Saturday, September 20, 2014

"The Bookworm" - MGM (1939) / Sue's Birthday!

A storm and an old mansion are the setting for this 1939 MGM cartoon. As the clock expires from exhaustion in the wee hours of the night a storm rages outside. And as it does the inhabitants of many of the books in the library come out to play. The witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth get Poe’s Raven to hunt for a worm to complete the making of one of their “brews.” Since this is a library the Raven looks in the books for a bookworm.

Finding one isn’t too hard, but keeping him captive proves to be a mammoth task for all concerned. The action is non-stop as the Raven and his cronies attempt to outsmart the bookworm. But remember, he’s spent a lot of time in and around books, so he has a few tricks of his own to fall back on. Great story and animation mark this one as a real keeper.

Although the cartoon was actually directed by Friz Freleng, Hugh Harman got the screen credit. The voice of the Raven is none other than the incomparable Mel Blanc.

It's Sue's Birthday!

This is one of my favorite pictures of, Sue. Today is her birthday. I can't imagine life with anyone else. She's a triple threat; sexy, smart and pretty. 

And, as if that weren't enough, to top it all off she was kind enough to say yes and make an honest man of me.

Happy Birthday, Sue! You are my sunshine... 

Love, Robert 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Old Textbooks - Foundations to Build Upon

When I was in Junior High School (W. Arthur Cunningham JHS 234 in Brooklyn, NY) there was a bookshelf in the back of my homeroom class. It was filled with older, obsolete textbooks. I used to browse through them with great interest, as they were from the years that my parents had attended school. I also have always loved old books, and so, accordingly I was very interested in what these books contained. There were all kinds of subjects represented on that shelf; science, literature, history and math all come to mind. But the book that held my interest the most was this little gem "Energy and Power" by Morris Meister. The copyright date is 1930, with a second printing in 1935. Inside the front cover there is one of those book stickers that we used to place inside the front cover to identify the owner of the book. This made the book even more desirable to me.

I was a good student in Social Studies, History and English. Anything which allowed my mind to wander was a welcome respite to the tedium of the classroom. Science and Math were my two worst subjects, which is kind of funny when you consider that I went on to become a Navigator aboard ships at sea, a position steeped heavily in my two worst subjects. Even more surprising, at least to me, was that I was good at it! And this little book had a little something to do with it.

While not paying attention in class one day, well, one day might be short changing myself, I came across this book and realized that it was old enough to contain all the basic information that I lacked in my understanding of all things mechanical. So, I took it home to read. And I never took it back. I've never felt badly about it, mainly because those books were destined for the trash and had been out of use for several years. I had to blow the dust off the book before I read it.

The book covers all manner of scientific subjects, among them are; Sources and Transmission of Light, Reflection and Refraction of Light, Cameras and Photography, Projection Lanterns and Motion Pictures, Color, Gravity, Friction, Inertia, Engines and Automobiles. These were all subjects for which I held very little, if any, interest. This was mainly because all of the basic information on these subjects was missing from the newer textbooks. They assumed that we knew these things. They were, in my case, wrong. And so this book became my friend.

From this little book, about 241 pages, I have learned all of the basic principles of science and the little bit of automobile mechanics that I know. I have even used this book to help me figure out how to explain stuff to my kids while they were growing up and in school.

When is a book too old? I don't think they ever really age. The information contained in almost every book is timeless in some respect. And this book is even more important now, when everything is so complicated that you can sometimes feel overwhelmed and under informed. That's when I turn to my small, but potent, collection of outdated textbooks. I even have two books from my Mom and her time at James Madison High School. One is H.G. Wells', "The Outline of History”, copyright 1931, and the other is Bassetts' "Short History of the United States", copyright 1921. Both books have been invaluable to me when trying to unravel the history of the Middle East, or even something as contemporary as the roots of the Vietnam War.

All books are sacred; they all contain something that was worth writing down. But as our knowledge continues to grow, it often becomes necessary to omit, or condense, the things we already take for granted, in order to include the latest information. When that happens, some of the basics, and the understandings that go with them, are often glossed over. It is then that I turn to my older books to solidify the foundation of the subject I am reading about.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

" Skizzenbuch" - Heinrich Kley (1909)

It was about 30 odd years ago that I had a book of German Sketches go missing. I had clipped and mounted one of the sketches, and I have featured it on this site before, attempting to find out who drew it. I knew it was German, but beyond that had no idea of who the artist was. This is sad, as I did own the book before it disappeared. I should have at least remembered the artist’s name!

This drawing has graced the walls of every home I have lived in since 1980. Before that it hung on the walls of various staterooms aboard the ships in which I served. It is a comforting image. It speaks to me of something, or someone, larger than ourselves, helping to guide us through our awkwardness. The fact that the something larger is not the elephant, gives thought to the theory that we are not the largest presence in this dance of life. There is something more graceful to guide us, if we only allow it.

I was napping this morning, and when I awoke, this image was the first thing that I saw. It hangs on the wall opposite the foot of my bed. I have googled it, in a vain attempt to find out more about the sketch over the past several years, all to no avail. But something prompted me to search again, and I got it on the second try.

The sketch comes from the works of German artist Heinrich Kley, who lived from 1863-1945. His two volumes of sketches were published in 1909 and 1910, under the names
Skizzenbuch and Skizzenbuch II, both of which contained 100 pen drawings. Now, I have to get the book.

Meantime, if you'd like a closer look at some of Mr. Kley's work, here is the link to his world;

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Don't Break the Heart that Loves You" - Margot Smith (1978)

If you have ever done some serious drinking in bars; not dives, but not the Ritz either; then you have heard the recordings of Margot Smith. Many a night her voice; accompanied by that deep electric bass guitar; kept vigil with me in some bar somewhere; both here and abroad. She was my link to America. She was the pinup girl of the juke box to all of us who were far away and alone with one another at 2 AM. She kept us connected to the real world.

Margo Smith was born in 1942 in Ohio. She’s best remembered for the 2 number one hits in 1978; "Don't Break the Heart That Loves You" and "It Only Hurts for a Little While", which were both covers of old standards. These were the sure fire records on the jukebox in the wee hours when you were wondering where your girlfriend, or spouse, was at home; and moreover, with whom.

Born as Betty Lou Miller she was a kindergarten teacher for a spell before going into the music business. And when she did, it was as a yodeler. But she was really hell bent on getting to Nashville. She sang songs to her classes and even at PTA meetings, gathering a small but loyal following along the way. In 1975 she landed a deal with 20th Century Records out of Nashville. This song, "Don't Break the Heart that Loves You" was first recorded by Connie Francis.

Although her career was not very long she reemerged as a Christian artist, singing with her daughter during the 1990’s. For more about her see the following link;

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Federalists and Whigs - Irony in Politics

The irony in the history of our two major political parties is rich. Both parties actually stated out representing the opposite constituencies which they represent today. The history of this switch is largely blamed on the so called “Dixiecrats”; those Southern Democrats who in 1948; when Truman proposed a Civil Rights platform at the Convention; walked out, dividing the democratic Party forever and giving rise to a Republican faction which would someday become known as “Neo-Conservatism.”  That’s the short, contemporary side of things. But there is an interesting history which goes even further back.

Originally this country had a myriad of political parties; with the two largest being the Federalists and the Democratic-Republican Party. The Federalists believed in a strong Federal government; Washington and Adams were both Federalists. The Democratic-Republicans believed in a Republic guided by the voice of democracy. Remember a “Republic” is the form of democracy which we live under, and not just the name of a political party. Likewise, representative democracy is the manner in which we conduct our affairs within that Republic.

So, there were two main parties back then; divided as to how much power the Federal government should have over the lives of its citizens. In other words; nothing has changed with the system itself; only the players are different and call their parties by different names while still representing the same old interests.

By the 1840’s the Whig Party; formerly known at the time as Democrats, who had been around since the Revolution and were the real Conservatives of the era; got their first President elected. That was William Henry Harrison. He only lasted 32 days, dying of a cold he caught during his inauguration ceremony. However, he was succeeded by John Tyler, a former Democrat. The Whigs held sway through the Presidency of Franklin Pierce, and were largely responsible for some of the worst decisions leading up to the Civil War.

Now here’s where things get really interesting. Lincoln was the first Republican President. His role in the Civil War is widely known; although sometimes misunderstood. His position on slavery changed many times before he became President, and even after his election. He is seen as the “deliverer” to the newly freed slaves and the Republican Party became the party of the African-American until at least the Depression. But Lincoln was also the man who wanted to deport all the slaves to Jamaica and Liberia as a solution to the “negro problem.”

At the same time the Democrats were doing all they could to avoid a war with the South; even advocating the retention of slavery in the Southern states. These were the same men who were opposed to the 13th Amendment freeing the slaves.

So, what we had; in essence; was a Democratic Party which was not at all in tune with the push for human rights; but rather pro States Rights. And; conversely; a Republican Party which was perceived as being the “Deliverer of Freedom” to the slaves and by extension the “Party of the People.” This has, of course, has been turned on its head by what happened at the Democratic Convention of 1948, but there are interesting things to note between the time of Lincoln and then.

Interestingly Lincoln’s Vice President; Andrew Johnson; was a Democrat who had been elected to the office on the National Union-Republic ticket. At the time we were still not yet confined to only 2 viable parties.

From 1869-1885 we had only Republican Presidents; along the line of Lincoln. These were the years of Reconstruction followed by the Gilded Age. Reconstruction was a repressive occupation of the Southern states; which came to embitter North against South to this present day; while the later Gilded Age represented the advent of the rewards of industrialization and the greed which those rewards brought to the rich and powerful. The Republicans; at this point; became the party of big business. The Democrats came to embrace the working class and the rise of the Unions.

The Republican run ended briefly to accommodate the election of Grover Cleveland in 1885. He was a Democrat. From this time forward there would never be anything but Republicans and Democrats running against one another for the office of President. It would be well to remember that there had been; as noted here earlier; a Democrat-Republican Party. Indeed our 3rd through 8th Presidents were from that Party. And there were some pretty great Presidents in that group.

Aside from Cleveland’s return to office in 1893; after having been defeated by William Harrison in 1889, which is the only time a former President has been re-elected to office; the Republicans held sway until President Wilson; a Democrat; came to D.C. in 1913. The first thing he did was to segregate the nation’s Capital. That’s right, D.C. was not segregated until 1913 and then by a Democrat!

After Wilson the mantle of leadership went back to the Republicans for the disastrous social policies of Prohibition, the reckless economic policies of the Roaring Twenties and the resultant Great Depression. In 1933 FDR came to D.C. as the first Democrat since Wilson and began the social programs which so many Americans rely upon today to make ends meet. And this is where the division between the two parties as we know them today begins to take place.

The Democrats had to find a way out of the Depression which had happened during the years of Republican leadership; which let big business run themselves. The New Deal programs; such as the NRA, WPA and all the rest were the country’s first attempts at large scale social programs to alleviate the hunger, homelessness and lack of education and job training which came in the wake of those failed Republican policies. The Republicans now became cast as the enemy of the working man and the party of the rich. Right or wrong, these labels would stick.

The only ones getting short changed by all of this were the nations African-Americans. The Party of Lincoln was the party which most blacks identified with due to Abraham Lincoln. That’s understandable. Regardless of the finer points involved in the validity of the Emancipation Proclamation, he was the man in charge when they received their freedom. And the Democrats had opposed the 13th Amendment. It seemed like a no-brainer.

But in between the two World Wars, African –Americans expected more and began shifting their allegiance to the Democratic Party, which promised at least the hope of change. They had served honorably in 2 World Wars defending freedoms for others which they themselves did not have here at home. The time to change that had come. So, the nail was set in place; it just needed one more firm whack to drive it home for good.

That final whack came in 1948 at the Democratic National Convention when Harry Truman; who had succeeded President Roosevelt upon his death in 1945; came out with a Civil Rights platform for African-Americans. The Southern Democrats walked out and formed their own party. They even ran their own candidate; and predictably embarrassed themselves. After the election was over the leaders became some of the leading Republican Senators for the remainder of the 20th century, most notably leading the opposition to the Civil rights legislation of the 1960’s and giving birth to the so-called Conservative movement in 1964 with Barry Goldwater as the first “Conservative” candidate for President.

The Democrats became even more progressive than they had been. This enabled deep divisions to develop within the party. And although they were able to successfully elect the first African-American Pesident; Barak Obama; to office in 2008, the Democrats then lost control of both the Congress and Senate within his first term.

The only point to be made here; if any at all; is that party allegiance; based on history; is suspect at best. It’s also interesting to note how much worse the gridlock in Washington became after the rise of the 2 party system we have today; which consists of Democrats and Republicans. Especially since at one time they were one and the same. That bit of history serves to underscore just how little choice we have today in electing our representatives. They are both different sides of the same coin. This goes a long way in explaining why nothing ever really changes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Hiroshima Nagasaki" by Paul Ham (2014)

This is a fascinating book. I say that because it fascinates me the way that two people; in this case the author and myself; can take the same facts and reach two completely separate conclusions about an event. But that is exactly the case with this book. It’s not revisionist history per se; he doesn't change any of the facts; he merely interprets them in a way to make the point that nuclear weapons are bad; and by extension; that the United States is evil for having used them to end the War in the Pacific. So, we are left to examine the facts.

Mr. Ham makes the argument that we killed 130,000 people; that is the death toll from the immediate aftermath of both bombs; in cold blood, knowing that the Japanese had no way left to fight. He makes this assertion in spite of their still drafting 15 year olds as Kamikazes to fly wooden planes to be used as suicide bombs. The Emperor had already declared his opposition to the Potsdam Agreement of July, which stated that Japan would be subject to all the military might of the combined allies should they fail to surrender.

The Emperor and his military staff knew that Russia was about to invade; bringing with her all the hatred stored up since 1905 war between the two.  The author makes the claim that Japan would have had to surrender under this pressure from the Soviets; completely ignoring what the post war world would have looked like for both Japan and the rest of the world. Japan would probably have become another North Korea; or become subject to colonial control, like Vietnam when it was returned to France. That worked out really well, didn't it? And North Korea continues to be a threat to the world today.

One alternative would have been to continue the use of the incendiary bombings which killed 100,000 a night. The author is also critical of those raids as being inhumane. I have heard these claims before, in connection to the fire bombings of Dresden in Germany. Had we continued with those raids over Japan while the Emperor still refused to surrender, the death rate would have been much higher than even the long term death rate by the effects of the two nuclear bombs.

Moreover, the raids would not have been confined to just 2 targets, but rather have been spread over the whole country. This would have been akin to genocide of the Japanese people and Mr. Ham would be writing his book with that in mind. In other words, there is little we could have done to end the war which would have pleased him. In a perfect world the Japanese would have apologized and we would all sing around the campfire again.

But the Japanese Emperor, Hirohito, was still worried about his social position even after the devastation of the first bomb. He had been unwilling to accept the terms of the Potsdam Agreement which called for unconditional surrender. And, even after the first bomb he wanted to wait and see if we had more. The author even documents that himself. In school we were always taught that Tojo was the roadblock to peace; in reality it was the Emperor. And, in the end, he got what he wanted. He was never punished for war crimes; as Hitler certainly would have been. He remained in power until his death decades later.

Since we obviously have different opinions concerning whether or not the United States should have even developed the weapon; although the Nazi’s were working on it and the Soviets were poised to steal that information from them after they had surrendered; I won’t even belabor the differences too much. Suffice to say that if we had abandoned our efforts to obtain the bomb, then either the Germans would have had it first and won the war; or Germany would have been defeated and the Russians become the custodians of the new weapon. And while we have never used our nuclear weapons to gain new territory, Russia has tried. Remember Cuba? If we hadn't had the bomb how might that one have worked out? And what about Ukraine right now? If we didn't have nuclear weapons then Russia would already have conquered them.

But the biggest problem with this book is how conveniently the author ignores over 12 years of barbarism by the Japanese as they attempted to take over the Eastern hemisphere. As a matter of fact he never acknowledges that this was their goal.  He mentions Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March; but there is nary a word about the literal Rape of Nanjing in 1933. Thousands of women were tied to chairs and gang raped to death by the Japanese troops. They even took photos as souvenirs. You can view them online if you doubt me. 

The nuns in the Philippines who had their breasts hacked off with bayonets; the babies speared and stuck to trees. These are not things I am making up. These are the facts of what Japan was doing as part of her Co-Asian Prosperity Sphere. As a matter of fact I don’t remember even seeing that name in the book at all.

It is impossible to write a complete and concise history; let alone a conclusive book; about the bomb without exploring all the aspects of what made the development of such a weapon necessary in the first place. When faced with monsters sometimes it requires doing monstrous things in order to survive. Rather than take the position that we are the evil ones for having defeated these monsters, it is more accurate to blame the monsters of expansionism and the architects of war who put us in that position to begin with.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Love Power" from The Producers (1968)

Still amazingly funny even after 45 years, the produces went on to become a huge Broadway hit. But they left this scene out- thought it was outdated, maybe so, but for those of us who remember those times, this scene will always tickle a funny bone.