Of all the places I have been
and all the paths that I have walked
there are many I know
I will never walk again.

Such is the nature of things;
the omnipotent film maker has made the cuts,
certain scenes are over, the story line moving on
inevitably toward the end.

There is a last time for everything;
how often do we casually say goodbye
not knowing that their part in our play is done
well before the second act?

Among all the memories
I am sure there are some
lost forever, never to be recalled
the door closed, never to be reopened.

There is a book I will never read
a place I will never visit
lips I kissed, women I loved
I will never love again

for their part in the play was brief,
or never written in
or left on the cutting room floor
of forgotten memory.

And in the background sound track
the murmurs in the crowd;
those extras whose paths I crossed
some of whom perhaps once loved
but have now forgotten me.





Posted in Poetry | 5 Comments


Young man lost in depression sitting on ground street concrete stairs

Sit not in your darkened room
alone and brooding
feeling forsaken by the Fates
the sounds of the living rising from the streets.

Mourn not uselessly your luck
that’s failing now;
your plans, your hopes
all gone awry.

Instead prepare and brace yourself
with courage, to say goodbye to them
and her;
for she has left you and is no longer here.

Weep not too long, nor pine,
nor waste away, nor degrade yourself
with empty hopes and dreams
for that which is lost, is lost.

Instead listen closely with your heart
to the joyous music of those still young, still happy
and prepare to say goodbye to her
with grace.

for the procession of the living goes on;
the exquisite music of the city
rising in your ears will carry you the courage
to bid “farewell”.

And shake not your fist at Heaven, asking “why?”
as if you are the lone forsaken;
after all, did not the Gods abandon
even mighty Antony?



Posted in Poetry | 4 Comments

The Succession

It is the Spring of the year 1553 and Edward, the sixth of his name, King of England lay dying in his bed. He was but 15 years old.

His father, Henry VIII, of blessed memory had desperately wanted a son and Edward’s birth had caused great rejoicing in the land.  He was baptized with splendid royal ceremony in the chapel at Hampton Court Palace within a week of his birth.

He never knew his mother, the Queen Jane Seymour, for she was taken ill with child birth fever and was to die shortly after his birth.  Henry had then taken two wives in quick succession; one discarded for the King thought her ugly.  The second he had beheaded  for her treasonous adultery.

Edward knew only his stepmother, the loving Catherine Parr, Henry’s last wife who entered his life when he was five years old.  She would warmly embrace young Edward and his older half-sisters, the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth.  As she was highly learned woman she would personally oversee Edward’s education.

King Henry died when young Edward was but nine years old, the once vibrant young Henry who had changed England forever now a morbidly obese, somewhat paranoid monarch suffering from a putrefaction of a limb, the result of a wound which never healed.

Prior to his death Henry had appointed a Council to rule by majority during Edward’s minority; eventually John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland took charge as the King’s Protector after the Duke of Sussex was executed on trumped up charges.

His education completed, Edward was to begin to rule in his own right at age 16.

But Edward was dying.  He had contracted small pox and though surviving was now dying of tuberculosis.

He had no children.  No issue of his body.  The Princess Mary was next in the line of succession according to the will of his father.

Edward was the first King of England to be raised a Protestant.   Henry had begun the religious reformation in his country, severing his relations with Rome in order to obtain his divorces.  In practice however the English church remained essentially Catholic.  Edward conformed to the prevailing Catholic practices, including attendance at mass: but he became convinced, under the influence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer and the reformers among his tutors and courtiers, that “true” religion should be imposed in England.  It was during Edward’s reign that the Anglican Church adopted the Book of Common Prayer.

John Dudley suspected early on that Edward was dying.

And John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Lord Protector was going to see to it that the devout Catholic, Princess Mary never took the throne.  He wanted the crown for his own family; he had experienced being a limited sovereign.  Now he wanted the real thing.  A Catholic Queen Mary would bring about the destruction of Protestantism in England and his ruin as well.

Confident that the King would not recover from his illness, Northumberland called upon John Grey, Duke of Suffolk; he spoke of the King’s illness.

“His Majesty is ill and I fear he shall not recover.  If he passes without issue, which to me seems quite likely, the crown will pass to Princess Mary.  A Catholic on the throne will be our ruin!”

“But it was the will of Henry, of blessed memory, that it be so” replied Suffolk.

“True, but she was declared illegitimate by King Henry and that has not changed!”

“Are you considering supporting the claim of Princess Elizabeth, Lord Protector?  She is a believer in the true religion.”

“No!  She is the daughter of the treasonous Boleyn!  And she too was declared illegitimate!  I cannot support the illegitimate daughter of one who was beheaded by Henry awhile Queen”

“What  then are you suggesting my Lord?”

“I have seen Henry’s last will.  He named Edward, his son, as his successor.  Upon Edward’s death, the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth in that order, be they still living.  And their heir if any have issue while monarch. Do you know whom he named next”?

Suffolk shook his head.

“Your daughter Jane!”

Suffolk’s daughter Jane was the granddaughter of Mary, sister to Henry Vlll.

Suffolk stood in shock. “My daughter a quiet girl of the country with no desire to be Queen!  She herself would tell you so! We had no idea she was named in the King’s will!”

“Well if Mary succeeds to the throne we will both surely lose our heads!”

Northumberland continued; “I believe that I can persuade the King and Council to pass over Princess Mary, for we are all Protestants and will lose our lands and titles should she become Queen.  Further I will oppose Princess Elizabeth as the unsuitable and illegitimate issue of the treasonous Boleyn.  Your daughter Jane is next in line.  Edward has no child and we can see to it that neither Mary nor Elizabeth becomes Queen.”

The Third Succession Act of 1544 restored Henry VIIIs daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to the line of succession, although they were still regarded as illegitimate. Furthermore, this Act authorized Henry VIII to alter the succession by his will. Henry’s will reinforced the succession of his three children, and then declared that, should none of them leave descendants, the throne would pass to heirs of his younger sister, Mary, which included Jane. For unknown reasons, Henry excluded Jane’s mother, Frances Grey, from the succession and also bypassed the claims of the descendants of his elder sister, Margaret, who had married into the Scottish royal house and nobility.

“And now my Lord Suffolk, I have a proposition to make.  I suggest we marry your daughter Jane to my youngest son Guilford Dudley.”  Suffolk sat in stunned silence.

Lady Jane Grey had an excellent humanist education and a reputation as one of the most learned young women of her day.  Furthermore she was a committed Protestant.  Nonetheless, whether she wished it or not, at sixteen years of age she was married to Guilford Dudley, son of the Lord Protector and probably the most powerful man in England.

Northumberland  then began having conversations with the King.

“You know you are dying your Majesty and we must make plans of succession for the good of the country.  Your father Henry’s will, he of blessed memory, named you as his successor and upon your death without issue named your sister Mary, to be followed by Elizabeth.  Your Majesty is well aware of Mary’s religious proclivities; we must not allow her to undue all you and your father have accomplished in bringing the one true faith to our people.  As for Elizabeth, while she is a true Protestant, she is the illegitimate daughter of the traitor Boleyn.  We cannot endure such a woman on the throne.”

Edward, sickly and with great pallor on his boyish face and body answered with difficulty; “And what is your counsel my Lord Protector?”

“You should consider your cousin Jane your Majesty.  She was also named fourth in line in your father’s will.  I support her claim and I believe the Council will as well.  Think on it and I shall return at your command.”

Edward lay alone.  He knew his cousin Jane.  He used to play with her as a child but he did not see her often now as she did not live at Court.  He always felt closest to his sister Elizabeth as she was only four years older than he.  Yet he could not ignore Northumberland’s advice; her mother was the traitor Boleyn.

A few weeks later as he lay near death Edward wrote his succession document.

In his document Edward provided for, in case of “lack of issue of my body”, fthe succession of male heirs only, that is, Jane Grey’s mother’s male heirs, Jane’s or her sisters.  All of which were non-existent.  As his death approached and possibly persuaded by Northumberland,  he altered the wording so that Jane and her sisters themselves should be able to succeed. Yet Edward conceded Jane’s right only as an exception to male rule, demanded by reality, an example not to be followed if Jane or her sisters had only daughters.   In the final document both Mary and Elizabeth were excluded because of bastardy;  since both had been declared bastards under Henry VIII and never made legitimate again, this reason could be advanced for both sisters.

The document subverting both Mary’s and Elizabeth’s claim to the throne was signed by 102 notables, among them the whole Privy Council, peers, bishops, judges, and London aldermen. Edward also commanded to have his “declaration” passed in parliament and the necessary writs were prepared.

Edward  died on July 6, 1553.  He didn’t know he had effectively signed his cousin Jane’s death warrant.  On 9 July Jane was informed that she was now queen, and according to her own later claims, accepted the crown only with reluctance. The next day, she was officially proclaimed Queen of England, France and Ireland after she had taken up secure residence in the Tower of London, where English monarchs customarily resided from the time of accession until coronation. Jane refused to name her husband Guilford Dudley as king and deferred to Parliament. She offered to make him Duke of Clarence  instead.

Northumberland faced a number of key tasks to consolidate his power after Edward’s death. Most importantly, he had to isolate and, ideally, capture Princess Mary to prevent her from gathering support. He failed.  As soon as Mary was sure of King Edward’s demise, she left her residence at Hunsdon and set out to East Anglia, where she began to rally her supporters.

Northumberland set out from London with troops to meet her; in his absence the Privy Council, having second thoughts, switched their allegiance from Jane to Mary, and proclaimed her queen in London on 19 July to the great jubilation of the populace. Jane was imprisoned in the Tower along with her husband. She had been Queen for nine days.

The new Queen entered London in a triumphal procession on 3 August, and the Duke of Northumberland was executed on 22 August 1553. In September, Parliament declared Mary the rightful queen and denounced and revoked Jane’s proclamation as that of a usurper.

Jane and Guilford were not executed and were kept in the Tower at Mary’s pleasure until Wyatt’s Rebellion, which broke out in the north over Mary’s planned marriage to Philip of Spain.  English Protestants were in no mood to see the establishment of “their Catholic Majesties” on English soil.  Jane’s father, Duke of Sussex joined the rebellion which was subsequently crushed.

Sussex joining the rebellion was the final straw.

Jane, 17,  was beheaded on Tower Green after seeing the body of her husband who was beheaded publically earlier in the morning on Tower Hill.

Both died because of who they were and their religion.  Both died for the machinations of Northumberland.

Jane and Guildford are buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula on the north side of Tower Green. Jane’s father, Duke of Suffolk, was executed 11 days after Jane.   Her mother, the Duchess of Suffolk, married her Master of the Horse and chamberlain and was fully pardoned by Mary and allowed to live at Court with her two surviving daughters. She died in 1559.

Edward is buried in Westminster Abbey.   Edward’s burial place was unmarked until as late as 1966, when an inscribed stone was laid in the chapel floor by Christ’s Hospital school to commemorate their founder. The inscription reads as follows: “In Memory Of King Edward VI Buried In This Chapel This Stone Was Placed Here By Christ’s Hospital In Thanksgiving For Their Founder 7 October 1966”

Mary, who came to be known as “bloody Mary” reigned only five years burning hundreds of Protestants at the stake.

When she died she was succeeded by Elizabeth l, one of England’s greatest monarchs.  She secured Protestantism In England.  And she would keep her “favorite” Robert Dudley, Guilford’s elder brother by her side.  She had met him when they were imprisoned by Queen Mary, she for plotting against the Queen, he for his father and brother’s treason.

Both were eventually released   Their love was well known but they never married.

Maybe she kept him close just to watch him.

Image result for family tree edward vl



Posted in history, short story | 1 Comment

FGM and the Demise of Foot Binding – A Re-Post

A Follow-Up to Yesterday’s Post on FGM

the illusion

Foot binding –

“the custom of binding the feet of young girls painfully tight to prevent further growth. The practice likely originated in the Southern Tang Dynasty in Nanking but spread to upper class families and eventually became common among all classes. The tiny narrow feet were considered beautiful and to make a woman’s movements more feminine and dainty. Although reformers challenged the practice, it was not until the early 20th century that footbinding began dying out, partly from changing social conditions and partly as a result of anti-foot binding campaigns.

Foot-binding resulted in lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects and some elderly Chinese women still survive today with disabilities related to their bound feet” – from Wikipedia.

Foot binding first appeared in the upper classes and nobility and it seems fairly clear that it was intended to show that the daughters of the wealthy would be free from manual labor; that their sole purpose was to serve their men, direct the household servants while doing no labor themselves. The practice spread to all classes over the centuries until some 50% of all Chinese women had their feet bound with virtually 100% in the upper classes. Women with bound feet were intended to be wives and concubines of men who could afford to have idle women around to serve them. Women with bound feet were unable to study at school or travel without servants and had to be carried for more than a very short journey. They became totally dependent

Bound feet were considered a mark of beauty and became a prerequisite to marriage; in vast areas of China no man would marry a women whose feet were normal. Poor families bound the feet of daughters hoping to arrange a future marriage for her into a wealthy household. Women and their families took great pride in their tiny feet – the ideal was the “Golden Lotus” – an overall length of three inches. That’s 3 inches!

Elegantly embroidered silk slippers and wrappings to cover the feet became de rigeur; walking on bound feet required walking on one’s heels with knees slightly bend, buttocks out, taking tiny steps to maintain balance. The walking gait was considered “dainty” and “enticing” to men. While Manchu women were forbidden to bind their feet by the Manchu emperor, they too wanted to emulate the gait of Han women. They began wearing shoes with a central block of wood underneath a thick wooden platform which gave them the “attractive” sway of bound feet.

Now, suffering for beauty is a concept familiar to most women, who have plucked, shaved, squeezed into 5″ heels or spine crushing corsets or surgically enhanced breasts and booties. Foot binding however is in a completely different category.

Foot binding began between the ages of 4 and 7. A strip of bandage ten feet long and two inches wide was wrapped tightly around the foot. The four small toes were broken and bent under the sole. The arch of the foot was bowed to make the foot shorter. Over perhaps a period of two years the bandages around the broken toes and heel were made tighter and tighter, shortening the distance between heel and toe, bending the arch until, in many instances, it broke.

The aftercare entailed a lot of work to keep the feet free from infection. Manicure and washing had to be done on a daily basis or the nails, if left to become too long, would cut into the sole of the foot leading to infection and possible gangrene. The binding had to be monitored also as if it was too tight circulation would be cut off again leading to gangrene. Many girls and women died due the lack of after care and infections The feet would be massaged and hot and cold compresses given in order to relieve the pain and help with circulation and corns would be cut off with a knife.

Chinese women always kept their feet covered in the dainty silk shoes and many would  care for their feet only when completely alone. The never seen tiny feet became objects of eroticism, bordering on fetish for many Chinese men, which only encouraged the practice.

It was not until the 20th century that the voices of  educated Chinese women and Western missionaries called for an end to the practice. Chinese families opposed to foot binding formed societies and clubs and made contractual agreements with each other, promising, in this time of arranged marriages, an infant son in marriage to an infant daughter who did not have bound feet.

The Chinese Republic under Sun Yat Sen banned foot binding with little effect outside of the major cities. The Japanese conquerors banned it in Taiwan in 1915.

When the Communists took power in 1949, they were able to enforce a strict prohibition on foot-binding, including the isolated areas deep in the countryside where the Nationalist prohibition had been ignored. The ban remains in effect today.

Within a couple of generations a cultural norm which had been practiced for a thousand years has been eradicated. It took great cultural change and a commitment from those desiring to see it end. But it ended. Today a few elderly women in China are still living with bound feet. The only factory that still made the tiny shoes  announced two years ago that it was closing and sending the shoe trees to a museum.

Which brings us to the abhorrent cultural practice of female genital mutilation.  It is routinely practiced in Egypt, Yemen, the horn of Africa and large parts of sub-Saharan Africa.  Those who believe that FGM cannot be ended in the countries where it is routinely practiced as a cultural norm need to embolden their efforts and find new approaches to convince the population that mutilation of female genitals needs to go the way of foot binding.

Here at home many populations routinely travel back to the home country as “tourists” or to “visit family” in order to carry out the procedure on their daughters which is banned in the West.  We need to do more to prevent the violation of laws of child abuse.   It won’t be easy.  But as the demise of foot binding illustrates:  It is possible.

The horrible truth

the truth : caxigalinas.blogspot.com



Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Female Genital Mutilation – A Re-Post

 It has been reported here that An India-born doctor and his wife were arrested and charged with helping another Indian-origin doctor perform genital mutilations on minor girls, a procedure criminalized in the United States.

Fakhruddin Attar, 53, and his wife Farida Attar, 50, from Michigan state were charged with conspiring with Jumana Nagarwala, 44, to perform female genital mutilations (FGM) out of Fakhruddin’s medical clinic in Livonia.

The Attars were arrested on Friday while Nagarwala was arrested last week and charged with performing the procedure on six- to eight-year olds.  Nagarwala, Fakhruddin and Farida are believed to be the first people charged under federal US law, which criminalizes FGM.

The World Health Organization said female genital mutilation comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Instruments used in female genital mutilation

Forceps, rubber gloves and other instruments used in female genital mutilation lon a table in Hargeiysa, Somalia.

Excerpts from a book by Nawal El Saadawi: “The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World.” She is an Egyptian novelist, MD and militant writer on Arab women’s problems and their struggle for liberation.

“I just wept, and called out to my mother for help. But the worst shock of all was when I looked around and found her standing by my side. Yes. It was her, I could not be mistaken, in flesh and blood, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them as though they had not participated in slaughtering her daughter just a few minutes ago.”

“Now we know where lies our tragedy. We were born of a special sex, the female sex. We are destined in advance to taste of misery, and to have a part of our body torn away by cold unfeeling, cruel hands. …”

When I returned to school after having recovered from the operation, I asked my classmates and friends about what had happened to me, only to discover that all of them without exception, had been through the same experience, no matter what social class they came from. …”

Nawal El-Saadawi had just had her legs forcibly spread by a bunch of women, including her mother and had her clitoris and the rest of her external sex organs clipped off.

“The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a very widespread practice despite a growing tendency, especially in urban Egypt, to do away with it as something outdated and harmful. Behind circumcision lies the belief that, by removing parts of girls’ external genital organs, sexual desire is minimized. “

The above quotes refers to “female circumcision” in Egypt, which is really a misnomer since the procedures applied to girls bear little resemblance to what we commonly think of when referring to male circumcision. Today the “procedure” is commonly called FGM – female genital mutilation.

I decided to write about this topic after I read criticism directed last year to an article in Foreign Policy magazine entitled “Why do They Hate Us?” written by Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian feminist. Apparently she is too radical for the taste of some Arab women.  One should read the article and make up one’s own mind.


In any case, Eltahawy was criticized for her “broad brush” approach in pointing out what she considers to be a deep seated, virulent, violent and institutionalized misogyny in middle eastern societies. No matter that she was stripped to humiliate her, sexually assaulted  and had both of her arms broken by Egyptian police when demonstrating in Tahir Square. One of the issues she discussed in the essay was genital mutilation.

When I was a young man in the early sixties I lived for several years in Eritrea where 90% plus of all women have gone through some form of FGM. It was outlawed in 2007 but still persists.  FGM is also common in Egypt although here again it has been outlawed relatively recently. Efforts to stamp it out however have been less than successful, particularly outside of Cairo and Alexandria.  One of the leaders in the fight to eliminate FGM from Egyptian society was Mrs. Mubarak.  It is doubtful that the new government is  as committed.

FGM is common in only one other Arab country – Yemen. Even in Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot hold most jobs, the practice is considered abhorrent.   In sub-Saharan Africa it is still common.

In Eritrea, on the Horn of Africa, populated by a 50/50 Christian / Muslim population, the practice is common place.

For those of you with any questions or doubts, let me give you a brief synopsis of what FGM entails. These details are from “Midwives Magazine” 2010, an article entitled “Female Genital Mutilation” by Letezghi Afewerki Lhbsu (principal author), a registered midwife and nurse and a qualified midwife teacher at the College of Nursing and Health Technologies in Asmara, Eritrea.  The magazine specializes in OBGYN issues relating to child birth in the third world.

“FGM, also known as female circumcision, or female genital cutting, is classified by the World Health Organization WHO (2001) in four types, as shown in Table 1.  Zerai (2003) reports that all types have been practiced in different ethnic groups in Eritrea.

Table 1. FGM classifications

Type I Excision of prepuce, with or without excision of part or all of clitoris
Type II Excision of clitoris; partial or total excision of labia minor
Type III Excision of part or all of external genitalia; stitching of vaginal orifice to narrow it (infibulation)
Type IV Pricking, piercing or incising of clitoris and/or labia; stretching of clitoris and/or labia and cauterization (by burning) of clitoris and surrounding tissue

FGM is a painful physical and emotional experience for many women and young girls in developing countries. It persists in many African and some Asian and Middle Eastern countries, even where illegal. Considered a violation of human rights by UNICEF and the WHO (WHO, 2001), it can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the WHO (2001), about 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM; at least two million girls are annually at risk of mutilation. Although most victims are in the countries identified above, they are also increasingly found in Europe, Australia, Canada and the US, primarily among immigrants from Africa and South Western Asia.”

In Eritrea, the Ministry of Health (MoH) reports that about 95% of women have experienced some form of FGM (National Statistics Office (NSO), 2002). Zerai’s study of Eritrean women (2003) indicates that versions of Types I, II, and III are commonly practiced. The effects range from, at minimum, clitoridectomy to the most extreme procedure, infibulation, undertaken to narrow the vaginal orifice significantly. Infibulations are more common in rural Eritrean women (65%). De-infibulation widens the vaginal opening and is performed on the wedding day by “traditional healers”; healthcare practitioners also perform de-infibulation to avoid complications before or during delivery. Re-infibulation is then undertaken by traditional healers after the birth (Eritrea MoH, 2002).

So those young women who have had a Type III infibulation, the sewing to narrow the vaginal opening, get the pleasure of having the vaginal opening enlarged with a razor on her wedding day.

Another report discusses the different cultural and religious values that are invoked to support FGM practices; these include a desire to control sexual arousal outside marriage.

“One recurring belief is that uncircumcised girls have an over-active sex drive and are likely to lose their virginity before legal marriage and become unfaithful after marriage, disgracing the family and becoming a menace to men and the community. Observance of religious practice is an important part of Eritrean culture; arguably the Christian and the Islamic values of marital fidelity and virginity at marriage reinforce the tradition of FGM, even though neither religion explicitly demands it. However, virgin brides and faithful women are respected by their communities and bring pride to their husbands.”

“The WHO (2001) reports beliefs that the clitoris or surrounding tissue generates feelings of sexual arousal and must be cut; there is also a belief that the clitoris produces a bad odor, and should be removed. Infibulation is expected to increase male sexual pleasure, thereby reducing the divorce rate. However, the WHO (2001) also identified that not all men enjoy the tight orifice which can impede penetration, causing impotence.”

Seems that true believers have no qualms about maiming God’s creation and handiwork.

Immediate physical impacts of FGM include: severe pain and excessive bleeding that may result in shock and death; injury and deformity to adjacent tissues of urethra and vagina. The circumcised tissue is sewn together to heal in an unnatural position, leaving minimal outlets for menstrual flow and urine. Although not explicitly discussed, this anatomical alteration makes bladder voiding and the discomforts of menstruation more difficult for the young woman to manage.

When faced with such problems can a “feminist” living in countries where such barbarity is practiced be too radical? And should she be attacked by other women for being so?  This old guy thinks not.  Hey, she’s not fighting for me!  She’s risking her life for women.

Finally I will be the first to agree that cultural norms are hard to break. It was not that long ago that Chinese girls had their feet bound, seeking that ideal length, known as the Golden Lotus – 3 inches. That’s right – 3 inches, achieved by breaking the toes and the arch of a little girl’s foot, folding them underneath  and keeping them bound in yards of bandages.  She was made forever dependent on husband and family.

Walking on bound feet necessitated bending the knees slightly and swaying to maintain proper movement and balance, a “dainty” walk that was also considered “sexually enticing” to men.

The practice persisted for a thousand years through the  Qing Dynasty and the Chinese Republic.  Laws were passed by the Republic and,  outside of the major population centers, ignored.   There are still Chinese women alive today with bound feet.

It took the coming of the godless Communists to finally stamp it out.



Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Flying the Atlantic in a C-47

So its 1965 and young soldier Toritto was in the Army, a part of the U. S. Army Security Agency stationed in Asmara, Eritrea on the Horn of Africa.

My new bride was at home in Brooklyn, New York living with her parents while I was away.   I was 22 and she was 19; we had been married for 16 months and separated for half of that time.  There was no internet; no iPhone; no Snapchat.  There were only letters and periodic tape recordings.

I was serving at the A.S.A ‘s Kagnew Station in Eritrea for 18 months and was planning to take a month’s leave in June 1965.  And indeed I did.

The A.S.A. doesn’t exist as an independent military unit any more.  The Agency existed between 1945 and 1976 and was the successor to Army signal intelligence operations dating back to World War I. ASA was under the operational control of the Director of the National Security Agency, located at Fort Meade, Maryland; but had its own tactical commander at Headquarters, ASA, Arlington Hall Station, Virginia.

We liked to call ourselves “snoops”. Asmara was located on a plateau some 7,600 feet high and we could listen to everyone’s regional communications. The ASA had bases all over the world..

It’s been over 50 years since my tours; much has changed.  Kagnew is no more nor is the A.S.A.  The N.S.A. goes on.

Back to my leave home.

I applied to take leave and go home for a month in April of ’65.  My commander knew I was newly married and had actively discouraged any of the lower ranks from bringing their wives over, although it was not strictly forbidden.  A number of troops did just that, renting apartments downtown in Asmara where the left over Italians from Fascist colonial days lived.  They ran all of the businesses in town; the movie theaters, clubs, auto repair shops, jewelry stores, cafes.

My wife had decided not to come over, wisely thinking of the future.  We would save our money and buy a home when I got out.  After all, I was not a “lifer” and no intention of re-enlisting.  She worked and I sent her allotment checks from my pay.

We planned the leave at the 9 month mark instead.

The first obstacle to approval of my leave was proving to my C.O. that I had the money for the trip.  I had to show evidence that I had enough cash in the event I had to take commercial flights back to Eritrea.  He wanted to see a bank statement from my wife and she had to send me enough funds so that I didn’t leave Asmara penniless.

Letters flew back and forth between me and home until I finally was able to demonstrate financial responsibility to my commanding officer.

Leave approved.  “Have fun!  See you back here in a month Toritto!”

“Yes sir!  Thank you sir!”

It was then time to visit the Military Air Transportation Service (MATS), leave approval in hand, to see it I could hop a flight toward home.  No guarantees.  Then to Personnel to pick up my passport.  We could not travel to Eritrea on an Army I.D. card; I carried a passport.  A diplomatic passport, red in color which always got me waved through at the front of the line.

“Yes Toritto!  You are in luck!  We have a flight leaving on your approved date, stopping in Cairo, Jeddah Saudi Arabia and overnighting in Beirut Lebanon!  Next morning it would be on to Adana, Turkey (where the A.S.A had a base) and Chateauroux, France.  That’s as far as we can get you; you will have to pick up another flight from there to the States.'”

So on the appointed day, filled with youthful excitement I got a ride from my buddies to the air base and there waiting for me was a Hercules C-130 four engine turbo-prop military transport plane.  I was in dress uniform, carrying my civilian clothes in my luggage.

“Welcome aboard young trooper!  Take any sling seat in the back.  We’ll check on you now and then.  Sorry; no windows and no stews.  Got your lunch?  Good!”

And so I took a sling seat in the back with the cargo, stowed my bags and off we went for Cairo.  About half an hour from our destination the commander came back to see me.

“You got civvies?  Good.  Put them on.  The Egyptians don’t like to see any foreign military walking around their airport!  Nasser was ruling the country. And so I changed clothes.

Upon landing we taxied to a remote part of the airport and upon opening the doors were met by Egyptian military, with guns, who escorted us to a private building – all done with utmost courtesy.  We were out of sight of anyone.

The cargo for Cairo was unloaded, some items destined for elsewhere were loaded and we were off to Jeddah.  When the cargo doors were opened in Saudi Arabia I thought I was standing in front of a blast furnace at U.S. Steel.  I had never experienced such heat.

The only thing unloaded from the plane was liquor and beer for the U.S military.  The crew was laughing as we delivered our precious cargo to a young American lieutenant.

Then it was on to Beirut and a night in the town.  And what a city it was!

Beirut was then the “Paris of the Mid-East;” – under  French influence for decades.  Beautiful women in the latest fashion walked its streets in high heels, speaking fluent French.  It’s bars and cafes decidedly European.  The crew and their young charge took a cab to the Hotel Phoenicia where we were staying the night – at government expense.

To this young soldier just coming from the Horn of Africa this place was a revelation.  And my room (which I didn’t have to share) had a bath tub!  I hadn’t sat languorously in a tub in more than a year!  I filled it up, ordered a scotch and indulged.  That night I went out with the crew to a couple of bars.  Nice.

Next morning it was up early, breakfast and a box lunch and on to Turkey and France.  Uneventful.  Chateauroux was my last stop.  After good byes to the crew it was back to the MATS office.

“Anything going to the east coast?”

“Put your name on the list.”  Ouch.  It might be a day or two before I got a flight.  I found an empty bunk for the night and ate in the mess hall.  Flashed my diplomatic passport and took a quick tour of the city.

Late next afternoon I was notified of a flight toward America – going to the Azores. I took it; there was nothing scheduled to be flying the entire Atlantic in the next few days,

Went out to the runway and there it was – a vintage two engine prop Douglas C-47 Sky Train, the military transport version of the DC-3.  No windows.   I was going to cross the Atlantic in the back with the cargo at a blazing 200 miles per hour.

“Take a sling seat in back; got food?”  We were off.

As I sat in back listening to the two engines I thought of those WWII paratroopers who might have sat here in this very spot.  Chutes at the ready; preparing to jump out of that door over there into the darkness and the unknown.  I was a very lucky soldier so far.

We landed at Lajes Air Field, a Portuguese base with an American detachment on Terceira Island in the Azores.  Checked in with MATS.  “No more flights today.  Check in tomorrow  – or the day after.  “Find an empty bunk, eat at the mess or the enlisted men’s club.

Two days later I grabbed onto another C-47 headed to Newfoundland and then to Dover, Delaware.  Yaay!

After long hours in the air, a quick stop in Canada, I was in Dover.  Called the wife.

“I’m taking the bus from Dover to the Port Authority Bus Terminal!  Will grab a cab to the house!  See you tonight!”

In civilian clothes, baggage in hand I took the bus (more hours) and got to New York. I arrived at her front door at 2 A.M.  She was in her sheer nightie and embraced me at the door.  “You’re so tan! And skinny!”  I was in shape!

We took to the convertible sofa bed in the living room where my in-laws found us the next day.  We moved to my parents place where they had an empty bedroom for us.  But we still had little privacy.  I vowed next time we would have more of our own space.

The time was filled with family and friends while we tried to get to know each other again.  It was awful knowing we had to part but we vowed that by the time I was discharged we would have our own home.

Our first house in center purchased in 1966 – $24,500 with ten percent down!

I had to go back to Eritrea and as the time approached there was nothing but tears and anguish thinking of another nine months apart.  While I was home, the crisis in the Dominican Republic broke out and all MATS planes were going south.

I had to buy a ticket.  TWA from New York to Athens to Eritrea.  $516.20.  A lot of money in 1965.  I still have the ticket stub.

“Welcome back Toritto!” as well as “Why the hell did you come back!”  Snark.

I went back because duty called.



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Learning from the Gracchi – the “First Socialists”

A lesson from history for today’s politics

It is the year 135B. C  .in the Roman Republic. The Carthaginians had been finally defeated. The Roman Republic itself was already some 375 years old, (older than the United States today) dating from the overthrow of the monarchy in 509 B. C. Vast tracts of land had been acquired by Roman patrician families and thousands of non-Romans had been enslaved for failure to pay taxes to the Roman tax collectors. The great estates were worked by slaves leaving non-land owning free men to fend for themselves.

A slave rebellion broke out that year, the first of the three “Servile Wars” against the Republic, the most famous of which, the Third Servile War was lead by Spartacus. Slaves turned on their masters, butchered them and formed an army of several hundred thousand armed soldiers. It took three years for the army of Rome to put down the rebellion. Some 20,000 were crucified by Crassus while the rest returned to slavery.

In Italy itself, vast estates owned by patrician families and worked by slaves had driven the small farmer off of the land and into the cities, particularly Rome.  Think “corporate farming”.  These landless became the core of the “mob”, working as day laborers, barely able to support themselves in spite of subsidized grain or foodstuffs handed out on the dole.  The were the Plebians – those who owned little or nothing.

The rich patrician families got richer – very rich indeed. The poor plebs, with no land, no skills and little if any education got poorer.

It was at this time that certain politicians began to realize the potential political power of the people, the “mob”, and began to “curry” the favor of the landless poor, speaking out for their rights. And the plebs had the power of one political office – Tribune of the Plebs.

In 133 B.C. , Tiberius Gracchus, grandson of Scipio Africanus, conqueror of Hannibal of Carthage, was elected Tribune of the Plebs. Scipio was not a pleb but also not of the patrician families but he was considered “noble” because of the greatness of his accomplishments. None the less, he was never awarded a “Triumph” for his victory over Hannibal since he was not a patrician – instead he was awarded a lesser “Ovation” by the Roman Senate.

This year, the territory of Pergamum had been bequeathed to Rome in the will of it’s king, who had been an ally. Tiberius recommended that the income from Pergamum be used to begin a program of land reform, giving small farms to the landless poor. Tiberius pointed out that there was a law on the books prohibiting any family from owning more than 500 acres, which had been ignored for years by the aristocracy. Tiberius would use the wealth from Pergamum to buy the land from the patricians and redistribute it to the landless poor.

Tiberius argued that his program would lessen the possibility of revolt in the streets and would also provide more soldiers in time of need – at this time soldiers were required to be property owners. After all, why would the poor, who had nothing,  fight to defend the Republic?

Naturally, the patrician class in the Senate had little interest in losing any of their land holdings. When he failed to make progress in the Senate, Tiberius convened the “Plebian Assembly” to pass the land distribution program while using his Tribune’s veto power (kind of like a filibuster) to bring the Senate to a halt. Tiberius then attempted to run again for the Tribune office at a time when holding the office for consecutive terms was not allowed.

During his campaign, Tiberius was beaten to death in the forum. His own cousin and his uncle, Scipio the Younger, had resented his attempts to subvert the traditional Roman political structure. A mob of “traditionalists” did the deed.

The reforms of Tiberius were now championed by his brother Gaius, who was elected Tribune in 123 B. C.   Gaius however was much more successful than his brother.   Gaius knew how to build coalitions.

Gaius was able to gain the support of the Equestrian class, Rome’s “middle class” of traders, artisans, builders. Not only did he successfully push through the land reforms in the Senate but public works projects as well which benefited the Equestrians and provided work to the plebs.

One could now hold the Tribune position for consecutive terms;  Gaius was elected twice and began campaigning for a third term.   But suddenly his popularity was waning – over an “immigration” issue!

Gaius had proposed granting Roman citizenship to all inhabitants of Roman Italy.   He had become too progressive for many of his supporters to stomach.   Gaius was defeated for a third term.

Those who still supported him began to protest in the streets.  Fearing the mob and potential riots the Senate used the opportunity to grant the new Consul Lucius Optimus the authority to do whatever was necessary to protect the Republic.  Optimius, taking this order to mean “by any means necessary,’ gathered several thousand troops, attacked and crushed the mob.  Gaius was killed or committed suicide.

After quelling the supporters of Gracchus, Opimius established a  tribunal that condemned to death 3000 people accused of being his supporters, without trial.  Opimius was later prosecuted for these violent actions but won his acquittal.

Opimius’ victory established the senatus consultum ultimum in Roman constitutional practice, providing a limitless tool that the various Roman factions used against each other in the following years as the Republic slipped into violence and civil war.

The reforms of the Gracchi did not last long and ultimately had little impact. What is important about the period is the rise of the populist party in Rome, the division in Roman society between the Populares and the Optimates and the decline of the Republic.   Many historians have called the Gracchi the “first socialists.”

All sounds so familiar don’t it? A couple of well off brothers (JFK and RFK?) supported by the less well off;   Optimates (the best men) implying a moral or social superiority over those of lower class who had gradually gained a stake in government, the Populares, supporters of the lower classes, also called “demagogues” by the Optimates, who “tended to use the assemblies of the people for the passage of their laws, rather than deferring to senatorial authority, and claimed to champion liberty against factions in the senate. The Populares wanted to extend voting rights, relieve poverty and gain popular support for agrarian and grain laws. Their Optimate counterparts desired adhesion to conservative measures based on the old oligarchic model, and used the term popularis in a derogatory sense to imply a demagogue who aimed at tyranny”.  Kind of like the word “liberal” is used as an epitaph on the right today.

And finally, the issue of “a path to citizenship” which frightened off enough popular support to cause the defeat of Gaius.

Over the next decades the reforms of Gaius Marius would permit plebs to join the Army.  Those with nothing flocked to the standard just as they do today – for an income, a pension in their old age, healthcare and above all – honor.

The establishment of a standing professional army resulted in the transition of Rome from republic to empire.

After the failure of the Gracchi reforms and the success of the reforms of Marius the Republic ended as the gulf between Popularis and Optimates widened  and Brutus, the Senatorial Optimates by his side plunged their daggers into the people’s hero, Julius Caesar.

What was that quote about learning from history?


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