Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Ghost Fleets

This is one of the "Ghost Fleets" which are scattered about the United States. They consist of older naval ships in need of extensive repair, and in some cases, modernization of the operating systems aboard them. My old ship, the USS Milwaukee, was part of the ghost fleet in the James River until it was sold for scrap and dismantled about 2 years ago.

The Ghost Fleet pictured above, which is administered by the U.S. Maritime Administration, sits off Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia, right across from the Norfolk Naval Station, which is where the USS Milwaukee was homeported during my time aboard her. It was begun in 1919, after the hostilities of the First World War were over, and the troops shipped home. With so many ships idled there was nothing else to do but "mothball" them for future use, or sale as scrap. Some of those ships were used in the earliest days of the Second World War, when the United States was supplying the British with the materials of war under the "Lend Lease Act." We were actually buying time until we could build newer ships of our own to ferry men and supplies to Europe. England, with the aid of the Ghost Fleet, bought us that time.

By the end of World War Two, when the problem of too many ships presented itself once again, the Ghost Fleet numbered well over 700 ships. And that was just in Virginia! There were other Ghost Fleets, most memorably for me the one near Philadelphia, which my parents took us to see when I was about 10 years old.

During the Korean War some of the ships were actually used in atomic bomb testing in the Pacific. Others were used for target practice, which, once sunk, were turned into artificial reefs. Some of the other vessels were sold for scrap, while in 1964, 120 of the old Liberty Ships became "silos" for the surplus wheat our government had bought as a means of price control.

When Vietnam became a major conflict some of the older ships were pressed back into service for a bit before being sold off. By the end of the war there were only about 300 ships left. Today there are only 23 of these vessels left, nested together in groups of 2 and 3. Since 2001, more than 800 ships have been sold to keep pace with the goal of getting rid of the ones that leaked, or were about to start leaking, oil and PCB's into the James River. Obviously, that goal has been met.

I'm not sure how I feel about the demise of the Ghost Fleets. The past is always present, and history repeats itself much too often for my tastes. If it were up to me these ships would have remained in place, with appropriate maintenance to ensure their avalability in the future, should the need arise. But then again, there are "experts" who know more about this than I. I just read a lot of history. And of course, I'm not that objective, I just really loved those old ships.

Photo coutesy of kitsune @

http://www.kitsune.addr.com/

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thomas Cole - "The Course of Empire"

Thomas Cole is one of my favorite American landscape artists. He was born in England in 1801, arriving in America at age 18. He is most famous as one of the Hudson Valley landscape artists of the early 19th Century. His epic 4 painting work, "Journey of Life", done in duplicate, still stands as one of the best series of paintings on the subject of man's mortality.

Earlier in his remarkable, though short lived career; he passed away in 1848 at the age of 47; he was commissioned to create a series of 5 oil paintings that would depict the course of an Empire. The man who commissioned the work was Luman Reed, a successful merchant and a patron of some of America's earliest artists.

When you look at these paintings it is important to remember the time in which they were done. The early part of the 19th century was witness to the rise of democracy and self rule on a scale that had never been achieved. It was a time of intense optimism. To my eye, Mr. Cole was giving us a warning as to where our path would inevitably lead us; back to the beginning. A quick look at the news of the day suggests that he may have been on to something...

In this first painting of the series, "The Savage State", Cole depicts a wilderness environment. A buckskin clad hunter and Native Americans in canoes are depicted as living off the land. There is a dark quality to the painting, almost as if we are at the beginning of something greater.


In this second painting, titled "The Pastoral State", things are more ordered in appearance and you can sense the coming of something better. An old man drawing in the dirt with a stick, perhaps planning a building, and children playing and dancing all indicate an ordered way of life. Peace abounds.


The third painting, "The Consummation of Empire", is filled with the light of the noonday sun. Man is at his acme, seen as Rome, with all of it's splendor. Abundance, along with decadence, have replaced the "Pastoral State." The whole depiction is one of man as "King" over all that he sees.


In this fourth painting, "Destruction", the city is under siege and in flames. The bridge is almost at it's breaking point and the statue with no head seems to be urging the throngs forward. The only questions here are, where he is leading them, and why do they obey?


In the final painting, "Desolation", the sun has set, and the city-state is in ruins. All of the structures are being reclaimed by nature, and there are no people to be seen. All the "kings" are gone, along with all of their perceived accomplishments. The moon is rising, indicating that night, or darkness, has begun to settle on the land. This is the culmination of all of man's efforts to rule supreme.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"When Did You Leave Heaven"

This is a song that I first heard in the early 1960's, once again on WOR-TV in New York. It was in a musical called "Sing, Baby, Sing" from 1936, written by Richard Whiting and Walter Bullock. The song has been recorded by scores of artists over the years, including Big Bill Broonzy, Louis Armstrong, Pat Boone, Bob Dylan and even Jools Holland from Squeeze. My favorite is the unreleased version by Eric Clapton.

Here is a video link, courtesy of you tube, with Eric Clapton singing these lyrics on a train in 1978, while crossing America on tour. The embedding was disabled so I can only post the link;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDrMKfYdF-A&feature=related

When Did You Leave Heaven

When did you leave Heaven?
How did they let you go?
How did you leave Heaven?
I’d really like to know.

Why did you trade Heaven,
For all these Earthly things?
Where did you leave your Halo?
And where did you leave your wings?

Haven’t they missed you?
And can you get back in?
And if I dared kiss you,
Would it be a sin?

I am only human,
You are so divine.
Why did you leave Heaven?
Angel of mine.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Plundered"















I see the globe
I used to trod,
Standing,
In the corner of the room
And ponder.

The photograph of me
Legs askew,
Standing
On a ship’s deck long ago.
And wonder.

At myself today,
Seated.
In my later years.
All strength within me
plundered.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Pictures of Matchstick Men" by Status Quo



I was passsing through the living room the other night and heard this song on the TV and could not believe my ears. I just 13 years old in the fall of 1967 when this record came out. It blew me away, changing the way I would look at music forever. This was around the same time as Jimi Hendrix went to England, and part of the sound he absorbed in the creation of his own unique, and unmatched style.

But what really blew me away the other night was that this song is now a commercial for one of the big box stores! Not bad for grabbing the attention of baby boomers like myself. I happen to have this on my flash drive and listen to it often in the car. I posted the you tube for the benefit of those who don't know that the new Target commercial is a 44 year old song by Staus Quo! The lyrics by Francis Rossi are Psychedelic poetry at it's best. He claims to have written it while hiding from his wife and mother in law in the bathroom. This quote is from Wikipedia; "I wrote it on the bog. I'd gone there, not for the usual reasons...but to get away from the wife and mother-in-law. I used to go into this narrow freezing toilet and sit there for hours, until they finally went out. I got three quarters of the song finished in that khazi. The rest I finished in the lounge."

Listen to the bass runs. The only other bassists playing this style at the time were Jack Bruce, Paul McCartney and John Entwistle. Enjoy the video- the summer of love is back!

Pictures of Matchstick Men by Francis Rossi

When I look up to the sky
I see your eyes a funny kind of yellow
I rush home to bed I soak my head
I see your face underneath my pillow
I wake next morning, tired, still yawning
See your face come peeping through my window

Pictures of matchstick men and you
Pictures of matchstick men and you
All I ever see is them and you

Windows echo your reflection
When I look in their direction now
When will this haunting stop?
Your face it just won't leave me alone

Pictures of matchstick men and you
Mirages of matchstick men and you
All I ever see is them and you

You in the sky, you with this guy
You make men cry, you lie
You in the sky, you with this guy
You make men cry, you lie

Pictures of matchstick men and
Pictures of matchstick men and you
Pictures of matchstick men ....

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Alphaville" by Michael Cordella and Bruce Bennett


Mr. Cordella has, with this book, given us a look not only at the decay of New York City during the 1970's as a whole, but also a close up look at the Housing Authority and the mammoth job it takes to police it. He even takes us back to some of the early efforts to reform the poor on the Lower East Side, an area he would come to know well as a member of the New York Housing Authority Police. He also offers some insight into just how things got so messed up in what was designed to be a "utopian" project by Robert Moses back in the 1930's. It was idealistic in it's design, but flawed in that it cut people off from the community at large, becoming a vertical city all it's own.

The original residents who lived in the "projects", as they came to be known, were Italian, Jewish and Irish. They moved up and out. Replacing those groups were people who came from the Puerto Rican and the African-American migrations of the late 1940's through the early 1960's. Along with this changing demographic came the drug trade.

The book is written in an engaging fashion, with alternating chapters about the authors life leading up to his career as a Police Officer, and chapters about the projects, their unique set of rules for survival in a vertical jungle, and the politics that drove it all to where it is today. The land speculation of the late 1970's, which gave way to the revitilization of these blighted areas is not ignored here, but rather explored. Was it justifiable to price the poor out in order to create a tax base?

The author goes on to explain just how the Knapp Commission, and the politics, of the late 1960's further weakened any efforts at law enforcement. While corruption and vice raged all about, by the early 1980's the AIDS epidemic had reared it's head, further victimizing those on the bottom rungs of society, while the politicians and social engineers took almost 7 years to start a simple needle exchange program in an epidemic environment.

Using informants, and taking names in an effort to shut down one of the biggest dealers on the Lower East Side, the author manages to put a small dent in a problem of Biblical proportions.

An engaging portrait of a city in upheaval, and denial, this book puts you on the front lines of the failed War on Drugs, from Coney Island to the Lower East Side. If you grew up in New York City during those years, or even if you didn't, this book will take you beyond "NYPD Blue", "Homicide" and all the rest of the usual cop shows, giving you a ringside seat into the thoughts and actions behind the "War on Drugs." Be careful, you may not like what you read.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sqeeze - "Labelled With Love" - 1982 Live



I was going to write something about pop music and how the words are like the paints used by traditional artists. Then I ran across this country ballad by Squeeze, an English band from the late 1970's and early 80's. They still tour today, and Jools Holland, the founding member, is finally back on keyboards. As for the vocals, well Glenn Tilbrook still sounds exactly the same as in this 1982 live performance of "Labelled With Love." By the time this performance was filmed, Holland had already left the band. I saw them once in Spain, with Jools Holland, it was the first time I'd ever heard of them. This was about 1979 or so. They were fantastic.

What I really like about this song is the full range of imagery that Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford have displayed in their writing. The song is from the 1981 album "East Side Story." You can actually see and feel the cold chill of an English winter as this old woman struggles through each year, pawning her valuables to keep the electric on. I can smell the cat piss. And when she reminisces about having married the soldier and moving to America, I can feel the desert heat and see the trailer they probably lived in, though it is never mentioned.

Chris Difford had this to say about how he arrived at the lyrics, after seeing a photograph of an old woman sitting at a bar in Paris in the 1930's; "'Labeled With Love' was an adult lyric in a way that the older generation could latch on to and understand. My mother absolutely loved it. The story is about the end of a relationship after the war. I'd been reading about American soldiers in Britain during the war who married English girls and whisked them off their feet to the States."

As with all of their collaborations, Tilbrook and Difford are among the more visual of the "pop" writers to emerge from the 60's style of songwriting. Together they bridged the "punk" rock years, and Squeeze became one of the bands that kept "pop" alive through the 1980's. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video as much as I do. Here's the lyrics;

"Labelled With Love" - Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford

She unscrews the top of her new whisky bottle,
And shuffles around in her candle-lit hovel.
Like some kind of witch with blue fingers in mittens,
She smells like the cat and the neighbours she sickens.
The black and white T.V. has long seen a picture,
The cross on the wall is a permanent fixture.
The postman delivers the final reminders,
She sells off the silver and poodles of china.

Drinks to remember I, me and myself
Winds up the clock, and knocks dust from the shelf.
Home is a love that I miss very much,
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love.

During the wartime an American pilot
Made every air-raid a time of excitement.
She moved to his prairie and married the Texan,
She learnt from a distance how love was a lesson.
He became drinker and she became mother,
She knew that one day she’d be one or the other.
He ate himself older, and drank himself dizzy,
Proud of her features she kept herself pretty..

Drinks to remember I, me and myself,
Winds up the clock, and knocks dust from the shelf.
Home is a love that I miss very much,
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love.

He like a cowboy died drunk in a slumber,
Out on the porch in the middle of summer.
She crossed the ocean back home to her family,
But they had retired to roads that were sandy.
She moved home alone without friends or relations,
Lived in a world full of aged reservations.
On moth-eaten armchairs, she’d say that she’d sod-all
The friends who had left her to drink from the bottle.

Drinks to remember I, me and myself,
Winds up the clock, and knocks dust from the shelf.
Home is a love that I miss very much,
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Jenkin's Grave" - and Mrs. Denslow


The poem above was written in 1965. I still remember writing it- though not as clumsily as it reads 46 years later. My teacher in 5th grade was Mrs. Christine H. Denslow, a saintly woman if there ever was one. She wore her grey hair in a braid coiled on the top of her head, and took an interest in everyone of her students.

When my Mom was ill, and I was having problems in class, Mrs. Denslow took the extra time to visit my home, talk with my parents, and generally made me feel that my future actually mattered to her.

At times, her husband, who was a naturalist of some kind, would bring reptiles and snakes to class. Mrs. Denslow made sure that we all touched and felt them, dispelling the myths that all reptiles are slimy and dirty. The life's lesson was clear to me then, as it still is today. You don't fear the things which you know nothing about. You take the time to learn about them, removing the fear of the unknown.

There weren't many teachers like her then, and I suppose the same is true now. So, 46 years later I have reworked this poem into a short, and botanically correct version of the original. I wish Mrs. Denslow were still around. I'd send her a copy.

Jenkin's Grave - 2011

Jenkin's grave is a cursed one, indeed.
For only one single flower has grown from the seeds,
scattered there by mourners
who all came out to grieve.
Jenkin's grave is a cursed one, indeed!

He wasn't just a sad man,
but a bad man, I believe.
And it was so surprising
to see anybody grieve.

Jenkin's grave is a cursed one, indeed.
For only one single flower has grown from the seeds,
scattered there by mourners
who all came out to grieve.
Jenkin's grave is a cursed one, indeed!

Now, I’m not superstitious,
But I think that you’ll agree.
Jenkin’s grave is a cursed one, indeed!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Perfect Moment

The car turned 200,000 miles today. I can't take credit for all of those miles, having bought the vehicle with something like 125,000 miles on it. But in the last 3 and a half years, this $2,600 automobile has ferried me around flawlessly, leaving me stranded only 3 times. Twice was in my driveway, in need of a new battery, and once, in a parking lot when I had the engine off and the music on for a long time. I pulled out my cables and had it jumped before AAA ever got there.

I have calculated the cost of operating my 1996 Mitsubishi Galant, and find it to be really cheap when compared to buying, or leasing, anything else. It gets between 25 to 30 miles per gallon, depending on several factors. It has taken me on trips into the mountains, as well as just going into town while shopping. The total cost per mile to own and operate this car, including gas, is about 28 cents per mile. Gas is by far the most expensive portion of this, averaging about 14-15 cents per mile, based on about $3.78 per gallon and a 27 mile per gallon average. In other words, half of the cost to operate this vehicle for 75,000 miles has been spent on gas!

It's really a perfect moment when you watch the numbers roll over. I tried to take the picture while driving, but it came out a bit blurry, so I took this one after I pulled over. Probably a good idea if I want the car to get to 250,000 miles. Beyond that, well, let's just say that we're taking it 50,000 miles at a time...

"Trees" by Joyce Kilmer


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

The author of this wonderful poem was born Alfred Joyce Kilmer on December 6, 1886 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and passed away during the fighting in the Second Battle of the Marne on July 30, 1918. He was a member of New York's famed "Fighting 69th". Known as an American journalist, poet, critic, and editor, he had already made his mark upon the world when he died at age 31.

Though he is mostly remembered for the above poem "Trees", which he wrote in 1913, he was a most prolific writer, and appears frequently in anthologies of American poetry. Although most critics consider his work too simple, I have always found his words to be direct and compact. I find his style akin to Haiku poetry, where less often means more. He was the workingman's Wordsworth, easily understood by all.

I grew up just a few short blocks from Sgt. Joyce Kilmer Square on Kings Highway and East 12th Street in Brooklyn, New York. There used to be an Armed Forces Recruiting Station located there. Perhaps that is why I have always held his works in such high regard.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Ernie" - Worth Waiting For


Some things are worth waiting for, and this is one of them. About 14 months ago I reviewed Ernest Borgnine's autobiography here and sent a copy of it to an obscure "snail mail" address in Beverly Hills. I usually send an e-mail copy, or link, to the person I have written about, but in Mr. Borgnine's case it was only posssible to Twitter him. I don't Twitter, finding it impossible to keep within the boundaries of characters, or words, allowed. I am what might be referred to as verbose. In other words, I talk a lot. And I write the same way, the comma being my best friend in that regard.

I did not expect to hear anything back from Mr. Borgnine, and had filed the whole thing in the back of my mind. And that's a very remote place. Ideas that go into that area are often never heard from again. So when the above arrived back to me by snail mail, 14 months after the fact, I was, to say the least, surprised. And to put it another way, I was thrilled.

This is not just a note from Ernest Borgnine, this is a direct link to characters such as Marty from the film of the same name, or Fatso Judson of "From Here to Eternity", Tom Hurley from "The Catered Affair", and Dutch Engstrom from "The Wild Bunch." Most people will undoubtedly remember Mr. Borgnine for his role as the beleaguered skipper of "McHale's Navy", which ran for several years on television in the mid 1960's. But thanks to WOR-TV, and other stations that played older movies, I will always think of him as one, if not all, of the aforementioned characters.

Today's generation will also remember him for his voiceovers with Tim Conway in "Sponge Bob Squarepants." No matter, whatever genre you place him in over the 6 decades that he has been working in entertainment, he has excelled at all of them, including as an author with his autobiography "Ernie", which I reviewed here last year. And that's what made his reply so unexpected. And more than welcome. You can read the original review of that book here;

http://robertwilliamsofbrooklyn.blogspot.com/2010/04/ernie-autobiography-by-ernest-borgnine.html

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Crustacean and the Bank Incident

Sandwiched, as it is, between Memorial day and the July 4th holiday, is Father's Day. I had completely forgotten about it until last Thursday evening, when Sue and I were eating out. I was looking at the lobsters in the tank at the restaurant while talking on the phone with my daughter Sarah. She asked me what I wanted for Father's day, and, eyeing the lobsters, I made an off handed remark to the effect that I wanted a Crustacean.

Well, you know the old saying, "Be careful what you wish for." Yesterday evening Sarah and my son in law, Mike, stopped by to give me a Father's day gift. Imagine my surprise at receiving not one, but two hermit crabs, which are, after all, Crustaceans, though not as filling as lobster. No matter, dinner had passed and I wasn't hungry at the moment.

They came with a ten gallon tank and some shells and coconut fiber for their home. But I'm not really sure what I am going to do with them just yet. I might let them roam about the house freely, as I did with a couple of hermit crabs I bought for our kids at the beach years ago. I took them everywhere, the crabs I mean.

I used to let them roam about the house at will, sometimes not seeing them for weeks at a time. Then, just like kids, they would appear and embarass you at the most unexpected times. Initially people think they are looking at a spider of some sort when they first come out from under the sofa. Accordingly, they freak out a bit. But when I talk to them softly, the crabs calm down almost immediately.

By far the funniest thing I have ever done with a hermit crab involved the bank and the drive thru window. I used to work in Cockeysville, Maryland for an outfit called Anthem. I was the Estimator and also did the banking. At the time I used to carry one, or more, hermit crabs with me, placing them in my jacket pocket unti I needed them to do something. I cannot recall ever actually having used them for anything important, but the bank incident still stands out.

I was making a deposit of some checks to cover payroll and decided to use the drive thru lane rather than go inside the bank. Carefully placing my hermit crab in the carrier of the pneumatic tube, I sent my deposit, along with the crab, on what must have been, for the crab, something akin to a space shot.

"Whoosh", went the tube, sucking the carrier to it's destination inside the bank! The teller, with whom I was well acquainted, spoke into her microphone, "Hello, welcome to B, B and T." Then she opened the carrier and out came the deposit and a seashell. As she was recording the deposit and getting the receipt ready, the shell began to move. There was a slight exclamation of surprise as she realized what was happening, and then uncontrollable laughter as the crab was launched on it's return journey to my car.

So now, thanks to my joking about on the phone, and my daughter's sense of humor, I have two crustaceans roaming about the house. The last ones I had were about 15 years or so ago. I remember that one of them didn't do stairs well, while the other used to go behind the sofa and shrug it's shell off for a bit. I got it an even bigger shell, one with a guest room, but he didn't care for it much and stuck with the older, smaller one until he finally passed away from fright. Sue's parent's had come over with some crabs for a crab feast and I had placed him on the table as a joke. I'm afraid that he didn't get it, and thinking that his end was near, he siezed up and died right on the spot. Though no autopsy was performed, I have always maintained that he died of fright. I could be wrong, he may have simply been allergic to shellfish.

"Confessions of a Wandering Man" by Louis L'Amour


This book, by one of America's most prolific authors, was first published in 1989. This is my third time reading it. Louis L'Amour is best known for his paperback Western novels, which can be found on any ship at sea, or on any military base in the world. They are easily read, packed with excitement, and the good guy always wins. I never liked them much, picking them up only when nothing else was available to read. Still, the author himself was intriquing to me. He had, apparently, done all of the things he wrote about in his books. That really interested me. The idea that his fiction was part fact made me very interested in the man himself.

Not just a writer of Western novels, Mr. L'Amour also wrote short stories and some poetry and non-fiction. His memoir is one of my all time favorites. In it he recounts most of his adventures as a seaman, rodeo rider, and hobo. There is even a fascinating section on the difference betwen hobo's, tramps and bums.

At age 17 he was in Singapore while his high school class was holding graduation in Jamestown, North Dakota. The education which Mr. L'Amour received aboard ship, in lieu of high school, was to prove more valuable to him than any classroom could have ever been.

This book was reprinted in 2008 and contains some new photographs not seen before. They offer even more insight into the world of the author. The list of books and plays that he read while traveling, also give the reader a unique perspective on what influenced Mr. L'Amour's own writing, beyond his travel experiences.

But, the most important lesson impatred by the author in this memoir is that education is available everywhere, everyday, in some form. All you have to do is reach out for it and it can be yours.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wendell Berry: "Manifesto"

Wendell Berry was born on August 5th, 1934, in Kentucky. He is best known as an American man of letters, political activist, and a farmer. He has written countless novels, short stories and poems. He is a recipient of The National Humanities Medal. He has even been quoted on TV's "Law and Order" in the episode starring Robin Williams. In that show, Mr. Williams, acting as his own defense counsel, quotes from the following poem, which made me an instant fan of Mr. Wendell's. I have italized the portion which was quoted, so aptly, in that episode.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.


When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Blogging a Star (Light Years and Robert Todd Lincoln)

Some of the stars we see each night have been dead for millions of years, so far away that their light still reaches us. We measure this distance in light years, and immortalize it the lines of plays, such as "The Petrified Forest", where Leslie Howard emotes over them in his famous soliloquy in that film. Blogs are kind of like that, too.

Most of my daily "hits" are not connected to that days post at all, rather they are a composition of peolpe searching for information on a particular subject. That some find my posts useful is really cool. That some even come back again is truly amazing. Seriously, some of the most popular things that people read on here were written almost 2 years ago!

Robert Todd Lincoln still leads the pack each month. Who'd have guessed that one! This guy has a real following. Were he alive today he would undoubtedly be a King on Twitter. Ronnie Dunn is always in a faithful second place, with his hit "Bleed Red." This was another surprise, since, at the time, I threw it on because I like the song, and wanted the day off.

But my point is this, the ideas which you impart, or the words you speak today are never lost. They, like the stars, go on shining, some longer and brighter than others, but all go on shining just the same. So, some of these things may not be read years until years from now, long after I am gone. How cool is that? And though I think I have written about this before, I still find it amazing.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Rolling Stones - "Far Away Eyes"



The Rolling Stones have never been ashamed of their fondness for country music. All of their albums contain at least one country music song. From "Exiles On Mainstreet", with "Sweet Virginia", to "Beggar's Banquet", with "Prodigal Son", the Rolling Stones have always paid homage to their country influences. Let's not forget "Country Honk" from 1969's "Let It Bleed", which was the original version of "Honky Tonk Women." Sometimes, as in this 1978 MTV video of "Far Away Eyes", from the album "Some Girls", this homage has been a bit tongue in cheek. But no one does country as well as some of the English bands, like Squeeze, or even Pete Townshend with Ronnie Lane on their 1977 album "Rough Mix."

Me, I just want the day off, so enjoy the video. It's one of my favorites. Watch Jagger's facial expressions, as well as the bored look upon the faces of Charlie Watts, while he keeps the beat, and Bill Wyman, who is primarily a jazz bassist, as he leads the band. The lyrics are also a treat.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Millard Fillmore" by Paul Finkleman


Millard Fillmore is one of the least studied of the US Presidents. Yet, the years in which he served were marked by some of the main decisions and mistakes, that would lead to the Civil War. By 1844 the Whig Party was just about finished. The divisions in the country had become so sharply defined concerning slavery, that a new Party was formed. It was called the American Party, or the American Anti Catholic Party, and later on the Know Nothings. This is interesting in that the political situation in America today is almost the same. The biggest difference is that instead of the Know Nothing Party, today we have the Tea Party.

Millard Fillmore was not opposed to slavery, nor to it's expansion into the new territories and states. This was a most highly charged issue, which arose from the Founding Father's neglect to abolish slavery, leaving it, like today's National Debt, swinging in the wind for future generations to tackle. The band aids of the Missouri Compromise, and the Fugitive Slave Act, among others, merely served to stoke the flames of discontent that would eventually erupt into a full blown conflict which still defines our nation today.

Some of the most interesting parts of this book concern my own native state of New York, and New York City in particular. Governor Seward, who would later go on to purchase Alaska from Russia during the Lincoln Administration, repealed the 1799 Nine Months Law, which allowed Southerners visiting the free state of New York, to bring their servants with them, and then take them home again, like property. After 1841 this law was no longer valid. There were many free states who were beginning to ignore the Constitutional requirement to honor the laws of the Southern States where slavery was concerned. (The Full Faith and Credit stautes, under Artcle 4 in the Constitution, required that they do so.)

In 1852, while Fillmore was in the White House, New York freed 8 slaves who had been locked up overnight in a hotel room while their owner waited for a ship. This case was known as Lemmon vs. the People. During this same time, Governor Seward refused to extradite 3 Seaman who helped a slave stowaway aboard their ship, landing in New York. Virginia took the position that the slave was stolen, and that the 3 men had aided and abetted in this crime. New York took the position that human beings are not property and hence no crime was committed. When rebuked by the State of Virginia, Seward skillfully argued that Virginia's own stance on States Rights applied to New York as well, and since New York did not recognize slavery, there could be no extradition. Virginia withdrew it's claim.

A very thoroughly researched book, this is a must read in understanding just how we got to the tragedy of the Civil War, and how it still affects us as a nation today. Filled with the type of history not taught in school, this book further proves the assertion that "the only thing new is the history you don't know."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Adam's Apples" with Ulrich Thomsen and Mads Mikkelsen


This is one of the best films I have ever read. A man, Adam Pedersen, played by Ulrich Thomsen, is newly released from prison into the custody of an overly optimistic Priest, named Ivan, and finds himself torn between admiration for the man, and blind hatred. Ivan, played by Mads Mikkelsen, has a son; the child is suffering from MS and bound to a wheelchair. Ivan treats his child with the same love and expectations which any father would show towards their offspring. He talks with him as though there were nothing wrong. His willingness to ignore all the evil in his life drives Adam crazy! This is not comical type crazy, this is pure hatred.

Adam is asked to take on a goal. He states that he wishes to bake a pie, using apples from the tree in the churchyard. Ivan consents to this arrangment, aware that Adam is merely trying to make a fool of him.

Slowly, as Adam's anger at Ivan's seeming indifference to hardship mounts, his anger bursts, causing an ugly confrontation which has surprising results. Which is the stronger of the two; faith, or hatred?

Directed with great sensitivity by Anders Thomas Jensen, who also wrote the script, this is a film you will want to visit again, even after you have seen it once. Though the film is in Danish, you will forget that you are reading within 5 minutes of starting this remarkable film.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Happy Flag Day and the 49 Star Flag


Back in 1959, when I was in Kindergarten, Alaska had just been admitted to the Union, bringing the total number of stars on the flag to 49. Notice the pattern of the alternating rows of stars. Four and three, repeated seven times, for a total of 49 stars. It wouldn't last long though, and so most Americans have never seen a 49 star flag.

In 1959, when this flag was released on July 4th, Hawaii was already on it's way to becoming the 50th State within a year's time. This posed quite a burden on the Public Schools in New York City, where I lived at the time. Imagine replacing every flag, in every classroom, in every school! Now imagine the enormous expense involved in such an endeavor.

The solution was easy, the school system simply waited out the summer months and the 50 star flag did not make it's appearance in my school until the following year, when Hawaii was admitted into the Union.

So many people are unaware of this unusual flag, and today is Flag Day, so I thought it would be colorful, and informative, to display it here. Happy Flag Day!

I Try Not To, But They Make It So Easy....

I try, I really do, so hard to remain on the political sidelines, but they make it so easy that sometimes you just have to take a poke at 'em. And I mean ALL of them. Republicans and Democrats, alike. This time it just happens to be an e-mail from the White House, with Joe Biden talking about duplication of expenses and the burgeoning amount of government websites that could all be consolidated as one, that has me provoked. It's a great idea! But the letter ends with the oppurtunity to sign up for a new government website to track the progress of cutting government waste. You cannot make this stuff up! It's like that commercial that always ends with - "Priceless."

Here is the exchange, beginning with the White House e-mail, then my reply (I actually do reply to these things) and then the automated response saying they can't take my response at this website- go to another one. Remember, this is YOUR government, hard at work, spending YOUR money.

--- On Mon, 6/13/11, Vice President Joe Biden, The White House wrote:

From: Vice President Joe Biden, The White House
Subject: There's a new sheriff in town
To: robertrswwilliams@yahoo.com
Date: Monday, June 13, 2011, 3:21 PM

Good morning,

Did you know that the government spends millions to maintain buildings that have sat vacant for years? Or that your tax dollars pay to needlessly ship copies of the Federal Register to thousands of government offices across the country even though the same information is available online?

And I bet you didn't know that your tax dollars pay for a website dedicated to the Desert Tortoise. I'm sure it's a wonderful species, but we can't afford to have a standalone site devoted to every member of the animal kingdom. It's just one of hundreds of government websites that should be consolidated or eliminated.

This kind of waste is just unacceptable. Particularly at a time when we’re facing tough decisions about reducing our deficit, it's a no-brainer to stop spending taxpayer dollars on things that benefit nobody.

That’s why President Obama asked me to head up the Campaign to Cut Waste—a new effort to root out wasteful spending at every agency and department in the Federal Government.

Like millions of American families, the Federal Government has to take a hard look at spending and live within its means. Most of these cuts we’re going to make are small. They won’t close our deficit or solve all of our fiscal problems. However, no amount of waste is acceptable, and these cuts will add up over time. This year alone we’ve found $33 billion in savings, but we know there’s a lot more work to be done.

When we passed the Recovery Act back in 2009, President Obama insisted that we use that program to set a new standard in government transparency and accountability. And he appointed me as “Sheriff Joe” to make sure the job gets done.

Now, there were a lot of naysayers back then who said that there was no way we could implement the Recovery Act without massive waste, fraud and abuse.

You know what? They were wrong. Thanks to our diligence (and some help from advanced computer models and sophisticated data analysis), the Recovery Act has had an unprecedentedly low level of fraud, with less than 0.6% of all awards experiencing any waste or abuse.

There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t apply these same principles and techniques to all government spending.

And that’s exactly what I intend to do with the help of a new Government Accountability and Transparency Board, a group composed of independent inspectors general and high-level agency officials who will help me root out waste, fraud and abuse across the government. Helping me ensure that your tax dollars are being spent on things that matter, like investments in education, innovation and improving our infrastructure.

So, folks, we’re changing the way your government does business (and spends your hard-earned tax dollars), and I think you’re going to like the results.

Sincerely,

Vice President Joe Biden

P.S. If you’re interested in keeping up with our progress in hunting down wasteful spending, you can sign up for regular email updates.

This email was sent to robertrswwilliams@yahoo.com.
Unsubscribe robertrswwilliams@yahoo.com | Privacy Policy

The White House • 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW • Washington, DC 20500 • 202-456-1111

Here is my response;

Re: There's a new sheriff in town
Monday, June 13, 2011 6:31 PM
From: This sender is DomainKeys verified"Robert Williams" View contact details
To: "The White HouseVice President Joe Biden"
Cc: "robert williams"

Honorable Vice President Biden,

It is unimaginable that you begin this missive by calling out the myriad of goverment websites, that should all be consolidated into one, and then finish by asking us to join yet ANOTHER government website, in direct conflict with your stated goal. I will be publishing this e-mail, along with yours, which was paid for by me, on my blog. This is something I could not have made up!

Incidentally, I was a life long Democrat until the party drove me away. I am an Independent voter at the present time. Good luck with all that you do, but please, think before you hit the send button. You harm your own cause when you do not.

Respectfully,

Robert Williams
10865 River Oaks Drive NW
Concord, NC 28027
http://robertwilliamsofbrooklyn.blogspot.com/

Here is their reply;

Flag this message
The White House Auto-Response Message
Monday, June 13, 2011 6:32 PM
From: "The White House"
Add sender to Contacts
To: robertrswwilliams@yahoo.com

Due to the high volume of messages received at this address, the White House is unable to process the email you just sent. To contact the White House, please visit:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

Thank you.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Myra's Ice Cream - Valdese, North Carolina

This is Myra's Ice Cream in Valdese, North Carolina. With the neon signs, and REAL ice cream, you know, the kind you actually have to scoop, this is the Americana which Rick Lassiter was driving at in his book and documentary film "Our Vanishing Americana."

Talking with some of the local residents, who are longtime inhabitants of the town, you find that back in 1958, when Myra's first opened as a Tastee Freeze, this was the place to go on Friday nights. Myra's is like the typical malt shop you see in "American Graffiti", or the malt shop in "Happy Day's." The only difference is that this is the real thing. If only the walls could talk, they would tell tales of ducktails, bobby socks, hot rods and kids going steady. The juke box is new, but I bet the old one had better music. The Platters, Elvis, Shangri-La's, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Mills Brothers, have all passed through this place. You can almost hear it.

Sue, and I, were up in Valdese yesterday, it's about 70 miles from our house, to look about the historical town, which was founded by a sect of Christians who were persecuted in Northwestern Italy for their beliefs. First settled in 1895, the town is a beautiful example of the era in which it was founded. Miraculously, it has survived all the urban renewal and big box stores that line the Inetersate, which runs nearby. It's a long way to go for a malt, but the pleasure of stepping back in time is worth the trip. Don't I look happy?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Pecs" - A Sexual Inequality

Pecs: Slang for the pectoral muscles, muscles of the "anterior chest" (the front of the chest). The Latin "pectus" means "chest."

That's the definition of "pecs". I don't have any, never did, even when I ran about 14 miles a day and did a hundred push-ups each mile, I never developed "pecs." But this is not about me, nor my lack of "pecs". It is an observation which I have made recently, and while it's not really disturbing in any way, it does lend creedence to the question of whether we can ever achieve true sexual equality.

Lately, I have overheard men telling other men how much they admired the other's "pecs." No problem there, I'm not homophobic, or anti-gay. Just curious about this custom and how it plays out in the social sphere where men and women are involved.

Imagine this scenario, if you will; Marvin is at the gym and he tells Adam, "Nice pecs." Adam is pumped! After all, he's been working hard on those muscles, looking for that definition and form reminiscent of Superman. Nearby, in the same gym, are several women working out. They can tell Adam he has nice "pecs." No problem there. Adam is now preening like a Peacock! This woman has commented on his terrific "pecs." Adam is now feeling like a stud!

Now try the reverse. Adam and Marvin,(remember Marvin?) are both working out and notice that Trish is looking fit in the area of her "pecs." Seeking to compliment her, Adam approaches and says, "Hey Trish, Nice pecs!" Whack! Slapped in the face like a red headed stepchild! And she has good "pecs" so the blow hurts. What went wrong?

I have never heard a woman comment on another woman's "pecs." They have them, of course, but you just can't work it into a conversation. It's kind of like having Howard Stern tell a woman, "Great rack!" The only difference is that the women who seek out the compliments of Howard Stern are not really interested in their physical prowess. They are more interested in being the next centerfold somewhere. The women who work out for health reasons are different. They have a legimate goal which they are pursuing. The question is how to compliment a woman who is achieving her goal in this area without getting smacked.

With no real "pecs" of my own to boast about, this is not an issue which is of grave concern to me. No one is going to comment on my pecs, unless they are asking, "What happened to your pecs man?" I can't imagine being back in high school and having had a friend say something about my "pecs." I can imagine the sound of a wine bottle being broken over their head! But times have changed, and men commenting on men's bodies is no longer taboo in today's society. I just wish the ERA would get passed. There are several women out here with nice "pecs." They need to know that their efforts are not in vain, but rather appreciated by all.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The New Patio


Rooftop has moved outdoors! They say it's unhealthy to breathe the air, but after being in most of the winter, my old bones are enjoying the heat. Our new patio was completed yesterday and I am already sitting comfortably outside reading, drinking sweet tea, of course. And they say that's bad for me, too.

The new patio is a gift from me to Sue, or Sue to me, or perhaps a gift to one another. It doesn't really matter. We both love it. At 300 square feet it's not the biggest patio on the planet, but the worn rumble stone pavers lend a little softness to the yard, plus it cuts down on the area we need to mow.

So, when you think of me, and where I am, this is probably the spot where I will be doing most of my summer reading. It's not too far from home and the traffic's not bad at all.

Friday, June 10, 2011

"I Am a Fugitive From the Georgia Chain Gang" by Robert E. Burns


When Robert Burns mustered out of the Army in 1919 he was elated. He had no idea what lay in store for him after having volunteered to fight for his country. If he had, he probably would've stayed in France! This is the book that spawned so many movies, including the classic "I am a Fugitive From A Chain Gang", which starred Paul Muni. The whole layout of the film "Cool Hand Luke" with Paul Newman is here, as is the story outline for "The Defiant Ones", which starred Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis.

Wandering about with no money, and with no job prospects, Mr. Burns found himself living the life of a tramp, or hobo. When he left for the war he was making $50 a week- when he returned he could only find work for 40 cents an hour, a whopping $17.50 per week. Finding himself down and out leaves him in despair. When approached by two men with the promise of a good job, he readily accepted the offer, not knowing the true nature of the work. It turned out to be a pawn shop robbery that netted them all of $5.80, as well as changing the course of Mr. Burns life forever. He was sentenced to 6 years on the Georgia Chain gang. This was in 1922. The chain gang system in Georgia, at the time, was set up as a contract system, whereby the County Commissioners oversaw the care, housing and feeding of the prisoners. It was a system rife with corruption and misery. It would be home to Mr. Burns for a year, until he made his escape.

When Mr. Burns made his first successful escape, he wound up in Chicago. Renting a room put him in contact with a landlady who was in search of a husband. At first Mr. Burns was was able to avoid the attentions of Emily, his landlady. But then she began to open, and read, his mail. Learning the true nature of his secret, she was able to blackmail him into marriage. This was in 1925, the same year in which Mr. Burns began "The Greater Chicago Magazine." He acted as it's editor. The magazine was a success and for a time life seemed to be going well. But things have a way of changing swiftly, especially for those who are compromised in some fashion.

By 1929, he met a woman with whom he really was in love, and so he asked his wife for a divorce. Emily granted him the divorce, even as she was sending a letter to the State of Georgia, turning him in. Georgia sent 2 men to take him back, and Mr. Burns fought the extradition in court.

On May 23rd, 1929, Judge David, who presided over the Habeas Corpus hearing, refused to grant the extradition. He also delivered a scathing indictment of the Georgia penal system, stating; "Georgia- the home and birthplace of that vicious organization, the Ku Klux Klan. Where they sell the water of the Chattahoochee River at five dollars per gallon to baptize the ignorant and illiterate that they may be initiated into the wonders of the Klan, and so continue their persecution of the Jew, the Catholic, and the Negro; becoming acquainted with the fine art of lynching and midnight beatings and terrorism. It seems to me that Georgia in this case does not seek justice, but vengeance."

This was the beginning of a legal battle that would see Mr. Burns returned to the Georgia chain gang, under a false promise that he would serve only 90 days in a trustee's position. At the conclusion of that period, he was to be freed. Naively, he accepted this offer. What followed are several years of legal wrangling, during which time Mr. Burns was returned to the Chain Gang, and forced to once again make his escape.

Mr. Burns, who, incidentally was Jewish, and born in Brooklyn, wrote the book while hiding out in New Jersey during 1931. In 1932 Georgia tried once again to extradite him, and this time the State of New Jersey outright refused. This was also the year in which the book was published and released as a film. Public sentiment was clearly on Mr. Burns side. In 1945 the Governor of Georgia, Ellis Arnall, finally pardoned him.

An extraordinary look at justice in America during the years between the First World War and the end of the Jim Crow Era, this book chronicles the journey of Mr. Burns, as he attempts to navigate his way to freedom. That one man could withstand 2 decades of such uncertainty, while maintaining some sense of humanity, is simply astonishing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lincoln Stories - 2 Favorites

As I said yesterday, I love Lincoln. The stories of his youth and physical prowess abound, most untrue, but inspiring nonetheless. The first one was in the book "The Case of Abraham Lincoln" by Julie M. Fenster, which I reviewed here yesterday. The second one is an old story that I read sometime as a kid, somewhere. Hence I have not backed it up with a source. Both stories are emblematic of the man, and the times in which he lived.

‘Tis said that in his younger day, he made a vow that if he should ever find a man uglier than himself, he would shoot him. One day while rambling over the hills with his rifle in his hand, in search of game, he met a man who was exceedingly ugly; immediately he cocked his gun and took aim, but upon being asked by the stranger what he was going to do, if he was going to murder him, Lincoln lowered his gun, told the stranger his vow and that he must prepare to meet his fate.

The stranger, after eying Lincoln for a while and scanning him from head to foot, exclaimed,; “Well, if I am uglier than you, I don’t want to live- so shoot me!”

Source: Iota: pen name, Illinois Correspondence, Missouri Republican, June 25th, 1856 page 2.

Abraham Lincoln was riding on a train when the man next to him lit a cigar, fouling the air about him. "Excuse me sir," said Lincoln, "but your cigar smoke is drifting into my area and I am having a frightful time breathing. Might not you extinguish it?" The man replied that he had paid for his seat, and if the smoke from his cigar was drifting into Lincoln's area that was his problem, but he intended to smoke his cigar.

Lincoln produced a small pistol, which he aimed at the man's head, saying as he did, "I, too, have paid for my seat, and I wish to fire my pistol. If the bullet from my gun strays into your area, well that's too bad." The man extinguished his cigar.

Apocryphal- no source.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"The Case of Abraham Lincoln" by Julie M. Fenster


I have always been a fan of Abraham Lincoln. Although I do realize that some of his intentions in freeing the slaves were politically motivated, I have always held him in high regard. The Emancipation Proclamation is a prime example of his political prowess. Had it not been for the later passage of the 14th Amendment, the Proclamation would have kept slavery alive in the North until 1900, while abolishing it immediately in the South. But the man has always fascinated me, even in Kindergarten, where I first spied his face on the wall, alongside of George Washington.

Abraham Lincoln, by the spring of 1856, was considerd a former Congressman with a legal practice. His political capital was at an all time low, and he lamented that he would go down in history as just another lawyer, riding the circuit of the local courts. And it may have wound up just that way, were it not for a Mrs. Anderson and her husband's nephew, Theodore.

George Anderson, a blacksmith in Springfield, was married to Jane Anderson. They lived next door to the Masonic Hall, a very busy gathering spot for the towns politicos and aspiring office seekers. It was also the main gathering spot for news of the day. That spring the hall was unusually busy with the debate of two pressing national issues; the first being the spread of slavery into the new territories, and the second being the suppression of Catholicism as a growing "threat" to the naton. The focus in Springfield was about to become more local.

From April 22nd through May 15th, George Anderson was gravely ill. He was expected to pass away. His symptoms were fever, convulsions and extreme pain. The convulsions arched his back to the point of breaking. His weight dropped to the lowest point since his youth. The attending physicians, Dr. Lord and Dr. Fowler were certain that George Anderson was being poisoned with strychine, but were not sure by whom. The only person who administered his food and medicine was his wife, Jane. At the same time, Jane was having an affair with her husbands nephew, Theodore.

By all accounts, Geoge Anderson was a strong man. As a blacksmith he was very fit. When he became ill so suddenly, red flags were raised, and all through April and early May, Dr. Lord and Dr. Fowler were on hand, trying to determine the cause of Mr. Anderson's troubles. But a strange thing happened around the middle of May; Mr. Anderson seemed to be making a full recovery.

On May 15th he was well enough to leave his sickbed for the first time in almost a month. He went to the tailors and bought some new cothes to fit his now thinning body. He was also supposed to meet his wife at his brother's house for tea. They were celebrating his recovery. Mrs. Anderson never made it to the tea, electing instead to go home and have tea alone. Prior to that, she had been shopping, and was seen in the company of Mr. Anderson's nephew.

That evening, upon his return home, Mr. Anderson confronted his wife as to her absence from the tea. They fought briefly, in front of the servants, before retiring for the night. Sometime around 10 PM, Mr. Anderson, according to Mrs. Anderson, crept quietly from their bed to use the outhouse in the backyard. He took his pistol with him. He never returned.

By 11 PM, Mrs. Anderson had awakened, and peering out the window, saw her husbands body lying on the ground. She summoned the servants to see to him. She never went to check on him herself, falling into hysterics instead.

The town sheriff concluded that Mr. Anderson had been struck over the head with a board as he exited the outhouse. The board was found about twenty feet away from the body with blood on it. By the next morning, though, bloodied sheets and a ball peen hammer were found in the bushes, raising the possibility that Mr. Anderson had been killed in bed and then moved outside. Moreover, Mrs. Anderson was now charged with her husband's murder.

What ensues after that is a quickly paced book, which not only covers the trial of Mrs. Anderson and her husband's nephew, but also offers a glimpse at a country struggling with the divisive issue of slavery. It also gives us some new insights into the law career of Abraham Lincoln, a man who fought for both sides of every issue that came his way. His work in the Fugitive Slave Act cases underscores his ability to argue, and win, cases for which he had previously argued against. From 1836 to 1861, Lincoln argued more than 5,000 cases. More than just a debt lawyer, Lincoln was involved in over 30 murder trials. The Anderson case came on the scene just in time to revitalize his political career, and offers one of the best insights into his years as an attorney.

The Anderson trial began on November 19th, 1856. Lincoln had not returned to Springfield until June, a month after the murder took place. The State's attorney, Amzi McWilliams, needed help to prosecute the case, and to that end offered Lincoln $200 to be the Special Prosecutor. Lincoln turned him down, citing an overload of cases, but offered instead to assist in the Defense for $75.

I will not go any further into the case. It is one of the most overlooked episodes of Lincoln's 25 year career as an attorney, and as such, offers some new perspective into both the man himself, and the volatile times in which he lived. If you like Lincoln, you will love this book.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"Transsiberian" with Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer and Ben Kingsley


An absolutely stunning movie. Everything, from the script to the direction, and the performances of each and every actor, make this a flawless film. Set in Russia along the route of the Trans Siberian Railway also makes this movie a visually brilliant thriller, which you do not want to miss.

Roy and his wife Jessie (Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer) are returning from China through Russia via the Trans Siberian Railway. They are traveling from Beijing, where they have been involved in a church outreach program for children, to Moscow, and then home to America. What is that old saying about "the best laid plans of mice and men?" It clearly applies here.

Roy is an avid fan of old trains and locomotives, which is what leads the couple to take the train, rather than flying home. Jessie is a photographer with a troubled past. Her marriage to Roy has turned her life around and she is thinking of publishing a book of her photos. This trip will give her ample opportunity to indulge that passion.

When Roy and Jessie meet Carlos and Abby (Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara), a couple traveling through Russia on the way back to Spain, all is not what it appears to be. The couple is a bit secretive, and tension begins to mount between Carlos and Jessie, who is trying to live a clean life with her husband.

When the naive Roy gets off at a remote stop to look at the different train engines, Carlos deliberately loses him, and Roy is left behind. When Jessie discovers he is missing she leaves the train at the next stop to wait for him to catch up. Carlos and Abby stay with her.

Carlos manages to entice Jessie to accompany him alone to a remote, ruined Russian Orthodox Church, under the guise of taking photos. Once they arrive at the church, Carlos becomes physically attentive to Jessie, who at first rebuffs his advances. During the push and pull of the emotional struggle, Carlos becomes violent, attempting to rape Jessie, who then uses a wooden plank to kill him. She returns to the train and is rejoined by Roy. She says nothing of what has happened, or where Carlos might be.

Roy, on his journey to rejoin his wife, has met and befriended Russian Police Inspector Grinko (Ben Kingsley) who has been following the trail of Carlos, who is a drug smuggler. To complicate matters even further, Jessie was aware of the smuggling and is actually in possession of some heroin, disguised as Bubushka Dolls. Carlos placed the dolls in Jessie's baggage, without her knowledge, prior to the events at the church. She is now frantic as she attempts to dispose of the contraband while confined to a train, under the watchful eyes of Inspector Grinko.

What happens to Abby, and what Jessie chooses to do about it, are the key questions that keep you glued to this film. The interaction of the two women, filled with mysterious undercurrents, played against the irrepressible innocence of Roy, bring a high tension to this magnificent film.

With a climax that keeps you on edge until the credits begin to roll, you don't want to miss this film. Agatha Christie would be proud.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sarah Palin - Your Birth Certificate Please?



I try mightily to avoid political issues on this sight. Yesterday's skewering of John Edwards was not politically motivated, as Mr. Edwards has surely exhausted, or should I say wasted, any political capital he may have, at one time thought, he possessed. Yesterday's post was more of a personal celebration that his time in the public spotlight may be coming to it's ignomious end.

But today's post is a bit different. It is the defense of our history against those historical revisionists who would rewrite our history for their own political gain. Enter Sarah Palin, who on Friday gave us a new, and strange twist on the famous "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" and William Dawes. I cannot help but wonder if Ms. Palin is even aware of Richard Dawes, or the fact that Paul Revere was captured, and held for a short time, by the British during his ride. Aside from the poem by Longfellow, which is very much simplified, and thus makes it the perfect history lesson for Ms. Palin, one has to wonder if she has even really thought about Paul Revere and his ride at all. So, for the benefit of our future aspiring President, Vice President, Soccer Mom, I will reprint here, what she obviously didn't read while growing up, or learn while going to school.

The story of Paul Revere's ride, even the simplified version by Longfellow, is known to just about everyone born in America. It may be time to ask Ms. Palin to produce her birth certificate. She was born awfully close to the Russian border. As a matter of fact, didn't she once say she could see Russia from her house?



The following was first posted here on April 19th, 2010;

Today is the 235th Anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, considered to be the first battle of the American Revolutionary War. This was the culmination of Paul Reveres' "Midnight Ride" captured so eloquently by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his epic poem. When I was in fourth grade we had to memorize this lengthy poem. I still know some, if not most, of it by heart. I will reprint it here for those who have never had the pleasure of reading it. But first, as I often say, a little background.

By the spring of 1775 the colonies were seething with resentment and anger at the British for a series of wrongs incurred over the course of a decade. These wrongs included "taxation without representation" and the quartering of soldiers in private residences. The Stamp Act and the tea tax were already behind us on this April morning. The midnight ride that had awakened the countryside was the result of a new transgression on the part of the British and General Gage, who was then the military Governor of Massachusetts.

Sam Adams and a few other of the Revolution's leaders were hidden in the countryside around Boston, most near Lexington and Concord. It was there that they kept a supply of guns and ammunition. General Gage was under orders to take these men prisoner and destroy their supplies. Benjamin Church and Joseph Warren were both still in Boston with Paul Revere as their chief messenger. Revere noticed that the British were making ready several small craft for crossing the Charles River to Cambridge. But they were never sure if the British were going to use the land route instead. So they arranged their signals, just as stated in Longworths' poem.

At 10 PM on the night of April 18th, 1775 Joseph Warren decided that warning needed to be sent to Sam Adams and so he dispatched Paul Revere. They had arranged the lantern signals of "One if by land, two if by sea" to be shown from the tower of the Old North Church. Revere would cross by water as insurance against William Dawes,who would take the land route, being captured on the way to Concord.

Using the petticoats of the boatman's girlfreind to muffle the oars, Revere set out to cross the Charles River. Arriving in Charlestown he began his ride with a narrow escape from 2 British soldiers. Due to this event Revere was forced to use an alternate route to the North, which lengthened his trip by several miles and more than a few precious minutes.

Arriving in Lexington he found Sam Adams and John Hancock. He was then joined by Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott, a resident of Concord. They left quickly, but before traversing the 5 miles to Concord they encountered a British roadblock, which they broke through and then split up. Dawes was thrown from his horse and taken prisoner. Revere was also taken prisoner and under interrogation gave false and misleading information to his captors as to the number of militiamen awaiting the Redcoats at the bridge.

Dr. Prescott, with his keen knowledge of the wooded country between Lexington and Concord, was the only rider to make it. His warning enabled the Militia to arm and ready themselves for the arrival of the British that morning.

Revere, meanwhile, was riding with the British back to Lexington, when he heard the church bells and gunshots that gave proof to his assertion that local militia were waiting the arrival of the British. This convinced the British to turn Revere loose, although they did give him a tired and slow horse as a precaution that he not reach Lexington too quickly. Revere joined Hancock and Adams to retreat into the countryside. Only the fact that Hancock had left some valuable papers at the tavern in Lexington caused Revere to return there.

Upon retrieving these papers, Revere rode out of town past the assembling militia. As he rode on through the countryside he heard the shots and looking back, saw the smoke from the "Shot heard 'round the World."

In April of 1860 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow climbed the tower of the Old North Church and was inspired to write his simplified version of the nights' events. It was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in January of 1861. It has since acquired legendary stature and has served as the inspiration for millions of Americans to learn more about the events of that night. I reprint it here with great pleasure and as a tribute to those men who gathered at Lexington that morning to begin the labor pains that ultimately gave birth to our Nation.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

The following is an eyewitness account of that day by Sylvanus Wood, who wrote the following in 1828. He was born in 1752 and was 23 at the time of the actual events. This statement was sworn before a Notary.

"I, Sylvanus Wood, of Woburn, in the county of Middlesex, and commonwealth of Massachusetts, aged seventy-four years, do testify and say that on the morning of the 19th of April, 1775, I was an inhabitant of Woburn, living with Deacon Obadiah Kendall; that about an hour before the break of day on said morning, I heard the Lexington bell ring, and fearing there was difficulty there, I immediately arose, took my gun and, with Robert Douglass, went in haste to Lexington, which was about three miles distant.

When I arrived there, I inquired of Captain Parker, the commander of the Lexington company, what was the news. Parker told me he did not know what to believe, for a man had come up about half an hour before and informed him that the British troops were not on the road. But while we were talking, a messenger came up and told the captain that the British troops were within half a mile. Parker immediately turned to his drummer, William Diman, and ordered him to beat to arms, which was done. Captain Parker then asked me if I would parade with his company. I told him I would. Parker then asked me if the young man with me would parade. I spoke to Douglass, and he said he would follow the captain and me.

By this time many of the company had gathered around the captain at the hearing of the drum, where we stood, which was about half way between the meetinghouse and Buckman's tavern. Parker says to his men, 'Every man of you, who is equipped, follow me; and those of you who are not equipped, go into the meeting-house and furnish yourselves from the magazine, and immediately join the company.' Parker led those of us who were equipped to the north end of Lexington Common, near the Bedford Road, and formed us in single file. I was stationed about in the centre of the company. While we were standing, I left my place and went from one end of the company to the other and counted every man who was paraded, and the whole number was thirty-eight, and no more.


Confrontation at Lexington Green

Just as I had finished and got back to my place, I perceived the British troops had arrived on the spot between the meeting-house and Bucknian's, near where Captain Parker stood when he first led off his men. The British troops immediately wheeled so as to cut off those who had gone into the meeting-house. The British troops approached us rapidly in platoons, with a general officer on horseback at their head. The officer came up to within about two rods of the centre of the company, where I stood, the first platoon being about three rods distant. They there halted. The officer then swung his sword, and said, 'Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, or you are all dead men. Fire!' Some guns were fired by the British at us from the first platoon, but no person was killed or hurt, being probably charged only with powder.

Just at this time, Captain Parker ordered every man to take care of himself. The company immediately dispersed; and while the company was dispersing and leaping over the wall, the second platoon of the British fired and killed some of our men. There was not a gun fired by anv of Captain Parker's company, within my knowledge. I was so situated that I must have known it, had any thing of the kind taken place before a total dispersion of our company. I have been intimately acquainted with the inhabitants of Lexington, and particularly with those of Captain Parker's company, and, with one exception, I have never heard any of them say or pretend that there was any firing at the British from Parker's company, or any individual in it until within a year or two. One member of the company told me, many years since, that, after Parker's company had dispersed, and he was at some distance, he gave them 'the guts of his gun.'"