What started as one of those lazy Sunday mornings that every busy man or woman longs for — clear blue skies and no schedule to adhere to — in one of America's safest communities, the town of Amarillo, Texas, on March 6, 2005, the tranquility of personal freedom was shockingly transformed into two hours of terror for a prominent doctor and the dean of the medical school, Steven Berk.
After seeing his wife off to church that morning, while his teenage son was practicing guitar and waiting for his ride from a friend, Dr. Berk was settling into a day of rest and a planned phone call with his elder son who had asked Berk to review one of his papers before turning it into his professor at Brandeis University, when a parolee from the Texas prison system, Jack Lindsey Jordan, entered Berk's home through an open garage door and held a shotgun to Berk's back from inside the home's utility room while he bade his son goodbye, having no idea if it might be his last. Thus began the two-hour ordeal where Berk's medical training empowered him to gain the abductor's trust and avoid a violent death.
Jordan, a confessed methamphetamine user with a violent past, held Dr. Berk at gunpoint while driving the empty streets of Amarillo, typical of Sunday mornings in this community of many churches, large and small. Searching for an ATM machine so cash could be withdrawn for Jordan to move on down the road to his next victim, Jordan confided in Berk about such things as his drug use and the loneliness he lived with after the accidental death of his wife, caused by Jordan's own driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Throughout the ride on the streets and an eventual brief return to Berk's home to retrieve jewelry from his wife's collection, Berk reflected on the lessons he had learned as a doctor, noting particularly Dr. William Osler's famous farewell address, "Aequanimitas," to gain the strength to overcome his captor through equanimity and cool-headedness.
A book perfectly suited for a "required reading" list for medical students and young doctors, Anatomy of a Kidnapping offers much more than a lesson about winning over a confused and violent kidnapper. Through countless personal stories of his own experiences in medical residency and physician practice, Berk does what he loves most — he teaches people how to live in balance with the terror that befalls those who are not prepared for the vicissitudes of life.
Readers of management literature and connoisseurs of leadership studies will find stories and inspiration similar to that of Stephen Covey. It is "boots on the ground" leadership style, packed full of example after example of making the most of one's mistakes, discovering one's core principles, and the value of recognizing the pain in others well enough to neutralize even the most criminal intent.
Berk includes court transcript, dialogue with the perpetrator of the crime, and carefully woven stories of his past to tell this most unusual story. Published in September 2011, Anatomy of a Kidnapping deserves a place on the bookshelves of those students of medicine and life who want to be reminded of the value of humility and even-mindedness when challenged by the evil forces of violence and domination.
Published first as Book Review: Anatomy of a Kidnapping by Steven L. Berk on Blogcritics.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Layer upon layer of heroic stories, opinions, and interpretations of 9/11 have taken on the character and power of myth in the ten years since tragedy struck the United States in the form of hijacked airliners exploding into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Not forgotten is the attempt of other hijackers to attack government buildings in Washington D.C., only to be thwarted by courageous passengers before the mission could be accomplished.
Dr. Benjamin J. Luft is the Director of the Long Island Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program at State University of New York. In his work there, Luft has provided care for over 6,000 responders and workers who were exposed first-hand not only to the tragedy of 9/11, but also to the health hazards of "the pile" on which they worked for over a year to clear the site.
His book, We're Not Leaving: 9/11 Responders Tell Their Stories of Courage, Sacrifice, and Renewal, is a collection of first-hand accounts drawn from the voices of the people whose lives have been marked permanently by doing society's hardest work of removing the sad, visible reminders of a nation's vulnerability.
This layer of stories and reflections are those at the core, those in the pre-interpretive time period in which the concerns were the facts, the people, the deceased, and the horror of never knowing if one can take another breath before succumbing to the death that surrounds them all.
Lost in the ten years since, amidst the growing American story of its heroes and its struggle to memorialize the events in the most meaningful way, are the accounts of those who were most exposed to the hazardous aftermath of the rubble, the random body parts, and the suffocating air and odors of "the pile." Luft has compiled 32 first-hand stories of workers, medical personnel, clergy, and common citizens who for months dedicated themselves to be the hands and arms of a nation to cleanse America's landscape and to enable its citizens to begin its processes of grief and tribute.
Divided into five sections, covering the minutes after the attack through the continuing years of healing, Luft has chosen stories that come from virtually all sectors of the recovery team. Some stories are centered on the worker himself and his own struggles with coping with the tragedy while others exhibit the selfless, sometimes self-denying, reflections of heroes.
We're Not Leaving is a book which should be consumed in small bites, a story at a time, to avoid losing the substantial impact which each story provides on its own. It serves best those who want to know what really happened at Ground Zero regardless of what happened in the skies above or in the politics abroad. In an effort to assimilate the 9/11 story into one's own life, this collection of stories provides stark points of identity for any reader.
Article first published as Book Review: We're Not Leaving: 9/11 Responders Tell Their Stories of Courage, Sacrifice, and Renewal by Benjamin J. Luft, M.D. on Blogcritics.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.I Samuel 17:49-50
Taking on the United States government, who has shown itself capable of printing as much money as it needs when it is deemed necessary by circumstances to do so, is to face an infinite army of Goliaths. When the challenger is one person, an African-American woman, and her attorney who is working on a contingency basis, armed only with the twin modesties of truth and persistence, to hold any hope of success seems foolish, if not mad. Yet, it is the force of facts upon which justice rests. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, for ten years, was its champion, a relentless pursuer of the protective guarantees provided by law.
No Fear is Ms. Coleman-Adebayo’s account of her long struggle to correct the systemic racism within the Environmental Protection Agency, from which she had been fired, during the early years of the Clinton-Gore administration through the early years of the Bush White House. Dubbed as the first civil rights and whistleblower legislation of the twenty-first century, the No FEAR Act assures federal government employees that the law is on their side when they report corruption, criminal activity, and unlawful discrimination within the government.
After being reared by her mother Marsha Coleman attended Barnard College, and later earned her doctorate from MIT where noted activist, Noam Chomsky, served on her dissertation committee. She became passionate about African studies while at MIT and quickly became active in human rights issues in South Africa in the early years after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. While at MIT, she met her future husband, Segun Adebayo, whom she frequently credits in her book as being a source of endless strength and spiritual support.
By all appearances Coleman-Adebayo was on the fast track. She earned a position with the EPA under the administration of Carol Browner and was appointed as the lead person in the Gore-Mbeki initiative, presumably to aid the new government in its exodus out of the throes of apartheid. Coleman-Adebayo took her mission seriously, too seriously for the EPA.
Thrust upon her in South Africa was a deadly environmental illness occurring in workers who were exposed daily to the mineral vanadium, a lightweight mineral considered strategic because of its ability to strengthen steel. It became apparent to Coleman-Adebayo that the EPA was interested in serving big business rather than alleviating human suffering. She watched as her position of leadership was handed to lesser qualified colleagues who were more willing to provide the kind of emphasis the EPA had in mind, that is, the enhancement of business opportunities for American multinational companies. Not clearly stated in her book, but implied, is that the EPA was serving the interests of the Vice President’s office.
The book details the long journey to justice, her victory over the EPA in its discriminatory practices resulting in an award of $600,000 in her court case, her long trek through the legislative process, aided by a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives, then the struggle to get out of Senator Joe Lieberman’s Committee on Governmental Affairs for a Senate floor vote, and finally the signing into law by President George W. Bush in 2002.
The strengths of Coleman-Adebayo’s book are its fine details, its personal passion and warmth, and the template it offers to aspiring activists. Readers who reach for such details, those who have more than a cursory interest in the workings of massive government bureaucracy and the corruption that often accompanies it, will give No Fear a prominent place on their bookshelves. Coleman-Adebayo is engaging, and her story is well-told.
Standing against the forces of giants, speaking truth to power, is one of the loneliest places one can stand. It causes one to question her own abilities, her own faults, and her own motives. The author says, “All I had to do was stop being me.” Almost unanimously, people choose the easier path, one of non-resistance, ultimately complicit, the “play along to get along” mentality. But, tide-turning historical events are those whose champions, sometimes armed only with small stones, deliver their arsenal of truth with divine precision and unwavering commitment. This is the story of No Fear.
Article first appeared on Blogcritics as Book Review: No Fear: A Whistleblower's Triumph Over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA by Marsha Coleman-Adebayo.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Tsunamis have their origins at the point of the earthquake or volcanic eruption, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Always unexpected, they carry with them the potential of changing the landscape in dramatic ways by destroying what is old or ungrounded in its path.
Joumana Haddad, an award-winning poet and journalist, kicked off the first erotic cultural magazine in the Arab world in 2008, JASAD (Body), for which she made international headlines as "the Carrie Bradshaw of Beirut."
Born in Beirut to Christian parents, Haddad was a lover of books. As a young child, she took advantage of her father's frequent absence from the home to climb to the top shelves of his library to read Marquis de Sade whom Haddad says, "changed (her) irrevocably." Other authors with whose works she became intimately familiar at a young age were Dostoyevsky, Sallinger, Gibran, and Éluard.
I Killed Scheherazade is a rapid-fire literary, often poetic, attack upon the enemies of full, thus explicit, feminist expression, both the covert adversaries and the obvious ones, that hits the bullseye time after time. With the precision of a sniper and the tenacity of a pit bull, Joumana Haddad turns over all the rocks to expose the life beneath them: Western feminist ideas about Arab women, Arab hypocrisy in literary criticism, and Christian and Islamic fundamentalism.
Autobiographically weaving her interaction with the literary giants she has known since her childhood through her consumption of the forbidden books, she constructs a journal of thought that has the intellectual markings of a manifesto. It is solid, perceptive beyond the norm, and has a forward-leaning push that will generate ample force to resist the social pressures to marginalize or to quieten her.
I Killed Scheherazade is not for those readers who must have their philosophies written as a "system" of thought. Rather, it will suit well those curious readers who want the windows flung wide open to all the possible objections, thus opening the possibilities for deeper, more serious conversations, with their cultures.
A force this strong has the potential to become a tsunami, given time, circumstances, and audience. As a young author living in a time of revolution and liberation, Haddad's ebullient expression is a foretaste of the broader vision that will surely be realized, one which her own voice has inspired.
160 pages, Lawrence Hill Books, September 1, 2011
Article first published as Book Review: I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman by Joumana Haddad on Blogcritics.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
The next time you hear someone suggest that a politician is crazy, you might want to consider the benefits of keeping her in office! In the book, A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi, a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Dr. Ghaemi sets forth this thesis: The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy.
Sure to raise all kinds of eye-bulging arguments between otherwise friendly people is the notion that our best interests are sometimes served best by those who could be diagnosed as manic depressive, bipolar, or clinically depressed.
Dr. Ghaemi's thesis is based on his study of the psychological history of some of the most effective leaders during times of crisis. Included in his survey are Civil War general, William T. Sherman, FDR, Ted Turner, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and in a different sort of way, Adolf Hitler.
He uses four areas of analysis: realism, creativity, empathy, resilience. These four characteristics of leadership, Dr. Ghaemi argues, are also characteristics found in large supply among the depressed and manic during times of crisis. He explains that the type of thinking and courses of action required to navigate people through tough times are usually unconventional and would not normally occur to those who are mentally healthy.
When creative thinking is needed, it is not a matter of intelligence that is required; rather, it is the ability to assess reality in its deepest and most honest sense. Then, the effective leader must initiate bold actions, sometimes unorthodox, that respond to the right issues at the right time. Kennedy's response to Kruschev during the Cuban missile crisis is an example of this creative leadership and risky action, culminating in a meteoric rise of a nation's confidence in its president.
Only those who can synchronize with reality are able to know what the right issues are at the right moment. This "depressive realism," Ghaemi argues, is one of the benefits of depression just as creativity and resilience are beneficial characteristics of the manic phase of manic-depressive illness.
The arguments put forth by Dr. Ghaemi are based on a controversial method of studying history, that is, with the purpose of gleaning psychological evidence of mental health or illness. He dismisses critics somewhat convincingly in the introduction to his book by pointing out that historical perspective is more accurate than that of the present. He says we see the past much more clearly, making more precise judgments about it, than we are able to see and do in the present.
In applying this method he is dependent on anecdotal evidence, and upon documents written by people, such as spouses, whose assessments can be too subjective at times. The reader can never be quite sure that all the pieces have been pulled together, though Dr. Ghaemi offers multiple sources in his evaluation. The stories match up beautifully with his propositions, sometimes, perhaps, too beautifully. Still, the crux of his argument is convincing and worthy of much deeper exploration in future works.
Perhaps, in Dr. Ghaemi's next book, which I look forward to reading, it would be helpful to take his thesis to the next step and describe it in relation to common everyday people, such as civic leaders and entrepreneurs. He is onto something in this book, and it merits more attention.
I would also like to see what Dr. Ghaemi has to say about the implications of his thesis for psychiatric practice and for those living with manic depressive illness. Is there a way to "coach" depressed persons, or those with manic episodes, into greater creativity, and ultimately productivity?
A First-Rate Madness to be insightful and extraordinary. Readers will see the soft spots in the thesis, spots, I believe, that Dr. Ghaemi also acknowledges. He is, after all, placing before the reading public the notion that mental illness has benefits that are sometimes only available to those who suffer from it.
I don’t mean to claim that it always takes a disturbed person to have a nuanced and humble view of life and the world. Many probably mentally healthy leaders are also complex and insightful.... My claim is that mental illnesses, like depression, do not detract from such abilities, but in fact can enhance them. (p. 260)
Article first published as Book Review: A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi on Blogcritics.
Article first published as Book Review: A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi on Blogcritics.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
David Margolick, an accomplished writer and contributor to such outstanding publications as Vanity Fair, Newsweek, and the New York Times places on his own shoulders the burden of telling a story about another pedophile priest and the deafening silence — some would argue "collusion by default" — of the Catholic church in its practice of moving problem priests to remote unknown territories only to inflict more abuse upon parishioners in uninformed communities.
The burden borne by Margolick is not his telling of the story but his doing so in a way that respects the objective distance a journalist must keep from his subject. Margolick is not shy about the details of Father Bernard Bissonnette's lifetime of abuse and the church's scandal of keeping his trespasses secret for over thirty years. The reader however is left to make the judgment for himself regarding Bissonnette's actions.
The story of Bernard Bissonnette (pictured below) begins in his home parish of Grosvenordale, Connecticut, where he was known even before his ordination, having spent his early years there. In retrospect, community members noted that his early tendencies were odd as he seemed more interested in very personal sexual behaviors among his peers, such as the frequency of their masturbation, rather than the typical interests of teenage boys.
The church would later speculate that had they known of some of the things he was reputed to have done, Bissonnette would never have been ordained in the first place. This hindsight however fell far short of being a satisfying response to the men and the families victimized by Bissonnette's crimes.
The story centers on one particular victim and his family. Tommy Deary was one of many children in the Deary family, an athlete and an altar boy, who belonged to a prominent Catholic family in nearby Putnam. Deary was devoted to his faith, the church, and to his priest. Like many victims of sexual abuse, Tommy Deary would not turn against the perpetrator, Bissonnette, who had explained to Deary that God was pleased with his sexual actions. Bissonnette, many years later, explained to Deary's family that he had done nothing wrong and that he had only helped Tommy to become a man.
After a troubled marriage, numerous cycles of depression, and finally revelation to his family, Tommy Deary took his own life by connecting a hose from his car's exhaust into the back seat of his idling car where he waited to die with the Bible on his lap. He was found dead a couple of days later by one of his sisters.
Tommy's younger brother, Gene Michael Deary, found Bissonnette in a remote town in Southern New Mexico. He and two of his brothers traveled to the state to confront the retired priest who was then in failing health after his lifelong abuse of alcohol and his diabetes. Bissonnette explained to the Deary brothers only that the family's accusations had ruined his life as a priest, and he showed no remorse nor an admission of his guilt.
This Kindle Single is said to be 54 pages in book page length. Margolick manages to keep the scope of his story on Bissonnette and Deary, and it is covered well. He is successful in engaging the reader from the outset and maintaining a high level of interest throughout the book. The only distraction in the book is the dozen or so editing errors such as misspelled and repeated words or phrases that any careful reader would notice. These were not distracting enough to cast a shadow upon this story which needed to be told, and it is told well.
Article first published as Kindle Short Review: A Predator Priest by David Margolick on Blogcritics.