Monday, July 6, 2015

Apples and Oranges

CNN's Jake Tapper asked Republican Presidential nominee hopeful Mike Huckabee a question on Sunday July 5th which has created a bit of controversy.

Q. “Which do you think threatens to undermine the institution of marriage in this country more,” the CNN host asked, “same-sex marriage or the rampant ranks of infidelity and the high divorce rates in this country among straight couples?”

Mr. Huckabee wasn’t quick enough on his feet to answer the clumsily stated question properly.

The question itself was a popular method of equating an apple with an orange in order to make someone appear small minded or ignorant. The question should've been more along the lines of-

“What is it concerning Same Sex Marriage which straight couples feel undermines their marriages?" 

Or- Mr. Huckabee could’ve answered with a question of his own about the lesbian couple who are getting divorced after their wedding last July in New York. Dese Rae Stage and Katie Marks; both 29; are getting divorced after Marks met a new woman on the Internet.

So, Mr. Huckabee could’ve asked something like, “Will all Same Sex marriages be going the way of the Stage-Marks union in New York? Once the novelty wears off will we be seeing a massive amount of divorce arising from such hastily conceived unions? Do you think that the high rates of infidelity which were historically a part of the Gay lifestyle before the advent of AIDS, might make a return?”

Hey, I've got an idea! How about a real question which compares an apple to an apple?

Q. “Do you think 2 people in love- gay or straight- are; or should be; a threat to one another?”

Or even something less complex, like;

“Do you think that there will be any difference between true love in either a Same Sex Marriage or a Straight Marriage?”

It would be nice if the reporters would ask real questions. Who knows, we might even get real answers.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fourth of July - The Flag Story

This is my daughter Sarah and I relaxing near Fell’s Point and the Harborplace in Baltimore on July 4th, 1995; give or take a year or so.  The 4th is my wedding anniversary; Sue and I decided to take our vows on a holiday so that the whole world would celebrate with us each year. This particular year has a story which goes with it. It’s an unusual story in that it shows me in two lights. One is good and the other not so much. But it is a true story so I’ll tell it anyway.

At the time we lived behind an American Legion Post; Post 200 to be exact; which was located in Hampstead, Md. They had Saturday night bands with lots of drinking which spilled over into my yard and also involved people screwing in the patch of pine trees along my Property line. With 3 kids at home I had enough to do without picking up the empty beer cans and used condoms they left behind.

Things between us eventually came to a head over the music; which ran past the 2 AM curfew imposed by the local zoning laws; every Saturday night. With many of the Legionnaires being members of the local town Police, State Troopers; and even County Commissioners; it was hard to get the noise ordinance enforced. We went to every County Council Meeting and lost every battle. But, just as with the Continental Army in our own Revolution, we eventually won the war.

At one point the attorney for the Legion actually showed up on a Saturday night with the object of baiting me into an argument with the members who had assembled along my property line drinking.
Armed with a stick up my sleeve; and a pistol in my pocket; I went forth to challenge the interlopers. Sue called the cops; which is something I was not comfortable with but did come in handy, as the attorney was trying to maneuver me into crossing the line onto the Legion’s property. I assume I was to be beaten if I did.

I’m not much of a dancer, but I do know how to maneuver as well as the next guy when it comes to playing chess on a property line with a bunch of drunks.Carefully moving in an arc; so that the attorney would not notice through the haze of the alcohol; I slowly swung him around until he was finally on; and then over; the property line. And once he was I quickly slid the stick down into my hand and yelled, “Now you’re on my property motherfucker!”

The group surged forward and got a nice surprise when the stick in my hand started swinging in an arc as I let out the extension cord to which it was tied, creating a buffer zone which would have to be crossed in order for anyone to get to me. Meantime I had the attorney on my property and was not going to let him leave.

Now nobody wants to be the first to get hit; so I kept the situation static for a few moments as the drunks tried to figure out just what the hell had happened. At the same time the local town Police Chief showed up and charged into the darkness of my yard yelling my name, “Mr. Williams, Mr. Williams, step back so I can see you!” He was trying to distinguish me from the group of would be assailants. He quickly herded everyone back into the Legion; though he wrote no summonses for the open alcohol and refused to arrest the attorney for trespassing.

But there is more way in which to skin a cat and I eventually won the war by finding out about some financial improprieties which would have forced the Legion to close; as well as place them in the hands of the IRS. Through my own sources at their bank I learned of the existence of a private account which was comprised of some skimmed profits from the sale of beer at the Legion post.

This violated their nonprofit status and could have even resulted in jail time for someone. They were planning on building a private catering facility with the money on the land adjacent to the post. This would have been hell for the people who lived on our street. But my knowledge of this information put an immediate stop to all of the problems which we had been having for the past 5 or 6 years. And to this day there is no catering facility located there.

Okay, that’s me in the good light. Here’s the darker side of the story and its connection to the 4th of July and hence my wedding anniversary.

At the time of these events Sue and I would celebrate our anniversary by going to see the fireworks at the Harborplace, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The night before the 4th the Legion had decorated their entire property; which was several acres; with a border of small American flags. They had ruined so many holidays for me that I was just seething with a desire for revenge.

Now, before I go on, you must realize that this particular Legion post had about 300 members, of which maybe 3 were veterans. The other 297 were their friends and came there to drink cheaply. All of the flags in the world really meant nothing to these guys; it was all about the beer. This is not an excuse for what I did; so let's just say that there were mitigating factors involved.

Early on the morning of the 4th; after the Legion had closed for the night; I quietly went around the perimeter of the entire property and removed all the flags. I hid them in the trees where the Legion members used to like to have sex with other member’s wives and then went to bed. 

The next day brought a couple of phone calls and one visitor to my door asking about the flags. I just told them to get off my property and not to call me. Technically speaking the flags were still on the Legion's property, not mine. and there they remained all day long while they had their picnic, so I had no worries on that score. I was saving them for the evening, because by now I had a plan.

That evening, while waiting for the fireworks to start, Sarah and I walked through the crowds at Fell’s Point selling American flags. I charged a buck a piece or 3 for $2. Hell, I was working with little overhead and could even afford to give a few away. 

The funniest part was the guy who insisted that I was trying to cheat him with the 3 for $2 deal and insisted on paying me a dollar each for 4 flags. He was very proud of himself at having not been cheated. Sarah was only about 8 years old at the time and even she knew better. Hey, I might have stolen the flags, but I would never cheat anybody!

So that is the story of how; just as in our own American Revolution; I lost all the major battles but won the war. And I even managed to collect a few bucks for damages in the process. As I said earlier, this story shows me in 2 different lights. And to be honest with you, I like both of me.

I sent Sarah some flags for the 4th this year, just in case she needs a couple of bucks.

And Happy Anniversary Sue; you certainly have to admit it’s been interesting…..

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Happy Birthday Mom (Ruth Marcus Williams) 1929-1984

Today my Mom would have been 86 years old. If she were still alive I might not be telling you that, as she was a bit vain about her age. She was over a year older than my Dad and I think she always wished it were the other way around. Go figure.

This photo is from her childhood album and was taken on the roof at 3619 Bedford Avenue. That’s the big red building on the NE corner of Bedford and Kings Highway. She was 14 years old. After she married my Dad in 1950 they lived there in apartment 3-C with my Grandmother Marcus and her brother Uncle Irving and their Russian born father "Max." A woman named Mary, and eventually her husband Mack, also lived there. Mary was the Irish woman who raised my Mom during the 1930's and became a lifelong friend of my Grandmother's.When Mary and Mack moved to California in the late 1950’s, she went with them. My Uncle always said that they took the Dodgers with them.

This picture always fascinates me because it shows how much more mature people seemed to be "back then". Of course the country had just been through the Great Depression, and this photo was taken in the middle of the Second World War which followed it. That might account for part of it. As a matter of fact, that’s my Uncle Walter’s army cap she’s holding. He was home on leave at the time after basic training.

Happy Birthday Mom!

You would have been confused by much of what is happening these days, but also thrilled with some of the other things. Like blogs. You would have had one; and a Facebook page. Those long distance phone calls from faraway places would never have been necessary. But I wouldn’t have missed them for the world. They are how we bridged our divide. Those calls are why when I miss you I am able to smile. They are why I’m smiling now...

Love always,

Robert

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Happy Birthday Olivia DeHavilland!

Today is Olivia DeHavilland’s birthday. You can look it up if you want to know her age. Ask me and all I’ll say is that she’s timeless; and a real lady. Back in 2005 I wrote a short review of one of my favorite films and then sent a copy to her in Paris; where she has resided for longer than many people have been alive. I never in my wildest dreams expected to hear back from her; especially by e-mail!

So, here it is, 5 years later and this message is still one of the most treasured things I have from doing this blog. I have the Ernie Borgnine note; and the Tommy Chong one; and a bunch of others; but none mean as much to me as this one. She was Maid Marian to me as a kid, and still remains so to this very day. I especially love the fact that she chided me for having confused her with Maureen O’Hara and the “oaters” she made with John Wayne, as opposed to the ones she made with Errol Flynn.  And of course it touched me greatly that she signed it from Maid Marian.

Happy Birthday Ms. DeHavilland! You are forever young…..


Here is the original review of the film. 

I was watching an old movie last night, not an unusual thing for me to be doing. The film was "Robin Hood", the 1938 version with Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland. Of all the versions of this film, this is my favorite. The seeming spontaneity of the acting, along with the lively banter and the plethora of fine character actors, has always made this film a joy to watch. The tale is familiar and the plot fairly simple. And there is also the simplified version of history that has its own attraction for me.

I was pleasantly surprised this morning to learn that Ms. DeHavilland is still with us, alive and well, living in Paris. She has lived there since the 1950's when she was married to Paris Match editor Pierre Galante in 1955. Though the couple divorced in 1979, she remained in Paris and on close terms with Mr. Galante, even nursing him through his final days of illness in 1998.

Her career is a storied one. Eight films with Errol Flynn, including; "Robin Hood", "Captain Blood", "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and "They Died with Their Boots On." Of course, many will remember her for her role as Melanie in "Gone with the Wind." And along the way she never made any films with John Wayne. (This is a personal joke between Maid Marion and me.)

Her high mark in the movies, at least for me, is her stark portrayal of a woman dealing with mental illness in the 1948 classic "The Snake Pit." If you have never seen that film, well, you should.

So this is just a shout out to Ms. DeHavilland on the occasion of her 94th birthday. Thanks for the films, which will be with us always, providing entertainment to yet another generation of film enthusiasts.  
A Very Happy Birthday to you, Maid Marian.

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Say No to the Devil" by Ian Zack (2015)

This is the story of Reverend Gary Davis, the blind preacher who gave up blues and jazz to play gospel music on the streets of New York City. He lived in Jamaica, Queens in the 1960’s when I was growing up. Along with Moondog; the Viking poet of 6th Avenue; he was an iconic figure in the life of the city.This is the story of how he came to be there and his influences upon modern folk music and even bluegrass. 

If you are a Jorma Kaukonen fan then you are already familiar with Reverend Davis’ work; though you might not even know it. His guitar style was completely his own and his delivery of contemporary classics such as "Hesitation Blues" is a spontaneous romp. While the rest of the country was "discovering" many of the old Delta Blues players like Sun House and John Hurt, Reverend Davis was championing the old time gospel music of his youth.

Instead of the usual review of the book by me, here’s Reverend Davis; let him tell you the story in his own way.


Friday, June 26, 2015

SCOTUS - Right and Wrong on Gay Marriage

The Supreme Court has done it again. They got it right; but for the wrong reason; in the decision this morning to protect Gay Marriage. That they used the 14th Amendment to do so, rather than striking at the root of the problem, is troubling to me, if no one else. Let me attempt to clearly state why.

The whole shebang centered on the ill-conceived DOMA act which was first introduced by Bill Clinton in 1996. It was a midterm election effort to retain those voters who were as yet uncomfortable with Gay Marriage. But in crafting the thing they put a major chip in the Constitution.

Article IV, Section 1: (1789)

Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.

This Article makes it possible to be married in one state and move to another without getting married again. It covers everything from car registrations to interstate commerce. It’s what keeps the local sheriff from knocking on a motel door demanding to see a local wedding license. It’s the very essence of the interaction between the states on so many levels that I have always wondered why they essentially broke it with the 2nd section of DOMA; the third section of which was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. But Section 2 was left intact, and as far as I can tell, in spite of today’s ruling, remains so.

Here is the entire act with the troublesome 2nd Section in bold italics.

DOMA (1996)

Section 1. Short title. This Act may be cited as the "Defense of Marriage Act".

Section 2. Powers reserved to the states. No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

Section 3. Definition of marriage. In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

It is hard for me to understand just why the Court simply did not address the 2nd Section when striking down DOMA. That would have prevented the individual states from going through the unnecessary judicial proceedings of the last decade, with each state fighting for or against Gay Marriage on the basis of States Rights; which is clearly allowed by Section 2 of DOMA. In striking down DOMA’s 3rd Section only and leaving Section 2 intact they created the whole problem they resolved this morning by using the 14th Amendment to reach their decision.

But, still troubling is the fact that the 2nd Section of DOMA is left intact; giving rise to the question just why it has not been struck down by the Court; even with today’s new ruling. Leaving it intact only creates a precedent in law which still undermines Article 4 Section 1 of the Constitution.

If I am probably the only one troubled by this, I can only recall the time when I was working on an appeal for some charge against me while in the Navy aboard the USS Neosho. The Captain found me poring over the Ship’s Organization and Regulation Manual and refused to let me continue with my research. He would not allow me to use the book. I asked him if it would not be more convenient for the Navy to take only sailors who couldn’t read. He never answered but there are times when it does seem like a curse to be able to do so. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Two Flags - Big Difference

There is a rising tide of resentment about the proposed removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the memorial at the State House in South Carolina. The center of the argument is along the lines of; “If the Battle flag; which flew for only 4 years, representing a singular evil; is wrong, then what about the American flag which has flown for over 200 years and reigned over such atrocities as slavery; the conquest of Texas from Mexico; the complete annihilation of the American Indian; the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; etc, etc; then why should it be permitted to fly?”

Well, the biggest difference of all is that each of the mistakes we, as a nation, have committed in the past have been addressed in some fashion. We abolished slavery; we no longer conquer our neighbors; and until recently we have led the world in the attempt to at least control the threat of nuclear weapons. While we look towards the future, the proponents of the Battle Flag still harken for the days and grand lifestyle of the antebellum South. In other words; given their druthers, they’d do it all again.

What it all boils down to is this; in much the same way as Moderate Islam has lost control of their religion to a supposed minority of radicals and misfits, so goes the way of the Confederate Battle Flag. Unfortunately; for some, with or without a flag; that war will never end.