Monday, October 31, 2011

Midnight - My Halloween Cat

Midnight is all set for Halloween. With a pumpkin and broom for company, he is a welcome, and distinct, addition to our holiday decor. He has adapted nicely to the change in weather, opting to live down the road by the storm drain culvert, where it is relatively warm. Coupled with meals at our place, he seems to be healthier, and more playful, than when he adopted us a few months ago.

The shelters here are all full, and no-one seems to want him, so I guess he's mine now. It's kind of cool to have him greet Sue and I when we arrive home, and with his distinctive "Meow", there is no mistaking his presence. And, just like me, he enjoys talking, although I have not yet mastered his language. No matter, he enjoys talking, and loves to have his head scratched while he does.

So, tonight he will be with us at the front door, giving out candy. He gets his cut, though. Before he goes "home" each evening, I give him some microwaved canned liver, or chicken. And, if he's been especially helpful, he gets real people tuna fish.

Well, have a safe and fun Halloween. There's only a sliver of moon tonight, so it will be especially dark and scary. Wear something bright, and be safe!

Addendum:

It's now almost 8 PM and the crowd of kids is thinning out. Here is an assortment of some of the kids who came to haunt us - and left with chocolate....

A Pirate and a Princess....

2 Princesses with a Mummy for protection....

2 girls from down the street....

2 boys from down the street. I love the jester cap. Quasimoda lives!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Old Roads - "Any Road Will Take You There"

Old, abandoned roads have always held my interest. I like to imagine what was there, if anything, before the new road came in to pass it by. This is International Drive,in Statesville, just past the barrier which separates it from the existing road. I was looking for a different road, which is visible from Interstate 77, but no one seems to be able to remember how to get there! So, I'm going to keep looking for it. It's my current "El Dorado". But while I was walking, I was thinking of this song by George Harrison, which was recorded live on MTV sometime in the late '90's. I thought I'd share it with you here while I continue to look for the other road.



"Any Road Will Take You There" by George Harrison

But I've been traveling on a boat and a plane,
In a car on a bike with a bus and a train.
Traveling there, traveling here,
Everywhere, in every gear.

But oh Lord, we pay the price.
With the spin of the wheel, with the roll of the dice.
Ah yeah you pay your fare,
And if you don't know where you're going
Any road will take you there.

And I've been traveling through the dirt and the grime,
From the past to the future through the space and the time.
Traveling deep beneath the waves,
In watery grottoes and mountainous caves.

But oh Lord we've got to fight,
With the thoughts in the head, with the dark and the light.
No use to stop and stare,
And if you don't know where you're going
Any road will take you there.

You may not know where you came from,
May not know who you are,
May not have even wondered,
How you got this far.

I've been traveling on a wing and a prayer,
By the skin of my teeth, by the breadth of a hair.
Traveling where the four winds blow,
With the sun on my face, in the ice and the snow.

But oooeeee it's a game,
Sometimes you're cool, sometimes you're lame.
Ah yeah it's somewhere,
And if you don't know where you're going
Any road will take you there.

But oh Lord we pay the price,
With the spin of the wheel with the roll of the dice.
Ah yeah you pay your fare,
And if you don't know where you're going
Any road will take you there.

I keep traveling around the bend,
There was no beginning, there is no end.
It wasn't born and never dies,
There are no edges, there is no sides.

Oh yeah you just don't win,
It's so far out, the way out is in.
Bow to God and call him Sir,
But if you don't know where you're going
Any road will take you there.
And if you don't know where you're going
Any road will take you there.
If you don't know where you're going
Any road will take you there.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"The Way" with Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez and Deorah Unger (2011)

This is an intensely personal film, in that it is the true story about the death of director Emilio Estevez' son while hiking the Pyrenees between France and Spain. The purpose of the hike was to trod the road taken by so many Catholics over the centuries in tribute to Santiago de Compostela who made the journey centuries ago, arriving at the site of the famed cathedral named after him.

The film was written, and directed, by Mr. Estevez in tribute to his son, named Daniel in the film, and whom he plays in flashbacks. Daniel suffered a fatal injury on the pilgrimage. His death necessitated his father, named Tom in the film, played by Martin Sheen, traveling to France in order to collect his son's remains. Mr. Sheen was Daniel's real grandfather. Along the way he remembers the conversations he had with his son about taking this journey, and on a whim he decides to take the trip his son never got to complete. It is worth noting that Mr. Estevez' grandfather was born and grew up around the area in which Daniel meets his fate. As I said, this is a very personal film.

The Camino de Santiago crosses the Pyrenees from France to Spain, ending at the Cathedral. Tom decides to take this journey partly in tribute to his son, as well as a way to come to terms with his death. He is hoping to find the meaning of his son's death, but soon begins looking for the meaning behind his own life.

Tom, a widower, had not been especially close to his son in the last few years of his too short life. The last contact he had with Daniel took the form of a phone call in which Daniel describes the journey he is about to embark upon. The next call Tom receives is from the French authorities. His son is dead and now he must go to France to claim the remains, which in this case are ashes.

When he begins the trip he starts to experience flashbacks of the father-son conflicts they had been through. Daniel has repeatedly asked that his father not "judge" him. In reality, Tom doesn't want to judge him at all; merely understand him. Arriving in France he meets a French policeman, played by Tcheky Karyo, who explains the history, and meaning, of the journey his son was taking. This serves to propel Tom on the path that his son was walking at the time of his death. He also plans to scatter his son's ashes at various places along the way.

There are three major characters whom Tom meets, and befriends, along the way. There is the obese Dutch party guy, played by Yorick van Wageningen; an Irish braggart suffering from writer’s block, played by James Nesbitt; and finally the chain-smoking Canadian woman, played by Deborah Kara Unger, who never learned how to be civil. Tom is stuck with this group as he struggles to keep his reasons for the hike to himself.

But as the group make their way across the mountains defenses break down, as each of the group comes to realize that life is not so much about changing the things you don't like about yourself. Sometimes it's more about accepting who you really are, and then moving on, content with that knowledge.

Some reviewers have likened the movie to both "The Canterbury Tales", as well as "The Wizard of Oz", both of which Estevez has called inspirations for the film.

For more about the making of this extraordinary film, including the parallels to "The Wizard of Oz", read the interview with Mr. Estevez at;

http://www.avclub.com/articles/martin-sheen-emilio-estevez,62918/

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cuban Missle Crisis Ends



On October 22nd, 1962 President Kennedy announced that the Soviet Union was installing nuclear missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from our shores. Acting under the auspices of the Monroe Doctrine he gave a 17 minute speech in which he outlined his response to the Soviet action, including the famous quarantine of Cuba, in which all Soviet ships headed to Cuba were boarded and searched. Those ships which refused to be searched were turned back by our Navy. On October 28th, 6 days later, the crisis came to an end when Soviet premier Khrushchev announced the withdrawal of the missiles. On the surface the United States had won a huge victory. Or, so it would seem.

In reality the United States had done the same thing to the Soviet Union by placing over 600 Jupiter missiles along the Turkish border, all aimed at strategic targets within the Soviet Union. This was akin to our violating the Soviet Union’s right of the principles of the Monroe Doctrine, which we were using to have the Soviet missiles removed from Cuba.

Moscow's position was correct, if we could have missiles on their border, they could have missiles on ours. Unknown to American military intelligence at the time, was that there were, and had been, low yield "tactical" nuclear weapons, though not missiles, in Cuba since the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. These weapons were for combat use, typically for the repulsion of invading forces. Had our troops landed in support of the coup, they would have been met with small scale nuclear arms. And that would have triggered a nuclear response from the United States, which of course would have set off a response from the Soviet Union. Now, here we were, one year later, facing off with the Soviet Union for a second time.

Kennedy and Khrushchev were both very concerned about losing control of their respective armed forces at the time. The Joints Chiefs of Staff wanted to invade over the missile issue, and the President wanted to negotiate. Officially, at the time, the so-called "Doomsday" clock stood at 1 minute to midnight, the closest the Soviet Union and the United States had ever come to a nuclear war. A solution, acceptable to both sides, needed to be found, and quickly!

Within 6 days of JFK's speech, Khrushchev announced the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba. This was hailed as a great victory for America at the time. A closer look would have revealed otherwise. The facts would not come to light for several more years, and when they did surface it didn't look like we got such a great deal after all.

President Kennedy had proposed, and the Soviets accepted, the dismantling of 600 operational nuclear missiles on the Soviet border in exchange for removing 5 non-operational missiles from Cuba. There was one caveat; the terms of the deal could not be announced. The concessions by the United States were to be kept quiet. And they were, for several years.

The Soviet Union got exactly what they wanted, and in a way, so did we. At the time we were dismantling the Jupiter missiles on the Turkish border, we were installing newer, longer range missiles, all aimed at the same targets, throughout Germany and Western Europe.

By 1964 both Kennedy and Khrushchev were out of office, Kennedy felled by an assassin’s bullet(s), and Khrushchev removed to a Dachau, where he would spend his remaining days in seclusion. Both men had fallen victim to the forces that would thwart any peace efforts. Those forces are still with us, to this very day.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden - "Rocking Chair"



I've got a bit of flu, so I'm taking a day off. Meantime, enjoy this wonderful piece of music with Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong doing Hoagy Carmichael's "Rocking Chair." It's from sometime around the late 1950's. These two were great friends and admirers, and it really shows.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"L'il Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story" by Romare Bearden

Charlotte is the birthplace of the multi-media artist Romare Bearden. He was born here in 1911, and since September 2nd, which was his birthday, the city has been celebrating his life and works. Sue and I have been to some of the exhibits, one at the Mint Museum, the other one at Davidson College. But, while looking through this morning’s paper, I see that we have missed one. It is being displayed at Charlotte's "ImaginOn".

Bearden, as well as being an artist, was a writer, and he wrote some children's books. Some were never published until after his death. "L'il Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story" is one of these. To understand the story you will need to know a little bit of history first.

When the slaves were first brought over from Africa, they had a language which they played on drums. When they arrived in the New World, their new masters quickly realized the potential danger in the slaves having these drums as a means of communication. So, they were banned. This edict was ensured by the South Carolina Slave Code in 1740, which banned the "using and keeping of drums, which may call together, or give sign or notice to one another of their wicked designs and purposes." And over time the rhythms faded from memory, until they were finally lost.

Bearden's story takes place during the Civil War. L'il Dan is a slave boy on a cotton plantation who encounters an old drum. Mr. Ned, a character in the story explains to him that the drum comes from far away in Africa. He also teaches him the purpose of the drum - to communicate. Dan is so taken with this knowledge that he constructs his own drum from a hollow log and pigskin. When the plantation is liberated, L'il Dan follows a group of soldiers into combat, becoming their mascot.

While on patrol one day, the group is attacked by an overwhelming force of Confederate soldiers. Dan retreats to the top of a nearby tree with only his drum. He wants to help his friends, but what can he do?

Remembering Mr. Ned and his tales about Africa, L'il Dan begins to strike the drum with his hands, attempting to imitate the sound of cannon fire in an effort to scare the Confederate troops away. No luck, the sound is wrong. Thinking quickly, he takes two sticks, branches from the tree, and begins to hit the drum just right, evoking the sound of the dreaded "five pounder" cannon. The Confederate soldiers retreat and L'il Dan becomes the hero of the day.

For me, the best part of this story is the combination of the African drum being used in conjunction with the European style of beating a drum with a stick, rather than with one's hands. The combination of the two cultural methods underscores our reliance on one another, as people, in the face of the dangers that confront us all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Three Stooges



The Three Stooges were a staple of life when I was growing up. They were everywhere, in the movies and on TV. Although their heyday was in vaudeville, the Stooges made the transition to movies, and finally TV, without a hitch. The audience was out there, waiting. And it was a whole new generation of baby boomers, many of whom would be raised, at least partially, by TV.

In New York City the Stooges were on WPIX Channel 11, which was the television arm of the New York Daily News. Each day's episodes were hosted by "Officer" Joe Bolton, dressed in a New York City Policeman's uniform. Presumably, he was there to remind us that the gags we were seeing on the show were not to be tried at home. At least without adult supervision. It's a good thing that they had him on the air, or else a lot of kids might have really hit one another over the heads with hammers, or, even poked out one another's eyes. Well, that was the conventonal wisdom of the times. But I must state, without reservation, that whenever I went after my brother with a hammer, or poked him in the eye, it was the result of some other argument, and was never influenced by the actions of the 3 Stooges.

Briefly, for the uninitiated, the 3 Stooges grew out of a vaudeville act headed by Ted Healey. Moe, Curly and Shemp Howard were brothers who, like the Marx Brothers, played the vaudeville circuit. Shemp was somewhat of a free agent, appearing solo in many films, even playing the bartender in W.C. Fields' "The Bank Dick" prior to joining the Stooges full time. In later years, after Curly had left, Shemp took his place. In the last years the Stooges were comprised of Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Joe Besser.

Larry had been with the troupe since they first met in Chicago, where he was performing a solo violin act. He joined the group and never looked back. Of the three, he was the most unconventional. He never bought a home, preferring to live in hotels near the racetracks which he and his wife frequented.

In the early 1960's it was Moe Howard who came to the aid of his ailing partners. He was the only one who had invested his earnings over the years, and so was the only one of the group to have any money to speak of. Kind of a sad ending to a chapter of laughter that still rings today.

It's said that the Stooges are mainly a "guy" thing, and for the most part I think that is true. Slapstick, with the exception of someone like Lucille Ball, or Carol Burnett, is really a man's genre. If you don't believe me, ask most women and you will find that I am correct. However, hit the link below for a different perspective on the Stooges. This footage, from You Tube, is of Moe Howard on the Mike Douglas Show in the 1970's. He was the guest host for a week, and they performed skits, and even some pie throwing. The big surprise is Moe's wife, who was in the audience. This may be the most "real" look you will ever have into the life of Moe Howard.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvx3i6HhBWc

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Rural Hill Corn Maze

I went to this event a couple of years ago and have never been back. It sounds so easy, but take it from me, it's not for the faint at heart. The corn is over head high, and the maze turns back upon itself many times, leaving one disoriented, and in my case, annoyed. They actually have people stationed in towers, so that they can see you if you are lost. At the beginning of the maze you are given a pole with a flag on it to wave if you need help. When the flag is waved, one of the people in the tower nearest you, will talk you through the maze, taking you to the opening. But these people are known to have a bit of fun with those that get a little lost, as happened to me a few years ago.

I was walking the maze, confident in my ability to squire my wife through the maze in record time. Over confidence, my first mistake. Then I decided to use the sun to guide me, keeping careful track of the time as I did so, in order to orient myself better. Second mistake. Then I began to get annoyed, which led to being a bit angry, which led to my waving my flag furiously in an advancing state of panic. You know, corn can look awfully threatening when it's that tall, and all around you!

Eventually the man in the tower gave me directions, which, after 15 minutes of walking, had me right back at the base of the same tower. The man in the tower was having a high time of it- no pun intended- leading people in a circle, while watching them from above. So I asked him again, this time in a more nuanced manner, which way was out.

Now, I'm not sure if it was the manner in which I posed the question, or if the Bic lighter I was flicking with my thumb had any bearing upon the situation, but this time I was directed in a straight line towards the emergency opening. Like I said, it sounded so easy at the time, but as I discovered, it's not for the faint of heart.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"The New Deal" by Michael Hiltzik

Reviewing this book is a difficult task, simply because it is so well researched and detailed. While I cannot say that I understood every word in it, I can say that this is one of the most complete pictures of the Great Depression, and what we did to get out of it. I had expected the book to be more of a comparison to what was done about the failing economy then, to what hasn't been done now, during the current economic downturn. But it's not. It's an absolutely unbiased account of what ideas were tried, which ones failed, and which ones were challenged by the Supreme Court.

The credit driven 1920's, with it's burgeoning car loans, made in the same ill concieved manner as the housing bubble decades later, began a period of consumer over confidence. This over confidence, along with reckless speculation drove the price of gold up from it's standard of $20 per ounce, thus devaluing the dollar. As the dollar shrank, so did jobs, investments and everything that goes with it.

Bank passbooks were offered for sale at 50 cents on the dollar during the "bank holidays", the idea being that if your bank didn't make it, you would at least have some cash on hand. Meanwhile, the person buying the account stood a chance to double his money. The banks, and the percentages being paid for their respective passbooks, were actually listed alongside of the stocks in the newspaperes of some cities.

Crops were plowed under, in an effort to make them more profitable, and cattle were slaughtered for the same reason. Nothing seemed to work. The banks were repeatedly bailed out, but like today, that approach only seemed to prolong the problem. The idea that business would carry the country through to renewed prosperity didn't work then, and isn't working now.

Roosevelt inherited a nation as divided as we are today, and through trial and error, was able to get the country back on it's feet, just in time for the Second World War. If there is something that seems familiar here, or any lesson to be learned from this book, it is one of deja vu. We have all been here before.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"The Old Black Guy" by Robert Williams ( Reposted from October 21, 2009)

It was 2 years ago yesterday that I posted this short, and true, story here. I have gotten many comments about it, almost all complimentary. And, while I have nothing worthwhile to say, I do have the wisdom when to not say it! So, while I take the day off (and maybe tomorrow, as well, I thought I would re-run this story for those who have not read it. It really happened, and it has changed the way I look at the news, as well as life in general. Hey - just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they ain't out to get you!

I entered the Steak and Eggs for a bite on a slow summer night. It was one of those sultry, sticky, Southern nights - like an old movie loaded with intrigue and suspense.

The restaurant was empty with the exception of the one guy working the counter and mopping the floor. There was also an elderly black man pacing up and down the aisle between the counter and the row of tables by the window.

I was working on the USNS Sirius during the day and driving the cab at night to ward off the boredom of Norfolk. Late at night I would go to the Steak and Eggs place located off Granby Street at the Greyhound Terminal for a bite to eat. The following events took place there one night in July.

I ordered my steak and eggs and noticed that the elderly black guy was really agitated, pacing up and down while opening and closing his fists. He was also talking to himself. He was dressed in the typical fashion for older black men of that time. Suit trousers pulled up high, almost to his chest and a white dress shirt with no jacket. On his wrist was one of those hospital bracelets that indicated he had just come from an emergency room or been released from the hospital after a stay.

His ranting was repetitive and consisted of one or two points- mainly that “Lord, Lord, I cain’t go home- no suh! They watching me- I tol’ dem I weren’t saying nuthin’- but Lord, Lord, they don’t believe me….” He was sweating profusely as he continued his pacing. The cook and I were beginning to get nervous.

Slipping from behind the counter the cook sidled over to the pay phone on the wall and I heard him call the police. The old man was too busy to notice this and kept on pacing and talking.

Within 3 minutes an unmarked car pulled up and 2 white men got out. They were dressed in suits- minus the jackets. They had what appeared to be some kind of walkie-talkie with them.

Walking up to the old man and with a nod to the cook and myself they addressed him, “Okay old man- time to go.” They put their hands on his shoulder and started to guide him to the door and their vehicle. The old man protested loudly, “I ain’t gonna say nutthin’- no sir- I swear!” The reply, delivered gently, in retrospect was chilling. “We know that old man, just come with us.” They steered him out into the parking lot and the waiting car.

It all seemed so natural- 2 detectives picking up this old man in response to a call from the cook…

As they loaded him into the car a marked Police cruiser pulled in and 2 uniformed cops entered the restaurant. “What’s the trouble?” they asked.

The cook and I exchanged horrified glances and began to yell, “Stop that car! Stop that car!” The 2 cops ran outside just as the unmarked car had pulled out of the parking lot and were stopping for the red light.

One cop ran toward the vehicle while the other got in the squad car. The driver of the unmarked vehicle took off through the red light with the cop car now in pursuit- lights and siren splitting the heavy air. The unmarked car headed straight for the tunnel to Portsmouth with the Norfolk Police car close behind. When they emerged from the tunnel in Portsmouth the unmarked car had vanished.

The police returned to the Steak and Eggs where they interviewed the cook and I. It was impossible for me to finish eating so I left and hit the streets for a couple of hours before returning the cab and heading back to ship.

The following evening I was watching the local news in the ships lounge when a story came on that chilled me to the bone.

“An elderly black man was found in Portsmouth this morning. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The body was located at the edge of the river near the entrance to the tunnel. No clues and no suspects have been located. Anyone with information on the identity of this man please contact the Portsmouth Police Department.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Guys and Dolls" with Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, Jean Simmons and Stubby Kaye (1955)



One of my favorite movies is the 1955 version of "Guys and Dolls", which is based upon the Damon Runyon book of short stories about New York City during the 1930's and 1940's. From it's opening scene until the films finale; a double wedding at dawn in Times Square; this film just keeps giving, one delightful scene after another. And, as an added bonus, everyone in the film sings and dances. From Marlon Brando to Frank Sinatra and Stubby Kaye, all the stops are kicked out, as each of the stars sing, dance, and do comedy. These were the days when you really learned your craft on the live stage first, before making the transition to Hollywood and 30 second "takes".

The movie opens with a meander through the Times Square of olden days, when the streets were filled with con artists, hookers and gamblers. The film makes it all seem less sordid than it really was at the time. By the 1970's it was almost hazardous to walk in the area at night, especially after the theaters had closed.

This is one of my favorite scenes from the movie, actually, the whole movie is one of my favorite scenes! From the opening number shown above, right on through Marlon Brando singing a love song in Havana, this film is a pure delight.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"The Seven Foys" with Bob Hope and James Cagney



This is a dance routine performed by James Cagney and Bob Hope in the 1955 film "The Seven Little Foys". The Foys were a vaudeville act comprised of seven children, hence the name of the act "The Seven Foys". The children were all the off spring of Eddie Foy, a vaudeville entertainer who was noted for his generosity in dealing with other entertainers, whether it was money, a place to stay, or just someone to talk to. Eddie Foy had always been a solo act, until the day of the fire at the Iroquois Theater in Chicago,on December 30, 1903, which almost cost him his life.

At about 3:15 PM, during a matinee performance, an arc light set fire to one of the curtains, engulfing the entire stage in flames and igniting the theater as well. With panic raging all about him, Eddie Foy took the stage, attempting to calm the audience, even as pieces of burning scenery were falling all about him. In spite of these efforts by Mr. Foy, over 600 people perished in the fire. This episode is recreated in the 1955 film, which stars Bob Hope as Eddie Foy.

Eddie Foy had started out as a solo act, vowing never to "double", or become part of an "act". Boy was he wrong in his assumption. He hadn't counted on falling in love with Italian ballerina Madeleine Morando. In a short time they were married and found themselves surrounded with 7 children. After the death of Madeleine, Eddie came to realize that he had been a lousy father to his children. So, naturally, he decided to make them a part of the act. Later on, they would become the act.

When the movie of Eddie Foy's life was made, actors actually fought to be in the film, and some even worked for free. The dance routine above is of Bob Hope, as Eddie Foy, competing with fellow vaudevillian and song writer George M. Cohan, reprised by James Cagney from his earlier role in "Yankee Doodle Dandy", in a tap dance routine at the Friars Club.

For more about Eddie Foy and his family, Wikipedia, as usual, is a valuable resource. Read more about him and his children here;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Foy,_Sr.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown" by John Trumball (Preliminary)

This is John Trumball's 1797 oil painting of General Cornwallis' surrender to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19th, 1781. It is not the final version, which hangs in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington. This preliminary version hangs in the Yale University Art Gallery. The final work was completed sometime before 1824, which means that John Trumball, mostly remembered as a potrait artist, spent considerable time on the final version. He spent several years traveling around Europe, and America, sketching the features of anyone still alive from the events of 1781.

General Cornwallis is noticeably absent from the painting, as he was in real life. The General claimed to have a cold that day, and so could not attend the ceremony. Other, unflattering, theories abound. His second in command, one General O'Hara, is seen, on foot, offering his sword to General Washington's second, General Lincoln, who is shown, mounted at the center of the painting.

John Trumball was not present at the surrender, although he did serve in the Continental Army as an officer early in the war. He was also an aide-de-camp to General Washington for a short time. He resigned his position over a trivial matter in 1780, and went to study in London, where he was immediately arrested in reprisal for the hanging of British spy Major Andre.

Therefore, we know that Trumbull was not present at Yorktown in 1781, and this explains some of the liberties he took in the composition of the painting. For instance, Trumball originally had Cornwallis present at the surrender, on horseback, with General O'Hara standing to his side. When the first sketch of the painting was exhibited, it became apparent that Trumball was totally unfamiliar with the events of the day he was attempting to immortalize. At that point he began his long quest to get the picture right.

From 1787 through 1789, Trumball traveled to Europe to sketch the senior officers who had been present that day at Yorktown. Upon his return to America, in 1789, he did the same thing with all of the surviving members of the Continental Army who had also been present that day. In 1790 he went to New York, which was then the nation's capital, in order to paint George Washington into the picture. By 1791 he was actually visiting Yorktown in order to sketch the scene correctly.

In spite of all of his preparatory work, the painting is still grossly inaccurate in many respects. There are officers present in the painting, such as Admiral Compte de Grasse, in the line of French Officers, even though he was not in America at the time. Even the uniforms shown are incorrect for the era, they are actually later versions of the respective uniforms from the 1790's.

No matter, the painting still stands as a great vision of the events of that long ago day. And, in the final analysis, is it really that important who was standing where? The real majesty of this painting is in the truth of General Cornwallis' surrender, rather than how may buttons are on the sleeves of General O'Hara's coat, or how may stripes are on the flag.

Although Trumball was a 1773 graduate of Harvard, in 1831 he donated his personal collection to Yale University, where this preliminary painting of "Cornwallis at Yorktown" resides today.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"The Honored Dead" by Joseph Braude

We all have secrets. Nothing is as open and honest as it may seem at first. And nothing could illustrate this more than life in the Middle East. Thousands of years of differing cultures and religions have resulted in a myriad of traditions, and strife, in the area. Such is the story of Ibrahim Dey, a seemingly unemployed Muslim man who is murdered in Casablanca, Morocco. Joseph Braude, the author, is an embedded journalist with the Moroccan police, who are working to solve the case; he is also Jewish.

Ibrahim Dey was a "majdub", that is, he was a man of poor luck for himself, but lucky for others. He was honest, and his opinions were well respected. He styled himself as a broker of real estate, and in Casabalanca that can mean anything from obtaining a toaster, to arranging a marriage. Sometimes it can even involve real estate. But, more often than not, this is simply a title for a man without a real vocation. Ibrahim Dey was typical of this type of man. Or was he?

By days, he spent his time in the local coffee house, where he was available for consultation. By night, he was the part time "relief" watchman at a warehouse owned by a Jewish man. Ibrahim would often take a portion of the night shift for his friend Attar, who would sneak home from the warehouse to see his family. On one of those nights Ibrahim is murdered in the warehouse, supposedly by a man who was being chased by a gang of youths. That man turned out to be a soldier in the Moroccan army. When confronted by the watchman, Ibrahim, the two struggle and Ibrahim is killed. Or, so goes the "official" conclusion.

Ibrahim's best friend, Bari, has his doubts about both the official investigation, and it's conclusion. When he is introduced to the author he airs those doubts, setting him off on a private investigation of his own, leading to the back streets, and history, of the underside of Morroco.

Police Inspector Lt. Jabri, along with Officer Sharif, attempt to guide the author through what happened the night when Ibrahim was murdered. But they seem to be covering something up. Taking off on his own, the author befriends Ibrahim's friends and family in an effort to uncover the mystery of why this seemingly innocent, and well liked man, was killed. His search leads him back to Ibrahim's home city of Jadida, and his sister, Aisha, who lives under the thumb of Ibrahim's sister-in-law, Latifa.

Latifa entered the family by marrying Ibrahim's brother, and immediately began to divide it, eventually taking over the management of the family grocery store, supposedly at the request of her husband. This is a very unusual thing in Morocco, which, as an Islamic country, is very much a male dominated society. Latifa even sells the family business in an effort to save the family home. Did she have just cause to do this? What was the real relationship between her husband and Ibrahim?

Eventually Ibrahim leaves Jididah for Casablanca, and a life in the slums. What happened to drive him there? And why does his family allow Latifa to retain control of the family assests?

When the author finds that Ibrahim had been listening to radical sermons in the days before his death, the story becomes even more complicated, leading the author to believe that the authorities are somehow involved in silencing Ibrahim. But the biggest question of all is why? What could this man have done, or known, that would require his being killed?

With a surgeons skill the author introduces, and explains, the history between the Jews and Islamics in Morocco, attempting to shed light on the often misunderstood relationship of these two groups in that country. When the veneer is pulled back, that relationship is seen to be other than what it appears.

When the author finally meets the warehouse owner, who is also a Jew, he is surprised to learn that Ibrahim was practicing some sort of "magic" in the warehouse at night, allowing people in for a fee to perform "spells." The soldier who murdered him was a "client." Why he murdered Ibrahim Dey is open to speculation, and, as with many things in the Middle East, it may never be known. And even if the mystery is solved, the full truth behind it may often be obscured.

This book takes you beyond the Casablanca you have come to know from films. The romance is torn away, and the underbelly of reality takes it's place in a spellbinding tale of twists and turns, which are as mysterious as the city in which they occur.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Poking Around Fort Dobbs

It's a beautiful time of year in North Carolina. The stifling heat of the summer has given way to a glorious autumn, with the trees changing colors faster than the squirrels scampering to hide food for the winter. Sue and I love to ride around and find things to look at. We have passed by the Fort Dobbs sign so many times in our 13 years in North Carolina, that state law now required us to make a mandatory visit. Well, that's not quite true, but we did decide to visit the Fort yesterday. It was closed.

Now, that's not as bad as one would think. Having arrived at the site of the Fort, we were greeted by an empty parking area and a deserted site. Fort Dobbs has no walls, or fortifications, it is simply the remains of the fort grounds, with a reconstructed homesite, and no gates. So we roamed around, soaking up a bit of sun while we did.

The Forts history dates back to 1755, when Governor Dobbs requested that a fort be built at the Western "frontier" of the state. It's hard to imagine that this was about as far West as most of the settlers from the East had come in 1755, but it is true. There were many settlers beyond that frontier, but they were strictly on their own. The area beyond this point was Cherokee country. The Fort was built for defense against Indian attacks from the Cherokees, who had aligned themselves with the French, in what became known as the French-Indian Wars.

The Fort was built in 1756 and stood as a garrison on the site. It was more like a big box type of wooden structure, with a roof, than a conventional fort. It housed 50 men.

The fort came under attack late on the night of February 27, 1760 by more than 60 Indians. The settlers suffered two casualties, and one death, while the reports indicate that 10-12 Cherokee were killed, or wounded.

Not much remains of the Fort, just some outlines in the earth where the garrison once stood. By 1761 the garrison was moved further West, and by 1766 Fort Dobbs was in total ruins. The land is pristine and virtually untouched since the days of the fort. I hope it stays that way.

For a quick overview of the site, and the role it played in local history, this link will take you to the official web site for Fort Dobbs;

http://fortdobbs.org/history-fortdobbs.htm

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Zucotti Park - A Truth Lain Bare

Zucotti Park in New York City, formerly known as "Liberty" Plaza; that’s true, you can look it up; is the site of recent protests against what many Americans view as corporate greed. It's officially called "Occupy Wall Street." That greed was underscored, and a truth defined, this past week when the owners of Zucotti Park first demanded that the protestors be removed by New York Ciy’s Finest. These owners have received over $700,000 dollars of your tax money since 2001 for what is, essentially, a private park. This attempt to evict the people from the park for which they have been forced to pay, only serves to underscore the very point the protests are all about; corporate greed and the re-distrubution of wealth, through tax grants and loopholes, to those who need it least.

Think about the gall it takes to accept tax revenue, generated mainly by the people who can least afford it, to build a private plaza, change the name from “Liberty" Plaza, name it after yourself (John Zucotti - Chairman of Brookfield Properties in Canada) and then attempt to bar from its premises, the very class of people who provided the funding for the park in the first place. It’s patently absurd.

It's like the photograph above of three policemen clubbing a young man for "stepping off the sidewalk"; I remember the protests against the war in Viet Nam; same place, only 40 years earlier. That time, you couldn't find a cop, who didn't have his back turned, as the riveters threw down hot iron on the protestors. I was there. I remember.

So, let’s not forget, for one second, as we watch these events unfold, that the loudest protests against the protestors come from the bankers and the neo-cons, who are usually the first to decry the “redistribution” of wealth, but only when it comes to a program designed to help the neediest among us. And therein lies the truth – they just don’t care.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"The Shoes of The Fisherman" with Anthony Quinn, Oskar Werner and David Janssen (1968)

One of the main reasons I took this film out was to simply watch, and listen to, Oskar Werner, who plays a conflicted Priest in this high drama set in Rome during the 1980's. The film was made in 1968, and therefore assumes a lot about the direction of global affairs over the next 20 years. Notwithstanding, this is a very well made film, with many things to be said about world politics and religion. Who really drives the train?

Archbishop Kiril Lakota, played by Anthony Quinn, a Priest from the Ukraine, is freed after 20 years in Siberia, imprisoned for his religious beliefs. He is freed at the request of the Vatican, and on the verge of a nuclear confrontation between China and Russia, resulting from a widespread famine in China. This famine was caused by trade restrictions imposed by the United States. Once he arrives in Rome he meets the troubled Priest David Telemond. Father Telemond is undergoing an investigation into his beliefs, which at times seem to be at odds with church doctrine. His real crime, of course, is his expression of these beliefs. They pose a threat to those in power.

Upon his arrival at the Vatican, Archbishop Kiril is made Cardinal Priest by the Pope himself, which places Kiril in the line of succession, should anything happen to the Pope. When the Pope, played by Sir John Gielgud, does pass away, the College of Cardinals vote, seven times, to name a new Pope. When they become deadlocked in their decision, the Cardinals elect Kiril as the new leader of one of the world's largest religious denominations. He will be called Pope Kiril I.

Serving as a guide throughout the movie is David Janssen, who plays a news reporter, plagued by his own self-doubts, and a troubled marriage. His doubts and questions mirror those of Pope Kiril, as the Pontiff struggles with a world crisis and the investigation of Father Telemond. Somehow he must find a way to bring these separate, but equally important issues, into harmony.

The best scenes in this movie are all concerned with religious doctrine as Father Telemond is questioned about his faith. Oskar Werner is brilliant in his role as the beleaguered Priest. This may be one of his best performances ever, almost eclipsing his role as the East German Prosecutor in the film "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold."

Great performances by all, especially Oskar Werner and Anthony Quinn, with a multi-layered storyline, make this a film worth watching.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"It Happened One Night" with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert (1934)


During the Great Depression in the 1930's, a new genre of film made its appearance across the country. They were called "screwball" comedies, because the plots were slightly insane, and also, because like a good "screwball" in a baseball game, you were never really quite sure just where it was all going to end up. The other night I watched Frank Capra's "You Can't Take It With You" after quite a few years. I enjoyed it so much that I returned to the library for some more of Frank Capra's magical celluloid elixir. I came home with "It Happened One Night."

Briefly, the film is about a news reporter, Peter Warne, played by Clark Gable, who gets fired for some very good reasons. When he embarks on a bus trip back to New York he meets, and attempts to befriend, Ellie Andrews, played by Claudette Colbert, as she flees from her millionaire father, who is opposed to Ms. Andrews pending marriage to a social celebrity who may just be marrying her for her money.

Naiveté is the order of the day as Ms. Andrews tries to make her way back to New York via bus, exposing her to a level of living which she has never experienced before. And experience is just what she gets; from having her bags stolen, to being hit upon by a traveling salesman. Life on the road is not something she is prepared for.

Peter Warne, with his keen eye as a reporter, as well as a man of the world, discovers Ms. Andrews’ true identity and keeps a careful eye on her as she makes her way from Miami to New York aboard the bus. When her baggage is stolen, she is left penniless, and the two try to make it to New York on $4 dollars. Forced to leave the bus when her true identity is discovered by the philandering salesman "Shapley", played by Roscoe Karns, Warne and Ms. Andrews leave the bus and begin to hitchhike the remaining way.

Her father, a millionaire known simply as "Andrews", played by Walter Connolly, has all the airports, bus terminals and train stations watched by private detectives, but he has neglected the one way in which his daughter is now traveling; by thumb.

As the couple bicker and banter their way towards New York they discover a mutual respect for one another. This respect begrudgingly turns into something more, and though Ms. Andrews' father has finally accepted his daughter's impending marriage to the intended groom, he is only too happy to meet Peter Warne, and would be even happier to have him as a son in law instead. How all of this works out is the icing on the cake in this delightful "screwball" comedy.

Made with the same team of screenwriter Robert Riskin, working from a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams, and directed by Frank Capra, this movie earned 5 Academy Awards in 1934. The categories were Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay. They really don't make them like this anymore.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"The Year That Clayton Delaney Died" by Tom T. Hall



Tom T. Hall is one of the most prolific American songwriters of the late 20th Century. He wrote scores of songs, most of which were recorded by others. But, every now and again, there would be a song that was so personal to him, that he held it back for himself. "Clayton Delaney" was one of those. With it's straightforward lyrics, this song has been a favorite of mine for decades. In this clip, from You Tube, Tom Hall explains why, and how, he wrote the song. The story behind it is as beautiful as the song itself. Although there are better quality performances of this tune on You Tube, this one, with it's introduction by Tom T. Hall, is my favorite.

Here are the lyrics;

"The Year That Clayton Delaney Died"

I remember the year that Clayton Delaney died,
They said for the last two weeks that he suffered and cried.
It made a big impression on me, although I was a barefoot kid,
They said he got religion at the end and I'm glad that he did.

Clayton was the best guitar picker in our town,
I thought he was a hero and I used to follow Clayton around.
Clayton used to tell me, "Son you better put that old guitar away,
There ain't no money in it, it'll lead you to an early grave."

Well, Daddy said he drank a lot, but I could never understand,
I knew he used to pick up in Ohio with a five-piece band.
I often wondered why Clayton, who seemed so good to me,
Never took his guitar and made it down in Tenn-o-see.

I guess if I'd admit it, Clayton taught me how to drink booze,
I can see him half-stoned a-pickin' out the lovesick blues.
When Clayton died I made him a promise, I was gonna carry on somehow,
I'd give a hundred dollars if he could only see me now.

I remember the year that Clayton Delaney died,
Nobody ever knew it but I went out in the woods and I cried.
Well, I know there's a lotta big preachers that know a lot more than I do,
But it could be that the good Lord likes a little pickin' too.
Yeah, I remember the year that Clayton Delaney died.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"You Can't Take It With You" with James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore and Jean Arthur (1938)


I haven't seen this film in years. It was on the shelf at the library, and I remembered it with such affection, that I had to take it home. Martin Vanderhof, played by Lionel Barrymore, owns the one piece of land that industrialist Anthony P. Kirby, played by Edward Arnold, needs to secure a defense contract that will make him the largest producer of war materials in the world. But money is no object to Martin Vanderhof, who wants to live life and enjoy what he has. He has no intention of selling his home. He lives with his daughter, and granddaughter Alice Sycamore, played by Jean Arthur, along with a host of very unusual people, with ambitions and dreams to match their unusual personalities.

Tony Kirby, played by James Stewart, is the son of Anthony P. Kirby, and engaged to Martin Vanderhof's granddaughter, Alice. Complications, of course, arise when the Kirby's show up one night early for a dinner engagement. This mishap was arranged by Tony Kirby in order that his family see the Sycamore family, and Martin Vanderhof, just as they are in this wonderful look at society and the values we all place upon the things that are dear to us.

For instance, in this film, made in 1938, a man who owns his property could not be forced to move. Today, under eminent domain, he would be forced to sell his property to make way for any private enterprise that would create a larger tax revenue.

This is a wonderful comedy in the tradition of Frank Capra, assembled with the usual cast of character actors, all ably assisted with a script by playwrights George Kaufman and Moss Hart, and a flawless screenplay of all the madness by Robert Riskin. With his usual flair for perfection in full gear, the flawless direction by Frank Capra drives this film home.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"The White Headhunter" by Nigel Randell


This amazing story begins in San Francisco in 1868. The main character is Jack Renton, a teenaged Scottish youth, who is shanghaied aboard a sailing vessel bound for the South Pacific. Although he eventually manages to escape, along with 3 other men in a leaky longboat, he is ultimately left alone, washed up on the shore of Malaita, in the Solomon Islands. This is also home to a tribe of headhunters.

Although, at first, he is treated like a prisoner, soon, the Chief of the island, Kabou, takes him under his wing, teaching him all of the things he will need to know in order to survive in such an alien environment. This includes cannibalism.

The author explores, along with this fascinating adventure, the history and culture of the people that inhabit the Solomon Islands area of the South Pacific. Carefully piecing together the oral histories of the islands, he is able to retrace Jack Renton's remarkable adventure, even following him on his journey home, where he would write a book about his experiences, as well as donate many of his artifacts to a museum. These artifacts include a necklace of 59 human teeth.

Although the reader may question the reasoning behind Jack Renton's writing such a memoir of his experiences, the very fact that he did so caused Nigel Randell to embark upon a 10 year quest in order to sort the truth from fiction in this carefully researched book.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dr. Seuss Week


I read in the paper that this is Dr. Seuss week, which bought me back to 1st grade and learning to read. By the 2nd grade I had already breezed through everything that he had written at the time. His books represented the perfect reward for having mastered the Dick and Jane series, which were the standard for teaching reading at the time. With a more complex story, and colorful characters, such as "The Cat in the Hat", Dr. Seuss, born Theodore Geisel, was able to make reading fun for the countless students whose lives he touched.

Theodore Geisel was born in 1904. His earliest literary efforts were at Dartmouth College, where he graduated in 1925. It was while at Dartmouth that he began to sign some of his work on the school's newspaper as "Seuss". This was a result of his having been caught drinking gin, and as a punishment he was not allowed to participate in any extracurricular activities for 6 months. After graduation, Geisel went on to become an illustrator, and writer, for such publications as "Judge", "Life", "Vanity Fair", and "Liberty", all of which were the top magazines of the time. In 1937, while on a return voyage from Europe, he wrote 'Mulberry Street", and an American icon was born.

When I got older and began to look at things like copyright dates, etc., I was surprised to find that some of his books had been written in the 1930's. I just thought my Mom was cool for knowing which of the latest books I would enjoy, never realizing that she had already read some of them when she was a child. And she used those books to teach me the value of having an imagination, while at the same time not letting that imagination roam so far as to obliterate reality. "And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street" is a good example of both Dr. Seuss's writing, coupled with my mother's wisdom.

As a kid I liked to make up stories. I still do. I undoubtedly inherited this trait from my mother's Uncle Irving, my venerated Uncle "I", who could take any ordinary event and spin it into something worthy of Pasternak's "Dr. Zhivago." That's quite a feat! If I were going to the Chinese Laundry, for instance, I would come home with tall tales of all the things I had seen on the way to and from the store. Notice that I say "things I had seen" in reference to the stories I would tell about them. The stories were based on something real, yet, as most children do, I felt the need to embellish them in some fashion. It was never an attempt at self aggrandization, but rather a child's way of enlarging my small world, and making it more than it was. Dr. Seuss made it possible for me to do this by showing me the difference between reality and my own imagination.

This was never more true than in my favorite Dr. Seuss book, "And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street". This book could have been my autobiography as a child. If I were on the way to school and a fire truck raced past, by the time I got home it was a three alarm fire that I had witnessed. If a man was arguing with another man over a parking space, I had seen a life and death struggle worthy of anything on "Animal Kingdom". In short, I was a very imaginative child. My parents called it "telling lies."

In the "Mulberry Street" book, Dr. Seuss outdoes any of his later works, with the imaginative Marco taking his customary walk to and from school, during which he encounters a simple horse and wagon on Mulberry Street. During his walk, the horse easily becomes a Zebra, and then the wagon becomes a chariot drawn by a reindeer. The chariot, naturally becomes a sled, and the reindeer becomes an elephant, complete with a Rajah riding it. By the time Marco is finished with his embellishments, the simple horse and cart have become a major procession, involving the Mayor,an airplane, motorcycles, a full marching band and an old man in a trailer house. Chinese people, and magicians, round out his fantasy. But when he gets home his dreams are laid waste when he is asked, by his father, what he has seen on the way home. In that instant, all of the colorful embellishments pass away, and Marco is left with the reality of the simple horse and cart that he has really seen.

I still have the 1937 first edition of "Mulberry Street", which belonged to my mother. And I still pull it off the shelf periodically, if only to remind myself of the dividing line between truth and fiction. But it also helps me to keep alive the bit of "Marco" that exists in all of us.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Happy Birthday John Lennon!



This is one of my favorite videos of "Imagine" by John Lennon. It shows John, with Phil Spector, and Yoko Ono, as they record the iconic song that would become attached to his name. The recording process, for even such a simple ballad as "Imagine", is fascinating to watch, especially when it involves John Lennon and Phil Spector.

There is an earlier version of this song, recorded by John, on a Sony Walkman, in the "white room" of his apartment at the Dakota in New York City, which was apparently where he first wrote it. But this version, a few weeks later, really captures the creative process of this beautiful ballad. Alan White, a session drummer the Beatles used in 1965, when Ringo had his tonsils removed, and Klaus Voorman, an old friend from the Hamburg days, who played bass with Manfred Mann in 1966, and designed the cover for the Beatles album "Revolver", are also both on hand.

The Cat

This is Midnight, the cat who has adopted me. We have settled into an easy relationship over the past month or so. He sleeps outside, by the front door, or in one of the porch chairs. He likes to be "talked" to in a soft manner and comes when called, just like a dog.

Clearly this is someone's housecat, and we have been trying to find it's owner. We have advertised on Craig's list and in the newspaper. We actually had one person come to look and see if it was their cat - but, no luck, they wouldn't have him, the eyes were different!

I have tried the shelters that won't kill him, but they are full. I have asked all the animal "lovers" I know if they would take this wonderful cat into their home. He has clearly been trained, and has most likely been nuetered, etc. But not one person has stepped up to the plate for "Midnight". I have allergies that prevent me from taking this little fellow into my home. All I can do is feed him and let him sleep on the porch chair. But it's getting cold out at night now and I worry about the winter coming up.

Midnight is a lot tougher now than when he first showed up at our door. I feed him at his pleasure - dry food several times a day, and canned tuna fish about twice a week. He loves that!

Well, I gotta go, Midnight is outside meowing for his breakfast. It was chilly last night, so I will give him some warm skim milk with his breakfast. He loves that, too.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On Turning 57, Heinz, Andy Warhol and Me.


Today is, once again, my birthday. Not a landmark one, like say, 50 or 60, but still a step further down the road. And how is life at 57 years old? Not bad, not bad at all.

I have been retired, on Disability, for 2 years now, due to some health issues. But generally, in the broader sense of how I feel about myself at 57, I feel pretty good. I am at peace with just about any issues I may have had with anything that really mattered in my life; my 3 children are grown, and have struggles of their own to contend with; and I have 4 beautiful granddaughters. My wife and I have settled imto the comfortable portion of 25 years together; both fully aware of one another's strengths, and weaknesses, and smart enough not to exploit that knowledge. In short, there's not too much to complain about.

So, please accept this Heinz bottle, in the advant-garde spirit of Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans", and have a great birthday for me.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yom Kippur - 5772

For Ruth, and Irving and Max; and all the others who came before, and after...

The Shofar and The British - Rabbi Moshe Segal



This evening marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. It is the culmination of the 10 days comprising Rosh Hashanah, during which time Jews the world over have finished reading the Torah and ask forgiveness of those whom they may have wronged in the past year. On Yom Kippur the Shofar, a ram's horn, is sounded to signify the beginning of the New Year. This is a narrative about the blowing of the Shofar at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during the years before the Creation of a Jewish State in 1948. What follows is an excerpt (translated from the Hebrew) from the memoir of Rabbi Moshe Segal (1904-1985), a Lubavitcher Chassid who was active in the struggle to free the Holy Land from British rule. It was taken from the website http://www.chabad.org/

The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was twice destroyed -- by the Romans in the year 69 CE, and by the Babylonians on the same date in 423 BCE. One wall remains standing as a living symbol of the Jewish people's ownership over the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem -- the Kotel HaMaaravi or "Western Wall."

In those years, the area in front of the Kotel did not look as it does today. Only a narrow alley separated the Kotel and the Arab houses on its other side. The British Government forbade us to place an Ark, tables or benches in the alley; even a small stool could not be brought to the Kotel. The British also instituted the following ordinances, designed to humble the Jews at the holiest place of their faith: it is forbidden to pray out loud, lest one upset the Arab residents; it is forbidden to read from the Torah (those praying at the Kotel had to go to one of the synagogues in the Jewish quarter to conduct the Torah reading); it is forbidden to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The British Government placed policemen at the Kotel to enforce these rules.

On Yom Kippur of that year [1930] I was praying at the Kotel. During the brief intermission between the musaf and minchah prayers, I overheard people whispering to each other: "Where will we go to hear the shofar? It'll be impossible to blow here. There are as many policemen as people praying..." The Police Commander himself was there, to make sure that the Jews will not, G-d forbid, sound the single blast that closes the fast.

I listened to these whisperings, and thought to myself: Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar that accompanies our proclamation of the sovereignty of G-d? Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar, which symbolizes the redemption of Israel? True, the sounding of the shofar at the close of Yom Kippur is only a custom, but "A Jewish custom is Torah"! I approached Rabbi Yitzchak Horenstein, who served as the Rabbi of our "congregation," and said to him: "Give me a shofar."

"What for?"

"I'll blow."

"What are you talking about? Don't you see the police?"

"I'll blow."

The Rabbi abruptly turned away from me, but not before he cast a glance at the prayer stand at the left end of the alley. I understood: the shofar was in the stand. When the hour of the blowing approached, I walked over to the stand and leaned against it.

I opened the drawer and slipped the shofar into my shirt. I had the shofar, but what if they saw me before I had a chance to blow it? I was still unmarried at the time, and following the Ashkenazic custom, did not wear a tallit. I turned to person praying at my side, and asked him for his tallit. My request must have seemed strange to him, but the Jews are a kind people, especially at the holiest moments of the holiest day, and he handed me his tallit without a word.

I wrapped myself in the tallit. At that moment, I felt that I had created my own private domain. All around me, a foreign government prevails, ruling over the people of Israel even on their holiest day and at their holiest place, and we are not free to serve our G-d; but under this tallit is another domain. Here I am under no dominion save that of my Father in Heaven; here I shall do as He commands me, and no force on earth will stop me.

When the closing verses of the neillah prayer -- "Hear O Israel," "Blessed be the name" and "The L-rd is G-d" -- were proclaimed, I took the shofar and blew a long, resounding blast. Everything happened very quickly. Many hands grabbed me. I removed the tallit from over my head, and before me stood the Police Commander, who ordered my arrest.

I was taken to the kishla, the prison in the Old City, and an Arab policeman was appointed to watch over me. Many hours passed; I was given no food or water to break my fast. At midnight, the policeman received an order to release me, and he let me out without a word.

I then learned that when the chief rabbi of the Holy Land, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, heard of my arrest, he immediately contacted the secretary of High Commissioner of Palestine, and asked that I be released. When his request was refused, he stated that he would not break his fast until I was freed. The High Commissioner resisted for many hours, but finally, out of respect for the Rabbi, he had no choice but to set me free.

For the next eighteen years, until the Arab conquest of the Old City in 1948, the shofar was sounded at the Kotel every Yom Kippur. The British well understood the significance of this blast; they knew that it would ultimately demolish their reign over our land, as the walls of Jericho crumbled before the shofar of Joshua, and they did everything in their power to prevent it. But every Yom Kippur, the shofar was sounded by men who knew they would be arrested for their part in staking our claim on the holiest of our possessions.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Long Tall Sally" by The Beatles (Live - 1963)



I'm in between books right now, and the movie I watched last night put me to sleep, so I'm waking myself up with a bit of "Long Tall Sally", Beatles style. This was recorded for the Swedish TV show "Drop In" on October 30th, 1963 and aired on November 3rd. The show was similar in format to "Shindig" here in the United States. The group performed 4 songs in all, with "Long Tall Sally" being the final number. I love the reaction of the two hosts seated in front of the group. It's as if they have never seen the likes of this band before. And I guess they hadn't!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

China and The Yuan - Unfair Trade

Well, it's official now. The United States of America has been warned, by China, that any bill passed by the United States requiring fair valuation of foreign currencies would have "repercussions." I'm shaking.

With the U.S. in it's worst financial shape since the Great Depression, and the Yuan, the official currency of China, being deliberately set at a low rate of exchange, thus giving the Chinese a sharp financial edge in world trade, the stage is set for the United States to experience a continued fall in the value of the dollar against the Euro. This comes at the same time that the Chinese Yuan remains somewhat "static", that is, a bit more immune to the world wide economic crisis now facing us all.

On Monday, the Senate voted to debate a bill that would permit the government to impose new duties, or tariffs, on imported goods manufactured in countries which undervalue their currencies. China is the leader in this type of behavoir, and so has the most at stake should the bill actually come to pass. Undervaluing currencies is akin to providing a government subsidy to the private market place in those countries, which effectively gives them an artificial edge in foreign trade. It's one of the main reasons Americans have been buying Chinese goods for over 25 years now. It is also one of the chief reasons so many of our jobs have gone overseas, further fueling a recession brought on by our own internal financial maneuvering.

If you think that this proposed bill, which hasn't even got a name yet, doesn't scare China, think again. By Tuesday the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the Commerce Ministry and Central Bank had all issued statements denouncing the proposed debate concerning the bill. So, we must be on the right track.

But don't get your hopes up just yet, as this may be mere saber rattling on the part of the Obama administration as we ramp up to Election Year 2012. The Chinese currency issue has been the "elephant in the living room" for sometime now, with this proposed debate being the first action undertaken by any administration, Republican or Democrat, in over 20 years, to tackle this issue.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu states that this move toward "protectionism" on the part of the United States violates World Trade Organization rules and may seriously disturb trade relations between our two nations. He also underscored the fact that China has increased the value of the Yuan by about 7% in comparison to the dollar since June of 2010. In addition, he stated that the undervaluing of the Yuan is not the cause of the United States current trade deficit with China. Well, if it's not, I'd like him to tell me what is?

Ma further stated that China is the fastest growing export market for the United States, and that trade is important to both sides. And that is exactly the point of the Senate debates to which he is so strongly opposed. His statement read, in part, "The Chinese side appeals to the U.S. side to abandon protectionism and not to politicize trade and economic issues, so as to create a favorable environment for the development of China-U.S. economic and trade ties."

Please explain to me how China's current under valuation of the Yuan, with it's attendant domination of imports into the United States, while severely restricting U.S. imports to China is supposed to create a "favorable environment" for anyone else but the Chinese.

This legislation, if it ever gets past the debate stage, would have the effect of creating more jobs here in the United States as the Chinese imports become less of a bargain. Without government subsidies the Chinese corporations will face the same obstacles as American companies do, thus leveling the playing field. This is the real fear evoked by the protests of the Chinese government.

The Chinese Central Bank warned, ominously, that the proposed law could cause more serious problems. If the bill passes, they state that it "cannot resolve insufficient saving, the high trade deficit and the high unemployment rate in the U.S., and it may seriously affect the progress of China's exchange rate reform and may lead to a trade war, which we do not want to see."

Of course they don't want to see a trade war with the United States. With the Chinese buying almost nothing from us, and us threatening to stop the allure of the undervalued imports from China, they would be hard pressed to collect on all of the money we owe them. Or, worse yet, we could stop all Chinese imports, jump start our own economy with the new jobs created by that action, and use the tax revenue to pay down our debt to the Chinese. After that, their largest import market would be a thing of the past.

While China's Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang has said that China has begun taking steps that would increase U.S. imports to China, it may be a case of too little, too late.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Searching For Cider

It all started when Sue wanted to get some apple cider, you know, the real fresh, down home, locally grown, environmentally friendly type of apple cider. So, we decided to head about 10 miles north of us towards Mooresville, in Iredell County, where we figured it would be easy to score some cider. Instead, we got pumpkins, fields and fields of them! Brooklyn, New York used to have many such farms when my Dad was a kid. He often told me about them, but I never saw one growing up, so it is still a bit of magic for me to behold one. All that's missing is Linus and Charlie Brown!

In our continued journey to find the elusive elixir, we entered Rowan County, a bit East of Mooresville. It was there that we ran into this dazzling field of cotton, ready for picking, on a glorious fall day. Of course, we had to stop and get a few bolls for souvenirs, they are a beautiful piece of work in their natural state. We played in the fields a bit before heading forth, once again, in our quest to quench our thirst for the bubbly beverage. This time we headed toward Kannapolis.

When we first saw the dome of this building, I knew we were around the corner from the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, which adjoins the Kannapolis Research Center, the main building of which houses this beautiful mural in the dome of the main building. Somehow, the doors were unlocked, and the security guard was friendly, so we snapped a few pictures, chatted a bit, and then left, still searching for the tantilizing taste of the fermented fruit. But, time was growing short, so we decided to go eat instead.

Which led us to our usual table, by the fire, at one of our favorite local restaurants, Firebird's, where we shared our traditional combination of a huge Spinach Salad and an equally large, double portion of Pecan Encrusted Trout. Our plans for next weekend are to actually find some cider.

Monday, October 3, 2011

"La Cabeza" - Public Art

Sue and I went to see this unusual piece of public art in downtown Charlotte on Saturday. It's colorful, and slightly weird visage helps to brighten up the corporate world of glass and steel buildings which seem to house all the banks in the world.

"La Cabeza" is the creation of artist Niki De Saint Phalle, who is married to fellow artist Jean Tinguely, a close friend of Andreas Bechtler, of the Bechtler family. They are the force behind the Bechtler Museum of Art, which is located here in Charlotte. This sculpture, which is currently on tour, sits diagonally across from their famed glass sculptered "The Firebird", which sits at the entrance to the museum.

Inspired by the imagery of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, it was created in 2000, and stands 14 feet high , embedded with a colorful array of abalone shells, glass pebbles, mirrors, and stained glass. You can walk through it, marveling at the mirror encrusted interior, which includes a bench molded into the wall. You can look out from the eyes, or dangle parts of yourself out of La Cabeza's mouth. It's a friendly ogre, which is inspired by the artists interest in other cultures. The style is Mesoamerican and would be right at home in San Antonio, near the Riverwalk.

La Cabeza is only one of several pieces exhibited by Ms.Phalle and her husband. There is another walk through piece of the Cat, as well as a larger than life Golf Player and the majestic depiction of Miles Davis, all done in the same style with pebbles and glass fitted together in mosaic patterns.

It's a fun exhibit, one in which the art is clearly identifiable for what it is, and accessible to all the children who wish to climb on the figures. Public art should be fun, offering a counterpoint to the daily travails of the world around us. When placed in business districts, as is this exhibit, a downtown area can be transformed into a playground on weekends, with families strolling about while tourists take photos and children climb in and out, as well as all over the sculptures. At one point I even saw "La Cabeza" flash a smile at Miles Davis, but it happened so quickly that I don't think anyone else noticed.

The best part of viewing any type of art is the chance to indulge in some self reflection, that is, a chance to find out what any particular piece of art says to you as an individual. And what better place to do that than while seated inside the bright, and naturally lit, mirror lined head of "La Cabeza"? With the brilliance of a fall day all around her, Sue seems to like what she sees. I know I do..

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Code Talker" by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila


In the 1920's and 1930's, as the country struggled through the Great Depression, the government waged an all out war to abolish Native American traditions, including their languaugue. This misguided effort would later prove to be a case of true irony as the government sought to find a code that would be unbreakable to the Japanese. Navajo, which had never been written down, became that code.

In this all encompassing memoir, Chester Nez, born "Betoli", which means "light complexion" in Navajo, takes the reader on his journey through both the pre-war years, first as a youngster in the government schools designed to erase his culture, and then through the war years, when that very culture, which the government worked so hard to destroy, was used to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific.

Mr. Nez begins his remarkeable journey on the reservation during the 1920's. He also includes a brief history of the Navajo tribe, and some of their belief systems and traditions in a very reader friendly manner, which serves to heighten the experiences the author would later endure while serving in the Pacific. Drawing on the folklore, and wisdom, of his own people, helped him to survive the war mentally, in much the same way that his military basic training enabled him to survive the war physically.

It is hard to believe, but this is the first, and only, book to have been written by one of the original "Codetalkers". As I said, theirs is an oral culture. Much has been written about them, and films have grossed tremendous amounts of money from their story, but this is the first, authentic account of how the code came to be, and how it was used, to defeat a common enemy.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Brooklyn's Wall Of Remembrance

It figures - I just got back from a quick visit to New York, including my old neighborhood of Kings Highway, and had no idea that there was a monument in Brooklyn honoring the heroes of 9/11. And it was only about a mile away in Coney Island!

It's a 30 x 12 foot granite wall at MCU Stadium, which is located on the site of the old Steeplechase Park, which closed in 1964, when I was almost 10 years old. The old Cyclone roller coaster, Wonder Wheel and Parachute Jump are all still standing and visable from the stadium's left and right fields. It is the current home of the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team, an affiliate of the New York Mets and a member of the New York - Penn League. The stadium holds 7,500 people at capacity.

The monument, located on the outside wall to the stadium, depicts the faces of the 416 First Responders who gave their all on that day. I hadn't even heard of the Wall of Remembrance until I spoke with my favorite Aunt Gloria today. She hasn't seen it yet either, so I don't feel too left out. The following information is from the website Memorials in Brooklyn for Families. Their URL is as follows;

http://www.achildgrows.com/2011/09/07/911-memorials-in-nyc-for-families/

And here is the paragraph from the site which describes the memorial, which is located on Surf Avenue;

Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance

The Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance, located in Coney Island, pays tribute to the firefighters, port authority officers, New York City and New York State police officers, fire patrol, first responders and a K-9 rescue dog from Brooklyn who perished on 9/11. Created by Brooklyn-born and raised Sol Moglen, images are laser-engraved on a granite wall that also includes bronze carvings of the heroes. On September 8th, The Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance is also sponsoring the Witness to Tragedy and Recovery with Pace University, which will include a panel of photographers, videographers, psychologists and other scholars who will analyze the effects and lessons of news images on the public. Details: MCU Park-, 1904 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11224-2410.

Apparently there are several memorials in Brooklyn, one is located at the old Staten Island Ferry pier on 69th Street. Many Brooklynites gathered there on the morning of September 11th, 2001, watching the tragedy unfold. Even some of the street signs have been changed to reflect the names of some of the victims who lived in the various neighborhoods. There are several more memorials in Brooklyn, all overshadowed by the National memorial at Ground Zero, but these local remembrances are somehow more personal, and emblematic, of the events of that day. It wasn't just a building that went down, it was a piece of everyone in all 5 boroughs, and the entire nation as well. Here is a list of the other monuments in Brooklyn;

Memorial in Coney Island
Memorial in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Firehouse Memorial in Park Slope, Brooklyn
Liberty Oaks 9/11 Memorial at Brooklyn Botanic Garden
FDNY Memorial in Downtown Brooklyn

These memorials are open 7 days a week, and unlike the one at Ground Zero, require no advance tickets or reservations. The only thing you need to bring is your heart.