Friday, April 18, 2014

Paul Revere and the Raiders - (1967)

Today is the 239th anniversary of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride. It is one of the first American history lessons I ever recall hearing. I must have been in Kindergarten at the time. Mrs. Gerber; with seamed stockings; was my teacher and she read the poem to the class. We were enthralled. And I’ve never forgotten her seamed stockings – or the poem.

Of course, that’s not Paul Revere, or even Longfellow above; that’s Mark Lindsay with Paul Revere and the Raiders doing a medley of their hits “Mr. Sun”, “Out on Road”, and “Kicks.” I have included them for the sake of diversity. 

Following is a short paragraph about Mr. Longfellow and his famous poem; followed by the poem itself. At the end I have included an eye witness account of that day at Lexington and Concord by Sylvanus Wood, who was 23 years old at the time.

In April of 1860 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow climbed the tower of the Old North Church and was inspired to write his simplified version of the nights' events. It was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in January of 1861. It has since acquired legendary stature and has served as the inspiration for millions of Americans to learn more about the events of that night. I reprint it here with great pleasure and as a tribute to those men who gathered at Lexington that morning to begin the labor pains that ultimately gave birth to our Nation.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

The following is an eyewitness account of that day by Sylvanus Wood, who wrote the following in 1828. He was born in 1752 and was 23 at the time of the actual events. This statement was sworn before a Notary.

 "I, Sylvanus Wood, of Woburn, in the county of Middlesex, and commonwealth of Massachusetts, aged seventy-four years, do testify and say that on the morning of the 19th of April, 1775, I was an inhabitant of Woburn, living with Deacon Obadiah Kendall; that about an hour before the break of day on said morning, I heard the Lexington bell ring, and fearing there was difficulty there, I immediately arose, took my gun and, with Robert Douglass, went in haste to Lexington, which was about three miles distant.

When I arrived there, I inquired of Captain Parker, the commander of the Lexington company, what was the news. Parker told me he did not know what to believe, for a man had come up about half an hour before and informed him that the British troops were not on the road. But while we were talking, a messenger came up and told the captain that the British troops were within half a mile. Parker immediately turned to his drummer, William Diman, and ordered him to beat to arms, which was done. Captain Parker then asked me if I would parade with his company. I told him I would. Parker then asked me if the young man with me would parade. I spoke to Douglass, and he said he would follow the captain and me.

By this time many of the company had gathered around the captain at the hearing of the drum, where we stood, which was about half way between the meetinghouse and Buckman's tavern. Parker says to his men, 'Every man of you, who is equipped, follow me; and those of you who are not equipped, go into the meeting-house and furnish yourselves from the magazine, and immediately join the company.' Parker led those of us who were equipped to the north end of Lexington Common, near the Bedford Road, and formed us in single file. I was stationed about in the centre of the company. While we were standing, I left my place and went from one end of the company to the other and counted every man who was paraded, and the whole number was thirty-eight, and no more.

Confrontation at Lexington Green

Just as I had finished and got back to my place, I perceived the British troops had arrived on the spot between the meeting-house and Bucknian's, near where Captain Parker stood when he first led off his men. The British troops immediately wheeled so as to cut off those who had gone into the meeting-house. The British troops approached us rapidly in platoons, with a general officer on horseback at their head. The officer came up to within about two rods of the centre of the company, where I stood, the first platoon being about three rods distant. They there halted. The officer then swung his sword, and said, 'Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, or you are all dead men. Fire!' Some guns were fired by the British at us from the first platoon, but no person was killed or hurt, being probably charged only with powder.

Just at this time, Captain Parker ordered every man to take care of himself. The company immediately dispersed; and while the company was dispersing and leaping over the wall, the second platoon of the British fired and killed some of our men. There was not a gun fired by anv of Captain Parker's company, within my knowledge. I was so situated that I must have known it, had any thing of the kind taken place before a total dispersion of our company. I have been intimately acquainted with the inhabitants of Lexington, and particularly with those of Captain Parker's company, and, with one exception, I have never heard any of them say or pretend that there was any firing at the British from Parker's company, or any individual in it until within a year or two. One member of the company told me, many years since, that, after Parker's company had dispersed, and he was at some distance, he gave them 'the guts of his gun.'"

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Clinton, DOMA and Article IV - WTF?

Am I the only one who understands this, or am I just ill-informed? First off, if you don’t know the difference between an Amendment and an Article in the US Constitution, then this post is not for you. If you would like to know, then I’ll tell you.

An Amendment to the Constitution is something which has been added; or changed from the original Articles; which delineate what the government’s functions are, and how they are to go about their jobs. Amendments are; beginning with the first ten in the Bill of Rights; outline the areas of  our lives in which the government is not allowed to intrude. And sometimes; as with the 27th Amendment; they are merely additions or corrections to existing Articles. 

Secondly; Civil Rights Issues; of which Same Sex Marriage is but one; are not negotiable, and therefore not subject to populist elections. It is essential that you understand these two things. Okay, got that straight? Now, some background.

Bill Clinton is the ex-President who is seen as the godfather to the GLBT movement. I hope I have the initials in the proper order so as not to offend anyone. But Bill Clinton; in addition to giving us the ill-advised “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy; also left us with a lasting legacy; and conundrum; in the form of the Defense of Marriage Act.

DOMA; it’s easier to use the acronym; basically stated that marriage in the United States consists of one man and one woman. That alone is confusing to me in that Bill Clinton is embraced by the GLBT community as a champion of their quest for equal rights. But what really puzzles me even more is the clause within DOMA which basically guts Article 4; the Full Faith and Credit Clause; which states that “Full faith and Credit shall be given in each state to the Public Acts, records and Judicial proceedings of every other state….” In essence, this clause prevents the individual states from not honoring your driver’s license, automobile registration, marriage license etc. when traveling through their districts. This was a good thing.

Can you imagine the confusion resulting in having to pay a fee at each state border as you travel across the country? Or having to get a temporary marriage permit while on vacation? Full Faith and Credit is the antithesis of State’s Rights, which brings me to the crux of this post.

Bill Clinton planted the seeds for all the confusion going on in the courts across the country right now in regards to Same Sex Marriage. That’s right; the godfather of alternative lifestyles is at the root of the problem being faced by GLBT people all across the land as they try to navigate the labyrinth of state laws which permit them to marry in some states, while making those unions illegal in others.

Further complicating the matter is that the Supreme Court struck down only that portion of DOMA which restricted Same Sex Marriage. It did not, however, strike down the clause which allowed the individual states to by-pass Article 4 of the Constitution. This is why you have lawsuit after lawsuit concerning Same Sex Marriage in one state after another. If the  entire DOMA had been struck down this would not be an issue.

President Bush postured to repeal the entire DOMA Act in order to gain conservative votes. Had he known what a roadblock DOMA could be for Same Sex Marriage he would have felt differently. This brings us to President Obama; who has stated in the past that his position on this issue was “evolving.” What is his administration’s position on this issue now?

Well, according to Eric Holder and the Justice Department, the portion of DOMA which remains intact regarding Full Faith and Credit; which would allow a Same Sex Marriage in Vermont to not be honored in Kansas; the government; for now; will not pursue a change. What the hell does that mean?

Full Faith and Credit has served this country well; both socially and commercially; for well over 200 years. The patchwork quilt created by Bill Clinton; and unchanged by his predecessors; is an ill omen of things to come. As a legal precedent it threatens us in more ways than just Same Sex Marriage. With Conservatives calling for a roll back to an era before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 it threatens us in more ways than you can imagine.

And, as these elections about Same Sex Marriage roll around to your state, it is important to remember that Civil Rights are not subject to elections. They are non-negotiable. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April - History's Busiest Month

April is one of the most active times of the year historically. There is reason for this. In the past, before airplanes and other modern conveniences became available, April marked the end of winter and the roads became passable. New conflicts arose and old ones resumed. Just look at our own American history; which is fairly recent in the grand scheme of things; and you will see the pattern.

The Revolutionary War began in April, with the landing of the Kings troops in Boston and the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Our Civil War may have technically begun in January, but it wasn’t prosecuted in full until the Battle of Bull Run in the spring. The war also ended in April, just in time for General Lee’s troops to return home and try to coax a harvest out of their war ravaged land.

The picture above is “April”, or “Avril” from “Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry”, which is translated as The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry.” I ran across this beautiful collection of French Gothic Art while looking up some information for this post. The complete work consists of 12 panels, each one representing a month of the year. This panel shows a couple exchanging rings.

Now, I could continue on with what would be a very boring piece about the importance of the weather in history; which is what makes April so significant in regards to the amount of historical events contained in any single month. Or, I can tell you about these new paintings I just “discovered.” I’ll take the latter option.

Apparently, at the dawn of the 15th Century; about 1400 A.D.; there was a Frenchman who had some money and wanted to chronicle the months of the year in paintings which also represented his lifestyle. To that end he commissioned the Limbourg Brothers to create a 12 panel set. The work was begun in 1412 but by 1416 the two brothers; as well as the Duke of Berry; were all dead. The paintings then passed on to his relatives, where it languished for several decades.

In 1845 an heir of the Dukes decided to have the work completed. He chose Jean Colombe to finish the set. Though his paintings are in many ways distinguishable from the original ones completed by the Limbourg Brothers, the spirit of the project remains wholly intact. Upon first viewing it would appear that these paintings were the result of one unbroken effort on the part of the Limbourgs, rather than a project which was completed years later by another artist.

You can see all of the paintings; as well as read about them here;

This is one of the best things about blogging. I am always learning things. When I look up one thing I bump into another. It’s endless; underscoring just how much there is to learn in the short time which we are given to learn anything at all. Now, that’s a sobering thought…

As far as my post about April; there was one part in which I was going to explain how the name represents an “opening”, or “blooming” of a new season. Also, in many Asian countries April 15 is celebrated as the New Year, which coincides with the spring planting. There were lots of other boring things I was going to relate; like the Titanic going down, etc.  But they all paled in comparison to these wonderful paintings which I had never seen before.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"A Cruel and Shocking Act" by Philip Shenon (2013)

If you believe that President Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin named Lee Harvey Oswald, then this is the book you have been waiting for. On the other hand, if you believe that President Kennedy was a victim of a conspiracy, then this is the book for you. Author Philip Shenon has gathered the memories of all the surviving staff members who assisted the Warren Commission in compiling its report, and in doing so has only bolstered the beliefs of both sides.

The Warren Commission Report was initiated by President Johnson, who later opined to Walter Cronkite that he believed there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, and therefore did not believe in the findings of the commission he himself had created. It was never signed by the man who chaired it; Chief Justice Earl Warren, who suppressed evidence in order to wrap things up neatly. And, finally, it was signed reluctantly by the man who would, 11 years later become the first unelected President of the United States, Gerald Ford.

If you ever want to explain why Americans don’t really trust their government, and embrace conspiracy theories in the first place, you have only to look at the dysfunction of the Warren Commission to prove your point. The infighting between the various agencies; such as the FBI and the CIA to withhold evidence and sources from one another, as well as the commission, are perfect examples.

The book goes into detail about the connection of Oswald’s supposed Mexican visit, which produced no known photos of him at either of the embassies he supposedly visited, raising the possibility of a double agent. His relationship with Silvia Duran, of the Cuban Embassy is also explored.

Of particular interest are the deals made by Marina Oswald in the days immediately surrounding her husband’s death at the hands of Jack Ruby. She sold her husband’s diary without even telling the police that there was one. She also burned what she thought to be the only copies of the now iconic photos of her husband posing with a rifle, handgun and a Communist newspaper. The fact that there were so many other copies floating about in the days before digital scanning, etc. makes me wonder. Who else had copies of these photos and why?

Her take from the various book deals and magazine articles amounted to about $300,000 in today’s dollars. She fired her business manager, James Martin, after having a brief affair with him while living in his home. She ended the affair by calling his wife and telling her that her husband was no longer employed as her manager, or lover.

Marina Oswald wasn’t the only widow taking in some immediate cash. Jackie Kennedy began work on her book with Arthur Schlesinger before the Warren Commission was even done with their report. The commission was not even going to call upon her for her testimony; wishing to spare her the ordeal; until they got wind of the book. If she could talk about it for money, then she could appear before the Commission. Still, when it came time to depose her, they went to her home in Georgetown, where she was living at the time.

Robert Kennedy would only appear before the Commission by a series of letters; ones which he wrote himself. The first one was a request from Chief Justice Earl Warren to him; written by RFK asking him to submit a reply. The Chief Justice signed that request and sent it back to RFK. A pre-approved reply was then sent to the Chief Justice.

The portion of the investigation dealing with Jack Ruby is a true riddle. The man had the opportunity to kill Oswald on Friday night at the infamous “news conference” at the City Jail, where he was paraded before the press. Ruby even took part in that event when he corrected DA Henry Wade on the correct name of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He was that well known to the local police, yet no one noticed him entering the building on Sunday morning when he was finally able to kill Oswald.

Ruby ended up deranged before and during his trial for killing Oswald. He believed that since he had murdered Oswald the Jews of America were being tortured in retaliation. He was clearly insane; even judged to be so; yet he was still sentenced to death for his crime. He died before the sentence could be carried out. His chapter remains one of the most controversial among conspiracy theorists.

Arlen Specter, the architect of the “magic bullet” theory; which says that one pristine bullet caused 7 wounds to both Kennedy and Governor Connally before landing underneath a rubber mat on the gurney at Parkland hospital; is portrayed as an adequate investigator. His theory was doubted by just about everyone on the Commission. It has been the subject of numerous recreations using the latest technology to prove its validity. But think about this; if you intentionally set out to prove a theory correct, you must first start out by accepting that theory to be true. If you believe it to be false it is just as easy to prove that as well.

One of the most interesting events to come out of the Warren Commission’s investigation occurred when William Coleman; the lone African-American working for the Committee; went to a secret rendezvous off of Cuba to meet Castro and ask him; face to face; whether or not he, or the Russians, had anything to do with the President’s murder.

Castro had told the press in October of 1963 that the American government was targeting him for assassination; which they were under Operation Mongoose a black op being run by the CIA. He also promised to retaliate in kind; which many people think is actually what happened; Operation Mongoose got reversed by right wing factions within the United Sates, making Kennedy the target instead.

The most interesting thing about Coleman’s encounter is that he already knew Castro from the Cuban leader’s visits to New York, which had begun as early as the 1940’s. Apparently Coleman had met him in Harlem at the jazz clubs when Castro was on his honeymoon in 1948. They were both jazz fans. When they met again in 1964 aboard a Cuban navy boat, they discussed that visit and music before getting down to business. Castro denied any involvement in the murder, and Mr. Coleman took him at face value.

The investigators themselves; along with the 7 Committee members themselves, were often at odds over the direction and progress of the Commission. Some wanted to focus on the foreign conspiracy aspect of the crime more than others. As a result of the pre-determined outcome of the report; it must sate that Oswald acted alone, this was understood by all; any leads not leading back to Oswald as the sole shooter, were given short shrift.

Commission investigator Jim Liebeler was a hard working staff member. But he still found time to attempt the seduction of both Marina Oswald and Silvia Odio; the Cuban woman in Texas who claimed to have seen Oswald in the company of 2 other Latino men prior to the assassination. Silvia Odio is a possible key to the unexplored portions of Oswald’s Mexico City trip.

The other Silvia in this story is Silvia Duran, who was taken into custody within hours of the assassination by Mexican police at the request of the CIA. She was beaten and tortured in an effort to find out what she knew about Oswald and his activities there in Mexico.

All of these loose ends are what have Mr. Shenon concerned; and rightfully so; that there are still unexplored leads to the murder of President Kennedy in 1963. The latest ones involve Elena and Helena Garro, a mother daughter team who claim to have attended a party at which Oswald was present in Mexico prior to the assassination.

Whatever your beliefs about the Kennedy assassination may be, this book delivers all of the excitement you have come to expect from the crime which just won’t be solved. Mr. Shenon has done his homework well, and as a result has delivered an exciting book about the scenes behind the Warren Commission and the men who served on it.

In the end, it is also the story of the Warren Commission Report; a report which the Chief Justice for whom it was named refused to sign; and was only signed by Gerald Ford, who never believed it to be correct. And 11 years later he would become the first un-elected President of the United States.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Everything Is Free" - Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (2004)

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are coming to Charlotte in a few weeks. They will be playing at the Neighborhood Theater in NoDa, just north of Uptown, on April 25th. It's a very pleasing venue with about 600 seats in all. And that's the best way to see these two extraordinary artists; in as small a venue as possible.

The beauty of watching them perform their magic lies in the fact that they are partners in life as well as music. Mr. Rawlings obvious command of his instrument melds seamlessly with Ms. Welch's singing and her playing.

Songs like this are easily learned. Capo on the 5th fret; Am C G D with a few minor variations and you've got it. But songs like this are also a lifetime in the making. Though I have been fans of these two remarkable artists for several years now this is the first chance I will have had to see them. You can bet that if I had the extra cash I would be going to this show. For now though, I'll just play along....

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"It's Only me" by Robert Williams (2009) - The E book Version

In 2009 I wrote a short memoir called; appropriately; “It’s Only Me.” It consists of 30 chapters, with photos, written during 30 sessions of approximately 1 hour each over the course of 4 months. I posted it here as I wrote it; which means that it has never been posted in one spot all at the same time.

I suppose I could do that now, but that would be one long post! Instead I am going to post it here as my version of an “e-book.”  The real purpose for this post is so that I can have all 30 chapters in one spot. If anybody actually reads it; well, that’s always a plus!