Friday, December 31, 2010

Hank Williams on The Lost Highway.

Did you ever hear about the death of Hank Williams, Sr., on a back highway early on the morning of January 1, 1953? I would not be born for another 20 months, yet this lengendary singer/songwriter has left a lasting impression upon the world in which we live.

I don't ever recall a time of my life in which Hank Williams, Sr. has not been somewhere in the background; whether in movie, song, or his considerable influence on the music we call rock and roll. It all goes back to Hank. John Lennon used to carry the complete works with him on cassette. Bob Hope, after trying to follow him on stage during a "package tour" in the late 1940's said that he would never follow him on stage again. His songs were all about the pain of living, and the humor, locked away within that pain.

His recording career ran only 5 years, from 1948 until his death on the first day of January 1953, yet he left a catalougue of about 267 songs, many of which are still sung today.

Born September 17th, 1923, in Mt. Olive, Alabama, he would be a superstar by age 25, and dead by age 29. And in between he lived a life of physical and emotional pain. Long considered to be the Father of Country Music, he got his first guitar at age 8.

Named Hiram King Williams at birth, Hank learned to play his guitar under the direction of a local black man whom everyone called Tee Tot. Tee Tot was a street singer of the blues variety and young Hank was fascinated by the sounds he heard the old man coax from his guitar. But even more than the sound of the strings, what caught Hank's ear was the painful lyrics sung in an almost joyful manner. It was like Church, you took your pain and turned it into music. Your despair became your salvation.

Early in his teens, Hank began performing around the Greenville area of Alabama. Shortly after that, the family would move to Montgomery. In 1937 his mother opened a boarding house there, and by 1941 Hank had formed his first band, The Drifting Cowboys. They even got air time on the local radio station, WFSA. Known as "The Singing Kid", he did mostly cover versions of Roy Acuff songs and other popular numbers of the day. He would remain with WFSA for the next 9 years, even after becoming a star.

In 1943 he met his first wife, Audrey, while playing a "medicine show" near Banks, Alabama. Within a year they were married and living in his mother's boarding house. She became his manager as his status and reputation grew. But he couldn't seem to break out of Alabama and onto the national scene. This was about to change.

Traveling to Nashville, he was determined to meet Fred Rose, Roy Acuff's publishing partner. Rose was immediately taken with both Hank's guitar and voice. He arranged for Hank to record two songs for Sterling Records, "Never Again" and "Honky Tonkin'" in February 1947. On the strength of those two recordings he was signed to MGM Records and Fred Rose became his manager, as well as his producer.

"Move It On Over" was the first big hit for Hank with MGM in 1947. By 1948 he was a member of the "Louisiana Hayride", both on radio and on the road. His career was soaring. When he did a cover version of "Lovesick Blues" in 1949, he hit Number One and stayed there for 16 weeks, crossing every demographic line imaginal. When he performed the song live at The Grand Ol' Opry, he did 6 encores. I don't believe that record has ever been topped.

But, with all of the fame and sucess came trouble. Hank's drinking problem, which had been lurking just beneath the surface, began to rear it's head again. The long seperations from home while on tour, the fights when he was home, all began to take a toll on his marriage to Audrey. But the final "nail in the coffin" happened in late 1951 on Hank's farm in Tennessee, where he was hunting. He fell, re-igniting an old back injury. There was another tour coming up and so he did what so many performers have done before and since. He turned to painkillers, and finally morphine, to deal with the pain. He became almost instantly addicted to the morphine. He was also drinking heavily again.

In early 1952, Hank and Audrey seperated for the last time. Yet, 1952 would be one of his most prolific and sucessful periods. "Honky Tonk Blues", "Half As Much", "Jambalaya", and even my favorite "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive" were written and recorded in this final year of his life. They all went to the Top Ten. But he continued drinking and doing morphine. Most of his time awake was spent drinking, drugging and playing with guns.

By August of 1952 he was fired from the Grand Ol' Opry, mainly due to his drunkeness. He was told that he could return once he was sober. The shame of it all was that no one knew how little time was left.

This infuriated Hank to the point of his becoming even more reckless, finally even losing his band, as well as his friends. Still working "The Louisiana Hayride" provided him with money to live on. His royalties were being handled by an attorney as part of the divorce from Audrey. He began using local pick up bands, which further reduced the fees he could have been earning.

It was in the fall of 1952, just 90 days before his death, that he married 19 year old Billie Jean Eshlimar, a policeman's daughter. At this same time, he was expecting a child with a woman named Bobbie Jett, and signed an agreement to support the baby once it was born. By December of 1952 he was also having heart trouble, mostly due to the morphine, booze, cigarettes and life on the road. His doctor was a man named Toby Marshall.

On December 31st, 1952 Hank was scheduled to fly to Canton, Ohio to perform on New Years Day. The weather was bad and the flight was cancelled, leaving no other option than to travel by car. Hiring a chauffeur, he headed for Ohio in his new Cadillac. Just before leaving "Dr." Marshall gave him 2 injections for the ride. One was Vitamin B-12, the other was a large dose of morphine. Hank got in the back seat, toting a bottle of whiskey, and the chauffeur started out for Ohio.

Early on the morning of January 1st, 1953 the chauffeur was pulled over for speeding. The policeman noticed that the passenger looked more dead than alive and escorted the Cadillac to a West Virginia Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 7 AM New Year's morning. His last record was "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive."

His recordings continued to sell after his death, and all of the new songs that had been awaiting release charted in the Top Ten throughout 1953.

For me, Hank Williams has always been there in the background, a place where I can store my pain, face it, or laugh at it. His music is the same as the blues, only the tempo is different.

Tonight is New Year's Eve. I'll go out to dinner, watch a movie, and stay up a bit later than usual. But sometime, after everyone else has gone off to sleep, I will probably still be awake, imagining that I am out there, somewhere on the Lost Highway. And if I tilt my head just right, and listen really hard, somewhere around dawn, I just might hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"What Do Jewish People Think About Jesus?" by Michael L. Brown


This is a very unusual book which takes an unusual look at the question posed in the title. In addition to answering this question, the book is also very revealing about what Christians think about the Jews. And it may come as a bit of a surprise.

Taking the basic question, as an example, "What is the cause of anti-semitism?", most would answer that Christianity is the root. But that would be short sighted, for what then could explain the anti-semitism of the pre-Christian era?

This is a valuable resource book that offers a look at the sometimes misconceived beliefs that we have concerning one another and our views about God. The whole book is done with respect towards other faiths, with no finger pointing about who is right, or wrong, concerning their individual beliefs.

I have always been a proponent of the beliefs espoused in Romans, that Christianity is but a branch grafted onto the olive tree that has it's roots in Judaism. And that interpretation is borne out by the author. This was particularly gratifying for me to read,as I have had many a long discussion about this very issue with friends and co-workers over the years.

In this fascinating book, the author explores, and explains, the Oral Law, the difference between the matrilineal and patrilineal descent, whether Jesus was really a Rabbi, and all manner of things related to the topic of Judaism and Christianity. More importantly it connects the two faiths without rancor. No one is calling upon you to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Rather, the book serves as an explanation to the myriad of questions and misinformation that abound concerning the subject of Messianic Jews.

This book will not change your mind, and I don't believe that it was meant to. Instead, it serves as a bridge, fostering a bit more understanding between two of the world's oldest faiths.

I received this book as a gift from Matt Corbin, a vendor, who was selling toys at the mall last week, just before Christmas. Somehow we got to talking and the subject came around to religion. We found that we had a lot in common, and then he pulled out a copy of this book. After a bit of discussion concerning the topic, Mr. Corbin gave me the book. I promised to give it a read after the holidays. I ended up reading it during the holidays.

Well done to the author, Michael L. Brown, for taking such a potentially divisive subject and keeping it well centered and informative. And a very special thanks to Matt Corbin for alerting me, and presenting me, with such an interesting read.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mystery Classics


Looking for some old movies to watch? This collection of 50 black and white mysteries from the 1930's through the 1950's contains some of the better Bulldog Drummond series with John Howard, as well as the Sherlock Holmes films, with both Basil Rathbone and Reginald Owen in the lead role. I have always preferred Basil Rathbone.

The collection contains, among others, Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto, John Garfield in "They Made Me a Criminal", Edward G. Robinson in "Scarlett Street", even Orson Welles in "The Stranger." They're all here, nicely packaged and arranged.

Frank Sinatra is taut as a would be assassin in the 1954 film "Suddenly", as he waits to shoot the President. Bela Lugosi is sinister as "The Mysterious Mr. Wong", and of course Nigel Bruce is bemused, as always, while Basil Rathbone takes the measure of the case at hand, solving the seemingly impossible, while making it look so easy!

Even William Powell is here, in the first of the Dashiell Hammett films he would later make so famous with "The Thin Man" series. The film here is one of Mr. Hammett's Philo Vance mysteries.

Looking for a different version of James Cagney? He's here, too, as the only honest Inspector of Weights and Measures in "The Great Guy."

If you like the old black and white mystery films from those rainy afternoons watching TV when you were a bit younger, this collection is made to order for you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Frog- I Wonder Where You Are Tonight?


It's winter outside and the lawn is covered with snow. I know my little green friend is probably doing just fine, but on days like these, I just can't help but wonder about him. It brings to mind that old Hank Williams song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry";

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry.

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die?
That means he's lost the will to live
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

Listen to the original recording here;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvW6_-TP5cs

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Kids Are Back In Town


I know I've been slacking off recently, and I promise to start reading more after the holidays are through. But right now "The Kids" are back in town, that's Trinity on the left, and Aliyah on the right. With their red hair and flashing eyes, what more could an old man want for Christmas?


And when the day gets to be a bit too much, there's always the time honored sport of sitting by the fireside in your favorite rocking chair. Looks like Trinity has this activity down pat!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

It Was A White Christmas


This is my house last night. It looks so much warmer and cozier with all the snow. We only got a few inches. But it was just enough to remind me of how pretty it can be. And with the grandkids in for the holidays, it makes everything seem perfect.


And this is our street this morning, still lightly snowing, turning the whole vista into a softly hued Christmas card. Sometimes, it just all works out that way...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Kilroy Was Here - An American Christmas Story

This symbol, and saying, have been a part of the American vocabulary since World War Two. And the story behind it is not often told. In a way, it involves Christmas, so I figured this was a good time to tell the story behind the words "Kilroy Was Here."

During the Second World War, when the United States was turning out ships and planes at a rapid rate, "checkers" were required to make the rounds of the shipyards and factories, inspecting the work. When they were done they placed a mark, with chalk, on the item to show that it had passed inspection. The appropriate riveter/welder would then get credit for the work, and hence, paid accordingly.

Soldiers began to see these marks, along with the words "Kilroy Was Here", wherever they went during the war. Wherever they went, they assumed they were the first, only to be greeted by the words that had become a slogan. There were now several Kilroys from coast to coast. But only one was the original. There was even a joke circulating about at the time of the Potsdam Conference. It was alleged that an outhouse had been built for the exclusive use of Truman, Stalin, and Churchill. The first person to use it was Stalin. When he finished and came out he asked his aide, "Who is this Kilroy?"

At any rate, fast forward a bit to the end of 1946. The Second World War was over and the shipyards were shuttered. James Kilroy was facing a bleak Christmas, with no toys for the kids. That's when he first heard of the search for the real Kilroy!

This photo, from the Boston American, dated December 23, 1946 shows the family with the trolley in their front yard. But the whole story really involves how it almost didn't make it on time.

The Transit Company of America had held the contest, offering as a prize, a real trolley car to the individual who could prove that they were the "real" Kilroy. Of the forty odd men who made that claim, only James Kilroy was able to produce officials from the shipyard, and even some of his fellow riveters, to prove his claim. Having won the prize, he now had to get it home! And there was a blizzard coming!

But, with the help of the Transit Company of America, and a local railroad spur, along with a truck and a crane, the trolley was delivered on time, where it served many years as a playhouse for James Kilroy's children. It was a Christmas they would never forget. And that, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.

Merry Christmas everyone. Hope your day is filled with miracles!

Friday, December 24, 2010

"A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement C. Moore


Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Coachella Valley Insurance Services - Hackers

This is an example of disrespect. This outfit, Coachella Valley Insurance Services, located at 78401 Highway 111, Suite S, in La Quinta, CA 92253 feels that they have the right to advertise, for free, anyplace that they feel like it. They are an example of the bane of the internet, unwanted spam.

Honestly, does anyone really think that I would respond to this advertising technique with anything but anger? I have called the firm at the number they have provided in their "comments" on my April 2010 piece concerning the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The shame of an organization placing advertisements on things in the name of some phony patriotism disgusts me.

This is a non-advertising site. I have no paid sponsors, nor do I want any. Please phone or fax these people to let them know how you feel abut their phony patriotism.
The numbers below were provided by Patricia Meyers, for Coachella Valley Insurance Services when she invaded my site with her unsolicited advertisement for this firm. I urge all readers of my blog to phone/boycott this firm.

Office: (760) 347-5552
Fax: (760) 347-2858

"The Shop Around the Corner" with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan


This 1940 film by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Jimmy Stwart and Magaret Sullavan is one of the most beautifully crafted films ever made, and is based on the play by Miklós László. The story is simple, in the weeks leading up to Christmas in Budapest, the department store of Matuschek and Company, is gearing up for the holiday season. The owner, Hugo Matuschek is played brilliantly by Frank Morgan, known to millions worldwide as the Wizard of Oz. His right hand man, Alfred Kralik, is played by Jimmy Stewart. The two are very close, Mr. Matuschek values the opinions of his manager. Things are going very smoothly, with Kralik expecting a promotion by Christmas. Enter Margaret Sullavan as Klara Novak, an unemployed, and high strung young woman. Through a bit of trickery she lands a job at Matuschek and Company, which in turn drives a wedge between Mr. Matuschek and Kralik.

While Kralik has been exchanging letters with an unknown "friend" through the classified ads, Ms. Novak has been doing the same. Without knowing, they have been exchanging letters with one another, stretching the truth a bit where necessary. So, neither one has any idea that their co-worker is the object of their affections. In fact, the opposite is true, as they grate on one anothers nerves, and the Christmas holiday approaches. And to top it all off, they are both thinking about marriage to their prospective "pen pals", although they have never met.

At the same time, a subplot is taking place as the shops "dandy", Ferencz Vadas, played exceptionally by Joseph Schildkraut, does all he can to make life unbearable for his fellow employees.

With a cast of character actors such as Felix Bressart, who plays Kraliks friend and fellow employee Pirovitch, and William Tracy as Pepi, the stores delivery boy, this movie will easily call you back year after year for a look at Christmas in Hungary in the days before all the madness began.

The movie has at least 3 endings. By that I mean there are 3 seperate times when the movie could end, leaving the audience happy, but Ernst Lubitsch, being Ernst Lubitsch, has so many tricks up his sleeve, that you will find yourself enjoying 3 endings, each one wrapping up a portion of the film that you may have forgotten about. This is the art of Ernst Lubitsch. Just when you think it's over - it's not.

One of the all time great Christmas movies, this film was remade in the 1990's with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as "You've Got Mail." I have never been able to sit through that entire film. Simply because this 1940 version by Ernst Lubitsch captured my heart so many years ago.

Here is a scene from the original movie;

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Baklava - World Peace Through Food


Food is the universal peacemaker. Baklava is a perfect example of this. There are two schools of thought on this subject, one group worships this sticky and sweet confection, which contains fruits, crushed seeds and nuts or raisins. The other group reviles this pastry either because they don't like it, or more often, are unfamiliar with the ingredients. I'm not Julia Child, or the Galloping Gourmet, so you will have to look elsewhere for a recipe. I am a consumer of Baklava, not a producer.

The Baklava you see pictured here was sent to me by my son Keith in Rochester, N.Y. He got a huge holiday tray of Baklava from a family down the street, whom I have never met. Hence, I have no idea where they are from. But I do know that they make great Baklava!

In years past, when I was a working man, huge platters of Baklava would be delivered to the offices in which I worked. While all the other Christmas chocolates and cakes disappeared at an alarming rate, the tray of Baklava went down at a slower pace, mainly because I was the only one eating it.

In my travels, as a younger man, I came to see that each region of the world has it's own form of Baklava. Some use crushed sesame seeds and raisins, or dates. Some use minced apples and berries. But all are surrounded by a light flaky and layered crust which seems to melt away in your mouth. There are so many different versions of this wonderful treat, and all scattered so widely throughout the world, that it makes you very aware that we all must share some kind of mutual background.

Even the Arab and Israeli cultures have much in common with regard to the Baklava issue. Unlike their counterparts in Europe, with the flaky crusts, the middle eastern version is usually more likely to take the form of Halavah, which is made of finely compressed sesame seeds and sometimes with chocolate swirled in. There are also chocolate covered versions of this treat as well as ones mixed with jelly, which, at least for me was pushing the envelope a bit too far.

The Chinese have a version of their own, as do all the European countries. The European dough tends to be heavier, but the sweet sensation is still there. The lightest, and flakiest Baklava seem to have come from the Ottoman Empire and the kitchens of the Topkapi Palace, the residence of the Sultan. Even the Janissaries got into the act, being the receipents of this treat each Ramadan.

The oldest known recorded recipe is from China in about 1300, during the Yuan Dynasty. Others claim it originated in ancient Mesopotamia, where it centered itself around the use of walnuts.

The dough is referred to as phyllo dough and each layer is placed in warm milk with sugar and then topped with the various nuts and fruits before being re-layered with more phyllo dough. The Persians like to cover theirs with honey, as do the Hungarians. I like mine unadorned, in order to enjoy the taste of the crushed seeds and nuts, with their natural sweetness.

Whichever you prefer, the treat is there for the tasting. I have long had a fantasy for a commercial to sell Halavah, which could also be used to promote Baklava and World Peace. The commercial would open with two armies besieged. One army is surrounding a fort in an attempt to starve the enemy out. But the siege lasts too long, and as both sides run out of Baklava, they forget the issues over which they were fighting, declare peace and set off together to obtain some more of this tasty treat.

I did try selling this idea to the people at Halavah, but they rejected it out of hand. I am currently toying with the idea of a special session of the United Nations Security Council that would focus on the Cultural Links that we all have to some form of Baklava. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Holiday Affair" with Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh and Harry Morgan


In this Christmas tale, which takes place in the Manhattan of 1949, Janet Leigh plays a widowed mother of a 6 year old boy. She is a comparison shopper for a major department store. When she buys and then returns a set of trains, as part of her job, just before Christams, she ignites a chain of events that involve not only her son, but her impending marriage to a well to do attorney, whom she does not really love. In addition, when Steve, played by Robert Mitchum, does not report her activities to his boss, he is fired.

Finding himself homeless, and without any prospects, just in time for Christmas, he spends his last money, before leaving for the West Coast, to buy the trains for the boy. This causes some friction between the boy's mother and her fiancee, which threatens their relationship. The boy, knowing that Steve is broke, returns the trains in order to provide him with some money before he leaves New York.

The fiancee senses the feelings that have arisen between Steve and his intended bride, and graciously backs off, but Steve is unwilling to claim the love which he has won. He feels that he has been battling not only the fiancee for her affections, but also the memory of her deceased husband, a battle he cannot hope to win unless she is willing to let go of the past.

Robert Mitchum is in rare form in this romantic holiday film. Fans of Janet Leigh will be surprised at just how young she was in 1949, when this film was made. Yet within 5 years she would be one of the hottest "properties" in Hollywood, starring in several Alfred Hitchcock films, and married to Tony Curtis, a union which would give birth to actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

With many uncredited character actors to round out the cast, smart direction and a witty script give this film the momentum it needs to push it through. The storyline is ably written and still applicable to today's relationships involving "non-traditional" families. A good holiday film on several levels, yet often forgotten amongst the myriad of films available at this time of year, I dust this one off each Christmas for inspiration.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"The Brothers Bloom" with Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz and Mark Ruffalo


This film, by Director Rian Johnson, of "Brick", is a quirky, offbeat tale about two brothers, Bloom and Stephen Bloom, who spend their whole lives, since birth, as con men, abandoned as children by their con artist father. Bloom, played by Adrien Brody, is the schill, with his role in life always changing along with the scripted movements of the con. Due to that fact, he has no idea of who he really is. Where does the con leave off and the real him begin? With this in mind, after 35 years, he quits.

Three years later his brother Stephen, played by Mark Ruffalo, finds him, asking Bloom to perform one last con that will set them both up for life. The "mark" is an epileptic heiress with a penchant for art and literature. She is a very mysterious, and attractive woman.

When the plans to involve her in a car accident involving Bloom go wrong, the con goes awry, and Bloom comes to the aid of his would be mark, who has had an epileptic seizure due to the accident. Stephen, not wishing to let go of the con, comes up with an alternate plan, which involves a world trip.

When the script becomes the non-script, and the con artist becomes his own mark, things get a bit complicated. The success of any con is judged by each party to the con getting what he, or she wants. Or thinks that they want. In the end, when people go off in search of themselves, it's often interesting to see just whom they find.

An unusual movie, with a great soundtrack, and inspiring acting, this is an upbeat film which manages to stay grounded enough to feel "real." With good direction by Rian Johnson, who also wrote the script, this is a good and carefully nuanced film.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"A TSA Christmas" by Robert Williams with Apologies to Clement C. Moore


'Twas the day before Christmas, when Santa’s sleigh
Got pulled over and grounded by the TSA.
They made such a noise, and raised such a clatter,
Santa got out, and said, "What's the matter?"

That's when they cuffed him, and roughed him up too,
And the ways that they touched him, some places turned blue!
Now, the sleigh was loaded (and Santa as well,)
But when they asked, “Where ya' going?”, he told them his tale.

“I’m going to houses, loaded with toys,
To spread Christmas Cheer to all girls and boys."
The TSA man then said with a smile,
“You may think that you’re going, but you’ll be awhile,

You see all these gifts- so neatly packed?
Without your elves here- you’ll have to unwrap
each little package, and each little toy,
Or there won’t be a Christmas for girls, or for boys.

Got Mrs. Claus with you? We really don't care,
We'll strip her down to her long underwear.
And if that doesn't irk her, we'll go with Plan 2,
We'll make her get rid of the underwear, too!

You see, we'll do all that we must, and all that we can
To kick Christmas season right in the can,
We’ll make you late, and angry and mad,
But don’t say a word, cause we can be bad.

We’ll take all the toys, the dolls and the guns,
And won’t give them back, not even a one.
See, if killing St. Nick will keep us all free,
Then we’ll do what we must to preserve liberty.

So, while doing our best to keep all things right,
We’ll mess up your Christmas, and then say Goodnight.
And when we’re finished, with our new scanner toys,
We’ll sell the best pictures to Hugh at Playboy.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

White Christmas?


It may be gearing up for a White Christmas! Don't need a lot of snow. Just a little dusting to make everything look like Christmas. This is what it looks like now, at noon, on Saturday. Makes me want to go shopping. I think I will...

"World War 1 In Color" Narrated by Kenneth Branagh


This brilliant 2003 release is an astounding look at World War One. In color, the images take on a reality which just cannot be gotten from viewing the footage in black and white. The scenes of the dead, the suffering of the refugees, all come to life in color. They are the same images which we see today on the news.

The scenes of the Russian front in 1915 are so vivid that I was loking for Omar Sharif to pop up and rescue Lara! I was freezing watching the fighting in the cruel and cold Russian winter. These films affect the viewer as no earlier versions possibly can. Confronted, in color, the war seems so relative to today. And it is. The excellent narration by Kenneth Branagh, lends urgency to the images as you watch these newsreels. The history is all correct,there is no spin involved, as none is necessary. The message is clear. War is horrible.

The recollections by the veterans themselves, are treasures. With unflinching honesty they speak of their fears when "going over the top." They are old enough to know that every breath is a blessing, and that wars cure nothing. They are the first to point out that the same conflicts exist today as existed prior to the First World War.

With the looming 150th anniversary of the Civil War fast approaching, you can't help but wonder what a difference it would make to have had moving, colorized images of that war. Perhaps when viewed through the eyes of a cameras lens, rather than just the glorified portarits of young men in uniform, along with the biased rhetoric of both sides, that conflict could finally be put to rest. Because war, when seen up close and personal, is not pretty.

Whether you are looking for a good history of the First World war, or just curious to see the colorization of the news reels, this film will surprise you. From the streets of Whitehall, to Berlin, Paris, Moscow and even the major cities of the United States, as well as the battlefields themselves, this film has something for everyone in it. This is a top notch documentary.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Boy Who Fell From the Sky - A True Story of the TSA

Last month a 17 year old boy fell from the sky in Boston. This was a very unusual incident, as young men do not ordinarily fall from the skies. But fall he did, onto a street in a suburb of Boston, Mass., where people became rightfully indignent about where the boy had come from. After all, in this day of plunging real estate values, one must be sure to protect the neighborhood from incidents such as these, which only serve to further depress home values in the area. And so, an investigation was launched.

The boy in question was from Charlotte, North Carolina. Apparently he had stowed away in the wheel well of a jet, which would be going to Boston. His body was found along the flight path leading to the airport, lending credence to the theory of his having stowed away. He had been attending high school here in Charlotte, where the school system is under funded and teachers are being laid off, even while new schools are being built. So nobody told this young man that it’s minus 20 degrees at 30,000 feet. But this is not the point of the story.

While this young man was busy climbing a fence, dodging the perimeter patrols which surround the airport, and then stowing away in the wheel well of a jet, thousands of people inside the terminal at Charlotte Douglas International Airport were busy disrobing and emptying their pockets for our collective "safety." Am I the only one upset by this?

The illusion of security will not stop a single determined suicide bomber or terrorist. Terrorists are not stupid, just misguided in their beliefs. So, if a 17 year old high school student can figure out how to elude the external security of the airport, reaching all the way to the airplane itself, how hard will it be for a trained and determined terrorist?

I called the Airport a few weeks back to ask how this happened. TSA said the external security is not part of their mission. The Airport is responsible for that. The Airport Security Office would not comment, beyond stating that it was the responsibility of the local Police. The local Police deny this. They state, rightfully so, that the security of the airport is the responsibility of the airport.

It’s sad that this young man had to fall to his death for some unknown reason. But his fall should serve as a notice to all that you are not one iota safer today than you were before 9/11.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Titanic Thompson" by Kevin Cook


When Damon Runyon wanted to write a biography about "Titanic" Thompson, Mr. Thompson replied, "Mine ain't the kind of business publicity helps." So Mr. Runyon did the next best thing. He turned Mr. Thompson into "Sky" Masterson, the legendary gambler in his classic book "Guys and Dolls." And he was pretty much on the mark with his portrayal of this legendary figure.

Mr. Thompson was born in Monett, Missouri in a log cabin. It was Thanksgiving Eve 1892. His father was in a saloon, drinking and gambling when his wife gave birth to a baby boy they named Alvin Clarence Thomas. When the elder Mr. Thomas returned home the next day to his wife and newborn son, he was far from happy at the arrival of what he considered another responsibility. Within weeks, he would take the last $5 from the sugar bowl in the kitchen, and leave his wife and children.

Alvin's mother remarried, this time to a hog farmer in Rogers, Arkansas. The town was mainly concerned with producing apple vinegar. Life was hard, Alvin grew up poor and swore that he would leave someday. As a child he pitched pennies for practice. He was so good that he could make a coin lean up against a wall if he so desired. And when it came to cards, he was a sharp at the age when most kids are learning to read and write, which is something he didn't take the time to do.

But he could figure odds in his head. He knew the dice inside out, figuring all the odds against each possible roll. He learned to mark cards and shoot pool. In short, he bacame a self educated "sporting" man.

Promising his mother that he would never "smole or drink", he set out to become one of the most legendary gamblers who ever lived. He was friends with Minnesota "Fats", Lee Trevino, and in 1970 he co-hosted the First World Series of Poker with actor Chill Wills. But it's the years in between that are of the most interest.

He would, as Damon Runyon would later state, "bet that one rain drop would beat another" to the bottom of the window. Some of his bets were pure gamble, and others were calculated risks, taken after lenghty study by Mr. Thompson, who got the last name when a news reporter accidentally changed Thomas into Thompson, like the machine gun.

He killed his first man at age 16 aboard a river barge after the other man had thrown him overboard. The other man had lost at dice to Thompson and decided it would be easier to kill the young man rather than pay up. Thompson was able to climb back aboard, club the man over the head and then pitch him into the water, where he drowned.

He was a skilled marksman, carried two sets of golf clubs, one right handed, the other left. He was an expert self taught Craps shooter, as well as a shrewd card player. He could flip 52 cards, one at a time, across the room, landing them in his derby. He could also cheat with the best of the best, often letting himself be set up as the "mark", only to turn the tables on his unsuspecting opponents.

Along with the story of "Titanic" Thompson, the author serves up a complete history of the "bones", which we have come to call dice. He explains the "odds" concerning the toss, and even manages to find the time to record the entire history of cards and the game of poker. You will be fascinated with this portion of the book.

He married 4 times, and had a child he didn't see for almost 20 years while he traveled every back road and major city in the country. This is almost a mirror image of what happened between "Titanic" and his own Dad many years earlier.

After "Titanic" left home and began his quest to become a "self made man", he ran into a card game in New Orleans. It was 1911, four years since he had left home. He was 19 years old. He sat down to the game and quickly won $200. Playing back and forth for hours, the young man took $1,600 from his opponent, who then asked him what his name was. "I'm Alvin Thomas. You're my daddy, and I'm giving you your money back."

The book is filled with the names of every notable sports figure from Babe Ruth to Lee Trevino. The index to this 224 page book could well serve as an FBI roster. The stories are true, and the names and places are real. Before his death in 1974, Mr. Thompson became instumental in making poker the World Wide legitimate sport that it is today. Kind of like NASCAR, which had it's roots in running moonshine. A very entertaining and informative read which will leave you more knowledgable than when you began the book. Wanna bet?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"The Messenger" with Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster with Samantha Morton


Human relationships are complicated affairs. Throw in a war, injury, death, morals and ethical decisions, along with passion, and things can get really dicey. Such is the quandry faced by Will Montgomery, played by Ben Foster, in this soul searching film, which explores an often overlooked facet of war. Who tells the families when their loved ones are not coming home? And how does it affect, and even alter, their own lives?

When Will returns home from Iraq, he is assigned to the Casualty Notification Unit, informing the next of kin that their husbands, sons, daughters, or wives will not be coming home. While still battling his own demons from the war, he must face these new challenges. While working under the command of Captain Tony Stone, played by Woody Harrelson, a hard ass "by the books" officer, Will is tested beyond anything he has ever imagined.

When he is tasked with notifying a woman named Olivia, played by Samantha Morton, that her husband has fallen in combat, the two are drawn to one another. This sets off a battle of ethical and moral proportions, as Will struggles through the pain of what he has been through in war, and the battle he must now face concerning love.

With a great script, credible direction and laudable acting, this is a good, solid film that looks beyond "Rambo", and will have you hurting for all of the people involved. Sometimes life is like that. There are no good guys, there are no bad guys; just people struggling to come to terms with whatever has been thrown at them.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WTF?


I thought it was Monday, finally realized that it was Tuesday, so I'll see you tomorrow, on Wednesday! Drawing courtesy of Sarah Hoffman.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Life" by Keith Richards


One of the hardest, and most enjoyable aspects of reviewing this book by Keith Richards, is the enormous amount of information he has to impart to the reader. There are, for instance, the names of many musicians who influenced Mr. Richards, but who are totally unrecognizable to those of us on this side of the Atlantic. Take "Wizz" Jones as an example. Mr. Richards cites him as an early influence. Mr. Jones was a British folk singer along the lines of our own Bob Dylan, and he used to drop by the toilet at the art school where all the kids would hang out and play guitar. This was in Chapter 2, so I had to stop reading and get acquainted with "Wizz" Jones. And thanks to our good friend You Tube, it's not that hard to do. Here is Mr. Wizz Jones, on BBC in 1960;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDsQSOf6_ow

Don't take me wrong, I'm not complaining. This is just the type of book I love! One that will stretch my knowledge of the music I love and where it came from. And this book starts giving on page one! Then it keeps on delivering until the very last page.

I have been a Keith Richards fan since I first heard him singing "Connection" with the Stones in 1966. And when he wrote and sang "You've Got the Silver" on "Let It Bleed" in 1969, I was hooked on Keith Richards for life. The man is a human musical note. He sees most things musically, lyrically. That he is able to then translate these visions and craft them into music that rocks the entire world is amazing. That he has done it for almost 50 years is astounding!

I won't bore you with a review of this book and a rehashing of some of the wilder exploits. It would only cheapen this incredible work by Mr. Richards. Let's just say that there is enough sex, drugs and rock and roll in the book to keep the more voyeuristic amongst us very happy. And to that end, the book delivers very well.

But for those looking to read a more serious side of the man known to millions as "Keef", this book is THE place to be. The author explores every aspect of his life, from growing up in post war England, which was still on rations through 1954, his days at art college, an examination of how the British primary schools worked at the time, and everything else you will need to know in order to measure the man.

Musically, the book is a treasure. Mr. Richards explains his method of guitar playing and song writing, right down to the five string open G tuning which he uses on many of The Rolling Stones records, as well as in concert. This portion of the book was so inspiring that I immediatley retuned one of my guitars so that I could check it out myself. I'll keep you posted on that one!

Exploring his sometimes volatile relationship with Mick Jagger is also a very interesting part of the book. How fame affects different people is fascinating, and even more so when told by someone who has lived it.

From the early Bohemian days of the Rolling Stones, founded by Ian Stewart, to the chaotic days of Brian Jones death, and then on through the politics and drug scandals of the late 1990's and beyond, this book is a ticking bomb. Each page explodes with information about the music business, touring, and the petty differences that can plague old friendships on the road.

Many people will be interested in the history of Keith Richards drug use, and on this subject, once again, he dishes up the full story. He does not, as I have read in other reviews, glorify drug use at all, rather he just tells it the way it is. You make the choices for yourself. This whole topic of hard drug use is an education in itself, and written honestly by someone who has been through it all, several times.

The legal problems of the 1970's, when Mr. Richards was under indictment in Canada for trafficking, is of special interest. It is the typical story of a Government catching a tiger by the tail and not knowing what to do with it. And the story of the blind girl, who helps to influence the decision of the judge, will really let you in on who Keith Richards is beneath the surface. I'm no spoiler, so you'll have to read the book if you want to hear that one.

This book holds nothing back. Mr. Richards is completely candid about his family life and the book contains just enough photos to let you peek inside of that world. When dealing with the loss of his infant son Tara, in 1979, he moved me to tears, no exaggeration, and I'm a pretty hard case when it comes to that sort of thing.

His stories are, at times, interspersed with an account of the same event, told from someone else's point of view. This lends credibility to many of the more amazing stories. And there are many!

There are a couple of extra special portions of the book for me. One is the description of the making of the film "Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll", made in 1988. Keith Richards had always been a big fan of Chuck Berry's, but felt that Chuck had been touring for so long, using only "pick up" bands in each town, that he had lost his edge. So he put together a group to back Chuck Berry, with Jesse Ed Davis on guitar, Bobby Keys on sax, and a host of others, including Chuck Berry's original piano player, Johnnie Johnson. Actually, it had been Mr. Johnson's band until Chuck Berry took it over. That film has always been very special to me and it was nice to hear how it all came together.

But the most impressive thing to me was the phone call from Hoagy Carmichael, the man who wrote "Stardust" and a million other songs back in the 1930's through the 50's. The man who was friends with Bix Biederbicke. The man who co-starred with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in "To Have and Have Not." He called to say that he had heard a version of Keith doing "The Nearness of You", which had been written in the 1940's. It was a slow song, but Keith had done a tape of it for his lawyer, and had stepped it up to a barrelhouse piano number. He was knocked for a loop when Mr. Carmichael told him that this was the way he originally had envisioned the song.This was only 6 months before Hoagy Carmichael died, and Mr. Richards relishes that call to this very day.

I could go on and on about this book. But it would be better if you'd just read it. This is the side of Keith Richards that so many of his fans have embraced over the years. It is also a side of him that many do not know. Great book.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Decorating for the Holidays and Clement C. Moore


It's time to string the lights and put up the tree for Christmas, which is approcaching at an alarming rate! And it's the perfect time to read that old Christmas poem by Clement C. Moore, known as "The Night Before Christmas." It's lyrical cadence and portrayal of St. Nicholas, form our perception of Santa Claus, even to this day. And reading it aloud always puts me in the Christmas Spirit!

The Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Live from WVL Radio Theatre: It's A Wonderful Life" at The Booth Playhouse

The Booth Playhouse in Charlotte is hosting this wonderfully different version of the classic Christmas tale "It's A Wonderful Life." Actually, it's not that much different at all, with the exception that playwright W. Repoley has framed the original story about a man who has struggled all of his life, only to arrive at a point, on Christmas Eve, where he wishes he were never born, within an unusual story. Of course, Clarence the Angel still comes down to show him what life would be like without him. Sounds the same, right?

Station WVL is getting ready to air the play, "It's A Wonderful Life", on Christmas Eve, only to have over half of the actors unable to get to the station due to a blizzard. This leaves only the sound effects man and the station owner's daughter, along with just two of the cast, to put on the entire show, with each one playing multiple parts.

The characters of Evelyn Reed, Mays, Lee Wright and Kitty Dayle are all vibrantly played by Maria Buchanan, Michael MacCauley, William Repley and Rachelle Roberts, who seem to effortlessly leap from one character to another, even crossing genders as necessary. The play is carried off with the audience playing the part of the studio audience at the radio station, which gives the whole experience the feel of a "reading", rather than a play. I mean this as a compliment, as I love readings.

The whole point of this play is this, that the station manager's daughter, when faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, is saved by the sound engineer, and his love of what he does. And that love blossoms into a love all it's own.

A very original concept which manages to stay true to the original movie/play and yet adds something of it's own to it. That's not an easy thing to do.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Colors Of the Mountain" by Da Chen


Sometimes, while reading a good book, like I am now, I will also be reading something I have read in the past. It is usually completely unconnected to the book I am currently reading, but it is always a book that has had a profound effect upon me. "Colors of the Mountain", Da Chen's beautiful memoir of growing up in Communist China, is that sort of book.

Born in 1962 to a family of former landowners, which was a crime in itself, the young Da Chen is beaten at school and ridiculed wherever he goes. He is the top student in his classes, but due to his grandparents having once owned land, he is repeatedly denied a higher education.

The family endures all the deprivations of Red China under Chairman Mao. Rotten food, bad medicine and a lack of justice are the most obvious symptons that plagued the country at the time. But what about the soul of a young boy who yearns to become more? What happens to the human soul when hope is always just out of reach? And when that hope is denied in an official capacity, what can one person do to alleviate the obviously flawed and cruel system?

These are the questions that confront young Mr. Chen as he grows up during the Cultural Revolution, a period in which he sees his grandfather publicly disgraced for having once owned land, as well as seeing his father jailed for having a University degree.

While some would surely give up under such treatment, Da Chen passes the countries University entrance exams in 1977, at the age of 14, scoring in the top 2%. He can no longer be ignored. He is now on a path that will not only bring to fruition his dream of attending Beijing Language Institute, where he eventually graduates with the highest honors, but will open up a whole new world for him.

Meanwhile, his father managed to work his way out of the labor camps by utilizing his own skills as an acupuncturist. He delighted in using the largest, and most painful needles, on the Communist Cadre members who had made his life a living hell for so many years.

Mr. Chen winds up his academic career in New York, at Columbia Law School, on a full scholarship. From there he lands a job on Wall Street. He lives today in the Hudson Valley area of New York with his wife and family. He is a noted brush calligrapher, specializing in spiritual design. He also plays classical bamboo flute.

When you compare Da Chen's remarkable life to the recent rumblings about China's democracy activist Liu Xiaobo accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, you have to wonder how much she has really changed. We have embraced freedom of trade with China, perhaps it is now time for China to embrace freedom of thought with her own people.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Picture Worth A Thousand Words....


A picture is sometimes worth a thousand words, and I've been waiting on this one for a very long time. You can almost hear them exclaiming, "My word, have they gone mad?"

Apparently they don't understand that the people are fed up with an outdated monarchy at a time when the aristocracy is raising the tuition at Universities across Britain. Keep your eye on the "Man Who Will Never be King." He's always good for a laugh.

And Camilla seems irked at seeing the poorer classes waste food by throwing eggs at them. I can just hear her thinking, "How dare they! No wonder they're poor!"

Great photo, one that I will cherish, not being a big fan of Monarchs.

"A Christmas Carol" with Alistair Sim (1951)


This is the cream of the Christmas movie crop. The one I look forward to every year. The 1951 British version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" will stand the test of time as the penultimate version of this tale. With flawless direction by Brian Desmond Hurst, this well known story of a miserly Counting House owner, and the effects his mean spirit have on all those around him, come alive with the incredible acting of Alistair Sim. No one comes close to portraying the mean spiritness of Scrooge, as well as his unbounded joy upon his redemption, as well as Mr. Sim.

Noel Langley did a wonderful job of turning one of the very best Christmas books into a faithful adaptation for the screen. The 1935 British version, as well as the later American version, both lacked that indefineable something which makes any artistic endeavor worth the effort in the first place. And the movie has been done several times since, but this is the version I would choose over any other.

Britain, at the time this movie was filmed, was still in the throes of the aftermath of the Second World War. They were still using ration books for food and sweets, as well as gasoline. Remember, the British took a hell of a hit before we joined the war in December of 1941. I mention this only as a possible explanation for the remaking of this film in the first place.

When I watch this film I tend to think of the Three Spirits as being allegories for what Britain had been before the war, what she endured during that war, and her hopes for a better future. Simplistic? Maybe.

I also watch this film with a copy of the book by my side. It's so loyal to the original prose, that there are whole pages where you can read along with the movie. It's then that you see, and feel, the brilliance of Mr. Sim's remarkable performance. To have the ability to act out the words, just as the author intended, is a joy to watch. I have to wonder what Charles Dickens would have thought of Mr. Sim's giddy version of Scrooge on Christmas morning. I suspect that he would deem it perfect.

Of course, no version of "A Christmas Carol" would be complete without a good Jacob Marley, and to that end this film gives us Michael Hordern as Scrooge's deceased partner. And he does a credible job as the Ghost of Marley. This scene used to scare the hell out of me when I was a kid. Now, I am more focused on what he is saying, "Mankind WAS our business!", as he shakes the shackles that bind him. Here is that scene, courtesy of good ol' You Tube;

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

If I had only one holiday movie to choose from, this would be the one. The lessons penned by Dickens so many years ago, still resonate today, when the world is full of Ignorance and Want, mankinds two worst enemies. I didn't say it - Dickens did. I just happen to agree.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Christmas Eve" with George Raft, Randolph Scott and George Brent


This is one of the all time greatest of Christmas movies, and also one of the most overlooked. It involves a wealthy widow who lives in Manhattan during the late 1940's, which is when the film was made. Aunt Matilda Reid's nephew is seeking to have her judged incompetent in order to become the sole trustee of her wealth. Her three wayward adopted sons have been gone for years, with not a word from any of them. One is a bankrupt playboy (George Brent), the other a rodeo rider (Randolph Scott), and the third son (George Raft), is a very mysterious man involved with hunting Nazi war criminals in South America.

Aunt Matilda has drawn just one concession from the lawyers and judge who are administering her case; if her sons show up before midnight on Christmas Eve, she wins. If not, she becomes the ward of her greedy nephew.

The film received tepid reviews in 1947 when it was released in late October. It was eventually re-released as "Sinner's Holiday", in an effort to attract a wider audience. I first ran across this gem in 1961, or so, while watching WOR-TV, Channel 9, in New York City. All the good old movies were on that channel.

As a matter of fact, "It's A Wonderful Life", with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, got it's second life from that station. That film was originally released in 1942, at a time when we were not winning the war. The film flopped. And then, around 1960, WOR-TV was looking for something to throw on the air Christmas Eve that wouldn't cost them anything. So they turned to "It's A Wonderful Life", a film whose copyright had just run out, enabling them to air the film for nothing. The switchboards lit up and another classic Christmas film was "discovered."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rooftop Gets a Hat

Pearl Harbor

I know I did this last year, and I try not to replicate too much, but this was such a tremendous event in the lives of our parents, that it became a huge part of my own upbringing. The stories of the war, and the blackouts, are something I think about every day. Actually, the first thing I thought about after the attacks of 9/11 was, "Why aren't we going on rations?"

The Second World War grew out of an Isolationist policy on the part of the United States after World War One, as well as the inequities in the Treaty of Versailles. And every year I keep wondering when we will ever begin to learn from our past? When will we ever stop repeating the mistakes of both Isolationism and Appeasement? I have no answers...

Anyway, here's a photo of the USS Shaw, DD-373, during the attack on Pearl Harbor, just after the first wave. Remember as you look at this photo that there are people trapped inside the ship and dying. The ship was repaired early in 1942 and served at sea for the remainder of the war. It's one of a larger, remarkable set of photos that were e-mailed to me a couple of years ago from a shipmate on the USS Milwaukee Googlegroup, of which I am a proud member. If you'd like a set of these photos, just e-mail me and I will zap them right over. There's about 12 in all. Many are quite similar to the ones circulating today on the Internet, although from slightly different angles. They appear to have been taken with a Speed Graphic camera, the preferred tool of news photographers at the time.

To the few who served that day and are still with us - thank you. And to the many who are gone - you are never forgotten.

Monday, December 6, 2010

New Math and Clueless Clerks

Sue went to the grocery store at lunch today. It was a simple transaction, less than $20. The total was actually $17.07 Using her ATM card, Sue asked for $2.93 change in order to round the bill up to a neat $20. Easy to remember if you lose the receipt. The girl at the register handed her $20. Sue gave it back and tried to explain that she had been given too much change. The clerk was clueless, she had no idea what Sue was talking about. "The receipt says Debit $20.00, so I gave you $20.00.", was about the only response she was able to offer. Sue tried to reason with her, to no avail.

The Assistant Manager was called over, surely he could straighten this out. Nope. Totally beyond his power of reasoning. Time to call in the big guns. The Manager! It took him a minute or two, collecting information on all sides to the dispute, before carefully adding and subtracting the applicable numbers, which proved Sue to be correct. She had been given $20 too much.

It's frightening to think of all the time and effort that was brought to bear in correcting a problem as simple as addition and subtraction. But it's one of the many things I love about Sue. Me, I would have given up after the Assistant Manager and just tossed the $20 in the Salvation Army kettle outside.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Happy Birthday Little Richard

Happy Birthday to Little Richard! This man has influenced so many performers that it would be hard to name them all. From Elvis, the Beatles and Stones, all the way to to U2, Richard Penniman has left his mark on the world of music for generations to come. Even my grandchildren know him from Sesame Street and the video "Rubber Ducky."

So here are some really fun links to you tube to help celebrate the birthday of one of the true Founders of Rock and Roll.

This one is from the 1970's Tom Jones Show. They do a short version of "Rip It Up." It's amazing how similar their vocals are to one another.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_w9E0snp9g&feature=related


And here's a fun video of "Good Golly Miss Moly" with John Goodman.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZ6h0kyqSRk


And finally, here's the short version of "Rubber Ducky" from Sesame Street. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWCEG6lV0ek&feature=related

Happy Birthday to one of the true Kings of Rock and Roll, Little Richard.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Proofiness" by Charles Seife


This is an unusual little book about numbers and the way they are used to manipulate us in our everyday lives. From the collapse of Enron to the folly of the color coded Terrorist Alert Levels, Mr. Seife does a wonderful job at showing us just how clever the powers that be are when it comes to deceiving us about almost anything you can imagine.

From Political Pollsters to Erectile Dysfunction, the author pokes holes in all of the major concepts which we embrace on the basis of numerical proof, which is often proof of nothing at all. From "pattern matching" to crowd estimates, all is often "smoke and mirrors" when numbers are used as "proof."

A very light and easily read book about a seemingly complex subject. That is, if you believe the polls.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"Stalag 17" with William Holden and Otto Preminger


This is another film that I associate with Christmas. The whole story, once again, as in "The Thin Man", takes place around the time of the holidays, only this time in a German POW Camp, Stalag 17. The time is 2 weeks before Christmas of 1944. In this 1953 film directed by Billy Wilder, fellow Director Otto Preminger plays Commandant Klink of Stalag 17, a POW Camp located somewhere in Germany. He is pure Nazi, right to the bone. They couldn't have picked a better actor. The film is based entirely upon the Broadway play of the same name, in which Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck, who play the roles of Harry Shapiro and "Animal", appeared. They are both excellent in this screen adaptation.

Someone in the barracks at Stalag 17 is a stoolie. Several men have already died attempting escapes. No one knows who it is, but everyone suspects it to be Sgt. Sefton, played by William Holden, a shrewd black market trader who has fresh eggs for breakfast while his fellow prisoners subsist on gruel. He is not very well liked. He flouts his wealth and mocks the others as "saps."

Overseeing the entire barracks is Sgt. Schultz, (if you're thinking of "Hogan's Hero's", forget it. In this film, Klink and Schultz are both real Nazi's, with no shred of honor, or humor. This is a drama.) He is a cruel and calculating man who masquerades as the men's "friend", but his real purposes are sinister and without merit.

Here is the set-up to the film, once again, courtesy of youtube;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hExHLM2raJA&feature=related

When the men in the barracks gang up on Sefton, and beat him, thinking he is the stoolie, they set off a chain of events which leads to the discovery of the real mole, on Christmas Eve, just in time for a planned escape by several of the prisoners. With the holiday only hours away, someone is about to pay for those who have died, while others are on their way to freedom.

A real surprise twist at the end makes this an excellent film at any time of the year. But now, as Christmas approaches,, the film is somehow more poignant, as we watch these men struggle with their burdens, during a time of year which normally holds joy for most.

This film won the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in 1954 for William Holden, who initially refused the part. In addition it also won Nominations for Best Supporting Actor for Robert Strauss, as well as a Nomination for Best Director for Billy Wilder. If you've never seen this one, check it out.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"The Thin Man" with Myrna Loy and William Powell


Looking for a good Christmas movie with a little bit of a twist? Look no further than this one. "The Thin Man" is one of those "whodunits" that seldom get made these days. William Powell, impeccably dressed, as always, plays Nick Charles, a former playboy-detective who marries Myrna Loy, who plays Nora Charles, his wife. He has retired from the "detecting" business in order to "keep an eye on my wife's money."

When Mr. and Mrs. Charles arrive in New York just in time for the holidays, the last thing on their minds is to become involved in solving the murder of an old friend, Professor Wynatt. But with the press hounding him, and a wife who wants to see her famous husband in action, there is not much hope in evading the inevitable, as Mr. Charles drinks his way to solving the crime.

Loaded with character actors, the faces of whom you will instantly recognize, the film is fast paced and the dialogue witty. Nick and Nora are perfect as they romp their way through the holidays, culminating their investigation with an elegant dinner party, during which the killer is finally exposed. With the case wrapped up in time for New Years Eve, the couple happily boards the train for the return trip to San Francisco, and their next escapade.

Long the most admired of the many duos who have played the part of Nick and Nora, both in Hollywood and on TV, William Powell and Myrna Loy have that certain screen chemistry that will make you think they are really married. And with a script based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, what more could you ask for.

Here's a little sample courtesy of youtube;


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkbPRU_yRp0

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Chanukah!


Happy Chanukah to all my Jewish friends! Another year has past and there is another one ahead of us. This is a joyous holiday, often referred to as "The Festival of Lights." And as the days get shorter the brilliance of the candles warm us in a very special way.

We all know the story, the Temple was under seige for 8 days and there was only 1 day's supply of oil. And that oil lasted throughout the entire seige. It was a miracle. And life is like that, even today, filled with miracles. You may have to look for them, but they are there. So celebrate in whatever fashion you do, or don't. And from me to you, Happy Chanukah!

"A.K.A. PRIVATE" a Film by Brett Rosenberg


This film is an all too real look at the chew 'em up and spit 'em out world of Hollywood. It features interviews with people that have made it, come close, or crashed and burned. This documentary offers a look behind the curtain.

Here is a link to a short trailer for the film. And thanks to Co-Producer Gary Private for alerting me to it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oz0skFG__Ck

Wanted: Julian Assange - Truth Teller


This is the face of Julian Assange, the most dangerous man on the planet right now, that is if you believe the various governments which are trying to apprehend him for the crime of, well, telling the truth about their lies. That's right, in today's upside down, anything goes world, it has become a crime to speak, or even write about the truth. And, in this case, it is a crime to expose the lies of others.

Think about it, your government, along with the co-operation of Interpol, and even some of our own "enemies", are preparing to arrest and detain this man on a "rape" charge which no-one ever heard about until the "leak" of this so-called "classified" information. And if captured, rest assured, he will not be treated in the same manner as Roman Polanski, famed pedophile filmmaker. No Swiss chateau awaits Mr. Assange.

An organization such as WikiLeaks exists to publish government lies for all to see. They are a "watchdog" group. Whistleblowers. In a more sane world the government officials, who told the lies to begin with, would go to jail. Is Mr. Assange guilty of "hacking" this information from someone else's computer? Yes. And if it is a government computer, then it belongs to us and we have every right to know what is on there. Our elected officials are likewise employees of the people, and therefore their conduct, and communications regarding that employment, are also the property of you and I.

Think for a moment about what the leaks are about and just who is scared of them. The real culprits here are the banks that have acted in duplicitous ways, bilking the shareholders out of billions of dollars, which then have to be made up by the ordinary working guy; the elected officials who wage wars based on information that they know to be dubious at best. The empty cell that they are preparing for Mr. Assange needs to be enlarged enough to accomodate all of them.

Sir Walter Scott said it best when he wrote, "What a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive." I steal your watch, trash your banks and destroy governments. You tell on me. You're the criminal. Rat. Fink. Stooge. If Mr. Assante didn't leak it, then it never happened. Right?

It makes me mad to realize that the truth has become a crime. Diplomatic reasons, political reasons, and of course that good old standby - National Security; all fall short of the justification for the intense amount of secrecy employed by our leaders, both in government as well as industry. If they would just tell us the truth it would be so much easier for everyone. They just don't know how....