Tuesday, April 28, 2015

No Post Today

Due to conditions beyond my immediate control, there will be no post today. It's not always that easy to think of something to write about that will be of interest to myself, let alone anyone else. It usually means that I just need a day off to finish a book, watch a movie, take a drive. Something usually comes along to inspire a post. It could be that I'm just a bit lazy today. No matter, I'll be back tomorrow, with no idea about what I am going to post. I'll just have to check in and see...

Monday, April 27, 2015

"Taking on Teddy Roosevelt" by Harry Lembeck (2015)

There is a widespread belief which holds that the 1948 defection of the so called “Dixiecrats” who left the Democratic Party over Harry Truman’s desegregation of the Armed Forces sparked the defection of African-Americans from the Republican Party of Lincoln to the Democratic Party of today.  And there is some truth to that. But the real migration began about 50 years before that and involves Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, and a riot in Texas which may not have been what it appeared to be.

In August 1906 the 25th Colored Infantry Division was stationed at Fort Browning in Brownsville, Texas. They had replace the all-white 24th which had served it’s time and was rotating back east. The townsfolk were more than a bit leery of having armed colored troops stationed just outside of town.

After several racially motivated incidents, several men; supposedly from the fort; went on a shooting spree, wounding some of the townsfolk and damaging most of the buildings which had refused to serve them. The events that followed underscored the deep racial divisions which split America in the days after the Civil War and still divide us in many ways.
President Theodore Roosevelt, who had served as William McKinley’s Vice President, was seen as a “gradualist” in the matter of race relations. He talked a great game about equality as he set the Great White Fleet off to show the flag, but here at home the President allied himself with Booker T. Washington; the African-American educator who founded the Tuskegee Institute to train Negroes in the Industrial Arts. 

In some ways Tuskegee was a trade school; rather than a true college of higher learning. He believed; and the President agreed with him; that Negroes were better suited for factory work and menial labor rather than any of the professions. They believed that it would take time to achieve the educational levels for Negroes to rise in society. One has to wonder whether or not anyone ever bothered to ask Booker T. how he had made the transition so quickly, and why he felt that his contemporaries could not.

The author explores the attitudes of the times in relation to the expectations of the African-American concerning armed blacks in the military. Although the “colored” troops had performed well in the Civil War; and the legendary Buffalo Soldiers; to whom the soldiers of the beleaguered 25th Colored Regiment were related by history; the people in Brownsville Texas were clearly not comfortable in having these troops present. It was only a matter of time until something happened.

The author explores the writings of some of the most illustrious African-American writers of the day; pitting the writings of W.E. DuBois against the politics; and policies; of Booker T. Washington and President Roosevelt. While DuBois was initially in agreement with the “gradualism” approach to equality, he ultimately saw the flaws in this arrangement. Who would decide when African-Americans were ready for advancement? Shouldn’t that question be decided by the African-Americans themselves; rather than be left with the very government which had allowed them to be enslaved for over 80 years after Independence had been declared?

This is a sweeping book encompassing both the incident at Fort Browning itself; as well as the political implications for the entire nation at the time. It would be well to remember that the history in these pages informs the debate on race relations in America today every bit as much as the news in today’s paper.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Eddie Ray at Kannapolis Library Book Fair

Yesterday the Kannapolis Library held a book fair with local authors on hand to talk about their writing and answer questions from readers; many of whom have read some of these books and showed up to meet the authors. I’m one of those. I showed up for Eddie Ray, a local celebrity and somewhat of an icon in the world of music. His achievements are too long to list here, so I will simply direct you to two sites; the first the Wikipedia link to his life; and second to the home of the NC Music Hall of Fame, of which Mr. Ray is Vice Chairman. (The title doesn’t mean a thing – so let’s just say that he is the heart and soul of the place.)

Eddie’s book, “Against All Odds”, is an aptly titled and personal story of his life. I first became acquainted with Mr. Ray just after he had begun working on it about 5 years ago and was privileged to watch it grow from a few pages to the wonderful book which it became. Here are the two links;

And here’s one more about the book itself. I like this one a lot because it has a rather prominent quote from my review and a link back to this site. (Ouch! I just hurt my back while patting it!)

This was not the usual type of meet the author book signing; rather it was comprised of a number of separate tables for each author to meet with readers and discuss their books with the readers in a different fashion. Instead of a long program of several hours, each author on the program above got their own space and new readers could pick and choose which ones they wanted to meet. In this way the library was able to accommodate the many local authors who wanted to attend.

Check your local libraries for these types of events. They offer a chance to meet with authors in a more relaxed setting than a book store signing. Somehow; even in this day and age; the library seems to lend them an extra level of legitimacy that cannot be found in a normal commercial environment.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"Kings Row" with Ronald Reagan, Bob Cummings and Ann Sheridan

Put aside your political leanings for an hour or so and watch one of the greatest films ever made. No kidding. Anyone who claims that Ronald Reagan couldn't act has never seen this film. In it, he portrays the scion of a well to do family who falls in love with a girl from the other side of the tracks. All throughout the film he is accompanied, and later comforted, by his best friend, played with great emotion by Robert Cummings.

The story centers around five different children a small railroad town, which, as in most railroad towns, is composed of two sides of the track. One is well to do, while the other side is composed of the very people that make the town work. The blue collar side. The story is set around the turn of the century in 1900.

Parris Mitchell (Bob Cummings) and Drake McHugh (Ronald Reagan) are the best of friends, both have lost a parent and their bond with one another is unbreakable. Parris dreams of studying medicine under the guidance of Dr.Tower (Claude Rains)who is also the father of Cassie, the object of Parris' affections.

Drake plans to go into business when he receives his full inheritance. Until then, he is somewhat of the town playboy, squiring his lady friends about town, much to the dismay of some of the more "proper" citizens. In short, he is not well liked, though he is likeable.

When Parris moves to Vienna to study psychiatry, Drake is left at home, pursuing his many lady friends before finally falling in love with the daughter of the town's other physician, Dr. Gordon (Charles Coburn) who does not approve of the match. When Drake suffers a horrible railroad accident, Dr. Gordon amputates Drake's leg without cause, assuring that he will not marry his daughter. The scene in which Drake awakens after the amputation is one of the finest pieces of acting ever recorded, as Drake realizes what has happened and screams out, "Where's the rest of me!?" This line would go on to serve as the title of Ronald Reagan's first auto-biography.

As the movie plays out, the secrets of the town are uncovered one by one, and a portrait of a small American town is changed forever. As for just what happens to the two friends, Parris and Drake, as well as the women they love, you will have to watch this stunning film to find out.

The movie garnered 2 Oscar Nominations, one for Sam Wood as Best Director, and the other for Hal B. Wallis of Warner Brothers, for Best Picture. If you are a film buff and have never seen this film, you are missing an absolute classic.

Friday, April 24, 2015

USCG Cutter Cartigan - "The Big Storm" by George Copna

Everybody who has sailed aboard ship for any length of time will have a story to tell about a storm. Some are better than others. But basically, they are all good. They provide an insight, for those who will never experience it, of the wonder, along with the sheer terror, that comes of facing waves larger than the vessel in which you are riding. They serve as reminders that we are all just visiting, and all at the mercy of something, at sometime in our lives. Here is George Copna's latest story of the USCG Cutter Cartigan, during which she encounters some very nasty weather. This story takes place around 1961.

THE BIG STORM by George Copna

Once, while on CAMPAT, we were on the tail end of the patrol looking forward to relief. The weather was warm, the seas calm and we were stopped, just drifting at a certain latitude awaiting relief from the CGC SEBAGO out of Pensacola, FL. I was the RM on duty and I heard them, via CW (Morse code) getting underway enroute to relieve us. I copied their radio traffic which included a weather report to 8th CG District New Orleans, LA. The SEBAGO was reporting winds in excess of 60 mph and seas running 25-30 feet. I thought how lucky we were to be in calm seas as opposed to what they were experiencing.

Let me pause here and say that the SEBAGO was literally twice our size at 255 feet as compared to our 125 feet in length. After being relieved of my watch, I went below and hit the rack. I awoke the next morning to some violent ship movements. All the hatches to the exterior decks were 'dogged down' and nobody was permitted outside on deck. The only way to get to the radio shack was through a hatch in the radio shack deck. I climbed up the ladder to relieve the RM on watch and found that we were in the midst of the weather that the SEBAGO had reported. The duty RM advised me that we had absolutely no communications with anybody. The wind and waves had torn away our whip and wire antennae. The only sounds coming from my earphones was loud static.

So, I spent the next four hours standing in the radio shack door watching the helmsman trying to maintain some semblance of a course while plowing into the seas head on. I watched in awe and some fright as we rode up one wave 25-30' and crash down into the trough with a crash. The next wave would cover us up, sometimes to the flying bridge. It was certainly a wild and somewhat frightening ride, and it was the first time I didn't get seasick in rough weather. I guess I was just too scared to think about it.

At one point, a large wave struck the face of the bridge directly and broke out several windows, showering the bridge watch with water and glass shards. This was truly getting to be a worrisome ride! After getting relieved from my watch, I went to the mess deck for some chow - I actually felt good enough to eat. When I got below to the mess deck, I found the cook fore-lonely seated with the evening meal of oyster stew and biscuits sloshing around his feet. So much for chow, so I just went back to my rack.

I was wakened for my next watch (0001-0400) and found we sere still in the maelstrom so all bridge watch standers were still being routed through the radio shack. I hadn't been signed on long before the sliding door that leads to the bridge flew open. A non-rated seaman watchstander stood there and entered the radio shack, endeavoring to close the door behind him. He looked like he had a mouthful of regurgitated stomach contents (a.k.a. vomitus). His abdomen was spasming and his cheeks were puffed out like a chipmunk. I told him I'd shut the door, just get down below, out of the radio shack. He lifted up the electrical matt covering the hatch that led down below - right into officer's country. He finally got the hatch open and literally slid down the ladder, hitting the deck HARD! This sudden stop caused him to lose control of his ability to maintain control of the contents in his mouth and he sprayed the area with its contents. He then had to clean up the stinking mess.

We rode like this for close to another day before the storm subsided and the seas began to calm themselves. If my memory serves me correctly, we had ended up in the 7th CG District waters (we were assigned to the 8th CG District).

We limped home, beat up, torn up, canvas all gone from fore & aft, port & starboard, low on fresh water and food and very tired. We finally made it into our home port two days longer than we were supposed to be out. St. Andrew's Marina never looked so good!!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lincoln Stories - 2 Favorites

I love Lincoln. The stories of his youth and physical prowess abound, most untrue, but inspiring nonetheless. The first one was in the book "The Case of Abraham Lincoln" by Julie M. Fenster, which I have reviewed here before. The second one is an old story that I read sometime as a kid, somewhere. Hence I have not backed it up with a source. Both stories are emblematic of the man, and the times in which he lived.

‘Tis said that in his younger day, he made a vow that if he should ever find a man uglier than himself, he would shoot him. One day while rambling over the hills with his rifle in his hand, in search of game, he met a man who was exceedingly ugly; immediately he cocked his gun and took aim, but upon being asked by the stranger what he was going to do, if he was going to murder him, Lincoln lowered his gun, told the stranger his vow and that he must prepare to meet his fate.

The stranger, after eyeing Lincoln for a while and scanning him from head to foot, exclaimed,; “Well, if I am uglier than you, I don’t want to live- so shoot me!”

Source: Iota: pen name, Illinois Correspondence, Missouri Republican, June 25th, 1856 page 2.

Abraham Lincoln was riding on a train when the man next to him lit a cigar, fouling the air about him. "Excuse me sir," said Lincoln, "but your cigar smoke is drifting into my area and I am having a frightful time breathing. Might not you extinguish it?" The man replied that he had paid for his seat, and if the smoke from his cigar was drifting into Lincoln's area that was his problem, but he intended to smoke his cigar.

Lincoln produced a small pistol, which he aimed at the man's head, saying as he did, "I, too, have paid for my seat, and I wish to fire my pistol. If the bullet from my gun strays into your area, well that's too bad." The man extinguished his cigar.

Apocryphal- no source.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Cider House Rules" with Michael Caine and Toby Macquire

Being a Michael Caine fan carries with it many risks. The main one is that he makes any movie offered to him. He once remarked that, "I am an actor, and that's what I do. I don't write the stuff." He’s right, so I am always willing to take a chance on one of his films, hoping that it will be another gem; such as "The Man Who Would Be King", "Secondhand Lions", or this beautifully scripted film from the book of the same name by John Irving; screenplay  by Peter Parnell.

Although this film deals with the thorny subject of abortion, I don’t think it ever really preaches to the issue one way or another. The orphanage where Homer Wells; played by Tobey Maguire works takes in unwed mothers; offering them a choice of an abortion or giving the child up for adoption. That means that there are always children waiting to be taken away by a loving family.

Homer has been at the home since he was born there, and Dr. Wilbur Larch; played by Michael Caine; has raised him almost like a son. He has even taught him obstetrics and also how to perform an abortion. Homer doesn’t have a real “problem” with the choices other people make; he just doesn’t like to perform that procedure. As a child who was given up at birth he often wonders what would have happened had his mother chose to abort him. It is the source of constant debate between Dr. Larch and Homer.
The film successfully portrays all of the characters who inhabit the book by John Irving. There is Nurse Edna; played with great sympathy by Jane Alexander. She is not only a caring nurse and surrogate mother to the children in her charge, but she is also in love with Dr. Larch, although she knows that nothing will ever really become of her feelings. Dr. Larch is in love with his work, as well as the ether he inhales to help him cope with the sadness he sees all around him.

When a young couple; Candy Kendall, played by Charlize Theron; and Lt. Wally Worthington, played by Paull Rudd; arrive to have an abortion, something awakens in Homer which causes him to leave with the couple on their departure. When events with the two lovers change the circumstances of their relationship Homer finds that he is confronted by love for the first time.

Meantime back at Candy’s family apple orchard, its apple picking time. With nowhere else to go, Homer decides to stay on at the orchard and work with the migrant workers who pick the apples and make the cider each year. He lives in the bunkhouse; also known as the Cider House. There is a wooden sign in it that has a list of the Rules. Nobody but Homer can read, so it’s kind of silly to have them posted in the first place. The workers feel that the rules were made with no input from them, so why should they be bound by them? The Rules were made by people who never have to face their particular set of problems; making the rulers, and their rules, irrelevant.

Arthur Rose; played by Delroy Lindo; has been picking apples for the Kendall’s for years. He arrives with his “crew”; including his daughter Rose Rose; played by Erykah Badu. Homer is the only white person in the bunk house, and although they are uneducated people, Homer is drawn to them. And, in turn, he is as much a mystery to them as they are to him.

But Homer has a way with people; he is very much Dr. Larch’s son in many ways; and he develops an easy camaraderie with the whole crew. He is particularly drawn to Rose Rose, seeing her as a figure of tragedy and lost opportunity. And when something happens to her that causes him to use the very skills he detests righting a greater wrong, he is both shocked and enlightened by his experience.

Back at the orphanage Dr. Larch finds that the board is going to replace him. He has to do something to salvage his position. This orphanage is the only family he has ever known. While Nurse Edna reads to the girls each night at bedtime, Dr. Larch does the same with the boys. He reads them exciting classic adventures and each night as he leaves the dormitory he says the same thing; "Goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of New England!" He says this as both a blessing and a way of making them feel valued. He is deeply loved by all.

Faced with the prospect of losing his orphanage Dr. Larch fakes credentials for Homer to convince the board to appoint Homer as the next director. This is not the first time Dr. Larch has falsified a document on Homer’s behalf. Unbeknownst to Homer, the heart condition he has been diagnosed with is not real, but it did keep him out of the war.

In the end Homer sees things less in terms of black and white. He still doesn’t like performing abortions, but he has seen some things which change his opinion of Dr. Larch. In the end he is the one tucking the boys in at night. And as he continues to send them off to sleep with the same hopeful thought; “Goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of New England!" he finally realizes what his coworkers at the orchard meant about the Rules.

Note: They spelled Michael Caine's name wrong on the cover.