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“Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities” edited by Belo Cipriani— Stories of Our Time

Cipriani, Belo. “Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities”, Oleb Books, 2018.

Stories of Our Time

Amos Lassen

Lately I have been working on accessibility for people with disabilities as part of what I do in Boston. I actually become involved as a result of my friendship with a friend of mine who is blind and through her I have become more and more aware of the need to makes sure that everyone has equal access to everything. Actually, Belo Cipriani, a blind gay male who wrote “Blind” about his life, made me aware of blindness and the problems that people with disabilities face.

I had not heard from Belo is several years and then I received notice about this book that he edited. We had both moved to new cities but we quickly caught up and I looked forward to reviewing “Firsts”.

Most of us have no idea what a person with disabilities deals with and Belo knowing that gives us a wonderful introduction to the eleven stories in the volume. Along with the writers here, we go back in time and read about the first times they felt heartbreak, and the first time they dealt with an unexpected issue and they first time they realized that they had a disability. Contributors include Nigel David Kelly, Kimberly Gerry-Tucker, Caitlin Hernandez, Andrew Gurza, Heidi Johnson-Wright, Sam E. Rubin, Kevin Souhrada, Teresa M. Elguezabal, Christina Pires, Cathy Beudoin, and David-Elijah Nahmod.

There is great diversity in the stories and in the writers and I must add that each story is very special. For me, it was like going into eleven different worlds and being bale to take something from each one. I laughed and I shed tears and I learned something from each story. Had it not been for Belo Cipriani, I would have never had the chance to read such inspiring stories. I love that we feel the vulnerability of the writers and we are witness to their honesty. We see the difficulties that come with disabilities and we see how they are dealt with. Each story focuses on a different disability— blindness, deafness, autism, tinnitus, etc. Each essay has a different author and a different voice but we see that the same frustrations are shared by all.

Cipriani began writing as the result of a suggestions and it put him in a position to position to met and to help others. By having others tell their stories and thereby overcome limits that they faced. We are the very lucky benefactors of that.

“OPERATION EGG”— Moving an Egg


Moving an Egg

Amos Lassen

For the sake of species preservation, rare vulture egg must be brought from the Safari in Ramat Gan, Israel, to the Gamla Nature Preserve in the Golan Heights.

  Haim, a dreamer who has never been outside the zoo, is put in charge of this mission. Everything goes wrong when two scoundrels decide to steal the egg and add it to the dish they’re making for a reality cooking show. Thus begins the wild chase all around Israel to return the egg and the fledgling inside it to the distant north.

An adventure comedy suitable for the entire family with unique footage of animals and landscape: it focuses on important values such as honesty, helping those in need, friendship and protecting the environment.

“A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War” by Deborah Campbell— Friendship, Courage and Terrorism

Campbell, Deborah. “A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War”, Picador, 2017.

Friendship, Courage and Terrorism

Amos Lassen

 As an international crisis begins, journalist Deborah Campbell is swept up in the mysterious disappearance of Ahlam, her guide, “fixer,” and friend. This is her personal account of her journey to rescue her, and the triumph of friendship and courage over terrorism.

Our story begins in 2007 when Campbell traveled undercover to Damascus to report on the exodus of Iraqis into Syria that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It was then that she met and hired Ahlam, a refugee working as a “fixer” (providing Western media with trustworthy information and contacts to help get the news out). Ahlam had fled her home in Iraq after being kidnapped while running a humanitarian centre. She supported her husband and two children through her work with foreign journalists and was setting up a makeshift school for displaced girls. She became an unofficial leader of the refugee community in Damascus and inspired Campbell by her determination to create something good while dealing with so much suffering. Ahlam soon became her friend as well as her guide. One morning Ahlam was seized from her home in front of Campbell’s eyes. Campbell was haunted by the prospect that their work together led to her friend’s arrest so she spent the months that followed trying to find her while fearing what could come next.

This is the compelling story of two women caught up in the politics behind today’s Syrian conflict. We become privy to the horror and destruction of a family and their exile to this country because of ignorant American foreign policy.

This is one story of millions of civilians whose lives are forever destroyed or deeply scarred by warfare. We read of the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion and its effect on the civilian population.

“RESISTANCE AT TULE LAKE”— Japanese Americans During World War II

“Resistance at Tule Lake”

Japanese Americans During World War II

Amos Lassen

We do not often get to see the whole historical picture of certain events so it becomes our responsibility to discover and recognize all the important moments deserving to be remembered. For many many years it was practically impossible to find even a short article about the discrimination campaign against the Japanese-American during World War II in the United States. We can imagine why this was the case.

Konrad Aderer’s “Resistance at Tule Lake” adds important information to what we know about the existence of concentration camps where Japanese-Americans were held in fear that they could be spies working for the Japanese government. Aderer’s film sets out to break the myth behind this shameful events.

One of the claims is that the Japanese-American community surrendered quietly. Aderer’s research however demonstrates through sometimes painful interviews how history got this wrong— they weren’t all quiet, a minority turned the volume up and had its voice heard.

There were events that led many to go back to Japan despite being American citizens since birth. Others were heartbroken by their own country and stopped trusting the institutions. Many tried to resist against a forced and uncalled request of allegiance to people that had no more links to Japan than any other member of the North-American people.

Aderer used everything he could to present the facts and unfortunately there’s nothing next to the tales told or any other information grown out of Aderer’s research. The film consists of archive images, interviews and few outdoors sequences at Tule Lake, where the camp still stands as a symbol of a dark decision by the US government. It has no other purpose except the desire to divulge Aderer’s knowledge of the Resistance.

In order to truly understand, this film must be watched as a regular television documentary that is useful for its contents, but not to entertain the viewer or catch his attention. It should be approached knowing Aderer’s intentions and to be appreciated for what it wants to be: yet another call for justice. 

“The Hooligans of Kandahar: Not All War Stories are Heroic” by Joseph Kassabian— “Not Every War Story is Heroic”

Kassabian, Joseph. “The Hooligans of Kandahar: Not All War Stories are Heroic”, TCK, 2018.

“Not Every War Story is Heroic”

Amos Lassen

A group of soldiers were dropped by helicopter into the remote mountains outside of Kandahar City during the war in Afghanistan. Hey soon realized that command was not present and that they would have to depend upon each other if they were to survive. It was their mission to train and advise the Afghan National Police and help rebuild the country of Afghanistan. What was left of the Afghan Police station where they were was in terrible condition and it seemed that disease was evident and many of the police officers they are supposed to train were either secret Taliban agents or came from families of Taliban warriors. The rest of them were drug addicts, unable to red and write and child slave smugglers. Taliban sleeper agents or the family of Taliban fighters. The ones that aren’t are often addicted to drugs, illiterate, or smuggling child slaves.

Slim, a Staff Sergeant in his late twenties who was their leader had many mental issues and was, quite basically, insane and an alcoholic who enjoyed war more than peace. One of the men was Joseph Kassabian (the youngest and most junior fire team leader in the squad) and it was his charge to lead a group of young soldiers and he, himself, is only 21-years-old. Before this assignment, he had been a combat veteran and assumes he has seen it all. Actually, he had no idea how bad things can get in war-torn Kandahar.

I must admit that I am such a pacifist that I do not read books about war but nonetheless decided to give this a try. I was immediately pulled in by the realistic way that writer Kassabian paints the war. We see what the men and women of our Armed Forces have had to deal with while on foreign soil. I fought in the Israel Defense Forces so I knew war but the difference was that in Israel we were fighting for survival while in Afghanistan we were fighting for the State Department.

This is a sensitive look at war today and Kassabian has written about it with sensitivity and often with humor. This is really a book about people at war. The soldiers here came together to form a combat unit and found ways to fill the hours of boredom. We read about what our soldiers dealt with every day in a war with seemingly no end from their internal challenges of sleep deprivation, toxic or inept leadership, poor facilities, limited information and false “allies”. We become very aware of the stupidity and boredom of daily existence while deployed.

Here is America’s longest war in all of its realism and honesty yet this is also a story of camaraderie and respect. It is an entertaining and horrific story and gives us a look at what a very small percentage of Americans experienced in Afghanistan.



“Bridge of Clay” by Markus Zusak— A Family Saga

Zusak, Markus. “Bridge of Clay”, Knopf, 2018.

A Family Saga

Amos Lassen

It seems as if we have been waiting for this story of five brothers, a murderer, a houseful of animals named after Greek heroes, a piano, an immigrant, a racetrack, a mattress in an empty field, a jockey, a clothespin, a book and a bridge. Granted this is a very strange list but if you have read “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak, you know that he has the ability to make everything not just come together but fit.

When I read a book, I always want to see if it influences me in any way and we all know that there are books that are pleasant reads and that there are books that are experiences. This is a total experience. Zusak has the ability to make us feel that we are experiencing what is written on the page. “Bridge of Clay” is the story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. The Dunbar boys love and fight as they learn to deal with the adult world and learn about the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance. Clay Dunbar stands at the center of the boys and he is the one who will be able to bridge his family with the past. Zusak takes on a journey that takes us in circles before we reach the final destination. As we move forward we get to know the Dunbar brothers and become part of their story. We have a story about forgiveness and how the five brothers deal with it.

If you are familiar with Zusak, you know that his language can be extremely stylized and decadent at times but then so is life. We know that boys can be loud, destructive, and crass but they are also beautiful. At times the story is depressing and often very sensitive and moving. Grief is one of the main themes but so are love and brotherhood and we get a lot to think about.

I found that the narratives about the boys to be honest and true. Their house is a mess and filled with animals. The boys’ father abandoned them shortly after their mother’s death. They solve their problems through fighting with their fists and other forms of violence and then one day, a man comes into their house who is their father and who know wants to repair the damage that has been done due to his disappearance.

Only Clay agrees to try but he is especially tormented and has suffered. There is so much to like here but I also do not want to give too much away. We have waited thirteen years for this book and I understand that Zusak labored over it. It may have taken thirteen years but it took me only one afternoon to read it, even though it is more than 500 pages long. I simply could not stop reading.

“I MARRIED JOAN”— Classic TV Collection 4

“I Married Joan”

Classic TV Collection Volume 4

Amos Lassen

Joan (Joan Davis), a scatterbrained housewife, and her staid and settled domestic court judge husband, Bradley Stevens (Jim Backus), were the two main characters of an NBC series that ran for three seasons from 1952-1955. The show was cut from the same mold as the I LOVE LUCY series, with Joan Davis’ comedy antics coming from the physical school of humor. This DVD collection contains 10 hilarious episodes from all 3-seasons.

Television comedy tastes, formats and so on have changed over the years yet some of the comedy bits on “I Married Joan”, particularly the physical comedy, on the show were superior to anything before or since. Joan Davis started out as a child performer in front of live audiences and she perfected her brand of physical comedy long before she became a television star through this program. Jim Backus as her husband was perfectly cast as Judge Stevens, her husband.

This is an overlooked and highly underrated program of the fifties and one of the best sitcoms of all time. Davis brought her great timing and knockabout style of comedy which she mastered so well in her movies of the 30’s and 40’s to the small screen and really made this show work. Joan Davis was, with Lucy, Carole Lombard, and Carol Burnett, one of the great female comedy clowns of all time. She was in many movies, and then this series.

When Lucille Ball was an acclaimed, but not very widely known B picture actress, Joan Davis was winning a lot more acclaim for her own brand of goofy physical humor on radio and on film. When the motion picture studios started cutting down production and leaving people out of work, Davis turned to television. Unfortunately she was a year after Lucy and Desi who put on a very successful situation comedy about a wacky wife with an exasperated husband that we love so well.

When Joan Davis debuted “I Married Joan” in 1952 she was accused of copying Lucy but you will see that this is not true if you watch any of her episodes. But Lucy was there first and got the deserved credit.

“I Married Joan” trailed in the wake of “I Love Lucy”. It ended in 1955 because her TV husband Jim Backus quit the show. The show certainly has a dated feel (it does have an annoying laugh track) but the jokes are still clever and Joan Davis was brilliant. Joan was a ditsy, goofy character long before she made it to television. I have watched each episode several times and find them priceless classics.

“I Married Joan” is a fun sitcom that takes it’s place in my DVD library alongside other great classic shows and we are lucky that we have had there saved. There is broad physical slapstick comedy in just about every show, and there are laugh out-loud moments galore. One innovation of the show was the music in the series is performed by the Roger Wagner Chorale. There is not one note of instrumental music played in the entire series. The famous theme song, once heard, is nearly impossible to forget.


“Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”

An Olive Signature Film

Amos Lassen

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is sci-fi classic that uses the dangers over an alien invasion by pod-like creatures to steal earthlings’ souls as a parody about the McCarthy craziness that swept America in the 1950s and at the same times take a vigorous anti-Communist stand and make some statements decrying conformity. Don Siegel directed Daniel Mainwaring’s script that was based upon a three-part serial story written by Jack Finney for Colliers Magazine in 1954, and in 1955 was made into a full-length novel, The Body Snatchers. This B-picture was shot in 19 days for the low budget of about $420,000 and was filmed in glorious black and white. There is minimal use of special effects, and no blood or murders.

General practitioner Dr. Miles Binnell (Kevin McCarthy) is returning to his small hometown of Santa Mira from a medical convention in nearby San Francisco and notices a lot of strange things going on in town. Children do not recognize their parents, and husbands do not know their wives. His nurse, Sally (Jean Willes), complains patients have made appointments yet never appeared. Ex-girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) believes that the man claiming to be her uncle is an impostor. Miles is very concerned by these bizarre occurrences, but temporarily satisfied by reassuring rationalizations from the town psychiatrist (Larry Gates).

But when Miles gets a phone call from friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan) to come over and take a look at a strange mannequin-like figure without a humanoid face or fingerprints that suddenly appears on his pool table, he again becomes alarmed. He eventually reasons that this must be an invasion from outer space. He discovers that the town is being taken over by pods from outer space that are colonizing the earth and taking on human forms but without a soul or emotions. Their propagate t to take over the world. The problem is that one can’t tell who’s a person and who’s a pod. At a loss for what to do, paranoia and tension builds, as the enemy is viewed as all of us.

Bennell, at first, thinks his patients are suffering from paranoid delusions that their friends and relatives are impostors. The doppelgängers are entirely credible because they can answer detailed questions about their victim’s lives. But eventually he finds his friends and patients are in fact strangely altered and emotionless. He decides to investigate, but soon he and his girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) are the only humans left in their once idyllic town. Director Siegel keeps the movie taut and dynamic and creates one of the screen’s creepiest, thought-provoking fantasies.

Daniel Mainwaring’s screenplay mixes suspense and scares with a metaphor about the insidious danger within the Hollywood anti-communist witch-hunt of the shameful McCarthy era in America, which landed many liberals and left-wingers in peril, and some in jail, in the last 40s and early 50s.

The film has been remade three times, each time to less than stellar results. This is a sparse film that doesn’t feature a single second of dynamic camera work, cinematography or slyness in the script. It became a classic because of fear. Most people won’t be scared today while watching it and it is not presented as a horror film. There is fear in the allegorical leanings of the story as it relates to the Communist red scare of the 1950’s. But, more than that there is the constant sense of paranoia and the fear of being replaced or losing control of your own body.

“Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely” by Andrew Curran— A Biography


Curran, Andrew. “Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely”, Other Press, 2018.

A Biography

Amos Lassen

Andrew Curran brings us a new biography of one the philosophers who built the foundations of the modern world in “Diderot and the Art of Thinking”. Denis Diderot is credited with helping to bring the first comprehensive encyclopedia but this is only part of the man. Now we learn that Diderot’s personal writing was just that, personal, and that he left behind many writing that were never published and were discovered after his death. He wrote of natural selection long before Darwin, of the Oedipus complex long before Freud and of genetic manipulation long before the first animal was cloned. Certainly some of these were written during the period that he spent in jail after having been arrested in 1749 for his atheism. Diderot challenged all of the accepted

truths of his time including from the monarchy, the racial justification of the slave trade and the complications of human sexuality. He wrote about the dangers of absolute power and this led to Catherine the Great financial support and her invitation to St. Petersburg.

Curran has arranged this biography by theme and he gives us accurate descriptions of Diderot’s relationship with Rousseau, his feud with Voltaire, his marriage and affairs, as well as his positions on art, morality, and religion. What we really see here is how his character flaws and limitations are “part of his genius and his ability to break taboo, dogma, and convention.”

This is not the Diderot I learned about in university philosophy classes but the man who was one of the great thinkers of the eighteenth century. Above all else, we see the results of thinking freely at a time when very few did.