Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mental Floss History of the World by Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand


They say never to judge a book by it's cover but I have to confesss that I often do.This book is one of those. It was sitting facing out and staring at me like a Monty Python's Flying Circus poster. And the words "History of the World" immediately evoked images of the Mel Brooks' film, so I thought, "What's not to like?"

This edition is the 2009 soft covered release of the 2008 book of the same name. It has 2 added chapters. The book is arranged chronologically and is literally the type of book you can just pick up and open to any page.

Filled with facts the book is not one dimensional. It is ordered in such a way that the average reader will come away with an understanding of where are now, as compared to say, Ben Hur. Or the beginning of using copper.(The Copper Age)By the way, did you know the Copper Age began in the area which is now Wisconsin and Michigan? I didn't.

The book even touches upon Human Rights as they have evolved through history. Everything here is so readable that it just may turn you into a history buff!

Indexed very simply this is a book that the reader can keep close at hand for quick checks on things like who were the Estrucans? Popes and Religion, all are included. Space Race? No problem. This is a highly entertaining read of the History of the World. And the cover is great!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Timeless Quality of Glass

Glass comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. It graces the windows of Cathedrals in beautiful depictions of Religous events. It comes in bottles that house your favorite beverage. It serves as a window to the world around us. It is also art.

Thousands of peolpe collect bottles, I am one. I prefer the medicine bottles of the 1800's and the earlier 20th century soda pop bottles with the names embossed in the glass itself. I have also been fascinated with "beach glass" since my early childhood when I would pick up small pieces at Riis Park and Rockaway Beach in New York.

Something about the irregular shapes, smoothed edges and varied thicknesses has always seized my imagination. Where did they come from, what were they, how did they get here?

And so I was really thrilled to receive some "beach glass" from my freinds at Garden Lust Journal (http://mendogardens.blogspot.com) They are so much more than just pieces of glass to me. They are a symbol of something durable- something lost and then found again.

The glass is making it's way through the house- first it was on the dining room table, where I do alot of reading. Then they went to the TV room where I do alot of movie watching. Now they are on the piano, adding grace and charm to an already warm room. They are seeking their proper place in my home. And like the tides that washed them ashore thousands of miles from me- the tides of fate will decide where they will permanently reside.

But these faded and smooth colored pieces of glass will always be close at hand- a symbol of endurance- an affirmation of a freindship that so long ago drifted away on a tide, only to be returned when ready. I am so glad to have them.

Movie Review:The Man Who Would Be King with Sean Connery and Michael Caine


In 1975 John Huston released his epic version of a 15 page short story by Rudyard Kipling and 2 Geniuses collided. The film is long, about 2 and 1/2 hours, but when it is over you are left longing for more.

Set against the backdrop of India during the late 1800's the scenery and costuming are perfect. The opening scene alone, which is a smorgasbord of an Indian market place in Calcutta, is as accurate today as it was then.

The film opens in Kiplings office at the Northern Star, where he is a correspondent.(Kipling is played by Christopher Plummer) The rest of the movie is a flashback told through the eyes of Peachy Carnahan (played by Michael Caine.)

From the theft of Rudyard Kiplings watch by Peachy Carnahan in a Calcutta train station, a chain of events ensues locking the three main characters in a saga that will take "three summers and a thousand years" to come to a conlusion. Their relationship is grounded in the fact that they are both Masons and bound to one another by this connection. The implications of this are far reaching and though Kipling is only in the movie at the beginning and at the end, he is with you through the entire story in spirit. This is Direction and Screenwriting at it's best!

Character development is the key to writing a screenplay. More so when the entire screenplay comes from a short story with so little clue as to who these guys really are. Huston delivers on that score, serving up 2 of the most cagy and uncanny anti-heroes to ever cross a screen.

The 2 principal characters, Peachy Carnahan and Danny Dravot(played by Connery)are so accessible, so familar, and grow so close to you, that you want them to reach their goal.

The plot of course, centers on Peachy and Danny. They are intent on going through the Kyber Pass disguised as Hindus, Caine as a trader and Connery as a dumb Priest.(Wait until you see Connery doing a Whirling Dervish as he tells fotunes in a language of his own device, with Caine translating.)

The journey across the mountains and through an avalanche is awe inspiring. They face death more than once, singing and rejoicing in the events that have lead them to their fruitless ends. But another event saves them and they find themselves in what is today the mountains of Northern Afghanistan, past the Hindu Kush, where they intend on establishing themselves as Kings.

Meeting the local Chieftains they vow to help conquer all their enemies. They only wish to take some "small souvenirs" as a reward. But somewhere along the way, being King becomes attractive to Connery and they push on past their original intent. This leads to disaster and also to one of the most noble scenes on film as Connery pays the ultimate price for having lost sight of himself.

Of special interest is the character Roxanne, who is played by Caines wife Shakira. She literally fell into the role at dinner one night when Huston was discussing who they could cast. She is one of the events that trip our heroes up as they struggle onward towards their goal of becoming Kings.

An extraordinary work, this film should not be missed. To make a 2-1/2 hour epic from a 15 page short story takes some talent and imagination. This movie has both in abundance.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Reflection

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! This is a photo I took when I was 12 years old at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1966. The balloon is Bullwinkle the Moose of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" fame.

I went to meet my Uncle Irving that day and watch the parade. It was the first time that I went to see it. I remember the joy on his face when the balloons went by,how he lit up as the marching bands passed. And when Santa came by at the end of the Parade, my Uncle glowed! This was always amazing to me because he was Jewish to the core.

Thanksgiving was always a time when he would come over and have dinner with us. He lived alone in Manhattan and really had nowhere to go. He was always at our house anyway. He was my refuge and I loved him for it, but on holidays we were his refuge.

Here he is, in white shirt and tie,(he even went to the beach like that. We would get lockers at Curley's on the boardwalk at Rockaway so he could change clothes and shower.) My Mom is standing and ready to serve dinner. I am in the foreground and my brother Mark is to the left of me. The turkey is ready and my Dad took the picture. My Dad always did the turkey and the stuffing, which he loaded with pepper. Then he would do the carving and we would eat.

The years have passed quickly and sometimes all that remains are the photos and memories. So as I give Thanks today I will be remembering the words of Paul Simon in "Old Friends/Bookends."

"Time it was, and what a time it was, it was a time.
A time of innocence, a time of confidence.
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you."

And it's true, life passes quickly, we wind up looking at old photographs even as new ones are being taken. And someday someone will look back at us and remember. And that's a good reason to give Thanks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Making of Some Like It Hot by Tony Curtis with Mark Vieira


This is a delightful book. "Some Like It Hot" has long been a favorite of mine and to get a glimpse behind the scenes through the eyes of one of the principal actors is a treat!

Mr. Curtis spares nothing in his recollections of the filming of one of Hollywood's best loved masterpieces. There is a little bit of "kiss and tell" here, but not too much. The book is more a narrative of what it was like working with the creative genius of Billy Wilder.

The book is filled with anecdotes and tidbits of information about not only the movie but Hollywood itself. The rift between George Raft, who plays one of the gangsters, and Edward G. Robinson is explored. This goes back to the filming of "Manpower" with Robinson and Raft as Linesmen in love with the same woman, Marlene Dietrich. In reality they were both smitten with her and came to blows on the set. There was a Life photographer there who got it on film. Due to this , Robinson turned down the part to play opposite Raft in "Some Like It Hot."

The parts of the book that are the most entertaining involve Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon learning how to dress and act like women. The big surprise for Mr. Curtis was how well Jack Lemmon adapted to the role. He revelled in it!

The creative process is explored extensively. Billy Wilder never made a film with a complete script. He would film what he had and then rewrite or revise as necessary. This gives his films the spontaneity they are known for.

Filled with photographs from the studio and some of the authors own collection this book is a great read for holiday travel. The color photos are a real treat as the movie was shot in black and white.

The freindship between Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis is beautifully expressed. This will be of interest to all Monroe fans. He has a unique ability to let you peek inside without being sleezy. He obviously recognizes Marilyn Monroes faults but also gives her credit for the complex and sensitive person she was.

Originally I picked this off the shelf as a quick selfish read. It turned out to be so much more than that. I'm glad I took the time to look behind the magic of the movie and see how it was accomplished.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fordlandia by Greg Grandin


The remarkable thing about this book is the way in which the author has approached such an expansive and multi faceted subject. And that’s just in reference to Henry Ford as a person! Add to this already complex individual some very radical ideas concerning Industry and you can easily get lost!

But Mr. Grandin doesn’t get lost at all. He leads the reader on a carefully laid out journey from the Ford plant in Michigan to the jungles of Brazil.

In the 1920’s, as America prospered, teetering towards the Great Depression, Henry Ford released his newest creation, the Model “A” Ford. With it's varied colors and other added features it was quite a departure from the earlier Model “T”. Available to almost every American in those days of easy credit it became a mainstay of the newly emerging road trips that ever more Americans were discovering.

Fords factory techniques of mass production and his progressive wage of $5 a day were legendary. The mass production allowed for greater profit for the owner and greater wages for the working man.

But this all came with a price. Time management experts followed the worker, recording his every move, constantly looking to increase productivity and profits.

At this same time Mr. Ford was privately engaged in many pursuits. From soybeans as a “do all” product encompassing plastics, food, fibers and a myriad of liquid solvents, to lobbying for new regional currencies based on hydro electric outputs, Mr. Ford was a very busy, thinking man. And he expected as much from his employees as well.

He was also engaged in newspaper publishing with his own, decidedly Anti-Semitic newspaper.

But his real passion was to create a rubber producing state in the Brazilian rain forests. With a need for tires on his automobiles he was intent on carving out an empire in the jungle. He envisioned bringing American middle class life to the indigenous people of Brazil. This was a fantastic undertaking,fraught with peril.

He established “Fordlandia”, as it came to be known, along the banks of the Tapajos River, a tributary of the Amazon River which flows to the Atlantic Ocean. He was intent on cutting out the middle man and again, increasing profits. The way things turned out, or didn’t, make for quite a read!

How do you teach an indigenous people factory style rules? And how do you justify trying to regulate the lives of these people? Is their compliance really voluntary, or is it self imposed slavery? Great questions that are all posed within this book.

There are some interesting tid bits as well. For instance,the first "in flight movie" was shown on a Ford Tri Motor Airplane. It was a Harold Lloyd comedy about the last horse drawn streetcar in New York City.

That the author manages to take the reader on such a complex trip through the jungles of the Amazon, as well as the corporate boardrooms of Detroit, in such a coherent manner is a tribute to his ability as a writer.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Fork and The Spoon


They weren't always like this. I remember them in black and white from the fifties when they were just my Favorite Aunt Gloria and my soon to be Uncle Bobby. They have changed a little over the years, but not too much. The picture above was taken on Halloween aboard the Norwegian Jewel. They went on a cruise to celebrate a landmark birthday, they are both the same age.

They are still as much fun and as playful as when they were young. I'm 15 years younger, but I feel 20 years older than them. What keeps them laughing and roaming around while I am drying up?

I look at the pictures through the years and they are always there- big smiles- not phony ones- real smiles. You can see that they enjoy the things they do. And part of that has to be that they enjoy one another.

These are the same two newlyweds who used to take me to Breezy Point when I was a kid. This is the same Aunt Gloria that took me fishing in Sheepshead Bay so many years ago.

I lost them for awhile- 25 years to be exact. Don't know why, that happens in so many families. People drift in and out of one anothers' lives. Sometimes there is a perceived slight or an argument. But that's not the case here.

They were at my wedding in 1986. He was wearing his Captain Kangaroo jacket and she wore a striped blouse with a white skirt. But shortly after that we disappeared from one anothers radar.

And then, just as suddenly,25years had passed and we were in touch again and all those years just melted away. Bobby is still the laid back person he was then and Gloria can still make me laugh just by saying hello.

So here's to the Fork and the Spoon! Thanks for all the laughter and the photos and the stories that you have passed on to me through the years.

And I think I just realized why they are so special to me- they aren't afraid to be themselves. That's the secret! They aren't afraid to be The Fork and The Spoon.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Journey of Life by Thomas Cole


Thomas Cole was an American landscape painter of the 1800's. His best works were done in the 1840's. Born in 1801 he lived a short life. He was only 47 when he died in 1848.

His most famous work, a series of 4 paintings, is called "Journey of Life." They are so good that he was commissioned to do a second set- identical to the first. One set remains in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the other is housed in NY but is constantly on tour somewhere.

Examine the drawings in order and a story emerges of the struggle we all endure to get through this crazy thing called life.

In the first painting,"Childhood", you see the man as a baby, swaddled in the boat with his Guardian Angel at the tiller, guiding him from the mouth of the cave, as if just being delivered from his mothers womb. The landscape is verdant and ripe with the promise of the future and growth. The hourglass at the bow is full with sand and time is of no concern. His whole life is before him.

The second painting, "Youth", shows the boy at the tiller and the Guardian Angel is stepping off and bidding him Godspeed as he sets out on his own course. Notice the beautiful and illusionary castle in the background. The boy is heading for that dreamlike goal. (Aren't we all?)The waters are calm and the sands are still abundant in the hourglass. The boy is filled with confidence in his future.

In the third painting, "Manhood", we see the boy as a middle aged man, filled with tribulations and at the mercy of the elements. He thinks his God has forsaken him as the angry clouds blow foul weather upon his dreams. The tiller is broken and the Sands of Time in the hourglass at the bow are drawing low. He is supplicating himself to a Higher Power, seeking to change what he now perceives to be his fate. In the background you see the glow of his Guardian Angel, who still watches over him, though the man cannot see this.

In the fourth and final painting, "Old Age", he is resigned to his fate. He is no longer struggling to reach an illusionary goal. The tiller has broken off, he is no longer the Master of his own fate. The Sands of Time have run completely out. The seas have calmed and the winds abated. The Guardian Angel has returned to lead him to the Light and his Eternal Reward.

With his use of light and symbolism Thomas Coles works come to life. The story told in these 4 paintings is universal. They reflect what we all endure,in different ways, on our own "Journey of Life."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's Only Me- Chapter 30- Rick Stines, the Accident and Gun Charge

If my story seems short on “family life” type stuff it is only because I consider myself to be one of the most inept and ill equipped parents to have ever walked the earth. I was making all the same mistakes as my dad, yelling and flying off for seemingly little reason. Don’t get me wrong- there were times when I was justifiably angry- but just as often I was simply overwhelmed.

That said, my work life was going well as I went from job to job, always for more money and responsibility. I was learning a tremendous amount about how things are planned and built. I was also learning about Construction Law, which would come in handy later on for a variety of reasons.

By 1992 I was working for Rick Stine and Sons outside of Frederick, Maryland. He had set up some trailers in the woods behind his home in Woodsboro. I did my estimating there. It was a great place to work and the Frederick area was also a great place to explore with Sarah and Sue on the weekends. We went to the Zoo and fed the animals, walked through the woods and looked at the streams. For all the problems I had dealing with being a father there were still some nice times.

For the first time ever I had an assistant to do some of the hand grids for taking off the earth quantities. His name was Russ Robertson and he was about 22. We would roam around looking at job sites and sometimes just mess around exploring the mountains and streams around Woodsboro. Sometimes we would drive to Baltimore and go to the Zoo. I even took him to Pigtown to see the hookers and outdoor drug markets. He had never been to Baltimore and was wide eyed at it all.

Around this time 2 memorable events happened. The first was the time I shot Richie Jrs. pickup truck right through the radiator. He was a typical owners kid- spoiled and troublesome. We had several "Port a Johns" scattered about the property and he would tip them or hit them with his truck when they were being used. Several guys got seriously “dirtied up” from his fooling around. I had warned him not to mess with me in that regard or there would be repercussions. I guess he didn’t hear me.

I was using the "Port a John" one day when he hit it with his pickup. It didn’t turn over- just splashed some and got me a little wet. Charging out I looked around but he was nowhere in sight. But his truck was. Reaching for my pistol (a .380) I took aim at the grill and let fly, emptying the clip into his radiator and hood.

Richie came out of the woods and went screaming down the path to his house. Several minutes later his Mom came to the trailer and started to yell at me. I stopped her and told her that I had warned the boy and that the next time I would shoot Richie rather than the truck. She fled back to the house.

About 20 minutes later Rick,Sr came in and started to give me hell. I stopped him and explained that he was lucky it was me and not someone else delivering this lesson to his son. The next person just might kill the boy. Nothing further was said.

Another episode that sticks out from this period is my accident in the Catoctin Mountains outside of Camp David, Maryland. This was in the summer of 1994. The road there is one lane in either direction and I took a curve too wide coming face to face with a fully loaded 20 ton dump truck. I remember thinking, “Oh, shit!” Then there was a shattering of glass and a twisting of metal. The sky was turning around and around as my truck , an S-10, reacted to the collision by doing several 360 degree spins. When everything stopped there was a deathly silence.

I was passing in and out of consciousness and at one point a sheet was placed over my face. I came to with my arms flailing and yelling, “I’m not dead- I’m not dead!” The sheet was lifted and a soothing voice informed me that the sheet was to protect my face while they removed the windshield. I was pinned by the steering wheel and my right leg was impaled by some sort of rod.

At one point when I was conscious I asked Trooper Updergraff to take charge of my pistol, which was under the front seat. I did not want it to fall into the wrong hands. It was registered in my name. I recall seeing the Firemen and Troopers playing with it before I passed out again.

Using the Jaws of Life and saws it took an hour and a half to remove me from the wreck. The mountain was closed in both directions. Being outside of Camp David had its’ advantages. I had 3 helicopters trying to claim the jurisdiction to fly me out to Hagerstown. The Marines from Camp David claimed me, as did the National Guard, but in the end the Maryland State Troopers won and took me to the hospital in Hagerstown.

Sue was summoned and raced the 60 miles to the hospital. She was pulled over for speeding on the way, but after explaining the situation the Trooper let her go.

When Sue got to the hospital I had already been scanned from head to toe. I had several broken ribs and a puncture wound to my right leg. They told me the puncture wound was not serious. I disagreed and after several hours I realized that staying there was going to be a problem. They refused to debride the puncture wound!

I told Sue to grab a wheelchair- we were going home. The doctors and nurses were furious and had lots of papers for me to sign about leaving against medical advice. I signed them all as Sue wheeled me out.

The next day I went to see Doctor Shaffer, my personal Physician. He agreed about the puncture wound and debrided it. You could hear my screams way out in the waiting area.

On Sunday I woke up and the wound was bad- it was going toward gangrene. I called Dr. Shaffer and he came to the house after church. He arrived without his bag and had to debride the wound again using a knife from my kitchen, which we sterilized with boiling water and alcohol. All in all I was lucky to be alive and was back on my feet in a week or so.

Now, back to the gun. It was approaching 16 weeks after the accident, which happened in August, when I began to try and retrieve my pistol. This was not easy. Apparently my weapon had disappeared. In addition there was no record of it having been turned over to Trooper Updergraff or its' being received at the Property Clerks Office. This was going to be tricky.

On the one hand I did not want the weapon floating around and turning up after use in a crime. On the other hand I did not want to engage in a battle of wits with the State Police. But my real fear was that the pistol was going to be used as a “drop” gun by a police officer. A “drop” gun is a stolen or unregistered weapon that is “dropped” at the scene by an officer after a shooting. This gives the officer a cover story if the shooting was not “clean.” I could also picture myself being charged at some later date with a homicide if the weapon had been sold and was on the street. In short, if I could not recover the weapon I wanted a receipt.

I was informed by the State Prosecutors Office that receipts were not issued for lost property. I reiterated my position to no avail. I called Trooper Updergraff and explained my concerns. He threatened me with arrest and incarceration pending trial. This is when I started thinking... and so, accordingly, I went to the library.

Looking up the State Statutes on Weapons Charges I found one that I could live with and which would also serve as a receipt for the pistol. I called Trooper Updergraff and had him meet me in the woods behind Rick Stines. I demanded to be cited for “carrying a handgun in a vehicle against the Peace and Dignity of the State.” It was like a traffic ticket and though it carried a penalty of 1 year and a $1,000 fine it was never enforced. Trooper Upergraff was not pleased and so he gave me a ticket for crossing the centerline as well as the weapons citation. Court was scheduled for Januray.

I arrived at Court early and, as usual, without counsel. The Prosecutor and Trooper Updergraff were waiting for me and we arrived at an agreement. I would plead guilty, pay a small fine and serve no time. I would also formally forfeit the weapon to the State, but this was not to infringe upon my right to Possess Arms in the future. It was a misdemeanor. I would also agree to not ask the State to produce the physical evidence. With supreme confidence we entered the Courtroom.

The Judge was in a foul mood and gave me 30 days! This was after he bullied me about not having a lawyer. We were clearly not getting along! Trooper Updergraff and the Prosecutor both approached the Judge and then summoned me to join them. It was agreed by all that the 30 days would be suspended and I would pay a $300 fine. I would also do 18 months Unsupervised Probation. I would also agree to forfeiture of the weapon without future infringements upon my rights to purchase firearms. This was acceptable to all parties and the case was closed. I now had my defacto receipt. This deal would never have been accomplished had I used Counsel.

The following spring Rick Stine entered into negotiations with Albert Williams of Williams Construction, at that time the biggest road contractor in the state. He was of no relation to me.

Essentially, Rick Stine had incurred a lot of debt and wanted to partner with Williams so he would in essence be sharing this debt. But Williams Construction wasn't in the best of shape either. So what you really had was two pricks trying to screw one another. This was going to be very interesting...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Decoding "The Lost Symbol" by Simon Cox


This book was a surprise. And a pleasant one at that. I expected it to be a book dedicated to debunking any misinformation found in Dan Browns new book "The Lost Symbol". But it's not that at all.

It is, instead, a pleasant companion to have while reading the other. My wife has the Dan Brown book and is looking forward to reading it. We will invariably end up discussing some of the history it refers to. She will also have questions on the background of the Masonic stuff. Usually she asks me and I tell her what I know on the subject or just google it. Now I can just peek at my little book and she will think I'm a genius!(Thanks Mr. Cox!)

The book is carefully researched and contains some illustrations, which makes for a really interesting read all on it's own- even without reading the Dan Brown novel. If you have any interest in the history of the Masonic Lodges and the symbolisms contained in our Great Seal of the United States, this book will be of great interest to you as an introduction to those topics.

I must stress, again, that the book is NOT a vehicle to debunk anything in Dan Browns new novel. If anything, I think it will enhance the readers experience should they choose to utilize it. A very coherent work by an accomplished Egyptologist.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Laughing Gorilla by Robert Graysmith


This is a sprawling account of America's first transcontinental serial killer,Slipton Fell. Raised by parents engaged in the Funeral business he learns to do autopsies and has an obsession with death. A huge man with large hands he is quickly dubbed "The Laughing Gorilla" due to the insane laugh he emits as he leaves his crime scenes.

This book is also the story of the Police Detective in San Francisco, Captain Charles Dullea, who pursues the Gorilla Man for almost a decade. While trying to solve the case he is also faced with cleaning up a very corrupt Police Department. To complicate matters the Public Defenders Office has become a clearing house for criminals and crime. A string of safecracking heists is finally solved only to discover that the ring is lead by a Policeman. He gets his cohorts from the Public Defenders office!

When I refer to the book as sprawling I mean that the author takes you from the initial crimes in San Francisco in 1926, to the wilderness of Canada and the interior of the United States as we follow the trail of the killer. Which murders are the work of the Gorilla Man and which are copy cat killings? In the days before forensic science had reached it's current state, this was no easy question.

The book is loaded with characters, some who rival even the most imaginative creations of fiction. There is Police Chief Quinn with his armored automobile complete with a machine gun mount; there is the "Flying Squad", an elite motorcycle unit used to battle the criminal gangs along the waterfront; there are Madams and Longshoreman. They are all locked in a struggle to survive the daily life along the San Francisco waterfront of the 1920's through 30's.

While Captain Dullea battles his own demons within the Department he never loses sight of the Gorilla Man. He let him slip away once and has never forgotten it. When the Gorilla Man returns to San Francisco after an absence of almost 10 years, Dullea is determined to bring this monster to justice.

A must read for lovers of San Francisco and its' colorful history. The authors descriptions of the wharves and the Embarcadero,the Clock Tower and the daily grind of San Francisco all ring true. Set against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge being built, you get a sense of a city emerging from it's past and building to a future.

Written by Robert Graysmith, the man who idenitified the infamous "Zodiac Killer",this book is a product of the same painstaking research skills which aided in cracking that case.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Moby Dick by Herman Melville


Today is the 158th Anniversary of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This astonishing book was unappreciated when it was first released, but over time has become recognized as the true classic it is.

The story of Ishmael, the novice whaler, and his journey through an immoral and indifferent world has never lost it's relevancy or it's bite. We still live in a world of Ahabs chasing personifications of Evil, mostly to the detriment of the innocent.

The questions raised within this book are timeless and universal. Who has the right to Vengeance? Is it the provenance of the man afflicted by Evil? Or does Vengeance truly belong to a Power larger than ourselves?

Truly a literary gem this book is still worth the time it takes to read it. From the naming of Ishmael as the principal character, to the Resurrection of the coffin after the Apocalyptic battle between Ahab and the Whale, the book is filled with references to Scripture and the lessons within.

Happy Birthday to Moby Dick and thanks to Herman Melville for this ever relevant saga of Good vs Evil.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veterans Day



To all who serve, and to those who have served, Happy Veterans Day! Whether at Peace or in times of War, your service is not forgotten nor diminished.

And as a fellow Veteran- I salute you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Great Blackout-1965

I was 11 years old and my Mom was getting dinner ready at about 5:25 when the radio station (WABC- 770 AM) went dead for a minute and then came back on. There was a "blackout" of all electrical power on the entire Eastern Seaboard!

Coming only 2 years after JFK's assassination and amid the height of the Cold War no one knew what was really happening. The trains stopped running, traffic signals ceased and traffic became one big gridlock.

We waited and waited for our lights to go out too, but nothing happened! There was an underground transformer beneath Avenue R between East 13th and 14th Streets. This was what kept us in lights. I don't really understand how it worked but it did.

My Dad got home about 7:30 or 8 PM. I'm not sure if he drove or walked. But after he had eaten we took a stroll through the neighborhood. There were policeman directing traffic with flashlights and Auxilary Policeman assisiting where needed. There was no crime, no looting, no panic.

It was the first time I had ever seen the surrounding neighborhood plunged into darkness and it reminded me of all the stories my Mom told about the Blackouts and Air Raid Drills during World War Two.

The neighbors in our apartment building had their doors all opened to the hallway and everyone was wandering from apartment to apartment. There was concern, but no fear. Mr. and Mrs. Gold, who had fled Nazi Germany, went around the building with John, the German Superintendant and his wife Katie, seeing to it that all the elderly were okay. This was a beautiful thing as John had been a German soldier during the war. And now he and his wife were looking after a building full of Jews.

The whole event was indicative of the times. We had not yet been split asunder by the events of Vietnam, which had just started heating up with the draft. We were a couple of years away from the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Civility still reigned to some extent.

I often look back to that night. The fear, the suspicions, the uncertainty never hit me. I was safe with my family and my stomach was full. Hell, we even had lights!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Movie Review- Vantage Point with Forest Whitaker, Dennis Quaid and William Hurt


This movie is not unique in it's plot,which involves the assassination of the President of the United States while at a Summit in Spain, the thing that makes this movie different is in the direction. The story is laid out in reverse from about 7 different perspectives. And as each one is revealed you get a little closer to the whole truth.

Very action packed, which is usually not my thing, the movie keeps you looking for that one clue, which you know is there. The direction actually pushes you to try and solve the crime. You feel involved.

An outstanding performance by Forest Whitaker. He plays the roll of the guy who gets it all on film but has no clue as to what he is filming. Nonetheless, what happens to him in the space of less than 20 minutes will change his life and alter his priorities forever.

Great film, a little different for me but glad I watched it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's Only Me- Chapter 29- Family Life, A Baby and Jobs

With the honeymoon over it was time to find work. The first job that came up would lead me on to a 20 year career in Estimating. Sue saw an ad in a local paper for an Engineering Assistant. Applicant must be good at math etc. So I applied for, and got hired, as an Assistant to the Engineers at Gutshick, Little and Weber, an engineering firm located in Burtonsville, Md. I would check the calculations done by the Surveyors. From there I went into the field with the Surveying crews to compute the data as we recorded it. Most of the calculations were the same as taking star fixes for Lines of Position. It was at this job that I learned how to estimate Earthwork. It was the closest thing to Navigating as far as blending art with science. We even proved our position with a moon line and a shot of Polaris using a transit.

Sue and I spent the weekends taking the boys places and just getting used to being a family. I was a bit depressed around this time. I had stopped smoking pot and it was driving me nuts! With the added burden of the kids and another on the way I was doing all I could to hang on.

We had the boys in Little League, Cub Scouts and anything else that came along. So it was rush out in the morning, work, rush home and ferry the boys around, get home, do homework and then take care of ourselves. And it was getting harder not to notice that Sue was expecting.

In November we went to New York City. I wanted to show the boys where I grew up. We stayed at my Dad's place on Avenue R. He was living with Alice by this time and waiting for his lease to expire. It was cold and we did a bit of sight seeing. We went to Chinatown and the Staue of Liberty.

This was the 100th Anniversary of the Statue and so it was a long line just to get on the boat. A far cry from when I was a kid and there was never a line. Sue was frozen and so were the boys as we took the ferry to the Statue. We got to walk around and wait on line but never got in the Statue. They kept the boats coming even up until the last minute and then they told everyone it was time to close! We were disappointed but seeing the Statue up close was pretty good for the kids.

Chinatown was its' usual magic with sights and smells that were foreign to the boys. I really enjoyed having them see the places I used to go. This would be the last trip we would ever take as a foursome.

Christmas came and went. It was magical to be with Sue and the boys for the first time without the spectre of Ben hanging over me. It was the first Christmas I was there full time, all day and night like a real family should be. It was also the last Christmas we would celebrate the holidays without Sarah. We didn't have alot of time to bond before Sarah would be born.

In January we had a couple of feet of snow and Sue's car couldn't make it home from work. She got about a mile from the house and had to walk the rest of the way. She was 8 months pregnant at this point. To make matters worse, I was coming home in the same storm and my clutch was being destroyed by the trip. Somehow I made it all the way to our street before the clutch gave out at the bottom of the hill.

Also in January I went to New York alone and picked up a bunch of my parents furniture. My Dad let his lease expire and my 25 year connection to 1310 Avenue R was now at an end. I rented a van and drove the stuff back to Maryland in the snow. Our tiny house was chock full of furniture. Even the basement was full.

About 2 weeks later Sue ate some frozen seafood and got food poisoining. We rushed to the hospital and worried the whole time about losing the baby. We did not know if it was a boy or girl. We wanted to be surprised but we were hoping for a girl.

In January we purchased a home about 20 miles NW of Baltimore in Hampstead. We would not be moving in until June. It was twice the size of the Cape Cod we were in and had a huge backyard that stretched all the way to a corn field and a stream. We were going to be living in the sticks.

On February 13th, a Friday no less, I was shopping for groceries when I got paged in the supermarket. This was before cell phones. The manager said something over the PA that sounded like my name but I ignored it. Then I heard it again and went to see the manager. She looked at me and said- "Your wife is having a baby. You need to go home." I said okay and then started to put the groceries back on the shelf. The manager was freaking out! She said- "Leave that alone- you need to go home NOW!"

I ran out to the car and drove home. Picking up Sue and getting ready to leave for the hospital I told the boys that their Grandpa (Sue's Dad) was on his way over to get them. We were going to the hospital to have the baby. They were watching "Dukes of Hazard" and since we had been saying this to them everytime we went out they just ignored us.

We got to the hospital at about 8 PM. Sue's water had broken but she would not have a baby on Friday the 13th. Besides this was February and she wanted a Valentine baby. So we just hung out,with the midwife doing what she could to make Sue a little more comfortable.

Just after midnight the baby started to come. The midwife got her crowned and then went to wake up the Doctor. The guy comes in for about 5 minutes, guides the baby out, places it on Sue's stomach and hands me a pair of surgical shears and says, "Here dad,cut the cord." I did, but wondered why we were paying him! The midwife did it all! It was 12:51 AM on February 14th, 1987 and I was now a Father. We named her Sarah Ruth Williams, with the Ruth being a tribute to my Mom.

I stayed until about 4 AM and then headed home. I was sleeping at the wheel and woke just in time to avoid hitting the retaining wall on US 29. I crawled into bed and slept, well, like a baby.

I was overjoyed with the baby and thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. It was hard not to get up and feed her when she woke at night. I liked rocking in the chair with her. But she didn't sleep through nights for 5 years. It ended up with her tonsils coming out. They had been causing her sleep apnea, not to mention the advanced aging on me and Sue!

I was still angry and depressed but I was active in every part of raising the kids. From diaper changing and midnight feedings with Sarah, to Scout outings and homework with the boys I was there. I don't know how good I was at it- but I did my best.

As far as smoking went I decided to go with the "do as I say" rather than "do as I do" philosophy. I was open and up front with them that if you did smoke it meant a bit less money for the extra things that make life worthwhile. And the guilt of using that money gnawed at me for years.

Early on Sue and I had it out when she came to a Little League game and smelled the smoke on me. I had foolishly promised to not smoke anymore and was sneaking a smoke every few months. I was clearly unhinged going from 90 MPH to smoking a hit every few weeks. Sue confronted me and asked if I was really willing to leave my family over drugs. I answered , cunningly, that I was not choosing to leave anyone over drugs- after all I wasn't asking her to do drugs, so why should she ask me not to? I must have made sense because it was never an issue again.

After about a year at Gutschick, Little and Weber I went to work as an assistant estimator for Jack Gaither at Anthem Corporation in Baltimore. He was a wild and crazy guy about 14 years older than me. He had a brillant mind and was a real literature buff. We got along great and he taught me so much about estimating earthwork.

I would go out and look at the proposed sites- sometimes I would take extra time exploring the area and learning the history. He was never angry about it- instead he would stop and we would talk about the stories and lore concerning wherever I had been that day. But he had another side, too.

He drank and played the horses. He bought me and Mel, his Vice President, new vehicles and then went out of business leaving us owing months of payments on the cars. Added to that was the fact we had run up high mileage in a short time, making the vehicles worth less than we owed.

I drove mine to New York. I ditched it in Brooklyn, setting it on fire. I took the subway to Manhattan and and reported it stolen on the West Side before I took the Amtrak back to Baltimore.

By this time we were living in Hampstead and Sarah was 2-1/2 years old. Being a Dad was a real challenge for me and even now I tend to dwell on the negative stuff rather than the positive. But she was a joy in so many other ways, too. Like the night I was showing her the full moon and hoping for her to say "moon." She just pointed and said, "Ball."

I was trying not to make the same mistakes as my parents did- pitting one child against the other, etc. But I wasn't always sucessful at holding my temper in check. Before getting married I was pretty easy going and adaptable. Now I was locked into a rigid set of scheduling and trying to obsessively keep one step ahead. I was driving myself nuts! But sometimes I did show great wisdom, in spite of myself.

One day Keith and Shane came home with their freind Lonnie. They were singing a song by The Beastie Boys with lyrics that went something like, "do it with her once, do it in her back, do it with your mother with a baseball bat..." I was shocked and my instinct was to kick some ass and break all Beastie Boys tapes open and scatter them to the wind. This is what my father would have done. Instead I sat them down and asked them what the lyrics meant. They were reluctant to speak so I explained that the song was about sexual assault including fucking their mother with a baseball bat. With their Mom looking on I asked them if that was something they should be singing about. I also told them that I did not believe in censorship but I did believe in knowing what you are talking about. I never heard any of that crap again.

My next job was at a general Contrators, NSC, Inc. located in Woodlawn. I was an Assistant to the Estmator who was a Hindu. His name was Prakash and was a great guy. We had to go to the red light area of Baltimore one day for a pre-bid conference. He had never been in a strip joint before but wanted to see one. So we walked in with him ahead of me. Right inside the doorway was a girl in baby doll pajamas- completely see through. Crooking her finger at him she said, "Come here Indian Boy..." With that Prakash did an about face in mid air and knocked me down getting out. I didn't stop laughing for days.

At this job I was approached by one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. George Edwards of Anne Arundel Excavating had noticed me at NSC. He asked them if he could hire me away. Since he worked for them on a sub contract basis he didn't want to make them angry. But they were very nice about it and released me to him. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

George was from Huntersville, N.C. a place that I would move to years later. He had a 6th grade education and was the smartest man I ever met.

George was married to a woman named Anne and they had 2 children. The son, George Jr worked for his dad and was a great guy but a real pain in the ass. He had never worked anywhere else but for his Dad. He had gone to college for 4 years at his parents expense and came home with no degree and owing a pile of money. This drove George, Sr. nuts!

About 6 months after working there I needed a spinal fusion between cervical joints 4 and 5. I had been getting crippling headaches that drove me to tears. The recovery time would be 10 weeks long. George Sr., was an arch Conservative when it came to welfare, sick pay etc. and so I knew I was going to get hurt money wise with this surgery. I just wanted to know that my job would be there in 10 weeks when I returned. Although George told me not to worry, I did.

I have to tell you that every week for 10 weeks I got a check, either hand deliverd or mailed, for my full salary and another check for expenses. I called George and asked, "Why am I getting an expense check?" His answer is still fresh in my ears, "Well, you're home all day every day now- you got extra expenses. Like movie rental, the heats on higher all day. Just cash the damn checks."

George and I remained friends even after he closed up due to a tax problem in 1990 or so. But even then he remained in business under the table. I used to cash checks for him at an out of the way "connected" little place in Baltimore. They were set up like a convenience store but there was nothing in there to buy except soda in cans. The rest of the place was walled off by plexiglass and a guy stood behind the glass and took your check and gave you back 96% with no questions asked.

I was cashing checks for people all over- I would sign the backs with their name or business and then add DBA and my name with no Social Security Number. As long as the check cleared no one was in trouble. And these were guys that could make some trouble! I was getting a 2% discount so these transactions really added up. Most of that money went for smoke with an ocassional $100 going home.

Eventually George quit drinking and smoking cigarettes, all at once. But it was too late. His wife left him after he threw the Thanksgiving turkey out into the middle of Benfield Blvd. during a Thanksgiving dinner. He quickly followed that on Christmas by tossing the tree out the front door like a spear. After that Anne left him for good. That's when he stopped drinking, but as I said it was too late.

George kept working under the radar until his death in 1999. I was one of the few people who knew where we had sold his equipment,or hidden it. He had $100,000 in cash under the mattress at the time of his death. His kids didn't want to pay to bury him. They had him cremated and threw his ashes out the car window in Arizona somewhere. Maybe they knew something I didn't, and maybe they were justified in their anger at him, but me, I just miss the guy. I really loved him and he felt the same towards me, too. I only wish I had a photo of him....

The funniest thing was when I got ready to leave Baltimore I went to see him and told him I was moving to Huntersville, North Carolina. He seemed shocked and told me, "I was born in Paws Creek about 10 miles away. Have kin there. When I was 17 I hit a boy on a bicycle with my car and killed him. I was drunk for 35 years after that." Sometimes the world feels so small....

After George went out of business I took a job at another Construction Company as Estimator of Earthwork, Utilities and Paving. This was only 3 miles from home in Hampstead. The 2 bosses were jocks and avid hunters. They were completeley baffled by me, and I by them.

I always arrived at 7:35 AM instead of 7:30. One day I was called into the office and told that there were dozens of people waiting to fill my slot. If I hoped to keep it I neeeded to be there at 7:30 AM sharp.

The next morning I came in at 8 AM. Kenny called me into his office, incredulous that I was so late. "We just had that talk yesterday, why are you so late today?" With a straight face I answered, " Well Kenny, I had to fight my way through that mob of Estimators waiting for my job!"

At home we were all enjoying Sarah and her first winter. The snow was something she loved! And so we built snowmen and had our first Christmas as a family of 5. But depression and anger still lurked beneath the surface. Many times when I look back at some of the photos I dwell on the internal struggles that were going on within me and without me. It was going to be a long road but I never doubted that we would make it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's Only Me- Chapter 28- The Wedding and Mexico

On June 11th, 1986, with the Donut Trial safely behind me, Sue and I went to the Courthouse in Baltimore and took out a marriage license. We had already announced our engagement and the wedding invitations were mailed out as well. We set the date for July 4th at the Lutheran Church on Briarwood Rd. Sue was a member of that church and I had agreed that any children born of our Union would be raised Christian. Pastor Turley gave us some instruction on co-parenting when it involves stepchildren. He was a pipe smoking Pastor and a big man with a gentle heart.

Becoming a parent to Keith and Shane was a bit unsettling. I had no job at this point and no clear direction that I was headed in, so I was a bit scared. Storms at sea, piece of cake- But becoming an instant father with financial responsibility was going to be a hard one to swallow.

During the months before the wedding when we were living together several episodes had occurred that left me wondering whether I was up to the task. Both issues involved Keith and the Cub Scouts.

The Cub Scouts was a good thing for the boys, teaching them some responsibility and rituals. But Keith would come home and just take his uniform off and throw it on the floor. Sue would then pick it up and fold it neatly for the next week. I maintained that this was wrong and taught Keith nothing about taking care of his own stuff, which is an integral part of scouting. Sue vehemently disagreed and told me in no uncertain terms that I was to have no role in disciplining the boys. I was unwilling to accept this and so we went to the Scout Leader and ran it by him. I was judged right and Keith began to take some responsibility for his things.

The discipline issue was decided by Pastor Turley, who was able to make Sue realize that the boys were now “our” children to raise together. He cautioned us about not letting the kids run the show and conquer and divide us. As I said, he was a very wise man.

Next came the knife. This incident was a lesson for me. Keith had gotten his Cub Scout knife along with the rest of his troop. They had been cautioned about using them as tools and not weapons. I was really happy to be part of this as I remembered fondly getting my Cub Scout knife and oiling it and sharpening it. It was a big step in my childhood.

That weekend the troop went on an outing, with knives, to some State Park. We got a call early Sunday that there had been an incident with one of the boys and a knife and so Keith would be dropped off early. I was steaming mad, as Sue had not wanted Keith to have the knife in the first place. So really, I was the one in trouble.

I fumed for hours about what I should do when Keith got home. When he did arrive he was dropped off and Brent, the Troop Leader, did not come inside to explain what had happened. So I assumed that Keith was the guilty party. Accordingly, when he arrived home I challenged him to a knife fight in the backyard. Figured I would scare him and he would never misuse his knife again.

With Sue protesting I went out in the yard with my old Navy Buck knife and Keith with his Cub Scout blade. We were circling and I’m not sure who was more worried- me or him. But just then the phone rang and Sue came back out. I took the phone and it was Brent. He wanted to let me know that it was some other kid who had abused his knife privilege and that Keith was one of the most well behaved kids on the trip. With egg on my face I apologized to Keith, who by now had formed the opinion that I was nuts! I wish I could say that this was the last time I misjudged the boys, but that wouldn’t be quite true.

July 4th came and the wedding was for 4PM at the Church with a reception to follow at the Greenspring Valley Golf and Hunt Club. We were set up in a big tent on the edge of the golf course with food catered.

My best man, Seth Herman, along with Michael Held, were both on hand at the church to handle any problems associated with Ben, who lived around the corner, should he decide to make an appearance. I think the plan was to put him in the trunk of a car until Sue and I were gone, but nothing ever did happen.

4 PM came and Sue was late and I was worried and pissed off. She arrived 10 minutes later and I took my place at the Altar as she began the march down the aisle with Keith and Shane. I was overcome with the beauty of her walking towards me to spend our lives together.

Arriving at the Altar she turned to face me and we held hands. The Pastor blessed us and did the vows. I was crying the whole time. Whether it was from release that the last 2 years were behind us or because I would never know how our courtship would’ve gone without all the problems, I can’t really say. But I was very happy when Sue said I do and the Pastor pronounced us Man and Wife.

We went to the reception and it was really very nice. The weather was just perfect- not hot and no rain. We had about 80 people in all, including my Dad and his new wife Alice. My favorite Aunt Gloria and Uncle Bobby were there also. And they had bought along Nana, my Grandmother on my Dad's side. She was very happy and smiling. It was the last time I would ever see her and I am happy to remember her like that.

Most of the reception is a blur. I remember leaving and the boys were looking a bit apprehensive, wondering if we were ever going to come back for them. They were staying with their Grandma Marlene and her husband Grant. Sue and I were going to Mexico. Our plane didn’t leave until the following morning so we stayed at the hotel by the airport.

We got in the room and Sue went to change clothes- coming out of the bathroom ready to consummate our marriage. I was busy with the envelopes we had received as presents. Sue told me to put them down, “Don’t you want to see what’s under here?” she said, referring to the sexy outfit she had on. I looked at her and said, “I know what’s under there- I want to see what’s in the envelopes!”

Fixing me with a hard look in her eyes she said, “Put the envelopes down and consummate our marriage.” I did- but then went back to the envelopes…

The next morning we flew to Cancun, Mexico. At the time Cancun was new, having just been created on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico as an economic way out of the devastation wrought by a bad hurricane a couple of years before that had virtually wasted their economy. Also the traditional tourist areas of Tijuana, Mexico City and Acapulco were plagued with crime. Cancun would be the new tourist destination. Surrounded by Inca ruins there was a lot to see and do.

Our first night was a misadventure. The hotel had us on the 7th floor with a beautiful view of the sea. But the room was sweaty- it was actually humid and there was moisture on the walls! We called the front desk and they said they would be right up. After an hour or so we called again. This time they said there was no one available to fix anything until the morning. We asked for a new room and were told there were none. We tried to stay in the room but it was really uncomfortable. Usually I would be a screaming maniac in order to get my due, but I didn’t want Sue thinking she had made a mistake in marrying me so I had to be calm.

By midnight we had finally agreed on a course of action. Taking our luggage we went down to the lobby and set up on the sofas. We even brought pillows down with us. The manager asked what we were doing. We told him we couldn’t move until the morning when our air conditioning was fixed. A room was found immediately on the 3rd floor. This was actually an improvement because we could seee the iquanas on the beach and began feeding them with the chocolate covered almonds from the snack bar in our room. At $6 a pack the iquanas were very appreciative and began hanging out beneath our windows.

The next day we began exploring, signing up for all the tours to the ruins. Sue wanted to see the Pyramids. We took a bus and headed off to see them. When we got there a little kid was selling ices and was really aggressive at it. I told him no about 10 times before he went away. Sue and I made the climb up and then back down. By this time we were sweating and thirsty. Spying the boy with the ices I went to get some. When he recognized me he said, “No ices for you Senor!” before huffily walking away. Kind of like the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld!

One day we went snorkeling and after we were through were resting at the edge of the lagoon. I saw a rowboat, abandoned and drifting towards the mouth of the lagoon. Having some sense of respect for small boats I dove in and did a power crawl type stroke to overtake the boat. I flopped into it and rowed back to shore thinking I had impressed my bride with my aquatic prowess. Sue went to use the ladies room and I went to the bar for a drink. That’s when all the exertion I had put forth hit me. I never even got to order. I passed out and slid to the floor! Sue attributes this to the ices I had eaten in a small village we passed through on the way. They were really good, but in retrospect they probably contributed to this whole ordeal.

Coming to after only a few seconds I tried to get some help but no one would pay any attention to me! I started to crawl out of the shack that was a bar on the edge of the jungle trail. I didn’t get very far before I had to stop and just lay there, sweating and heaving. The Mexicans that passed me pronounced me a “Gringo addicto,” a drug addict. The Americans who passed me by took me for a drunk Mexican. But no one would help me!

Sue was with the tour bus which was about to leave. She would not go without me and so they came back to find me. I think they were afraid of getting into trouble if they lost an American. I was carried back to the bus and the driver mixed Coca Cola with salt and made me drink it. Before long I was back to myself but I think I scared the hell out of Sue! The rest of our time was spent in the markets and shops buying souvenirs and gifts for the kids.

The time passed too quickly and we were home again. But it was a beautiful trip and made me realize how empty all my previous travels had been without someone special by my side. Now we were home and it was time to find a real job.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

God Sleeps In Rwanda by Joseph Sebarenzi with Laura Ann Mullane


How did all the troubles start in Rwanda? We all see and hear the stories of the Genocide that took place there- but how and why did it begin? And what is it really like to have experienced such an ordeal? How do you come to terms with it? Is there a reason to go on living in the face of such an experience? These are some of the questions I had when I started to read this book. And you know what? Mr. Sebarenzi answers them all in a beautifully arranged narrative of his own experiences.

Born into a Tutsi family in Rwanda Mr. Sebarenzi is sent across Lake Kivu to get an education in the city of Idjwi. His father has forseen the coming ethnic violence and wants his 3rd eldest son to go in order that someone from the family will survive. He hopes that armed with an education his son can someday work for change. This was a fortuitous decision.

Rwanda is a small country nestled beside the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. The whole area was once under French and Belgium control. When the end of colonization came the people were basically unprepared for self rule. The conflict between Tutsi and Hutu dates back to about 1959 and the end of colonial rule.

Throughout the uprising of the Tutsi and Hutu tribes the author is constantly questioning why and how such things happen. He meets and marries a woman and they flee, he to Canada and she and their children to Uganda.

When the war ends he elects to return home with his wife and 2 children. He wants to see what has become of his native land and if there is anything he can do to help rebuild it.

When he returns he finds the Tutsi in control and the tables turned on the Hutus. But rather than rejoice at this victory he questions how people can justify these acts. He wonders how they can forgive and move on. When he meets the former Mayor of his village, a Hutu, now imprisoned, and realizes this man was responsible for the murder of his Mother, Father and most of his brothers and sisters, he is puzzled by his own lack of hatred. Instead of wanting revenge he feels sorry for him.

He now sees that the Hutus are in the same position as the Tutsi were and tries to understand how hatred breeds hatred in a never ending cycle. He recites the following story from an old Cherokee legend;

An old man was explaining to his grandson the nature of good and evil. "My son," he said, "there is a fight between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger,envy, jealousy,greed, arrogance, self pity, resentment,inferiority, false pride and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, faith,love, hope, humility,empathy, genorosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson looked at his grandfather with fear in his eyes and asked, "Which wolf wins?"

The grandfather answers, "The one you feed."

With this valuable lesson he becomes active in church and then in politics. He eventually rises to the elected post of Speaker of Parliament. He works for change and reconciliation in his war ravaged homeland.

This book is a wake up call. It is an alert to extremism. Any extremism. The lesson here is that just because your side has the might it doesn't have the right. Those come from somewhere higher.

An enlightening read on a subject that gets too little attention, I can strongly recommend this book. And one final word, Mr. Sebarenzi's father was right- his third son lived to get an education and work for change. And that is a tribute to his father as well as to Mr. Sebarenzi.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Movie Review- American Violet with Alfre Woodward and Charles Dutton


This is a true story. It happens in every major city across America. The War on Drugs creates such enormous profits for the Government Agencies tasked with upholding the drug laws that Justice is often left far behind.

A single working Mom, who lives in the Projects, is caught up in a drug sweep. She is completely innocent. Represented by a Public Defender she tries to fight the charges. If convicted at trial she faces 16-25 years behind bars for a crime she did not commit. So she remains in jail, unable to post a $70,000 bond. She is offered a plea bargain, prison time suspended, but she has to fight the charges as even accepting the plea bargain will make her a Felon. This would result in her losing her Housing Subsidy, Food Stamps, Medical Care and leave her and her children homeless.

Between the Prosecutor and the Public Defender this woman is just a statistic. If she pleads guilty the State makes their quota and gets more Federal money to fight the War On Drugs. If she beats the charges the prosecutor looks bad. (Hence the empty offer of the plea bargain.) Money and Politics are at stake here- and when that happens Justice is denied.

Strong performances by all. Alfre Woodward as the Mother of the accused and also Charles Dutton as the Preacher are exceptional. With strong direction the movie makes it's point about Justice in America today.