Monthly Archives: December 2014

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Vanessa and Her Sister’: Engrossing Fictionalized Biography of Virginia Woolf and Her Painter Sister Vanessa Bell


“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night” — Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis in “All About Eve” (1950)

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Vanessa and Her sister jacketThe quotation from the movie came to my mind when I read Priya Parmar’s “Vanessa and Her Sister” (Ballantine Books, 368 pages, $26.00), a captivating look at sisters Vanessa Stephen Bell (1879-1961) and Virginia Stephen Woolf (1882-1941).

Everybody’s heard of Virginia Woolf, if only from the movie “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and “The Hours,” a 2002 film starring Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf.

Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf were members of the Bloomsbury Group, a diverse group of intellectuals named for the section of London they inhabited. The Group included Vanessa’s husband, Clive Bell, and Virginia’s husband, Leonard Woolf.

In addition to art critic Bell, and civil servant turned writer Leonard Woolf, the Bloomsbury Group included novelist E.M. (Morgan) Forster; biographer Lytton Strachey, a good friend of Leonard’s who urged him to court Virginia; the future renowned economist John Maynard Keynes, and art expert Roger Fry, who became a lover of Vanessa Bell when she discovered her husband Clive was having affairs.

Parmar provides a front-of-the-book cast of characters, which is particularly helpful since many of the characters refer to each other by their nicknames. For instance, Julian Thoby Stephen, the brother of Virginia and Vanessa, is often called “The Goth.” Virginia’s nickname is “Goat.”

At the end of the book, the author provides us with brief summaries of what happened to most of the people in the book. Very helpful!

Parmar begins her mostly epistolary — written in the form of correspondence — novel/biography in 1905 when Vanessa, Virginia and their brothers Thoby and Adrian leave the family house after the death of their parents and rent a large house at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury, an area of the borough of Camden, in central London, between Euston Road and Holborn.

The Stephen siblings are the core of the group, attracting talented and outrageous people like a magnet attracting iron filings. Vanessa and her sister Virginia — who has already experienced bouts with the bipolar mental illness that will lead to her suicide in 1941 — are competitive to an extreme point. Virginia doesn’t think any man is good enough for her talented painter sister Vanessa and is especially disapproving of Clive Bell.

Parmar’s book is especially good at describing the complicated relationship between Vanessa and Virginia. When Vanessa marries Clive Bell and has two children with him, Virginia suddenly decides that she wants him. She feels abandoned by her older sister, who has always been there to help her. She can’t stand seeing Vanessa happy and in her own way tries to drive a wedge between Vanessa and Clive.

If this description sounds a cross between a soap opera and “Downton Abbey”, I’m apologizing in advance! You’ll just have to read “Vanessa and Her Sister” to see why I think it’s not only the latest addition to this genre, but also one of the best.

About the author

Educated at Mount Holyoke College, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Oxford, Priya Parmar divides her time between Hawaii and London.

For my feb. 26, 2011 review of “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain:

For my oct. 29, 2014 review of “The Lodger”, about Bloomsbury Group member Dorothy Richardson and her affair with H.G. Wells:

Link to Dec. 28, 2014 NPR interview with Priya Parmar:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Anti-Semitism and the American Far Left’: Excellent Exploration of the Unreasonable Hatred of Jews by Far Left American Activists

Norwood antisemitism and the american far leftReviewed by Joseph J. Honick

It used to be — when I was a kid growing up in Baltimore — that the far left led the marches and other demonstrations against most forms of religious and racial prejudice. In fact, many figured that Jews could always rely on the so called “liberal left” to help fight anti-Semitism of the 1930s and even later.

But Professor Stephen H. Norwood in “Anti-Semitism and the American Far Left” (Cambridge University Press, 324 pages , trade paperback, $26.99, $13.49 for Kindle) explores the “far” left extremists’ antipathy to Jewish culture while developing apologias for jihadi movements. In fact, more clearly than many other investigators of the anti-Jewish situation how Communists in America swung from early support of the creation of Israel to hostility to both Jews and the Israeli state by 1956.

The author demonstrates how black groups like SNCC led by Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown used stereotypical descriptions of Jews as being extremely wealthy and having gained that financial power on the backs of blacks. It is of course important to note that the most prominent African American civil rights leaders like A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin who organized the 1963 March on Washington denounce the SNCC Newsletter and similar anti-Semitic slander.

Nevertheless, radical pacifist leaders like Daniel Berrigan who led campaigns against the Vietnam war also joined in the racist commentary declaring Israel to be a racist “settler state” using Nazi tactics to prove racial superiority.

It is not all that surprising that such tactics would be used considering how Hitler’s representatives had been so warmly welcomed in major American universities throughout the 1930’s. During those years, the most leading college campuses became fertile territory for the spread of Nazi “progress” in Germany but places where scholarships and other invitations to Germany were offered to students. And the students had to be impressed, given the fact major figures like the late James B. Conant and Nicholas Murray Butler were among the university celebrities laying out the welcome mats.

What has helped the effort in recent years has been the widespread commentary of internationally known linguist Noam Chomsky who also drew parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany. This reviewer heard Chomsky respond to a radio interviewer’s question as to whether he feared loss of his teaching job: “I have tenure” he said laughing.

But Chomsky has gone beyond even beyond many of the far left by defending a Holocaust denier why claimed the massive killing of Jews by the Nazis to be a “Zionist lie.”

What is fascinating in Professor Norwood’s wide ranging effort is that he shows how those on the far right were hardly much different from the left-wing extremists when it came to Jews and demonstrated how even the so called United Nations conferences on human rights were clearly anti-Semitic and included the Holocaust denials of the Arabs, among others.

He shows specifically that the UN World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in 2001 contained blatant anti-Semitism but then condemned Israel and the United States for walking out in protest.

Norwood, a professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Oklahoma, has done his job with careful documentation as a followup to his fine work titled “The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower” which outlined in detail how the Hitler regime spread its doctrines to campuses across the nation as previously noted. It is just as important to note that an organization known as the National Council on U.S. Arab Relations is doing much the same today in setting up “Model” Arab Leagues on many college campuses and sponsoring annual conferences in Washington, D.C. called the National University Model Arab League. The next is scheduled for April 10-12, 2015 at the Georgetown University.

What is strangely missing from the book, however, is much reference to American industrialists like Henry Ford who not only weighed in as virulent anti-Semites of influence but comfortably promoted and helped to finance the Nazi regime while publishing anti-Semitic newspapers and other literature.

While Professor Norwood’s writing doesn’t result in a rapid page-turner of excitement, the resulting book does an excellent job both in documenting the methods of racism inherent in the far left’s varying stands on anti-Semitism and how they have been important means for sustaining anti-Jewish hatred in America and its rapid rise abroad.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Suspicion’: Delightfully Scary Novel Aimed at Young Women Hits Its Target Like an Arrow from Robin Hood


What American teen wouldn’t envy Imogen Rockford, a 17-year old living in New York City’s uber-trendy Tribeca district, who has been summoned back to her native England to be the next Duchess of Wickersham? Her cousin, Lucia, has died and so has her grandfather, so she’s now the owner of Rockford Manor, a sprawling Oxfordshire estate of nearly 200 rooms, with beautiful gardens and a maze that had attracted tourists for many years.

One young women faced with this situation is Imogen herself. Rockford Manor, the summer home of her family for centuries, is the scene of the death by fire of her parents seven years before. Alexandra Monir provides young adult readers — and older ones, too — with this scenario in “Suspicion” (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 304 pages, $17.99, also available in a Kindle edition for $9.78).

Imogen, despite her own fears and reservations about the wisdom of returning to England by her guardians, the Marinos, friends of her late parents, decides to returns to Rockford Manor as the new duchess. It’s not far from Oxford University and Imogen plans to take courses there. Carole and Keith Marino love her like a daughter and she’s built an equally loving relationship with their daughter Zoey, as well as a friendship with a schoolmate named Lauren.

Arriving in England, Imogen quickly learns that dark secrets lurk behind Rockford’s aristocratic exterior. At their center is Imogen herself, who has powers that call to mind a previous duchess, and Sebastian Stanhope, the boy she never stopped loving. Sebastian had a close relationship with Lucia, who has died in an apparent accident near the maze. Complicating elements include a coldness from the housekeeper, the mysterious Mrs. Mulgrave, and her daughter Maisie, who are both devoted to the memory of Lucia.

If all this sounds familiar, Monir explains in an author’s note beginning on page 290 that she was inspired to write “Suspicion” by her love for the psychological novels of Daphne Du Maurier, especially the 1938 novel “Rebecca” which was filmed in 1940 by Alfred Hitchcock. Monir was also inspired by the success of the TV series “Downton Abbey.”

I also found similarities to a novel I very recently read and reviewed, “Sweet Damage” by Rebecca James, set in Sydney, Australia. For my review:

As I’ve opined in the past, anything that will get young people to read is a good thing. I think “Suspicion” will do just that. This is a real page-turner, with characters that are fully realized and with the kind of suspense and mystery that will appeal to readers of all ages. Kudos to you, Alexandra Monir!

About the Author

Alexandra Monir is an author and recording artist in her twenties. Suspicion is her third novel published by Random House. Her debut was the popular time-travel romance, Timeless, followed by the 2013 sequel, Timekeeper. Alexandra currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is at work on her next novel, while also blogging for The Huffington Post and composing an original musical. Her music can be found on iTunes, and you can visit her website at Follow Alexandra @TimelessAlex.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘California Dreaming: Boosterism, Memory, and Rural Suburbs in the Golden State’: Detailed Look at Three ‘Agriburbs’ in Sacramento, Los Angeles Areas

Paul SandulCalifornia Dreaming cover photo

A suburb is a suburb is a suburb, isn’t it? Not when it’s an “agriburb” writes Paul J.P. Sandul in ‘California Dreaming: Boosterism, Memory, and Rural Suburbs in the Golden State’ (West Virginia University Press, Rural Studies, book 2, 306 pages, notes, illustrations, index, $27.99).

Rather than playing the Mamas and Papas song suggested by the title, I’d recommend some Scott Joplin ragtime music while you’re reading Sandul’s book, adapted from his 2009 doctoral dissertation. Some of the language in the book sounds very Ph.D., but it’s mostly very readable and appealed to this reviewer, who lived in California from 1976 to 1992.

For all but two of those years, I covered real estate for the Los Angeles Times, so I was somewhat familiar with the three “agriburbs” Sandul examines: Ontario, about 30 miles east of L.A. and Orangevale and Fair Oaks in the Sacramento area.

In fact, I watched my one and only NASCAR race at the now long gone Ontario Motor Speedway. Not far away, in what is now Moreno Valley, I enjoyed sports car racing at the now defunct and long gone Riverside International Raceway, one of the most famous racing venues in the world. Maybe the California state motto should be “Defunct” instead of “Eureka.”

The three agriburbs — Fair Oaks, Orangevale, and Ontario — are examined in minute detail — maybe too minute for many readers. Their distinctiveness as places that combined the “adoration” (Sandul’s word) of agriculture with the convenience of a nearby large city, differentiated agriburbs from conventional suburbs of the era like Riverside, Ill., designed by the architect of NYC’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, for the wealthy classes of Chicago.

From the 1880s, when Ontario was developed by George Chaffey Jr., a transplanted Canadian who named the “model colony” after his native province, to about 1932, when a hard frost wiped out the dream of orange growing in the Sacramento area, one form of the California dream was a suburb where lots were measured in acreage rather than square feet. Consumers Back East (that’s the phrase Californians use for anybody east of Lake Tahoe) also shifted their taste to orange juice, rather than the fruit itself, and Florida growers quickly dominated the juice market.

Boosters like Chaffey in Ontario, and the McClatchy brothers and Harris Weinstock in Sacramento favored citrus growing because they believed it was the most dignified form of farming for transplanted city slickers.

Obviously, many of the boosters were men of the boardroom rather than the soil, because the actual work of growing, picking and packing oranges and lemons soon was done by ethnic minorities, including Japanese, Mexicans and Chinese, who were not considered desirable by the white men who created the three agriburbs. From the start, lots in these communities were deliberately planned, developed and promoted for profit, unlike conventional suburbs. Near the end of the book, Sandul discusses modern incarnations of agriburbs in Colorado and North Carolina — communities inspired by the rise of localism in food production. The jury is still out on the survival of these new communities, especially since Ontario, Orangevale, and Fair Oaks today have morphed into conventional suburbs.

Sandul’s analysis contributes to a new suburban history that includes diverse constituencies and geographies and focuses on the production and construction of place and memory. Boosters purposefully “harvested” suburbs with an eye toward direct profit and metropolitan growth. State boosters boasted of unsurpassable idyllic communities while local boosters bragged of communities that represented the best of the best, both using narratives of place, class, race, lifestyle, and profit to avow images of the rural and suburban ideal.

This suburban dream attracted people who desired a family home, nature, health, culture, refinement, and rural virtue. In the agriburb, a family could live on a small home grove while enjoying the benefits of a progressive city. A home located within the landscape of natural California with access to urban amenities provided a good place to live and a way to gain revenue through farming.

“California Dreaming” is an outstanding work of cultural history that should explain many elements of California — including the racism of many of the developers toward people who weren’t white — for those who are puzzled by the ongoing story of the Golden State. This is a book that California nerds will really groove to, “on such a winter day!” or any other day, for that matter.

By the way, the description of the book has it listed with just over 200 pages…They must have been thinking of Sandul’s dissertation rather than the book at hand.

About the author

Paul J. P. Sandul is an Assistant Professor of History at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. He earned his PhD in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara & California State University, Sacramento, and he specializes in Public History, Cultural Memory and History, Oral History, Suburban and Urban History, and Rural Studies. He has taught or is teaching courses in American history, urban history, public history, and cultural memory, as well as (under) graduate seminars. His recent publications include California Dreaming: Boosterism, Memory, and Rural Suburbs in the Golden State (West Virginia University Press, 2014); a co-editor and contributor to a new anthology called Making Suburbia: New Histories of Everyday America, forthcoming (University of Minnesota Press); a chapter concerning suburban development and the environment in Sacramento for River City and Valley Life: An Environmental History of the Sacramento Region (University of Pittsburgh Press, December 2013). Past publications include articles for the Sound Historian, Agricultural History, and East Texas Historical Journal, and two books about California suburbs for Arcadia Press. Sandul has also written over a dozen book reviews for such journals as the Business History Review, California History, Journal of Southern History, Pacific Historical Review, and The Public Historian. Sandul is heavily involved in public history projects and oral history as well, which often provides opportunities for students, and serves on advisory committees and boards for both professional and local historical societies and journals. For example, he directed the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project about the famed congressperson (think Charlie Wilson’s War), which transcripts and audio are available: Lastly, Sandul is involved in local heritage organizations and civil rights activism, including serving as an Executive Committee member and Committee Chair for the Nacogdoches, TX NAACP.

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Sending Money to Countries That Hate Us Makes No Sense at All


You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else. — Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965)

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Churchill should know: after all, his mother, Jennie Jerome, was an American! From Brooklyn!

I just [Saturday a.m. 12/13/14] saw on “Forbes on Fox” on Fox News Channel a panel discussion on why is Congress is talking about sending $498 billion in foreign aid to corrupt countries that hate us, including Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq. Steve Forbes said that this kind of foreign “aid” only contributes to the inherent corruption of the above countries, along with most of African nations.

I say Amen! Rand Paul, following in the footsteps of his dad, Ron Paul, my former Congressman, said the same thing on May 3, 2013 in a Facebook posting and in an op-ed in The Washington Times.

Here’s the Facebook posting: “Nations such as Egypt and Pakistan now regularly receive billions of our dollars with no reasonable amount of oversight or enforceable conditions. This must end.”

And here’s the link to the Op-ed:

In the op-ed, Paul says:

“There are many examples of waste, theft and misuse of our military aid to countries such as Egypt and Pakistan. Much of this misuse has been recorded by the State Department. We have laws as part of the Arms Export Control Act that require President Obama to report to Congress violations by foreign countries of the conditions of their aid. Theft of funds or equipment, or the misuse of defense articles, would qualify in this regard.”If a substantial violation is discovered, that country can be deemed ineligible for further U.S. military aid. To my knowledge, this has never actually occurred. Still, the abuse and misuse continues, as does American taxpayer dollars flowing to countries that behave in this fashion.”Foreign aid continues even when substantial violations by various countries are regularly uncovered. ”

* * *

If Congress sees fit to release the CIA torture report — which could hurt us immeasurably overseas — why can’t they release the kind of information Sen. Rand Paul wants about “abuses and misuse” of money we don’t have that we’re sending to countries that wish us the worst kind of ill?

The “right thing” is to stop sending money we don’t have to all countries now receiving foreign aid, allies and others included. I’ve said this before and am only repeating it. We need whatever money we can dig up to solve our domestic problems. End all foreign aid and let the non-profits and NGOs take up whatever needful slack arises. And what I say about foreign aid applies to our allies, including Israel.

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Lincoln Electric Celebrates 81 Uninterrupted Years of Paying Employee Profit-Sharing Bonus

Frank Koller

Frank Koller

On Friday, Dec. 12, 2014, I received the following email from Frank Koller, author of “Spark”, a 2011 book about Lincoln Electric Co. and other companies with no-layoff policies. (see the link below for my Aug. 14, 2011 review of this ground-breaking book).spark jacket

“You know of my long-standing interest in Lincoln Electric’s decades-long no-layoff track record in the North American economy. The annual profit-sharing bonus ceremony was held today in the firm’s Cleveland cafeteria. Here are the details:

81 = uninterrupted years of paying an employee profit-sharing bonus (i.e.profitable every year since 1934.)

$ 33,984 = average 2014 bonus per U.S. employee (roughly 3,000)

$ 82,903 = average 2014 total earnings per U.S. employee (= wages/salary + bonus)

$ 100 million (approx.) = total pre-tax profits shared among employees ( 32% of total EBITB)

0 = number of layoffs in 2014 (66 years without any layoffs)

AND ….

Lincoln (Nasdaq: LECO) remains #1 in the global marketplace for welding technology and materials.

“These figures once again provide convincing and reassuring evidence that it is possible to run a very profitable, very large, technologically superior multinational business based in the USA while honoring your obligations to employees, customers, investors and society at large. This need not be a zero-sum game, a delusion embraced by far too many, especially in the past few years.

“The Guaranteed Continuous Employment Policy remains unbroken since at least 1948. (The no-layoff track record may in fact go as far back as 1925.)

“No one has been laid off at Lincoln Electric for lack of work through the Great Depression, wars and the Great Recession.

“You will likely have read this week’s devastating New York Times article on “The Vanishing Male Worker: How America Fell Behind” which details the individual and social pain generated by the loss of work in the country.

“Keeping people at work through thick and thin as Lincoln Electric does — while remaining highly profitable and innovative — should be a goal for many more private sector firms and policy makers in the public sector at all levels.

“Happy Holidays and all the best for 2015.

Frank Koller”

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(Excerpt from my review:)

“Normal” in American corporate practice is to lay off workers when times get tough, as they have been for the last three or more years. My own profession, journalism, has seen unprecedented layoffs at such major newspapers as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times (where I worked from 1976 to 1990), the Chicago Tribune, and many other newspapers.

Since 1948, Lincoln Electric Co., the world leader and innovator in arc welding equipment and supplies, has adhered to a policy of not laying off permanent workers (those with three or more years of service) during slow periods and recessions. Instead, as Koller describes in this page-turning economic thriller — it thrilled me to see humane policies from a publicly traded corporation — the company reduces its bonuses, cuts hours and even cuts the salaries of top management. In the current “great recession,” Lincoln Electric has resorted to buyouts for highly compensated employees — many of them at or near retirement age.

My Aug. 14, 2011 review of Frank Koller’s ‘Spark’

About the Author

Frank Koller covers the workplace for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Over a nearly 30-year career with CBC, he has worked and lived around the world as a foreign correspondent, including seven years in the United States. He and his wife live in Ottawa, Canada. His website and blog:

(The following is from his website):

He has long been fascinated by the ways in which economics, the world of work, family and community intersect to affect how we live our lives. It is the subject of his first book Spark, about Lincoln Electric’s guaranteed employment policy, with more to come. From 2005 to 2009, Koller was the CBC’s specialist on the changing North American workplace.

Based in Washington, D.C. from 1998 to 2005, Koller crisscrossed the US many times – covering Presidential election campaigns, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Capital Hill during the Clinton and Bush years, financial crises such as the Enron debacle, environmental battles in New Mexico, hurricanes in Florida, urban sprawl in Oregon and cowboy poets in southwestern Missouri. He also traveled regularly to South America, chronicling economic developments in Argentina and Brazil.

From 1985 until 1998, Koller was on the road in Asia – reporting from Jakarta (where he lived for three years), Seoul, Rangoon, Phnom Penh, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Hanoi and almost everywhere in between. Koller covered the 1989 democracy protests in Tienanmen Square, the Asian economic meltdown in the late 1990s, the fall of Indonesia’s President Suharto in 1998 and Cambodia’s desperate struggle to recover from the Killing Fields. During those years, he also taught journalists in Indonesia and Cambodia on behalf of the Canadian Journalists for Freedom of Expression and the Asian Institute of Broadcasting.

His work has been recognized with awards from the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Nurses Association among others.

Before stumbling into journalism in the early 1980s, Koller was a professional jazz musician, composer and recording artist. His 1980 album Single Malt received rave reviews in Canada: The Globe and Mail praised him as “an excellent guitarist”, while Canadian Musician magazine called him a “session man extraordinaire.” Koller earned a Master’s Degree in Transportation Systems from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after graduating from Carleton University in Ottawa in Civil Engineering. It is widely acknowledged, however, that he must never be given any hand tools with the hope that he might be able to fix, let alone build, anything.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Monongah’ Examines Culture of West Virginia Coal Mine Operations As Well as 1907 Disaster — The Worst Industrial Accident in Nation’s History


Davitt McAteer’s “Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster’: West Virginia & Appalachia, Book 6) (West Virginia University Press, 352 pages, with an introduction by former labor secretary Robert Reich, who once was the author’s boss; index, illustrations, $24.99) is a complete examination of the Dec. 6, 1907 Monongah explosion that killed at least 500 men and boys.

Monongah coverIn his preface to the new paperback edition (the book was published in 2007 to commemorate the centennial of the disaster) McAteer ties in the 1907 disaster to the Easter Sunday, April 5, 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine operated by Massey Energy. This illustrates the author’s central theme that cost-cutting and concentration on bottom-line thinking by the owners of the Monongah Mines near Fairmont, WV — Consolidation Coal Co. — and Massey Energy at UBB in Raleigh County were the contributing factors to both disasters.

McAteer, former head of the of the mine safety agency under Labor Secretary Robert Reich in the Clinton Administration, conducted an independent investigation of the UBB disaster. This is discussed on page 161 and following in another book recently published by WVU Press, “Thunder on the Mountain.” (for my Dec. 1, 2014 review:

Leading up to the disaster that killed at least 500 men and boys at Monongah, McAteer devotes a great deal of space to describing the development of the Pittsburgh seam of coal in northern West Virginia and the role of Johnson Newlon Camden and others in the growth of Consolidation Coal Company — commonly known as “Consol” — which operated the Monongah mines. In those pre-trust-busting days, Consol, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co. and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad were all inked in a relationship to produce and distribute coal at the lowest possible cost, the Devil take the Hindmost when it came to safe operating conditions.

McAteer also describes how the mine operators recruited poor Italian and Slavic workers to labor in their mines for the lowest possible cost. Also discussed is the anti-union attitude of the mine owners, and the role of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in attempting to organize the workers at the mines in north central West Virginia. Unlike mines in Pennsylvania, where the UMWA had success, they experienced total failure in the greater Fairmont area, despite valiant efforts by Mother Jones and others, McAteer writes.

The narrative leading up to the disaster shows how the tentacles of the mine operators reached every part of the life of the miners, from the houses they rented from the company to the company stores where they bought the necessities of life, to the company-owned interurban railroads that took them to Fairmont and other cities — and to their jobs at the mines.

Nearly thirty years of exhaustive research have led McAteer to the conclusion that close to 500 men and boys—many of them immigrants—lost their lives that day, leaving hundreds of women widowed and more than one thousand children orphaned. Something I didn’t know: The Monongah disaster led to the formation of the Father’s Day holiday. So West Virginia can claim both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day!

McAteer delves deeply into the personalities, economic forces, and social landscape of the mining communities of north central West Virginia at the beginning of the twentieth century. The tragedy at Monongah led to a greater awareness of industrial working conditions, and ultimately to the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which Davitt McAteer helped to enact.

If you’re a history buff or if you want to understand how, in many ways the French saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same” (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose) when it comes to mine safety, “Monongah” is the go-to book.

About the author

Davitt McAteer is a native of Fairmont, West Virginia, who earned his bachelor’s degree at Wheeling Jesuit University in 1966 and his law degree in 1970 from West Virginia University. He is internationally recognized as an expert in mine and workplace safety. He is the author of many books on health and safety issues. For more about his background and experience:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Where the Broken Lie’: Secrets Are Buried, but Close to the Surface in a Small Illinois Town

Everybody knows about Southern Gothic, a popular literary form for fiction and motion pictures, but Prairie Gothic is also something to be reckoned with, as Derek Rempfer shows so eloquently in his novel “Where the Broken Lie” (Immortal Ink Publishing LLC, 180 pages, $10.95, also available in a $3.95 Kindle edition from

Where the broken lie coverTucker Gaines, his wife Tammy, and their young daughter Tory, have traveled from their home in the far west Chicago suburb of Westfield to Tucker’s hometown, Willow Grove. (Both towns are fictitious, but are based on real places in northeastern Illinois, as is the town of Glidden).

They’re visiting the grave of Tucker and Tammy’s stillborn infant boy, Ethan. At first I wondered why Ethan was buried so far from their home, but it quickly came to me: Willow Grove is where almost all the Gaineses — living and dead — reside. Westfield is an anonymous suburb, where almost everybody is from somewhere else.

While in the cemetery — with Tammy and Tory back in Westfield — Tucker visits the grave of Katie Cooper, his childhood sweetheart. Officially, Katie was abducted in 1981 at the age of 11, molested and murdered by a drifter known to everybody as Slim Jim. But soon, as he interacts with his friends and not-so-friends who still live in Willow Grove, Tucker begins to doubt the official story of Katie’s death.

Some of the clues come from Tucker’s conversations — many of them at the bar where Tucker consumes too many vodka tonics — with people who never left Willow Grove. Other clues come from anonymous letters left at graves, including that of Slim Jim, where one letter reads simply “INNOCENT.” Why is Slim Jim buried in the same graveyard as Katie? That’s one question that the author answers as the story of what really happened unfolds.

Growing up in a small town not far from the fictional Willow Grove, I heard of the secrets that lie buried just below the surface. Rempfer’s narrative rings true as Tucker Gaines investigates Katie’s death, while grieving for his son. As he comes close to the truth of what really happened back in 1981, Tucker wonders if he should proceed. The truth is too close to home and he wonders if it’s worth digging up what really happened so many years ago.

Whether you’re from Illinois or Idaho or wherever, I’m guessing you’ll recall the whispered secrets of your hometown — and see how Tucker handles the truth of who killed his first love. I think you’ll become as engrossed with the story as I did.

Derek Rempfer
About the author

Derek Rempfer, a graduate of the University of Iowa, lives in De Kalb, IL, where one of the streets is named Annie Glidden Road. De Kalb’s famous as the hometown of Joseph F. Glidden’s improved form of barbed wire, hybrid corn and Northern Illinois University, which on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 defeated Bowling Green State University 51-17 to win the MAC football championship. The reviewer is a 1961 graduate of NIU. Go Huskies!

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Let’s Get With the Rest of the World and Abolish Grand Juries

 By David M. Kinchen

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. I think this applies to the U.S. clinging to the hoary Grand Jury system. Let’s do what England did in 1933 and abolish grand juries.

A story I found in an Internet search says in the headline that “England abolished grand juries decades ago because they didn’t work.” Grand juries, of course, were part of the legal system in England — the system we inherited from the Mother Country.…

The grand jury  in Ferguson Mo, for the Aug. 9, 2014 death of unarmed teen-ager Michael Brown and the one in Staten Island, NY for the death by police of Eric Garner clearly demonstrate this to me.  I’m not a lawyer, but in my 48 years of journalism, I’ve learned a lot about the legal system.

From the above referenced story:

The concept comes from our colonial parent, England. “It goes back centuries here,” explains London-based legal writer Joshua Rozenberg. “In medieval times, it was drawn from the local neighborhood. And these were men who were expected to look around and report criminal behavior within the community. They’re people who actually knew the offenders, as we’d call them today, and could perhaps bring them to justice.”

By the 16th century, that morphed into the system we’d now recognize as a grand jury: A group of people listening to a prosecutor’s evidence and deciding whether to indict.

But the United Kingdom actually abolished its grand jury system in 1933. “We now send cases that are serious enough straight to jury trial,” Rozenberg says. That way, both sides are able to present evidence and make their arguments, which is definitely not the case with a grand jury.

In fact, the UK exported grand juries to most of their former colonies — Canada, Australia, New Zealand — and virtually all of them have stopped using them.

“They are said to be ‘putty in the hands of the prosecutor.’ In other words, the prosecutor really tells them what he or she wants and they will go along with it,” he says. “Or that’s what we are told, because we don’t really know. We can’t watch grand juries at work.”

That’s why former New York judge Sol Wachtler once famously said that a district attorney could get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” But, Rozenberg points out, “it must be even easier to get the sandwich acquitted if that is what the district attorney may actually want.”

The quote, while flippant, actually says a lot about what happened in Ferguson. Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County attorney, cited the problem of “conflicting evidence” as a reason why Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted for Michael Brown’s death. But the prosecutor is the one who offers evidence to the grand jury. If the evidence he gives is inconsistent, Rozenberg says that leaves the grand jury in a pickle of sorts.

“You might get some witnesses who say they saw Darren Wilson, the police officer, shoot Michael Brown and he wasn’t resisting arrest. Then, of course, you heard Darren Wilson himself and you hear what he says,” Rozenberg says. “So this was really what we would regard as a trial, but a trial behind closed doors.”

And that’s what happened with the Ferguson grand jury. So if this is the case, why do we still have a grand jury system? What’s the purpose of a secret procedure in a country that that televises court proceedings?

Rozenberg isn’t actually sure. “Why not have everything out in the open and let both sides say, openly, in a public forum, to an ordinary jury what their arguments are — and then let an ordinary jury decide?” he asks.

A lot of people here are asking the same question.

* * *

I’m one of the people asking this question! Maybe it’s because — as a nation — we stick with old concepts long after they’re obsolete. Look at our use of the traditional English system of weights and measures. Long ago the UK converted to the metric system in use throughout the world. It’s used by our neighbor to the north — Canada — and our neighbor to the south — Mexico.

Driving in Mexico in 2008, I quickly got used to driving 100 km or even 110 km, knowing that I was going about 63 miles per hour in the first case and just over 68 miles per hour in the second case. In my photography hobby I’m used to thinking metric — and in my pen-making hobby I regularly use 7 mm drill bits, because that’s the size I need for most of my drilling. In other projects, I’ll use 8 mm or 10 mm, because that’s the right size.

* * *

What’s the right size for our criminal justice system?

I’m rooting for  what’s called the “inquisitorial” or “non-adversarial” system, as practiced in France and other countries.

From Wikipedia:

In the inquisitorial system, the judge conducts a public inquisition or investigation of a crime. Judges can question witnesses, interrogate suspects, order searches for other or further investigations, and finally declare the verdict and decide on the penalty. Their role is not to prosecute the accused, but to gather facts to reach the correct verdict, and as such their duty is to look for any and all evidence, incriminating or exculpatory. When declaring a verdict, the judge must also release the reasoning explaining the verdict. Any perceived fault in the judge’s reasoning (due to logic, science or newly discovered evidence) is grounds for appeal by both prosecutor and defence. There are no pleas in inquisitorial systems, so that even if the accused declare themselves to be guilty of a crime, the judge may declare the accused not guilty if he or she believes there is evidence to indicate that the accused is innocent.

In an adversarial system, judges focus on the issue of the law and procedure and act as a referee in the contest between the defence and the prosecutor. Juries decide on the matter of fact, and sometimes on the matter of the law. Neither judge nor jury can question witnesses or initiate an inquiry. While the jury will declare a verdict, the reasoning behind the verdict and the discussion among jurors cannot be made public. Therefore, the defence can appeal, technically speaking, only on procedural grounds, such as the failure of a prosecutor to disclose evidence or a fault in the evidence presented at the trial. On the other hand, a prosecutor in the adversarial system cannot appeal against a “not guilty” verdict.

The inquisitorial system applies to questions of criminal procedure, not substantive law; that is, it determines how criminal enquiries and trials are conducted, not the kind of crimes for which one can be prosecuted or the sentences that they carry. It is most readily used in some civil legal systems. However, some jurists do not recognize this dichotomy and see procedure and substantive legal relationships as being interconnected and part of a theory of justice as applied differently in various legal cultures.

In some jurisdictions, the trial judge may participate in the fact-finding inquiry by questioning witnesses even in adversarial proceedings. The rules of admissibility of evidence may also allowthe judge to act more like an inquisitor than an arbiter of justice.

                                                      * * *

So what are we to do? Given our nation’s love affair with traditional systems that have long outlived any usefulness, I’m afraid we’re stuck with a system that no longer works…the Grand Jury system. This is too bad, because we have examples throughout the world that are superior to the outdated grand jury system. We should abolish grand juries on all levels and adopt a modern system, not one that dates from the days when men wore steel suits, rode on horses and fired arrows at their opponents.

SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction: ‘Hero Worship Eyes’


shelly reuben new dec.5, 2014

Shelley Reuben

From the day Frances met Will – the same day that they became partners – it was, for her, as if the rest of the world ceased to exist.

Oh, she was polite enough to their colleagues, although they always seemed to like her more than she liked them. And Frances was excruciatingly patient with the public, particularly children and particularly during safety awareness programs at town functions or at county fairs, because patience had been part of her training with the State Police.

But in the grand scheme of things, Frances’s world was divided unequally into two parts. Ninety-five percent of her loyalty belonged to State Trooper William McDermott. Five percent belonged to everybody else. And that only if Frances was certain that Will didn’t need her.

You would think this would have caused problems for him at home. Many law enforcement marriages had been broken up over less.

But not the McDermotts.

Elayne McDermott actually liked her husband’s partner, and after particularly grueling tours of duty, she often prepared special meals for Frances. Their daughter Pug -– short for “pugnacious,” a personality trait and a nickname (her real name was Penelope, which she hated) -– was also a fan of Francis. Periodically, Pug would drag her outside for long walks in the woods or take her on conspiratorial hunts for rocks, butterflies, or birds, depending – it changed every day – on whether Pug wanted to be a geologist, an entomologist, or an ornithologist when she grew up.

Frances enjoyed the attention that she received from Will’s family, and she always tried to respond to kindness…in kind. But whenever courtesy did not demand some sort of a mandatory response, her eyes always swiveled back to Will.

“You’d think she’d be ashamed to let anybody to see her looking at you like that,” Will’s lieutenant snorted derisively.

Within earshot of Frances.

Who just ignored the comment, and followed Will out to their truck.

“Time is a funny thing,” Myron McDermott once observed to Will, his grandson, when relating his World War II experiences as a Royal Canadian Grenadier Guard.

“You fight shoulder-to-shoulder with a man that maybe you only knew for six months, and maybe he’s been dead for over fifty years, but he’s still the best friend you ever had, and he’s still the best man you ever knew, and you still miss him every day of your life.”

After the war, Will’s grandfather moved to the United States, became an American citizen, and joined the State Police.

Will’s father was a biology teacher. His mother was a chef.

But Will always knew whom he took after, and he always knew what he was going to be. He went to college to please his parents, and he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history. A year later, when he was twenty-two years old, he became a state trooper, to please himself.

He had been in the job for seven years before he was teamed with Frances, and they took to each other like two hands playing the same piece on a piano. They tracked methamphetamine labs; they apprehended bank robbers; they arrested drug dealers; they helped the National Transportation Safety Board and local authorities to locate body parts and identify victims after the terrible crash of a 747 airplane over Henderson Bay. And once, they even guarded a newly elected president.

The disappearance of Gina Sperling was grueling, back breaking, and punishing work. Over the course of that eight-month investigation, Will spent so much time with Francis…often working seven-day weeks and eighteen-hour days…that Elayne McDermott laughed to her husband, “You should have married Frances instead of me!”

Elayne worried about Will not getting enough sleep and not eating the right food, because their searches took them through rocky fields and hostile marshes. She worried about Francis catching a cold or breaking a leg. Pug, during those heart wrenching eight months, desperately worried about (and missed) them both.

And she, along with everybody else, was terrified for Gina Sperling.

Gina was two years older than Pug, but they went to the same school.

Gina’s mother was a member of Elayne McDermott’s book club, and Gina’s father owned the hardware store where Will bought everything from thumbtacks to grass seed. For the people in their hometown, Gina Sperling’s disappearance was as much a vicious kick in the gut as an active criminal investigation, and searching for her bore less of a resemblance to a rescue mission than it did to a holy crusade.

Girl Scout troops held bake sales to earn money to pay for thousands of “Missing Child” flyers from the local print shop.

Boy Scout troops tacked the flyers to light poles and tree trunks, and went from shop to shop, asking merchants to tape them conspicuously on their front doors.

Diane and Raymond Sperling gave tear-drenched television interviews appealing to Gina’s kidnappers…if she had been kidnapped…for their daughter’s return. They had her photograph displayed on shopping bags, billboards, and milk cartons distributed throughout the state.

None of that did any good, though, and when little Gina was finally found, it was Frances who found her. Or what was left of her. With Will less than thirty seconds behind.

It was Will who later tracked down and apprehended her killer.

Gina Sperling’s disappearance was Will and Frances’s most notorious case.

The last case they investigated together was neither as time consuming nor as spectacular. Crimes that don’t involve a child, an airplane, or a celebrity, never are.

It concerned a turf battle between warring motorcycle gangs over the distribution and sale of illegal weapons. Three days earlier, in the parking lot of a small rural airport, the leader of a gang called Satan’s Plague, was gunned down. His name was Orlando Neff. A day later, Neff’s second-in-command, Elliot Feaster, was run over by a stolen taxicab outside a coffee shop in the town of Prescott. The shop’s patrons, horrified to be standing next to a bare-chested brute in a leather vest whose arms were covered with swastika tattoos, held their communal breaths until he paid for his crème brûléelatte and left the store.

Two days after that, on a Friday morning, Neff and Feaster’s double-funerals took place.

County narcotic cops and their federal counterparts estimated that upward of 1,000 motorcycle gang members from all over the state would be there.

Sheriff Clifford Capstan stated aloud what most of the cops had been thinking. “I don’t care if those bastards shove dynamite sticks up each others’ butts and light the fuse, as long as they drive across the county line before the shit hits the fan.”

But law enforcement wasn’t destined to get its wish.

The burial site for the dead bikers was a municipal cemetery less than half-a-mile north of Prescott, on a very publicly owned piece of land.

The sheriff’s department took on the job of surveilling the road.

State police officers would be patrolling the interior perimeters of the cemetery.

Will and Frances would be graveside.

Witnesses to the gunfire at the airport and to the hit-and-run outside the coffee shop had provided descriptions of the shooter and the driver. Composite sketches of each were drawn, and the two sketches were compared.

Both were of the same man.

Will’s job inside the cemetery was to look at faces and to identify the killer.

That was all that he had to do.

It was something he was good at.

All Frances had to do was to accompany Will.

She was good at that, too.

The internment was presided over by Father Desmond Babington, Orlando Neff’s uncle and the local parish priest.

As he recited the blessings (it was said that he had loathed his nephew, but loved his sister enough to conduct the services), swarthy heads swathed in bandanas were bowed in prayer. Will’s eyes set upon, studied, and evaluated the faces of every biker in the tight area around the graves.

This one’s nose, he thought, was too big.

His eyes moved to another.

That one had pock-marked skin.

Will continued to study faces.

Ears too small.

Forehead too high.

Lips too narrow.

Eyes too far apart.

Eyebrows too thick.

And then, like Goldilocks sampling porridge in the house of the three bears, his eyes suddenly latched onto a jowly face with wide nostrils and a protruding lower lip. A face that matched the composite sketch and, like the last bowl of porridge, was “just right.”

There was a problem, though. The eyes in the face at which Will was staring were staring back at him, too.

In retrospect, Will wondered (and would always wonder) if his reflexes that day had been unforgivably slow, or if the biker’s reflexes had been impossibly fast.

And he wondered (and would always wonder) about Frances.

How had she known?


The biker drew his gun.

Frances, too far away to take him down but not too far away to protect her partner, leaped in front of Will and, in effect, turned her body into a shield.

Two bullets slammed into Frances before the other troopers in the cemetery un-holstered their weapons, targeted the biker-shooter and opened fire.

He was dead before he hit the ground.

A thousand badass tattooed mourners leaped over tombstones, tripped over marble angels, jumped on their motorcycles, and roared away.

Frances was still alive.

A photographer from The Evening Sun took thirty-seven pictures of the melee in the cemetery that day. The newspaper ran nineteen of them in a full-page spread.

But there were two photographs, out of respect for the victims, which they did not print.

One was of Frances in full flight, her face contorted in pain, as the first bullet hit her in the chest.

The other was of William McDermott, kneeling in the grass; his arms around his partner, her head in his lap and his face a mask of grief, at the very moment that Frances died.

Her entire life, Frances had not been close to anyone. Anyone, that is, except the McDermotts.

Dogs in K-9 police units always live with their handlers, and they usually become members of the family. Frances had been a McDermott from the day that Will brought her home and had probably been destined to be a McDermott from the day that she was born.

After she died, Elayne and Pug tried to get Will to open up about his beloved partner and their beloved pet.

But Will could not talk about Frances.

Not yet.

Lieutenant Marigold told Will to take a week off from work to deal with the loss. Having known State Trooper McDermott for over five years, he fully expected Will to decline.

He did not.

He took ten days off instead.

He went to see former Royal Canadian Grenadier Guard Myron McDermott.

“Tell me about him,” Will demanded.

And he did not have to explain to his grandfather whom he meant.

Grandpa Myron filled a large percolator with water and made a pot of coffee. He sat down at the kitchen table and he motioned Will to take the other chair. Then he began to talk.

He told his grandson where Sgt. Hurwitz had come from. How old he had been when he joined up. How his eyes had blazed when, armed only with a pistol, he attacked two German machine guns and captured twenty-five enemy soldiers. How his moustache had bristled when, accompanied by fifteen Grenadier Guards, he destroyed eleven German anti-tank guns. How their unit had killed fifteen Germans, captured thirty-one others, and opened a kilometer-wide gap in the German front line. And finally, he told Will how his Sgt. Samuel Moses Hurwitz, the highest decorated non-commissioned officer in the whole of the Canadian Armored Corps, had been shot behind enemy lines, captured, and died.

Myron stopped talking.

Will sat for a while without saying a word.

Then he began.

He told his grandfather about Frances. About the methamphetamine labs they’d discovered. About the escaped mental patient they’d found wandering into traffic on Route 88. About the drug dealers, wife beaters, child molesters, bank robbers, and murderers that they had apprehended. And about the quiet, silent hours that they had spent alone in Will’s trooper truck, with his hand sometimes resting on Frances’s head or scratching the ruff of her neck, and accepting the way that his partner stared lovingly at him with fearless, faithful, hero worshipping eyes.

Myron McDermott refilled both of their mugs with coffee.

He raised his cup. “To Frances,” the old warrior said.

Will raised his cup. “To Sgt. Hurwitz.” He said.

They clicked cups.

And then both men cried.

This story was originally published in The Forensic Examiner.

* * *

Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank”