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Incredible Story of 14-Year-Old
By George Randall
Imagine living a dozen action-packed, adventure-filled lifetimes in a period of five years. That’s just what Joseph Quitman Johnson did and lived to tell about in his book, Baby of Bataan: Memoir of a 14-Year-Old Soldier in World War II, an incredible coming-of-age war memoir that is not only filled with extraordinary tales of bravery and survival, but also personalized in a way that makes it custom made for the silver screen.
The book is written as a first person narrative, and it recounts the true-life story of a young boy who grows up dirt poor in Memphis, Tennessee, and enlists in the army at the tender age of fourteen, pretending that he is 18. Sensing that the new recruit is actually younger than he claims, two older soldiers named Ray and Dale take Joe Johnson under their wings and introduce him to the ways of becoming a soldier during the pre-war days in the Philippines– from drinking his first beer to having his first sexual encounter.
During this time, Johnson falls in love with a young Filipino prostitute named Felicia, who becomes pregnant and is doomed to a life of hardship and misery. Filled with compassion for the young girl, Johnson steals her away from the brothel and brings her to a convent, where he pays for her first month’s room and board and promises the nuns in charge he will continue to send money to them out of his monthly army salary.
Soon after he leaves Felicia, Johnson sees action in Corregidor and Bataan and recounts the horrors of war. Perhaps the most poignant episode in this phase of his life is the one in which he describes the death of one of his best friends:
But this is only the beginning of his nightmare. As the war continues, he and his other best friend, Dale, are captured and tortured in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Dale attempts to escape, but he is captured and beheaded along with several other men. At this point Johnson realizes he is all alone and feels completely isolated and without hope. In addition to the daily tortures and humiliations, he describes how he is forced to work long hours with little to eat, and how he becomes sickly and loses weight:
If this weren’t enough, Johnson endures even more hardships, including being beaten to within an inch of his life by a sadistic Japanese guard. Throughout it all, however, he never gives up and lives to see the end of the war. And even more remarkably, his story ends with a dramatic twist that rewards his courage and humanity in a way that even the best Hollywood screenwriter would applaud.
The Bible and Dr. Seuss Team
By Robert Moss
Although the colorful, cartoon-like cover of The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss by James W. Kemp leads the reader to believe it is for children, it is really a terrific book for parents to read to their children to help them understand the inspirational and spiritual messages contained in the Bible.
The technique the author uses is brilliant; he begins each chapter with a passage from the Bible. Then he relates a story from Dr. Seuss that parallels the biblical passage and teaches a similar lesson. This is an effective teaching tool because it uses Dr. Seuss as a hook to get children to not only learn the teachings of the Bible but also understand the meaning and symbolism behind the teachings.
For example, in the chapter titled “Yertle the Turtle,” Kemp, who is a retired United Methodist pastor, begins by relating the famous Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus offers his wisdom on leading a good life, including the oft-quoted line: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” and the follow-up passage, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” After highlighting these passages from the Bible, Kemp follows up with the Dr. Seuss story of Yertle the Turtle.
According to Kemp, Yertle has a problem. “He couldn’t see very far. His throne, a mere stone in the pond, was too low. And so King Yertle decided one day to expand his kingdom.” Kemp then quotes from the Dr. Seuss story about how Yertle ordered nine of his turtle subjects to stack themselves on top of each other so that he is high enough to see for quite a distance. “But instead of getting more content as he got higher,” Kemp says, “Yertle became less and less satisfied.”
Eventually, one of the turtles on the bottom grows weary of holding up Yertle and burps, causing the king to fall into the mud. “The story of King Yertle,” Kemp explains, “should remind us all of the foolish man, about whom Jesus told, who built his house on the sand instead of on the rock.” He goes on to discuss some of the other important points in the Sermon on the Mount in language that is sophisticated enough for adults to appreciate, yet simple enough for children to understand.
This is a winning combination, and I highly recommend The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss to parents who want to have a serious discussion of ethics and spirituality with their children, and at the same time, have fun doing it.
Story of Jesus Christ Told
By George Randall
Recounting the life of Jesus Christ as a first person narrative is at once audacious, innovative, and risky, and it is likely to alienate some true believers; nevertheless, it is a literary device that works quite well for Christopher Miller in his book My Life: A Story by Jesus Christ. Starting from birth, Miller tells the personal story of Jesus Christ, artfully explaining Christ’s feelings and emotions as they relate to the trials and revelations that he encounters on his road to spiritual illumination and transcendence.
The author, who states that he has spent over twelve years researching the Holy Scriptures and the Bible, maintains his motivation for writing the book is that he believes that our society is in trouble, that individuals today are living in a “brainless world,” and “the entire Christian faith, as it exists in groups, seems virtually without a living heart.”
Although Miller admits that he “is not nor do I feel anything like Jesus,” he maintains that by using the tools of contemplation and meditation, he was able to place his Universal Spirit within the scriptural record and write about what Jesus thought and felt. He goes on to say, “Perhaps this story is not exact, but it is correct from a position that Spirit is universal and divine and that my spirit sees things pretty much the same as the Spirit of Jesus saw things.”
Obviously, the reader has to take this statement on faith, but Miller’s first person version of Christ is both compelling and believable from within a biblical and historical framework. The narrative itself begins with Christ’s birth and ends with his resurrection. Along the way, Jesus personalizes his spiritual journey and comments about all the characters and events in his life, including his feelings about marriage: “I knew I could never marry. It would simply be unfair, to any woman, because of the pain I now knew my life would bring to her.”
Throughout most of the book, Miller succeeds in convincing the reader that Christ is telling his own story; however, there are parts that do not ring true, where the narrator of the story sounds more like an twentieth century scientist than an ancient prophet. For example, when Jesus is discussing the beginning of the universe, he states: “Consonant with the true condition of the world, neither the mystical nor the empirical have succeeded in one of their foremost purposes, proving that the universe is this unified singularity.”
Aside from these lapses, however, the story of Jesus, as told by the first person narrator, is a story worth reading, discussing, and emulating.
Teenage Girl Creates Turmoil
By Mark Westfield
As is often reported, the divorce rate in America today is well over fifty percent. Perhaps as a consequence, many of us are living in a world where teenagers act like adults, and adults act like teenagers. At least this is the topsy-turvy world portrayed by Wells Earl Draughon in his fast-paced, angst-driven novel, Traci.
The story is about Steven Bates, an average guy from Boston who is divorced from his wife and hasn’t seen his 14-year-old daughter Shirley in eight years. Then one day a teenage girl shows up at his doorstep and claims to be Shirley. Straining credulity, Bates believes that the young girl is actually his daughter and takes her into his home. Soon after he discovers the teenage girl is not his daughter, but a wise-beyond-her-years, manipulative coquette named Traci who has fled her rich and powerful family in California in order to live a more normal life with Bates.
Traci knows all about Bates because she is a classmate of Shirley, who longs to be with her estranged father and has told Traci what a terrific guy he is. Shortly thereafter, we are introduced to Shirley’s mother, Delores, a neurotic woman with a dark secret; Bates’s current paramour, Janet; and Traci’s actual parents whom she dislikes intensely, especially her step-father, Jenkins. Before long, worlds collide and Bates gets caught in a web of emotional trauma, dangerous passion, and sexual blackmail.
Throughout the story, Draughon maintains a delicate balance between farce and drama and is quite adept at developing character through description: “Steve’s mod-framed photos of sleek sports cars looked pathetic, cars he just might save up enough money to buy someday, but that Jenkins probably already had stashed away in his five-car garage. The expensive walnut veneer couch upholstered in real leather- which was probably only polished sheepskin- looked like cheap stuff putting on airs. The sloppy appearance of the room, the absence of expensive crystal ornaments or oil paintings made him feel that all these precious things that he’d collected and moved from place to place and taken care of- that were somehow uniquely him- were second rate.”
This description of the main character’s lifestyle underscores the dilemma of today’s average guy who measures his self worth through the prism of material wealth and status, thereby feeling perpetually inadequate. However, after Traci come into Bates’s life, the second-rate everyman is forced to evaluate what is really important. And so is the reader.
Spiritual Guide For Black
By Wendy Reid
It is no secret that parents today, especially parents of black teenage girls, have a difficult time fighting against the corporate marketing machine in America that targets their daughters and encourages them to lead lives based on negative cultural stereotypes, rampant materialism, and sexual promiscuity. Unfortunately, for parents to demand that their daughters take the time to read the Bible every day is unrealistic. However, their daughters will take the time to read a compelling new book called The Real Deal: A Spiritual Guide for Black Teen Girls by Billie Montgomery Cook.
Cook, who coordinates the drama ministry at the Third Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia, has hit on a winning formula in her book as she speaks directly and personally to black teenage girls in a language they can understand. Each chapter begins with one or two quotes from the Bible and the salutation, My Dear One. This sets the tone for a personalized explanation of the teachings of the Bible and how they apply to young black females and their everyday social and emotional problems.
At the end of each chapter, there is also an individualized prayer for the teen, a few questions for her to contemplate and answer, and a blank section called “A Prayer from You,” where the teen is encouraged to be creative and soul searching and write a prayer from the heart. This is an excellent technique to get black teenage girls to tap into their subconscious and bring to light issues and feelings that are important to them. It is also advisable for parents to read this book along with their daughters and use it as a teaching tool to discuss spiritual solutions to practical problems.
For example, in a chapter titled “Fear: Whom are You Worshipping?” the author discusses how a young girl can run the risk of losing her spiritual center when she treats her boyfriend as if he is an idol: “He gets all of your attention, time, and focus. You may not see it this way, but you do make sacrifices to him, not only of your body, but of your sense of self-esteem, your capacity to love and be loved by him. You make yourself a servant, slave, ‘punching bag,’ and idol worshipper.”
This is strong language, “the real deal,” as the title of the book suggests, and it is a hard-nosed, yet compassionate and illuminating must read for black teen girls (and their parents).
Freedom, Liberty, and Justice
By J.E. Laine
An exploration of the principles of liberty and justice, and the conditions, motivations and options that affect them, is the core of What Freedom Is, a non-fiction book of philosophy by Wells Earl Draughon.
From his proposition that the universal definition of freedom is in flux and, therefore, a shaky foundation to build upon – to his suggestion that a maximization of freedom within a society can be achieved through modeling each aspect of communal interaction – Draughon states his case in a well-organized approach; including a section at the end, specifically written for philosophers, that ponders others’ posits. Using everything from Mary-and-John scenarios to Plane Geometry formulas, his postulations alternately support and refute long-accepted concepts of freedom.
Delving into the politics of governmental, educational, organizational and even interpersonal relationships that affect one’s ability to be free — or enjoy an agreeable level of liberty — Draughon argues his case that: “Conflicts between the freedoms of different people is the only grounds needed for limiting the freedom of any one person.” Later suggesting that: “The ultimate goal of a society should be the prevention and elimination of conflicts, not their resolution….; in conflict resolution someone always loses. In an ideal society, there are no losers.” He proposes that scarcity- and conflict-based limitations on liberty are not inevitable, offering ideas for testing and implementation frameworks.
Touching on morality, economics, welfare, population control, parenting and paternalism, the author polishes the facets shaping freedom and our societal definition of it, even evaluating the First-Come-First-Served, Majority Rules and Time-Sharing methods of equalizing one’s ability to be free. Quoting such diverse sources as 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill and 20th-century novelist George Orwell, Draughon sorts through contradictory philosophies in his quest to “achieve agreement about this theory of freedom as the ultimate goal of society.”
For the most part, Draughon does a good job keeping the heavy topic as light as possible, but the weight of the ideologies and possibilities make it a serious foray into the fundamentals of freedom and how to protect them. Whether the reader agrees or not, it’s an intriguing journey.
|An Open Letter to John Kerry
About Being Labeled a Liberal
By J. F. Miglio
During the Democratic primary I heard a reporter ask you the classic lose-lose question for any Democrat up for election: Are you a liberal? Naturally, it’s a loaded question. If you respond by saying, No I’m not, then you offend the left wing of your party. If you say, Yes, I am, you open yourself up to all the negative stereotypes that the Republican attack machine has at its disposal. So what you did instead was equivocate, saying, I really don’t think that labels matter very much. Then you proceeded to explain how you are liberal on some issues but conservative on others-as if seeking neutral ground would help you score points with the general public.
Unfortunately, this strategy won’t work; Michael Dukakis found that out the hard way when George Bush Sr. trounced him in their presidential match up in 1988. And yet, given the opportunity to answer this question once and for all (and knock it out of the park, as the clich�-challenged political pundits are so fond of saying), you, who should know better, who served as lieutenant governor when Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts, made the same mistake as your former boss by giving the same type of irresolute answer. And remember Machiavelli’s warning about this: “Irresolute princes, for the sake of avoiding immediate danger, adopt most frequently the course of neutrality, and are generally ruined in consequence.”
No wonder liberals like you (and Dukakis and Al Gore) get derided and punched around by big mouth conservatives on AM radio and Fox News. And no wonder you are accused of flip-flopping and lose elections. Didn’t you learn anything from Howard Dean, the candidate who “gave the Democratic party back its spine”? Now I know that since you are the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, your strategy is to cool the left-wing rhetoric and “move to the center” of the political spectrum so you can capture more moderate and independent voters. But please, the next time you are asked in a public forum whether you are a liberal, you’d better have a good answer ready.
I’m no $200 thousand a year political consultant (although I’m available for the job at a moment’s notice), but it seems to me that the next time one of those mainstream news weasels or partisan political commentators asks you about being a liberal, you should look him (or her)– let’s be fair to the gals!–in the eye and say something like this: First of all, thanks to about 25 years worth of repeated misrepresentation and distortion of the word liberal by media whores like you, Americans are a little confused about the actual meaning of the term. But look it up in the dictionary, Jack (or Jane), and you’ll find that liberal means progressive, generous, and open to change and reform. And if you bother to read history (and not the propagandized crap you get from conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation), you would know that some of our greatest statesman and patriots have been dictionary-definition liberals, including Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Moreover, up until Ronald Reagan became president, many Americans were quite proud to be liberal, and anyone who favored a pre-New Deal, conservative philosophy of limited government, states rights, and tax cuts for the rich was considered a bit loony- like Barry Goldwater or William F. Buckley Jr. But once Reagan got in, all that changed. You and your corporate masters were finally able to put a happy face on conservatism. But that wasn’t good enough for you. No, you felt compelled to repeatedly associate liberalism with socialism, anti-Americanism, and lawlessness, and whenever the word liberal was used on television or radio, you made sure it was accompanied by words like “big spending” or “unpatriotic” or “radical.” And by the time poor old Michael Dukakis ran for president, you had poisoned the well so thoroughly that not only did many Americans have a negative image of the term, but even liberals themselves were reluctant to use it.
But now, thanks to George Bush and his disastrous foreign and domestic policies, liberals are beginning to stand up for themselves again. So in answer to your question– Yes, I am a liberal. But not in the misleading, negative way you and your gang of right-wing propagandists define the word, but in the way the dictionary defines it, since I am in favor of progress and reform and I consider myself a generous and compassionate individual who cares about democracy for all Americans and not just the privileged few. That also makes me a populist, another word that scares the hell out of you and the Big Business interests who pay your salary.
Anyway, that’s the answer I think you should give the next time you are asked about being a liberal. And one other thing– you have to mean it!
Duck Hunting, the High Court,
By Tracy McLellan
In March, Antonin Scalia announced he would not recuse himself from the Supreme Court case in which it is to be determined whether or not Dick Cheney must make public the notes of his secret energy task force that formulated Bush energy policy in the spring and summer of 2001. By this time, it is public knowledge that Cheney’s task force met on scores of occasions with executives from the fossil fuels and nuclear industries (including Ken Lay), but with not a single advocate for consumers, the environment, or renewable energies.
Only weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to take the case, which had been making its way through the appellate courts, Cheney and Scalia chummed around on a private duck-hunting trip in Louisiana. Cheney’s rationale for keeping his notes secret, he says, is that he doesn’t want to jeopardize future officers of the executive branch in their ability to hold similar clandestine proceedings, which would interfere with their ability to formulate policy. Cheney has been silent about bribery or collusion, and he has not even a semblance of an argument as to why, in a democracy, secret energy policy deliberations are necessary. Who can blame him? Given the nature of our mainstream media, reasons and arguments are unnecessary. Moreover, Cheney, like Scalia (a virtual arm of the Bush administration), seems to be of the Adolph Hitler school of lying: if you tell a lie, make it a big one; the bigger the lie the more likely it is to be believed.
Don’t you love surprises? When Bush’s energy policy was announced, it was an extended commitment to fossil fuels, including tens of billions of dollars in subsidies and tax credits to the already stinking petroleum industry. In addition, it resurrected moribund nuclear power and allocated only a token handful of dollars for solar and renewable energy sources. There was nary a word about conservation – which would, after all, interrupt the massive profits of Bush and Cheney’s friends – nor a peep about the environment.
But getting back to Scalia. His written decision in this case is so poorly drafted it sounds like the ramblings of a skid row drunk, and to call him a liar is to pay the scoundrel a compliment. How he and his kind have risen to positions of power and respect in what is supposed to be the greatest country in the world and the standard bearer for democracy is an issue only history can judge; and she ain’t speaking just yet. In reality, Scalia is a piece of a puzzle of an administration completely out of control, one comprised of free market thugs and neo-conservative extremists that make the robber barons of the late19th Century and the Tea Pot Dome era seem like philanthropists.
I cannot even decipher Scalia’s logic in order to unravel it. Here is part of what he said in his written decision:
“Recusal would in my judgment harm the court. If I were to withdraw from this case, it would be because some of the press has [sic] argued that the vice president would suffer political damage if he should lose this appeal� But since political damage often comes from the government’s losing official-action suits, and since political damage can readily be characterized as a stain on reputation and integrity, recusing in the face of such charges would give elements of the press a veto over participation of any justices who had social contacts with or were even known to be friends of, a named official.”
According to Scalia, his recusal may, of all things, damage the vice-president. Another surprise. Some people might call that justice. How about this, Scalia? The reason not enough people know you ought to recuse yourself has nothing to do with whether the vice-president suffers or not, although in this case he obviously ought to, but whether you are capable of rendering an unbiased opinion based upon the law and the facts. And really the law is not at issue here. A democracy is, by definition, of the people, by the people, and for the people; and not of the secret energy task force, by the secret energy task force, and for the secret energy task force. The people have a right, not to speak of an obligation, to know what went on in those secret t�te-�-t�tes.
Worse, Scalia goes on to reproach the mainstream press poodle as if it is a badger in reporting on corruption of unprecedented proportions, rather than extolling it as state-cheerleader and Ministry of Propaganda, which would have been more accurate, let alone honest. Scalia says critical reporting threatens the appearance of judicial integrity on the high court– Hitler again– insisting his duck-hunting trip doesn’t. When Scalia goes on to aver that there is no basis for recusing himself from the case as he would have liked to have done to demonstrate his integrity, even Goebbels would have been proud.
Scalia went duck hunting and palled around with Dick Cheney. Now he is back at his job on the high court, as is Dick Cheney back at his – or at a secret, undisclosed location. Soon Cheney’s case will come before Scalia and the Supreme Court. I haven’t the faintest idea why anyone would think there would be any bias in his decision.
March 19, 2017