Monthly Archives: September 2013

Book Review: The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking

The Skies Belong to Us by Brendan I. Koerner

The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan I. Koerner is a detailed history of a pair of hijackers as well as a history of hijacking in general. Koerner is a former columnist for The New York Times and Slate. His work has been printed in the New York Times Magazine,Harpers and many other publications. He is currently a contributing editor at Wire. This is his second book.

I am just barely old enough to remember all the “Take this bus to Cuba” and other hijacking jokes of the 1970s. I do recall television comedies also picked up on the theme too. How ever funny it seemed at the time, it was a serious matter. Koerner lays out many facts that I have forgotten. Surprising to me was the number of veterans who hijacked planes for multiple reasons from demanding money to give to North Vietnamese orphanages to the purely delusional. Cuba was a popular destination to either give the hijacked plane as a gift to Castro, to study communism, or as one veteran insisted to kill Castro with his bare hands. The number of juveniles that hijacked planes is also surprising high. Although many methods of taking over the plane were clever, many hijackers had put very little thought into the their plan aside from taking it over. More than once, commuter planes were hijacked with orders to fly to Cuba or other international destinations. 

Another rather surprising bit of information is how opposed the airlines were to additional security. Airlines refused to increase security. They did not want to treat their passengers like criminals and more importantly they did the math and found it was cheaper to meet hijackers demands than buy into security. For a long time, hijackers never hurt passengers and the worst case was “being late for dinner.” Hijacking was an common inconvenience. Airlines learned the best thing to do was meet the demands and carry on. There are several instances where the airlines and pilots completely shut the FBI out for fear that confrontation would bring violence. I remember hearing how sky marshals brought safety to the skies. Koerner, however, shows the number of sky marshals compared to the number of flights made it very improbable that a sky marshal would actually be on a hijacked plane. To complicate the sky marshals job, airlines regularly bumped them off flights to open a seat for a paying customer. Eventually, everyone, including Castro, got fed up with hijackings.

The Skies Belong to Us documents several different hijackings and the results from mandatory sentencing to public opinion. One hijacking is covered throughout the book. Alternating chapters of history and the hijacking of Western Airlines flight 701 from Los Angeles to Algiers – the longest hijacking in American history. Koerner gives the complete biography of the two involved in hijacking flight 701: William Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow. Their story takes up the majority of the book. This inside look into their lives before, during, and after the hijacking ties the entire book together. It give personal insight into a successful hijacking. Their story is very compelling and very well worth reading. 

The general history of highjacking is a look back into an age that those under fifty will find hard to believe existed. The idea of post 9/11 TSA security would be a thing of dark science fiction fifty years ago. It was truly a different era. A younger reader today will not understand how these things were allowed to happen. Why didn’t the government force airlines and passengers to agree to higher security? Perhaps there are some who are older wondering how we allowed the government the power it has today. That maybe the back story in this book. How we as a society changed our view on rights and security: what was unacceptable then and fully expected now. This is more than just an excellent history book. It is part of our culture, then and now.

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Book Review: Pulse: Truly Modern Recipes for Beans, Chickpeas, and Lentils to Tempt Meat-Eaters and Vegetarians Alike

Pulse: Truly Modern Recipes for Beans, Chickpeas, and Lentils to Tempt Meat-Eaters and Vegetarians Alike by Jenny Chandler is a collection of bean recipes and tips for using beans. Chandler is a professional chef and teacher. She was educated at Leith’s School of Food and Wine and has traveled extensively in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and the Pacific and Indian Oceans. She has lived in Spain, Italy, and France. Her cooking school is The Plum Cooking Company in Clifton, England. 

Pulses, a term I was unfamiliar with, are legumes and are introduced as more than a vegetarian option to protein. They are a source of fiber and complex carbohydrates that will compliment anyone’s diet. Beans are naturally low in fat and rich in vitamins and minerals. Pulse also tackles the the problem, which results in many jokes about beans: gas. Preparation and gradually adding bean to your diet are key. Chandler goes over the advantage and disadvantages of everything the reader will need to know about beans: Soaking, canned, dried, sprouted, cooking methods, storage, complementing proteins. Once the reader has a complete overview, Chandler goes into the recipes.

Recipes show the influence of Chandler’s travels from simple Middle Eastern hummus, Southwestern (U.S.) Black Beans and Chipotle Dip, Chickpea bread, and soups of all varieties. Vegans and vegetarians will have very little problem making substitutions in nearly all the recipes although some recipes are meat-centric. There is an entire section on vegetarian main dishes. The book ends with section on making basics like bread crumbs, perfect poached eggs, using chilies and preparations that some may not be familiar with. There is also a comprehensive index of bean types, where they are from and 

Chandler writes a very good cookbook on on a simple but very practical food item that many people overlook. The variety of cultural influences and menus make the bean anything but boring. This will be a cookbook I will be using as part of my strict vegetarian diet. An excellent and healthy cookbook for everyone regardless of their diet.

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Book Review: Without a Claim

Without a Claim, by Grace Schulman is her seventh published collection of poetry. Schulman holds a PhD from New York University and is Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College CUNY. She has taught poetry at Princeton, Columbia, and other universities. Schulman has served as Poetry Editor at the Nation, and director of the Poetry Center. Her work has also appeared in numerous journals. 

Without a Claim is the most traditional collection of poetry I read this month. Not rantings or socio-economic messages, but poetry like you read in English Literature class, almost magical. It takes the reader to a place where he or she can say, “Yes, this is what poetry is!” My first thoughts in reading were “This reminds me of Leaves of Grass.” Not necessarily in topic, but in feeling. It’s when you pick up the book with the idea of reading for half an hour and seemingly minutes later, you realize that four hours have gone by. My feeling of a Whitman influence was well grounded. Early on in the collection is the poem “Variations on a Line by Whitman.” 

“Shadow” is a poem of about Paris singer and her relationship with a black American (soldier) trumpet player. Although not mentioned in the poem, after WWI black soldiers who married French women were given the choice of staying in France or going home…alone. This could very much be that story. There is history in the collection, but it is the background to the poetry rather than the subject. 

“Love in the Afternoon” is a poem that on the surface is about butterflies, but seems to be more about poetry and its grace and subtle movements. Here the beauty of nature manifests itself as poetry. “Green River” takes us to a country cemetery and we meet to those interred. They speak to us through their stones and leave us wanting to ask the dead a question. We know what the answer will be, but we ask anyway. Perhaps the cemetery shows us that in life, as much as in death, that we all want the same thing and no matter who we are, we all connected by something as simple as a gravel path. 

Without a Claim is poetry that is enchanting and you will read it and reread it again. There seems to be something to be gained at each reread. The imagery crystal clear and enticing. This is a work that you will want to keep and read over and over again. Simply an amazing experience.

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Book Review: Previously Feared Darkness

Previously Feared Darkness by Robert Priest

Previously Feared Darkness by Robert Priest is his latest collection of poetry. Priest, also known as Dr. Poetry on CBC’s Wordbeat has a popular following and professionally recognized. His has work is has received air play and he has published a number of children’s CDs of songs and poems. Priest has also written ten books of poetry for adults. The Toronto Star accurately calls Priest’s work “Passionate, cocky alternately adoring and insulting verse.” 

Priest is an interesting poet to say the least. He is hard to pin down. “All the Information in the Sun” starts with the promise of science. The title reminded me of one the latest quantum theories that information cannot be lost in the universe…much like matter and energy. I thought this will be interesting. But no sooner than I turned on my scientific mind, I come to Waistland, a play on T.S. Eliot and a irreverent poem on obesity. From there to Aztechs, a poem on modern wars and warfare tying it back to Quetzalcoatl’s blood lust. Priest rotates his poems through a mix of themes keeping the reader interested and slightly off guard not knowing what to expect next. The science is refreshing, good, and even humorous:


Einstein and Heidelberg both said
“There’s no simultaneity 
over vast distances”
at exactly the same time. 

Perhaps as a tribute to Martin Amis we are taken on a journey through John Lennon’s life… in reverse. “Rights Left” reads a military cadence call and with clever plays on words brings us to a modern day concern for our individual rights. Equally alarming is Priest’s interpretation of Book of Job(s) carried into the modern times. And yes, many will take offense and the more cynical of us will nod with understanding. Perhaps, if the “Book of Jobs” did not offend enough, maybe learning the true meaning of Churchill’s “V” for victory sign will do it. If your modesty still hasn’t driven you away, you should safely be able to navigate your way through the memes unscathed, maybe. 

Priest manages to combine science and social issues with what some will call the profane. I see it as combination of brilliant and a punk rock attitude. Sometimes his message is clear and other times its hidden in the brashness of words. It’s easy to why he is so popular. He doesn’t shock for the sake of shocking, like the Sex Pistols, but does it to deliver a message like Lou Reed’s “Last Great American Whale”. Sometimes people need to be pushed into thinking. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and I am going to actively look for his other collections. Previously Feared Darkness may not be for everyone, but I find it to be absolutely brilliant.

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Book Review: Singing at the Gates: Selected Poems

We need a shoe to be a shoe,
for the poet to describe the foot
inside, the miles walked, the weariness
that seeps into toes, heels, and calf,
the tired dreams those feet lug every day
“The Truth Be Known”

Singing at the Gates by Jimmy Santiago Baca


Singing at the Gates: Selected Poems by Jimmy Santiago Baca is a volume of poetry covering four decades of Baca’s life as a poet. Baca is of Apache and Chicano descent, abandoned by his parents, and at an early age he took to the streets. He was sentenced to prison for six and a half years on a conviction for drug possession. It was in prison where he learned how to read and write and compose poetry. Once freed from prison he chose to live a solitary life and write.

“I was a hermit – as much as one can be living in the fringe of the city.”

Reading Singing at the Gates is experiencing Baca development as a poet. His earliest works convey the feeling of imprisonment and frustration. The feeling and emotion are there almost as if the poems were written in bold type face. Opening poem is long, twenty-five pages, and seems to have been written in a single sitting, stream of consciousness, moving with a purpose from thought to thought. The poem reads more like a letter more than a traditional poem, and he expresses his thoughts in a what appears to be a primitive form, raw, but expressing complex ideas.

By mid-book the poems take a more familiar and recognizable form. The poems still carry a message. The message is not a pastoral scene or romantic love, but a continuation of a struggle. There is racial and economic standings setting the tone in some poems and war and the environment in others. Heritage plays a role in the long poem “Rita Falling From the Sky.” Rita is a homeless woman from Mexico who spends years in a mental institution in America’s midwest because she is assumed to be crazy and incoherent. It is only after a new doctor, from Chihuahua, recognized that she was not babbling but speaking her native tongue of the Raramui Indians that she is released. Her real life struggle mirrors Bacca’s.

The poetry here is different from most that I have read. The form is interesting as well as the changes in the voice and form as the author’s writing matures. Baca writes a fifteen page introduction to this work, which goes a very long way of explaining to the reader his life and how his writing developed. An unprepared reader may not make it through the first third of the book. This is not because it is poorly written, quite the opposite, but the background information is a sort of Rosetta Stone for his early work. Bacca’s work although unconventional is still powerful and moving. Singing at the Gates is well worth the read.

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Poetry Event in CT

Date: October 13, 2013    03:00PM — October 13, 2013    03:00PM
RSVP by: October 12, 2013    12:00AM 
Venue: The Artists’ Path, 538 Bantam Rd. (Rt 202), Bantam, CT, US
Type: author appearance
Added by: Donna Merritt


Don Lowe on guitar with featured poet Donna Marie Merritt, followed by an Open Mic and selling/signing of CDs and poetry, including HER HOUSE AND OTHER POEMS. View the trailer here:…

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Poetry Event

Date: October 04, 2013    06:30PM — October 04, 2013    08:30PM
RSVP by: October 03, 2013    12:00AM 
Venue: The Flea Circus, 101 Main Street, Collinsville, CT, US
Type: author appearance
Added by: Donna Merritt


The Podunk Throwbacks and Free Poets Collective together once again! Join us Friday, October 4, for a night of art, music, and poetry at one of the most eclectic shops ever, The Flea Circus, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Poets Donna Marie Merritt, Andrea Barton, Hawk T Poet, and Colin Haskins will read. Podunk Throwbacks will give us their fabulous music. Guest artist TBA. See you there!

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Book Review: If Only You People Could Follow Directions: A Memoir

If Only You People Could Follow Directions by Jessica Hendry Nelson

If Only You People Could Follow Directions: A Memoir by Jessica Hendry Nelson is a collection of linked autobiographical essays put together to form an amazing story. Nelson earned her BA in English from the University of New Hampshire and her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has been publish in several journals. Nelson teaches writing at Johnson State College and is a co-founder of the Renegade Writers’ Collective. 

I chose this book expecting short stories. What I received was different, and I could not be happier. The writing, as well as the story, are well, simply amazing. I had to keep reminding myself I was reading a memoir. Overall it read like fiction. The reader is pulled into the story and the story does not let go. I thought I would read this book over a course of a week, instead it took two days. I spend most of my Sunday turning e-pages and missing lunch; I couldn’t put the book down. 

Other times reading felt like I was reading poetry. Nelson has the ability to weave words together in such a way that it feels like you are drawn into a poem. There is a pattern and rhythm to the book that is equally as entrancing as the story itself. I marked passages to add into this review, but as it turns out I have far too many marked passages to include. 

The story is about Nelson, her mother, and brother. Other family members and friends are brought into the story at different times. There is success and failure in the book, and the Nelson and her family rise and fall, mostly as individuals. There are drugs and alcoholism in the book, and it seems different than the usual deep, dark Selby-esque story of abuse. There seems to be almost a middle class quaintness to it all. From mom’s stash, a friends Ritalin, to a family member’s stealing to support his habit, there seems to be a air of normalcy about it. Not a good or really bad, but real. This feeling carries over to the people in the book they are all very real and believable. 

If it isn’t obvious by now I was thoroughly impressed If Only You People Could Follow Directions. I particularly like the chapter “In New York.” Each paragraph begins with “In New York” and follows with a phrase or few sentence story. You can feel the emotion and sense of being overwhelmed, frustrated, and sometimes even joy; the feelings leap out of the page at you. It is not too often that contemporary story telling really pulls me in, but this book is a rare pleasure.

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Book Review: Rails Across Ontario: Exploring Ontario’s Railway Heritage

Rails Across Ontario by Ron Brown

Rails Across Ontario: Exploring Ontario’s Railway Heritage by Ron Brown is a history of railroads and the infrastructure that came with the railways. Brown is a geographer and a freelance travel writer. His other books are about, among other things, Ontario history and railways.

Trains are magical machines. They linked the nineteenth century world and further linked the world into the mid-twentieth century when they were killed off by highways and air travel. I was a child at that tail end period and loved trains. Late nights in East Cleveland, Ohio I would stand at the rise overlooking the tracks and wait to watch the trains roll by. I traveled by train in the 1980s in central Europe. A few years ago at the state fair, I spend almost my whole time mesmerized at the train museum. Today, when I have to travel farther than my bicycle will carry me, I go by train.

Rails Across Ontario begins with a short history of the railway build up in Ontario and presents some of the challenges both geographical and financial. Railway towns are discussed in some detail along with bridges. Bridges presented a challenge especially when crossing commercial waterway. Brown discusses the engineering that allowed both trains and ships to pass. Many bridges have been abandoned but the Wasauksing swing bridge is still operational and a tourist site.

Like the bridges, railway stations and hotels are described and likewise general locations of each are given. There is a call to preserve the heritage and save the buildings. Some have been converted to other uses. Ottawa’s grand Union Station has been converted to a convention center. Many are protected landmarks, but sadly left to decay on their own. Many of the ancillary structures are preserved, from round houses still in use to coal chutes.

Brown gives general locations of all the structures and if you are a train enthusiast or historian you can easily find all the places. It should be an easy task for those in Ontario, but detailed mapping might be needed for visitors. Individually covering each station and bridge will allow the reader to plan a day trip visiting different locations. The book is written as a guide more than as a history. There are very few photos and no maps in the book to help outsiders locate the landmarks and very little on the engines that ran on the rails. All in all it is a good book for railway enthusiasts and probably as very good book for enthusiasts and historians in Ontario. Three stars on the understanding that the audience for this book is Ontario residents.

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Book Review: The War That Ended The Peace:The Road to 1914

The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan

The War That Ended The Peace:The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan is the history that lead to the first world war and started the twentieth century. MacMillan originally from Toronto, Canada is a historian and professor at Oxford University, where she also earned her PhD. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, an Honorary Fellow at St. Anthony’s College, and Senior Fellow At Massey College. She is the author of several book including: Nixon and Mao: The Week that Changed the WorldThe Uses and Abuses of History, and Women of the Raj.

World War I is the beginning of the twentieth century. It is the starting point of everything the twentieth century became; all the major events can be traced back to it: WWII, Communism, mechanized warfare, air power, arms races, and a bipolar world. People always ask what started the war? A Serbian radical? Alliances? MacMillan poses a different question: What ended the Peace? Europe was enjoying a time of prosperity, growth, and most importantly peace. Why would war break out?

Two issues of the many brought out in the book struck me as something I never put much thought in to before. First, the issue of defensive alliances. Entangling alliances is often cited as a reason for the war. France had a secret alliance with Russia to respond if either was attacked. Germany and Austria-Hungary had the same type of treaty. England enjoyed Splendid Isolation, playing the role of a balancing power in the alliance game. Alliances did drag all the players into war. Like dominoes knocking dominoes over, they all fell. It was not so much alliances that caused the problem as MacMillan points out. NATO helped keep the peace for for almost half a century. It was the players more so than the alliances. NATO was not worried that Italy would unilaterally act and attack Czechoslovakia and likewise there was no fear in the Warsaw Pact that East Germany would unilaterally attack West Germany. The players were responsible. The West under pressure to keep peace by democratically elected governments and the East from, perhaps, the recognition that war would only hurt. The players were not as responsible in 1914; responsible defensive alliances work.

Secondly, one of the key points of the modern Liberal Theory of international relations is that increased trade creates strong alliances: trading partners do not go to war against each other. Increased trade does seem to create prosperity. Before the start of the war prosperity was growing inside the great powers. Trade between Germany and England more than doubled in the pre-war years. Trade, however, did little to prevent war in Europe.

The War That Ended the Peace is an extremely detailed study of the years leading to the Great War. MacMillan does an excellent job detailing the events and the people. Her work is very well documented. The book will take the reader down the road that started with the promise of the 1900 Paris Exposition and the ends with war and how that seemed impossible. A must read for any WWI historian. MacMillan really examines the important question, not what started the war, but rather what ended the peace.

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