Thursday, March 31, 2011

Guest Columnist: George Copna "Aboard the Cartigan in Panama City- 1962"

The following is another story from the long career of the USCG Cutter Cartigan, formerly moored in Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay. George Copna, who was a Radioman 2nd Class aboard the Cartigan, has been providing me with some stories and photos of the ship which I am only too happy to post here. This is the latest from Mr. Copna, the illustration is one he previously sent, and which I could not make fit into the last post. It is actually an artist's portrayal of the so-called "buck and a quarter's", a class of cutters so named for their tonnage, which was 125 tons displacement. It is also one of Mr. Copna's favorites illustrations. Here is his story;

Panama City, not to be confused with Panama City Beach, in the 1960's was a "hopping" tourist town. There were, and still are, two major marinas in the city. One was in the downtown area and the other was in the St. Andrew's area, which is where we moored, starboard side to!

During the summer months there was always a good deal of foot traffic on the marina, especially when a large ship was underway in the area. It so happened one summer day that we were coming in to moor after a day of drills. The Captain allowed the XO to conn the ship and bring her in to moor. I should mention at this point that the 'Cartigan' seemed to have a re-enforced bow and was once used to break ice up north in a river for a period of time. As usual, we were drawing a crowd of tourists and they were gathered about 25 yards from the end of the dock.

I was RM2 at the time and my special sea detail billet was as sound powered phone talker on the bridge so I had a ring side seat for what was to come. Apparently, the XO brought the ship in a little too fast and at too steep of an angle and she got away from him. We soundly impacted the end of the concrete marina, the bow riding four to five feet up high, severing a large water line and creating a large geyser of water and chunks of concrete. This in turn sent the observers scurrying for cover, for which there was none, and the captain into shock. The XO maintained his cool, backed her down and tried it again, this time successfully. The bridge gang all had to muffle our collective laughter because it was indeed a sight to see. The only damage done was to the marina facility and the XO's pride. The saga continues!

I hope you like this, because it is true to the best of my memory and it is published in a book about the Coast Guard here in Panama City.

I saw this ship almost daily in Brooklyn for several years. I actually used to go out of my way to see her, never thinking that I would one day be corresponding with one of the many men who sailed her. My conclussion? Sometimes things just work out that way...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Red Jacket's Speech on Religion - 1805

The following is the full text of a speech which was given by Seneca Chief Sagoyewatha, who was born around 1757 and died in 1830 in Buffalo, New York. He was later re-interred, despite his wish that "no white man dig me up for re-burial." His nickname of Red Jacket came from his alliance with the British against the Colonists during the American Revolution, during which time he took to wearing the coat of a British Officer.

This speech was made before a Council of Confederated Chiefs after they had heard from a white missionary who had arrived and begun to preach to the Natives. I had never heard this speech before, I ran across it in the library today. There is a whole wealth of information about Red Jacket on-line. Wikipedia is always a good place to start, so here's a link to that, followed by the full text of the speech itself. It is majestic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Jacket

Friend and Brother, It was the will of the Great Spirit that we should meet together this day. He orders all things and has given us a fine day for our council. He has taken his garment from before the sun, and caused it to shine with brightness upon us. Our eyes are opened, that we see clearly; our ears are unstopped, that we have been able to hear distinctly the words you have spoken. For all these favors we thank the Great Spirit; and him only.

Brother, This council fire was kindled by you. It was at your request that we came together at this time. We have listened with attention to what you have said. You requested us to speak our minds freely. This gives us great joy; for we now consider that we stand upright before you, and can speak what we think. All have heard your voice, and all speak to you now as one man. Our minds are agreed.

Brother, You say you want an answer to your talk before you leave this place. It is right you should have one, as you are a great distance from home, and we do not wish to detain you. But we will first look back a little, and tell you what our fathers have told us, and what we have heard from the white people.*

Brother, Listen to what we say. There was a time when our forefathers owned this great island. Their seats extended from the rising to the setting of the sun. The Great Spirit had made for the use of the Indians. He had created the buffalo, the deer, and other animals for food. He'd made the bear and the deer, and their skins served us for clothing. He had scattered them over the country, and had taught us how to take them. He had caused the earth to produce corn for bread. All this He had done for his red children, because He loved them. If we had any disputes about hunting grounds, they were generally settled without the shedding of much blood.

But an evil day came upon us. Your forefathers crossed the great waters and landed on this island. Their numbers were small. They found friends and not enemies. They told us they had fled from their own country for fear of wicked men, and had come here to enjoy their religion. *They asked for a small seat.* We took pity on them, granted their request, and they sat down amongst us. We gave them corn and meat; they gave us poison in return.

The white people had now found our country. Tidings were carried back, and more came amongst us. Yet we did not fear them. We took them to be friends. They called us brothers. We believed them, and gave them a large seat. At length their numbers had greatly increased. They wanted more land; they wanted our country. Our eyes were opened, and our minds became uneasy. Wars took place. Indians were hired to fight against Indians, and many of our people were destroyed. They also brought strong liquors among us. It was strong and powerful and has slain thousands.

Brother, Our seats were once large, and yours very small. You have now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets. You have got our country, but you are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us.

Brother, Continue to listen. You say that you are sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeable to His mind. And if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach, we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right, and we are lost. How do you know this to be true? We understand that your religion is written in a book. If it was intended for us as well as for you, why has not the Great Spirit given it to us, and not only to us, but why did He not give to our forefathers knowledge of that book, with the means of understanding it rightly? We only know what you tell us about it. How shall we know when to believe, being so often deceived by the white man?

Brother, You say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the book?

Brother, We do not understand these things. We are told that your religion was given to your forefathers and has been handed down -- father to son. We also have a religion, which was given to our forefathers, and has been handed down to us, their children. We worship that way. It teaches us to be thankful for all the favors we receive; to love each other, and to be united. We never quarrel about religion.

Brother, the Great Spirit has made us all, but He has made a great difference between his white and red children. He has given us a different complexion and different customs. To you He has given the arts. To these He has not opened our eyes. We know these things to be true. *Since He has made so great a difference between us in other things,* why may we not conclude that He has given us a different religion *according to our understanding?* The Great Spirit does right. He knows what is best for his children; we are satisfied.

Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion, or to take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.

Brother, you say you have not come to get our land or our money, but to enlighten our minds. I will now tell you that I have been at your meetings, and saw you collecting money from the meeting. I cannot tell what this money was intended for, but suppose it was for your minister, and if we should conform to your way of thinking, perhaps you may want some from us.

Brother,we are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while, and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, and makes them honest, and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again what you have said.

Brother, you have now heard our answer to your talk, and this is all we have to say at present. As we are going to part, we will come and take you by the hand, and hope the Great Spirit will protect you on your journey, and return you safe to your friends.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"21" with Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth and Laurence Fishburne


This is a very good movie! Jim Sturgess plays Ben Campbell, a seemingly "nerdy" student at M.I.T. in Boston. His goal is to win the $300,000 scholarship necessary for him to attend Harvard Med School. Ben has a mundane job and is working his way through college, but there is really no question, that without the scholarship, his dreams will likely never be realized.

Professor Rosa, played by Kevin Spacey, is Ben's Math teacher, who is very impressed with Ben's ability to think quickly under pressure. A chance exchange between Ben and the Professor leads Ben to be recruited into a select group of Professor Rosa's students who spend their weekends in Las Vegas, with the Professor, "counting" cards at blackjack tables in some of the biggest casinos. They are very successful, but "odds", being "odds", are never a sure thing.

Teammate Jill Taylor, played by Kate Bosworth, and Ben, develop a romance, which is completely against the "rules" of the team. Emotions color the ability to calculate, causing problems, which the Professor, himself a former "card counter", has warned the team about. But youth is folly, and as Ben's love for Jill grows, he loses his restraint, falling victim to greed. This brings about the downfall of the "team", for which Ben is penalized by losing all the profits he has made on the weekend gambling trips. In short, he is now, once again broke.

"Teamates" Choi, played by Aaron Yoo, and Kianna, played by Liza Lapira, all give credible performances in this fast paced and unusual drama as the team draws the attention of "the eye in the sky", that vast array of security cameras which adorn all major casinos, searching for "teams", just like this one, "counting cards."

Casino Security members Cole Williams, played by Laurence Fishburne and his partner Terry, played by Jack McGee are excellent as the casino security team who have seen it all before. As a matter of fact, through the magic of facial recognition software, they even know the Professor, who has been banned from every major casino in Vegas.

As Ben bounces back and forth between the two world's of being a student in Boston during the week, and playing a dot com millionaire in Las Vegas on weekends, the odds quickly shift from the cards to the heart of human nature. When he is finally busted by the security team, he is forced to make the toughest decision of his life.

A surprise twist rounds out this quirky, and off-beat drama, where everything is just as it seems, but somehow not quite the way it should be.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rooftop Turns Two - First Review Revisited

Today is the 2nd anniversary of Rooftop Reviews, a mile stone which I never thought of back then when I began this blog. I got about 15 hits a day at the time, and was amazed! I now get over 10 times that, and have soared, on occcassion, to over 300. Not world shattering, not even close to going viral, but satisfying all the same. And, as I've said before, at 7 articles per hit, for free, it's the best buy on the net!

I have learned a few things since then, like the proper, or most effective, use of a comma in putting across a point of view. And along the way I have corresponded with many of the authors whose books I have reviewed, and a few celebriities, too. Olivia DeHavilland and Tommy Chong are still my all time favorites in that regard. And of course, becoming acquainted with record industry pioneer Eddie Ray has been a pleasant surprise, which still amazes us both.

It's been fascinating to watch the process unfold, and it has given me great joy. The e-mails, and the input, which I have received from you, the readers, has been a wonderful experience, for which I am truly thankful. I still can't believe that you actually read this stuff!

So, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my first blog, which was really featured as a "guest" blog on http://getlitsf.blogspot.com/ That site, and my friendship with Suzy, the author of it, are what prompted me to start "Rooftop Reviews." Well, here it is, my first blog, without illustration, (because I didn't know how to "upload" back then) wart's and all, a review of,

"The Sugar's at the Bottom of the Cup" by Elda Del Bino Willitts and Patricia Henley

Ever wonder what the Marina District along the Northern edge of San Francisco was like in 1916? Or what Ocean Beach was like before all those houses arrived in the Richmond and Sunset Districts? Then “The Sugar’s at the Bottom of The Cup” by Elda Del Bino Willitts is a book for you.

With a sparse and direct approach to the subject, Mrs. Willits takes you back in time to an era when steamships still arrived daily in San Francisco and filled the streets with newly arrived Americans from all over the world. Adding to this mix was the influx of European immigrants arriving by train from the East.

Elda Del Bino was seven years old when she stepped off the train and into the fast moving cosmopolitan world of San Francisco. With straightforward prose she vividly describes her journey by ship to New York and Ellis Island and then the train trip across rural America prior to the First World War, arriving in San Francisco in 1916.

Taking up residence in the Cow Hollow area South of Lombard Street and the present day Highway 101, finding jobs, enrolling in school, learning English, Mrs Willitts draws a clear and accurate picture of San Francisco’s bygone era. Through the changes of the 1920’s and the dark years of the Depression, the book captures the flavor of a changing city. The World War Two years in San Francisco and the changes in morals and values that flowed from that war are all here to examine in the life of one elderly woman.

Full of wit and inescapable charm, Mrs. Willitts has written a wonderful and informative book about San Francisco, the City by the Sea.

This review has also been featured on Garden Lust Journal: http://mendogardens.blogspot.com/

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis as Performed by Max McLean

"The Screwtape Letters" is a satirical work comprised of the letters between "Screwtape", a senior demon and his nephew, a demon in training named "Wormwood." I have never read the book, so this is a review of the play as presented by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts at The Knight Theater here in Charlotte.

The original work took place in wartime London, and centers about Screwtape and his nephew, the ill fated Wormwood. Screwtape is mentoring his nephew as the younger Demon attempts to tempt an ordinary man, named "The Patient", into a life which will take him straight to Hell. This should be very simple, according to Screwtape, but as the younger Wormwood learns, is not as easy as it seems. The Patient to which he has been assigned comes from a good family, has an education and falls in love with a Christian woman. In short order he becomes a Church going, God fearing Christian, much to the dismay of Scewtape, who has been charged with training his nephew to corrupt The Patient's life in order to alleviate the hunger for new souls in Hell.

At times comical, and others pensive and revealing, the play explores the hypocrisy and false promise of both Heaven and Hell. On the one hand there is Screwtape, who serves the Devil by tempting people to ruin their own lives in order to gain their souls for himself. And on the other hand, there is Heaven, with it's promises of everlasting Peace and Love. Can one be real, while the other is merely an illusion? What is the purpose of the struggle in which we all live daily?

To Screwtape and Wormwood, greed and self interest are seen as virtues, while The Patient is drawn steadily into a world of Love and Self Sacrifice. When the Patient becomes a Christian, Screwtape is furious with his nephew, but still holds out hope that the hypocrisy of the Church will lead him to Hell. After all, as Screwtape explains, "The safest path to Hell is the gradual one." It is not necessary to have The Patient commit some horrendous deed to obtain his soul. A slight, but constant, chipping away at his morals should suffice.


Ultimately, Wormwood fails in his mission, as The Patient goes off to war and dies for a glorious cause. Screwtape is inconsolable, war is the worst enemy of the Devil. During wars, when both sides think they have the right of it, each side implores God for Victory. When confronted with tragedy, humans tend to do "good works" and help one another. This is just what Screwtape does not want.

When the Patient is killed fighting for what he believes in, his soul goes to Heaven, and the Devil goes hungry. But Screwtape is not that concerned, there are more souls to be devoured, and he just may start with his nephew...

Max McLean, as Screwtape, is impeccable. His diction, timing and poise are incredible and give creedence to his place as one of the world's greatest living narrators. The adaptation was done by Jeffrey Fiske, a former NASA consultant and Drew University Professor.

Of intersting note is that at the conclusion of the play, Mr. McLean stepped forward, out of character, and implored that we remember that he is not really Screwtape. He then invited the audience to remain for an ad hoc discussion of the presentation.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Piano


This is the piano my Father bought for my Mom on the last day of December, 1964. The piano was delivered several days later to our apartment in Brooklyn. But there was a problem; it didn't fit in the elevator, and was too unwieldy to make the turns in the stairwell. Clearly, another way would have to be found. At the time, we lived on the second floor of a 7 story apartment building. We lived in the rear, which gave us the advantage of having the roof of the building's underground garage right outside of our windows. This expanse of concrete ran the entire length of the building, which sat between East 13th and 14th Streets on Avenue R. At each end there was a straight stairway which led directly to the street. This was the path our piano would take to its new home.

The piano movers were really at a loss when they found that the piano would not fit in the windows. Summoning John Bucholtz, the building's German, as in ex-Nazi, superintendant, my Dad and he surveyed the situation and came to a quick conclusion; at least one of the windows, would have to come out if the piano were to go in.

Now this was the first week of January, not the best time to rip out a window and frame in order to accomodate a piano, but there was nothing for it, and so the piano movers, my Dad and John removed the window and wedged the piano, minus the legs, inside. Then they all helped in setting it up, where it would remain for the next 22 years, until my Mom had passed away and my Dad was getting remarried. That's when I got the piano. Again, in the first week of January, only this time with snow on the ground from Brooklyn to Baltimore, which is where the piano was headed, as I lived there at the time. I seem to remember taking the legs off and carrying it into the elevator and loading it on the truck. My Uncle Bob was there and I'll have to ask him what he remembers about that day. Here's the funny part; I do not remember having to remove the window to get the piano out of the house.

When I got to Baltimore, via U-Haul, with the piano, there was 1 foot of snow on the ground. It took 5 friends and neighbors to help me wrestle that piano into its new home. From there it was moved again to Hampstead, Md., where it remained for 11 years, until we came to North Carolina in 1998. That time, and each of the 2 times since, we have hired someone to move it.

The piano is still with us. That's my Mom in the picture, moments after the piano was set up and the window closed, smiling like she just got a piano. She used to play and sing Broadway show tunes, and all of the old women would be gathered outside our apartment door, listening. They would always say the same thing, "Oy, she sings like a bird, she should be on stage!" And maybe she should have, at that.

I don't play, which sometimes makes me a bit sad, I view it as a lost opportunity, though I suppose I could still learn. However, I do play guitar a bit instead. My daughter learned to play on this piano, which she will take when she and her husband Michael have more room. Meantime she has a small electric piano that she plays on to keep nimble. It comforts me that this one will be passed on to her.

It may be a bit older now than it was then, and it may need a bit of fine tuning, but then again, don't we all...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Guest Columnist: "Aboard the USCG Cutter Cartigan" by George Copna

Of all the stories and stuff I write about, none has generated such affection and comment, as the posts concerning the old USCG Cutter Cartigan, which sat in Sheepshead Bay for many years when I was growing up in Brooklyn,N.Y.

The following is a story of life aboard the vessel on patrol in the Gulf of Mexico. The photo is of the author in 1966 or '67. I haven't changed a word, just cut and pasted the story straight from the e-mail by Mr. George Dobos,who served aboard her and has promised some more stories, which I will be only too happy to print here.


Hello Robert.

I have attached several fotos that I hope you enjoy. The painting of the two "buck n' a quarters" I got from a calendar somewhere. It is one of my favorite pictures. The bridge was all polished up for inspection. The young skinny guy sitting in the radio shack is yours truly circa 1966 or '67. The last one is the Cartigan taken off the St. Andrew's Marina in 1967 before she got her "racing stripe." The time that I was in, 1964 - 1968 was a bad time for the Coast Guard. All the cutters were aging or had aged already. The larger cutters, 311' & 327', were WWII or before commissions and some were actually old Navy vessels that the Guard got from them. These were very lean years. The modernization of the fleet began in late 1967/68 with the building of 210 ft cutters. As radiomen, we used morse code for commucations over 95% of the time. The main transmitter in the radio shack (the black box next to me in the foto) was an Army model 1944 that had vacuum tubes as big as a football. When it went out, we went to the shipyard here in Panama City and bought one just like it off of an old Liberty Ship that they were going to cut up for scrap. As a side line, Panama City's shipyard made Liberty ships during the war and they came back full circle to be cut up.

My duties as a Radioman differed depending on my rank at the time. As a RM3, during any maneuvering drills, i.e. general quarters, man overboard, etc., my station was working the engine order telegraph. When I made RM2, my billet was sound powered talker on the bridge relaying all communications to and from the bridge to all stations on the ship. There were only three RM's on the ship. Having given you a little background, here comes the first sea story.

We were on Campeche Patrol in the southern Gulf of Mexico. Our CW call sign went from NRLF to NUZY (or in English, CGC Cartigan to Campeche Patrol Vessel). The seas were flat calm, not a ripple or a wave to be seen and it was hot. Did I mention that the airconditioner only worked in the winter time? Anyway, we came across this very large tree branch shaped like a slingshot. It was clearly a menace to navigation. After much deliberation, the Captain decided that we would maneuver into the crotch of the tree, hook a line to it and manually chop it up! He sent the lowest rated seaman down onto the log with an axe. After a couple of whacks, and nothing was happening, he opted to send the XO down to see if he could do any better. The XO had irritated him because while he was trying to get this log cut up, the XO was fishing off the fantail for dolphin. Anyway, on the first swing, the XO cut his safety line and almost fell into the water. Time for a new plan. The Captain contacted District HQ in New Orleans and got permission to destroy the heinous object using our 40mm, 1944 Army single barrel deck gun.

We issued a notice to mariners as to what we were doing and then went to General Quarters. After backing off a safe distance, the order to fire was given. Slow fire. After coming nowhere near the target, the Captain ordered rapid fire. As the gun fired, the ship recoiled to the port and started rolling to the starboard, the gunners firing the entire time. Here's where it gets interesting. As they were firing, they were walking the shells back towards the ship and instead of hitting the target, they were coming closer to hitting ourselves. Needless to say, the Capt. ordered a cease fire because we weren't doing any good. We ended up taking a broom stick, putting a lifevest light on it and tacking it to the log. We chartered its path and issued another Notice to Mariners and let it go on its way.

More stories to follow later.
George

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fin, Family and Slang


Above is a "fin", a five dollar bill. It's a slang term which had been relegated to the dump heap until recently, where it has made a comeback in the street level drug trade.

For me the term "fin", as well as the slang term for the $10 bill, or a "sawbuck", belong to another era, back in the 1950's, when I was a small child. I was fascinated with these terms, words which I heard my dad use, frequently when talking to his brother Richie. And there were the times when my Dad would take me to a bar, to collect on some work he had done on the HVAC systems, and the owners were rough hewn "mob" types. In places like those, "fin", "sawbuck" and "double sawbuck" were normal expressions. But where did those words come from?

Let's start with the "fin", pictured above. "Fin" is slang for the old German word "funf", or five, which became Yiddish and was pronounced "finf", and sometimes as "finnif." This was low level slang.

Moving up the chain there was the "sawbuck", or $10 bill, which derived from the device used to hold wood for cutting into lengths that would fit into a fireplace, or stove. The term originated because the first ten dollar bills issued had the Roman numeral "X" for ten on one corner. "Buck" had long been established to mean a dollar, so putting the two together was kind of a natural.

For bigger jobs there was the elusive "double sawbuck", or $20 bill. And after that was the "half a yard" for $50 dollars, a "C" note, or a "yard", was for $100 dollars (the "C" stood for Century, which is rather self explanatory), and then there was the holiest of all, the dreaded "large", as in, "You owe me 5 large", or $5,000 dollars, as in "grand."

I kind of miss these terms. I know that language evolves, and that's a good thing. But as it does, I get older. I'm still not sure how I feel about that!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"By-Line:Ernest Hemingway" Edited by William White


I have never been a fan of Hemingway's writing, preferring the movie versions of his novels instead. I know that makes me illiterate in the eyes of some, but let's face it, his best work was his shortest one, "The Old Man and the Sea." In my opinion, Hemingway was best when he was brief. But that's just my opinion. Obviously, many people the world over revere his works as modern "classics."

But here is a book, compiled and edited by William White, which contain some of the earlier writings of Ernest Hemingway, and they are truly delightful. The first section is composed mainly of his columns in the Toronto Star Weekly from the early 1920's. These are gems.

Take the piece titled "Circulating Pictures", which deals with the upper crust women in Toronto who "lease" works of art from the artists, and then exchange them amongst themselves in a mini "art club." This allows the women to appreciate the artwork in their homes, and then return them to the artist at the end of the "lease." The painting has now been viewed and advertised for free by many patrons of the local art scene, which drives up the price. At the expiration of the "lease" period, the work of art is returned to the artist, who then goes on to sell it at 4 times the original price. All of this is done in an effort to keep commercialism out of art.

Hemingway's love of fishing is shown in it's earliest stages of reknown while the author is fishing in Canada. His love of the outdoors virtually pours from the 3 page article. There is more substance in some of these short pieces than in any of his later full length novels.

The 1920's were the days of Prohibition, and that subject is covered here in a piece called "Plain and Fancy Killings, $400 and Up." It seems that American gangsters were going to Ireland, by way of England, to assassinate local politicians, British Soldiers, or any of the Irish Republican Army members who may have run afoul of someone. A mere $400 paid for killing a soldier, of either side, while for $1,000 you could have a Public Official eliminated. The latter is the better deal, considering that the poor soldier wouldn't have to be there in the first place, were it not for the bungling of Public Officials.

The Barber College in Toronto, described so vividly in "A Free Shave", is a brilliant piece of work equal to anything by O. Henry. Barber colleges offered shaves and haircuts for free if you let a student do it. For 10 cents more you could have a senior student do the job instead, with considerably less risk involved.

This is a real treasure found in the stacks at the Mooresville Public Library. It was copyrighted in 1951 and then re-released in 1967. The book covers all of the years in between the First and Second World Wars, with stories from Paris, Madrid, Switzerland and even the 1923 earthquake in Japan. That piece is very timely, given the current situation in Japan.

The World War Two years are covered in a series of interviews with, and articles by, Mr. Hemingway, which explore every aspect of the war, from it's causes to it's proposed outcome.

A wonderful book, with a unique perspective on the history of the times in which it was written, this was an eye opener for me concerning Hemingway as a journalist. Like O. Henry before him, Mr. Hemingway seems to have done his best work in the short form.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"The Black History of the White House" by Clarence Lusane


In 1787, as the founding fathers gathered in Philadelphia to iron out the Constitution, which legitimized slavery, abolishionists were already working to end the practice of slavery in the newly formed nation.

In the skillful hands of author Clarence Lusane, the old argument, of which I have been a proponnent, that slavery was allowed to exist in the colonies in order to appease the Southern states, so that they, in turn would support a Revolution, simply loses all credibility. A quick look at the actions of President George Washington will illustrate just what I mean.

At the time President Washington was in Philadelphia, signing the "Fugitive Slave Act" into law, he was actively engaged in the pursuit and capture of one of his own slaves, a young woman named Ona "Oney" Maria Judge. She had been sent from Virginia to the new capital in Philadelphia, a free state. Technically she was a free woman. Realizing that she would be sent back to Virginia at the end of Washington's term in office, after all, the Constitution, under Article 4, considered her property, she did the unthinkable, she escaped. And Washington did the predictable thing, he signed the "Fugitive Slave Act" into law, and then had Ms. Judge pursued by bounty hunters. I am happy to report that Ms. Judge made it all the way to New Hampshire, where she died many years later, a free woman.

The book covers all the years between the Founding of our Constitution in Philadelphia, to the building of our nation's Capital City, and on through the 2008 election of Barack Obama as President. In between, the book sheds light on the daily lives of African Americans during more than 200 years in Washington, D.C., which remained a segregated city from it's beginnings in the late 18th century, until the 1950's.

Drawing upon historical accounts the book paints a picture of Washington, and our nation, during the years following our birth as a nation. It then continues on through the Civil War, the era of Jim Crow, and the early years of the 20th Century, finally culminating in the inaguaration of our first African-American President. And what a strange story it is.

Lafeyette Square Park, located across from the White House, was a slave market, even as our early Presidents sat in the White House. As the tensions heated up in the years before the Civil War, Washington was a non-state, caught between the North and the South. Abuse of Negro citizens was rampant. It was hazardous to walk alone at night for fear of being kidnapped and "sold down South." Slaves caught up North were brought back to Washington and sold at auction. Slave "pens" were everywhere in the city, and there was much money to be made in the human trafficking of slaves.

The Pearl was a ship engaged in transporting runaway slaves. On the night of April 15th, 1845 she was loaded with 70 African-Americans, some of whom were free, and set sail bound for Chesapeake Bay, and ultimately freedom. They never made it. Acting on the tip of a Negro informant, the bounty hunters were able to commandeer a boat and overtake the Pearl. When she was returned to port an auction was held, and all 70 African-Americans were sold into slavery, regardless of whether they were free or not.

Up through, and after, the Civil War things went pretty much unchanged in Washington. There would be seperate drinking fountains, restaurants and hotels all the way through the late 1950's.

In 1961 Lillian Rogers Parks wrote the first White House memoir from the perspective of the maid. The book was entitled "My 30 Years Backstairs at the White House." In the book, Ms. Parks laid bare all of the reality of being a minority employed by the world's largest democracy.

Utilizing the writings of Alonzo Fields, White House Butler from 1933-1959, Lillian Parks and Abraham Bolden, the first African-American Secret Service member, as well as the first to be assigned to the Presidential Detail, the reader gets a sense of what it was like to be "invisible." The book paints a portrait of a White House, and the Presidents, as they are caught up in a changing society, one in which African-Americans were beginning to demand, rather than ask for, equal treatment under the law.

One of the best illustrations of this time period occurs when Mrs. Roosevelt arrives in 1933, only to discover that the White House Staff is segragated, resulting in there being 2 head staffers for each department. To solve this, she fired all of the white head staff and kept the balck head staffers in their positions.

But by far the most chilling story told in this book involves Abraham Bolden, whose provocative book, "The Echo from Dealy Plaza" I reviewed in 2009. In 1958 he was recruited by the Secret Service as a "token" minority. When he met President-elect Kennedy in Chicago in 1960, he was invited to join the Presidential Protection Detail as the first African-American in that position. What happened after that is truly an amazing story.

Shunned by his fellow agents, who routinely referred to him as a "nigger", Bolden was further ostrichized for his diligence in performing his duties. He complained about his fellow agents use of drugs and rampant drinking on the job, and was relieved of his duties on the Presidential Detail and returned to the Secret Service office in Chicago. After an assassination attempt was foiled at the Army-Navy game there in 1963, another plot was foiled in Palm Beach, Florida several weeks later. By this time Agent Bolden was talking to anyone who would listen to him concerning the danger posed to the President. The other agents referred to the President as "that nigger lover", and vowed that they "would never take a bullet for him."

Agent Bolden was subsequently framed in a mob related case and shipped off to prison, where he continued to talk about what he knew. This landed him in a mental hospital, where he was subjected to drug experiments and shock therapy. He was released in 1969 and continues to fight for his vindication. His memoir, released in 2008, is one of the most compelling stories ever told.

This book is long overdue. African-Americans, working as slaves, built our nation's White House, as well as the Capitol Building itself. That they were subjected to such treatment anywhere in a "free" nation is unconscionable. That this mistreatment occurred in our nation's Capital, and in the White House itself, is almost unforgiveable.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Old Barns and Pianos

I saw it first through the trees from the road as we were passing by on our way through Concord. I'm a sucker for old houses, especially ones with barns, and so we stopped to take a look.

Parking the car around the back of the house I was greeted with the sight of this beautiful old barn/horse stall/hayloft. It was twice the size of the house! I went looking for bottles and glassware, old medicine tins and the like, while Sue roamed about in the house. The property is beautiful, 57 acres in all, formerly a farm, destined for either a shopping center or another housing development. Farming doesn't pay well anymore.

But for me this was the surprise which made the whole stop worthwhile; an upright piano on the front porch. Long neglected and beyond repair, it was unique, almost a work of art. Think of it, 80 years or so ago, with radio in it's infancy, and television still just a dream, some family sat around on the screened porch, alongside of a small rural road, and sang along to the piano. Contrast that with sitting in front of the TV, night after night, remote in hand, never satisfied. You know, I think these folks were on to something...

"33 Men" by Jonathan Franklin


On the morning of August 5th, 2010 thirty three men went to work in the San Jose Copper Mine in Copiapo, Chile. It was to be a 12 hour shift, an ordinary day in the mine, working one day on and one day off. Within a few hours that day would be extended for 69 days after the mine collapsed, trapping the entire workforce of 33 miners, who became known the world over as "Los 33", almost 2,000 feet below the surface, with much doubt about how they would be, or if they could be, rescued.

For the first seventeen days the world waited with bated breath for any signs of life beyond the massive 700,000 ton boulder which had sealed off the shaft to the mine. Experts from all over the world converged on the town of Copiapo, thrusting it into the world's spotlight for the first time.

If you think you got the whole story of this event watching the news, you're wrong. Some of the infighting between the trapped miners and the rescuers on the surface was never revealed at the time. The lead pyschiatrist, Dr. Iturra, attempted to exert so much control over the men, going so far as to read the letters going back and forth between the miners and their families, and even censoring them, that at one point the men went on a hunger strike!

Physicians from NASA, as well as the U.S. Navy, were brought in to deal with the prolonged period of isolation which the miners were enduring. No one knows as much about isolation, and what it does to groups of people, as do these two groups. NASA sends people into earth orbit for months at a time, while the Navy does the same thing beneath the sea in submarines. Their expertise was invaluable in dealing with the mental health of the trapped miners.

At times engaging, and even humorous, you will be amazed at what went on down below the surface, as well as the wrangling for control that was taking place on the surface.

Three palns were put into effect, using machines form all over the world to drill several rescue shafts. It became like a race to see whether Plan A, Plan B or Plan C, (these were the actual names of the operations) would reach the men first. The setbacks will have you just as concerned here in the book as they did when they occurred.

The daily rituals that the miners had in place to keep sane are of great interest, as is the methods they were forced to improvise in storing bodily wastes. The book leaves no subject unexplored.

Of comic relief is the story of "Barrios", the miner whose wife and girlfriend came to blows while keeping "vigil" at the rescue scene. At one point "Barrios" is thinking about staying in the mine...

Police sent down cameras and instructions for the men to film certain portions of the mine for use in the eventual investigation, and prosecution, of the mine owners. The mine had been a hazard for many years, with numerous violations.

A quick read, and surely not the last book which will be written on this subject, the author does a credible job of taking the reader behind the headlines, to where the real story takes place.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Word (or Two) on Writing

Writing a daily blog about no particular subject, which is what I do, is not as easy as I once thought that it would be. I used to envy the columnists in the daily papers, both the national, as well as the local ones. As a matter of fact, I have a lot more respect for the local ones, who have a much smaller pool in which to fish for daily ideas. The major columnists have the whole world as their domain. But even they, I suspect, sometimes have trouble sorting through all of the stories that come their way.

These are my observations on the subject, made after almost 2 years of doing this blog. (March 29th is the 2nd anniversary.)

Writing a blog is a daily thing, though it wasn't at first, but I came to enjoy it immensely. It usually takes me about 1 hour to post a book review. But it takes several days to read the book. In the interim I have to find something to post each day. When I finish the book I scan the cover into my computer and then transfer it to the blog. Then I start to write, sometimes flipping back through the pages looking for the correct spelling of a name, or the exact date of a certain event. Often I have slips of paper which I have left throughout the book, intending to make sure those parts get mentioned in the review. Usually, and ironically, these are the parts which most often don't get mentioned at all.

Movie reviews are easier, and more fun. Aside from getting the names of the cast and the director correct, most of a movie review is based upon my "feelings". I either liked it, or I didn't. And if I didn't, I usually don't review it. That doesn't mean that every movie not reviewed here is lousy, but more likely that I haven't seen that particular film.

Travel stuff is fun because I went somewhere interesting, but I need to make sure that the historical portions are correct, as well as engaging. So most days I spend about an hour actually composing the blog, but only after I know what I am going to write about. That's the hardest part.

But my all time favorite type of post is when I write something spontaneous, and it flows out quickly and without error. There are not too many of those, but when they do happen you just keep typing, until the story reveals itself. That's magic. And the funniest thing about it is that those stories take about 15 minutes, start to finish. A rambling post like this takes about the same. The hardest part of this one will be finding an illustration for it. As of this moment, it will be a big surprise to both of us!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Francois Villon - Written for a Bridegroom

One of my all time favorite films is "The Petrified Forest" with Humphrey Bogart and Leslie Howard. The scenes in which Leslie Howard trades his views on life, and love, with Bette Davis are the meat of the film. For years I have watched this movie time and again, always awed by the scene in which Bette Davis reads Francois Villon's "Ballad for a Bridegroom." It's a beautiful poem, one that speaks of true love and the protections and responsibilities that come with it. It is, I believe, one of the most beautiful sentiments ever put to pen.

This woodcarving is one of Villon done in the mid 15th century, upon the publication of one his books of poetry. Here is the translation from the French by the English poet and author Algernon Charles Swinburne.

"Ballad Written For A Bridegroom" by Francois Villon
(translated by Algernon Charles Swinburne)


At daybreak, when the falcon claps his wings,
No whit for grief, but noble heart and high,
With loud glad noise he stirs himself and springs,
And takes his meat and toward his lure draws nigh;
Such good I wish you! Yea, and heartily
I am fired with hope of true love's meed to get;
Know that Love writes it in his book; for why,
This is the end for which we twain are met.

Mine own heart's lady with no gainsayings
You shall be always wholly till I die;
And in my fight against all bitter things
Sweet laurel with fresh rose its force shall try;
Seeing reason wills not that I cast love by
(Nor here with reason shall I chide or fret)
Nor cease to serve, but serve more constantly;
This is the end for which we twain are met.

And, which is more, when grief about me clings
Through Fortune's fit or fume of jealousy,
Your sweet kind eye beats down her threatenings
As wind doth smoke; such power sits in your eye.
Thus in your field my seed of harvestry
Thrives, for the fruit is like me that I set;
God bids me tend it with good husbandry;
This is the end for which we twain are met.

Princess, give ear to this my summary;
That heart of mine your heart's love should forget
Shall never be: like trust in you put I:
This is the end for which we twain are met.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!


Happy Saint Patrick's Day to everyone, be yee Irish or not. This is a day of laughter and cheer, particularly back in New York City, which happens to be my home town.

I'm an Irish - Jew, or a Jewish - Mick, depending upon which side of the family you ask. Some say we're not Irish at all, but the Census Forms belie this. It doesn't matter, have a great day and try to keep your eye out for the Leprechaun - he just may lead you to that Pot of Gold at the end of the Rainbow.

But for now, here's the Irish Rovers doing their big hit - "The Unicorn Song."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EPsuOEH1fY

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Lovers


The weather in North Carolina at this time of year is unpredictable, at best. It can be 29 degrees in the morning, with frost covering the lawns, and by noon it’s 60, and spring like. Often, by 5 PM, it can get as high as 80! With these fluctuations come unpredictable things, such as sudden late afternoon rainstorms. Just like the one we had the other day. And after the rain has ended there is usually a chill in the air.

That’s how I believe she got there, racing ahead of the storm and looking for a safe place for herself and her lover.

Then she spied it- the flapping doorway to warmth and shelter. It was on the side of a house, located in an ordinary sub-division, in an ordinary town. She made a bee line for it, just as the first peals of thunder were making themselves known, with the wind beginning to gust, almost in verification of her fears.

He followed her inside the flapping doorway, a bit afraid to go too far, but also afraid of letting her go in alone. And then again, there was the storm to consider. Best to get inside and stay warm and dry.

He lost sight of her almost immediately, as she charged in ahead of him and into the darkness, further than he would have dared. He stopped following, waiting to hear her call to him, but no sound came. He waited until sunup the following day, when he could see a bit more inside.

His heart was racing as he trod the path she had taken only hours before. Where could she have gone? Surely she would not have left him. They had been together for quite a while, and the thought of her sudden disappearance was unthinkable to him. Still, he ventured further inside the darkness which belied the full daylight he was leaving behind.

That’s when he found her, lying on her side, at the bottom of the shaft, cold and dead to the touch. Still, he called to her, as if his song could awaken her from this slumber.

And that’s when I first heard the commotion, dismissing it as some slight annoyance, which, given time, would go away. But the mysterious sounds continued , until, no longer able to concentrate, I was obliged to go and investigate the matter.

The sounds were coming from the area of the laundry room, within the walls it seemed, at first. But soon I realized that the commotion was coming from inside of the dryer vent tube, that long cylindrical coil that lets the heat escape from the appliance. I had to take the door off of its hinges and move the dryer out to get to it.

Using a screwdriver to loosen the coil, I had Sue standing by with a pillowcase. Unhooking the coil and removing it I was struck by two things; the first was the beautiful blue bird with brown chest feathers, obviously dead; and the second thing, her lover, now silent as he watched me through the opening. He was almost relieved to have someone there, to share in his grief.

We took the cold and silent bird outside for burial in the garden flowerbed, which has not yet begun to bloom. When we went back into the house, her partner was flitting from room to room, searching for a way out. Opening the sliding doors to the rear of the house, I gently followed him, herding him towards the outdoors. After he was safely out of the house we interred his lost lover in the flower bed. This was sad enough, but the worst was yet to come.

Several hours later, while writing this story, I went outside to photograph the place where we had buried the beautiful blue bird. And there, on the branch of a nearby tree, sat her lover, gazing at the spot where we had buried his heart.

"Bloody Crimes" by James Swanson


I was in the throes of dental work when I posted this review and I failed, due to the prevailing circumstances, to address some of the book. I have added the "missing" portions here, in italics, to distinquish them from the original review.

This is a well written and fascinating account of two men at the close of the Civil War. The first man is, of course, Abraham Lincoln. The second, and equally important man is Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The book follows their lives during the last few weeks of the war, the assasssination of President Lincoln, and the flight, and eventual capture of Jefferson Davis.

But before the book delves into the tragedy of the assassination, it takes a hard look at the last 2 weeks of the war, as Lincoln toured the Confederate Capital of Richmond after it's fall, and Jefferson Davis moved his government to Danville, before beginning his journey to Mexico.

Lincoln and Davis had so much in common, yet were so different in their backgrounds. Lincoln often toured the battlefield, as he did in Richmond, and was often seen in the trenches around Washington during the war. Davis, on the other hand, was more of an aristocrat, although, of the two men, he was the one who had major military experience. Davis had fought in the War with Mexico, serving under General Taylor with great distinction. Lincoln, although he had been elected Captain of his regiment during the Black Hawk War, never saw battle until he became President.

When Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant on April 12th, the war was effectively over. There was no way for the Confederate Army to rally and reverse the tide. They were simply outgunned and out of supplies. Nevertheless, Jefferson Davis refused to believe this was the end, and so he began his flight westward, most likely seeking to reach Mexico. He would never make it, instead being captured and imprisoned for several years, during which time he was chained, shackled and nearly lost his mind. It was only the intervention of some very influential Northern politicians that eventually freed him.

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln sent shock waves throughout the nation. It was alledged that Jefferson Davis was responsible for this terrible deed. In reality, only one man from the Confederate government was directly involved. Upon hearing of Lincoln's death, Davis was heard to lament the act, realizing that the full force of retribution would now fall upon the Southern States.

The book is well organized as it jumps back and forth from the manhunt for Jefferson Davis, the assassination of President Lincoln, the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth and the preparations for the President's funeral.

At first it was planned that the slain President be interred beneath the Capitol Building in Wahington, in the crypt which was intended for George Washington. But forces in Chicago, where Lincoln had been a state legislator, and won the 1860 nomination for President at the Republican Party Convention, wanted him buried there. And still others wanted the President to be returned to Springfield, where he had established his early career in law and politics. It was there that he had made his home. Springfield, of course, emerged as the winner.

But the meat of this book is in the journey, by train, which was undertaken to honor a man who, with a singleminded purpose, held together a unique country, founded in unity, and then tested by internal conflict. The Civil War was inevitable, the seeds for it had been planted in the birth of a nation that allowed slavery. The founding fathers had every intention of re-visiting the issue of Abolition, but, in a haste to gain our freedom from Britain, neglected to resolve this one great difference that would one day, surely come back to haunt the nation.

The book also follows the life of Jefferson Davis after his imprisonment and subsequent death in 1889. He, like Lincoln, also had a funeral train, which passed through the Southern states from New Orleans to Richmond, just as Lincoln's trian had passed through the Northern States. Davis' train bore a macabre resemblance to the funeral train taken by President Lincoln in 1865.

In addition, the author calls attention to Lincoln's own views of the treatment of the Southern states after the end of the war. In the last 2 weeks of the conflict, Lincoln remarked that we should "let 'em down easy." Had he lived, Jefferson Davis would have been allowed to leave the country, or simply go home. The fact that he was imprisoned, humiliated and impoverished gave birth to the hatred of the Reconstruction Era, as well as the "Jim Crow" laws of the south, the scars of which affect us until this very day.


This is an excellent read, one which will enlighten and educate the reader, as well as entertain.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Toothday, March 15th


Went to the dentist yesterday for a root canal. Going back today for a filling. See you tomorrow with a great book review.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Grief and Sorrow in Japan


Nothing that I can write will ever come close to the sorrow I feel for the people of Japan. The only thing I could think of doing here today was to express my sorrow in a way in which the Japanese people will understand my empathy for their pain.

The two calligraphy characters above are the Japanese symbols for "Aitou", which is the English translation for Condolence, Regret, Tribute, Sorrow and Sympathy.

Japan is one of the miracles to have come out of the 20th Century. In just one century, Japan went from a feudal warlord culture to a brutal tyranny, and emerged from the massive destruction of the world's first atomic bombs to become a world leader in economics and technology.

With all of the world, I join in offering my hopes for a speedy recovery to a nation bowed in sorrow.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Coast Guard Cutter Cartigan Revisited

On January 20th, 2010 I posted a little piece about the old US Coast Guard Cutter Cartigan, which used to sit, when I was a kid back in the 1960's, in Sheepshead Bay, which is in Brooklyn where I grew up.

It was a beautiful ship to me, and, as I wrote in that post, no small influence in my going to sea several years later. I got 3 comments on the piece, on the blog, but have also continued to receive e-mails from people who have had a connection with the ship in one way or another. This comment was posted to the blog yesterday eveing and I thought I'd share the unusual story, as well as the link to the photos taken by Mr. Petersen, which show the ship being removed from the Bay. And Mr. Petersen is right, that old girl gave them one hell of a fight. Thanks for being there with your camera and sharing these photos with us.


Robert Petersen has left a new comment on your post "Coast Guard Cutter Cartigan WSC-132":

"Hi, A few years ago, I was employed by CUNY at Kingsborough Community College. I recall how one very foggy morning I heard the loud chugging and saw the large dark silhouette of some type of crane barge. Little did I know that this barge was charged with removing the Cartigan.

I was so grateful to have my camera that day because the most peculiar thing happened. The Cartigan put up one hell of a fight.

Hanging by the spread slings from this crane barge, the Cartigan was being taken against her will around the tip of the College to where the school's beach was located. I thought they were a little too close for comfort and wasn't too shocked when the next day a second crane barge showed up to help the get unstuck. Believe it or not, this barge got stuck as well.

Eventually, a third barge showed up and was finally able to free the other two barges. Yup, the Cartigan sure put up a fight."

If you would like to see the rest of these remarkable photos taken by Mr. Petersen, try this link;

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?id=1625214418&aid=95792

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"The Book of the Seven Seas" by Peter Freuchen


Not since the publication of the "American Practical Navigator" in 1802, by Nathaniel Bowditch, has there been a book written about the sea that is so all encompasing, as is the case in this 1958 publication by Peter Freuchen. That's him on the cover, looking exactly as one would expect from his writing.

This is a work of non-fiction which explores the beginnings of earth, and the "Big Bang" theory, as a way of explaining how the ocean basins were physically formed when the sun cast off a ball of flaming gases, which became the earth. The basins were formed by the violence attendant in the cooling process of the molten sphere that would become our home. During this process, a chunk of the sphere broke off, becoming our "moon." This moon would come to control our tides. The pits, valleys and craters left on the earth by this process were then filled by an enormous rain, one which lasted for about 40 centuries and produced 300,000,000 cubic miles of rain.

This book is organized into 11 parts, among them The Shape of the Sea, Life in the Sea, Great Voyages, Treasures of the Seven Seas, Law and the Seven Seas, and even a section on Strange Tales from the Seven Seas. In short, this book has something of interest for anyone who has an interest in the oceans, and the legends and history that go with them.

This book is also a political and military history. It follows the Voyages of Discovery and delves into the settlements of the "new worlds" beyond the horizons of Europe. Along with the tales of pirates and ghost ships, this book packs in quite a bit of science and information about how the oceans current's are formed, as well as the effects of the weather upon the motion of the oceans.

This is an example of one of those rare books that can be found "in the stacks" at the Mooresville Public Library. My usual modus upon entering the library, after greeting the librarians, is to head towards the shelf of newly released books. This is my effort to maintain "relevancy." If there is nothing there to catch my eye, I wander into "the stacks", that great expanse of books from decades gone by. My tastes run, for the most part, between the 600's and the high 900's in the old Dewey Decimal System.

That's the joy of the library, you go in with a vague notion of what you might want, and leave with some things you never even thought of. This is a large and scientific book written by a man who spent 6 decades at sea. So, I will have to visit it more than once. The good thing is that I will know exactly where to find it when I need it again. On the shelf at my Piblic Library. Think about that as you watch the politicians turn off the lights in libraries all across America, even while awarding themselves bonuses, and planning new projects that we just can't afford right now.

And then, think of Peter Freuchen and the knowledge contained in this book. Locked away in an underfunded library it would be of no value to anyone, and much of what it is written, on all topics, will become forgotten footnotes to history.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Goree State Prison - Texas

In 1911 Texas opened a prison for women inmates. It was located at Goree State Prison Farm, in Walker County, about 4 miles outside of Huntsville, Texas. The facility is still in operation today, with a population of 874 inmates serving sentences for drug possession to murder. The average sentence is between 10 and 15 years.

The prison was segregated, with White and Hispanic women working mostly in the linen factory. The African -American inmates were relagated to field work, growing some of the food consumed by the prisoners. By the time of the Great Depression, in the 1930's, many of the women incarcerated were there for economic crimes such as kiting checks, prostitution and drug possession. Classes were offered for rehabilitation, including typing, shorthand and beautician work.

But the strangest, and perhaps best story, to come out of Goree State Prison is the one about an 8 member acoustic band that played there in the 1940's. They were known as "The Goree All Girl String Band" and played each week, not only for the prisoners, but also for a radio audience.

Trisha Durant, Kathy Roberts, Erica Gilligan, Cassidy Sunderson, Billie Crow, Jill Vegas, Vicki and Farrah (no last names found) were all serving time at the farm in the late 1930's when a Fort Worth radio station, WBAP, began a program called "Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls", in which the inmates could show off their various, legitimate talents. These 8 women jumped at the chance. The show was an instant hit and remained on the air through 1948.

This story is new to me. I just heard of it while reading the morning paper. Seems like there is a movie being made about the Goree All Girl String Band. It will star Jennifer Anniston and Pam Tillis. This is one movie that I will be looking forward to seeing when it is released. Meantime, I'm searching the net for some of their music. At this point I'm not sure any of the original radio broadcast recordings still survive.

Here is an excellent link to the history of this highly unusual story;

http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-2742349/O-sister-where-art-thou.html

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My "Lucky" Coin

This is my "good luck" coin. I carry it with me everywhere I go, even when I'm unlucky. That's the trick to the whole "luck" thing. You gotta have faith. Without my belief that this coin brings me luck, it is nothing but an old penny.

That's the way with most things. You can take them at face value, or assign something more meaningful to it. Everyone needs something to believe in. I don't assign any magical powers to this coin, it is merely a constant, something which I can count upon to always be there. It's reassuring.

Sometimes we find comfort in the most inane of objects. Vice Admiral Stockdale, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, used to tell the story about his tin cup, which he had for the entire time of his imprisonment within the walls of the "Hanoi Hilton" during the Vietnam War. It seems that the guards stripped the prisoners of all their possessions, watches and jewelry being the most sought after items. But when it came to something utilitarian, like a tin cup, which most people in the service at the time used to carry attached to their belt loops, the Vietnamese let them keep the cup. This was one less item that they had to provide for the prisoner. But what they never realized was that an item as simple as a tin cup could serve as a link to the past and the "real world." That cup came to mean everything to Vice Admiral Stockdale. It represented his past, and future, in a tangible way, providing him with the connection he needed to endure his hardships.

I don't have a special cup anymore, although I did carry one while in the Navy. Since then I have used various coins, over the years, as talismen, small items to comfort me when I need it. This 1854 large cent has been with me for about 10 years now, and we seem to be doing okay. Looking at it gives me a great deal of enjoyment as I spin out stories in my head of where the coin has been, and wondering what was bought with it over the years before it wound up in my pocket.

I'm told that the constant rubbing of the coin against the change in my pocket has lessened it's value by adding wear and scratches to it. But I don't mind. The coin is more valuable to me as an item of continuity, it's always there. And I enjoy taking it out to show off to cashiers, waiters, neighborhood kids, basically anyone who will stop long enough to admire it. Has it brought me any luck? I don't know. But the more important question is this - has it brought me joy? The answer to that is an unequivocal yes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Pegasus Descending" by James Lee Burke


Fiction and reality collide once again in this action packed and thought provoking novel by James Lee Burke. With his usual flair for tying history together with mystery, this book finds New Iberia Detective James Robicheaux involved in the 20 year old murder of a former friend during an armored car heist gone wrong. When the friend's daughter shows up in New Iberia, she brings with her a whole boatload of trouble.

A dead man is found in a drainage ditch on the side of the road, with no name or identification, and the coincidences begin to add up, leading Detective Robicheaux on a search for the truth which will take him down some of the darkest and ugliest roads of humanity. Politics, old money and outdated societal traditions fuel the story as the case leads to the murder and gang rape of a young girl. Was she killed by the local gangbangers? Or were the rich "frat" boys involved? Or, is there a connection between the two?

With the FBI looking into some of the same suspects for other crimes, Detective Robicheaux is forced into a game of cat and mouse between his own New Iberia Police Department and the Feds. With his old buddy Clete Purcel at his side, rampaging like a bull in a china closet, guess who wins?

This may be one of the most complex of the Dave Robicheaux series to date. There is virtually nothing left out of this wide ranging tale of corruption and greed. From the gambling profits of the Indian Reservations, to the televangelists who may be laundering them, and the politicians who allow these things to go on, Mr. Burke has once again written a novel which is so well grounded in the reality of our times, that it is often difficult to remember you are reading fiction.

All of the usual characters have been assembled here. There is, of course, Clete Purcel, Dave's old sidekick from the New Orleans Police Department, New Iberia Police Chief Helen Soileau, Dave's wife Molly, and Tripod, their pet raccoon. Added to the list are a wimpy District Attorney and a cast of sociopaths.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Mr. Burke's writing is his penchant for tying his plots to the applicable history which has firmly entrenched some very evil people in some of the highest positions of authority, all while waving the flag, or acting as a "shill" for the Lord.

But, against all odds, the self described "Bobbsey Twins of Vice", Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel, kick ass and take down the bad guys, bruising a few egos along the way. With the added lessons in history, as well as some insights into the human condition, James Lee Burke's novels can only be described as Mickey Spillane's "Mike Hammer" on steroids.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Support Reading - Boycott HarperCollins

Although this blog reviews things other than books, and indeed, at times I stray off track into various different subjects, it is primarily a site about books. Ones that I have read in the past, as well as ones that I am currently reading. So, it would be remiss of me to overlook the news item that caught my eye this morning concerning HarperCollins and their plan, make that policy, to charge libraries a fee for each time an e-book is lent out after the 26th time. The impact that this would have on the Public Libraries as a whole, at a time in which library funds are being slashed across the country, is staggering. The libraries, underfunded as they are, will have no choice but to pass the fees along to their patrons. Many will be unable to afford the fees. Let's examine that scenario for a moment.

Back when Benjamin Franklin began the library system, books were very expensive and not many people could afford them. That was the impetus behind creating a Public Library to begin with. It was a way to help the public learn, to broaden their horizons and soar among the words of the great philosophers, poets and essayists. It was a noble endeavor embarked upon by the need to have an educated populace, as ignorance serves no legitimate purpose in any society.

Fast forward a few hundred years to the 20th Century. Libraries were built with the help of the wealthy, for use by the less fortunate. Andrew Carnegie, pictured above, comes to mind as a prime example. For my entire life, and that of our parents, the Public Library has always been there for us. They have rolled with the times, adding music and videos to their collections, reflecting the changing culture of the times. And it has worked out rather well. There are now more literate people than at any time in our previous history. And we were able to accomplish that without charging fees.

Let's look at it this way, the average classroom size is about 35 students. Let's say the class is assigned to read "To Kill A Mockingbird." There are 4 copies of the book in the school library, 3 paper copies and 4 e-books in the Public Library. That's 11 copies for one class to share. Wait! I forgot! There's more than one school in the area of the library. So, that means that most of the students will have to purchase the book to satisfy the assignment. Not a very promising outlook, is it?

One can't help but wonder where this will all lead. As traditional paper books give way to the e-book, what will happen to those who can't afford the fees to read? What future is in store for a society in which books are reserved for those with money? Victorian England and Charles Dickens both come to mind. Remember the part in "Oliver Twist" when Oliver is charged with the theft of a book from a bookseller - there were no public libraries in England at the time - is that where we are heading?

Perhaps HarperCollins will be doing away with printed materials altogether, eschewing them in favor of a new technology which will reward them handsomely? It's not unthinkable that eventually HarperCollins will take their entire inventory to e-books, thus eliminating many titles from the Public Libraries, replacing them with e-books which will generate a greater profit.

I called HarperCollins in New York about 2 hours ago. I was passed along to 2 voice mails, and then upon my insistence was permitted to speak with a live human being, at no additional charge. This person took my name and number and promised to pass my message along. I will print the response here, should I ever receive one.

In the meantime, if you care about books, libraries and reading in general, do us all a favor and make the call to HarperCollins. Let them know how you feel about this new policy. You can reach them at 212-207-7000. And if you are reading anything by Sarah Palin, Michael Crichton or Anne Rice, please contact them and let them know it is time to change publishers.

The Boston Public Library, founded in the 1850's, was really the first library intentionally founded to lend books for free. And they got it right when they stated their mission and goals;

•There is a close linkage between knowledge and right thinking;

•The future of democracy is contingent on an educated citizenry;

•There is a strong correlation between the public library movement and public education;

•Every citizen has the right of free access to community-owned resources.

Monday, March 7, 2011

No Post Today

Due to conditions beyond my immediate control, there will be no post today. It's not always that easy to think of something to write about that will be of interest to myself, let alone anyone else. It usually means that I just need a day off to finish a book, watch a movie, take a drive. Something usually comes along to inspire a post. It could be that I'm just a bit lazy today. No matter, I'll be back tomorrow, with no idea about what I am going to post. I'll just have to check in and see...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"One Meat Ball" - Depression Era Songs


This is the Josh White version of the song "One Meat Ball" which was recorded during the Depression and chronicles the troubles of a man who has only 15 cents for a meal. His heart is set on meatballs, but he only has money enough for one. Unfortunately for him, "..you get no bread with one meatball..." There are several versions of this song. The first time I heard it was on a 78 RPM when I was about 4 years old. I believe it was by the Andrew Sisters.

ONE MEAT BALL
(L. Singer / H. Zaret)


Little man walked up and down,
To find an eatin' place in town.
He looked the menu thru and thru,
To see what fifteen cents might do.

CHORUS:
One meat ball,
One meat ball,
One meat ball,
All he could get was one meat ball.

He told that waiter near at hand,
The simple dinner he had planned.
The guests were startled one and all,
To hear that waiter loudly call.

Repeat CHORUS

Little man felt so ill at ease,
He said: "Some bread Sir, if you please."
The waiter hollered down the hall:
You get no bread with your one meat ball.

Little man felt so very bad,
One meat ball is all he had.
And in his dreams he can still hear that call
You get no bread with your one meat ball.


I've been cruising You Tube looking at, and listening to, some of the old songs that my parents had in the house. Kind of a trip down memory lane. "She Had To Go and Lose It at The Astor" is another record that I remember, and though I didn't know who played the song, through the magic of You Tube I have found it and am posting it here below. This song concerns a young society lady who stays out all night, much to the chagrin of her family. And when she does come home, she has lost the one thing most important to all young ladies of good breeding. Just who took it from her is the mystery.



SHE HAD TO GO AND LOSE IT AT THE ASTOR
(Don Ray / Hugh Prince)

Harry Roy & His Orch. (vocals: Bill Currie & Harry Roy) - 1939


SPOKEN: We'd like to tell you a story about a young girl, about
eighteen years old, about five feet two, and about to go out. Now,
her Mother, realising it was her first time out with a young man,
called her into the bedroom and said, "Minnie, you're all dressed
up in your finery, your very best clothes, and you look beautiful,
you're gorgeous, you're alluring (you look swell, baby), and now
Minnie I want you to remember everything I've always told you, and
above all I want you to be very, very careful.....

But she had to go and lose it at the Astor
She didn't take her mother's good advice.
Now there aren't so many girls today who have one
And she'd never let it go for any price

They searched the place from penthouse to the cellar
In every room and underneath each bed.
Once they thought they saw it lying on a pillow
But they found it belonged to someone else instead.

But she had to go and lose it at the Astor,
She didn't know exactly whom to blame
And she couldn't say just how or when she lost it
She only knew she had it when she came.

They questioned all the bellboys and the porter
The chef appeared to be the guilty guy
And the doorman also acted quite suspicious
But he coyly said, "I'm sure it wasn't I"

But she had to go and lose it at the Astor
It nearly killed her mother and her dad
Now they felt as bad about the thing as she did
After all it was the only one she had

They just about completed all their searching
When the chauffeur walked up with it in his hand
All they did was stand and gape, there was Minnie's sable cape,
And she thought that she had lost it at the Astor.


These old recordings take me back to my earliest years, when I had no cares of any kind, at least none of which I was aware. One day blended into the next with a certainty that can never be described to those who have not felt that way. My parents had stacks of old 78's which I devoured by the time I was 6. These songs were the stories which gave voice to the images in my mind. I saw, rather than merely heard these songs.

Listening to these old recordings reminds me of one of life's great truths; that though those days may be long gone, the sounds and memories, and the songs themselves, will live for a long, long time. Because they just don't write them like this anymore...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Happy Birthday Grant Pensinger!


Grant Pensinger, Sue's Dad, was 80 years old yesterday, and celebrated it with a big party in Westminter, Maryland today. About 80 people showed up, and Grant was clearly delighted with the attention, and affection, with which he was showered.

Happy 80th Grant! See you at the next one!

Gasoline - Rising Prices, Same Old Schemes

There is a new scheme making the rounds on the Internet to force the oil companies to lower their prices. It is, of course, pure folly. It is a variation on the old "don't buy gas for a day" protest that has been circulating for years now. This one was supposedly "thunk up" by a retired Coca Cola executive, probably the one who was responsible for the idea of changing Coca Cola a few years back, only to be forced to re-introduce "Classic" Coke when the plan failed.

Sorry to tell you, but it won't work- most of us don't buy Exxon or Mobil directly to begin with. I use a local station that charges a few cents less per gallon. If everyone stops buying from Exxon-Mobil, then Exxon-Mobil's cost of providing a gallon of gas will rise, and they will pass it on. The smaller companies, seeing a rise in their customer demand for fuel will do exactly as Exxon-Mobil would do, raise the prices in lockstep with one another. Besides which, gasoline is what is known as a fungible commodity, that is, one which is transferrable. So boycotting one company will do little more than cause the fuel not sold by that company to be bought by another company, and the cost of the transfer will go directly to the consumer, compounding the problem. Here is the link to the "scheme" and the analysis of it on Snopes.com;

http://www.snopes.com/politics/gasoline/gasout.asp

The same thing is happening all over the country now with water bills. The less you use - the more you pay- due to the added cost of having water treatment plants. The cost to run one is static, no matter the quantity of clean water produced and consumed. The only alternative is rationing, car pooling or getting a sense of urgency about developing alternative fuels that equals the way we got back in the car market after Japan blindsided us in the 1970's. (None of this happened after 9/11 so don't expect it to happen now.)

At this point, I would have to say that we are dancing to the fiddler's tune. Until the day that we are all willing to ration our use of gasoline, or car pool, as the country did in World War Two; the prices will continue to rise as an ever growing populace struggles to compete with an ever shrinking resource. Not to mention the politics, and money, involved.

In the meantime my 1996 Mitsubishi gets 30 mpg and has 195,000 miles on it. Long may she run!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ten Cents A Dance - Ruth Etting

If you've ever seen the movie "They Shoot Horses Don't They?" then you know about the dance marathons of the 1930's, where people who were desperate for money would literally dance until they dropped, the last couple standing being the winner.

There was also another kind of dancing that went on in the days of the Depression. These dances were held in dance halls, where there was a band playing, and women were available for dancing at the price of 10 cents. Sometimes these brief 10 cent dances became the precursor to a more sordid, physical type of transaction. The women who worked in these halls were, for the most part, normal, ordinary women looking to survive in abnormal economic times.

Ruth Etting captured the pathos of these women, and the times in which they lived, in her 1930 recording of the song "Ten Cents A Dance", written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. I couldn't find a video of her singing, but have posted the recording at the bottom of this page. Here are the sad and poignant lyrics to the song;

"Ten Cents a Dance" by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

I work at the Palace Ballroom,
but, gee that Palace is cheap;
when I get back to my chilly hall room
I'm much too tired to sleep.

I'm one of those lady teachers,
a beautiful hostess, you know,
the kind the Palace features
at exactly a dime a throw.

Ten cents a dance
that's what they pay me,
gosh, how they weigh me down!
Ten cents a dance
pansies and rough guys
tough guys who tear my gown!

Seven to midnight I hear drums.
Loudly the saxophone blows.
Trumpets are breaking my eardrums.
Customers crush my toes.

Sometimes I think
I've found my hero,
but it's a queer romance.
All that you need is a ticket
Come on, big boy, ten cents a dance.

Fighters and sailors and bowlegged tailors
can pay for a ticket and rent me!
Butchers and barbers and rats from the harbors
are sweethearts my good luck has sent me.

Though I've a chorus of elderly beaux ,
stockings are porous with holes in the toes.
I'm there till closing time,
Dance and be merry, it's only a dime.

Ten cents a dance
that's what they pay me,
gosh, how they weigh me down!
Ten cents a dance
pansies and rough guys
tough guys who tear my gown!

Seven to midnight I hear drums.
Loudly the saxophone blows.
Trumpets are breaking my eardrums.
Customers crush my toes.

Sometimes I think
I've found my hero,
but it's a queer romance.
All that you need is a ticket
Come on, big boy, ten cents a dance.