Monthly Archives: July 2013

1912 Pocket Telephone


Anyone who thinks cell phones are as new as reality TV shows underestimates the genius of our forebears.  In 1912, German technicians invented the “Pocket Telephone,” a device meant to communicate primarily with police.  An announcement from Berlin read, in part:

“In consequence of the enormous expansion of the German capital, there are many outlying districts which are rendered unsafe through insufficient policing, and the pocket telephone was readily adopted as a partial solution of this problem.  The new system is greatly favored as an adjunct to the police system generally, however, for every policeman is provided with a pocket telephone and can communicate with headquarters or other city departments whenever he finds it necessary.”

The item was actually a microphone that the individual would attach to a “contact device,” which would then connect with authorities.  Of course, the user didn’t have the cherished privacy of a telephone booth.  But, the technology was advanced enough to pick up even soft tones.  The entire thing was about three-quarters of an inch thick and weighed approximately 7 ounces.

As creative and forward-thinking as they were, though, I don’t think the phone’s inventors could have foreseen texting and picture-taking phones.  That took a real leap of perverted thinking.


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Korean War Ends


On this day in 1953, an armistice was signed in Panmunjon, Korea, ending the Korean War.  The conflict lasted all of three years and thirty-two days, but it took the lives of some 5 million people – civilians and military – and split the Korean Peninsula between the democratic Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the oppressive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

Often called the “Forgotten War,” the conflagration had its beginnings with the conclusion of another bloody conflict.  As the world celebrated the end of World War II in 1945, the Korean Peninsula split along the 38th parallel; essentially becoming two nations.  In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly approved of open elections for the establishment of a provisional government.  Communist forces opposed the elections, but they were held in the southern half in May of 1948.  The elections created a national assembly, which in turn, established the Republic of Korea (ROK).  In response, residents in the north created the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – an ironic name considering the nation’s current reputation for brutality.  The U.S. removed its last troops from Korea in 1949, and the DPRK saw an opportunity to invade its southern neighbors.

The war known for its battles amidst wretched winters actually began in summer.  On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) attacked the ROK with the backing of the Soviet Union.  The U.S. quickly returned to back the ROK.

It’s a shame – an extreme disservice – that the Korean War is occasionally referred to as the “Forgotten War.”  My father served in the U.S. Army during that mess and, like anyone involved, he hasn’t forgotten a single thing about it.  Certainly, there’s nothing to forget about 5 million deaths.

Korean War Project.


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Liras for Apples


While the U.S. was giddy with excitement over the Bicentennial celebrations in 1976, a nerdy young man named Steve Jobs was overwhelmed by a more cumbersome element: his homemade computer.  That year Jobs and fellow computer geek, Steve Wozniak, built the Apple 1 – the first computer their fledgling Apple company ever built and one of the first desk-top computers the world had seen.  Looking at the contraption now, it resembles a lie-detector device, or perhaps something used in Iraqi prisons.  No matter though: one of the computers sold at a Christie’s auction earlier this month for $387,750.

Bolaffi, an Italian company that collects just about anything odd and / or vintage, purchased the machine from a retired school psychologist.  Early Apple products have become hot items on the auction circuit since the death of Jobs in October 2011.  In May, an Apple 1 sold at a German auction house for the equivalent of $671,400.  There’s no word yet on whether Bolaffi will try to restore its Apple 1 to its former glory, or just put it on a table beneath a glass case.  In a way, it bothers me that, years from now, school children will ogle at these things – considering when I was in school, we stared in wonder at 2,000-year-old pottery.


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Still Hurts

Santos Rodriguez, right, stands with his brother David next to a relative’s car just a month before Santos’ death.

Santos Rodriguez, right, stands with his brother David next to a relative’s car just a month before Santos’ death in 1973.

Today marks an ignominious scar in the history of Dallas, Texas.  It’s the 40th anniversary of the death of a 12-year-old boy by a Dallas police officer playing a game.  It began innocuously enough.  In the pre-dawn hours of July 24, 1973, Dallas police received a report that three boys were spotted fleeing a gas station where a vending machine had been burglarized of $8.  Officer Roy Arnold spotted the youths, but couldn’t catch up with them.  Yet, he thought he recognized two of them, brothers David and Santos Rodriguez.  They’d been in trouble before.  He summoned his partner, Darrell L. Cain, and the duo drove to the East Dallas home of the boys’ 80-year-old maternal grandfather, Carlos Miñez, who didn’t speak much English.

The officers immediately took custody of the boys, handcuffed them and drove them back to the scene of the crime.  The boys proclaimed their innocence, but the policemen demanded the name of the third suspect.  Cain sat in the back seat of the squad car, next to David.  He figured a way to get the boys to talk.  He pulled out his gun and emptied it of bullets, before pointing it to the back of Santos’ head.

The Rodriguez brothers had too much against them from the start.  They were a little more than a year apart in age; born to a teenage mother and an illegal immigrant father.  David, Sr., had already been deported to México, and their 29-year-old mother, Bessie, was in jail; charged with killing an abusive boyfriend a few years earlier.  All of that fed into the myth much of Dallas’ White society held of the city’s Hispanic citizens: illegal, uneducated Mexican immigrants who had too many kids too soon and bore a criminal mindset.  That was pretty much the same view of Dallas’ Black residents.  At the time, less than a quarter of Dallas citizens were non-White.  Hispanics clustered mostly in the western and eastern edges, while Blacks were relegated to the increasingly impoverished southern sector.  Both groups had tolerated disrespect and harassment from police for decades.  Then, it all came to a boil that dark summer morning.

“I bet I can get him to talk,” Cain said, emptying his gun.  Pressing the barrel of the firearm to the back of Santos’ head, he again demanded the name of the ubiquitous third burglary suspect.  He pulled the trigger, and there was a click.  Santos again feverishly denied knowing anything about the incident.  Cain pulled the trigger a second time, and a flash of light flooded the car, along with the smell of gunpowder.  He’d missed one bullet left in the chamber.

“You’re going to be alright,” a terrified David shouted to his brother, as the officers bolted from the vehicle like frightened little animals.  Blood filled the car floor.  Santos wasn’t alright.

That was it; that was the catalyst for the city’s minority populations.  The city erupted into a frenzy of protests and violence that had besieged other metropolitan areas years earlier.  I was 9 years old that summer and, albeit obsessed with my new German shepherd puppy, I stopped to look at the fiasco; my naïve and innocent mind trying to fathom what happened.

As one might expect in those days, given the city’s history, Cain wasn’t really held accountable.  He lost his job and went on trial in Austin where the case had been moved because of local publicity.  He was found guilty by an all-White jury and sentenced to 5 years in prison; he served only half.  In 1978, the U.S. Justice Department refused to prosecute Cain under federal civil rights statutes, since he’d already been tried in state court.

While Cain adamantly insisted the shooting was an accident and described himself as traumatized in a 1998 interview with the Dallas Morning News – the only time he’s spoken publicly about the tragedy – it seemed the culmination of a long series of events that had occurred for as long as anyone could remember.  Police stopping Black and Brown people on the street; forcing their way into residents’ homes in the dead of night; pulling them over for the most mundane of traffic-related transgressions.  The civil rights movements that had rattled the nation for years finally reached the streets of Dallas – avenues trembling with anger and tension.  Every forest fire needs just one tiny spark to inflame the dry brush.  We were slightly less than a decade removed from the Kennedy assassination.  And then, this happened.

It was truly a different time.  Today, Hispanics make up 42% of Dallas’ population, while Blacks comprise about 25%Roughly half of the city’s police officers are non-White, as are nearly half of police sergeants.  Dallas has a Black police chief, David O. Brown.  If juveniles are suspected of criminal behavior, a judge must approve of any interrogation.

In light of the recent George Zimmerman – Travyon Martin case, I wonder, though, how much has changed.  In general, the U.S. wasn’t consumed by the kind if violence we see now.  There were no ‘Right-to-Carry’ laws.  Police across the nation try their best to interact with the public, instead of behaving like ravenous vultures.  The Rodriguez event seemed so long ago, and of course, it really was.  But, whenever a child dies, it always hurts.  No one can ever make up for it; we can only try to move forward.

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Destruction of the Yediluke Orchards in Istanbul

The Orchards lining the Land Walls of Constantinople, now Istanbul.

The Orchards lining the Land Walls of Constantinople, now Istanbul.

If you want any more proof that our contemporaries often have little or no respect for the world’s cultural treasures, just look to Istanbul, Turkey, where authorities are destroying the Yediluke Orchards in the name of progress.  So-called modernization usually guts the ancient past.  The Yediluke Orchards are a prominent feature of the Seven Towers Fortress; a vast complex that has stood for some 1,600 years.

Built during the Byzantine Empire, the Seven Towers Fortress was part of the former Constantinople; the historical metropolis established around 650 B.C. that sat on the Black Sea, as Istanbul does now.  It joined Europe and Asia and served as the base for the early Christian Church.  Constantinople was a major cultural, religious and political center for centuries.  Even now, contemporary Istanbul is the proverbial gateway between Europe and Asia.

Depiction of the Seven Towers Fortress, c. 1685, Francesco Scarella.

Depiction of the Seven Towers Fortress, c. 1685, Francesco Scarella.

The Yediluke Orchards run along the outer walls of the Seven Towers Fortress and supplied residents with food.  Today, as city officials destroy the orchards, local citizens have begun to protest.  As you might expect when people try to stop their government from committing atrocities of any kind, they became subject to police brutality.  We’ve seen this happen before though.  In the North African city of Timbuktu, ancient manuscripts were destroyed amidst carnage unleashed by Al-Qaeda-backed rebels.  In Belize recently, workers almost completely destroyed a 2300-hundred-year-old Mayan period to use the rocks for road fill.

If it was left up to we writers, poets, painters and other artists, wars would not erupt over such trivial matters as oil and diamonds and our ancient past would be kept in tact.  It’s too much to ask of our political leaders to relinquish their cherished power for the sake of humanity.  But alas, my rationale is viewed as too utopian for practical application.

In Istanbul, citizens continue to protest destruction of the Yediluke Orchards.  I can only hope they win the battle.

Thanks to Sedef’s Corner.

Even now, the Yediluke Orchards serve a purpose.

Even now, the Yediluke Orchards serve a purpose.

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Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela!


In case you missed it, Nelson Mandela turned 95 today.  The legendary human rights activist has few equals in the relentless battles for justice and dignity.  He was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, in the tiny village of Mvezo, on the banks of the Mbashe River in Transkei, South Africa.  “Rolihlahla” in the Xhosa language literally means “pulling the branch of a tree,” but is often translated as “troublemaker.”  For Mandela, that turned out to be a good thing.  Throughout most of his left, South Africa was a staunchly and racially segregated nation; where the descendants of Dutch and English settlers held the bulk of the wealth and power over the Black citizens who had occupied the region for millennia.  In 1942, Mandela joined the African National Congress, an organization devoted to reverting centuries of brutal oppression.  For his efforts, he was rewarded with a lengthy prison sentence and the label of terrorist.  He was finally freed in 1990 and rebuilt his life as a crusader for human rights.

He celebrated his birthday from a hospital where’s he been for several weeks now.  He doesn’t have many years ahead of him, but his legacy of hope and determination is unparalleled.

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

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Roosevelt – As He Was

All presidents – like all people – have secrets.  It’s a simple fact of human nature.  Most of us like to keep ours.  In the current 24-hour news cycle, though, that’s become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for public figures.  But, for Franklin D. Roosevelt, keeping his disability secret wasn’t just a matter of vanity; it was a matter of national importance.  Roosevelt had contracted polio in 1921; a condition diagnosed while he was vacationing in Canada.  Although he tried a number of treatments, he never fully regained the use of his legs.  He continued on with his political ambitions and eventually served an unprecedented 12 years as the nation’s 32nd president.  And, hardly anyone outside his close circle of family, friends and White House confidants knew he was almost completely wheelchair-bound.  It’s tough to imagine such a secret now, but in Roosevelt’s time, people could maintain that level of secrecy – and respect.

Recently, Ray Begovich, a professor of journalism at Franklin College in Indiana, uncovered a rare piece of film footage showing Roosevelt in his wheelchair.  It’s just an eight-second bit that he accidentally discovered while conducting unrelated research at the National Archives in Maryland.

“This raw film clip may be the first motion picture images of the president in his wheelchair, and it was never meant to be shown to the world,” Begovich said.

The film was taken during Roosevelt’s visit to the U.S.S. Baltimore at Pearl Harbor in July of 1944.  Roosevelt exits a doorway and proceeds down a ramp behind a row of sailors who block the view of the wheelchair.  While Roosevelt’s disability was a closely-guarded secret during his presidency, it later served as inspiration to disability advocates who succeeded in getting a statue of the president in his wheelchair added to the Roosevelt Museum in Washington.

Yes, it was a different world in the 1940s.  Now, we know that physical limitations don’t equate to mental aptitude.

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No Winners Here


Many of us here in the U.S. have been watching the George Zimmerman murder trial closely.  I have to admit I’ve become addicted to the ongoing media coverage, but not because of any ubiquitously salacious intent.  It’s fascinating how attorneys for both sides dissect each bit of information, like butchers attacking a cow carcass.  In a way, that’s what attorneys are – butchers.

As people on all sides eagerly await the verdict, I know two things are certain: the victim, Trayvon Martin, will never come back home and no one will win.  There are never any winners in murder trials.  If anything, the concept of justice will win.  But, like beauty, that’s often an interpretation of the beholder.

I try to take in the boat loads of data slung at me regarding this case and sort through the definitive facts.  Here are the facts: the incident occurred on February 26, 2012, just after 7 P.M. local time, in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in Sanford, Florida.  It was raining.  George Zimmerman resided at Twin Lakes.  Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, did also.  The younger Martin was staying with his father because the teen had been suspended from school for possessing a plastic bag that tested positive for marijuana.  Martin had visited a convenience store, just blocks from his father’s home.  He was on the phone with a female friend when he became aware that someone was following him.  Zimmerman was carrying a Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm firearm.  He called the police to report that he was following someone.  Zimmerman and Martin got into a physical altercation.  Zimmerman shot Martin, and the teen died almost instantly.  Those are bulk of the facts.  Everything outside of that arena is mostly conjecture.

No one can explain why Zimmerman didn’t stop following Martin, as the police dispatcher instructed him.  No one knows exactly what words were exchanged between the two.  I do know we’ll probably see another case like this in our lifetime.

Here in the U.S. – mainly in the Southeast – issues of race and ethnicity still creep into debates about social justice and police activities.  And, to say that race doesn’t factor into this particular matter is akin to saying that Earth isn’t round.  It’s unfortunate, in this second decade of the 21st century, but that’s how it is.

Here’s another fact: no one involved in the Zimmerman – Martin case will ever be the same.  Not the families of the two principals; not even the 911 dispatcher who told Zimmerman to stay in his vehicle.  If Zimmerman is found not guilty, it will set off a firestorm of anger and protest.  If he’s found guilty of just one charge, he will most certainly be imprisoned.  Either way, no one will be satisfied.  Justice may win – but sometimes, that’s not saying much.


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Medal of Honor


It was on this day in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln approved legislation authorizing the preparation of 2,000 Medals of Honor to “be presented, in the name of the Congress, to such non-commissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities.”  The Medal of Honor had been initiated the previous year as an award given by the U.S. Navy.  Today it is the highest award given to U.S. military personnel in the line of duty.

Since then, more than 3,400 people have received this medal.  Some have been dubious, such as the soldiers who were awarded the medals for their actions in the tragic 1890 “Wounded Knee” massacre.  But, in the recent Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, the medals have taken on new significance and enhanced value.  Recipients almost have to die to get one.  These aren’t perfect attendance awards!  In an ideal world, no such awards would be given because war wouldn’t occur.  But alas, this isn’t a utopian universe.  Regardless this is my personal salute to all MOH recipients and all military personnel.

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Happy Birthday Bill Cosby!


Born William Henry Cosby in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 12, 1937, Bill Cosby is one of America’s truly comedic gems.  His outlook on family life is pretty much unparalleled and what makes him especially unique.  He reminds me of my own father: the older he gets, he doesn’t just get funnier; he becomes totally irreverent and unapologetically honest.

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