.  I tried to convince him that his Squadron Commander had ordered him to pull out and rest.  Obviously a very dedicated and brave soldier, for draped over the back of the chair beside the bed was his tunic with sergeants stripes, and above the left breast pocket the coveted and very rare Military Medal for bravery.

Glancing through his pay book for his particulars, I discovered that he was from Montreal and his religion was listed as Jewish.  Orange froth had begun to collect around the right corner of his lips, and…I went to get help from the night orderly.  Quietly, the Orderly indicated to me that my friend would soon die, and then gratuitously stated that it was the first time he’d ever seen or ever heard of ‘Judische’ in battle.

Only the day before I’d seen my friend, Fennel, another Jewish lad, blown apart right beside me and I was not about to defer to this Nazi-indoctrinated anti-Semite.  Rather heatedly, I stated that this gallant soldier was a decorated hero, and furthermore, Canadian, British and American line battalions comprised many Jewish!

As the German orderly had predicted, our hero from Montreal finally quit his last battle and died quietly in the early hours of the morning.  Alone with him in the darkened room, I just could not bring myself to say a prayer of any kind but did shed tears, for him and all the friends I had lost so recently.  I climbed onto my bed and though tired, sleep would not overtake me until long after daylight.

In his tribute to Sgt. Hurwitz, Major Phelan recalled that after his crew without (Moe) had been officially reported as POW’s in Germany, “Terrible doubts crept into our minds.  Men started to recall a statement he had often made and always meant—that he would never be taken prisoner.  We looked at one another and although never a word was spoken, a prayer, a heartfelt, honest, sincere prayer went up to heaven for the greatest man we ever knew—may his restless soul rest at last in peace.”

Moe died without ever having gone through a German Prisoner of War Cage; his name was never listed as a German POW; and his name does not appear on any official Canadian Army List of POWs.

He defied the Nazis to the very end.

And he kept his promise to himself.

In its regimental history, the Canadian Grenadier Guards’ says about Sgt. “Moe” Hurwitz:

Lost to the regiment was its most purposeful and persistent soldier whose deeds of gallant leadership were to be an inspiration to those who succeeded him in the battles that were to follow.

Prophetic words, as every year the regiment remembers and honors Moe by awarding The Hurwitz Cup to the army cadet who best exemplifies bravery, leadership and achievement during summer training at the Connaught Range near Ottawa.

Terence Whitty, Executive Director of The Army Cadet League of Canada, tells cadets that Sgt. Hurwitz was “barely older than you when he joined the Canadian Grenadier Guards in 1939 at the outbreak of War.”

Mr. Whitty goes on, “Moe Hurwitz did not suddenly become a hero on the battlefield.  He became a hero as he was growing up in the Park Extension area of Montreal, Quebec, as part of a large Jewish family.  He had an idealism about him.  A firm belief in right and wrong and always doing your best…He knew that to accomplish noble deeds, he had to have noble thoughts.  He lived by that creed – Sergeant Samuel Moses Hurwitz, DCM, MM, a remarkable citizen of Canada.”

On August 5th, 2012, Alfred LeReverend wrote to Gary and Janie Therrien that, “The brief time I was given to spend with this singularly brave hero took place sixty-eight years ago…yet the physical awareness and emotional tie remains as strong today as ever.  I feel close to this man who never knew me.”

Two weeks later, he wrote to me.  “I am not a religious person, Shelly, but I just have to whole heartedly thank some deity or other for the unbelievable miracle that brought us together in friendship.”

Moe.  Fred.  Janie.  Gary.

And now, we bring Gary’s father, Ernest Therrien, into the story.

After Fred LeReverend was released from the military hospital in Holland, he was transferred to a prison hospital in Lingen, Germany.

“One dark and cold, snowing night in early November,” Fred wrote, “Ernest accompanied me by train from Lingen, Germany to the Stalag XIB at Fallingbastel’s administrative office to be fingerprinted, numbered and photographed.  Ernie and I became engaged in conversation with a comrade one of us recognized who then slipped into line between Ernie and me in order to converse, thus the single number separating our otherwise consecutive POW numbers issued that night.”

The rest of Fred’s military career unravels like the screenplay of a movie, including being starved in a POW camp, brutally packed into a frozen boxcar; enduring “unspeakable claustrophobic nightmares” as a slave laborer in a German salt mine, “No one could possibly have been mentally prepared for this isolated, subterranean hell hole;” and narrowly avoiding a POW “Death March” by escaping without maps, compass, money, food, or clothes from Stalag XIB.

During Fred’s daring escape, he wandered through enemy territory for two days, cold, hungry, ragged, deranged-looking and skeletal, before stumbling upon an “Oh so beautiful Mk Sherman Tank,” and being greeted with the words, “Who the bloody ‘ell are you?” by a started Brit.

In August 1945, two and a half years after he had enlisted (and secretly still only eighteen years old), Fred returned to Canada and received an honorable discharge as one of Canada’s youngest war veterans.

And that brings us back to the magic circle of friends that resulted from Janie and Gary Therrien’s Quest…and the rest of the story.

ERNEST DONAT THERRIEN:  Fred LeReverend believes that Ernie was among the POWs taken from Stalag XIB to labor camp KDO 357, and that like Fred (although not with Fred), he was forced to work in the salt mines.

Although Fred escaped before going on a “Death March”, Ernie had not been able to do so.  On day-five of the march, and taking advantage of pandemonium created by overhead spitfire airplanes, he and other POWs scattered into the woods, ran in and out of a ditch, and then just kept on running until, three days later, he was rescued by the British Paratroopers.

Gary tells us that Ernie, “a young 22 years old, was able to withstand the horror and extreme challenges of war.  That he returned to his family a changed man is without question.  Gone was the innocence and naiveté of youth, replaced with a quiet dignity that spoke of experiences and emotions carefully wrapped and put away in the deep recess of heart and mind, resurfacing unbidden at times of introspection or quiet reflection.”

Ernest Therrien was discharged from duty in July of 1945.  He married his childhood sweetheart Jeanne D’Arc, and went on to have a long and successful career with the Canadian Pacific Railroad.  Ernie and Jeanne D’Arc had two sons and four grandchildren.  He died, much loved, on October 16, 1988.

JANIE AND GARY THERRIEN:  Janie and Gary left on their Quest a little over a year ago, departing for Europe on Tuesday, September 4th.

From Brugge, Belgium, they wrote, “It feels a little surreal to be here, at this point in time, thinking back to all that was done by those young men, so far from home, in such horrendous conditions and circumstances.  There have been many tears shed (and) many quiet moments of reflection.”

ALFRED LEREVEREND.  Well, Fred is my hero.

Following his enlistment in the army as a kid of sixteen, he was immediately confronted by impossible life and death decisions (stay in the POW camp?  Risk a “Death March”?  Escape?  Run?  Hide?).  Yet after being wounded in combat, he had the compassionate heart and unfathomable wisdom to comfort a dying warrior; he had the courage to confront a Nazi-indoctrinated anti-Semite; and almost seventy years later, he has the humor, kindliness, and good will to befriend Sgt. Hurwitz’s oh-so-grateful niece.

Fred earned his happy ending.

First he went to college.  Then he became a serving member of the Royal Canadian Engineers (when he met and married “stunningly beautiful” Isabel), followed by ten years as a civilian member of the RCMP.  Sixty-five years later, he and Isabel have four equally beautiful daughters, five grandchildren and are spending their retirement years in Victoria, B.C.

As to Moe…

When Janie and Gary told us that they were going to visit Moe’s grave at the Canadian Military Cemetery in Bergen-op-Zoom, Fred wrote, “Truly, he was the most heroic comrade I ever came across.  Dear folks…would you please, please, place a flower over his grave – from me!”

Of course, they did.

A white rose from Fred.  A pink rose from Janie, Gary and the Therriens.  A red from Moe’s family.

And that pretty much says it all.

Except that after Drew Boyd, Research and Collections officer for Historical Canada’s Memory Project, heard about Janie, Gary, and their Quest, he asked me if I would write about it.

I did.

Oh, and one last thing.  A parting comment about our story from Janie Therrien, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

“Shelly,” Janie wrote excitedly, “it is better than any fiction could possibly be.”

About the author

Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards.  For more about her books, visit  www.shellyreuben.com. Link to Canadian version of this story, published in The Memory Project: http://www.thememoryproject.com/news/445:big-footsteps-sergeant-samuel-moses-hurwitz/

Copyright © 2013, Shelly Reuben. Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY

VETERANS DAY FEATURE: Big Footsteps: Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz

The Therriens in front of the memorial gate to Stalag XIB where Ernie and Fred were POWs

VETERANS DAY FEATURE: Big Footsteps: Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz  Moe Playing Hockey
VETERANS DAY FEATURE: Big Footsteps: Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz

Moe (Kneeling) with CGG before “Fortress Europe”

VETERANS DAY FEATURE: Big Footsteps: Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz

COPY OF BOOKLET “SOME NEVER DIE”

about MOE HURWITZ, written by Maj. Phelan. Major Ian P. Phelan, who received the Military Medal for his actions at Falaise Gap, retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.

VETERANS DAY FEATURE: Big Footsteps: Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz

Canadian Sherman Tank

VETERANS DAY FEATURE: Big Footsteps: Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz

Fred LeReverend, newly enlisted at age 16.

VETERANS DAY FEATURE: Big Footsteps: Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz

Ernest and Jeanne D’Arc – shortly after Ernie enlisted.

VETERANS DAY FEATURE: Big Footsteps: Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz

Alfred LeReverend and “stunningly beautiful” Isabel

VETERANS DAY FEATURE: Big Footsteps: Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz

Janie and Gary’s roses on Moe’s grave in Holland.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Christmas Hope’: Anne Perry Introduces an Admirable Woman — and Her Less Than Admirable Spouse

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'A Christmas Hope': Anne Perry Introduces an Admirable Woman -- and Her Less Than Admirable Spouse

Have you ever had the urge to reach inside a novel you’re reading and slap a character upside the head. Come on, admit it: Of course you have!

I felt this way about Wallace Burroughs, the husband of Claudine Burroughs, the heroine of Anne Perry’s “A Christmas Hope” (Ballantine Books, 208 pages, $18.00, also available in Kindle). Unlike the husbands of Perry’s characters Charlotte Pitt and Hester Monk, Wallace Burroughs never has a compliment on his lips for his wife, after decades of marriage. A personal aside: the present reviewer celebrates his 49th wedding anniversary on Nov. 14 and he and Liz have always paid each other compliments.

(For my review of Perry’s 2012  “A Christmas Garland”:  http://www.huntingtonnews.net/50220).Like the other Anne Perry Christmas novels, “A Christmas Hope” has a link to her Pitt and Monk books: Claudine volunteers at a clinic/shelter run by Hester Monk, much to the disdain of Wallace. (I can barely restrain myself, like the wheelchair-bound Nazi scientist played by Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove” — who has to restrain  his arm to avoid giving the Nazi salute).

We learn early in the novel, in an important plot point, that Claudine was pressured into the loveless marriage with wealthy, ambitious investment counselor Wallace Burroughs, rejecting — to her eventual sorrow — a suitor who loved her –and vice versa.

Still, Claudine knows that she must keep up appearances, including accompanying Wallace to social events that enhance her husband’s income — and enable her to live a life of material luxury. She does her best to placate her coldly ambitious husband, so when the novel begins, we find Claudine and Wallace at a party to which, inexplicably to Wallace, the flamboyant Welsh poet Dai Tregarron has been invited.

Tregarron is much like a 19th Century Dylan Thomas, intent on shocking high society. He has even brought a woman of the streets, Winnie Briggs, to the party. After a conversation with the poet on the terrace, Claudine sees an altercation in which Winnie is killed. Three young men are credited with restraining Tregarron after he allegedly struck Winnie, causing her to hit her head. She’s taken to a hospital and is later pronounced dead. Tregarron flees.

Claudine suspects the three upper class young men had more involvement in Winnie’s death than everybody — including Wallace Burroughs — believes, and that Tregarron was actually defending Winnie from the three young men.

Claudine convinces one of the most intriguing characters in the Perry canon — Squeaky Robinson — to help her prove Tregarron’s innocence. Squeaky works as a bookkeeper at the clinic run by Hester Monk. He’s a character straight out of Dickens, a reformed brothel keeper, arrested by William Monk and forced to take the job at the clinic to at least partially redeem himself — and to survive.

Other than to say that one of the characters in the novel, a young woman, reminds Claudine of herself some three decades in the past, I won’t give away any more of the plot of this wonderful book. Read it for yourself to find out why — despite all the problems of the world — Christmas is a time for hope. 

Anne Perry

Anne Perry

 

About the Author

Anne Perry is the bestselling author of two acclaimed series set in Victorian England: the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels, including “Treason at Lisson Grove” and “Buckingham Palace Gardens”, and the William Monk novels, including “Acceptable Loss” and “Execution Dock” (both of which I’ve read and reviewed, along with other Perry novels). She is also the author of a series of five World War I novels, as well as eleven holiday novels, including “A Christmas Hope”, and a historical novel, “The Sheen on the Silk”, set in the Ottoman Empire and reviewed on this site by the present reviewer. Anne Perry lives in Scotland. Her website: www.AnnePerry.net.

ITALIAN RHAPSODY: An Unconventional Travel Story: Getting to Europe from Dallas

  • By Joel Jacobs (a friend of David M. Kinchen)

Close up of departure board

Close up of departure board

While I am not comparing myself -– in the least -– to John Steinbeck,  he and I do share a trait: we often let things ferment, foment, and boil a bit before setting down observations and experiences.

 Such is the case here… you will not get everything in one story.  This is going to wander out in fits and starts, blubs and sentence fragments, scattered thoughts, and sometimes sentences that are likely a bit too long and clumsy, but, in the end, if I’m true to things it’ll all blunder into a semblance of sense, or so I hope. I am, though, going to try to set things down in somewhat of a chronological order as it will, hopefully, unfold, at least a little, logically… and too, hopefully, you’ll get the sense, at least some of the time, that you were there with me…

Part I

Lufthansa is still a marvelous way to fly. The plane left Dallas on time, arrived in Frankfurt on time, and the flights for Frankfurt and Rome were on time as well.

Lufthansa’s planes are new, clean, have six bathrooms available for coach, and have a bit more leg room than that of economy class seating on domestic carriers. The meals are quite good, as were the wine and spirits. The white wine, a German one, was very good.  In-flight movies?  I counted 82 choices – new and old, including the original “Flight of the Phoenix”  and “Bullitt.”  Lots of new stuff was available as well.

There was a huge music selection but while I only listened to Hayden, Strauss (Richard), and a couple of other folks a bit I listened mostly to Ravi Shankar’s “The Living Room Series” Part II. I already own Part I.

 Arrival to a location in the EU, if you’re flying in from another EU country is a piece of cake. Get your bag -– in my case I carried only a carry on — you walk off the plane and out into the air terminal. No customs or immigrations hassle. And even when arriving in Europe -– in Germany, this time — German customs and border clearance were a piece of cake as well… just go through the check points, get your passport stamped and you’re free to roam about all the EU countries.

Departure schedule of trains leaving Rome and people waiting.

Departure schedule of trains leaving Rome and people waiting.

To get from the airport to Rome the convenient way is the express train.  I bought my ticket, but also bought a reserved seat ticket on the next morning’s express train to Modena so that I’d not have a hassle in getting a ticket the next morning should lines suddenly appear or any of the ticketing machines be down.  Leaving Rome at the time I did next morning I did not have to change trains, just step off at Modena, catch a cab and pay $6.00 to long-time friend Katherine Donnellan’s house.

First day in Rome… I checked into my hotel, the Scott House, not far from the Central Train Station (Stazione Centrale)…. It was a really nice, modern, clean hotel in an old building.  I walked from the train station to the hotel, took five, six minutes.  Upon arrival I did find a surprise; the sign for the hotel indicated it was on the fourth and fifth floors.  Some delivery guy was coming out of the hotel and I asked him if there were an elevator in the building. He told me there was and how to get to it…. the elevator was an OTIS…. Yup.  As I stepped out it was a pleasant surprise to see how modern and update the hotel was.  If memory serves me correctly I paid a bit less than $100. The price, as do most European hotels, includes breakfast.

Before venturing out into Rome I stowed my luggage, took a shower, changed clothes, and took a two hour nap.  I asked the desk clerk where there was a good restaurant, not the typical tourist places in the neighborhood and he told me how to get away from them in just two blocks up, a right turn, another right turn, and “poof” I was back in the Italy I love…

My train

My train

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, tourists have a way of wandering into even the most  off-the-beaten-path  places in the world and my restaurant for the evening was no exception – but there were a  lot  of regulars in the place and they were treated as if they were family.

I have zero illusions about travel and places. Rome gets millions upon millions of visitors every year from people all around the world so I anticipated that, initially, I was just another American tourist. I was greeted by a, not surly, but just tired, waiter who said, “Good evening without much enthusiasm.”  When I told him, in Italian, that I was by myself he perked up a tiny bit – but only a tiny bit.

I told him I wanted mineral water, a half liter of house wine, and that I’d like to see the menu.  What I wanted as a first course wasn’t on the menu.  So I told the waiter, “I don’t see  cacio e pepe  (cheese and black pepper) on the menu. This is the most Roman of Roman dishes…. The water looked a bit surprised at me and replied, “We can make it for you.”  I, of course, knew that… and from that point on I was, while not treated like family, neither was I treated like a regular non-Italian speaking tourist that knew little -– or nothing -– about Italy and its food.

I made it an early night, went to bed, slept the sleep of the dead and the next morning I was off to Modena to spend the weekend with long-time friend Katherine Donnellan…

About the author 

Joel Jacobs is a retired U.S. Navy photographer. He has lived in Italy and now lives in Scatter Branch, Texas, near Commerce in Hunt County.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The American Health Care Paradox’: American Exceptionalism May Be Reason Why We’re Not Having Better Health Outcomes Than Other Industrialized Countries

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'The American Health Care Paradox': American Exceptionalism May Be Reason Why We're Not Having Better Health Outcomes Than Other Industrialized Countries

 The U.S. spends substantially more than other industrialized countries for health care, but we have poorer outcomes. This is the “paradox” that Elizabeth H. Bradley and Lauren A. Taylor explore in “The American Health Care Paradox: Why Spending More is Getting Us Less” (PublicAffairs, 272 pages, $26.99).

The book is an expansion of an opinion piece the authors wrote and which appeared in December 2011 in the New York Times.

 In the article — and in the present book — Bradley and Taylor reach the conclusion that previous books that cited our expenditures on health care left out the critical element: The expenditures other countries — especially the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden — make in social services.

The use of the Scandinavian experience might scare some Americans who will immediately think “Socialized Medicine, BAD, BAD!” but Bradley and Taylor reveal how the higher taxes Scandinavians pay result in superior outcomes, including lower infant mortality rates and longer lives. They admit (Pages 113-114) that Scandinavians have to wait longer for certain operations — but not for emergencies — and of course pay taxes that are at least twice as high as U.S. residents pay.

Beginning on Page 40, the authors discuss why political scientists consider why “America is generally viewed as a laggard country when it comes to its social welfare policies.” In addition to being to being unwilling to provide federally funded health insurance [with the exception of Medicare and Medicaid] “the U.S. government has been slower to fund social welfare programs, such as unemployment insurance, family allowances, and health benefits, than have most governments in Western Europe and Canada.”

Surprisingly, the authors continue, the missing link in the U.S. is feudalism! Under feudalism, the argument goes, that by the Eleventh Century, “feudalism had created a system of government in which those who possessed land sought to safeguard their serfs, who were constrained in individual freedom but protected by their lords or masters against such hazards as sickness, unemployment, and old age.”

Feudalism led to the social contract that much of Europe observes, the authors add.

I think the authors have made excellent points and they back up their conclusions with comments from experts. Now, if only we can get rid of our “not invented here” (NIH) attitude, and spend more money on social services that would reduce the need for traditional medicine….That’s a big if!

Bradley and Taylor explain — in a manner the general reader can understand —  how narrow definitions of “health care,” archaic divisions in the distribution of health and social services, and our allergy to government programs combine to create needless suffering and cost.

They examine the constraints on and possibilities for reform, and profile inspiring new initiatives from around the world. Offering a unique and clarifying perspective on the problems Obamacare won’t solve, this book also points a new way forward.

Here’s an excerpt from the book that presents a vital element of their argument:

 Americans do not like being mediocre in national health outcomes but like even less facing the complex web of social conditions that produce and reinforce those uninspiring health outcomes. 

In short, Americans pay top dollar for hospitals, physicians, medications, and diagnostic testing but skimp in broad areas that are central to health such as housing, clean water, safe food, education, and other social services.

 It may even be that Americans spend large sums in health care to compensate for what they do not fund in social care—and the tradeoff is not good for the country’s health….

Physicians, many of whom see almost 30 patients per day, are increasingly aware that unmet social needs are essential contributors to worse health for Americans, and that they generate substantial costs within the medical system.

 In a recent national survey of 1,000 primary care physicians by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, eighty-five percent agreed that patients’ unmet social needs lead directly to worse health and that those needs are as important to address as patients’ medical conditions.

Physicians further reported that if they had the power to write prescriptions to address social needs, these prescriptions would represent one of every seven they write. Top social needs were noted as fitness (by 75% of respondents), nutritious food (by 64% of respondents), employment assistance (52% of respondents), education (49% of respondents), and housing (43% of respondents).

Among physicians we interviewed, many expressed frustration that medical tools do not address the most important drivers of poor health. One chief of emergency medicine summarized his work: “We bandage them and send them out, but what they do out there is a black box. Who knows what happens then?”

About the Authors

Dr. Elizabeth Bradley is professor of public health at Yale, faculty director of its Global Health Leadership Institute, and master at Branford College. She was previously director of the health management program and co-director of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at Yale and served as hospital administrator at Massachusetts General Hospital. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut. Lauren Taylorstudies public health and medical ethics at Harvard Divinity School, where she is a Presidential Scholar. She was formerly a program manager at the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute. She now lives in Boston.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Johnny Cash’: Meticulous Attention to Facts Sets Robert Hilburn’s Biography Apart

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Johnny Cash': Meticulous Attention to Facts Sets Robert Hilburn's Biography Apart

Back in 2009 Robert Hilburn asked Johnny Cash’s last manager, Lou Robin, how much of the story of the singer/songwriter’s life had been told in the numerous biographies, memoirs and articles, Hilburn writes in his monumental biography, “Johnny Case: The Life (Little, Brown and Company, 688 pages, 16 pages of photos, sources, bibliography, index, $32.00) that the man who managed Cash for more than a quarter century replied “Only about twenty percent.”

  Hilburn, who served as the pop music critic and reporter at the Los Angeles Times from 1970 to 2005, more than fills in the other 80 percent in a book that is not only a biography of Cash (1932-2003) and his second wife, June Carter Cash (1929-2003) but is an excellent survey of the country music scene over the past 60 plus years. And it’s a very readable account, too.Full disclosure: I was a staff writer at the L.A. Times from 1976 to 1990 and was an admirer of Hilburn’s outstanding reporting and sparkling writing.

One can admire many of Cash’s songs, as I do, but also deplore the harmful behavior of Cash. The man who wrote “I Walk the Line” — a song  attesting to his marital faithfulness to his first wife, Vivian Liberto Cash, was capable of casual one-night stands and the affair with the married June Carter that ended the marriage to Vivian. Hilburn doesn’t issue the kind of value judgments I might; he reports the facts and lets the reader make up his/her mind.

Cash quotes many people on the subject of Cash’s behavior. I was particularly struck by the views of Marshall Grant, one of the original “Tennessee Three” bandsmen from 1955 and the Sun Records years with Cash.

On Page 295 Grant, who was  fired in 1980 by Cash after saving his life, wondered why didn’t Cash’s fans at an engagement in Toronto “recognize how sick he was — not just this time but over the last few years.” Grant and two other members of the band later sued Cash for breaking his word about the equal distribution of income.

Instead of “The Life” for a subtitle, Hilburn could well have used the title he uses for Chapter 27: “The Pills Return and All Hell Breaks Loose.”I’ve always deplored hypocrites, especially those who make a show of religion, as Cash did with his appearances at Billy Graham’s Crusades, and his bad behavior. Give me a moral, ethical atheist any time over a person who cloaks himself in religion.

It doesn’t take a  Freud or a Jung to detect one of the roots of Cash’s behavior — the attitude of his father Ray Cash (1897-1985) who often said J.R. Cash (Johnny’s actual name) “wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans.” Ray favored J.R.’s older brother, Jack, who was killed in a woodworking accident. Something like this lasts a lifetime and undoubtedly affected Cash, who was a sensitive youth who loved reading.

Through many interviews with people who knew Johnny Cash, Hilburn fleshes out the life of an iconic figure in American music, a man who combined genuine religious faith with deep, long-lasting addictions. As music critic for the Los Angeles Times, Hilburn knew Cash well throughout his life: he was the only music journalist at the legendary Folsom Prison concert in 1968, and he interviewed Johnny and June for the final time just months before their deaths in 2003.

In an email exchange, Hilburn attested to the devotion of Johnny Cash’s fans ten years after his death: “I just got back from Nashville where I did talks/book signings at the new Johnny Cash Museum and the Country Music Hall of Fame.” He added: “I had a really memorable time at Writers Bloc in Santa Monica.. Kris Kristofferson was my guest panelist!!!! and he sang five songs!!”

Kristofferson, born in 1936 in Brownsviile, Texas, figures strongly in the book, as does Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and many more artists, including the children of Cash, Roseanne, from his first marriage, and John Carter Cash, from his marriage to June.

The book will appeal especially to fans of Johnny Cash, but,  as I noted above, the sweeping survey of popular music over the last 60 years that Hilburn provides makes this a book that all music lovers will treasure.

About the Author

Robert Hilburn, born September 25, 1939 in Louisiana, is a pop music critic and author. As critic and music editor of the Los Angeles Times from 1970 to 2005, his reviews, essays and profiles have appeared in hundreds of publications around the world. Hilburn reflects on those years in a memoir, “Corn Flakes with John Lennon (And Other Tales from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life),” which was published in  2009 by Rodale. He is a member of the nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and lives in Los Angeles. His website: http://www.roberthilburnonline.com