Elmina’s Fire by Linda Carleton

Story Summary:

What happens when a troubled young woman dares to follow the stirrings of her soul in turbulent times? Elmina begins life with a troubled childhood in a medieval French town-a childhood that turns her into a spiritually seeking young woman who dares to follow the stirrings of her soul. Her idealism and love lead her to leave a Cathar school and follow the man who will become Saint Dominic. As the world around her erupts into the Albigensian Crusade, Elmina finds herself complicit in its horror, and her spiritual and emotional life begins to unravel. With the aid of the counsel of her wise prior, Brother Noel, Elmina learns to paint her experiences within a sacred circle- a practice that helps her discover the origins of her lifelong fears and wrestle with questions that are as divisive today as they were eight centuries ago: the nature of God, the purpose of creation, the nature of evil, and the possibility of reincarnation.

Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/2qfb4eA


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5 Star Good Reads Review- https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1975193677

Historical fiction at it’s best! Women of Medieval times had few options, marry, or be a nun. As a troubled child of an impoverished family Elmina found the Cathars, a sect that supported her idealism and the seeking of her soul. Her love and devotion for the man who would become Saint Dominic led her to follow him and help him start his own monastery, setting the stage for division in her family. Her sister stayed with the Cathars. Elmina watched helplessly as the Albigensian Crusade rolled onward, she lost her sister and her spiritual and emotional life began to unravel. Elmina learns to paint her experiences within a sacred circle ȉ a practice that helps her discover the origins of her lifelong fears.

Read this book if you wrestle with questions about the nature of God, the purpose of creation, the nature of evil, and the possibility of reincarnation.

Taiwan’s same-sex marriage ruling could cement its place as Asia’s liberal beacon

Landmark court case this week is likely to determine the success or failure of draft laws currently before parliament

Chi Chia-wei will find out on Wednesday if his decades long fight to make Taiwan the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage has been a success.

Chi, 59, a pioneering Taiwanese gay rights activist, is the celebrated face behind one of the most controversial legal cases the island democracy has seen in recent years, where 14 judges must rule if the civil code, which states that marriage is between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional.

The constitutional courts landmark ruling will not only determine the success or failure of draft new parliamentary laws to introduce marriage equality, but could cement Taiwans reputation as a beacon of liberalism in a region where the LGBT community faces increasing persecution.

Chi, an equal rights campaigner since he first came out as a gay teenager in 1975, remains pragmatic about making civil rights history. If it doesnt work out this time, Ill keep on fighting for the people, and for human rights, he said in an interview with The Guardian.

But he is determined that one day, the fight will be won.

Somebody has to do it. I dont want to see any more people commit suicide because they dont have marriage equality, he said.

Last October the suspected suicide of French professor, Jacques Picoux, who was unable to marry his Taiwanese partner of 35 years, Tseng Ching-chao, became a rallying call for Chi and other LGBT activists.

His struggle is also personal. Chis lawsuit, launched two years ago and supported by the municipal government in the capital, Taipei, is the latest of several attempts to get legal recognition for his 30 year relationship with his partner, who wishes to remain anonymous.

In 1986, when the nation was still under martial law, Chi was imprisoned for five months after submitting his first petition asking for gay marriage to be recognised.

As a flag bearer for equality, he hopes to inspire other LGBT activists fighting a crackdown across Asia.

On the eve of Taiwans court ruling, two gay men face a public caning in Indonesia. In South Korea, the military has been accused of carrying out a witch-hunt against gay recruits. In Bangladesh, 27 men were arrested last week on suspicion of being gay, a criminal offence.

Back in Taiwan, the political stakes of Wednesdays decision are also high.

When President Tsai Ing-wens ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) passed the first draft of a bill to legalise same-sex marriage in December, it prompted a fierce conservative backlash.

The issue has split Taiwanese society and vocal protests from a coalition of religious and right-wing family groups have caused many legislators to have second thoughts.

The fate of the legislation, soon to face a second reading, now lies in the hands of the court, believes Yu Mei-nu, the DPP parliamentarian who drafted it.

If the court ruled clearly in support of same-sex marriage and President Tsai offered her unequivocal support, it would embolden wavering legislators to vote in favour of the new laws, she argued.

If the grand justices make a decision that is not very clear, and it depends on a legislative yuan [parliament] vote, then it will be difficult. I think most legislators will abstain, she said.

We want her (Tsai) to be braver. If she can come out and say yes I support it then it will be passed.

Ahead of her election last year, Tsai voiced her support for marriage equality in a Facebook video. In the face of love, everyone is equal, she said.

But as she marked the first anniversary of her inauguration this weekend with low public approval ratings, Tsai faced criticism from all sides over her handling of gay marriage.

Its a little bit depressing for us. Before the election, she was really pro-gay rights. But now she has kind of disappeared, said student Vic Chiang, 23, at a Taipei rally last week on the International Day Against Homophobia.

Meanwhile, Robin Chen, a spokesman for the Coalition For Happiness of Our Next Generation, which links support for gay marriage with increased HIV infections, criticised the government for rushing the laws through.

The majority of the population does not know whats happening, he said. We need to discuss things on different levels because family is the foundation of society.

His fears were shared by Father Otfried Chan, secretary-general of the Chinese Regional Bishops Conference, who believes the court will likely back gay marriage. There is no debate, he said. Its a one-sided game.

Nerves are frayed ahead of the ruling, with both sides intending to demonstrate outside the court.

But for

Chi, the choice is simple.

To legalise marriage would mean that Taiwans civil code and constitution will say that gay people are people, he said. If the law can be changed, Taiwans gay community will have human rights.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/22/taiwans-same-sex-marriage-court-ruling-asias-liberal-beacon

Tim Pigott-Smith obituary

Stage and screen actor best known for his role in the TV series The Jewel in the Crown

The only unexpected thing about the wonderful actor Tim Pigott-Smith, who has died aged 70, was that he never played Iago or, indeed, Richard III. Having marked out a special line in sadistic villainy as Ronald Merrick in his career-defining, Bafta award-winning performance in The Jewel in the Crown (1984), Granada TVs adaptation for ITV of Paul Scotts Raj Quartet novels, he built a portfolio of characters both good and bad who were invariably presented with layers of technical accomplishment and emotional complexity.

Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role of Mike Bartletts King Charles III at the Almeida theatre in 2014. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

He emerged as a genuine leading actor in Shakespeare, contemporary plays by Michael Frayn in Frayns Benefactors (1984) he was a malicious, Iago-like journalist undermining a neighbouring college chums ambitions as an architect and Stephen Poliakoff, American classics by Eugene ONeill and Edward Albee, and as a go-to screen embodiment of high-ranking police officers and politicians, usually served with a twist of lemon and a side order of menace and sarcasm.

He played a highly respectable King Lear at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2011, but that performance was eclipsed, three years later, by his subtle, affecting and principled turn in the title role of Mike Bartletts King Charles III (soon to be seen in a television version) at the Almeida, in the West End and on Broadway, for which he received nominations in both the Olivier and Tony awards. The play, written in Shakespearean iambics, was set in a futuristic limbo, before the coronation, when Charles refuses to grant his royal assent to a Labour prime ministers press regulation bill.

The interregnum cliffhanger quality to the show was ideal for Pigott-Smiths ability to simultaneously project the spine and the jelly of a character, and he brilliantly suggested an accurate portrait of the future king without cheapening his portrayal of him. Although not primarily a physical actor, like Laurence Olivier, he was aware of his attributes, once saying that the camera does something to my eyes, particularly on my left side in profile, something to do with the eye being quite low and being able to see some white underneath the pupil. It was this physical accident, not necessarily any skill, he modestly maintained, which gave him a menacing look on film and television, as if I am thinking more than one thing.

Born in Rugby, Tim was the only child of Harry Pigott-Smith, a journalist, and his wife Margaret (nee Goodman), a keen amateur actor, and was educated at Wyggeston boys school in Leicester and when his father was appointed to the editorship of the Herald in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1962 King Edward VI grammar school, where Shakespeare was a pupil. Attending the Royal Shakespeare theatre, he was transfixed by John Barton and Peter Halls Wars of the Roses production, and the actors: Peggy Ashcroft, with whom he would one day appear in The Jewel in the Crown, Ian Holm and David Warner. He took a parttime job in the RSCs paint shop.

At Bristol University he gained a degree in English, French and drama (1967), and at the Bristol Old Vic theatre school he graduated from the training course (1969) alongside Jeremy Irons and Christopher Biggins as acting stage managers in the Bristol Old Vic company. He joined the Prospect touring company as Balthazar in Much Ado with John Neville and Sylvia Syms and then as the Player King and, later, Laertes to Ian McKellens febrile Hamlet. Back with the RSC he played Posthumus in Bartons fine 1974 production of Cymbeline and Dr Watson in William Gillettes Sherlock Holmes, opposite John Woods definitive detective, at the Aldwych and on Broadway. He further established himself in repertory at Birmingham, Cambridge and Nottingham.

Tim Pigott-Smith as the avuncular businessman Ken Lay in Lucy Prebbles Enron at the Minerva theatre, Chichester, in 2009. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

He was busy in television from 1970, appearing in two Doctor Who sagas, The Claws of Axos (1971) and The Masque of Mandragora (1976), as well as in the first of the BBCs adaptations of Elizabeth Gaskells North and South (1975, as Frederick Hale; in the second, in 2004, he played Hales father, Richard). His first films were Jack Golds Aces High (1976), adapted by Howard Barker from RC Sherriffs Journeys End, and Tony Richardsons Joseph Andrews (1977). His first Shakespeare leads were in the BBCs Shakespeare series Angelo in Measure for Measure and Hotspur in Henry IV Part One (both 1979).

A long association with Hall began at the National Theatre in 1987, when he played a coruscating half-hour interrogation scene with Maggie Smith in Halls production of Coming in to Land by Poliakoff; he was a Dostoeyvskyan immigration officer, Smith a desperate, and despairing, Polish immigrant. In Halls farewell season of Shakespeares late romances in 1988, he led the company alongside Michael Bryant and Eileen Atkins, playing a clenched and possessed Leontes in The Winters Tale; an Italianate, jesting Iachimo in Cymbeline; and a gloriously drunken Trinculo in The Tempest (he played Prospero for Adrian Noble at the Theatre Royal, Bath, in 2012).

The Falstaff on television when he played Hotspur was Anthony Quayle, and he succeeded this great actor, whom he much admired as director of the touring Compass Theatre in 1989, playing Brutus in Julius Caesar and Salieri in Peter Shaffers Amadeus. When the Arts Council cut funding to Compass, he extended his rogues gallery with a sulphurous Rochester in Fay Weldons adaptation of Jane Eyre, on tour and at the Playhouse, in a phantasmagorical production by Helena Kaut-Howson, with Alexandra Mathie as Jane (1993); and, back at the NT, as a magnificent, treacherous Leicester in Howard Davies remarkable revival of Schillers Mary Stuart (1996) with Isabelle Huppert as a sensual Mary and Anna Massey a bitterly prim Elizabeth.

In that same National season, he teamed with Simon Callow (as Face) and Josie Lawrence (as Doll Common) in a co-production by Bill Alexander for the Birmingham Rep of Ben Jonsons trickstering, two-faced masterpiece The Alchemist; he was a comically pious Subtle in sackcloth and sandals. He pulled himself together as a wryly observant Larry Slade in one of the landmark productions of the past 20 years: ONeills The Iceman Cometh at the Almeida in 1998, transferring to the Old Vic, and to Broadway, with Kevin Spacey as the salesman Hickey revisiting the last chance saloon where Pigott-Smith propped up the bar with Rupert Graves, Mark Strong and Clarke Peters in Davies great production.

He and Davies combined again, with Helen Mirren and Eve Best, in a monumental NT revival (designed by Bob Crowley) of ONeills epic Mourning Becomes Electra in 2003. Pigott-Smith recycled his ersatz Agamemnon role of the returning civil war hero, Ezra Mannon, as the real Agamemnon, fiercely sarcastic while measuring a dollop of decency against weasel expediency, in Euripides Hecuba at the Donmar Warehouse in 2004. In complete contrast, his controlled but hilarious Bishop of Lax in Douglas Hodges 2006 revival of Philip Kings See How They Run at the Duchess suggested he had done far too little outright comedy in his career.

Tim Pigott-Smith as King Lear at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2011. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Television roles after The Jewel in the Crown included the titular chief constable, John Stafford, in The Chief (1990-93) and the much sleazier chief inspector Frank Vickers in The Vice (2001-03). On film, he showed up in The Remains of the Day (1993); Paul Greengrasss Bloody Sunday (2002), a harrowing documentary reconstruction of the protest and massacre in Derry in 1972; as Pegasus, head of MI7, in Rowan Atkinsons Johnny English (2003) and the foreign secretary in the Bond movie Quantum of Solace (2008).

In the last decade of his life he achieved an amazing roster of stage performances, including a superb Henry Higgins, directed by Hall, in Pygmalion (2008); the avuncular, golf-loving entrepreneur Ken Lay in Lucy Prebbles extraordinary Enron (2009), a play that proved there was no business like big business; the placatory Tobias, opposite Penelope Wilton, in Albees A Delicate Balance at the Almeida in 2011; and the humiliated George, opposite his Hecuba, Clare Higgins, in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf, at Bath.

At the start of this year he was appointed OBE. His last television appearance came as Mr Sniggs, the junior dean of Scone College, in Evelyn Waughs Decline and Fall, starring Jack Whitehall. He had been due to open as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in Northampton prior to a long tour.

Pigott-Smith was a keen sportsman, loved the countryside and wrote four short books, three of them for children.

In 1972 he married the actor Pamela Miles. She survives him, along with their son, Tom, a violinist, and two grandchildren, Imogen and Gabriel.

Timothy Peter Pigott-Smith, actor, born 13 May 1946; died 7 April 2017

  • This article was amended on 10 April 2017. Tim Pigott-Smiths early performance as Balthazar in Much Ado About Nothing was with the Prospect touring company rather than with the Bristol Old Vic.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/apr/09/tim-pigott-smith-obituary

The hospital errors leaving new parents devastated – BBC News

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Media caption‘Our baby son died due to NHS error’

More than 1,400 mistakes are being recorded by maternity staff in hospitals in England each week on average. For some families, those errors can have life-changing consequences.

“Every single day we have to live with the fact that we’re a victim of the NHS,” Adam Asquith tells the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

Adam and his fiancee, Sarah Ellis, were expecting their first child in 2014.

“When I first fell pregnant, everything was amazing. We were over the Moon,” Sarah says.

When she went into labour, the pair headed to Calderdale Royal Hospital, in Halifax.

But once there, Sarah was left waiting on a busy maternity ward – even though she told staff she was concerned she couldn’t feel her baby moving.


“We were left for six hours, we didn’t really know anything, they just told us and reassured us that everything was OK,” she says.

Gino was finally delivered by Caesarean section.

But Sarah and Adam’s joy quickly turned to despair.

Image caption Sarah and Adam can’t understand why so many mistakes were made

“One of the doctors pulled me to one side and just said, ‘He’s not in a good condition, he was born in a really bad condition, and if he does pull through, he’s going to be very badly brain damaged,'” Adam says.

“I was in the corridor with Sarah’s mum and dad and I just said, ‘How am I going to tell Sarah that he’s not all right?'”

Gino was placed on a life-support machine. But just days later, Sarah and Adam were advised to withdraw treatment.

“The words used were that he was ‘unrecoverable’ and that was when we knew he wasn’t going to get any better,” she says. “We had to make a joint decision that we would turn the machines off.”

‘Why us?’

The inquest later showed Sarah should have had an emergency Caesarean section hours before she finally did.

A report found medical staff had failed to act on warning signs and Gino had been severely starved of oxygen.

The coroner said the hospital had missed four opportunities to save Gino’s life.

“Everyone makes mistakes – I do, we all do – but to see so many people make so many different mistakes within six hours is just shocking,” Sarah says.

“People who you put your trust in, your life is in their hands, and Gino’s life was in their hands and they didn’t take care of him.”

Sarah and Adam decided to take legal action against the hospital trust and were paid compensation.

“Every single day I think, ‘Why? Why us?” Adam says.

Image caption Lucas was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after being born

An investigation by the Victoria Derbyshire programme has found an average of more than 1,400 mistakes a week were recorded in England’s NHS maternity units between 2013 and 2016.

Figures from 81 NHS trusts out of the 132 in England – obtained through a Freedom of Information request – showed 305,019 adverse incidents had been recorded in the four-year period.

These incidents are when unexpected harm, injury or death has occurred, and include anything from records being lost to a mother or baby dying.

Figures from 39 trusts, for the same four-year period, showed 259 deaths of mothers or babies had been recorded as avoidable or unexpected.

In April, the BBC revealed that England’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had ordered an investigation into a number of deaths and other maternity errors at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust.

Seven baby deaths, later deemed as avoidable, took place at the trust between September 2014 and May 2016.

Angry for life

Jade Penny, 26, is currently suing her local hospital trust, after her eldest son was left with cerebral palsy.

Lucas, now seven, was born three months prematurely, cannot walk or talk and is partially blind and deaf.

Jade’s lawyers argue that Lucas’s brain damage is due to a lack of oxygen when he had his incubation tube replaced. The NHS trust is defending the claim

“Imagine laying down and not being able to breathe, but you can’t tell someone,” Jade says.

“It must be the most horrible thing to go through ever, and he couldn’t tell anyone.

“I think that’s what upsets me the most.

“He’s still alive, but he doesn’t have the quality of life that other kids have.

“For the rest of my life, I’m going to be angry. And I’ll never ever forgive anyone for that.”

The NHS trust is defending the claim.

The Department of Health said it could not respond to the figures regarding maternity ward mistakes due to the pre-election purdah period.

But it said plans were in place to halve rates of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain injuries in babies by 2030.

As part of that, the government has launched a new 8m maternity safety training scheme.

Writing in October, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government had invested almost 40m since 2010 to make “tangible physical improvements” to maternity units.

He said: “Dedicated and hardworking NHS staff do an incredible job – 24 hours a day, every day of the year – of bringing new babies into the world and achieving great outcomes for women, newborns and their families.”

The Royal College of Midwives says safety is being compromised by the pressure maternity services are under.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the college, said: “The simple truth is we do not have enough midwives working in them right now, we are also seeing more leaving the profession because of stress and a slight reduction in the number of student midwives training.

“We need to reduce the number of mistakes to an absolute minimum,” she added. “We can’t deliver the safest possible care if we don’t have enough midwives and doctors working here.”

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.

Related Topics

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-39794204

Reform ‘high stakes’ primary tests, MPs urge – BBC News

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Image caption High stakes tests at 11, put pupils and teachers under unnecessary stress, says the MPs’ report

Children’s education in England is being skewed by the use of high-stakes tests taken by 11-year-olds as a school league table measure, say MPs.

Annual test results should be replaced in the tables by a three-year rolling average to “lower the stakes”, says the Commons Education Select Committee.

The current system has led to a narrow curriculum and “unnecessary stress” on pupils and teachers, argues the report.

Last year, new tougher tests for 11-year-olds saw passes drop sharply.

Ministers maintain that parents have a right to expect testing in schools to show whether their children are gaining the right skills in maths and literacy.

But the committee says the close link between the tests at 11 and school accountability can “lead to a narrowing of the curriculum and ‘teaching to the test’, as well as affecting teacher and pupil well-being”.

It wants the current system scrapped, with three-year rolling averages for schools published instead of the results of individual year groups.

‘Held to account’

The report also calls for greater emphasis in Ofsted inspections on a broad and balanced curriculum.

Committee chairman Neil Carmichael said too much emphasis on test results had led to too much “focus on English and maths at the expense of other subjects like science, humanities and the arts”.

“It is right that schools are held to account for their performance but the government should act to lower the stakes and help teachers to deliver a broad, balanced and fulfilling curriculum for primary school children.”

The report says poor implementation of the new system last year, with “guidance delayed and test papers leaked online”, caused significant disruption in schools.

The MPs want ministers to reconsider the new writing assessment which emphasises “technical aspects like grammar and spelling, over creativity and composition”.

“The balance of evidence we received did not support the proposition that focusing on specific grammatical techniques improved the overall quality of writing.”

They also want spelling, punctuation and grammar tests for 11-year-olds to become non-statutory.

Ministers recently announced proposals to scrap tests for seven-year-olds, following years of pressure from teachers, parents and educationalists.

The Department for Education is consulting on a new assessment for pupils when they first start school – but the report urges caution when introducing a “baseline” measure.

“It should be designed as a diagnostic tool to help teachers identify pupils’ needs and must avoid shifting negative consequences of high-stakes accountability to early years,” they warn.

Image caption Primary pupils need a broad, balanced and fulfulling curriculum, say the MPs

A Department for Education spokeswoman said the government would consider the report carefully and respond in due course.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said inspectors already looked for a broad curriculum in every primary school, adding that she had recently announced new research into “how the accountability system, including Ofsted, can encourage the development of a rich curriculum”.

Russell Hobby, National Association of Head Teachers General Secretary, called last year’s tests “a mess of chaos and confusion”.

“Add into this the high-stakes nature of the system for school leaders, and you get a toxic mix.”

Mr Hobby said the union had contributed to the government’s proposals “to begin creating a primary assessment system that works”.

“This report helpfully sets the agenda for the next stage of this debate,” he added.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39745884

Rihanna And Lupita Nyong’o Say They’ll Make The Movie Twitter Made Up

Thank you, Twitter.

Over the weekend, a 2014 photo of Rihanna and Lupita Nyongo sitting next to each other at Paris Fashion Week went viral after user @blaquepink shared it with the caption, a picture for the history books.

Twitter user @1800SADGALresponded and laid the groundwork for the movie you never knew you absolutely needed in life.

From there, the idea spiraled, with more Twitter users adding to the plot, Hollywood insiders chiming in, and a vote of confidence from the stars themselves.

After Rihanna responded, folks on Twitter continued to tweet at Ava DuVernay, asking the award-winning director to get involved.

So maybe this is actually happening?!

Oh, please.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/rihanna-lupita-nyongo-fake-twitter-movie_us_58fd57d9e4b06b9cb917c6e6

Nina Simone and me: An artist and activist revisited

(CNN)I was surfing online when I stumbled upon a mural in Baltimore painted by artist Ernest Shaw. It’s a three-headed portrait of civil rights icons: James Baldwin, Malcolm X and, of course, Nina Simone.

Even within the boundaries of my computer screen, the painting on the side of a building at 401 Lafayette Street was powerful.
Curious that the artist had chosen Simone as part of the trifecta, I dialed Shaw, a 41-year-old teacher at the Maryland Academy of Technology & Health Sciences. He’s taught kids at Baltimore city schools for 14 years and is keen to mentor inner-city youth in some artistic way.
    “I understand why you chose Malcolm and Baldwin. But why Nina?” I asked Shaw.
    The answer was immediate.
    “I have the utmost respect for her because she stood up for her beliefs. She sacrificed her career for her activism,” Shaw said.
    And that kind of activism could not be more relevant today, he said, given all that has transpired since the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in the summer of 2014.
    Shaw and I spoke about Simone as artist and activist.
    He told me he’d been raised by parents who were adamant about exposing him to the history and culture of black America. Simone was part of the learning process.
    “Malcolm X touched me in my 20s; Baldwin in my 30s. Now in my 40s, as I am watching my daughter grow into womanhood, it’s Nina Simone,” he told me. Her biography, he said, “could be a case study for what a lot of black women deal with. And she chose to deal it with it head on.”

    New recognition for singer-activist

    Yet few in America know Simone’s story. In my own circle of friends and colleagues, mention of the singer’s name often gets this reaction: “Nina who?”
    I’m hopeful that will change. Simone, it seems, may finally be getting her due.
    A new documentary by filmmaker Liz Garbus, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” opened in theaters in 2015 and is streaming on Netflix. And though the film has its flaws, it serves as a good introduction to Simone. Sony Music has released “Nina Revisited,” an accompanying all-star tribute album featuring 16 songs. And a Hollywood biopic, albeit troubled, hit theaters in April 2016.
    There is no better time perhaps to enter the stark, stalwart and sensual world of Simone. In the aftermath of nationwide police brutality protests and tragedies like the 2015 slaughter of black lives in a Charleston church, Simone’s music is as relevant as it was when she first turned her music into a vehicle for activism.
    She became known as the voice of the civil rights movement with songs like “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” and “Mississippi Goddam,” a visceral response to the 1963 killings of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, and four girls in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.
    For that, Simone paid a price. Garbus’ documentary shows how Simone never gained the kind of celebrity that she deserved. Radio stations refused to play her music; venues were hesitant to book her. They feared she would speak her mind on stage and mince no words in lashing out against injustice and discrimination.
    Had it not been for her outspokenness, her principles, she might have gained the fame of an Aretha Franklin or Diana Ross.
    But as it were, Nina Simone never relished a string of Number 1 hits. But, she changed lives. Like mine. She made me think about race in America in a way I never had before.

    Simone brought me awareness

    I watched the documentary for a fourth time the week it debuted and thought back to a solitary and anguished drive home I made many decades ago from Florida’s death row. The condemned man told me that he found solace in Marvin Gaye’s 1971 anthem “Inner City Blues.”
    But several years before, Simone had recorded a piece that was equally powerful. It was that song that made me, still a teenager, ponder the structure of the lives of people around me in small-town Florida.
    Mr. Backlash, Mr. Backlash/ Just who do you think I am? /You raise my taxes, freeze my wages /And send my son to Vietnam
    I listened to the song again as Florida prepared for that man’s execution. He had just recounted to me a life of growing up poor and black in the American South.
    You give me second class houses /And second class schools /Do you think that all colored folks /Are just second class fools?
    Live oaks shimmied by unnoticed as I lost myself in Simone’s voice. I was a young reporter wrestling with the execution of a man — whether guilty or not — who I believed had not received a fair trial.
    Mr. Backlash /I’m gonna leave you /With the backlash blues
    Simone wrote “Backlash Blues” with the writer Langston Hughes and it stopped me cold the first time I heard it in the late 1970s. Until then, I had been an immigrant girl from India, influenced heavily by the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.
    Tagore, India’s only Nobel Prize-winning writer, was brilliant in his artistry. His poetry made me think, too. About freedom and speaking out against wrongs.
    My mother sang his songs and schooled me in their meaning. I admired the way Tagore shunned Western clothes and spoke of how the British betrayed their own Western ideals with colonialism.
    Tagore taught me to stand tall in my short Indian frame.
    But it was Simone who awakened me to my brownness in white America.
    When I try to find a job / To earn a little cash
    All you got to offer / Is your mean old white backlash
    I arrived in north Florida with my family in the mid-1970s. It was a world of black and white, and back then the two rarely met in harmony. In college, a classmate who was a music major introduced me to Nina Simone.
    “She wanted to be the first black classical pianist,” my friend told me.
    She just wanted to glide her fingers over the keys and play Bach. Instead, she gained fame as a singer of jazz standards, blues and fiery protest songs.
    He made me a cassette and that was it. I listened in the car. I listened late at night on my bed.
    But the world is big / Big and bright and round / And it’s full of folks like me / Who are black, yellow, beige and brown
    Mr. Backlash/ I’m gonna leave you /With the backlash blues

    An incredible influence

    I became addicted to Simone’s deep, baritone, almost androgynous sound. I became fascinated with her history, her music, the tough choices she made in her life to stand up against Jim Crow. I even fell in love with the way she looked — the African dresses and jewelry she carried off with more grace than any haute couture model. After Nina, I shed my Levis for long Indian skirts and dangling brass earrings.
    Simone’s music defined me as a journalist — some of the very first people I interviewed were Angela Davis and Maya Angelou.
    If Simone was able to touch an Indian teenager like myself, I can only imagine her influence on African-Americans. The enormous sphere of that influence has resurfaced as academics, artists and cultural critics have weighed in after the release of Liz Garbus’ film.
    Syreeta McFadden, managing editor of the online literary magazine Union Station, wrote:
    “Civil Rights-era music is often associated with a particular soundscape, which is popularly understood as gospel mixed with the pop sensibilities of Motown. This understanding erases Simone’s vital contribution, the full depth of her contribution to secular music consciousness, her role in orienting black and white audiences alike to the liberation struggles of the civil-rights movement.”
    And Salamishah Tillet, an assistant professor of English and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, who is writing a book on Simone, said in a NPR story:
    “Like so many of my generation, I found (Simone) through hip-hop loops and samples. … Simone’s mix of headiness and haunt, lyrical boldness and political bombast makes her the hero of our hip-hop generation. We look to her as our muse; we listen to her because we want to know what freedom sounds like.”
    I thought about Simone’s reach as I spoke with Shaw in Baltimore. As an artist, he drew inspiration from Simone’s convictions, expressed succinctly in one of several interviews included in the documentary.
    “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times,” Simone said.
    It’s a line that John Legend and Common quoted in their 2015 Oscar acceptance speech when they won for their song from “Selma.”
    “How can you be an artist and not document the times?” Shaw asked.

    ‘The struggle is ongoing’

    Simone died in 2003. I wonder what she would have to say about the “movement” today. She’d like the idea that a tribute album came out on the day the Confederate flag went down in South Carolina. She’d probably like the idea that so many young black people are again taking to the streets to protest injustice. (In 1978, she sang: “Oh, Baltimore. Ain’t it hard just to live.”)
    Filmmaker Garbus told Salon that Simone’s voice is one that is very needed today.
    “We were in our edit room when the events of Ferguson were unfolding,” Garbus said. “It reminds you that the struggle is ongoing and that her music and her words are as necessary and as relevant as they were then. It doesn’t shape the film, but it is certainly a ripe moment for the film to be coming out.”
    To me, Nina Simone remains an embodiment of freedom.
    “I tell you what freedom is to me: no fear,” Simone said in an interview.
    That line is a guiding light.
    As troubled as Simone’s life may have been, she has been a source of strength. It’s why I listen to her songs when I am up and when I am down. When I need a dose of inspiration and when I just need to smile.
    For that, I am ever grateful, Miss Simone.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/11/entertainment/nina-simone-revisited/index.html

    The Salad Oil King–by author M.G. Crisci

    Reviewed by the San Francisco Book Review, getting 5 stars

    From the review:

    The story of Alfonso “Fonso” Gravanese has all the elements needed to be a classic tale of American crime, and it spins out from a master storyteller.

    Based on a true story and plenty of applicable lessons today about greed and corruption.

    You can read more about it here – http://mgcrisci.com/books/salad-oil-king/

    Buy it here – http://amzn.to/2oPX6Sb

    The Hunger Saint by Olivia Kate Cerrone

    Hunger Saint is about Ntoni, a twelve-year-old boy forced to labor in Sicily’s sulfur mines to support his family after his father’s untimely death. These child laborers were called carusu or “mine-boy”, a labourer in a sulfur mine who worked next to a picuneri or pick-man, and carried raw ore from deep in the mine to the surface.

    Seattle Book Review gave it 5 stars and a great review here – http://seattlebookreview.com/product/the-hunger-saint/

    Kirkus also gave it a good review https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/olivia-kate-cerrone/hunger-saint/

    Buy it on Amazon here – http://amzn.to/2pJjHOJ

    Find out more information here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carusu

    Find more great book reviews

    The Device Trial by Tom Breen – New Book

    The Device Trial got a 5 star review from San Francisco Book Review here – http://sanfranciscobookreview.com/product/the-device-trial/

    From the review:
    The Device Trial, by Tom Breen, takes readers into a world of sketchy businessmen and lawyers, teetering on the line between right and wrong from beginning to end. Lawyer Brian Bradford has just won a billion dollar lawsuit against medical company, ZeiiMed headed, at the time, by John Edison. However, his victory in the courtroom came at a high personal cost, and revenge now drives him to make Edison pay personally.

    I haven’t read it yet, but it looks good. Like a Crichton or Grisham thriller.

    You can buy it on Amazon HERE and find more great book reviews

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