October 9, 2014
Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (1928-1967) was an Argentine physician and revolutionary who played a key role in the Cuban Revolution. He also served in the government of Cuba after the communist takeover before leaving Cuba to try and stir up rebellions in Africa and South America. He was captured and executed by Bolivian security forces in 1967. Today, he is considered by many to be a symbol of rebellion and idealism, while others see him as a murderer.
Ernesto was born into a middle class family in Rosario, Argentina. His family was somewhat aristocratic and could trace their lineage to the early days of Argentine settlement. The family moved around a great deal while Ernesto was young. He developed severe asthma early in life: the attacks were so bad that witnesses were occasionally scared for his life. He was determined to overcome his ailment, however, and was very active in his youth, playing rugby, swimming and doing other physical activities. He also received an excellent education.
In 1947 Ernesto moved to Buenos Aires to care for his elderly grandmother. She died shortly thereafter and he began medical school: some believe that he was driven to study medicine because of his inability to save his grandmother. He was a believer in the human side of medicine: that a patient’s state of mind is as important as the medicine he or she is given. He remained very close to his mother and stayed fit through exercise, although his asthma continued to plague him. He decided to take a vacation and put his studies on hold.
The Motorcycle Diaries
At the end of 1951, Ernesto set off with his good friend Alberto Granado on a trip north through South America. For the first part of the trip, they had a Norton motorcycle, but it was in poor repair and had to be abandoned in Santiago. They traveled through Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, where they parted ways. Ernesto continued to Miami and returned to Argentina from there. Ernesto kept notes during his trip, which he subsequently made into a book named The Motorcycle Diaries. It was made into an award-winning movie in 2004. The trip showed him the poverty and misery all throughout Latin America and he wanted to do something about it, even if he did not know what.
Ernesto returned to Argentina in 1953 and finished medical school. He left again almost immediately, however, heading up the western Andes and traveling through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia before reaching Central America. He eventually settled for a while in Guatemala, at the time experimenting with significant land reform under President Jacobo Arbenz. It was about this time that he acquired his nickname “Che,” an Argentine expression meaning (more or less) “hey there.” When the CIA overthrew Arbenz, Che tried to join a brigade and fight, but it was over too quickly. Che took refuge in the Argentine Embassy before securing a safe passage to Mexico.
Mexico and Fidel
In Mexico, Che met and befriended Raúl Castro, one of the leaders in the assault on the Moncada Barracks in Cuba in 1953. Raúl soon introduced his new friend to his brother Fidel, leader of the 26th of July movement which sought to remove Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista from power. The two hit it right off. Che had been looking for a way to strike a blow against the imperialism of the United States that he had seen firsthand in Guatemala and elsewhere in Latin America. Che eagerly signed on for the revolution, and Fidel was delighted to have a doctor. At this time, Che also became close friends with fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos.
Che was one of 82 men who piled onto the yacht Granma in November, 1956. The Granma, designed for only 12 passengers and loaded with supplies, gas and weapons, barely made it to Cuba, arriving on December 2. Che and the others made for the mountains, but were tracked down and attacked by security forces. Less than 20 of the original Granma soldiers made it into the mountains: the two Castros, Che and Camilo were among them. Che had been wounded, shot during the skirmish. In the mountains, they settled in for a long guerrilla war, attacking government posts, releasing propaganda and attracting new recruits.
Che in the Revolution
Che was an important player in the Cuban Revolution, perhaps second only to Fidel himself. Che was clever, dedicated, determined and tough. His asthma was a constant torture for him. He was promoted to comandante and given his own command. He saw to their training himself and indoctrinated his soldiers with communist beliefs. He was organized and he demanded discipline and hard work from his men. He occasionally allowed foreign journalists to visit his camps and write about the revolution. Che’s column was very active, participating in several engagements with the Cuban army in 1957-1958.
In the summer of 1958, Batista decided to try and stomp out the revolution once and for all. He sent large forces of soldiers into the mountains, seeking to round up and destroy the rebels once and for all. This strategy was a huge mistake, and it backfired badly. The rebels knew the mountains well and ran circles around the army. Many of the soldiers, demoralized, deserted or even switched sides. At the end of 1958, Castro decided it was time for the knockout punch, and he sent three columns, one of which was Che’s, into the heart of the country.
Che was assigned to capture the strategic city of Santa Clara. On paper, it looked like suicide: there were some 2,500 federal troops there, with tanks and fortifications. Che himself only had some 300 ragged men, poorly armed and hungry. Morale was low among the soldiers, however, and the populace of Santa Clara mostly supported the rebels. Che arrived on December 28 and the fighting began: by December 31 the rebels controlled the police headquarters and the city but not the fortified barracks. The soldiers inside refused to fight or come out, and when Batista heard of Che’s victory he decided the time had come to leave. Santa Clara was the largest single battle of the Cuban Revolution and the last straw for Batista.
After the Revolution
Che and the other rebels rode into Havana in triumph and began setting up a new government. Che, who had ordered the execution of several traitors during his days in the mountains, was assigned (along with Raúl) to round up, bring to trial and execute former Batista officials. Che organized hundreds of trials of Batista cronies, most of them in the army or police forces. Most of these trials ended in a conviction and execution. The international community was outraged, but Che didn’t care: he was a true believer in the Revolution and in communism. He felt that an example needed to be made of those who had supported tyranny.
As one of the few men truly trusted by Fidel Castro, Che was kept very busy in post-Revolution Cuba. He was made head of the Ministry of Industry and head of the Cuban Bank. Che was restless, however, and he took long trips abroad as a sort of ambassador of the revolution to improve Cuba’s international standing. During Che’s time in governmental office, he oversaw the conversion of much of Cuba’s economy to communism. He was instrumental in cultivating the relationship between the Soviet Union and Cuba, and had played a part in trying to bring Soviet missiles to Cuba. This, of course, caused the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In 1965, Che decided that he was not meant to be a government worker, even one in a high post. His calling was revolution, and he would go and spread it around the world. He disappeared from public life (leading to incorrect rumors about a strained relationship with Fidel) and began plans for bringing about revolutions in other nations. The communists believed that Africa was the weak link in the western capitalist/imperialist stranglehold on the world, so Che decided to head to the Congo to support a revolution there led by Laurent Désiré Kabila.
When Che had left, Fidel read a letter to all of Cuba in which Che declared his intention to spread revolution, fighting imperialism wherever he could find it. Despite Che’s revolutionary credentials and idealism, the Congo venture was a total fiasco. Kabila proved unreliable, Che and the other Cubans failed to duplicate the conditions of the Cuban Revolution, and a massive mercenary force led by South African “Mad” Mike Hoare was sent to root them out. Che wanted to remain and die fighting as a martyr, but his Cuban companions convinced him to escape. All in all, Che was in Congo for about nine months and he considered it one of his greatest failures.
Back in Cuba, Che wanted to try again for another communist revolution, this time in Argentina. Fidel and the others convinced him that he was more likely to succeed in Bolivia. Che went to Bolivia in 1966. From the start, this effort, too, was a fiasco. Che and the 50 or so Cubans who accompanied him were supposed to get support from clandestine communists in Bolivia, but they proved unreliable and possibly were the ones who betrayed him. He was also up against the CIA, in Bolivia training Bolivian officers in counterinsurgency techniques. It wasn’t long before the CIA knew Che was in Bolivia and was monitoring his communications.
Che and his ragged band scored some early victories against the Bolivian army in mid-1967. In August, his men were caught by surprise and one-third of his force was wiped out in a firefight; by October he was down to only about 20 men and had little in the way of food or supplies. By now, the Bolivian government had posted a $4,000 reward for information leading to Che: it was a lot of money in those days in rural Bolivia. By the first week of October, Bolivian security forces were closing in on Che and his rebels.
The Death of Che Guevara
On October 7, Che and his men stopped to rest in the Yuro ravine. Local peasants alerted the army, who moved in. A firefight broke out, killing some rebels, and Che himself was injured in the leg. On October 8, they finally caught him. He was captured alive, allegedly shouting out to his captors “I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead.” The army and CIA officers interrogated him that night, but he did not have much information to give out: with his capture, the rebel movement he headed was essentially over. On October 9, the order was given, and Che was executed, shot by a Sergeant Mario Terán of the Bolivian Army.
Che Guevara had a huge impact on his world, not only as a major player in the Cuban Revolution, but also afterwards, when he tried to export the revolution to other nations. He achieved the martyrdom that he so desired, and in doing so became a larger-than-life figure.
Che is one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century. Many revere him, especially in Cuba, where his face is on the 3-peso note and every day schoolchildren vow to “be like Che” as part of a daily chant. Around the world, people wear t-shirts with his image on them, usually a famous photo taken of Che in Cuba by photographer Alberto Korda (more than one person has noted the irony of hundreds of capitalists making money selling a famous image of a communist). His fans believe that he stood for freedom from imperialism, idealism and a love for the common man, and that he died for his beliefs.
Many despise Che, however. They see him as a murderer for his time presiding over the execution of Batista supporters, criticize him as the representative of a failed communist ideology and deplore his handling of the Cuban economy.
There is some truth to both sides of this argument. Che did care deeply about the oppressed people of Latin America and he did give his life fighting for them. He was a pure idealist, and he acted on his beliefs, fighting in the field even when his asthma tortured him.
But Che’s idealism was of the unbending variety. He believed that the way out of oppression for the starving masses of the world was to embrace a communist revolution just as Cuba had done. Che thought nothing of killing those who did not agree with him, and he thought nothing of spending the lives of his friends if it advanced the cause of the revolution.
His fervent idealism became a liability. In Bolivia, he was eventually betrayed by the peasants: the very people he had come to “rescue” from the evils of capitalism. They betrayed him because he never really connected with them. Had he tried harder, he would have realized that a Cuban-style revolution would never work in 1967 Bolivia, where conditions were fundamentally different than they had been in 1958 Cuba. He believed that he knew what was right for everyone, but never really bothered to ask if the people agreed with him. He believed in the inevitability of a communist world and was willing to ruthlessly eliminate anyone who did not.
Around the world, people love or hate Che Guevara: either way, they will not soon forget him.
October 8, 2014
Infamous murderer Jack the Ripper killed at least five London female prostitutes in 1888. Never captured, his identity is one of English’s most famous unsolved mysteries.
From August 7 to September 10 in 1888, “Jack the Ripper” terrorized the Whitechapel district in London’s East End. He killed at least five prostitutes and mutilated their bodies in an unusual manner, indicating that the killer had a knowledge of human anatomy. Jack the Ripper was never captured, and remains one of England’s, and the world’s, most infamous criminals.
Known for committing gruesome murders from August 7 to September 10 in 1888, “Jack the Ripper”—a moniker for the notorious serial killer, who was never identified—remains one of England’s, and the world’s, most infamous criminals.
The culprit responsible for the murders of five prostitutes—all took place within a mile of each other, and involved the districts of Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Aldgate and the City of London—in London’s East End in the autumn of 1888 was never apprehended. Despite countless investigations claiming definitive evidence of the brutal killer’s identity, his name and motive are still unkown. The moniker “Jack the Ripper” originates from a letter written by someone who claimed to be the Whitechapel butcher, published at the time of the attacks.
Adding to the mystery of the affair is the fact that several letters were sent by the killer to the London Metropolitan Police Service, also known as the Scotland Yard, taunting officers about his gruesome activities and speculating on murders to come. Various theories about Jack the Ripper’s identity have been produced over the past several decades, which include claims accusing the famous Victorian painter Walter Sickert, a Polish migrant and even the grandson of Queen Victoria. Since 1888, more than 100 suspects have been named, contributing to widespread folklore and ghoulish entertainment surrounding the mystery.
In the late 1800s, London’s East End was a place that was viewed by citizens with either compassion or utter contempt. Despite being an area where skilled immigrants, mainly Jews and Russians, came to start a new life and start businesses, the district was notorious for squalor, violence and crime. Prostitution was only illegal if the practice caused a public disturbance, and thousands of brothels and low-rent lodging houses provided sexual services during the late 19th century.
At that time, the death or murder of a working girl was rarely reported in the press or discussed within polite society. The reality was that “ladies of the night” were subject to physical attacks, which sometimes resulted in death. Among these common violent crimes was the attack of English prostitute Emma Smith, who was beaten and raped with an object by four men. Smith, who later died of peritonitis, is remembered as one of many unfortunate female victims who were killed by gangs demanding protection money.
However, the series of killings that began in August 1888 stood out from other violent crime of the time: They were marked by sadistic butchery, suggesting a mind more sociopathic and hateful than most citizens could comprehend. Jack the Ripper didn’t just snuff out life with a knife, he mutilated and humiliated women, and his crimes seemed to portray an abhorrance for the entire female gender.
When Jack the Ripper’s murders suddenly stopped, in the fall of 1888, London citizens wanted answers that would not come, even more than a century later. The ongoing case—which has spawned an industry of books, films, TV series and historical tours—has met with a number of hindrances, including lack of evidence, a gamut of misinformation and false testimony, and tight regulations by the Scotland Yard. Jack the Ripper has been the topic of news stories for more than 120 years, and will likely continue to be for decades to come.
In Recent Years
More recently, in 2011, British detective Trevor Marriott, who has long been investigating the Jack the Ripper murders, made headlines when he was denied access to uncensored documents surrounding the case by the Metropolitan Police. According to a 2011 ABC News article, London officers had refused to give Marriott the files because they include protected information about police informants, and that handing over the documents could impede on the possibility of future testimony by modern-day informants.
In 2014, Russell Edwards, an author and amateur sleuth claimed that he has proven the identity of Jack the Ripper by DNA results obtained from a shawl belonging to one of the victims, Catherine Eddowes. The reports have yet to be verified, but Edwards asserts they point to Aaron Kosminkski, a Polish immigrant and one of the prime suspects in the grisley murders.
April 8, 2009
April 8, 2009
There are at least 8 million unique species of life on the planet, if not far more, and you could be forgiven for believing that all of them can be found in Andasibe. Walking through this rain forest in Madagascar is like stepping into the library of life. Sunlight seeps through the silky fringes of the Ravenea louvelii, an endangered palm found, like so much else on this African island, nowhere else. Leaf-tailed geckos cling to the trees, cloaked in green. A fat Parson’s chameleon lies lazily on a branch, beady eyes scanning for dinner. But the animal I most hoped to find, I don’t see at first; I hear it, though — a sustained groan that electrifies the forest quiet. My Malagasy guide, Marie Razafindrasolo, finds the source of the sound perched on a branch. It is the black-and-white indri, largest of the lemurs — a type of small primate found only in Madagascar. The cry is known as a spacing call, a warning to other indris to keep their distance, to prevent competition for food. But there’s not much risk of interlopers. The species — like many other lemurs, like many other animals in Madagascar, like so much of life on Earth — is endangered and dwindling fast.
Madagascar — which separated from India 80 million to 100 million years ago before eventually settling off the southeastern coast of Africa — is in many ways an Earth apart. All that time in geographic isolation made Madagascar a Darwinian playground, its animals and plants evolving into forms utterly original. They include species as strange-looking as the pygmy mouse lemur — a chirping, palm-size mammal that may be the smallest primate on the planet — and as haunting as the carnivorous fossa, a catlike animal about 30 in. long. Some 90% of the island’s plants and about 70% of its animals are endemic, meaning that they are found only in Madagascar. But what makes life on the island unique also makes it uniquely vulnerable. “If we lose these animals on Madagascar, they’re gone forever,” says Russell Mittermeier, president of the wildlife group Conservation International (CI).
That loss seems likelier than ever because the animals are under threat as never before. Once lushly forested, Madagascar has seen more than 80% of its original vegetation cut down or burned since humans arrived at least 1,500 years ago, fragmenting habitats and leaving animals effectively homeless. Unchecked hunting wiped out a number of large species, and today mining, logging and energy exploration threaten those that remain. “You have an area the size of New Jersey in Madagascar that is still under forest, and all this incredible diversity is crammed into it,” says Mittermeier, an American who has been traveling to the country for more than 25 years. “We’re very concerned.”
Madagascar is a conservation hot spot — a term for a region that is very biodiverse and particularly threatened — and while that makes the island special, it is hardly alone. Conservationists estimate that extinctions worldwide are occurring at a pace that is up to 1,000 times as great as history’s background rate before human beings began proliferating. Worse, that die-off could be accelerating.
Price of Extinction
There have been five extinction waves in the planet’s history — including the Permian extinction 250 million years ago, when an estimated 70% of all terrestrial animals and 96% of all marine creatures vanished, and, most recently, the Cretaceous event 65 million years ago, which ended the reign of the dinosaurs. Though scientists have directly assessed the viability of fewer than 3% of the world’s described species, the sample polling of animal populations so far suggests that we may have entered what will be the planet’s sixth great extinction wave. And this time the cause isn’t an errant asteroid or megavolcanoes. It’s us.
April 7, 2009
Burning Rubber One More Time
The tagline of “Fast & Furious” promises “New Model. Original Parts.” Well, yes and no. “Parts” is a remarkably apt way to describe the people of the movie, a crew of affectless hard bodies reunited from the 2001 B-movie sensation The Fast And The Furious.
Led by Vin Diesel, an inexpressive chunk of man whose actorly range is largely restricted to the occasional furrowing of a brow, the cast is slotted into a narrative involving revenge against a Mexican drug cartel, outlandish vehicular mayhem, flaunting of custom bodywork (both automotive and anatomical) and settings that encourage people to wear tank tops.
As for the newness of the model, the script (by Chris Morgan) is primitive at best, while the direction (by Justin Lin) is more or less functional. Less, in fact, would have been more: “Fast & Furious” could stand to lose 20 minutes to suit its truncated title.
This inoffensive if uninspired example of presummer pop diversion will be best appreciated by future audiences flabbergasted by its unabashed revelry in fossil-fuel consumption.
“Fast & Furious” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) for outrageous moving violations and tough-guy talk.
FAST & FURIOUS
Directed by Justin Linn; written by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by Christian Wagner and Fred Raskin; music by Brian Tyler; production designer,Ida Random; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Michael Fottrell and Vin Diesel; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
WITH: Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto), John Ortiz (Campos) and Laz Alonso (Fenix).
April 7, 2009
Whoever conjured up that old cliché obviously knew nothing of Undertaker. After an epic battle pitting shadow against light, The Demon from Death Valley was finally able to bury the soul of “Mr.WrestleMania,” Shawn Michaels. A triumph of darkness, the victory propels Undertaker’s WrestleMania winning streak to an unprecedented 17-0.
As more than 70,000 sets of eyes focused on the ring inside Houston’s Reliant Stadium, vendors twiddled their thumbs and bathroom breaks were put on hold during the classic confrontation that had the international crowd fixed to their seats.
Having never defeated HBK, Undertaker set a deliberate and destructive pace, which seemed to pay dividends early in the match. Then again, Michaels enjoys quite a reputation for stamina and managed to recapture the momentum before moving outside the ring.
That’s when The Deadman leaped over the top rope, taking aim at HBK. But just as Undertaker was about to land atop Michaels with the full force of his nearly 300 pound frame, HBK darted aside and pulled a cameraman into Undertaker’s path. After a near count-out, The Phenom dragged himself back into the ring, and the legendary Superstars traded some of the most lethal maneuvers in their arsenal.
In the end, though, Undertaker would administer a second and final Tombstone to bury Michaels and secure his place in the annals of WWE history.
Though he lost, Michaels is to be commended for his efforts, never flinching from the daunting task before him. Unlike many of his predecessors, Michaels seemed unafraid to face The Phenom on WWE’s grandest stage, girded by both devotion and confidence.
For his part, Undertaker never once lost sight of his goal: Keeping his WrestleMania record unblemished. Now, in light of his monumental victory, Undertaker can rest – perhaps not “in peace” – but at least until he’s called on to defend The Streak at next year’s WrestleMania.
April 7, 2009
More than 72,000 raucous WWE fans erupted to their feet in excitement during Cena’s entrance, which took a new take on his long-standing trademark catchphrase, “You Can’t See Me.” As far as the eye could see, dozens upon dozens of Cena lookalikes – all wearing his “Hustle, Loyalty, Respect” shirt – came out and parted ways as the genuine article came out and saluted Reliant Stadium. Though the odds were stacked against him this Sunday night, Cena’s lookalikes and fans cheered him on as he raced down to the ring, refusing to be daunted by the task at hand.
After waging a brutal war with his opponents, Cena summoned from deep within and hit the Rated-R Superstar with an Attitude Adjustment. Next, he hoisted then 400-pound plus World’s Largest Athlete atop his shoulders and – with the 70,000 in attendance cheering him on – Cena dropped Big Show with a thunderous Attitude Adjustment. After the carnage, Cena pinned Big Show to regain his gold.
The exhibition of brute strength caused the WWE Universe to erupt in raw emotion, putting their stamp of approval on Cena at one of the most historical events in WWE’s history.
The victory was a sweet measure of revenge for the Raw Superstar who saw The Ultimate Opportunist finagle his way into the Elimination Chamber Match at No Way Out and emerge from the evil structure with Cena’s gold.
Ever since that shocking night in February, Cena set his sights on regaining the World Heavyweight Championship. Like a tenacious pit bull, Cena kept himself close to the trio of Smack Down General Manager Vickie, her husband, Edge, and Big Show. Wherever they went – Raw or SmackDown – he was right there behind them.
Cena’s persistence paid off.
At the World Heavyweight Championship contract signing on Raw, Guerrero shocked her husband and Big Show by revealing that she was going to allow Cena to compete in the Triple Threat Match at the 25th Anniversary of Wrestle Mania.
And it was Cena who revealed why – he had been holding onto salacious video footage of Edge’s wife and Big Show engaged in extra marital carousing .
Hustle, loyalty and respect. Those attributes certainly worked for Cena over the years in the ring, and now on the big screen as star of the action-packed movie, 12 Rounds.
And, at the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania, it was all of those traits, combined with steadfast determination and raw power that equaled success for The Champ.