Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Two Views - Same Sky

Perceptions are a funny lot. You look, you see, and then analyze what you have taken in. The same things can be curious at their best, and deceiving at other times. Today is one of those "blue sky" days, with not a cloud to be seen. Looking through my camera from inside the rear screened porch offers one view. Depending on the angle from which I snapped the photo determined the pattern the screen made against the sky. I took several shots, some were too symmetrical, while others were confusing, with the original intent of showing the sky through a "gauze" obscured by the op-art patterns exposed by the camera.

This is the same shot from outside the screen. Clear and uncluttered without anything to use as a frame of reference. It could be anything. Or it could be nothing at all. Life, and relationships, are alot like these photos. Nothing is ever as confusing, or obscurred, as it may seem when we first examine it through a veil of mystery. On the other hand, when unencumbered by a trick of the light, or sleight of hand, the obvious can also present great mysteries, when all the time the plain truth is right before our very eyes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Who Are You?

I'm pleased to announce that Rooftop Reviews has tripled it's readership, or"hits", since January 1st, when my counter registered 4,212 "visitors." Today it passed 12,600, re-igniting my curiosity as to who comes here and why? And how often? Am I just a one time thing? Is your visit the result of an accident while looking for shingles on your home, or were you researching a subject, and Rooftop Reviews had something relevant to offer? I am so curious....

Also, does anybody have an interesting story they'd like to tell? Send it to me and I'll put it up here. Nothing divisive (like my post on the Mosque Thing, that was one of my rare editorials) as I generally I like to keep Rooftop free of politics. I love stories about growing up, particularly in the South during the 50's and 60's, places you have been or things you may have seen, that kind of stuff. Send a photo and I'll put that up, too. Basically I'm looking to expand a bit, make the place more interesting and less staid. You know, I can be a bore.

So hopefully my mailbox will be even fuller than it has been, with things that I can share here, with others. And thanks for dropping in. I'm always amazed that people do.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The 2nd Annual Lake Norman Shalom Festival

Today Sue and I went to the 2nd Annual Lake Norman Shalom Festival. Our daughter, Sarah, volunteered as a parking director, so we thought we'd go over and see her at work. The Festival featured music and dancing, mostly of the Eastern European variety. The band was comprised of an accordion, upright bass and clarinet. The dancing ranged from a simple Hora to some more complicated Yiddish Square Dances. There was also a conga line.

Ethnic dances have their roots in the social lives of the places in which they originated. Whole towns would turn out for these festivals, usually in the late summer or fall, just before, or after, the hard work of the harvest. The dances all required changing partners, which lent a sense of fraternity to the proceedings. It was also a chance for the young people to meet and express their interest in one another, under the careful eyes of their elders.

Ethnic food, and bagels of all description, were on hand to feed the hungry. The Festival began with the blowing of the Shofar and was immediately followed by dancing and music. There was a bottle dance workshop, in which people were challenged to dance, or even walk, with a bottle atop their heads. The professional dancers, of course, did the best job of this, but there were several young children that gave them a serious run for their money. There was also a magic show and a Shofar blowing lesson for the kids, along with a story teller.

This was the 2nd Shalom Festival sponsored by the area's 5 Congregations, ranging from Conservative to Reform. The whole thing was organized under the banner of The Jewish Federation, whose mission is to promote the traditions, values and goals of the Jewish faith for future generations. And today they more than met that goal.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

George David Weiss - American Songwriter

One of my favorite songwriters passed away this past Monday. It finally made the local papers today. George David Weiss, the man who chronicled several decades with hit songs such as "Can't Help Falling In Love", "Wheel of Fortune", "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", and "What A Wonderful World" was 89 years young. I say young because a person with that much music in his heart is never really old. Our bones may creak a bit, and it might hurt to move around some, but if you can still appreciate, or maybe even just hum, one of your favorite songs, you're never truly old. Music is what keeps us immortal. It's the rhythm of our lives.

Mr. Weiss co- wrote many of the hit songs that comprise the soundtrack of the late 1940's "big band" era, most notably with Frank Sinatra's version of "Oh! What It Seemed to Be", and on through the 1950's, when he helped to write such classics as Ella Fitzgerald's "Lullaby of Birdland", Patti Page's "Confess", and my all time favorite "Wheel of Fortune" performed by Kay Starr. That these songs continue to appear in movies, such as "L.A. Confidential", underscores the impact that they had on the era in which they were written. Here's a short version of Kay Starr, live, doing "Wheel of Fotune" on The Wayne Newton Show;

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

He remained productive as a songwriter through the 1960's with such classics as "Can't Help Falling In Love" in 1961 for the Elvis Presley film "Blue Hawaii." He shared credit on this song with partners Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, both of whom he had met while scoring films, and on Broadway shows, including "Mr. Wonderful", which ran for 383 performances from 1956 to 1957. Co-written with Jerry Bock and Larry Holofcener, it was a musical comedy written for Sammy Davis Jr and which co-starred Chita Rivera. He also co-wrote "First Impressions" in 1959, based on Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", and "Maggie Flynn" in 1968, once again co-written with Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti.

When Mr. Weiss and his colleagues penned "Can't Help Falling In Love", the producers of "Blue Hawaii" were looking for another "Hound Dog" type of song, but they got a wonderful ballad instead. And Elvis considered it one of his all time favorite songs. He sung it at all of his concerts, right up until he passed away in 1977. Listen to it here;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFSfdL5lPoY

And no writing about Mr. Weiss would be complete without recounting the story behind "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." This song was based on the 1939 South African-Zulu song/chant "Mbube", which was written by Solomon Linda, and is the Zulu word for "the lion." In 1952 it was re-recorded by The Weavers and entitled "Wimoweh", with it's signature falsetto backup vocals. By adding the original chant to the harmonies suggested by the Weaver's recording, Mr. Weiss created the song we know today. In the late 1990's there was a legal dispute over who really owned the rights to the song, which was finally settled to the satisfaction of all parties, including Solomon Linda's. Listen to the Tokens version here;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCM2nJfLD-0

With the hit by Louis Armstrong in 1967 of "What A Wonderful World", co-written with the late Bob Thiele, he had crossed all lines of creativity, encompassing the sounds of jazz, pop, soul and rhythm and blues in this remarkable crossover hit. And along the way he wrote, and produced some remarkable plays. Not too bad for a Jewish kid from New York. His music, and spirit will be missed.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Doug MacLean - "Caledonia"

Today is one of those days when I don't have anything in particular to say. I'm in the middle of 2 good books, and things are generally going okay, but I'm not motivated to write anything. And underlying it all is a melancholy, for which I have no explanation, having stopped trying to figure these things out long ago, electing instead to just roll with the feeling and wait for it to pass. If someone were to ask me how I felt today I would simply play them Doug MacLean's "Caledonia."

This is not the blues song of the same name recorded by B.B. King and countless others. This song is a Scottish ballad written and performed by Doug MacLean. It's a song of reflection, in which a person is looking back, and inward, on their own life and seeking solace, or redemption, in what they see. And it is so accurate in relation to how I feel about myself, that I wanted to share it. Hit the link and then read through the words as you listen. Enjoy the music, bear with me while I bounce back, and I'll see you tomorrow.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eW-ZDKNSqM&feature=related

"Caledonia" by Doug MacLean

I don't know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I've been afraid
That I might drift away

So I've been telling old stories, singing songs
That make me think about where I came from
And that's the reason why I seem
So far away today

Oh, but let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia you're calling me
And now I'm going home

If I should become a stranger
You know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia's been everything
I've ever had

Now I have moved and I've kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way

I have kissed the ladies and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes there's no denying
I have traveled hard with coattails flying
Somewhere in the wind

(Chorus)

Now I'm sitting here before the fire
The empty room, the forest choir
The flames that could not get any higher
They've withered, now they've gone

But I'm steady thinking my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
When the hands are shaken and the kisses flow
Then I will disappear

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The 19th Amendment

Last week was the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution being ratified. It had been proposed in June of 1919, but was not ratified until August 18th, 1920. Women had been struggling for the Right to Vote for decades, usually citing the 14th Amendment, one of the so-called “Reconstruction Amendments”, as the legal basis for that right. The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were all proposed and ratified between 1865 and 1870. They were the first Amendments to the Constitution in over 60 years, the last Amendments having been ratified in 1804 to clarify the limits of Judicial Powers and the manner in which the electoral process was to operate in choosing the President.

In the days following the Civil War women across America had begun to agitate for the Right to Vote, some arguing that since African –Americans were now equal, women should be granted at least the same rights as those who had so recently been disenfranchised. This was a losing argument. The Constitution itself limited the Right to Vote to free men only, and later, after the Civil War, in the 15th Ammendment, to all men regardless of race or servitude.

When Susan B. Anthony began her struggles to acquire the vote for women, it usually took the form of a challenge to the 14th Amendment with it’s broader scope of “Citizenship Rights Not to be Abridged.” The fallacy of this approach was that the 14th Amendment was very clear in it’s definition of who could vote. Men, 21 years or older and even then only if they had not taken part in an insurrection, or rebellion, against the United States, were allowed to vote.

The “Reconstruction Amendments”, under which so many of our present day rights have been granted, were all ratified at a time when Congress, and the Senate, were in a state of turmoil and confusion following the Civil War. The 14th Amendment, in particular, has always lived in the shadow of whether or not it was even properly ratified. Although ratified by the Senate on July 9th, 1866, it was not declared the law of the land until July of 1868, when the Secretary of State proclaimed that it was, indeed, ratified.

In 1872 Myra Bradwell challenged the Constitutionality of that law in Bradwell Vs. Illinois, after being denied entrance to the State Bar, for which she was qualified, based on the fact that she was not a man. The case went to the Supreme Court, where the law was upheld and her case was denied. Justice Bradley wrote this in his concurring opinion;

"It is true that many women are unmarried and not affected by any of the duties, complications, and incapacities arising out of the married state, but these are exceptions to the general rule. The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator. And the rules of civil society must be adapted to the general constitution of things, and cannot be based upon exceptional cases. "

I’ll run that by my wife and let you know how it turns out. But my point is that they were barking up the wrong tree. Clearly, there needed to be an Amendment that directly addressed the question of whether or not women were fully citizens of this country. It was to be a long haul.

Between the 1870’s and 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified, there were scores of attempts by women to vote. The movement, known as the Women’s Suffrage Movement, had run several candidates for president, all to no avail.

After World War One had ended, and women had proved their worth once again in a time of national strife, there was an increased call to right this wrong. And this time they were successful in their quest for the Right to Vote.

As a matter of fact, during the final years of President Wilson’s second term in office (1916-1920), his affairs were largely handled by his wife Edith. It was she who had made the trips across the Atlantic in furtherance of President Wilson’s goal to establish the League of Nations. It can be successfully argued, that in the absence of her husbands ability to function fully after his stroke, Edith Wilson was the first woman to administer the affairs of the office of the President of the United States.

And so it was, that in 1920, women gained the Right to Vote. I remember growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s and the lack of women in every major field. There were no women police officers, letter carriers, cab drivers etc. It was a man’s world. Women were generally relagated to jobs such as teachers, librarians, nurses, cleaning and other mundane tasks that men were not interested in. I also remember the ridicule heaped upon women in 1960 when they went nuts over a handsome candidate from Massachusetts, John Kennedy. It was joked that women were voting for President based on looks alone.

Now fast forward to the world of today. We have women in Congress and the Senate, there are women Governors, there are women in outer space and we have even had our first serious woman contestant for President of the United States. There are still areas in which women have not attained true equality, but the 19th Amendment was a big step towards that end.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"The Lost Cyclist" by David V. Herlihy


In 1952 a man named William Sachtleben walked into the Alton, Illinois office of the Evening Telegraph. He was greeted by the Editor who had not seen him for over 50 years. Mr. Sachtleben was the man who completed a trip around the world, by bicycle that was begun in 1892 by Frank Lenz of Pittsburgh. Mr. Lenz perished somewhere in Armenia under mysterious circumstances in 1894. It is believed that he was murdered there. Mr. Sachtleben, a friend of Mr. Lenz’, actually went to Turkey seeking justice for his colleague. But let’s begin at the beginning…

Mr. Lenz was a bicycling enthusiast in the age of the high wheelers. These were the 6 foot tall, hard rubber tired cycles that were so popular beginning around the 1870’s. These cycles were powered by pedals attached directly to the front wheel. That was “direct drive”, which although simplistic in its form, allowed a hearty rider to attain some serious speed and distance. A wheel which is six feet in diameter will cover considerably more distance with each turn of the pedal than a modern bicycle could, were it not for the addition of “gears.” But falling from these older contraptions could be serious, and in some cases fatal.

In the 1880’s people began to experiment with what came to be known as the “Safety” bike, which is the forerunner of today’s bicycles. They look identical, were made of tubular steel, had chain and sprocket drive, inflatable tires, front and rear breaks, reduction gears and were easily mounted due to their height of approximately 36 inches atop two 27 inch inflatable tires, as compared with the 6 foot high cycles of the earlier years. After mastering the art of the 6 foot high cycles in races and road trips, Mr. Lenz was more than eager to plunge head first into these new “safety” bicycles.

Continuing to run in local cross country races during the 1880’s, he came to the attention of the public, who responded enthusiastically to this new sport. So, eventually “Outing Magazine” sponsored a bicycle trip around the world, and Mr. Lenz was hooked.

The round the world trip had already been done on a 6 foot cycle by a man named Thomas Stevens. I’d tell you more about him but don’t know that much beyond what I have read in “The Lost Cyclist.” I will google him later, on that you can be sure.

Frank Lenz began training for this eventual race with a partner named Petticord. They took several road trips, one down to New Orleans in 1890 and another one to St. Louis. Being an amateur photographer allowed Mr. Lenz to photograph the trips. Using a cord that ran to the camera’s shutter he was able to capture images of himself and Petticord sitting atop boulders, lounging in a hotel room and even along the roads.

In May of 1892, Mr. Lenz finally left his job as an accountant to embark on this amazing journey, from which he would never return. But along the way he filed articles with “Outing Magazine”, so we have a pretty good idea of what his journey was like.

He traveled East to West from Pittsburgh to San Francisco, where he caught a ship to Hawaii. From there he shipped to Japan and then on to China and Burma. This journey would be difficult even today. Making this trip in 1892 is mind boggling. From Burma he went through India and across present day Kuwait, Iraq, Iran and there his trail ends. He had shipped his trunks ahead to Constantinople, where they were later recovered by his friend William Sachtleben. But Lenz himself never did arrive there.

The book has an abundance of photographs, some taken inside the Coliseum in Rome, wearing a Pith helmet as he arrives at the gates of Tehran, and others of Lenz standing with some Chinese on the way to Peking. The Chinese were especially enamored of his bicycle, and though there were several unpleasant incidents while traveling through the country, he found the Chinese, on the whole, to be quite gracious and accommodating. When he disappeared, presumably in Armenia sometime in 1894, “Outing Magazine” sent William Sachtleben to find him.

When he arrived in Turkey, he landed in the midst of a very tender political situation concerning the Turks and the Armenians. Having no luck with the American Minister there, a former Confederate Colonel, named Alexander Terrell, who can only be described as arrogant and lazy, he turns to a Canadian Missionary named William Chambers, who had based himself in Erzurum province, where he had founded a missionary school and a church.

Making the task more difficult was that Armenia, especially the area around Bitlis, had been sealed off by the Turkish Government. This area was the site of some of the worst ethnic violence in the history of Turkey, culminating in the “ethnic cleansing” of some 15,000 people by the following summer of 1895.

That he was able to track Lenz at all is somewhat of a miracle in itself. That he was able to figure out what happened to his friend is incredible. His attempt to prosecute those whom he believed to be behind Lenz’ disappearance is amazing. Of the 5 Kurds who were accused and imprisoned for the killing of Frank Lenz, two perished in prison, and the others have gone missing in the annals of history. That Mr. Sachtleben did not succeed in his effort to seek justice was predictable, but no less admirable for his having made the effort.

He also went on to complete his friends journey, traveling through Turkey, amd on through Europe, then crossing the Atlantic before riding back into Pittsburgh the following year. This book is a testament to the Human Spirit and those who dare to go where no one else has gone before. Without them the world would be a much different, and less vibrant, place in which to live.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Orange Crush

This is a 10 ounce amber colored, diamond shaped, wax draped, Mae West Orange Crush bottle from the late 1960's. It was given to me by Tammy, of the Town of Mooresville Public Library. It's been under her house with a bunch of others for at least a few years now and wanted to come out. Tammy knows I collect bottles, and I did offer to give it a good home, so she gave it to me.

There is something about glass that is permanent and timeless. If you don't drop it, or otherwise misuse it, a glass bottle will last forever. What I really love about glass from the later part of the 20th Century are the designs and logos which were used. Early on a bottle was a straightforward affair; basically parellel sides with a hole to drink from at the top. But, shortly after Coca-Cola came out with the "Christmas tree" bottle design in 1926, the bar was raised a bit higher. This Orange Crush bottle is a perfect example of that competition.

Notice the way that the bottle is designed to fit the hand more comfortably. This gives the shoulder of the bottle a flaired out appearance which resulted in some folks referring to them as "Mae West" bottles.

There's a fantastic site with the history of all the Orange Crush bottles at
http://www.angelfire.com/yt/soda/Rosman-OC-MaeWest.html

It's a pretty comprehensive site, going as far as giving measurements and capacities, as well as a little bit of information about the designer James Nash, a noted industrial designer of the 1950's. There is so much to be learned about everything surrounding us. This bottle is no exception. Thank You, Tammy, for this beautiful addition to my collection of bottles.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Mosque Controversy

I don't mind Churches who claim that I will be damned to hell, or fire and brimstone, half as much as the Mosques that want to kill me, now, here on earth, in this lifetime. Yes, there are some mighty militant passages in the Bible that condemn you to Hell, both here on earth, as well as in the afterlife. But to compare the threats of not believing in the God of Abraham, or Jesus, to the blatant, and mandatory killing of people who do not agree with Islam, and Allah, highlights a complete lack of knowledge concerning either religous text.

The Western Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, call for obedience to God and offer many examples of God's retribution. But nowhere are we, as human beings, given permission to kill for God. (The only exception of which I am aware is written in Deuteronomy when the Jews enter Caanan.) That so many have mispresented the words contained in the Bible, thus bringing about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust etc., may speak volumes about Man, but not about the God they worship. Take all of the passages in the Bible that command us to obey Him and look at what the consequences are. They are largely in our hearts and minds, as we generally know when we are doing wrong. The comparison of the Holy Bible to the Koran is like comparing an apple to an orange.

Read the passages below and try to find a counterpart in our Western religions to these edicts. I have not found one yet that instructs you to slay someone in furtherance of God's will. If this were a street gang they would be charged with hate speech. In addition, should they attempt to act out the Prophets commands they would be charged with hate crimes. While everyone seems concerned about Freedom OF Religion, I am more concerned , after reading these passages, about Freedom FROM Religion. Here are some choice gems from the Koran, read them and then decide how close you want that Mosque to your own house.

Qur'an:4:78 "Wherever you are, death will find you, even if you are in towers strong and high! So what is wrong with these people, that they fail to understand these simple words?"

Qur'an:9:88 "The Messenger and those who believe with him, strive hard and fight with their wealth and lives in Allah's Cause."

Qur'an:9:5 "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war."

Qur'an:9:29 "Fight those who do not believe until they all surrender, paying the protective tax in submission."

Qur'an:8:39 "Fight them until all opposition ends and all submit to Allah."

Qur'an:8:39 "So fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief [non-Muslims]) and all submit to the religion of Allah alone (in the whole world)."

Ishaq:324 "He said, 'Fight them so that there is no more rebellion, and religion, all of it, is for Allah only. Allah must have no rivals.'"

Qur'an:9:14 "Fight them and Allah will punish them by your hands, lay them low, and cover them with shame. He will help you over them."

Ishaq:300 "I am fighting in Allah's service. This is piety and a good deed. In Allah's war I do not fear as others should. For this fighting is righteous, true, and good."

Ishaq:587 "Our onslaught will not be a weak faltering affair. We shall fight as long as we live. We will fight until you turn to Islam, humbly seeking refuge. We will fight not caring whom we meet. We will fight whether we destroy ancient holdings or newly gotten gains. We have mutilated every opponent. We have driven them violently before us at the command of Allah and Islam. We will fight until our religion is established. And we will plunder them, for they must suffer disgrace."

Qur'an:8:65 "O Prophet, urge the faithful to fight. If there are twenty among you with determination they will vanquish two hundred; if there are a hundred then they will slaughter a thousand unbelievers, for the infidels are a people devoid of understanding."

Ishaq:326 "Prophet exhort the believers to fight. If there are twenty good fighters they will defeat two hundred for they are a senseless people. They do not fight with good intentions nor for truth."

Bukhari:V4B52N63 "A man whose face was covered with an iron mask came to the Prophet and said, 'Allah's Apostle! Shall I fight or embrace Islam first?' The Prophet said, 'Embrace Islam first and then fight.' So he embraced Islam, and was martyred. Allah's Apostle said, 'A Little work, but a great reward.'"

Bukhari:V4B53N386 "Our Prophet, the Messenger of our Lord, ordered us to fight you till you worship Allah alone or pay us the Jizyah tribute tax in submission. Our Prophet has informed us that our Lord says: 'Whoever amongst us is killed as a martyr shall go to Paradise to lead such a luxurious life as he has never seen, and whoever survives shall become your master.'"

Muslim:C34B20N4668 "The Messenger said: 'Anybody who equips a warrior going to fight in the Way of Allah is like one who actually fights. And anybody who looks after his family in his absence is also like one who actually fights."

Qur'an:9:38 "Believers, what is the matter with you, that when you are asked to go forth and fight in Allah's Cause you cling to the earth? Do you prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter? Unless you go forth, He will afflict and punish you with a painful doom, and put others in your place."

Qur'an:9:123 "Fight the unbelievers around you, and let them find harshness in you."

Qur'an:8:72 "Those who accepted Islam and left their homes to fight in Allah's Cause with their possessions and persons, and those who gave (them) asylum, aid, and shelter, those who harbored them - these are allies of one another. You are not responsible for protecting those who embraced Islam but did not leave their homes [to fight] until they do so." [Another translation reads:] "You are only called to protect Muslims who fight."

Muslim:C9B1N31 "I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and believe in me (that) I am the Messenger and in all that I have brought."

Qur'an:8:73 "The unbelieving infidels are allies. Unless you (Muslims) aid each other (fighting as one united block to make Allah's religion victorious), there will be confusion and mischief. Those who accepted Islam, left their homes to fight in Allah's Cause (al-Jihad), as well as those who give them asylum, shelter, and aid - these are (all) Believers: for them is pardon and bountiful provision (in Paradise)."

Tabari IX:69 "Arabs are the most noble people in lineage, the most prominent, and the best in deeds. We were the first to respond to the call of the Prophet. We are Allah's helpers and the viziers of His Messenger. We fight people until they believe in Allah. He who believes in Allah and His Messenger has protected his life and possessions from us. As for one who disbelieves, we will fight him forever in the Cause of Allah. Killing him is a small matter to us."

Qur'an:48:16 "Say (Muhammad) to the wandering desert Arabs who lagged behind: 'You shall be invited to fight against a people given to war with mighty prowess. You shall fight them until they surrender and submit. If you obey, Allah will grant you a reward, but if you turn back, as you did before, He will punish you with a grievous torture."

Qur'an:48:22 "If the unbelieving infidels fight against you, they will retreat. (Such has been) the practice (approved) of Allah in the past: no change will you find in the ways of Allah."

Qur'an:47:4 "When you clash with the unbelieving Infidels in battle (fighting Jihad in Allah's Cause), smite their necks until you overpower them, killing and wounding many of them. At length, when you have thoroughly subdued them, bind them firmly, making (them) captives. Thereafter either generosity or ransom (them based upon what benefits Islam) until the war lays down its burdens. Thus are you commanded by Allah to continue carrying out Jihad against the unbelieving infidels until they submit to Islam."

Tabari VI:138 "Those present at the oath of Aqabah had sworn an allegiance to Muhammad. It was a pledge of war against all men. Allah had permitted fighting."

Tabari VI:139 "Allah had given his Messenger permission to fight by revealing the verse 'And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah.'"

Qur'an:9:19 "Do you make the giving of drink to pilgrims, or the maintenance of the Mosque, equal to those who fight in the Cause of Allah? They are not comparable in the sight of Allah. Those who believe, and left their homes, striving with might, fighting in Allah's Cause with their goods and their lives, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah."

Ishaq:550 "The Muslims met them with their swords. They cut through many arms and skulls. Only confused cries and groans could be heard over our battle roars and snarling."

Ishaq:578 "Crushing the heads of the infidels and splitting their skulls with sharp swords, we continually thrust and cut at the enemy. Blood gushed from their deep wounds as the battle wore them down. We conquered bearing the Prophet's fluttering war banner. Our cavalry was submerged in rising dust, and our spears quivered, but by us the Prophet gained victory."

Tabari IX:25 "By Allah, I did not come to fight for nothing. I wanted a victory over Ta'if so that I might obtain a slave girl from them and make her pregnant."

Tabari IX:82 "The Messenger sent Khalid with an army of 400 to Harith [a South Arabian tribe] and ordered him to invite them to Islam for three days before he fought them. If they were to respond and submit, he was to teach them the Book of Allah, the Sunnah of His Prophet, and the requirements of Islam. If they should decline, then he was to fight them."

Ishaq:530 "Get out of his way, you infidel unbelievers. Every good thing goes with the Apostle. Lord, I believe in his word. We will fight you about its interpretations as we have fought you about its revelation with strokes that will remove heads from shoulders and make enemies of friends."

Muslim:C9B1N33 "The Prophet said: 'I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and they establish prostration prayer, and pay Zakat. If they do it, their blood and property are protected.'"

Muslim:C10B1N176 "Muhammad (may peace be upon him) sent us in a raiding party. We raided Huraqat in the morning. I caught hold of a man and he said: 'There is no god but Allah,' but I attacked him with a spear anyway. It once occurred to me that I should ask the Apostle about this. The Messenger said: 'Did he profess "There is no god but Allah," and even then you killed him?' I said: 'He made a profession out of the fear of the weapon I was threatening him with.' The Prophet said: 'Did you tear out his heart in order to find out whether it had professed truly or not?'"

Muslim:C53B20N4717 "The Prophet said: 'This religion will continue to exist, and a group of people from the Muslims will continue to fight for its protection until the Hour is established.'"

Qur'an:2:193 "Fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief) and religion is only for Allah. But if they cease/desist, let there be no hostility except against infidel disbelievers."

Ishaq:470 "We attacked them fully armed, swords in hand, cutting through heads and skulls."

Qur'an:4:74 "Let those who fight in Allah's Cause sell this world's life for the hereafter. To him who fights in Allah's Cause, whether he is slain or victorious, We shall give him a reward."

Qur'an:4:94 "Believers, when you go abroad to fight wars in Allah's Cause, investigate carefully, and say not to anyone who greets you: 'You are not a believer!' Coveting the chance profits of this life (so that you may despoil him). With Allah are plenteous spoils and booty."

Qur'an:4:104 "And do not relent in pursuing the enemy."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Milwaukee Memory from Albert Springer

This is a post from the Milwaukee google group of which I am a member. There are many exciting things posted there from time to time. There are great stories of storms at sea, the ship's part in carrying supplies to Vietnam, bringing King Tut's mummy to the United States, and of course, the everyday tensions that occur aboard any ship. But this one, sent in by A. Springer, a Boatswain's Mate from the ship's first days at sea in 1969, was so low key in it's delivery, that I thought I would print it here. It is an unusually matter of fact account in the life of a ship, and a sailor, over the course of a few months. And it's living proof that you don't have to be a professional writer to convey a slice of life in an accurate and engaging fashion.

From: uss-milwaukee-aor-2@googlegroups.com [mailto:uss-milwaukee-aor-2@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Albert Springer
Sent: Thursday, August 12, 2010 8:48 AM
To: uss-milwaukee-aor-2@googlegroups.com
Subject: Boston Yards.

It was 1970 when the Millwaukee returned from Gitmo Cuba and she docked back in Rhode Island base and unloaded all Munitions to that little island in the river. The next day we sailed to Boston and entered the Charlestown Naval yards for repairs. We docked about 3 piers over from the Constitution because one had to walk right by it to leave the base. Then there was the Jarheads and they had a bar with happy hour every afterrnoon about 4pm. Them guys and their little station at the gate would screach you comeing and going even if you just went to the YMCA across the street from the base. The Milwaukee stayed at the yards there untill around August and when she was fit for sea trails we left for a day test after we left the pier they set the watch and i had the helm from around 8 am to 2 pm i know it was a stright 6 hours because the captain didnt want to bother changeing the watch for 2 hours. The USS Kennedy was setting in the South Boston Yards when we left ,and when we were comeing back that day of test run, we meet the Kennedy comeing from the harbor. She was sailing for Veit Nam and her deck had over 100 planes on it, iTHINK we had to man the rail for her passing too. After we passed the lighthouse at the end of the harbor the QM took the helm and i was relieved of duty thank god my legs were killing me. It was the ONLY time i ever stood the helm watch in the daytime, i had the helm watch many a night from 12 to 4 (The MID ) and i think that was because i must have pissed off BM/1st class Lawya once. After the ship was said to be fit and seaworty she then headed to the Med her first time. But she left without me. i got send to the south Antics In Boston where i got my Honable discharge a few months later.

A. Springer SM1 BM.Deck second division. Uss Milwaukee 69 -70

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"A Tribute to Dr. Hovick" by Sarah Ruth Hoffman

Each of us can have either a positive,or negative effect, upon one another. It's up to you. The following tribute to Dr. Hovick, a Chemistry Pofessor at UNCC,proves the point. I am so proud that Sue and I have raised a daughter who would bother to write this, that I just had to share it. Thanks, Sarah, so much for being you...

"I took all of my general chemistry courses at UNC Charlotte in the summer of 2007. I had two professors, each for half of the summer. They used to say "Inch by inch, chemistry's a cinch. Yard, by yard, it's hard." They were correct.

My first chemistry professor was Dr. Hovick. He always wore a dirty, long white lab coat and shorts.

I had never taken a chemistry class in my entire life and had no idea what to expect. On our first or second day, he showed us a black and white picture of a dalmatian in the snow shade. He told us to look at the picture and figure out what it was supposed to be. None of us could see the dalmatian. Once he pointed it out to us we couldn't unsee it. He then told us that learning chemistry is like finding the dalmatian in the snow - and that his job was to describe to us what we were looking for to help us see what he can already see.

He told us that history, art, biology, sociology, chemistry and all other disciplines are just different ways of looking at the same world, and that the "BIG picture is the assembly of all these points of view." I know because I still have my notes!

He did everything he possibly could to teach chemistry to anybody who would listen. He spent a considerable amount of time empowering us, telling us not to give up, and that chemistry IS hard and not to feel bad for not getting it right away. He would bend over backwards to get his students to understand what he was teaching. He answered the same questions over and over again, but using different methods every time until each of us understood. And he never once showed any sign of anger or frustration. He wouldn't go home until he knew that we all understood the day's lesson!

To help us understand molecular geometry, he took us outside to a black walnut tree where we observed the clustering patterns of the fruit.

I remember how he would gladly discuss ethical implications of course material and tell stories to help us put concepts into perspective. When he wasn't teaching he was answering questions and talking to students about chemistry and related topics. He didn't hide in his office like so many professors do. He even came to school on Sundays to review material and help us prepare for exams.

That was in May and June of 2007. I just found out today that he passed away unexpectedly 4 months later. He was only 42.

The most important thing I learned that summer is that every student stands on the shoulders of the great minds that came before. Dr. Hovick was one of those great minds. It was a privilege to be one of his students during his final complete semester.

His lab coat now hangs in a lecture hall named after him."

Sarah Ruth Hoffman

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Directed by John Ford" Directed by Peter Bogdanovich


This documentary, which was first released in 1974 and directed by Peter Bogdanovich, has been updated and restored, with added footage and interviews with the actors, writers, other directors and generally anyone who has been influenced by the works of the legendary Director, John Ford.

Exploring films such as “Stagecoach”, “Young Mr. Lincoln”, “Grapes of Wrath”, “The Quiet Man”, “How Green Was My Valley”, and “”The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, along with a score of other films, gives you an idea of just how diverse John Ford’s films are.

A gruff man by nature, he forged relationships with some of Hollywood’s most enduring actors. The 1969 interviews with John Wayne are particularly interesting, as are the ones with Henry Fonda and James Stewart. The stories they relate are at once funny, informative and still manage to give us a close look at this most unusual man.

Also weighing in on the life of John Ford are some current directors who were in their 20’s when this film was originally released in 1974. Both Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese talk about the influences of Mr. Ford’s films on their early years as movie fans, and the later influence that these same films had on their own careers as Directors.

The interview with Mr. Ford, done in the desert at the site that served as the backdrop for so many of his films, is a wonderful insight into the man. His monosyllabic answers to complex questions underscore his irascibility. He knew he was difficult. He knew he was temperamental. That was the best part of the man, his unwillingness to compromise who he was. He dressed in Safari clothes and smoked huge cigars. He once knocked out Henry Fonda. This was a most unusual man. And it shows in his films.

The film also delves into his World War Two years making wartime films to stoke the fires of victory. He was wounded at the Battle of Midway while making a documentary film. He was also on the beach at Normandy, recording the landing. That film would be used for training in future amphibious landings. He served in the Navy holding the rank of Commander.

A four time Oscar winning Director, Mr. Ford was one of the early proponents of location shooting and the long shot, in which the star is filmed with a vast panoramic background.

Born John Michael Feeney in Maine to Irish parents, he moved to Hollywood in 1914, following on the heels of his older brother Francis Ford, who was already making films for Thomas Edison. Francis went on to become a Director in his own right.

John adopted his brothers stage name of Ford and made his screen debut in 1914. In 1915 he played a Klansman in D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” By 1917 he was a Director, and by the time talkies made their debut he had over 60 films under his belt. As his career rose, his brothers declined. You can see Francis Ford in “The Quiet Man”, he plays the old man in the tavern.

John Ford made some of the most beautiful movies ever to come out of Hollywood. Look at “How Green Was My Valley” with Roddy McDowall. The scenery is beautiful; the camera captures it all in broad sweeps, as well as tight close-ups. His direction of the actors is equally mesmerizing, making us believe that we are in Wales. Unlike “The Quiet Man”, which was shot on location, “How Green Was My Valley”, which swept the Oscars that year (1941), was not shot on location, but instead it was filmed in the hills outside of Hollywood due to concerns about the war in Europe, which we would soon join. The magic of that film is timeless, as is the message.

One of the best things about John Ford’s films is the incredible talent that was available to him through the old “studio contract” system. His “stable” included such notables as, Harry Carey, who appeared in over 25 of Mr. Ford’s films. There were also the legendary character actors such as Thomas Mitchell, Arthur Shields, Barry Fitzgerald, Maureen O’Hara, John Wayne, Vera Miles, James Stewart, John Qualen, John Carridine, Ward Bond , Victor McLaglen and Richard Widmark. These actors and actresses were sometimes referred to as the John Ford Stock Company.

This is an engaging and entertaining documentary on one of the greatest film makers of all time.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hugette Clark - A Real Life Mystery

I have always maintained that truth is stranger than fiction; witness the Collyer Brothers. Now comes the story of Hugette Clark, the youngest daughter of Senator William A. Clark ,who is 104, if she is alive at all. It appears that nobody has seen her in something like 22 years. Her fortune was made by her father in the copper mines out West. This photo was taken in 1922 when Ms. Clark was 15 years old. Her father was 83 years of age at that time.

Her three residences, including the $100 million dollar one in Santa Barbara, California, as well as the largest apartment overlooking Central Park in New York, are all carefully dusted and cleaned, almost as if someone were living there. Fresh flowers are delivered regularly to all three homes. Supposedly she is in a nursing home, but no one will say where. Her lawyer and accountant are both alledged to be, or have been, convicted criminals. This is beginning to look a lot like the Howard Hughe's story.

A group of lawyers and business people, who have control of a victims assests, can imprison their clients in seclusion, as was believed to be the case in the Howard Hughes affair. They can then continue to manipulate and invest the fortune of the client, while at the same time reaping all of the profits. Is that what is happening to Ms. Clark? Or is she already deceased? With no heirs, her lawyers and accountants may have decided to keep her alive on paper for their own purposes.

Don't take my word for it. Take a look at the link below and decide for yourself. Make sure you watch the video that goes with it.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38719231/ns/business-small_business/

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"The Tin Roof Blowdown" by James Lee Burke


One of the attractions of reading a book by James Lee Burke are the links to history which he provides. These, in turn make the story more real in the telling and inform the reader, giving his novels relevancy and keeping the reader thirsty for the next dot to connect. “The Tin Roof Blowdown”, released after Hurricane Katrina, while I was immersed in non-fiction, is a stunning tapestry, woven of history, timeless crime, human greed, government indifference to the people, and did I mention that it’s a great crime novel to boot?

With his usual cast of characters, including the loveable Clete Purcel, the introspective Dave Robicheaux, his daughter Alafair, and her pet raccoon, Mr. Burke takes on a tremendously complex disaster, creating at the same time, a compelling mystery. I should add that Mr. Burke resides in New Iberia Parish, next door to New Orleans. This undoubtedly gives the book a sense of realism impossible to capture in any other fashion.

Another aspect of Mr. Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series of novels is the continuity of the characters. What I mean is that as the reader gets older, so do his characters. This helps the reader identify with the characters and in some cases, where the reader’s life experiences may be similar with them, it can lend a stark reality to the book.

The storyline is simple enough. As Hurricane Katrina bears down on New Orleans, several lives, seemingly unconnected on the surface, are about to collide amidst one of the largest natural disasters to ever hit the United States.

There is the Baylor family, still struggling to come to terms with the rape of their 15 year old daughter, Thelma, at the hands of street thugs. Otis Baylor is an insurance salesman. He is also a self styled vigilante, but is his mouth bigger than his actual abilities? With the storm closing in, and looters prowling without, we may learn the answer.

Then there is the Kovick household. Sydney and his wife Eunice are owners of a very successful flower shop. Sydney is involved in organized crime, but how deep do his ties run? When his house is broken into during the Evacuation, large sums of money are found by the vandals smashing his walls and tearing out his ceilings. Without the Police to call, how far will Sydney go to recover the money?

Then there are the Melancon brothers and their sidekick Andre. The two brothers are wanted on Federal Warrants, but all three may be the street thugs who raped Otis Baylor’s daughter. When one is crippled by sniper fire, and another killed, outside Mr. Baylor’s home, the Police are sure he did the crime. Or did he?

And lost in the story is the heroin addicted Priest, Jude Le Blanc. He goes missing in the height of the storm as he struggles to cut a hole in the roof of a church where people are trapped in the attic, about to drown. Both the Priest and the boat disappear and the people do drown. But who took the boat and how is it connected to the Baylor’s and Kovick’s lives?

When you pick up one of Mr. Burke’s books, he has written about 30, and won the Edgar Award twice, you are transported to the jungle that is the real world. His insights into the human condition and the individual psyche make his books both a lesson in our shortcomings as people, while at the same time telling a very compelling story.

You might say that Mr. Burke and I are both stuck in a rut; he keeps on writing great novels. And I keep on reading them, although sometimes several years after the fact.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Mosque at Ground Zero


A brief thought concerning the proposed Mosque at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan;

Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Just because you have the Right doesn't always make it right. Think of the bridge that could be built between us if the Mosque were to be built elsewhere.

Remember, empathy is the first step to reconciliation.

Just a thought..

Monday, August 16, 2010

The King and Elvis

Today is the 33rd anniversary of Elvis Presley's passing. Only the funerals of John Lennon, Princess Diana and recently, that of Michael Jackson's, have surpassed the "Kings" in all the attendant hoopla incurred by their deaths. No matter what you might think about him, the man had "it." Last year alone his enterprises generated something like $98 million. Not bad for a dead guy! This photo, one of 28 taken on December 21, 1970 by Otis Atkins, shows Elvis meeting President Nixon prior to being presented with the badge of a Federal Narcotics Officer. The story behind this extraordinarily strange event has been told in pieces here and there over the years, but Jerry Schilling's is, of course the best, his having been there, but if you are unfamiliar with it, I'll give it my best shot.

Elvis left Graceland on the night of December 20th, 1970, after a fight with his dad, Vernon, who was angry that Elvis had bought 10 Mercedes-Benz' as Christmas gifts for his friends. Looking to finalize a project he had been working on in his mind for several months, Elvis decided to go to Washington, D.C. for a final decision on his proposal. But, the "King" wanted to go incognito. Outdoors, and with no cash (Elvis never carried cash) he headed to the airport to get a commercial flight. Having no ticket and no money was not a problem, as the "King" he was "comped" to the flight. On board was a United States Senator. They talked about the Vietnam War and the "hippie problem" and the bad influence that drugs were having on the youth of America. Elvis had just had this same conversation with Vice President Spiro Agnew two weeks earlier, in an effort to obtain a Federal Narcotics Officer's badge. Agnew, in one of his rare sane moments, diplomatically rebuffed him, stating that he would "look into the matter" for him. As of December 20th, Elvis had heard nothing. With the New Year approaching, Elvis wanted this done.

Flying to L.A., he met longtime friend and associate Jerry Schilling, whom he had awoken earlier by phone, instructing Jerry to meet him with $500 cash for travel to D.C. But even before they left the L.A. Airport, Elvis had gaven the entire $500 to a serviceman returning home from Vietnam in order to help him get home. Once again, being the "King" paid off, and he and Jerry Schilling were "comped" on another night flight, this time to Washington, D.C.

On this flight Elvis wrote a 5 page letter outlining his concerns for American youth and his desire to meet with the President and become a Federal narcotics Officer. Landing in Washington they were met by another of the "Memphis mafia", Sonny West. At Graceland they had been going insane looking for him. When Elvis did call they dispatched Sonny West to meet him in D.C. From there the trio headed to the Washington Hotel where they registered as Jon Burrows (Elvis), Jerry Schilling, and Sonny West, staying in Rooms 506, 507 and 508.

At about 6:30 AM, now remember, Elvis had only left Memphis around 6 PM the night before, so they had been traveling all night, Elvis arrived, alone, at the White House gates, handing the guard his note. The guard, who must have been sleeping not to recognize Elvis, assured him that his note would be deliverd. Elvis went back to the hotel to do some more drugs, I mean, catch up on his sleep.

By 9:30 AM, Bud Krogh, one of Nixon's top aides, had received the message. Realizing the potential publicity of such a meeting he immeditely contacted the Washington Hotel and had Elvis and his freinds driven to the White House. Arriving at the White House, Elvis was patted down and a .45 calibre automatic was found in his cape. This was the surprise he had for the President! Other versions of the story have Elvis whipping the pistol out after meeting Nixon. Since Mr. Schilling was present at the time, I will stick with his version of the events.

Initially, only Elvis was allowed in to see the President. The security protocol was 2 Secret Service Agents per vistor, with limits on the number of visitors at one time, not counting Bill Signing events, at which many people are present. The difference is, of course, that those people have been pre-screened for access. This rule was waived for Elvis and photos show the two clearly delighted to be in one anothers presence.

They also discussed the problem of foreign influences upon America's youth. A prime example was the influence of The Beatles on young people to experiment with drugs. Elvis and the President were equally concerned about the effect that drugs were having on our culture. Ironically, both had severe problems with sedatives such as Seconols and other barbituates. In Elvis' case, this would later cost him his life.

For the next 45 minutes Elvis had the run of the Oval Office. The President was so agog with having him there that he rummaged through the drawers finding White House pens and pictures, along with Presidential tie clips (Elvis never wore ties) and anything not nailed down, to give Elvis as presents for his friends and family. When Elvis admired an oil painting on the wall, Nixon actually offered it to him. His aides had to make the President aware that it was not his to give away.

The President informed Elvis that he would need several hours to arrange the paper work, so after posing for a series of photos Elvis left to wait on his badge at the Washington Hotel, rooms 505, 506 and 507. By 3 PM the Federal Narcotics Officer badge, which he craved so much, was delivered to him. He was now permitted to carry narcotics and weapons across state lines. Not a bad mornings work.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Happy Birthday Uncle "I"

This is my great Uncle Irving's 115th birthday. We called him Uncle "I" because it was easier than saying Irving when we were so small. But as we got older we took a secret delight in calling him Uncle "I" simply because it sounded like we were saying Uncle "Lie", in deference to some of the tall tales he told.

Irving lived alone in the "city", which meant Manhattan. He also lived in a hotel! This was so strange to me that it was almost shocking. He had lived with my Grandmother Dorothy (his sister) and their father, Max, along with my parents, until they got a place of their own. When Dorothy moved to California after Max passed away, Irving was left with no place to go. So he got a room in a hotel and lived that way for the next 25 years or so, until he passed away. It wasn't until years later, when I was bouncing around the world and staying in a lot of hotels myself, wishing that I were somewhere else, did I come to realize the singular loneliness of Uncle I's existence. He was kind of like a prisoner in a prison with no bars. He could roam at will, all over the city, but where did he will to roam?

Anyone who knows me, knows of Uncle "I". Some of my oldest friends actually knew him. He was 68 years old in this photo, which was taken at Idewild (later JFK) Airport in October 1963. In the original photo he is holding both my brother and I. I was 9 at the time. Uncle "I" colored every aspect of my life as a kid. I couldn't wait for him to come over every Friday night. I would pepper him with questions about the old days, and he would regale me with stories, some of which were true, about his youth on the Lower East Side, his exceptional athletic achievements and his wit and cunning in the Garment Industry.

And every Friday night would end the same way. We would walk together on Avenue R to East 16th Street and then to the Quentin Rd. entrance of the Kings Highway Station, where he would catch the BMT back to Manhattan and his little hotel room. Then he would belong to the rest of the world for another week. But each Friday, he always came back, and I was always waiting. Happy Birthday Uncle Irving...and thanks for everything you gave, asking nothing in return.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jones Wood Garden - The Almost Central Park

My Dad and I used to eat our lunch in this park. It is located between East 65th and East 66th Streets, and Lexington and Third Avenues, on the Upper East Side. We'd get rare roast beef sandwiches from one of the delis around the corner and then head for the park. He had almost all of the apartment buildings on those Avenues as clients in his air pollution control business, and we spent a lot of time in the area. But we were always too filthy to eat in a restaurant, so we would get sandwiches to go. This picture is courtesy of Suzy at http://mendogardens.blogspot.com/

Jones Wood was the original location touted for Central Park. Owned by two familes, the Joneses and the Schermerhorns, the land originally extended from the East River to 3rd Avenue, and from East 66th to East 75th Streets. It totaled 150 acres. Although the area was sorely in need of a park, the Joneses and Schemerhorns had more grand ideas for their land, namely commercial and industrial uses. This was about 1848.

In 1851, James Beekman (as in Beekman Place) and Senator Hamilton Fish, had begun working towards building a "Central" Park to serve as "the lungs" of the city. By 1857 a committee had been established to determine the boundaries of the park and they hired landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead to design the layout.

Meantime the Jones Wood location was increasingly being used as a kind of "speakers square", where people would go to vent their political frustrations. In May of 1865 the Workingmans Union had over 50,000 workers attend a picnic/rally in the park for support of the 8 hour work day. They had a great time, but they wouldn't get the 8 hour day for another 60 years or so.

Jones Wood was becoming "the place to go" for political rallies in the tears following the Civil War. The split amongst the Protestant and Catholic Irish was a source of concern when it came to holding onto political power, and Jones Wood played a part in this as well. In 1866 a wealthy New York merchant named William Roberts, (now there's a coincidence for you!) lead a demonstartion of 100,000 in Jones Wood. His plan was to take Canada and hold it hostage until Britian freed Ireland. It wasn't a bad idea, but it never came to fruition.

Central Park was open and doing well by now, with the gentrified portion of the city, but at first the working class did not use it that much, the rules were too strict and the place was not "user friendly" to them. For instance, singing in German was not allowed. This is just one of the ridiculous rules which were first imposed in the park. So people were still going to Jones Wood to gather as late as the 1880's. The Scottish Caledonian Society held their field and track meets there. The Germans used it as a beer garden for parties, as did the Irish.

Eventually the stores and factories along the East River gave way to the luxury high rises and brownstones that populate the area today. But in the midst of all of this there still stands one square block of Manhattan, undeveloped save for some benches and a fountain. Thanks to the stubborn greed of the Jonses and Schemerhorns, who would not sell the land for a park, as it wouldn't pay enough, we still have it, as a park, today.

Friday, August 13, 2010

"Bubble" a Steven Soderbergh Film with Dustin Ashley and Debbie Doebereiner


Kyle and Martha work in a doll factory. He is a young twenty something, while she is an older mid thirties, overweight woman. He lives with his mom in a trailer, while she lives with her disabled father and cares for him. Kyle is aimlessly looking for something to define his life. Martha has defined her life by the rut she has found herself in. Each morning she picks Kyle up and they drive to work. At night, the routine is reversed as they drive back to their respective homes.

When Rose, a twenty something, divorced young woman, comes to work at the doll factory, Martha's world is threatened. There is an attraction between Rose, who is not all she appears to be, and Kyle. Martha is the proverbial third wheel. Her pain is palpable when Rose asks her to babysit her daughter while she goes on a date with Kyle. Martha is not happy.

When Rose and Kyle return, Kyle does not stay, the situation is too awkward. While Martha and Rose are talking, Rose's ex shows up, demanding that she return some money and belongings that she has stolen. Only the presence of Martha keeps the situation from turning violent. Meantime, Kyle has arrived back home and discovered that his money, which he kept in a dresser drawer, is missing.

When Rose is found dead, strangled while her daughter slept in the next room, suspicion at first falls on the ex. But soon Martha's world begins to crumble around her as she becomes the suspect in, and is finally charged with, the murder of Rose.

A masterfully directed film, with a slow pace that mimicks reality, this movie is engrossing in it's minimal approach to what should be high drama. The superbly underplayed performances by Debbie Doebereiner, Dustin Ashley and Misty Wilkins are perfectly suited to Steven Soderbergh's direction. This is an unusual and haunting film.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sue Pensinger Williams - DAR


My wife, Sue Pensinger Williams, has just this week received her membership certificate for the Daughters of the American Revolution. This organization is comprised of women who have a blood relative in the family that fought, or died, in the American Revolution.

Sue's great grandfather, five times removed, was Henry Pensinger. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Militia when the Revolution broke out. He traveled across 2 mountain ranges to fight at the 2nd Battle of Ticonderoga, in upstate New York. This was no easy task. Just getting there took months of humping everything they would need over the mountains. Think of it, cannon, ammunition, guns, horses and food, all had to be carried to the scene of battle. It was this fight in which Henry Pensinger was injured, incurred frostbite and lost his leg. Then he first had to go home, over those same two mountain ranges. That he would have been in great pain the entire way goes without saying.

The Daughters of the American Revolution have had some darker moments in their history, most notably when they denied Marian Anderson permission to sing in front of an integrated audience at Constitution Hall in 1939. President Roosevelts wife, Eleanor, herself a member of the DAR, actually resigned over this and on Easter Sunday, Marian Anderson did sing, on the steps of the new Lincoln Memorial.

Since that time, the mission of the DAR has largely been one as the caretaker of the nations monuments, providing scholarships, and keeping track of all the descendants of the veterans of the American Revolution. The best part of this is that as people have intermarried over the years, the face of the DAR has become multi-cultural. And now my daughter, Sarah, is a member as well. I wonder what Pincus Max Marcus, my grandfather, who arrived here from Poland in 1911, would think of that!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The Eyes of Willie McGee" by Alex Heard


Willie McGee was an African-American man accused of raping a white woman in Mississippi in 1945. He never had a chance. That it took 6 years, and as many trials, for the state to finally execute him, during the time of Jim Crow laws, is almost an exoneration of the final injustice. But kill him they did, in Mississippi's famous "rolling" electric chair, which was brought from one county to another as the need arose.

In the racially charged atmosphere of post-war Mississippi, the color lines were clearly drawn, especially where co-mingling of white women and black men were concerned. That's the real mystery in this book. Was Willie McGee, as has been said, having an affair with the woman, Willette Hawkins? And when he decided to marry her maid and move to Texas, did she just cry "rape" in anger?

The first trial took a day and the jury deliberated just 3 and a half minutes to find him guilty. He was sentenced to die within 60 days of the crime! The second trial took a bit longer but yielded the same results. At this point the NAACP got involved along with the Civil Rights Congress, which was a Communist organization. Willie McGee was now caught in a crossfire of politics, racism and opportunism.

By the time the third and fourth trials were underway there were more lawyers than you can imagine, including a young Bela Abzug from New York. Eleanor Roosevelt did not come to Mr. McGees aid, as this conflicted with her geo-political activities, which would have been at odds with the Communist ties of the defense.

The book is a complex work in which the reader is forced to make some hard decisions concerning Mr. McGee's guilt or innocence. My own opinion is that Mrs. Hawkins was having an affair with Willie McGee and it went astray. She then turned the table on Mr. McGee in an effort to erase the entire affair.

A surperb piece of investigative journalism, this book will leave you thinking about what was right, or wrong, with the system in place at that time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Smithsonian Institute

On July 10th, 1846, President James Knox Polk, formerly of Mecklenburg County, 20 miles from where I now reside, established the Smithsonian Institute. It would not be completed for 9 more years and then it became, for a while, the "nation's attic." It's where we put stuff we didn't know what to do with.

When I was a kid the Institute was the main attraction with the added feature of the new Air and Space Museum. Now the Institute is a complex consisting of 16 museums in all, including the National Gallery of Art. All are easily accessed by Public Transportation. Get acquanted with them through this link and if you ever have the chance to see our nations Capitol, then make the time to go.

http://www.si.edu/museums/

There's something for everybody in this wonderful collection of American art, sculpture, and even actual planes; such as the Spirit of St Louis, in which Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic solo, something which had never been done before. The plane sits above the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules, which eventually took us to the Moon. The contrast is awe inspiring. In only a 66 year span, man had gone from walking to flying to the Moon...

Thanks to the vision of one of our lesser celebrated President's, this Museum is still the "nation's attic", and a great place to look at our collective pasts and futures. Exhibit dates and transportation information are provided on the site, which is easily navigated, even by me!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Patricia Neal 1926 - 2010


If you have read todays paper then you have heard that Hollywood lost one of it's most outstanding actresses this weekend with the passing of Patricia Neal. She was living in Edgartown, Mass. at the time of her death from lung cancer.

If you are familiar with her career, then I don't have to bore you with the details of her life as an actress. But I would be remiss in not stating that her roles were amongst the most varied and nuanced of all the actresses of her time. From the intensity of her role in "The Fountainhead", with Gary Cooper, to the sensitivity she brought to other roles, such as her Oscar winning performance in 1963's "Hud" opposite Paul Newman, the woman knew no bounds. In 1965 she made "In Harm's Way" starring opposite John Wayne and Kirk Douglas as an Army Nurse stationed in Hawaii at the outbreak of World war Two.

My favorite Patricia Neal movie is "A Face In The Crowd" with Andy Griffith. Directed by Elia Kazan and co-starring Walter Matthau, this is a searing portrait of a man who lives life as it comes, which is usually in the form of a whiskey bottle. When Ms. Neal first comes upon him in a small town jail, where he is in the drunk tank, she gets him released, creating at first a star, and later, as his true demons emerge, she realizes that she has unleashed a monster.

A series of strokes in 1965 left her unable to walk and talk. The prognosis was not good and it was taken for granted that she would never fully recover. But sorrow was not new to Ms. Neal, she had lost a child to measles in 1962. With the help of her husband, the celebrated children's author Roald Dahl, she was able to regain all of her faculties and by 1968 she had returned to the screen in "The Subject Was Roses", for which she received an Oscar Nomination.

Born in a mining camp in Packard, Kentucky she was raised in Knoxville, where she graduated high school in 1943. She left almost immediately for Northwestern University and then on to Broadway where she would begin her acting career. With her passing the stars on Broadway and in Hollywood will seem to shine less brightly. But look up at the sky tonight. I can guarantee you that at least one star will be shining a bit more brightly than the rest.

"You Don't Know Me" by Ray Charles Robinson, Jr.


This is an extraordinary book written by Ray Charles oldest son, Ray Charles Robinson, Jr. Coupled with his fathers wonderfully candid autobiography "Ray", this book completes the Ray Charles story. What began as his fathers story in "Ray", becomes the story of a family, sometimes riding high on the wave of celebrity, and at other times a victim of it's more cruel face.

The author re-iterates and re-examines the major points of his fathers life, from the death of his brother George, and the subsequent loss of his own sight. He also gives more insight into the early years on the road where his father formed the signature style that would come to define him for millions of fans worldwide.

The darker side of his fathers life is also lain bare here. The 20 year heroin addiction, covered so honestly in "Ray", is looked at from the point of view of the family, who were often the real victims of the elder Mr. Charles heroin habit. The result of this introspection is probably the closest insight you will ever gain to the life of, and effects upon a family, that stem from drug addiction.

In 1965, after using heroin for 2 decades, the elder Mr. Charles quits "cold turkey" after being charged with transporting heroin on his private plane coming back from Canada. Coming on the heels of his previous arrests for drug possession, he was facing 20 years in prison. He was in the hospital 4 months "getting clean."

Also examined more closely here than in "Ray", is the effect that Mr. Charles' numerous affairs and the children born of these unions, had on the Charles family. If there is any real hero in this book, it is surely Mrs. Charles, who was able to deal with all this insanity while raising a family in as normal way as possible.

The story of the authors mother, Della Beatrice Antwine, would be a great book all on it's own. Born in Richmond, Texas she was the lead tenor with Cecil Hawkins Gospel Group. When Ray Charles heard her voice singing lead on "Pray On, My Child", he was smitten. How he came to be with this woman is a story worthy of a mini-drama. It also serves to underline the unique singlemindedness with which Mr. Charles pursued all of his interests.

The stories told by Mr. Charles in his book "Ray" are all given creedence here as his son recounts, and in a sense, validates, the episodes of his father driving cars, motorcycles and even his own planes. You might say he enjoyed "flying blind."
A lifelong "mechanic" in his own right, you will delight in Mr. Robinson's tales of his father tinkering with everything from a bicycle, a tape recorder and even fixing the cowling on his own airplane after the mechanics said that it couldn't be done.

Mr. Robinson recounts the effects all of this had upon the family, and his parents subsequent divorce, in a respectful and honest narrative. He talks freely of his own drug addiction and recovery, his relationships with his half brothers and sisters, and how he has come to terms with his tumultous legacy as the namesake of one of the world's greatest performers. This book is a gift, given to the reader, by the only person who could have written it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Greetings From Mayberry


Sue and I took a short trip to Mt. Airy, N.C. this weekend. See you Monday!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Platters - Happy Birthday Herb Reed

Today is Herb Reed's 82nd birthday. One of the founding members of The Platters, he has been singing with the group, in it's various incarnations, since 1953. Considered to be a classic doo-wop group, they first formed in Los Angeles with the following lineup; Alex Hodge, Herb Reed, Cornell Gunther, David Lynch, Joe Jefferson and Gaynel Hodge. Before hitting the charts in 1955 the group would be reconfigured and contain the following lineup; Tony Williams as lead tenor, David Lynch, Paul Robi, Herb Reed and Zola Taylor. This would be the main nexus of the group for the next 5 years, during which time they recorded some of their most well known hits.

In 1956 the group appeared in the film "Rock Around the Clock" with Bill Haley and the Comets, in which they performed "Only You" and "The Great Pretender." The group's vocal styling was patterned after the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers and many consider their sound to be one of the bridges from "pop" to "rock and roll."

One of the first groups to incorporate, each member received a 20% share of the profits, a most unusual arrangement in a time that saw many artists being cheated out of their royalties. As each member left the group their share of the stock was purchased back by the groups manager Buck Ram. This would later become a part of a long legal fight over who really owned the rights to The Platters recordings, and more importantly, who could use the name on tour.

The group has been inducted into every Hall of Fame in the Music business, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Herb Reed continues to perform as "Herb Reed's Platters", which is trademarked by Federal Records.

Although my favorite song by the group is undoubtedly "Harbor Lights", I have included here a link to The Platters performing one of their all time greatest hits, "The Great Pretender", live in the mid 1950's;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QP8xff2X46A&feature=related

Happy Birthday Mr. Reed, and keep on singing!

Friday, August 6, 2010

"Hiroshima" by John Hersey


This week is the anniversary of the first, and only, atomic bombs ever used in war. The results of that use are widely known. The fact that they were used at all is still a topic which is highly debated. I will leave that debate for others to conduct. My focus here is on the book.

First written and released in 1946, this book has been around for as long as I can remember. The first time I read it was in 5th grade. In the late 1970's Mr. Hersey returned to Japan, and the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to see the long term effects of the use of the atomic bombs which were used in 1945, bringing an abrupt end to one of the worst wars in the history of mankind. This visit by the author led to the final chapter in the 1978 edition of the book, entitled, "Aftermath."

With the current state of world affairs and the crumbling of at least one
"superpower", the world is now in worse shape than ever in relation to the use of nuclear weapons. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, her nuclear arsenal fell into the hands of several different republics, some of whom don't like us very much.

With the advent of terrorism in the 21st Century, coupled with the cash starved former Soviet states, the situation is ripe for "rogue" nations and radical groups to attain/develop nuclear weapons of their own. Pakistan and India are poised to annihilate one another while Iran is doing all it can to develop her own nuclear weapons. And Israel is ready to retaliate at the slightest provocation.

I hope that this book is still being read in our schools. Using a very straight forward and narrative style, this 152 page book will cause you to think about the consequences of ever using nuclear weapons again.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Gonville" by Peter Birkenhead


What would it be like to be raised by a man who was alternately angry, passive, filled with joy and sometimes in deep despair? How would you feel if your father dressed in a pith helmet and spoke like Lt. Gonville, the character portrayed by Michael Caine in the historical drama "Zulu", a movie about the British in South Africa circa 1850?

Growing up in Brooklyn, and later, Long Island, in the 1960's and 70's,the author was faced with, and had to answer some of these questions. If not for everyone around him, then for his own sanity. Children don't always get to know the demons that haunt their parents. In this book, the author gives it his best shot. There are, indeed, comical moments in this honest and down to earth autobiography by Peter Birkenhead. But there is also a dark side to this tale.

Like many people do, Mr. Birkenhead dealt with these issues by not dealing with them. Throwing himself into a fantasy world was a great way to escape the turmoil at home. But escaping always bears a price to be paid at a later date. Eventually the author becomes an actor, playing many roles in which his character is angry at his father, just as he was with his own.

Haunted by a particularly vivid dream in which he is flying down a set of stairs begins a journey into the past. The dream turns out to be the night his father chased his wife and children from the apartment with a gun. The flight the author took down the stairs was in the arms of his mother.

A graphic look inside the mind of a child who was both amused, and confused, by the antics of his father, this book is honestly written. When we become adults the choices we make are largely our own. But a lot of what we chose to do with our lives stems directly from our experiences as children. Mr. Birkenhead has made this abundantly clear in this tightly written memoir.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Saving Sarah Cain" with Elliott Gould, Lisa Pepper and Tess Harper


I must have passed this one by a hundred times in the library without picking it up. I put it in the "chick flick" category and ignored it. My loss, as I could have enjoyed this film a couple of years earlier.

Elliott Gould is the crusty, browbeaten editor of a newspaper in Oregon. His best columnist, Sarah Cain, played by Lisa Pepper, is having a writers block. Her columns have been reduced from real journalism to things like "6 Ways to Use Cheese." She is being outpaced by a younger and "foxier" reporter who has caught the eye of the editor. Things are looking down for Sarah until she receives a fateful phone call.

As a young girl, Sarah and her sister were close. They were more than that. They were one. They played at the shore and collected 10 perfect seashells each, vowing to look at them each day and pray for the other. They also promised never to leave one another. So when Sarah's sister gets married and moves to Pennsylvania and her new life in the Amish community, the ties between the two are broken.

When Sarah receives word that her sister, by now a widow with 4 children, has passed away, she heads for the funeral. With her job at stake this is no easy decision. But what happens when she gets there will alter her life forever.

After the funeral is over the Department of Social Services comes around. Their plan, in the absence of any other course of action, is to place the children in seperate foster homes. The community turns to the Elders of the Church for a decision. It becomes clear that unless Sarah takes it upon herself to become the children's Guardian, that they will be seperated and brought up outside of their faith. This poses quite a dilemma for Sarah, who is not Amish. She files a story with her paper and the response is overwhelming. Her editor is thrilled and wants more of the story.

Sarah, caught between a rock and a hard place, decides to take the children home to Oregon and a life wholly unfamiliar to them. Everything is new to these kids, who range in age from 6 to 16 years old. Sarah enrolls them in school, where they face predictable obstacles. And she keeps writing columns about the experience. As the kids adjust to their new lives, concessions are made concerning their religous beliefs, even as the children themselves begin to change.

With a "tear jerker" ending, in which everyone gets what they want, Sarah rediscovers her own spirituality, the children get the home they need and the people around them discover the joy and freedom that comes of diversity. But it is Sarah who learns the most valuable lesson of all - that sometimes things get lost for a reason. And that sometimes a loss can be a prelude to a larger gain.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

B. Traven and Fred C. Dobbs

There are many reasons to read. Passing the time is one. Learning is another. And of course there is always the sheer enjoyment of being transported to a different time or place, real or imagined. There are also times when you come across a nugget of information that spurs you on to find out more about something. That is what happened to me when I read "Rain Gods" by James Lee Burke, which I reviewed here a couple of days ago.

In the book one of the characters signs into a hotel as F.C.Dobbs, which happens to be the name of Humphrey Bogarts' character in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre." This also happens to be one of my all time favorite movies, so needless to say I was intriqued. The character in "Rain Gods" was using an alias, not an unusual thing to do in a mystery novel. But when the name B. Traven came up, and was identified as being the mysterious writer of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", I had to know more about him. Turns out there is not that much more to be known. The man was a veritable mystery.

"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", a novel about two down on their luck Americans in Mexico, was Written in 1927 by a bi-lingual German-English author named B. Traven. It was in German and translated to English in 1935. John Huston made the film in 1948, with his father, screen legend Walter Huston, playing the part of the old man.

The book is one of 7 which Mr. Traven wrote between 1926 ("The Death Ship")and 1929. Most of his books were set in Mexico with the Mexicans as the bad guys, while some were set in Mexico with the Americans as the bad guys. There was also a volume of short stories which all take place in Mexico. They were well written and dealt with a very popular subject in late 1920's - Mexico. There had been a Revolution in Mexico just after the turn of the century. The attendant violence of the "banditos" was just dying down when Mr. Traven was writing "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

But the stories are irrelevant to this. What really fascinates me is that this guy was a true to life mystery. A man of intrique, he claimed to have been born in America, but no proof of this has ever been uncovered. He claims to have written most of his works in German and then had them translated into English. And that does appear to be the case. He later submitted several things to American publishers that were written in a curious mixture of German and English, which required heavy revision and editing prior to publication.

His birthdate is listed as February 23rd, or 25th of 1882, or May 3rd, 1890. His place of birth shows up as being either San Francisco, Chicago or Schwiebus in Germany. He is sometimes identified as the German actor and political activist Ret Marut who left Germany in 1924 bound for, you guessed it, Mexico. That Ret Marut is sometimes said to really be a Polish immigrant named Otto Feige should come as no surprise. Even the town where he was born changed countries over the years. It was German before becoming modern day Swiebodzin in Poland.

Not much to add to all this information. Whoever he was, he left us a with several decent works of fiction and short stories. And along the way he gave us Fred C. Dobbs, the flawed and ill fated prospector in "The Treaure of the Sierra Madres." That, in itself, is enough of an accomplishment.