Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Legal Guide For Americans Over 50" by The American Bar Association


This is a should read guide for aging baby boomers. Not a must read, but a should read. It makes you aware of certain rights and resources available to you as a "Senoir Citizen."

The book takes on, in an informative and orderly manner, such topics as, Divorce and Remarriage, Grandparents' Rights, Financial Planning, and so on. Covering topics as diverse as Estate Planning, Living Wills, Disability and with chapters on Age Discrimination, Legal help along with information on Consumer Protection make this an excellent resource for people over the age of 50. (I usually just scream and yell until they give up.) Even if you think you know your rights, it doesn't hurt to re-inforce that knowledge in order to obtain them when you need to. You have paid into the system for many years and now it is time for the system to do something for you, when necessary.

Good, short read that will make you more aware of the protections offered under the law to older citizens. You know, other people, not me.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"Goodbye Mr. Chips" with Robert Donat and Greer Garson


I have to confess that this movie has always been a favorite of mine, mainly due to the personality of Mr. Chips, which in my earlier years, reflected my own lack of confidence and shyness. And like Mr. Chips, I have required time and patience to overcome these obstacles.

This movie, like so many others, begins at the end. It is 1937, and Mr. Chips is instructed by his physician not to attend Graduation ceremonies at Brookfield, an upper crust English boarding school, for the first time in 57 years, due to his health. Naturally he attends at the last possible moment before retiring to his cottage, where he falls asleep in front of the fire, reminiscing about his life as a teacher, and later, Headmaster of Brookfield. The rest of the movie is a flashback of his life at Brookfield, from his first days as a novice teacher until his final days as the most beloved and respected of his peers.

When he first arrives at Brookfield he is unsure of how to proceed. For awhile it looks as though he has chosen the wrong profession for a shy and gentle man. His first days as a new Master are an exercise in futility. But time wills out and he slowly becomes an object of affection to his students.

When his German colleague takes him home for the holidays, Mr. Chips is transformed in many ways. He goes hiking in the mountains and gets stuck in the fog, forcing him to wait it out alone. Hearing a woman's voice calling out, he begins a perilous climb in search of the woman he assumes to be stranded. The woman turns out to be Katherine, an Englishwoman played by Greer Garson in her first screen role, for which she received an Oscar Nomination. She is the exact opposite of Mr. Chips, modern and outgoing. She even rides a bicycle! They spend the evening on the mountain waiting for the fog to lift. They become close quite quickly due to the anonymity provided by the fog and being so far away from the real world down below. Their affection for one another is palpable, but Chips dares not act upon his feelings, fearing rejection and humiliation. Actually, until he meets Katherine he is called by his surname of Mr. Chippings. It is Katherine who renames him "Chips."

When he and his German colleague Max, played by Paul Henreid, continue on their walking tour of the mountains they encounter Katherine and her lady companion once again. They become inseperable for the remainder of the trip, although Chips is still too "proper" to make his feelings known to this forward thinking woman. Indeed, it is she who engineers his asking her to dance on their last night together. And at the train station, while saying goodbye, she kisses him goodbye. To his way of thinking he is now engaged! Katherine has successfully maneuvered him into a de-facto proposal of marriage.

When Chips arrives back at Brookfield, his bride becomes the object of curiosity and attention at the all male school. His students are simply shocked that he has a wife at all, while his bachelor peers are in awe at the beauty she brings to the school. They cannot understand how the shy and uncertain Chips could have attained this beautiful woman for a bride.

His marriage marks a wonderful change in his life. Katherine has the boys over for tea and becomes a part of the school. She helps Chips bring a new way of thinking and teaching to the institution. When she passes away during childbirth,on April Fools day, along with the baby, Mr. Chips is left alone once again. It is almost as if fate is mocking him. But the lessons he has learned about taking chances and looking at things in a different light, endear him to both students and faculty.

When the First World War breaks out he watches as several of his students and colleagues march off to war, some never to return. When he reads out the name of Max, the German Professor, who had returned to his country at the outbreak of the war, along with the names of the English dead, the students, and the viewer, cannot escape the message that all lives hold value, even the lives of "so-called" enemies.

As a result of the shortage of manpower due to the war, Mr. Chips is finally made Headmaster, a position he has dreamt about for the last 50 years. When he finally retires and passes away, it is with contentment. He has tasted of love and left his mark on several generations of young men, who are better off for his having taught them.

This movie is a gem. A more poignant film would be hard to come by. I have never read the book, written by James Hilton, actually I have never even seen a copy of one. But I will be looking for it at the library, and reviewing it here. This was a wonderful viewing experience which I did not want to end.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"A Carrier Fights for Life" - US Navy Training Film

On July 29, 1967 the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal was steaming off the coast of Vietnam where she was carrying out her mission making bombing runs in support of the US Military. This day would go down in history as one of the most savage fires at sea. 134 crew members were killed fighting the inferno.

Some believe that the fire was set off when future Presidential candidate John McCain decided to "wet start" his jet to startle the pilot in the F-4 Phantom jet behind his Skyhawk. The "wet start" by McCain was verified during the investigation of the fire, although it is not stated in the training film. As a matter of fact, he was transferred off the Forrestal to the Oriskany while the dead were still being counted. He was the only crewman transferred as a a result of the fire, not counting some of the injured. As the son of Admiral McCain, his reputation had to be protected. His safety was undoubtedly a concern as well.

A wet start is done by manually engaging the motor switch which allows kerosene to pool in the engine. This produces a large flame from the tail of the jet. In this case the flame "cooked off" the M34 Zuni rocket from the F-4 which then launched and hit McCain's jet. It also sent one of McCain's M-65 1,000 pound bombs crashing to the deck from a mount that was rated for only 500 pounds, resulting in it's explosion.

There are other versions concerning the start of the fire, and indeed this diagram shows Senator McCain's jet was on the opposite side of the deck facing inward, with only the South China Sea at it's back. This considerably alters the story. My own belief has always been that the pace of 4 days non-stop bombing runs produced "short cuts" in standard procedures designed to avoid such mishaps. A prime example is the 1,000 pound bombs being loaded onto 500 pound limit brackets affixed to the wings. Coupled with a shortage of "bomb jacks" to load the bombs, this was a recipe ripe for disaster.

The fact that the crew were refueling while arming the jets was also a violation of procedure which only added to the deadly consequences. This is the link to the actual training film, which runs about 18 minutes. It was produced in 1973 and made part of the fire fighting training class.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6NnfRT_OZA

Mistake upon mistake added to the inferno. With the first fire fighting parties killed so quickly, the crew made up fire parties consisting of men untrained, or inexperienced, in using the equipment. For instance, after blanketing the fuel with foam another crew came in with hoses, washing the foam away and igniting a reflash.

There were heroes that day. One Chief Petty Officer can be seen running across the deck, armed with only a fire extinquisher, in a vain effort to beat the "cookoff time" of the bomb. He can be seen disappearing in the explosion. There were, undoubtedly, many more unsung heroes that day.

At sea there are no fire departments to call. If the ship is to survive the crew must put the blaze out. And it must be done quickly. My first experience with fire aboard ship came one afternoon on the USS Neosho, in the after steering compartment, which sits right above the rudder. The lube oil that cools the props had somehow leaked and a fire started. As I entered the space as the #2 man on the hose, I was very grateful for all of the training we had received in boot camp. Surrounded by flames can be a very disorienting experience. Training is the key to winning in any situation. This is even more so with a ship afire.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"1969 - The Year Everything Changed" by Rob Kirkpatrick


This book is a chronological review of the year 1969. With so much having been written about 1968, sometimes 1969 gets lost in the shuffle. I have always considered 1969 to be the year that the "Woodstock Nation" died. The era of peace and love sort of ended at Altamont Speedway in California that December when the Rolling Stones hired the Hells Angels to be the "security" for the concert. A crowd of over 500,000 people allowed themselves to be intimidated by less than a couple of hundred bikers. The fact that someone was murdered in front of the stage, while the Rolling Stones kept playing, underscores the myriad of problems which plagued our society throughout the 60's and would spill over into the 70's. Some might say that the seeds for some of todays problems were planted back then.

The year itself was just as exciting as 1968, but in a different sort of way. While 1968 was a year of great hope, 1969 was a year when the "hippie" movement clearly became commercial. Capitilizing on the sexual revolution, "O! Calcutta" became the number 1 show on Broadway. "I Am Curious (Yellow)" was considered a landmark movie.

In California Charles Manson was able to use the mind expanding properties of LSD to control a band of followers, directing them to murder for the dubious purpose of inciting a race war. San Francisco was reeling under the threat of the "Zodiac" killer, while Lt. William Calley was charged for his role in the systematic killings of unarmed women and children in My Lai, Vietnam.

In politics, President Nixon was in office and beginning his slow descent to his place in history. Ted Kennedy was busy partying with his own campaign staff and made his famous "swim" against unbeatable currents, leaving Mary Jo Kopechne to die, trapped in his car at the bottom of Chappaquiddick. Although this would end his hopes of ever becoming President, it had no effect on his position as head of the Senate Ethics Committee, a post he would occupy for 41 more years, until his death in 2010.

In the midst of all of this there were some very positive things going on as well. Man landed on the Moon, and the first Boeing 747 "jumbo jet" took flight, enabling more people than ever before to travel at an affordable rate. Gays grew tired of being harassed for their sexual orientation and fought back against police in New York City's Greenwich Village, in what would become known as the "Stonewall Riots." This would be the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement.

The Arts and Music scene were active. The Who released the first so-called rock opera, "Tommy." Neil Young and Steve Stills left Buffalo Springfield to form their own bands. Neil Young formed Crazy Horse and Steve Stills founded Crosby, Stills and Nash, which Neil Young would later join.

In Sports, there was Joe Namath, quarterback for the New York Jets, losing his career because he owned a restaurant where alcohol was served. The New York Mets were on the way to their first World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, which they would win. (I think I went to Game 5, at Shea Stadium, with John DiStefano.)

The book is augmented by a time line showing the news events of the year. And it was a busy one. Reading this book makes you aware that 1969 was not only the turning point of a decade, but also a watershed year, both in who we were and what we have, as a society, become.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Lions for Lambs" with Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and Tom Cruise


This is a political drama starring Robert Redford as an idealistic and patriotic University Professor with a penchant for helping his students find "greater meaning" to their lives. He is a Vietnam Veteran who protested the war upon his return and has deep misgivings about the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But, through his lectures, concerning the "meaning of life and" and the individuals "responsibility" to society, he has already had 2 students join the Army and go to Afghanistan. Their story is told in seperate vignettes that all take place at the same time as the main story, with time zones noted. He is now, once again, counseling one of his more gifted students to think about giving more "meaning to his life."

At the same time, Tom Cruise, playing a powerful Senator, is granting an exclusive interview to Meryl Streep, who plays a powerful newswoman. He "leaks" the story to her outlining the new "Win At All Cost" Strategy that is unfolding in Afghanistan. This story is also told alongside of the 2 soldiers in Afghanistan, who are by now fighting just to remain alive.

On the surface it is an overtly political story, but beneath that there are sub currents much more meaningful. Exploring the lies and deceptions that are perpetuated by those in power, and spread by the ever hungry media, enables the viewer to make the comparison to those who live, and die, by these questionable decisions.

But the true, and more central meaning of this film concerns our common state as fellow human beings. In every way, we are responsible for one another. Whether for good or for bad, the influences we choose to have upon one another, are the very things that connect us.

With outstanding performances by all, and directed with great clarity by Robert Redford, this is a film worth watching. And as an added incentive, it will also make you think.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The First Step

When I was 8 years old the world came close to being destroyed in a nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. Twice, in as many years, these two superpowers had come face to face with the prospect of all out nuclear war. The first time was during the Bay of Pigs debacle in early 1961, when the Cubans, unbeknownst to our CIA, had tactical nuclear weapons to repel the invasion. Their use would have triggered a nuclear response from the United States, which, in turn, would have put us at nuclear odds with the Soviet Union.

Because of this attempted invasion at the Bay of Pigs, the Soviet Union, by the fall of 1962, was in the process of placing nuclear missles on the island of Cuba. This resulted in the Cuban Missle Crisis, which was the second time. If the United States and the Soviet Union had not negotiated a settlement to that crisis, an estimated 140 million people would have been killed within the first day of fighting, as both sides launched their respective missles.

By the following summer of 1963 President Kennedy, along with Soviet Premier Kruschev, would seek to initiate a treaty to ban all further testing of nuclear weapons. This was the first step in what later became known as "detente."

I was only a small boy at the time, but the stakes were so high that I was literally "riveted" to the news. The fact that I lived in New York City, a prime target for the Soviets should hostilities occur, undoubtedly had an influence upon my interest in the matter. So you can imagine my relief when I came home on the afternoon of July 26th, 1963 to the World Telegram and Sun headline that a test ban treaty had been signed between the two superpowers who held my fate in their hands.

I watched the presidents address to the nation that evening. In it, I was introduced to the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, who was quoted in the President's address. I memorized that speech and for years afterwards could recite it verbatim. I even clipped a copy from the newspaper and carried it around for months. I still have it. For those who have never heard, or read it, I have printed a portion of it here. 47 years after it was delivered the eloquence of these words has not been diminished by the intervention of time.

Test Ban Treaty Speech

"Yesterday a shaft of light cut into the darkness. Negotiations were concluded in Moscow on a treaty to ban all nuclear tests in the atmospere, in outer space and underwater....

Now, for the first time in many years, the path to peace may be open. No one can be certain what the future will bring. No one can say whether the time has come for an easing of the struggle. But history and our own conscience will judge us harsher if we do not now make every effort to test our hopes by action, and this is the place to begin. According to the ancient Chinese proverb, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."

My fellow Americans, let us take that first step. Let us, if we can, get back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace. And if that journey is one thousand miles, or even more, let history recall that we, in this land, at this time took the first step."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"All Quiet On The Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque


Every now and then I get around to doing what I had intended upon doing when I began this blog; that is, to compare books and the movies that are made from them. I don't seem to get around to it that often, but it is what I'm supposed to be doing here.

In the opening years of the 1930's, Hollywood had a new toy to play with, "talkies."At first the template was set with films such as "The Jazz Singer" and then a plethora of musicals came along. These were all very fine and showcased the advent of sound by creating lavish musical numbers and featuring singing. But literature was about to weigh in, and it would change what people expected from motion pictures forever.

The 1930's saw the first real effort to bring great literature to the screen. And one of the first books chosen was the contemporary best seller by Erich Maria Remarque, "All Quiet On the Western Front." The book is one of the best anti war pieces of literature ever written. Bringing it to the screen was a challenge, in that sound was new and "talking" motion picture actors were still a rare commodity. So many of the silent screen idols couldn't speak a line, while many of the finer stage actors considered movies, particularly "talkies", to be a passing fad, geared only towards slapstick comedies, or overly emoted love stories and westerns.

"All Quiet On the Western Front" has stood the test of time as a novel. It's characters are brilliantly painted, the story finely developed. It centers around a group of students and their war mongering teacher. The teacher gives them all the bravado they need to go out and fulfill their destinies on the field of battle. The town cheers as they march off to war. The local postmaster becomes dictatorial in his treatment of the recruits, and the boys get a taste of what war is really all about. And in the end, all of the deaths are revealed as having been worthless.

One of the most poignant passages in the book speaks volumes about the war and the men who lived, or died in it. "We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial - I believe we are lost."

The book is fluid and the prose flows like water. It states coherently the message that war is hell. It underscores the abuse of authority by those who have no right to it in the first place. In comparison, the movie is stilted and choppy. The direction is almost chaotic.

But the one saving grace of this film is that it opened the door for filming more of the great classic literature. Within the the next few years classics such as "David Copperfield", "Oliver Twist", "Mutiny on the Bounty", "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", and so many others, would come to the screen; not as silent synopsis' of these great works, but as feature films with actors who actually spoke. Leslie Howard, Lionel Barrymore, and scores of others would leave the stage and bring some of the world's finest literature to the screen. The techniques would change, and the sound and direction would improve. But for all of it's flaws, "All Quiet On the Western Front" is still a good movie to watch, if only to see the rapid advances made once sound was introduced to the movies.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Gone Fishin'


It's been hot and muggy here this week. I'm a bit tired and taking a few days off. Be back pretty soon. I feel a little bit guilty if I don't post something, but don't want to post when I really don't have much to say. Enjoy the weekend and I'll see you by Monday, at the latest.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Scopes Trial / Inherit the Wind

I could never have let the day go by without making some reference to the famous Scopes "Monkey" Trial of 1925. In a sleepy town in Dayton,Tennessee the new State Law against teaching Evolution in the Public Schools was drawing to a close. With Clarence Darrow for the Defense; versus William Jennings Bryan for the Prosecution; this would be the trial that killed Bryan.

His beliefs where shattered by the brilliant defense presented by Clarence Darrow. The teacher in question, John Scopes, was found guilty of violating the State Prohibition against teaching Evolution. But Darrow had made his point. The law was later struck down and the controversy over this subject still rages, across the land, today.

Take a minute, or three, and watch this video. It is a compilation of actual courtroom dialogue between the two great men, along with some scenes from the movie "Inherit the Wind" with Spencer Tracy and Frederic March playing the two attorneys. In most places the movie consists of exact quotations from the trial. Some of the most soaring rhetoric comes from the actual transcript. But what a difference in delivery! This film will give you the opportunity to compare them.

And as a side note, the famous summation of the case was conducted outdoors in the Town Square, rather than the Courtroom. There was not enough room for the all of the spectators on that fateful last day of the trial. So, due to the combination of very hot weather and overcrowding, the last day of the case was argued outdoors.

Enjoy the film, it's pretty good stuff. Today is the anniversary of the last day of this legendary trial, and is worth noting.


http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=hV840sEiqYY&feature=related

Kay Starr - Wheel of Fortune

I can never recall a time in my life when there was no music. When I was a child my parents always had music playing on the radio at home, and even in the car. The first four records I can recall hearing are Patti Page doing "Tennessee Waltz", Bette Hutton doing "Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief", Frankie Laine doing "Cool, Clear Water" and Kay Starr doing "Wheel of Fortune." I still listen to these recordings on a regular basis. They are part of who I am.

Today is Kay Starr's birthday. She's 88 years young. And she always will be young, thanks to the recordings and films she has given us over the years. Here she is, singing "Wheel of Fortune" on The Wayne Newton Show in the 1960's. This is a short, 1 minute 30 second version of the recording, which runs about 3 minutes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3Es-UJepFQ

Born in Oklahoma in 1922, her father was full blooded Iroquois, and her mother was Irish. When the family moved to Dallas during the Depression, her mother began raising chickens in the back yard to supplement the family's income. Each day after school, Ms. Starr would go out back and feed the chickens while singing to them. Her Aunt Nora convinced Kay's mother to enter her into a singing contest on the radio in Dallas. She was well received and became known as "The Kid." Whenever a request for a ballad came in the band leader would say, "Let the kid do it."

Her first big break came in 1937 when Joe Venuti came to Memphis. The bandleader had a contract that required him to have a girl singer, which he did not. His manager heard Kay on the radio and they approached her family about her making an appearance with the band. For the next two years she would tour with the band each summer.

In 1939 she was hired by the Bob Crosby Orchestra for a short time. Her next move was to the Glenn Miller Orchestra. It was while singing with them that she made her first recordings.

Finishing high school in Memphis in 1942, she moved to L.A. and joined Charlie Barnet's Band to replace Lena Horne. Those were some big shoes to fill for a 20 year old! But fill them she did. In 1945 she became ill with pneumonia and lost her voice. Facing a serious operation which could have resulted in the loss of her singing abilities, she chose to treat the vocal chords and refrain from singing for 6 months. When she returned, her voice was fuller and more husky.

This began her nightclub years in L.A. while recording for Capitol Records, where she performed alongside of such legendary artists as Peggy Lee, Jo Stafford and Margaret Whiting. But her biggest break was yet to come.

Late at night on January 17th, 1952 she was awakened by a phone call summoning her to the studio to record a rush release of "Wheel of Fortune." This was her first Gold record and went on to become the #2 song on the charts in 1952. In 1955 she switched labels to RCA where she finally got the chance to show off her wide range of styles, singing everything from "pop" to jazz.

Returning to Capitol in 1959 she went on to record jazz, pop and even a country album through the 1970's. At that time she cut back on appearances in order to spend time with her family.

By the time the late 1980's rolled around, Ms. Starr had teamed up with Helen O'Connell and Margaret Whiting to tour in the musical revue "3 Girls." In 1993 she toured with Pat Boone, and in 1997 released her first "live" recording, the well received album "Live at Freddy's."

When her recording of "Wheel of Fortune" found it's way into the film "L.A. Confidential" in 1997, a police drama set in 1950's Los Angeles based on true events, her career hit another level. Millions more have now become acquainted with this multi talented singer. I am always amazed at the people who approach me in parking lots when they hear "Wheel of Fortune" coming from my speakers. They range in age from fans in their 80's, down to people in their 20's, who are familiar with her only through the movie soundtrack.

But for me, when I listen to this recording, I am back in Brooklyn, watching the turntable spin as I sing along to this wonderful recording. Happy Birthday to you, Ms. Starr.

"Brilliant" by Jane Brox

This is a very unusual book about an every day item which we all take for granted. That the author takes such a novel approach to the subject at hand, makes it a delight to read.

Electricity can be a boring scientific subject to read about, but in the skillful hands of an author as talented as Ms. Brox, the subject becomes quite interesting. I never knew for instance, about the rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikoli Tesla, that pitted the two geniuses against one another. Edison was a proponent of dry cell, or DC current, versus AC, or alternating current, as proposed by Tesla. Of the two, Tesla was the more open minded.

The book begins, as all books should, at the beginning, with caves and crude lamps, which were merely carved depessions in stone, that held and burned animal fats. This gave off a dim and smokey light. It lacked much. The search for a better lamp would continue for thousands of years until the 1700's and the advent of whaling.

Explaining the complexities of whaling can be trying as an author, and even harder for the reader to absorb. But the right author can really make the reader an apt student. Ms. Brox takes us around the world through two centuries of whaling before coming back to land again. At this point she first undertakes the struggle for the invention of an incadescent lamp. This is one of the most exciting portions of the book.

From Russia through Europe, and on across the Atlantic to America, everyone was looking for the way to harness electricity. Exploring the experiments of Franklin and his contemporaries, the stage is set for the crucial struggle in the late 1800's to light the world with a safe and smokless lamp.

The quaint days of the International Expositions, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is given ample space and flavor. These were the playgrounds which first introduced the public to the incadescent lamp. Reading this portion made me want to rent Judy Garland in "Meet Me In St Louis."

The Rural Electrification Project, which would light all the farms in America by the 1960's, is examined. When you read about the leadership that was undertaken to do the seemingly impossible, you have to wonder, and worry about, the lack of direction on the part of the world's leaders today.

This book even encompasses the modern aspects of power failures and what the Power Grid is. The author, once again, takes a complex subject and makes it reader friendly. Reviewing the blackouts of 1965 and 1977 would be enough for the average author to conclude with. But not here.

Moving on, the reader is escorted into the world of the future and what it may hold in store for us all, as individuals and as a society. This is a very easy to read book about a very complex subject. All credit is due to the fine writing skills of Ms. Brox.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Math

Not too long ago I was at the checkout in my local supermarket. I used my Debit Card to pay the bill and wanted some “cash back.” The bill was $37.67 and I wanted change to make the total $50 even. I swiped my card and punched in the code and selected “yes” for Cash back. I then quickly entered the $12.33 I wanted back in change.

The astonished cashier, a young woman about 19 years old, looked at me and said “How did you figure that out so quickly?” Without missing a beat I quickly replied, “I am so old that I have memorized all of the possible combinations of numbers.” With a look of complete awe she responded, “Wow, that’s really great!”

So I was not too surprised when I received the following e-mail, one of those forwarded things that I usually find annoying. I cleaned this one up a bit- it was kind of political in nature, although the general message is the same. We have been “dumbed down” as a society. The basic things we took for granted as part of a general education have been supplanted by newer ways of thinking. This reminded me of the “new math” we were taught in elementary school, and which, by the time I was raising my own kids, had been replaced by “newer math.” This is a funny recap of the last 50 years of teaching basic math;

1. Teaching Math In the 1960’s
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit ?

2. Teaching Math In the 1970’s
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

3. Teaching Math In the 1980’s
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?

4. Teaching Math In the 1990’s
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number which represents his profit.

5. Teaching Math In the Early 2000's
A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers, and if you feel like crying, it's ok.)

6. Teaching Math In 2010
Who cares, just steal the lumber from your neighbor's property. It's OK anyway because it’s a redistribution of wealth.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Flying to the Moon

Tommorrow is the 41st anniversary of Apollo 11 and the historic Moon Landing. I'm not one of those that believe it was a hoax. I really do believe we landed on the Moon. That's why I am so puzzled by the recent buzz concerning the building of new rockets etc to land on the Moon again. Why can't we use the extra Saturn and Atlas rockets that were so successful in getting us there years ago? That is a topic for another time.

What has always put me at odds with some of my friends over the Moon Landing is the interview that I heard, via shortwave radio, out of Australia one night, maybe 20 years ago. In it, Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the lunar surface, spoke of UFO's that he and the other two crew members saw enroute. I have tried, unsuccessfully over the years, to get a recording, or even a transcript of this interview. Well, thanks to youtube I have got this video, taken from a British documentary, in which Mr. Armstrong explains the event and the cryptic message sent back to Mission Control, two days after they ejected the last stage of the booster rocket. It seems that something was traveling along with the Apollo craft. Here is the video, it has a few unnecessary things in it, but take the time to see and hear Mr. Armstrong talk about the incident in his own words. Remember, as you listen to this, that the astronauts are prohibited, for life, from discussing this on U.S. soil. And, much to their credit, none have broken that agreement. But, Mr. Armstrong has given these interviews in other countries, and they are public record.

http://il.youtube.com/watch?v=jIB25KGjLaY&feature=related

I have never believed that we are alone in the Universe. I don't live in fear of UFO's. I just wonder why the government goes to such lengths to deny the existence of such craft. Watch the video and draw your own conclusions. I am just posting this as a way of letting myself know that I'm not nuts. I really did hear Mr. Armstrong say this.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Ava Gardner Museum - Smithfield, N.C.

Sue and I took a long drive yesterday, about 150 miles each way in the pouring rain, to see this low key, non-descript tribute to one of Hollywoods most enduring legends. The museum is actually a converted store front on Main Street in Smithfield, a few miles from where Ms. Gardner was born in Grabtown, which was nothing more than an intersection at the time, and still is today. That she is buried about one mile out of town is even more amazing than her life, which took her all around the world, until, like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz", she finally comes back home.

The exhibits range from a very informative 18 minute film of her life, to display cases which highlight everything from her clothes to personal items. There are letters from Vincent Price and Mickey Rooney, the watch she gave her friend Ernest Hemingway, and lots of her own things from her apartment in London, where she spent her last years, after a long time living in Spain.

Born in 1922 in Smithfield, she spent some of her early years watching movies at the local theater, The Howell, which still operates today. It was there that she saw Clark Gable in "Red Dust", the 1932 movie she would someday remake with Gable retitled "Mogamba." She remarked, of this film, that it was like a dream come true.

Her career began early, at age 18, when someone noticed her and approached her boss,(she was working as a secretary in Smithfield) in an effort to gain her name and phone number. He claimed to have connections with MGM and could get her a screen test, which was the dream of every young woman at the time. Her boss, acting in a shrewd and protective manner, had some photos taken which he then presented to MGM in New York. A screentest was arranged and the rest is history.

Within 2 years she would wed Mickey Rooney, that lasted 2 years. From there she moved on to band leader and clarinetist Artie Shaw. That marriage lasted only about one year, due in large part to the attentions being lavished upon her by Howard Hughes, who was paying for Ms. Gardner's mothers health care.

In 1951 she married Frank Sinatra, who was in the midst of a career downturn, just as she was on the upswing. Her sucess in the musical "Showboat" had made her one of the hottest actresses of the time. The two quarrelled constantly, and though they were the true loves in one anothers lives, the marriage didn't last. When she went to Spain to make "The Barefoot Contessa" with Humphrey Bogart, she fell in love with the country. Within 2 years she would move there in an effort to distance herself from Hollywood and Sinatra. But their love for one another would never really fade away.

During this period she became lifelong friends with the poet Robert Graves. His notes and letters to her are part of the exhibit. Her circle of friends was largely composed of people not in the Hollywood "loop." Gregory Peck, one of her favorite co-stars, is represented in the collection through some of his letters to her, which are on display.

Although her last years were spent in London, where she was truly happy, her longstanding desire was to be buried next to her parents in Smithfield. When she passed away in 1990, her wish was honored and she came home to rest alongside them, only a mile down the road from the museum which houses some of the things she loved most.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"The Lookout" with Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher and Joseph Gordon-Levitt


When Chris Pratt (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is seriously injured in a car crash that takes the lives of 2 friends and cripples another, his world is turned upside down. He has troubles with his memory, sequencing and processing information.His once promising future is diminished to a daily ritual of waking up, taking his meds and trying to remember all the things he must do in his job as the night janitor in the local bank. He is a free man imprisoned by the actions of his past mistakes.

When Matthew Goode and Isla Fisher enter his life, he is at first bewildered by their attention, but his empty world, living with a blind roomate (played by Jeff Daniels) allows him to to be drawn into a web of deceit and betrayal.

Convincing him that his life is empty is easy, getting him to help rob the bank is a bit harder, but ultimately, playing upon all his weaknesses, the plot prevails and a night of carnage is the result. With a heart pounding ending, Chris is forced to face his past, his present, and his future.

An engrossing film, this is the first film directed by screenwriter Scott Brown. His skill in setting the scenes and the sequencing of the story make this a remarkable film to watch. And for those fans of the TV sitcom "Third Rock From the Sun", the performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt will only serve to underscore his previous appearance in the film "Brick."

Very credible acting by all, especially Matthew Goode as the evil ex-con, and Isla Fischer as his accomplice and girlfriend give this film some real grit. This is a taut and engaging film that will have you rooted to your seat.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"The Other Wes Moore" by Wes Moore


In the late 1970's I was stunned one day to pick up the newspaper in New York and read that I had been executed in Georgia. The deceased shared my exact name. We were only a few months apart in age. I wondered about this twist of fate many times over the ensuing decades. The fact that I was white and the other Robert Williams was black, almost explained his fate to me. I imagined that, were I in his shoes, I would not have received the Death Penalty.

Wes Moore has taken us one step further with this exciting and introspective book. In the fall of 2000 a group of young men in Baltimore, my old hometown, robbed a jewelry store. The robbery went bad and people were killed. One of the criminals was a young man named Wes Moore. He grew up in Baltimore, had no father, roamed the streets and went to school casually, that is, whenever he felt like it. To read about his life seemed "typical" and the reader was left unmoved. It was expected.

Two months later, the same paper carried a story about a young man, named Wes Moore, who had just earned a Rhodes Scholarship in Baltimore. He grew up in New York, attended similar schools, ran the streets and both had no fathers at home. How did these two come to such different endings? The social and economic patterns were almost identical in both of their lives. What was the difference that led one man to a sentence of Life without Parole, and the other to a life of Education and World Travel.

This book follows the paths of the two men, who were born into almost identical circumstances, and yet wound up at opposite ends of the spectrum. That they shared the same name is even more remarkable and serves to underscore the role that Fate plays in all of our lives.

Wes Moore, the author, journeys to Jessup Correctional facility, located near BWI Airport to conduct a series of interviews with the incarcerated Wes Moore. He explores the differences, as well as the similarities, which bought them to such different ends. What was the key that made one turn away from Education and Advancement, while the other embraced it?

This is one of the best books about life on the streets of Baltimore since "The Block" by David Simon and Edward Burns, who also wrote "Homicide: Life on the Streets." The biggest difference is that this book was written by one of the people who lived the life. The other book was written by someone from outside of that world.

In the final analysis it is attitude that makes the difference. The attitudes of both those that surround you, as well as the attitude that you carry inside, can make all the difference in the world. Just ask Wes Moore. Either one.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Pinochet's Last Stand" with Derek Jacobi and Peter Capaldi


The drama of the attempt to extradite former General Pinochet from England to Spain to face trial is a well known story. But the behind the scenes manuevering that took place to cheat Justice is not often understood. That's what makes this film so powerful. It underscores the vulnerability of the Rights of Individuals against tyranny. But at the same time it sets the stage for future accountability.

Between 1973 and 1990, General Pinochet had authorized the kidnapping, rape, torture and murder of tens of thousands of people, some of whom were not Chilean citizens. In 1998 the General visited Britain for a medical procedure under the assumed protection of ally Margaret Thatcher. At the same time a Chilean activists group, operating with Amnesty International and other groups, were jointly able to bring the General to trial under the Extradition Laws between Spain and Great Britain. The General was placed under arrest immediately after coming out of surgery. He would spend the next 500 days under house arrest fighting the Extradition. Eventually he would prevail and be sent home to Chile.

During the time of the General's house arrest a massive publicity campaign is mounted by the relatives and friends of his victims. At the same time another movement launched by his longtime ally, Margaret Thatcher, takes hold. While one movement calls for his release, the other demands his Extradition. That the pro- Pinochet demonstrations were masterminded by Magaret Thatcher, a "self proclaimed" supporter of Human Rights, is very telling.

The script has some added characters who never existed, and some of the details have been changed around to suit the story, but the message is loud and clear. The world is not willing to tolerate dictators anymore. International Law exists and can be enforced. In the end, due to a loophole in the law concerning the dates in which the crimes were committed, justice was denied, but the real lesson is that justice was heard, and that bell cannot be unrung.

Tightly directed and engrossing with very commendable performances by all, this docu-drama was first aired on HBO in 2008. That's only two years ago, so I must be catching up!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Future String Band

This is the Future String Band. I'm the old guy in the center. The girls are both my Granddaughters, Aliyah, 6 years old and on the right with a quarter sized Carlo Rubelli guitar. The little one, looking down at the ukele, is Trinity, aged 3. They both have a sense of rhythm, along with a love of music.

They have left to go home to Texas after being here for 5 weeks to visit their Dad. I'm not much of a kid person, but these two will charm you senseless. Their individual personalities are already forming; the older one is a bit stubborn and has a way of getting what she wants; while the younger one is truly impassioned and has lots to say, although the words don't always come out right yet.

The real shocker to me is that they actually like me! This amazes me to no end. I don't like me - so why should they? Is it the beard? Or the guitar? Maybe it's the stories I tell them and they have no idea what I am talking about, all the while enraptured with whatever it is that I am saying? I don't know. But it will be great to see them grow up and find out what they think about everything.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Long Time Coming" Edited by Michael Lesy


These photographs were taken between 1935 and 1943 for the Farm Services Bureau. They were taken by such legendary photographers as Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Wolcott, Edwin Locke and Russell Lee.

The subject matter ranges from migrant workers to subsistence farmers and even urban life in some of our major cities. They all show life in a stark and realistic way. From the cop on the beat to coal miners and the slums of Puerto Rico, this book captures the harsh reality of life a mere 60 years ago. That's not a long time. I was born only 19 years after the earliest of the photos were taken. When you look at the faces of theses people you are left with a sense of sadness for all that these folks could have been, were it not for the accident of Fate, that timeless and universal joker.

I found myself wandering through the pages and wondering how I would have dealt with the circumstances evident in the photographs. But for all of the darkness in them, there is also a light. It is the light of the Human Spirit, which, when you come right down to it, is relentless. It is this ever hopeful state of mind; that somehow, someway, tomorrow might be better, that has kept civilization aloft through all of the dark times we have endured. I hope we never lose that spark, because if we do, we lose the light that goes with it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Coke Bottle Gambling

The other evening as I was driving home I was listening to John Hancock on the local “talk radio” show. I used to call in a lot about politics, but these days I’m more likely to weigh in on such complex issues as “What did you collect as a kid and wished you still had?” The topic was really baseball cards and comic books, but all collections were allowed.

At the beginning of the show the announcer usually starts off with a preamble concerning what he is interested in discussing. The call screener then begins lining up calls, usually reserving a spot for the first, most interesting, or what is often referred to as the “kickoff” call.

I was calling to say that I had collected Coca Cola bottles, the green 6-1/2 ounce “Christmas tree” bottles, so named due to their shape and that the first ones actually bore the patent date of December 25, 1923. The photo above shows a Christmas tree bottle dated 1923 on the left and the older version of the green Coke bottle to the right. In between I have stacked a few of the Christmas tree bottles with the bottoms showing the plants where they had come from.

Across the country there were thousands of Coke bottling plants and each one stamped the name of the town, or city, on their bottles. In 1967 I had about 200 or so of these bottles in a wine rack, bottoms up. I had bottles from Anchorage, Alaska to Bangor, Maine. I was very proud of this collection. Every time I bought a Coke I would look at the bottom to see if I could add it to my collection. If not, I would put it back and choose another.

One day, and I don’t remember quite why, my father took a 9 pound sledge to my collection, shattering all that pretty green glass. Then I had to clean it up. A few of the bottles escaped unscathed and a couple of them are in the center of the picture, bottoms up, just as they once were many years ago.

Well, I got to be the “kickoff” call that evening and I have been thinking about those bottles ever since. So I thought I’d round up a few of them for this photo and story.

The funniest part of the whole thing was that John Hancock, the show's host, asked me if I had inherited the rage and anger of my father. It was an odd question, given the topic of the show, but I answered truthfully. I replied that I had struggled all through raising my kids to control my temper. While I may not have been entirely successful in that endeavor, I have not, at least in my memory, ever taken a sledgehammer to any of my children’s things.

But the real kicker to the whole story is the third call after mine, which bought back some memories I had forgotten. This caller, a local man from Albemarle, had a grandfather who owned a “filling” station there. On Saturday mornings he and his cronies used to gather around the Coke machine, next to the stacks of crates that contained the empty bottles. The bottles were in a standing position so the bottoms could not be seen. Each player would lay down his fifty cents and name a city. Then everyone would pull a bottle from the crate. The one that pulled the city closest to the one he’d named won the pot.

I had forgotten all about this game until that third caller. It bought back a mixture of memories, some good, and some bad. But one thought keeps rising above all the rest, “Hey Dad, you missed a couple.”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Unfaithfully Yours" with Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell and Rudy Valee


This decidedly witty and unusual film is directed by Preston Sturges and stars Rex Harrison as the flamboyant Conductor Sir Alfred De Carter. He has asked his distant cousin, played with comic style by Rudy Valee, to keep an eye on his wife, Linda Darnell, while he is out of town. When Valee informs Harrison that he was forced to hire detectives, the Maestro initially tears up the report and banishes his cousin for subjecting his wife to the vulgarities of suspicion and the presence of lowly sleuths. But just as with Iago, the seed is planted and suspicion reigns in the Conductor's heart.

While he conducts, he imagines various scenarios in which he murders his wife. When he goes to implement these plans, nothing goes right, except for the viewer. This may be one of Preston Sturges' most comical works. In my book, nothing could surpass his classic "Sullivan's Travels", but this one comes close, yet in a more mature way. The director is not trying to make any point with this film. It is evident that he is having too much fun making it. Rex Harrison plays his role with remarkable flexibilty, while Linda Darnell plays her part,as always, without a hitch.

The real surprise in this film was the quick pace and sharp dialoque. Along with the aforementioned acting of Rudy Valee, this film will leave an impression upon you. Now, let's see, where is that copy of "Sullivan's Travels"....?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Running With the Bull(s)

This is one of those annual "traditions" that totally eludes me. I know that the "Running with/from the Bulls" is a tradition glorified in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." But then again, I've never been much of a fan of the Hemingway mystique. Most of his books were re-written as movies and were far superior to the original works. Take "To Have and Have Not", with Bogart and Bacall. I rest my case. (William Faulkner did the screenplay.)

But my hat is off to these hardy souls who dare run with, or from, the bulls each year. They brighten my day with their antics. But deep down, secretly, I always root for the bull...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Out of Time" with Denzel Washington


Excellent acting and fast paced direction of a taut script make this a film not to be missed. Apparently, though, I have missed it! It came out in 2003. I'm always the last to see a first run film, and among the first to read the latest non-fiction. That's just me. Back to the film...

A small town sheriff in Banyon Keys, Florida, Chief of Police Matt Whitlock,(played by Denzel Washington) is having an affair with one of his men's wife. Ann, the wife, is in an abusive marriage with her husband Chris, while Matt is going through a divorce. When Matt finds out that his Ann has terminal cancer, a beehive of activity, involving insurance fraud and theft of witness drug money, seems like the logical path to take in order to get some very expensive medical procedures done, which have no guarantee of success.

When Matt decides to confront Chris, late at night, a neighbor sees him and he runs away. When he returns, awakened by a phone call about an arson, the house that Ann and Chris lived in has been destroyed and two corpses are in the bed. A crude ignition device is found next to the propane tank. Now it's a double homicide.

As the investigation surges forward, the Chief of Police becomes a man obsessed with covering up his relatinship to the deceased woman, almost as if he were the one responsible for her death. But if not him, then who is responsible? And who are the two people found in the bed? And what's the motive? You'll just have to watch the movie to find out.

A pulse ponding story at times, this one had me hanging on the entire film, which, as you may know, is a rarity for me. And check out the coroner, played by John Billingsley. He's living roof that good character acting is not dead.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pinetop Perkins - A Living Treasure

Pinetop Perkins is 97 years old today! The legendary bluesman has been performing since 1927. And he still performs, this Saturday he will be in Spain at the Hondarribia Blues Festival. After that he returns to the U.S. where he has several more concerts scheduled for this year.

In 1969, after 40 years of playing, and at an age when most people retire, he replaced Otis Spann in Muddy Waters band. For the next 12 years he would help to redefine the Muddy Waters sound and bring the music to yet another generation of blues fans worldwide.

Originally a guitar player in the Mississippi Delta Region, he stopped playing guitar and took up piano full time in the 1940's after an arm injury. This guy is an amazing performer who did not go solo until he was in his 80's! For the next 15 years he would release an album per year. In 1997, 2000 and 2005 he was nominated for a Grammy. Along the way he has played every venue, large and small.

If you are unfamiliar with Pinetop Perkins and his magic fingers, here's a little taste for you;

http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=F2KmjMWLymQ&feature=related


And Happy Birthday to you Pinetop Perkins!

They Say It's Your Birthday

Today is Ringo Starr's 70th birthday. And he has a message for all his fans. Peace. That's right, he is still carrying the torch for Peace and Love. At noon today he is asking everyone, everywhere to point their fingers skyward as a gesture to Peace. Seems futile and silly to some, but count me in! In a quote from an interview in New York yesterday, Mr. Starr had this to say about today's event, which is a much needed continuation of John Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance" campaign of almost 40 years ago!

"Yes, I want to spread the word that at noon, wherever you are — in New York, in L.A., in Paris, in London — I just pray that you’ll put your fingers up and say, “Peace and Love.” I did it two years ago, it was the first time, and I did it out of Chicago because I was on tour. This year, we’re playing Radio City, so we’re doing it in New York. In Japan there were little get-togethers and it went worldwide, so that was great."

Ringo was born Richard Starkey during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. His first 5 years of life were spent living with war. The irony of that is inescapable. Most of his early years were spent in the hospital. These two factors probably helped to make him the gentle soul that he is, and undoubtedly contribute to his wish for World Peace.

He was playing drums with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes when he was asked to join the Beatles in late 1962, just as they were about to record their first record, "Love Me Do", on Parlophone Records. He replaced Pete Best. The rest is history.

Ringo is still out there with his All "Starr" Band and touring. Sue and I saw him several years ago and everyone left that concert smiling, with a little help from their friends.

Here's a little video that Mr. Starr did after the death of his friend and former bandmate George Harrison a few years ago.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PjnOdHq-T8

Hope you enjoy the video and don't forget to raise your fingers at noon today, wherever you are. Give Peace a Chance!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Library

It's almost 5 o'clock in the afternoon, and due to some family drama, only worth noting as an explanation for the tardiness of this post, I was almost going to skip posting today. I figured, who cares anyhow? Turns out that I do. So, as I often do, I headed to the nearest library to find whatever was to be found. And, as usual, I found plenty!

I roamed the History section, perusing everything between the First Crusade and up to the end of the Cold War. (The Cold War is one of my favorite subjects because I grew up during the height of it.) From there it was on to the Biography section, where I dropped in on the likes of Stalin, Newton, Peggy Lee (read that one once), Asimov (outstanding autobiography) Danny Thomas, Ben Franklin, Lincoln and so on. Then I got to the Oversized Books where I stayed for almost an hour. There were books of Photograhs from the late 1800's by Jacob Riis in New York and photos of the San Francisco Earthquake alongside photobooks of the Great Depression and the more contemporary masters like Ansel Adams. Even today's visual arts, including Grafitti, were represented on those shelves. The picture at the top of this page is "Still Life with Female Bust" by artist  Everett Spruill. I'm generally more of a traditionilist; I like Monet, Manet, etc., but this painting is so vivid and colorful that it cannot help but affect the viewer in some way. And it did, so here it is.

I took out an oversized book of Norman Rockwell paintings, two books on history and 6 DVD's. Two are documentaries that I have not seen before, the History Channel's "History of the Joke" with Lewis Black and Volume 4 of the PBS Series "Eyes On the Prize." Having just watched "Mississippi Burning" last week I wanted to see some old, archival footage of the actual events portrayed in that film.

The point of this is not to fill space, but rather, to highlight the need for Public Libraries in the first place. They serve as a destination for all ages and ethnic groups. They are a reflection of our culture. And on a cloudy day in my heart, they serve as a light to my soul.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Original Gangster" by Frank Lucas


From the very first page this book keeps you riveted to every word. The story opens in 1936 North Carolina on the morning that three white men, Ku Klux Klan members, come to the Lucas home and kill his 13 year old cousin, Obadiah. The crime was typical, he had looked at a white woman. For this, they blew his head off.

What follows is the real life story of Frank Lucas, notorious for decades as the reigning boss of the drug trade in Harlem; protege to "Bumpy" Johnson, the Al Capone of Harlem. This is a rare and fascinating look behind the African-American organized crime scene from the 1940's through the 1970's. It included drugs, gambling and prostitution. Flavored with many underworld characters, among them "Detroit Red", later to be known as Malcolm X, the book takes in politics, the code of the streets and the corruption that allows it all to exist, unhindered.

The book begins with a short dedication, admonishing the reader to stay in school, get a degree and not to follow in the path of it's author. For anyone who has seen the film "American Gangster" with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, this book will seem familiar. It should. That film was a synopsis of the life of Frank Lucas and his relationship with Bumpy Johnson, his mentor. This book offers so much more. This is the real story, told by the man who lived it. No special effects, just the words, plainly written to chronicle a life spent hustling to the top.

Written a few years after the release of the movie, the reader cannot help but wonder if Mr. Lucas saw the film and then decided to write the book to set the record straight. I believe he did.

Fouth of July Photo


I'm the tall guy with sparks coming out of my head. The other guy we're looking at was a monk who got carried away on his spiritual journey and self ignited. A splendid time was had, indeed, by all.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth - I'd Do It All Again

This is Sue and I sitting on a wall outside our hotel in Cancun, where we went on our honeymoon 24 years ago today. Sue hasn't changed a bit - but somewhere along the line I got older! Marriage is not easy, it has pits and falls that rival all the peaks and valleys in the world. And I'd say, proudly, that in our 24 years of marriage we have seen our share of both. And survived them. That, in itself, is somewhat of a miracle, to say the least.

We still fight, sometimes about big things, and at other times about stupid small stuff. No magic formulas, just a whole lot of love beneath whatever it is that sometimes boils over on the surface. So the trick is, it seems to me, is to be able to ride the roller coaster of love without getting motion sickness. We have raised three kids, lived in 5 different houses and had several different jobs along the way. Somewhat of a typical marriage.

We both like different things, for instance, we rarely watch a movie together. My tastes run to older movies and her tastes are more likely to be first run features.In books and literature we are equally diverse. While I enjoy non-fiction almost to the exclusion of fiction, she enjoys the latest best selling fiction authors, the names of which I cannot even recall. But beyond these superficial differences we do have some similarities. We are both very interested in our family histories. We both love the simple things in life and don't require much luxury; though we do revel in it when available.

This is Sue and I last December. I look a bit older, but Sue looks just the same. Her eyes and her smile are unchanged. Her love and care for our children has not diminished, and has even grown with the addition of our grandkids. It seems as if she meets each challenge with the resolve of succeeding, while I often lament the winds of ill fortune, real or imagined.

Today will be a low key celebration for us. The grandkids are here for a visit, so we'll probably take in some fireworks, or just light off some of our own. Either way it will be one more milestone passed on a journey that has had us, alternately, at each other's throats, or in one anothers arms. I hope that never changes.

Happy Anniversary, Sue. And just so you know, I'd do it all again.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Declaration Of Independence

In the run up to tomorrows celebration of July 4th, I hope that you will take the time to read the Declaration Of Independence. If you have never read it, well, you should. History repeats itself when we are not watching closely. And afterwards, when all of the analysis is done, you are left wondering why we didn't forsee this thing or that thing coming.

These men went far out on a limb to create a new society and they paid a price for their actions. 5 were captured as traitors, 12 had their homes burned, 2 lost sons in the war, and 2 sons were captured and imprisoned. Thomas Nelson of Virginia was present at Yorktown where British General Cornwallis had made his headquarters in Nelson's home. Nelson instructed General Washington to lay waste to it.

John Hart was driven from his home and his wifes deathbed, his 13 children were scattered and his fields and home were burned. Delegates Norris and Livingstone suffered the same fates. Francis Lewis lost his property, his wife was jailed and died in prison. These are just the more extreme examples of what happened to these men, whose lives would be forever changed by their signatures on this document.

These were 56 extraordinary men, of whom 24 were lawyers, 11 merchants and 9 farmers or plantation owners. They all had something to lose by signing this document. So here it is, complete with the names of the original signers. I hope that you will take a moment and read the full text.

The Declaration of Independence

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Source: The Pennsylvania Packet, July 8, 1776

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Birthday Mom!

This is my favorite picture of my mom, Ruth Marcus Williams, taken in the summer of 1934 when she was 5 years old. She is sitting in the back of 2020 East 29th Street in Brooklyn. Her parents had just divorced formally, after a 5 year seperation. So she effectively grew up in a one parent household. She was always ahead of her time.

She was a talented woman, played piano and sang. Mostly Broadway show stuff. She was trained in voice and had planned on a career in the theater when she met my Dad, who was about to graduate Maritime High School and go to sea. Good thing they didn't, or else I wouldn't be writing this.

My Mom was sick, from the time I was 5 years old, until she died of the complications from pancreatic cancer 25 years later. I never really knew her before she was ill. I do have some warm recollections of her before she got sick, but they are clouded in the haze of early childhood. I remember being young enough to have a "sink" bath, that is, being washed in the kitchen sink rather than the tub, so I must have been about 3 or 4 years old. I can remember her calling out to my brother and I from the 4th floor window of our apartment on Bedford Avenue and Kings Highway, and even throwing down change wrapped in a paper towel for ice cream. I don't think anything can dislodge those memories from my mind.

I can also still recall her striped dress and her dresser drawer full of kerchiefs. I know that I have printed this here before, but indulge me as I remember her with these lyrics, written several years ago while thinking about her at the piano, the beach and just sitting on the sofa reading a book.

I can still see you there,
standing by the door.
Wearing your red kechief and your coat.

And though I think I see your face
so clearly in my mind,
I know I'll never see you anymore.

I can still hear your voice
it's ringing in my head.
I can hear the words to every song.

And though I think I hear your voice,
So clearly in my mind,
I know I'll never hear it anymore.

Times a worthless master,
it will steal your heart away.
It robs you just a little at a time.

And suddenly you realize that
you've got nothing left,
she's taken all the things you once called "mine.".


Happy Birthday Mom. I still think about you everyday.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Birthday to Olivia DeHavilland


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

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

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

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

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