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Listening to Remade in America

Having been a guest on former Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara’s podcast, “Stay Tuned With Preet,” Bassem Youseff decided that if Preet could get a show from Cafe, so could he.

ReMade in America with Bassem YoussefBassem was a surgeon in Egypt who, during the Arab Spring, started a YouTube series to show what was really happening on the front lines of the protests. This grew in popularity until he was offered a TV show, and that grew in popularity until he was hitting 14 million viewers a week and being called the Egyptian Jon Stewart.  And until the government decided his humor and honesty was dangerous and tried to arrest him. He tells a hilarious story while speaking with Preet about being brought in for questioning by the authorities, and as much as I laughed at this, I can’t believe someone in the government  or a member of the pro-Islamist faction that also hated him, didn’t find some reason to execute him.

That’s the shorter, less funny version of how Bassem essentially had to flee to America, so definitely go and listen to his appearance on “Stay Tuned” when Preet went live at the Apollo theater, and then check out his new podcast, “ReMade in America.”

It’s the second episode of his show that made me stop what I was doing and really listen, as it seemed to be a convergence of multiple ideas and stories that had been circling me recently. In this episode, Bassem  speaks with Baratunde Thurston about controlling your own story, your narrative, and how the United States was essentially built on destroying an entire race’s ability to do just that. As George Orwell said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

As Baratunde begins to talk about that, about the history of slavery and the systemic, institutional racism that is the inoperable cancer of our nation, I was reminded of a passage by James Weldon Johnson that I came across the other day, that I believe comes from his book “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man”.

“…but if the Negro is so distinctly inferior, it is a strange thing to me that it takes such tremendous effort on the part of the white man to make him realize it, and to keep him in the same place into which inferior men naturally fall.” 

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Listening to “Missing Alissa”

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I found out about this podcast through Instagram thanks to the ‘JusticeForAlissaTurney’ account managed by Alissa’s sister, Sarah. I almost didn’t look at that profile or click on the link to the podcast, but once I did, I couldn’t stop listening. Go check it out—this entire story, from Alissa’s disappearance to her stepfather Michael’s history—is fascinating.

Listening to Ottavia Zappala describe Alissa at the start of the podcast, it struck me that she was a few months older than I was, and would have graduated high school the same year I did had she not gone missing the last day of school her junior year. It’s sobering to reflect on the things I was concerned with at that time.  What was I looking forward to, fearful of or worried about as a junior in high school compared to what we learn and during the course of the podcast?

This investigation lays out a story that runs much deeper than a missing girl. It tears into the underlying factors that led to Alissa’s disappearance; not only those that went completely ignored by police in 2001 when she was assumed to have runaway and was disregarded by law enforcement, but the many occurrences over the decade prior as well, when people close to Alissa and the Turney family repeatedly chose not to believe or appropriately act on evidence of sexual abuse.

Its remarkable that if not for a convicted murderer falsely confessing to killing Alissa, police never would have taken another look at her disappearance eight years later. As they investigated her case in order to corroborate or discount Thomas Albert Hymer’s confession, police began to realize that what had been dismissed as a teen runaway was likely something much worse.

Alissa Turney

Alissa Turney

But what could investigators do eight years later? Or in the ten years since Alissa’s case was reexamined? When police eventually moved obtain DNA from Michael Turney, Alissa’s stepfather, as part of this new investigation, they discovered a stockpile of weapons, pipe bombs and a detailed plan for attacking a union hall, which he believed was at the heart of a decades-long conspiracy targeting him and his family. If he was capable of that level of planning and violence, could he be responsible for Alissa’s disappearance?

“Missing Alissa” is available through multiple platforms, so there’s no excuse not to check it out and binge on it right now. You can find it on iTunes or listen right from the website.

Listening to “Finding Cleo”

How the search for the truth about one young girl who disappeared forty years ago can bring the greater tragedy of Canada’s Indigenous peoples to the forefront.

Find Cleo PodcastIts remarkable how one family’s story, the story of one young girl, can represent a larger tragedy. As I’ve listened to this story unfold, that thought has come back to me again and again. I recently listened to the first episode of the podcast “Finding Cleo” podcast through David Ridgen’s “Someone Knows Something”. I highly recommend all the seasons of that podcast as well, as David is so thoroughly Canadian and polite and wholesome as he investigated unsolved disappearances, you can’t help but be sucked in by it.

Before I’d even finished the first episode I was searching for more information and had started writing what would become an Instagram post and then this blog post.

The story of Cleo is a haunting and disturbing introduction to one woman’s search for the truth about her sister and the broader, dark chapter in Canadian/Indigenous history. This story does not just exist within Canadian history, however.  Examples of similar attempts at eradication can be found in the United States’ treatment of its own Native tribes or the treatment of those who were or considered inferior or intellectually disabled in the early twentieth century. While the abhorrent behavior of those in power toward those who had none is not new, this podcast  is able to narrow a broader tragic story down to focus on the dismantling of one family and the mysterious end of one little girl.

CBC News is launching Season 2 of the podcast “Missing and Murdered” with host Connie Walker about a family’s search for Cleo Semaganis Nicotine, who was adopted out of her Saskatchewan First Nations community and sent to live in the U.S. 44 years ago. During the first three episodes the mystery of just what happened to Cleo deepens as it’s revealed she may not have been adopted to Arkansas as originally believed.

The last time any of them saw her was in 1974 in rural Saskatchewan when Cleo was allowed to say goodbye to one of her brothers before she was taken to her new adoptive family. Her brother was himself adopted to the States, with government officials essentially bribing him in order to gain his complacency, before he sending him to a childhood of what amounted to slave labor in the United States.

Cleo was nine years old when she was stolen from her family, and she was one of thousands of Indigenous children caught up in what is now known as the Sixties Scoop.

Cleo was believed to have been sent to a foster family in Arkansas and killed while trying to hitchhike back to Little Pine First Nation in Canada, but no one had been able to say for sure how much of that was true.

Now Christine Cameron is joined in her search for the truth about her sister, and answers about the Canadian government’s attempted eradication and forced assimilation of First Nations people.

Listen to “Finding Cleo” on iTunes and visit CBC for photos and more.


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