Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Midnight / Meow

Depending on the mood, or time of day, or disposition, our resident stray cat answers to several different names. We originally named him Midnight, for obvious reasons. He seems to be a typical tom cat, preferring to roam about, as the song says, "After Midnight." At other times, when he is not busy licking himself, or rolling around on the porch, we call him Meow, which he seems to prefer.

Truth be known, he doesn't understand a word that either Sue or I say to him. He just looks up and goes "Meow", which can mean a variety of things to a cat. I think it's actually the only word in their spoken language. So, communication has not been too difficult to manage with Midnight/Meow. Until the other day, when he came home looking like this.

I'm not sure where he went the other night, but when I woke up in the morning and went to the garage to check on him - this is what he looked like! There must be a punk rock club nearby somewhere, or else this is a protective disguise that scares away all of the other animals out there at night. Even the hawk which took him on his famous, but short, flight last year, now refuses to let him board.

The spiked look didn't last too long, just about a day or so. I kind of felt like I did when my daughter was 14 and colored her hair blue. Amused, but with a twinge of embarrassment. At least I didn't have to take him to the mall! But then, when I thought it all through, I realized that it's his hair and he has the right to wear it any way he pleases. I just prefer it a natural black.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Lilly Ledbetter Act and The Wal-Mart Discrimination Case

When Doris Dukes sued Wal-Mart over unfair wages last year, and lost, something did not seem quite right with the Supreme Court's decision in the case. We all know, or should know, that American women do not have an Equal Rights Amendment. It was passed by Congress in 1973, but never ratified by the Senate. And it has largely been ignored ever since, even by women of both parties who were in a position to do something about it. I'm thinking about both Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton, who, during their respective terms as Secretary of State, travelled the world over talking about Human Rights in every country they visited. Women's Rights were also big on both of their foreign agendas. But never once have I ever heard an American woman, in a position of authority, tackle this seemingly simple issue; Equal pay for equal work.

To his credit, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act into law in January 2009. But, much to the discredit of all those involved in writing that law, they never addressed the employers right to enforce a policy which prohibits an employee from disclosing to another employee, how much they earn for the same job. When Lilly Ledbetter sued Goodyear Tire and Rubber in 2007 this was the very issue at the heart of the matter. The Courts decision essentially told her that she and her fellow female employees had no right to compensation simply because they had learned too late about the discrimination, in other words, it was okay for Goodyear to have not made full disclosure to them about their terms of employment. That was a travesty of justice, as is the Wal-Mart case decision, in which the plaintiffs amounted to more than all of the female members of our Armed Forces, who do receive equal pay by law. Where is the consistency here?

I cannot help but wonder how the Court arrived at their logic in either case. In the Lilly Ledbetter decision it is akin to telling the victim of a crime that they have no civil recourse now, based on the fact that they didn't realize the unfairness with which they were treated at the time. It flies in the face of logic, especially at the present time, when compensation is being awarded to victims of the governments Eugenics Program, in which people were sterilized by court order. Those orders were both legally and morally wrong, and compensation, such as it is, is the correct remedy. What is the difference in the legal principle involved? I fail to see it.

These two episodes have now set the stage for corporations, such as Wal-Mart, to continue to dance about, and skirt the real problem, for years to come. In this election year, all women should be concerned about this inequity. Sadly, the majority seem to be unaware of the entire issue.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dean Martin - Live 1964

I am taking the day off; I have a sore throat, so it hurts when I type. This is a most unusual clip of Dean Martin from a 1964 TV special which I have never seen. What makes it so unusual is the slow, almost jazz-like, deliveries of the standards which Mr. Martin performs here.

"Everybody Loves Somebody", which had been previously released in this slower version in the late 1940's, was currently topping the charts, even eclipsing the Beatles in that pivotal year. So, I have to wonder why he chose to do the older arrangement. Mr. Martin initially resisted the turning of the tide towards rock n' roll, even telling his 14 year old son, Dean, "I'm gonna' knock your 'pallies' off the charts." On August 15, 1964 he did it; topping the Billboard charts for about 8 weeks with "Everybody Loves Somebody"; right in the middle of Beatlemania.

His soulful renditions of "Volare", and "On an Evening in Roma", are among his most earthy performances of those numbers. Never ceasing to clown around, and clearly a bit inebriated, he manages to slip in a reference to Jerry Lewis, as well as to kid his piano player, Ken Lane, who wrote "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime", before closing with a short, but very bluesy rendition of "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You".

Enjoy the show; they just don't make 'em like this anymore....

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Bimbo's Initiation" by Max Fleischer (1931)

This 1931 Max Fleischer cartoon captures the dangers and humiliations of "secret" initiations, which had reached epic and dangerous proportions during the later days of the "Roaring Twenties." It's amazing to me that initiations have not been banned in today's "politically correct" environment.

This is not to say that I have not been involved in an initiation, or two, during my life. Or, that I am against such practices. No one makes you partake of the rituals involved. And peer pressure is a lame excuse. Like the old carnival barker said, "To get your ticket- you pay the price." I am, after all, a "Loyal and Trusted Shellback" - a member in good standing of the "Ancient Order of the Deep".

Shellbacks are sailors who have crossed the Equator. Until the first time you have crossed that line separating the Northern and Southern hemispheres, you are a pollywog, a snipe, a lowly bottom dweller. The initiation takes a full day under the blazing equatorial sun. Those unwilling to participate in the ritual are allowed to sit the ceremony out in some other part of the ship, where they are unable to observe the festivities. There is no pressure to join, and no penalty for not doing so. (I believe that the iniation has actually been eliminated these days - and everyone just gets their card.)

I won't bore you with the details of the initiation, although I will tell you it involves copious amounts of garbage, which the initiate is forced to crawl through, being beaten with fire hoses as you walk a gauntlet of Shellbacks, crawling across the blazing metal of the main deck, kissing the Bosun's belly, and then being anointed with lube oil by the High Priest, who in our case was the ship's Chaplain. (Note the error on line 4, which shows me as having crossed the Equator at 39 degrees and 5 minutes "M" of longitude. The "M" should be a "W" for West longitude.)

The reward for all of this? Just a bit of pride at being found acceptable, along with the pleasure of having faced something which was made out to be much worse than it actually was, and come out laughing in the end. Kind of like this cartoon.

Friday, January 27, 2012

"You Can't Always Get What You Want" by Sam Cutler

In a real close-up look at the darker side of Rock and Roll, Sam Cutler, former tour manager for the Rolling Stones 1969 tour; which ended in complete disaster at Altamont Speedway in California; asks the hard questions, and provides some of the harder answers to the "how's and why's" behind the disastrous killing of a gun wielding young black man at the hands of the Hell's Angels in December 1969. The resulting furor over the killing, coupled with the trial of Sonny Barger, heralded the end of the Woodstock Nation, which had been born only 4 months earlier in upstate New York.

Mr. Cutler examines the differences, and egos, which formed the disaster, and then simply vanished, leaving him to face the legal issues. With a keen eye for detail, and just enough sex and drugs thrown in to make it interesting, he has covered all the bases, from the security concerns to ticket scalping. The madness of touring with the Stones is apparent in the whirlwind pace of the author's writing.

Also, there is an added bonus for those who did not know, or like me, were unaware of Mr. Cutler's connection to the Grateful Dead. He became, on the strength of their connection through the Altamont Speedway concert, at which the Dead never played, tour manager for the Grateful Dead for decades to come. His accounts of Jerry Garcia, and what the man was really like, are very revealing, and will definitely be of interest to his fans. Although not a huge Dead fan myself, the business end of the Grateful Dead empire was really a fascinating thing to watch grow. It simply happened, which is, of course what that band is all about. Happening.

A great quick read for fans of either band, and illustrated just enough to make it interesting, this is one memoir which will not disappoint the reader.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Anton Karas - "The Third Man Theme"

I was looking to download the audio from the 78 RPM recording of "The Third Man Theme", from the movie of the same name, when I ran into this on the first shot. It runs about 1 minute longer than the commercially recorded version, but that's just a bonus as far as I'm concerned.

Not only does this song represent one of my favorite movies, it also reminds me of how I felt the first time I heard this record. And I heard it long before I saw the movie. My Mom and Dad had a lot of records. This was one of them; I can still see the blue label spinning at 78 RPM's and I remember the day my brother, or I, broke it.

Watching this little film of Mr. Karas playing sent me to Wikipedia, where I found the following information about him. He was always somewhat more of a mystery to me than "The Third Man" film itself, so I don't want to know too much about him. It would take away from the exotic sound of his zither playing, perhaps forever altering the way I view the film! I can't take that chance. So, I'll stick to basics.

He was born in Vienna of Hungarian and Czechoslovakian background and had 4 siblings.His father was a factory worker. Anton, his two brothers and sisters, all learned to play music, in spite of their relative poverty. At age 12 Anton found a zither in his grandmother's attic, and learned to play that. Through this humble beginning a legendary piece of music would someday emerge.

He began his apprenticeship as a tool and die maker at age of 14, but never stopped taking music lessons. From 1924 until 1925 he worked in a car factory, but economic conditions soon put an end to that, which drove him back to the University, and a career which would eventually lead to "The Third Man Theme."

From 1939–1945 he was employed by the Nazi's German Wehrmacht, working in anti-aircraft warfare, for a while stationed in Russia. But he never left his zither behind, taking it with him when he went to war. He reportedly went through several zithers during this period.

In 1948 Carol Reed was in Vienna to shoot "The Third Man" and after hearing Karas play at a cafe, he commissioned him to do the title track for the film. This was Karas' first attempt at composing music on his own. He went to London, living with Reed while writing the score. He hated every minute of it.

The success of the film score made Mr. Karas well off and he didn't do too much in the way of touring, beyond a few Command Performances for Royalty around Europe. But again, I don't want to know too much about the man. His fingers are more than capable of communicating all that I ever really need to know.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Berlin-1961" by Frederick Kempe (2011)

I have always been fascinated by the Cold War. Particularly, I have always had a deep and abiding interest in Berlin at the time this book takes place. I was 7 years old when the TV show I was watching was interrupted with the news that the Soviet Union had closed the border with West Germany. Although I did not fully understand the implications at the time, the episode itself would remain with me until this very day.

In June 1961 President Kennedy met with Premier Khrushchev in Vienna for a summit. The items on the agenda ranged from the failed U2 flight of Gary Powers the year before, and the Bay of Pigs episode; both of which had been planned under the Eisenhower administration; to the major issue concerning the division of East and West Berlin. There was a "brain drain" occurring at the time, with thousands of East Germans simply crossing the street to West Germany, and never returning. The right of Freedom of Access was the issue most important to the Communists, who were seeking to revoke this right, and they were adamant in their position on it. The loss of their best technicians was to come to a halt, even if it meant war.

After the beating that President Kennedy took at the Summit in June, he was hard pressed to make the Soviet leader understand that the United States was willing to risk a confrontation over the issue of access, which was clearly a violation of the earlier 1945 agreement on that very issue. At the time there were people living in Communist East Germany who simply crossed the street to work at jobs, or owned businesses in West Germany. These people lived right on the border, taking advantage of the difference in the value of the respective currencies.

By August of 1961, all plans had been laid to separate the city of Berlin. By carefully ordering supplies of barbed wired and concrete pillars, the East Germans were able to stockpile these items at strategically located points for use in creating a temporary barrier at the appointed time. That time came in the early morning hours of August 13th, 1961 when the East German Police, along with the Army, encircled the city in the dark of night. The residents of East Berlin, who had gone to bed with free access to relatives and work in the West, would awaken to a cordon of barbed wire, reinforced by German Police and thousands of factory workers who had been mobilized to back up those Police. Behind those factory workers were Soviet tanks.

The author neglects nothing, covering East German soldier Hans Conrad Schumann’s iconic leap over the barbed wire to freedom, as well as the East German women whose homes opened onto West German alleys: allowing some to lower themselves to freedom by sheets; this book is a gripping account of one of the most impressionable events of my childhood.

The author also does an incredible job of making the chess like game of nuclear brinkmanship come to life, rather than providing only boring facts and dates. By using the quotes, and written accounts of the events, ranging from the preparations for the summit, all the way through the crisis engendered by Ambassador Lightner’s attempt to attend the ballet in the Eastern sector in October, prompting the most famous, and dangerous incident at Checkpoint Charlie, Mr. Kempe has taken a journey back in time, placing the reader right on the forefront of the Cold War at its height.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Display - Cundo Bermudez

Sue and I went to a display of some of the works of Cundo Bermudez (1914-2008) at the Charlotte Country Day School's Hance Fine Arts Center the other day. The Center is located at 1440 Carmel Road, just south of Fairview Road. Plenty of signs and parking made the trip very pleasant.

Cundo Bermudez is the Cuban Modernist Painter who fled Cuba in 1967. His exposure to Mexican art in the late 1930's, when he traveled to Mexico, along with his subsequent exposure to some of the finest European painters, such as Matisse, Picasso, and Rousseau give all his work a unique touch, blending colors and lines into images that are at once reminiscent of Mayan art, while at the same time evoking a more modern Cubist flavor. Add to this the fact that he worked right until his death at age 94, and you can easily see how he was such an influence within his genre. Some of his latest works are among his best, with a relevancy that defied his age. He was, to coin a pun, an artist who would not allow himself to be painted into a corner.

The exhibit is a product of the generosity of Isaac and Sonia Luski, who fled Castro's Cuba in 1960, taking only 4 suitcases of clothing with them. On the way to the airport they stopped at the gallery of Renee Portocarrero and purchased 2 of his pieces. They wanted to take something of Cuba with them to their new country.

Over the years Mr. and Mrs. Luski have acquired more than 50 pieces of Cuban art, which they generously share with the public. In the words of Mr. Luski himself, "We collect art because we love it. We give it away because we like to share it." That's quite a statement.

Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Luski , along with Charlotte Country Day School, for brightening a grey January afternoon with your generosity. It is people, and institutions, such as yourselves, who keep the world turning, allowing us to always expect a brighter tomorrow with each new dawn.

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Goin' to Town" with Mae West (1935)

This is the closing scene from my new favorite Mae West film, "Goin' to Town", which was released in 1935. She plays the widowed wife of a rancher who falls for an English aristocrat. With a lack of what she thinks of as "class", she despairs of ever winning his love. But have no fear, the irrepressible Ms. West, just like the Royal Canadian Mounties, always gets her man.

This film contains 2 really good numbers. I especially liked the blues format of "Now I'm a Lady". As a matter of fact, I liked it so much that I converted it to MP.3 and it now plays in my car, somewhere between "James Brown Live at the Apollo", and Jason Mranz doing "Life Is Wonderful."

I thought I had seen all the Mae West movies, but apparently I missed this one. What makes it so unique is that it opens in a town that is purely 19th Century, and it's not until the first automobile appears, about 15 minutes into the film, that you realize this is a contemporary movie. It takes place in 1934, as evidenced by the close-up of the datebook page in one of the scenes. Also, the airplane trip to Argentina is kind of a giveaway.

There’s lots of fun in this movie, with Ms. West at her best, singing and vamping her way across 2 continents in search of class, and finding true love in the bargain.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"The Iron Lady" with Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbrent

Sue and I went to see "The Iron Lady" yesterday. We're both fans of Ms. Streep's vast array of characters, and so off we went to see this much acclaimed, and also controversial, film. I'm glad that we did.

First off all, I have to dispel any pre-conceived notions that this is a film with a political agenda. Rather, it is the portrait of a once great woman, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in her later years, living in two worlds; the one of the here and now; along with the frequent recollections of whom and what she had been. In many ways this film was similar to what Ronald Reagan's final years must have been like, prior to the onset of his Alzheimer's disease.

As well as being a fairly accurate portrayal of Ms. Thatcher’s life as Prime Minister, the film also traces her beginnings as the daughter of a local councilman in World War Two England. Her father was also the village grocer, giving her the humble, yet determined roots, which would serve her so well as the first freely elected woman leader in the Western World. Indeed, it is much easier to understand her close working relationship with Ronald Reagan in this context.

As Mrs. Thatcher gets older and her husband has passed away, those about her seem to think that she has lost her hold on reality. She is haunted by the presence of her deceased husband Denis, played with wonderful charm by Jim Broadbent, and seems reluctant to let him go. His presence, and later spirit, have always guided her and helped to keep her grounded in her principles. In short, the film is also about a marriage, as much as it is about history, or her rise from a grocer's daughter to one of the most powerful women in the world.

As with Ronald Reagan, whether you liked her, or not, you cannot help but hold in admiration the pure grit which it took, not only to arrive at the top, but to get there with her principles intact.

With remarkable performances by all, especially Mr. Broadbent, along with seamlessly directed flashbacks by Phyllida Lloyd, this a film is well worth the time to view. I need not mention the already much acclaimed make up by J. Roy Helland; is all it claims to be. And, with a screenplay by Abi Morgan, this is a very well made film.

A notable quote from the film by Ms. Thatcher; “Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become... habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become.”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"All's Fair at the Fair" by Max Fleischer (1938)

I'm considering posting an old classic cartoon each Saturday. The response to the Christmas related cartoons I posted was very positive, so I'm thinking of doing this regularly. It really serves two purposes; I get a day off, and the grandkids can enjoy some of the things I watched as a kid. If nothing else, it will at least expose them to the unique quality of these old classics.

This cartoon was released just in time for the World's Fair in 1939, which was held in Flushing, New York. That same site was later used for the World's Fair in 1964-65. Also of interest is that this is another solo effort on the part of Max Fleischer, who along with his brother Dave, produced the oldest, and still the best, of the Popeye features during the 1930's. Enjoy the cartoon; it's a nice break from reality; while I think of something to post tomorrow!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jackie "Moms" Mabley - "Killer Diller" (1948)

I was originally intending to do a short piece about Jackie "Moms" Mabley, the iconic African-American comedienne. I thought that I was going to post a short bio about her along with some memories of watching her on The Merv Griffin Show when I was about 11. She was frequent guest on the show, which aired on WNEW-TV in New York City. That was Channel 5, a part of the Metromedia network, which eventually became Fox.

But I was surprised at the lack of You Tube videos from the Merv Griffin Show with Jackie "Moms" Mabley, who often performed with Redd Fox. She was, after all is said and done, the African-American version of Minnie Pearl, the disheveled comedienne of the Grand Ol' Opry. But good news often follows bad, and I ran across this full length movie with "Moms" Mabley, as well as the King Cole Trio, Butterfly McQueen and a host of African-American acts from the late 1940's. It runs about an hour and a quarter, and it's a fun movie to watch.

Here's a brief recap of "Moms" life story as outlined in Wikipedia. She was born in Brevard, North Carolina in 1894. This was a big surprise to me, as I had always thought she was from the Deep South, somewhere like Mississippi, and also much older.

Her father was a mulatto who ran a General Store, and her mother, who ran a boardinghouse, was recorded as being able to read and write in the 1870 Census. This was only 5 years after the end of the Civil War, so it is surmised that she was either a house servant, or a free woman of color. Again, this was a surprise to me. I had always assumed that her parents were slaves.

By the age of fifteen years old, Jackie, her given name, had been raped twice, giving birth to 2 children who were both given up for adoption. Against her father's wishes, she took off for Cleveland, Ohio where she secured work in a traveling minstrel show as a singer and dancer.

Her stage name, Jackie Mabley, was apparently taken from an early boyfriend, and she was quoted in an Ebony Magazine interview, 5 years before her death in 1975 "that he'd taken so much from me, it was the least I could do to take his name." She became known as "Moms" because she was like a mother to many of the younger comedians playing the "Chitlin' Circuit" during the late 1940's through the early 60's. I knew that.

At 27 years old she declared herself to be a Lesbian, becoming one of the first female entertainers to do so, black or white. In short, she was quite ahead of her time. Since comedy, especially "Mom's", is often rooted in the changes to society at the time in which it is performed, it can be interesting to listen to her acts now, if only to see how little has changed over the years. Minor improvements aside, we are much the same in 2012, as we were back then. I think it’s called human nature.

Here's a link to some of her unique comedy, which influenced performers such as Bill Cosby, as well as Richard Pryor. As a matter of fact, if you listen to some of their old records you will hear them doing some of her jokes. The only difference is the addition of some cursing on the part of Richard Pryor, which may add a bit of spice to the performance, but adds nothing to the jokes themselves.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Dean Spanley" with Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown (2008)

Peter O'Toole may have outdone even himself in this richly textured tale set in the early days of 20th Century England. Fisk, Sr. has lost his son in the Boer War and has never grieved that loss. His wife has died of a broken heart and he lives alone with the widowed housekeeper. He is a reticent and stern sort of man, strictly adhering to a schedule. His reaction to those who lament his loss is usually along the lines of, "My loss? I haven't lost anything. It was my son that died. I'm still here."

His younger son, Fisk, Jr., played by Jeremy Northham, visits punctually and regularly, but there is clearly no love lost between the two. They simply do not understand one another. When Fisk, Jr. takes his father to a lecture on the Transmigration of Souls, his father declares it all to be "poppycock." It is at this lecture that the elder Mr. Fisk, along with his son, meets Reverend Spanley, played with great sensitivity by Sam Neill, who is studying the subject of reincarnation. He seems to be in earnest to learn all he can about the subject, which only serves to pique the younger Mr. Fisks curiosity.

When leaving the lecture, Fisk, Jr. encounters Wrather, played by Bryan Brown, a man known to be a conveyer, that is, someone who can get things which are hard to come by. In this case, the younger Mr. Fisk wants a bottle of Hungarian Tokay, a wine formerly reserved for Kings. With this bottle he begins to befriend the Reverend, unlocking the secrets of his past life.

At subsequent Thursday night meetings, always with a rare bottle of Tokay, the Reverend begins to open up and reveals that he was a dog in a past life. When the younger Mr. Fisk reveals this to the conveyor, the man is transfixed and manages to become a part of these Thursday night meetings. Eventually, the elder Mr. Fisk joins them, just in time for the Reverend to reveal his entire story, which has a great effect upon the elder Mr. Fisk.

Retreating from the dinner table he is found weeping in the hallway by the housekeeper. The Reverend's experiences have somehow made it possible for him to feel once again.

This movie is almost impossible to review with any kind of justice. It is remarkably filmed, scripted, directed and performed. I will need to return to this film again in order to fully understand the meaning of the story as it concerns each character, since they, like we ourselves, are all connected in some way. In this first viewing I have remained focused on Peter O'Toole's character.

Mr. O'Toole has made many a film, some of them have been brilliant, and some have been disappointing. But none have called forth the depth of acting required of the role he plays here.

With a fascinating story by Lord Dunsany, written for the screen by Alan Sharp, and brilliantly directed by Toa Fraser, this film was a wonderful surprise with a meaningful message.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"American Desperado" by Jon Roberts and Evan Wright

The very last thing which I expected when I began to read this book were lessons in morality. If this were an Inspirational Book it would not have caught me off guard in the way it did. This is, after all, the memoirs of a self-described very "evil" man. Jon Roberts learned long ago, from his father, that Evil is stronger than Good. And he took that lesson to heart as he robbed, killed and schemed his way through life, first in the streets, then in the jails, to Vietnam and then back to the streets.

Born Jon Riccobono, the son of a New York wise guy, Mr. Roberts had many opportunities to observe the evil in his father. When he was only 8 years old he witnessed his father shooting a man because he wouldn't back down off a one lane bridge. This incident sets the stage for the life Mr. Roberts would go on to lead.

The author has set the book up in an unusual way; it's almost a conversation. Mr. Wright asks a question, and Mr. Roberts tells a story in answer, often branching out into new areas. The book has a fluidity to it which makes it a very quick read at about 500 pages. Literally, the reader can turn to any page in this book and begin reading. The stories stand on their own, as well as being a part of a larger picture.

There are so many stories in this book, from robbing local drug dealers as a kid, to setting up his own drug operations, and eventually becoming a killer. The story takes the reader from Mr. Roberts’ beginnings in New York, to Vietnam, where he served in a LLRP unit, and then to Florida in the 1970's, just before the cocaine trade hit big time.

Eventually Mr. Roberts becomes involved in that cocaine trade, dodging the bullets of his rivals, as well as those of the American government. Only a secret deal with the CIA keeps Mr. Roberts from eventually paying the full price for all of the illegal things he has done.

To his credit, the author has no illusions about the "evil" things he has done. His beliefs concerning God and Satan are plainly expressed. This is no shallow, bullet headed mobster. This guy has his own set of morals, and is very adept at explaining them.

Extensively annotated with footnotes, this book throws a light on the failure of the drug war, and also explores just what it is that we seem to love about "gangsters." When Mr. Roberts, at the opening of the book, is introduced as the "Cocaine Cowboy" during a break in the game at Miami's American Airlines Arena, the place goes nuts! You would expect that the team had just won the championship.

A very engaging book which mirrors the society we live in, this book, with the careful guidance of the co-author, is at once a great story about mobsters and what they do; as well as a compelling look at ourselves and the human weaknesses which allow those mobsters to reign over a criminal empire; at times with the protection of our own government.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Salesman" - A Film by David and Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zweria (1968)

This 1968 film, starring 4 real life salesmen, centers on the struggles of two members of the group, Paul Brennan and Charles McDevitt, as they target the poorer working class Catholic neighborhoods of Boston, and parts of Florida, door to door in 1967. They are trying to sell high end, expensive Bibles to working class families. The film is a combination of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and David Mamet’s “Glengary Glen Ross.”

There were no cell phones or laptops in 1967, when the film was shot, and beepers were still several years away for the average man. The film begins in the dead of winter in Boston. When sales plummet the team is called into the main office and given a verbal lashing, much as in the David Mamet film "Glengarry Glen Ross." Using a combination of the "carrot and the stick", the sales manager alternately praises and abuses the team, all in a vain attempt to increase sales.

From Boston, the group journeys to Miami, where they target the limited Catholic neighborhoods in an overwhelmingly Baptist state. The coffee shops where the men eat, the cheap motel rooms where they stay, are all part of the film, which at times serves as a detailed look back into the 1960's.

Paul's meltdown, mirroring those of Willy Lohman and Shelley Levene, the fictional salesmen in the two films mentioned earlier, is a sad thing to watch, as it is played out in real time. The only difference between those two fictional characters and Paul, is that Paul is a real person, as is his meltdown. It's not staged, it's not imagined. It's live. When you see this film you will understand those other two films so much more.

The film ends in a climactic way as Paul packs up to leave after experiencing a very bad sales period. While sitting on the motel bed, reminiscing about his days as an Irish kid in Boston, he laments that he could have done as his brother Charlie did, and been a cop, or like his sister Mary, worked for the phone company. If he had, he would be retiring by now, just like them. In other words, like Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront", he "could ‘a been somebody."

A very poignant film, made all the more interesting by the technology of 1966, this documentary underscores that, although in some ways it's a different world now, in other ways; as with the difference between success and failure; some things never change.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X

Today is Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. It will be celebrated tomorrow with school closings and a bank holiday. I have always wondered how Martin Luther King would have felt about that. Originally I had planned on running the iconic "I Have A Dream" speech to commemorate the day.

But then I started listening to some of his other speeches, some of which I remember from when they were given. I finally chose the one above to illustrate the point that, in spite of Martin Luther King's rhetoric, he was not that far from the beliefs of Malcolm X, who is often perceived to be the antithesis to Mr. King concerning the methods necessary to bring about a change in Civil Rights. They were closer than you might think, or have been taught.

Martin Luther King has gone down in history as the non-violent leader of the Civil Rights Era, while Malcolm X has secured his place in history, based only upon his early beliefs in the violent overthrow of "whitey". This is a simplistic and uninformed view of both men.

While Mr. King is known for his non-violence, he is often short changed when it comes to acknowledging the demands he made from his own people, just as Malcolm X did. Both men wanted equal treatment of the races. Both wanted to be respected as human beings. The difference was in their individual styles, and approaches, to the issue.

Martin Luther King wanted to be given equal rights, as if it was within the Provence of the State to do so. Malcolm X took these rights as God given, and was not about to beg for them.

But things change, and as Martin Luther King grew more frustrated with the slow pace of the movement, Malcolm X was growing spiritually. Returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm saw that he, along with thousands of other so-called Black Muslims, had been sold a false bill of goods by their leader Elijah Mohammed, the titular head of the Black Muslim movement. When Malcolm came back from Mecca he broke with that movement and began a church of his own, based upon his experiences in Mecca, which had given him intellectual growth. He began to understand that black separatism was not the answer.

Meanwhile, in a subtle reversal of roles, Martin Luther King had become angrier, and more politically active concerning the War in Vietnam, which he felt was being fought with a disproportionate number of young black men being drafted. In other words, he was becoming more polarized.

Malcolm, on the other hand, had been to Mecca, and for the first time he had seen Muslims of all colors. This experience softened his stance on the separation of the races, making him believe, for the first time, that only an unfettered dialogue on race could bridge the divide.

So, in essence, over a period of about 10 years, both sides began to see, and understand, the other side of the argument concerning racial disparity in America.

I hope that you will take the time today to listen to both of these video clips from You Tube. Listen carefully, beyond the catch phrases, and you will see that both of these extraordinary men basically stood for the same things; Dignity, Justice and Equality for all people.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Matchbox Fleet

The following was forwarded by Edward Rothbacker, a crewmember who served on the USS Milwaukee a few years before I did. Ed is also the driving force behind Pianos for Patriots, a group which provides free music lessons for the children of soldiers currently deployed. You may contact him at;


The Matchbox Fleet

79-year-old Phil Warren from the UK spent 62 years to build this incredible fleet of 432 ships. All vessels are built entirely of matchsticks and boxes of wooden matches. The collection includes nearly 370 American and 60 British ships.

Although now 79 years of age, he began creating his first boat in 1948, when he was only 17. He uses a razor blade, tweezers and sandpaper to carve the pieces and boxes, then assembles them with balsa wood glue. In total more than 650,000 matchsticks are used to create an amazing collection of 1:300 scale models. He has even added 1,200 aircraft, which give an ​​even more realistic appearance to the decks of the aircraft carriers.

The Fleet Is In.

The Subs are running a screening pattern.

And all of the aircrft are ready for launch.

Here is the Admiral reviewing the fleet.

And this is Mr. Warren at work on one his ships.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"The Blue Hotel" by Stephen Crane with James Keach and David Warner

This was the first time I have seen this remarkable film from Jan Kadar. It was first released in 1977 and then again in 1984 as a PBS special. Set in the last days of the American frontier, the story takes place in the parlor of the Blue Hotel, located in the small town of Fort Romper, against the backdrop of an impending blizzard.

Three men get off the train for an overnight stay in the hotel. Almost immediately the viewer is aware that one of the men is not quite right. The character known as "Swede", played by David Warner, is angry, apprehensive and almost expectant of trouble. He announces that "many men have died in this room", a charge vehemently denied by the owner. The Swede then further declares that he too will be killed that night, in that very room. Thinking him mad, the owner, Scully, does all he can to placate the Swede, mostly to no avail.

The owner's son, Johnnie, played by James Keach, is caught cheating at cards in a game with the Swede. The two then go outside, in the blizzard, to fight it out. The other guests, who have by now taken a dislike to the Swede, are all there to cheer on the owner's son. Initially, as he is beating the Swede, the other guests are crying out for the younger man to "Kill him, kill him!" They are sorely disappointed when the Swede nearly beats the younger man to death.

When everyone adjourns back into the hotel, the Swede decides to check out. When the owner refuses to accept any payment from the Swede a new argument is born. Just as that argument is escalating, a stranger enters the hotel seeking shelter. The Swede begins to pick on him, demanding that he listen to his story. The man refuses and the Swede puts his hands on him. The man asks him to remove his hand from his shoulder, and when the Swede does not, the man swiftly stabs him to death with one thrust. He then turns his knife over to the proprietor and asks to be awoken when the sheriff arrives in the morning.

Who is responsible for the death of the Swede? Was it the Swede himself? Had he read too many dime store novels about what to expect out west? Was he fulfilling a self-perpetuating fantasy? Or was it the intolerance of the other guests, and the hotel owner, for not understanding the strain the Swede was under? Thinking he was about to be killed could not have been easy to live with. But that only begs the question of why he would go someplace to experience what he fears the most?

In the end, director Jan Kadar has left us with a stunning visual adaptation of the Stephen Crane story. 130 years removed from the action portrayed in this film, these questions of intolerance still remain unanswered.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Doors - "Live In New York"

The following review was posted on another blog two years ago. I'm a little under the weather today and need a day off, so I'm posting it here for the first time. The album was released in March 2010 and sparked some musical memories from my early teens. See you tomorrow!

My first run in with the music of The Doors came, unsurprisingly, through my transistor radio. It was alternately to be found either in my hand, held next to my ear, or in the spring and summer, strapped to the center of my bicycle handlebars.

One day, while delivering The New York Post, the transistor took on a life of its own. I had never heard a sound that imbedded itself so deeply and so quickly into my imagination. It was, I learned later, the insistent organ playing of Ray Manzerak backing the lead vocalist, Jim Morrison, on the new single “Light My Fire.” This recording would skyrocket up the charts to Number One, where it would remain for many weeks.

The record is a notable one in that it served as a ground breaker for future artists and releases to pass the 3 minutes and some odd seconds that comprised the world of Pop Music and AM radio formats at the time. The full version of “Light My Fire” ran over 11 minutes. It was originally pared down to 3 minutes or so before all the phone calls started pouring in to the radio stations. The listeners who had the album wanted to hear the full version. In various cities the song was trimmed according to the audience and the advertisers. Even in New York we only got about 7 minutes on AM. But this was the moment when the format was about to change.

Within a year of “Light My Fire” being released we had “MacArthur Park” written by Jimmy Webb and performed by Richard Harris. It was well over 7 minutes in length and remained at the top of the charts all summer. It is a signature song from a signature year. This influence did not go unnoticed by The Beatles who released “Hey Jude” in September of 1968. It was also over 7 minutes long.

The only Pop song I can think of that ran longer than 4 minutes prior to “Light My Fire” is “A Quick One” by The Who, which was the precursor to the rock opera “Tommy.”

The Doors went on to record a string of Pop hits, including “Wishful, Sinful”, “People Are Strange” and some longer tracks such as “When the Music’s Over.” The bands signature number “The End” later became the opening music for the film “Apocalypse Now.”

Originally blues based The Doors became caught up in the whirlwind of pop stardom. The constant pressure to have hit after hit and the rigors of life on the road put the group into a kind of rut. It’s hard to be creative when you’re racing from studio to plane to show after show. It’s even harder to retain sight of what you were originally trying to be.

And so it went with The Doors. They left us quite a bit of Pop hits and some classic stuff like “The End” but may have never left the Blues imprint that they desired to at the beginning.

The current release of “Live In New York” - a 6 CD boxed set recorded 18 months before Jim Morrison’s death in 1971 showcases the bands attempt to achieve this goal. In a series of shows at The Felt Forum the band performs blues standards by legendary bluesmen such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf. Interspersed with these luminary songs are some of The Doors greatest hits, “Whiskey Bar”, “When the Music’s Over” , “Roadhouse Blues” and of course “Light My Fire.” Also of interest is the banter between Mr. Morrison and the audience.

Great sound for what was probably only an 8 track live recording. And I don’t know whether this will be received by some as a compliment or not, but in the final analysis, “Little Red Rooster” and all the other blues numbers sound like The Doors playing the blues. You can take this 2 ways- either they weren’t that great at the blues or that their unique sound simply overshadowed whatever they were likely to perform. I prefer the latter.

An interesting album from one of the era’s most influential bands, it’s worth a listen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Annabel Lee" by E.A.Poe as performed by Sarah Jarosz

Yesterday's newspaper brought word of this 20 year old acoustic musician to my attention. Sarah Jarosz is making herself heard, and known, as a fine musician and performer. This evening will mark her first appearance in Charlotte at one of my favorite venues, Neighborhood Theatre. Having not heard of this remarkable young woman before I went to You Tube and found several very nice arrangements of some well-known songs and ballads. But of all the songs I listened to, this is the one that got me.

Annabel Lee, which seems to be spelled several different ways, depending on where you look, (I have used the spelling from the 1940 Washington Square Press edition of "Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe") is one of my favorite poems by Poe, and is probably the first one of his works I ever heard. It has that "sing-song" type of cadence to it which makes it perfect for the second grade, which is where I first heard it. That was 50 years ago.(Thanks, Mrs. Sanders!) But Ms. Jarosz has given it a new and unique quality. Her arrangement actually adds to the drama and mystique of the poem. It was an unexpected treat.

Ms. Jarosz, who is not yet 21, has already performed with Bela Fleck, Shawn Colvin and Vince Gill. That’s quite impressive for someone of her age. Keep your eye on her as her career continues to rise. She covers everyone from Edgar Allan Poe to Tom Waits, as well as writing some of her own compositions. For more information about this Ms. Jarosz, including booking info, use this link;


"Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allan Poe

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Midnight Rising" by Tony Horwitz

The best way to begin a review of this book is to quote, as the author has at the beginning of Chapter 3, from Henry David Thoreau, who, in remarks contained in his "A Plea for Captain Brown", said that "He (John Brown) could not have been tried by a jury of his peers, because his peers did not exist." After reading this account of John Brown and his remarkable life, I could not agree more.

Most of us were taught a very simplistic version of the John Brown saga, almost all of what many of us know is contained in the lyrics of that famous song, "John Brown's Body". But there is so much more to the life of this man. He was, at times, what we would today call a manic-depressive. Indeed, some of his family members had been confined to asylums, and some had even committed suicide. Many people, even after a visit to Harper's Ferry, come away with the impression that John Brown was killed that day in October of 1859 when he stormed the Federal Armory there. He was wounded, and lived to face trial for treason, murder and inciting rebellion. He was found guilty within 2 weeks of the crimes for which he was accused. In that time he had 5 different lawyers.

Although mental problems ran in his family, John Brown was considered to be merely a fanatic, with views of grandiosity. In that sense, he was not legally insane. He had none of the hallucinations, or other problems which met the criteria for Virginia to judge him "non compos, or deranged", thus enabling him to avoid a trial for his crimes. He was found guilty and promptly hung.

This book gives the reader a fascinating look at the final year and a half leading to the Civil War. With such characters as Robert E. Lee, then a Union Colonel in charge of putting down the insurrection at Harper's Ferry, and Governor Wise, the author is able to paint a clear and unvarnished picture of one of the most compelling adventures to come out of the Abolitionist Movement.

In the aftermath of the attack, while he lay bleeding, and possibly dying from wounds received during the brief skirmish, John Brown, in great pain, parried with his interrogators, sparring with them, most times to a draw. Governor Wise proclaimed him "the gamest man I have ever met." Senator Mason, who was also present in the immediate aftermath of the fight, had the following exchange with the wounded man;

"How do you justify your actions?" queried the Senator. Brown replied, "I think, my friend you are guilty of a great wrong against God and Humanity. I say that without wishing to be offensive. It would be perfectly right for anyone to interfere with you, so far as to free those you willfully and wickedly hold in bondage. I do not say this insultingly."

Realizing that he would surely be hung for his crimes, he said, "You may dispose of me very easily; I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is to be settled - this Negro question I mean - the end of that is not yet."

In addition to exploring all the details of John Brown's early life, and his plans for the attack on Harper's Ferry, the author delves into the history of the "insanity" plea, which was just coming into its own in American criminal justice. Only months before John Brown's trial began, New York Congressman Daniel Sickles shot his wife’s lover in Washington, DC. He argued, successfully, that he was deranged at the moment of the shooting. He was found not guilty.

This is not the story we were all fed in grammar school. It is, at once, an account of the incident, and attendant crime, as well as a look into ourselves as a people, and our history as a nation. In his essay "Civil Disobedience", Henry David Thoreau pondered these questions; "Is it possible that an individual may be right and a government wrong? .....Are laws to be enforced simply because they are made?" These are pertinent questions, even today.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" with Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken and William Demarest (1944)

This is a delightful World War Two film starring the irrepressible Betty Hutton, who plays Trudy Kockenlocker, singing and dancing alongside, and around, Eddie Bracken, who plays her love stricken suitor Norvel Jones, and William Demarest; later Uncle Charlie on "My Three Sons"; as the long suffering father of two girls in a small town during the war. A military base is located nearby, which causes some legitimate concern for the widowed father of two attractive daughters.

Ms. Hutton, is at her all-time best in this tale of a night gone totally wrong for everyone involved. The film opens with the Governor of the State being notified that a woman who resides at Morgan’s Creek has given birth to 6 babies. In an effort to cash in on this phenomenon, and put the state "on the map", the Governor attaches himself to the event with gusto. But trouble lurks when the flashback begins and the identity of the father(s) is called into question.

Basically, after an all-night party for the troops, Trudy wakes up to find herself married and pregnant, but with no memory of her husband's identity. She was with six guys at a dance, and now with six children from that one night, a father must be found.

A very risqué film for its time, I suppose it was the result of the public fervor to "please the boys" in uniform that allowed this movie to achieve the widespread acceptance which it did. It's a fun movie to watch, with wonderful direction by Preston Sturges, who also wrote the script, along with a very talented cast, all of whom still bring life to this story almost 70 years after it was filmed. Here's a clip of Eddie Bracken speaking with William Demarest, who is his prospective father-in law, as well as the town Constable. It's every daughter's nightmare.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy Birthday Elvis!

Today would have been Elvis Presley's 77th birthday. This clip is from the so-called Elvis "Comeback" special, which aired in December 1968. The show featured Elvis "in the round", as shown here, as well as in production numbers featuring Ann-Margret and a slew of dancers. But the best part of the show was the entire half hour spent "in the round", as above, with Elvis doing what he did best, singing and clowning around.

These were the days before he got the cape. All of the guys around him were with him from the very beginning, and he is completely relaxed and comfortable in his performance. If you have never seen this show before, you are cheating yourself. This is real gospel infused, rhythm and blues just as it was done in Sun Studios in the 1950's. This was the last time Elvis would appear as just plain Elvis.

Driving in New York City - 1928 / 2012

This 1928 video from You Tube features Harold Lloyd in one of the old silents still being made in New York City at the time. It's a wild stunt filled ride showcasing Manhattan in the late 1920's. The Great Depression was still a year away.

And here's a little something from my old neighborhood, on Kings Highway between East 15th and 16th Streets sometime in early 2011. I stumbled upon it while looking at old films of New York and Brooklyn subways. I was just there last September. While I do remember that trucks used to get stuck 1 block north of Kings Highway, on Avenue P, quite often, I never remember one getting stuck under the trestle on Kings Highway itself. I guess if you live long enough, you see it all...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"The Lazy Song" by Bruno Mars

Not much to add to this one. It's self-explanatory! The sound quality is not that great, but you get the drift. There is a better version at the link posted below, but it's surrounded by advertisements, and I didn't like the way it looked. I could've "cropped" it- but, hey, "today I ain't doing anything."


Friday, January 6, 2012

New York City - 1956

This video is a promotional film shot in 1956. I was born in 1954, so this film is the New York I remember from about 1958-1965. After that it was all downhill. Of interesting note are the 2 ships shown passing the Statue of Liberty; the first one is the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine; and the next ship you see after that is the SS United States, which still holds the official record for a commercial crossing of the Atlantic, set in 1952. There are naval ships today which can undoubtedly make the trip in less time, but the east bound commercial record set by the SS United States in July of 1952, which was 3 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes still remains unbroken.

In many ways, New York is a timeless city. Although much of the technology has changed, and the clothes as well, New York still remains the giant melting pot which it has always been. May it ever be so.

Please Don't Burn OUR Flag.

I sent the following letter to the Editor at the Charlotte Observer in response to last weeks burning of an American flag in Charlotte during the Occupy Charlotte protests by Alex Tyler, Jason Bargert, Michael Behrle and Stephen Morris.

My letter was prompted by Mr. Bargert's subsequent defense of his action, which was printed in the Charlotte Observer on January 4th. While I do NOT believe in a Constitutional Amendment concerning the burning of the American flag, I will never understand, nor condone, such a divisive action. John Lennon said it best in the song "Revolution" when he sang "...if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone, anyhow." Mr. Bargert, at the age of 28, seems not yet old enough to understand that sentiment.

In the interest of fairness, which is a hallmark of our nation's founding, symbolized by the flag, I have reprinted Mr. Bargert's article below my rebuttal.

Bargert's Actions Misguided; Flag Symbolizes All of Us.

Jason Bargert, you seem to have missed the whole point of the Occupy movement.

That flag you burned symbolizes the people of this great nation, not the culprits you are protesting. The thing that should be burned in effigy is a figure of the politicians who have stolen that flag from its rightful owners - We the People.

Please do not burn anymore of our flags. The Occupy movement is only hurt by your misguided actions.

This is the letter from Jason Bargert, of Charlotte, defending his burning of the flag.

I, along with three others, set fire to the United States flag on the lawn at 600 E. Trade St. in front of the Occupy Charlotte camp. Though I have been openly involved with Occupy Charlotte, I did not provide notice or acquire approval for my actions, as is the policy of Occupy Charlotte. In this protest we acted as individuals, not as occupiers.

I would like to express that I intended no disrespect to the individual enlisted men, women, and veterans living and deceased. These people have entered service to the people of their nation and take a vow to protect their loved ones and countrymen. I hold our veterans in the highest regard knowing that their motives were not always the same as those who send them into battle.

The flag I burned was an effigy to the aggressive colonialism, destructive corporate policy, and utter negligence that the United States government has shown for the people's welfare and well being on a global scale.

I will apologize for the difficulty that my wife, family, and Occupy Charlotte must endure in the shockwave of my actions. My home and social life are in shambles, and I am aware that no one is responsible for this but myself.

I do, however, without remorse set fire to the hypocrisy, negligence, puppetry of our system, and adherence to flags and nationalism in the place of rational governance and compassion. The burning of the flag (to me) is an act that asserts the right of the people over the government. America is ruled by the people, not the government. I believe that it is our patriotic duty at this juncture to make that assertion. Flag burning is a patriotic act carried out by people who care deeply enough about our freedoms to challenge directly the government when it becomes a threat to the people. Patriots who love America burn flags.

I have received an outpouring of support from other occupiers, occupations, and individuals who understand the symbolism of my action. The local movement was unified in their contempt for the event that took place. They were, on the other hand, divided on the issue of whether or not those who participated should be banned. Most who seemed resolved to my removal had been working with the Charlotte City Council and local church groups to build a relationship in order to stop or postpone the ordinance that will remove the encampment. The encampment itself voted not to expel me.

The City Council has postured against the movement by drafting this ordinance in the first place. They have shown that they will, with full knowledge of the facts, welcome a corrupt corporation with an endless list of human rights violations into our community, and pay their moving expenses and taxes (Chiquita). To placate this council in order to keep the camp on grounds is not a victory. I hope that Occupy Charlotte will move away from a focus on public image and welcome an era of action.

I am very grateful for the movement's decision not to ban me. I am, however, saddened by the lack of support I have received. This being considered, I respectfully, and with overwhelming sadness resign my direct participation with Occupy Charlotte. This is by no means a resignation from my duties as an activist and active participant in the cause of freedom.

Jason Bargert
Charlotte, NC

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Lincoln On War" by Harold Holzer

This may be the best book yet written concerning Abraham Lincoln. Actually, it is the closest thing to having Lincoln pen his own memoirs of the years between the War with Mexico and our own Civil War. In some ways it even eclipses the great 2 volume masterpiece by Carl Sandburg, which is considered by many, me included, to be the "Holy Grail" of books about our most mercurial President.

The War with Mexico is of great interest, as the annexation of the state of Texas, aside from having been accomplished illegally, added fuel to the fire that would eventually grow into the conflagration of full blown Civil War. Lincoln saw the annexation of Texas as a way for the Southern States to hold a majority in the Senate and Congress. This was at the time of the great debates concerning the Missouri Compromise, and the Fugitive Slave Act, both of which were mere band aids or attempts in vain, to stave off the bloodshed which was sure to come from the slavery question.

The author has let Lincoln speak for himself by using the President's letters and speeches to make his point. The book is laid out in a way which parallels the career and thoughts of our 16th President on all of the issues leading up to the Civil War. And once that war has begun, this correspondence gives us a new and keener insight into the thoughts behind the actions taken by Lincoln during the prosecution of the War Between the States.

Lincoln, at the outset, wanted only to ban slavery in the new territories being acquired out west. He had no intention of outlawing the institution itself. As late as in his first Inauguration speech, Lincoln was still not calling for the Abolition of Slavery in the Southern States, but only in the newly acquired territories. In his first Inaugural Address he spoke these words; "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the Institution of Slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." He had made this same declaration in earlier speeches and was re-quoting himself in an effort to allay the fears of the Southern States, which had already seceded from the Union in January of 1861.

By the time that Lincoln issued his duplicitous Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in enemy territory only, the outlawing of slavery in the Southern States became the objective of the war. Previously the chief concern had been one of finances. Lincoln queried, on more than one occasion, whether it was right for the Southern States to leave the Union while keeping the forts and roadways which had been paid for by federal loans. These loans would have to be repaid to the banks, and Lincoln considered it to be an unfair burden upon the remaining states to bear the full brunt of their repayment.

This is an exciting book which lays bare many of the myths that have been pumped into us over the years; Mr. Holzer has presented a new side of one of our most well-known, but often misunderstood Presidents.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Midnight Special - 1973

Remember Burt Sugarman's "Midnight Special" from the 1970's? Along with Don Kirschner's "Rock Concert", these iconic shows, both of which were the precursors of MTV, were viewed by millions during the years in which they aired. At the time of this video, I was living in Ohio, working in a factory. These shows were a staple of life for thousands of factory workers like me on Friday nights. Of course there was a little bit of hooch involved in watching the concerts, but with, or without it, these shows aired some pretty good music.

I wasn't sure of what I wanted to post today, so I turned to my old friend You Tube and typed in the word "specials", figuring that I would come up with some old footage from the variety shows which used to play on TV. But the first thing that came up was this hit by a group whose name I never forgot- simply because I never knew it in the first place. The record was one of my favorites at the time, and it really hasn't become "dated" over the years. The song is a cover version of "Brother Louie", originally recorded by Hot Chocolate, before being covered by this band named Stories.

Stories was primarily a "rock and pop" group, from New York during the early 1970s. It's members were keyboardist Michael Brown, bassist/vocalist Ian Lloyd, guitarist Steve Love, and drummer Bryan Madey. "Brother Louie" would be their only hit record, reaching #1 in 1973. Ian Lloyd would quietly go on to influence such bands as Foreigner, Peter Frampton, and Foghat. Also of note is that Michael Brown was a founding member of a group called the Left Banke, and wrote their 1965 hit single, "Walk Away Renee."

The introduction by Jose Feliciano is a great indication of the variety we were all exposed to in the days before satellite radio and all the other new technology which allows the viewer/listener to remain fixed on one particular genre, rather than being exposed to many different types of sounds. Although I have my own preferences in music, as most of us do, I really miss those days. But then again, I still listen to AM radio on occasion.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"El Narco" by Ioan Grillo

One of the few positive effects of the recession has been the decline in the use of cocaine in the United States. Since 2009 use of cocaine has dropped from 2.4 million users, to about 1.6 million. This shrinking market has had a profound effect upon the levels of violence along our southern border with Mexico, as well as in Mexico itself, where whole provinces have become victims of what has increasingly become a narco-state. As the cartels vie for control of this shrinking market, they make it abundantly clear that they run much of Mexico. There are whole police forces on the payroll of some cartels. Journalists are killed for reporting it. Last year, at a military funeral, the grieving family were gunned down, simply as a warning to others.

In this fascinating book by Ioan Grillo, the author examines the history of the drug trade, encompassing both the powerful political and criminal forces which allow this trade to continue unfettered. He also manages to delve into the relationship of the Columbian cartels of the 1980's and how they shifted the distribution part of the business to the Mexicans in an attempt to avoid the anti-drug efforts of the DEA. Eventually, the Mexicans took over the entire trade, from cultivation to distribution.

Almost daily, the newspaper holds more stories of the drug related violence, beheadings, rapes, shootings and assassinations that occur with increasing frequency, while the governments of 2 nations are seemingly rendered powerless by the cartels. We have almost become desensitized to the violence at this point. We even extoll these "anti-heroes" in movies, books, and songs. In Mexico there are groups, such as the Grupa Cartel, who make their livings singing about the exploits of the cartels. Some are even on the cartel payrolls. There is even a fledgling movie industry cranking out gangster films for the cartels, all extolling the the lifestyles of the El Narcos.

The author also explores the re-emergence of the PRI, the political party which ruled Mexico for over 70 years after the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th Century. Under the leadership of that party, drug distribution was somewhat controlled, albeit with graft and corruption. But, in retrospect, this system was preferable to the wholesale lawlessness which prevails today, spilling over the border, threatening to turn parts of our own nation into "narco-states" of their own.

This is a very carefully researched book written in an engaging style. The historical aspects of our relationship with Mexico are explored here in an effort to understand just how our “neighbor to the South” became such a thorn in our side. The answer lies not only with Mexico, but also in our own history and politics, as well as with our nation’s continued thirst for the contraband which fuels the fire.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"The House By the Pond"

The little house by the pond, once it stood,
In perfect harmony, with water and wood.
But ravaged by time, and overtaken by vines,
It was at last entombed, by forces combined,
To cheat of it's beauty, but somehow instead,
The house, as it is,has come out ahead!

January 1st, 2012
Mooresville, NC

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

The New Year is upon us and it’s time, once again, to begin filling in the blank pages that each New Year brings with it. The photo to the left is of Times Square in New York on New Years Eve 1954. No resolutions for me this year, as those never quite make it past January 2nd. I’m not sure what the year holds in store for us all. The Mayan calendar has run out, and Mayans everywhere are distraught.

The Presidential Election looms, not large, it just looms; like a lurking presence; almost as a pretender to a process that has spawned some of the most vile candidates ever offered up in an election. And that's a hard thing to accomplish, as we have had some pretty bad choices in the past!

Whatever you do, make this a year of civility. Stop letting the forces of money and power divide us. Strive to seek common ground, and stick with it, eschewing all other differences you may have with one another, just for this one year. Think of what we can do together if we ignore the "window dressing" issues that are thrust in our face to divide and conquer us. I'm talking about abortion, gay rights, same-sex marriage, and all the other comparatively petty differences. It's time to save the country and re-store the economy to its former health.

Finally, to all the folks who drop in here, and especially the ones who come back again and again, thank you for finding something of interest in my posts. You amaze me; from the authors and celebrities who take the time to comment, or e-mail me, right down to the anonymous comments that are posted from time to time; you make me feel as if I have a purpose, even if that's just my own delusion.

A Very Happy and Healthy New Year to you all.