Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Man Made" by Joel Stein (2012)

From the moment that Joel Stein sees the small smudge on his wife’s sonogram, signaling that they are going to have a boy, he is thrown into a panic attack of epic proportions. In reaction to this, and much to his credit, the author sets out to find what it really means to be “a man.” He is not alone in his insecurities about his own manhood. Many men, myself included, have gone to great lengths to discover the true meaning of term, and come up with some surprising conclusions.
In a most entertaining style, Mr. Stein recounts his own insecurities, and then comes up with a novel idea. He will confront his self-doubts by becoming all of the things he thinks he is not.  So, accordingly, he begins his journey into perceived “manhood”, by joining the Boy Scouts for an overnight camping trip; doing a stint of duty as a firefighter; and training with Major League Baseball Star Shawn Green. In addition to these testosterone laden exploits, he manages to find the time to take on Ultimate Fighting Champion Randy Couture; joining a stock firm as a day trader; and also doing some time in Boot Camp for three days with the Army. These are only some of the exploits which the author undertakes in his misguided quest for “manhood.”
For the record, the Fire Captain tells him via e-mail, prior to his tour with the firefighters, “Not to dismiss your entire premise, but none of the activities or skills you plan on doing define becoming a man. A man is honest, kind, and courageous, protects women, is humble, bold, moral, seeks truth, loves children, and fights for what is right.”
While battling to convince himself that he is truly “a man”, he also recounts some humorous adventures with his feminist leaning wife, and explores the societal roots of what we have come to think of as “manhood.” All of this results in a highly readable and entertaining book, which in some ways mirror my own self-doubts as a young man. Indeed, one of the reasons I joined the Navy many years ago mirror the authors own perceptions of himself as being “less than a man.” Some of those doubts can be attributed to a lack of talent in sports, or the lack of a bond formed with one’s father. I can identify with those facets of Mr. Stein’s thoughts.
This book works on so many levels; humor, self-analysis, and introspection all combine in the author’s vibrant and creative style, to bring us face to face with just what it takes to be a man in today’s world. And when all is said and done, this is a very entertaining, and uplifting book.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Doc Watson - "Deep River Blues"


Doc Watson, the veteran country-bluegrass icon from North Carolina, has passed away. There is nothing that I can add to anything you have already read about him; all the stories are true. Three generations of the Watson clan have entertained us, and his grandson carries on beautifully, but we will always miss "Doc" Watson, the man. He embodied the grace of living; building his own home, running the farm, and in between dazzling us all with the sheer joy of his playing. I saw him once; at the North Carolina Fiddlers Convention in 1979. It was also my first experience with pure grain alcohol. Both were memorable moments in my life. Rest in Peace, Doc.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"The Island" - A Work In Progress


This is the latest addition to our backyard. Sue has worked very hard on the landscaping around the patio area, creating a really beautiful place for me to relax and read, listen to music, or play guitar. The sad part is that she seldom gets to use it! She's still working, while I loaf about, enjoying the fruits of her labor. She never complains, though I am sure there are times she would like to choke me into silence.

And, here below, is something which I have always wanted, but was unwilling to spend the $100, or more, which it would cost. Sue came home with this from a local Farmer's Market on Saturday. There is a woman there named Mona, who sells all kinds of trees and plants. She has a green house in which she works her magic. Sue picked this beautiful plant up for the amazing price of $10. Mona warned her that it needed to come indoors for the winter, with plenty of sun. So, it will be going home to Mona's greenhouse each winter, free of charge.  Now, that's a bargain!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Lost In America" with David Brooks and Julie Hagerty (1985)


In this fast paced, and hilarious comedy, Albert Brooks plays David Howard, an advertising executive who gets passed over for a promotion because he is doing a great job in his current position. This sets off a mid-life crisis which causes him to dramatically quit his job, sell his home and embark on a cross country trip with his wife in a Winnebago. Their first stop is in Las Vegas, where his wife Linda, played with exceptional sweetness and naiveté by Julie Hagerty, decides to join her husband in casting caution to the wind. She does this by losing all of the money they got from selling their house in one of a casino.

Of course this is only the beginning of a wild and hilarious adventure; along with a clash of wills; as David and Linda seek to recover their money, as well as the lives they have traded away. The message in this film is pretty clear; the hell you know is almost always better than the hell you might be trading for.

This film was first released in 1985, and became an instant favorite of mine. This is the first time I have re-screened this gem in several years, and even with all the changes in technology which have occurred since then, the film remains fresh and vibrant. The desire to cast it all to the wind and “live among the Indians”, as David puts it, is still alive in most of us. We just don’t get the opportunity to do it. And after seeing this film, you may be glad that we don’t!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Customers Wanted" with Popeye the Sailor (1939)


This is a very good example of the results which can be obtained by re-dititizing an old film/cartoon. If you look at some of the other versions of this same cartoon on You Tube, you will see what I mean. This is one of the original Max Fleischer releases from the late 1930's. They were later re-released, in somewhat poorer quality, by Kings Features. This version begins with the King Features logo before the start of the original cartoon. When I was a kid there was no substitute for those closing doors at the beginning of these cartoons. The ones which only had the King Features logos were actually done in the 1950's, just as the art of animation was changing, and not necessarily for the better.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend, wherever you are headed off to. Don't rush, you have an extra day, so stop and smell the roses along the way. And sometime during the weekend, take a moment to think about those who have served, and fallen, in the name of freedom. Someday, peace will come. But it seems as if it's still a long time coming. That reminds me of a song I once heard;

Friday, May 25, 2012

"The Shadow Catcher" by Hipolito Acosta (2012)


This is a very exciting, and quickly read book. The author, Hipolito Acosta, is a 30 year veteran of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. His exploits are the stuff of which legends are made; and indeed; Mr. Acosta has become just that. This is a man who had himself smuggled from Mexico into the United States, not once, but twice. Each trip was an infiltration of the human trafficking rings which operate with impunity, using human beings as pawns in an effort to enrich themselves.

The author, himself an American of Latino descent, was raised in the Redford, Texas region, the son of migrant workers. During those years the United States and Mexico had an agreement in place, allowing for the Mexicans to come work in the United States for the harvesting of various crops, before they had to return home. This system was put into place during the last years of World War Two, when manpower on the home front was at a premium. The program was discontinued in 1964 due to abuses by both sides of the agreement. The Mexicans did not always go home, as required; while their American hosts were also making veritable slaves out of many. This, many believe, was the beginning of today’s illegal Immigration problem.
When Mr. Acosta turned 17, he joined the U.S. Navy, and shortly after his discharge he was married. He then joined the INS, in which he spent 3 decades working on the problem of illegal immigration. He has many stories from his time as an agent, including 2 trips in which he had himself smuggled into the United States in order to verify, and ultimately take down, several human trafficking operations, as well as a very well organized document forging operation.

Along the way Mr. Hipolito has encountered not only danger from the criminals he seeks to bring to justice, but also apathy from within the very agencies he is working for. Through all of the frustration, and danger, he keeps true to his course, managing to outwit those who would rather see him dead, as well as circumventing the forces from within the INS, which would keep him from doing his duty.

A compassionate man, he has also found the time to make a difference in several lives along the way, helping some of the most needy of the victims obtain residency in the United States.

His first trip as human cargo was from Juarez to Chicago, with a stop in a “safe” hose in Compton, California. The tensions, and indignities which people go through in order to reach America, by whatever means necessary, will give the reader a new appreciation of having been born here. There are very few countries which people try to sneak into, as opposed to ones in which they are trying to sneak out of.

A very informative book with great insights into the money, and human drama, which takes place each day as the INS fights a seemingly endless war. That this war is fought not only against the illegal immigrants and the cartels which serve them, but also against forces within our own government, make this a must read for those who wish to fully understand the depth of the illegal immigration problem.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rev. Charles Worley - For the Love of Christ


The Reverend Charles Worley, Pastor of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina; which is about 40 miles from my house; has caused quite a stir with his call for concentration camps for homosexuals. If you haven’t heard this story yet, you should. It is a direct refutation of the attitude that “it can’t happen here.” The reaction of the 300, or so, members of Providence Baptist Church is proof positive that it can. If you haven’t seen the video just listen for the “Amens” as the Reverend calls for a 150 mile long fence, with Lesbians on one side and “the queers and homosexuals in another; and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out…… Feed ‘em , and you know what? In a few years they’ll die. Do you know why? They can’t reproduce.” Ah, good Reverend, were it only that simple.

You see, the Reverend’s plan would not work as he thinks. It would become necessary for the camps to remain in continual operation to kill off any newborns from the heterosexual population who might later identify as homosexual. Apparently this would be just fine with the Reverend and his congregation, all of whom; I would assume; are anti-abortion. I have to wonder what would happen the first time that one of the congregant’s children showed signs of homosexuality. I suppose that then it would be okay to kill your own child; years after that child has been born. So, by this logic, abortion of an un-born fetus would still be wrong, but killing your own kid later would be acceptable.  Can you even believe that we are having this conversation in 2012?  You better believe it, because we are.
I am reminded of the scene in one of my favorite films, “Judgment at Nuremberg”, when the German defense attorney reads the following words concerning sterilization of the incompetent; “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind... Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Chilling as these words are, they were spoken by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in his decision of Buck v. Bell in 1927. That case concerned itself with one young woman who was sterilized by the state against her will. That these words were flung back in our own faces during the Nuremberg Trials by the German defense attorney was almost comical. Not only had we pre-dated the Nazi’s with our embrace of the sterilization program  of which they stood accused, we actually re-started the program here in North Carolina the year following the Nuremberg trials, in 1948! That program was not discontinued here until 1964, and the state of North Carolina is just now making financial reparations to surviving victims of that cruel injustice.

So don’t say it "can’t happen here". It can; and will; unless we all stand up and loudly denounce the bigots who seek to divide us. Right now, the rumblings of the past are only 40 miles from my door.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Community School of Davidson - Holocaust Memorial Exhibit

This article appeared here 2 years ago and gave me quite a boost with the response I had from it. It was the first time I had ever gotten more than 35 “hits” in a day. I now average about 250. I was so impressed by the exhibit, and that these kids chose to take on such a topic as the Holocaust. The fact that it was being taught in school anymore was a real shocker to me. And, as a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, New York, the last place I ever expected to run into an exhibit like this was in North Carolina. So, I went in and took the tour. This is the original article from my 2010 visit. I plan on going tomorrow and see the newer, updated version of this accurate and sensitive portrayal of one of the darkest chapters in human history. That the Community School of Davidson chooses to shed light upon it brings great hope to a world that is seemingly crumbling all about us. Only through an understanding of the past can we hope to avoid the same mistakes. Harry Truman once said, “The only thing new is the history you don’t know.” Truer words were never spoken. Here is the original post;

I never know what I am going to do when I wake up each day. Aside from emergency situations that pop up here and there, I am largely at my leisure. When I read this morning’s paper I saw that the Community School of Davidson was having a Holocaust Memorial Exhibit for the next few days. It sounded intriguing so I figured I’d check it out.
To begin with, I was kind of surprised that the Community School of Davidson would be having this event. No real reason for my surprise, I just thought of them as an elite school and accordingly, and incorrectly as it turns out, to place no real emphasis on social issues. I love it when I’m wrong. Lesson learned.

These kids spent two weeks, or more, preparing the exhibit. Upon first entering you are given a guide, a 6th grade student at the school. These kids are animated and well informed in their presentations. The diagram shows the route and nature of the exhibits. The journey begins with Propaganda and moves onto Kristalnacht, the November 1938 “Night of Glass”, considered by many to be the beginning of the Holocaust.

From there the exhibit moves on to the Warsaw Ghetto, where in October of 1940 the Jews of Warsaw were restricted to a small area of the city and basically allowed to starve. The exhibit was done by creating a small alcove into a replica of a typical ghetto apartment. Remember, these kids were working with construction paper and magic markers, and yet the effect was claustrophobic. It was very effective work.

The Railcar was a particularly useful tool for realizing the cramped conditions and sheer inhumanity of the deportations. First there is a square foot marked off in the hall outside the exhibit into which you are asked to stand with 5 other people. That’s what the Jews experienced on their way to the concentration camps. It was unnerving for 5 minutes, think of the reality of it for an average of 2 days, without food or water. No sanitary facilities; stripped of all belongings except for the clothes on your back.
The Auschwitz Camp and Anne Franks’ hidden apartment were also displayed with great effect. The use of photographs and even laptops added to the availability of the presentations. The lighting was subdued and managed to add an appropriately tangible darkness to the subject.
There was a small exhibit about Oskar Schindler and Rabbi Gerber’s Red Shoes, as well as a section of children’s art depicting replicas of the art work done by the children interred at the Terezin Concentration Camp.
This exhibit was important in many ways, but chiefly it was comforting to know that the Holocaust will not be forgotten, it cannot be ignored. And these kids prove it. Many thanks to Davidson Community School for their efforts on behalf of tolerance. And thanks to the students who took their time to help create such an insightful tour. It was a job well done.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"The Billy Bob Tapes" by Billy Bob Thornton with Kinky Friedman (2012)




This is a very well written, and organized, account of the life of Billy Bob Thornton, who is surprisingly “normal”, whatever that is. With a foreword by Angelina Jolie, and some guidance by co-author/editor Kinky Friedman to keep him on track, the book is the result of the audio tapes which Mr. Thornton made in lieu of “writing” an autobiography. It’s kind of like Harry Truman’s “Plain Speaking”, which is a true “oral” autobiography.  Interspersed with commentary from his close friend Tom Epperson, as well as peppered with some recollections by the likes of Dwight Yoakam, and Robert Duvall; with whom the author feels a deep kinship; this is a very upbeat and honest look at the life of the author.

Written candidly, and talking about his likes and dislikes, as well as his own disabilities; he is severely dyslexic; this book beguiles the reader into a sense of camaraderie with author, it’s almost as if we have made the journey with him. It’s just nice to have had company, albeit unknown.

One of the most enjoyable chapters in this book concerns the making of “Sling Blade”; which Mr. Thornton wrote; and his experiences with John Ritter and Dwight Yoakam. Mr. Yoakam’s understanding of his own character in that film is quite remarkable for its insight into the dark side which inhabits us all. And the story of John Ritter’s haircut, done just days shy of his Public Service Announcement being filmed, is hilarious.

Living in a rural town in Arkansas during the 1950’s and 60’s was a very sparse existence. Perhaps this helped shape the author’s thirst for life outside of that small world. Who knows? But his accounts of playing in “garage” bands, and his subsequent brief foray into, as well as his continued interest in,  life as a musician, all speak to the wanderlust which eventually lead him to Hollywood. Along the way there are trips to New York, sleeping in the car as they crossed the country on $500 coast to coast, eating donuts for a week while waiting to get paid at the pizza place, all filled with the characters we have all known; the characters who shape our individual worlds.

And that’s the best part of this book. Mr. Thornton becomes aware at an early age that he has a special talent.  He “sees” all those characters, and then effortlessly portrays them. Initially encouraged by a high school drama teacher; and later an acting coach, as well as Billy Wilder; he is able to get in touch with his own abilities to really “act”. And along the way he has given us some very memorable characters, all of whom will live forever.  This was a fast, and entertaining read.


Monday, May 21, 2012

"The Partisan" by Leonard Cohen


In 1968 I first heard Leonard Cohen on the radio doing "Suzanne", one of his signature ballads. I immediately recognized his talent as a songwriter and poet. He had me mesmerized with that song. Over the years I have heard many of his songs in movies and as background music on TV dramas. This song was used in the film "The Escapist", and the voice was easily recognizable as being that of Leonard Cohen.

Here he is on TV in France, performing the song in both English, and French, in 1969. I have printed the lyrics below, including both the French and English, just as he sings it. It is a hauntingly beautiful song about the courage and sacrifice of the French Resistance, and is emblamatic of people everywhere, pushing back when authority steps over the line.

"The Partisan"

When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender,
this I could not do;
I took my gun and vanished.

I have changed my name so often,
I've lost my wife and children
but I have many friends,
and some of them are with me.

An old woman gave us shelter,
kept us hidden in the garret,
then the soldiers came;
she died without a whisper.

There were three of us this morning
I'm the only one this evening
but I must go on;
the frontiers are my prison.

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we'll come from the shadows.

Les Allemands e'taient chez moi, (The Germans were at my home)
ils me dirent, "Signe toi," (They said, "Sign yourself,")
mais je n'ai pas peur; (But I am not afraid)
j'ai repris mon arme. (I have retaken my weapon.)

J'ai change' cent fois de nom, (I have changed names a hundred times)
j'ai perdu femme et enfants (I have lost wife and children)
mais j'ai tant d'amis; (But I have so many friends)
j'ai la France entie`re. (I have all of France)

Un vieil homme dans un grenier (An old man, in an attic)
pour la nuit nous a cache', (Hid us for the night)
les Allemands l'ont pris; (The Germans captured him)
il est mort sans surprise. (He died without surprise.)

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we'll come from the shadows.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Mecklenburg Declaration - 1775

On May 19th, 1775,   a messenger arrived in Charlotte bearing news of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which had taken place a month previous. That, in itself, is testament to the trials of living in the “good old days.” In this age of instant news, it is almost inconceivable.

The messenger arrived at a time in which Charlotte, and Governor Tryon of North Carolina, were involved in a separate dispute of their own with King George. That dispute concerned the use of the Queens name; which happened to be Charlotte.

There had been an agreement between the Governor and the King to allow the construction of a Presbyterian College, which would go on to become Queen’s College and is still in operation today. Apparently the King had a change of heart and withdrew his consent, angering many of the local; and for the most part; loyal citizens. They were, to say the least, primed for action. And the arrival of the messenger on the afternoon of May 19th gave them just the reason they needed to vent that anger.

The following afternoon, May 20th, 1775; over 1 year previous to the Declaration of Independence; the citizens of Charlotte produced what has become known as  the “Mecklenburg Declaration”, which declared complete independence from the King. This was one of the many reasons which gave rise to the nickname amongst the King’s court of Charlotte as a “hornet’s nest.”

Local artist William Puckett has spent the better part of the past year chronicling these events on the walls of the underpass for North Davidson Street at Matheson Avenue, just north of downtown; well, here they call it “uptown”; Charlotte. And what a wonderful job he has done!

In place of the graffiti which had previously lined these walls, there is now a beautiful and richly painted account of a major event in our local history. Saturday marked the official “unveiling” of the mural, which lines both sides of the underpass, which lead to the NoDa (North Davidson) area of the city. Previously blighted and crime ridden, the area has had a major renaissance in the 14 years Sue and I have lived here. It is where we go to listen to music, as well as to look at art.

The event was well planned, and included a few costumed “re-enactors”, who lent a colonial flavor to the day. I’m always grateful to those people who come out in period dress, including the woman who was clothed as a slave. It serves as a living reminder of who we are, and how we got here. It hasn’t been easy; and sometimes less than fun; but looking back gives hope for the future. It’s often said that “the only thing new is the history you don’t know”.  For more about this mural, and the artist himself, go to; williampuckett.com


Saturday, May 19, 2012

"Springtime for Thomas" with Tom and Jerry (1946)


This is a cute little Tom and Jerry cartoon from 1946. It was released under the title “Springtime for Tom” in some countries, but it’s the same old story everywhere. It's spring time, and everyone’s looking for their perfect mate. Tom and Jerry are no exceptions. This post is for Aliyah and Trinity, who will be visiting in a few weeks. And then we can watch these silly old cartoons together!

Friday, May 18, 2012

"The Usual Suspects" with Chazz Palminteri, Benicio Del Toro and Kevin Spacey (1995)


With a cast like this one, this is a movie that I have revisited over and over again, for the sheer joy of watching the actors ply their trade. In this bizarre tale, written by Chris McQuarrie, a ship berthed pier side in San Pedro, is set afire and 27 victims are dead.  All of the “usual suspects” are then rounded up for interrogation. There is only one witness left, but his story makes little sense; or does it?

Veteran Customs Agent Dave Kujan, played by Chazz Palminteri, leaves New York, bound for the West Coast, in an attempt to find out who, or what, was the motivation behind the crime. And, just exactly what was the crime in the first place?

When a truck is hijacked in New York, six weeks earlier, things go horribly wrong, and five men; all career criminals; are brought in for questioning. As they sit in a common holding cell, they plot a way to “pay back” their hosts.
The Police in San Pedro Police discover $91 million worth of alleged drug money with the bodies. There are only two survivors. One is a badly burned, and scared, Hungarian terrorist; the other is “Verbal” Kint, played with perfection by Kevin Spacey, who is a crippled con-artist. Under pressure by Customs Agent Kujan, Kint is hard pressed to come up with a believable explanation for what went wrong. This is where the story really begins.
Dean Keaton, played by Gabriel Byrne, is one of the “usual suspects” rounded up. As an ex-police officer with a spotted career, he is the angriest of the 5 suspects. He is trying to go straight, and considers his incarceration to be an insult. He is talked into doing the proverbial “just one more job.”

Approached by the mysterious attorney Kobayashi, played by Pete Postlethwaite, the 5 men agree to the plan, which involves $91 million dollars, supposedly in exchange for some jewels. When the jewels turn out to be cocaine, the 5 men are less than pleased. But they are stuck, as Kobayashi represents a criminal mastermind known as Keyser Soze. As the 5 “suspects” are drawn deeper into Soze’s plans, they become aware that each of them have wronged Mr. Soze at some point or other; albeit unwittingly.

“Verbal” Kint, as the last survivor, is the only person who can put together the pieces of a puzzle so diverse, that it may take watching this film more than once to fully understand it. At least, that was my experience. “Verbal” is able to use all of his wits to outwit Customs Agent Kujan, and in the end the viewer is left wondering just who is Keyser Soze, and does he in fact even exist? This may be one of Kevin Spacey’s greatest roles. As a standout in a cast of some of Hollywood’s best character actors, this is a film you will want to re-visit from time to time, if only to watch his performance.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Telephone Road" by Rodney Crowell (2001)


This video is from Rodney Crowell's 2001 release of the "Houston Kid" album, which would turn out to be the beginning of a trilogy for Mr. Crowell. "Houston Kid" was followed with "Fate's Right Hand" in 2003, and then with the sensational album "The Outsiders", in 2005. This video starts off with a very young Dan Rather doing the weather report out of Houston during a hurricane in the late 50's, or early 60's.

The whole video is a veritable snapshot of life from when Mr. Crowell was a kid. Interspersed, as it is, with footage of his band recording, and performing, lends an urgency to the song, almost as if the artist wants you to step inside his head and share with you all of the things he has seen while growing up.

All three of the aforementioned albums were eventually distilled into Rodney Crowell's landmark autobiography, "Chinaberry Sidewalks", which was released in 2010. If you haven't read it, you are missing out on a real treat. And, if you have never been to one of Mr. Crowell's concerts, you are doubly deprived.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"The Librarians"


The librarians- if you’ve never looked-
are blurs of light and motion;
Standing guard among the books
Of every single notion

thought by man; and then writ down
To be passed on with time,
To others distant, future born;
The knowledge, reason, rhymes.

With always time to speak a word;
While never breaking stride;
They are the keepers of the keys
which open all doors wide.

The above illustration is Norman Rockwell's "Willie Gillis", pictured here in the fall of 1946, studying. Back from the war, he is going to college on the GI Bill, presumably on his way to a bright future. Willie Gillis is, of course, Norman Rockwell’s typical American male, whose image changed with the times. He was a personification of the era in which he lived. I used this illustration to depict the happiness which I derive from reading. And the poem is just my simple way of saying thank you to all of the librarians. They really do make a difference in my life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sarah's Cactus - A Living Gift


My daughter, Sarah, brought this spiny looking cactus home from a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina something like 10 years ago. I think the town was called Duck. She was vacationing there with her friend Lindsey, and her family, and decided to dig the cactus up from the sand and take it home to me. Everybody laughed, saying that it would never survive. Ah, but he who laughs last, laughs best.

Every 2 years; like clockwork; this spiny little portion of the original mass which Sarah brought home to me, sprouts the most beautiful yellow blossom. And, for the short time it remains; which is something like a month; it reminds me of the hopes and dreams of children everywhere. And in that space of time, I really do believe that nothing is impossible.

Sometimes referred to as the “Yellow Rose” of Texas, this is what dreams are made of.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"New York at War" by Steven H. Jaffe (2012)


With the exception of the American Revolution, and later the Civil War Draft Riots, New York City has managed to escape the ravages of war. Yet, she has played a major part in every war since Henry Hudson first sailed up the Narrows and into the Hudson River in 1609. Author Steven Jaffe has done an admirable job of chronicling the history of war in the New York during the 4 centuries since then.

Beginning with Henry Hudson sending 5 men to explore the northern reaches of the lower Bay, during which sailor John Colman was killed by an arrow from one of the local Indian tribes, the book takes on the Indian Wars, before delving into the American Revolution. Washington’s retreat from Brooklyn, across Manhattan, is covered very well, as are the “hulks” in Wallabout Bay, the site of today’s Brooklyn Navy Yard. The “hulks” were the British prison ships, aboard which thousands perished from want of food, water, clothing and sheer cruelty on the part of the British.
 
The War of 1812 brought panic to the city, as it prepared for an invasion which never came. The forts which were built during this period made any thought of invading New York from the sea impossible 50 years later when the nation was torn by Civil War.

The Civil War seems almost lacking in the memories of New Yorkers, mainly because no battle was ever fought that far North. But the city teemed with danger during this period as Confederate sympathizers from Canada plotted to burn the city to the ground, destroying the manufacturing, and banking facilities, which enabled the North to cripple the South. That plot was unsuccessful, doing nowhere near the damage caused by the Draft Riots of 1863. Those riots were largely caused by the friction between freed African-Americans, and the newly arrived Irish, as they struggled for jobs. There was also an economic reason behind the riots. Poor white Irish citizens could not afford to pay a substitute to do their fighting, meaning that an unduly large number of the soldiers conscripted were Irish. These riots diverted thousands of troops from Gettysburg, and had the potential of causing the Union to lose the war.

The Spanish-American War was very much a "New York" war. Although there was no violence; or even riots; caused by the war, the war itself was largely the creation of New York newspapers and “yellow journalism.”

The First World War was a bit more complicated for the city. The warring powers were divided into 2 camps; the Allied Powers of England, France, Italy and Russia; and the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. With the city composed of so many different nationalities, loyalties ran the gamut. The impact of the outbreak of war in Europe was so great, that the stock market was closed for 4 months in fear of a financial panic.

The Irish did not support Britain, hoping that a German victory would give Ireland its freedom. The Jewish population was divided politically. They were hard pressed to back the Allies, who included Russia; and the Czar who caused them to flee their native land; while at the same time many saw the war as the best chance to defeat the Ottoman Empire, thus establishing a Zionist Holy land in Palestine.

Militarily, New York was technically invaded by the Germans, who used early submarines to mine the mouth of the harbor off Coney Island and Sandy Hook, New Jersey. They were also able to cut the underwater cable connecting New York to Nova Scotia, and thus to Europe. 15 ships were sunk by the German submarines within miles of the beaches at Atlantic City and Coney Island. These actions left New York in a state of panic. Milkmen of German descent were not allowed to work their routes along the coast, lest they use the opportunity to signal German ships and submarines waiting off shore.

Even before the United Staes entered the war, the war came to New York. At 2 AM on July 30, 1916, a huge explosion took place when German saboteurs blew up a munitions depot. The explosion was felt, and heard, as far away as Maryland.

By 1920 class warfare invaded Wall Street, largely the result of the inequities between the working class socialists and their capitalist counterparts. The bomb was set off in a wagon full of dynamite and detonated at lunch hour.

World War Two bought back the German U-Boats, which sank ships 10 miles off Brighton Beach. And, with the advent of long range bombing, the city was constantly in a state of blackout. This part of the book rang so true, as my mother had told me all the stories from the war years.

The Harlem riots of 1964; and the later Black Panther movement; when coupled with the Vietnam War protests, had the city  virtually under siege for another decade. Policemen were assassinated in the streets, and plans were made to blow up everything from the Police Station in Lower Manhattan, to all of the major department stores. The goal was to “bring Saigon home”, so that the American people would understand the atrocities of war.

Crime soared throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, fueled largely by the drug trade. But, the 1990’s saw a new kind of threat taking place, just as the city seemed to be revitalizing.  Terrorism began to rear its head with the first attempt to topple the World Trade Center. By 2001, that goal had been accomplished.

Steven Jaffe has done a superb job of laying bare the myth that New York City has always been spared the ravages of war. On the contrary, although bombs did not fall on New York, for every conflict in which she has participated, the city has paid a price. And, remarkably, the city has survived,  and is currently in a state of renaissance, with new buildings going up, while crime and violence are going down.  An engaging read by a veteran  author, this is a book which will educate even the most native of New Yorkers.  For more on Mr. Jaffe, and some of his other work, see his comments posted below.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day


It's time, once again, to pay our respects to Mother's everywhere. From Bristol Palin to Clay Aiken; no matter what your gender; if you are playing the role of mother to a child, you are holding/molding the future for the rest of us. Whether you are a "traditional" stay at home mom; or a single working mom; you walk a fine line everyday in the choices you make for your children's futures. The rest of us; those who have past that stage of life; can only stand by, wishing you well, and providing support where necessary. The rest is all on you.

Of course, I had a great Mom; except for when I was about 15-18 years old. Cultural changes were tearing many families apart, and mine was no exception. But, as I got older, she got wiser, and so we reached a point where we were both comfortable with one another. We had stopped expecting the other to be what we expected one another to be. We accepted one another for who we were. It wasn't easy for either of us to get there, but we did.

Anyway, this is just a Mother's Day rambling from a guy whose Mom passed away in 1984. If you got one that's still around, treat her well. You only get one; ever. So, of course, a very Happy Mother's Day to my own mom, Ruth Marcus Williams. I've heard it said that so long as someone still speaks your name, you will live forever. I still hear echoes of you every day.....

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"Party at Grampy's House" with Betty Boop and Grampy (1936)


In this 1936 Max Fleischer production Betty is invited to Grampy's for a party.  Joining Ms. Boop are two workmen, a fireman and also a police officer, all of whom she attracts along the way. After all, she was sort of a party girl.The results are exactly what you would expect; and along with some tongue in cheek visual humor, and a bit of typical Max Fleischer ingenuity; the cartoon is a delight and everything works out in the end.

Friday, May 11, 2012

"Rainbows Over Your Blues" - John Sebastian (1970)


No one who has seen the film "Woodstock" can forget the very stoned John Sebastian coming out to perform this song. This version is live from, I think, the Mike Douglas show in 1970. I used to come home from school and find my Mom watching some pretty cool stuff on that show. And Mr. Douglas was no slouch himself. He's the man that got John and Yoko to guest host his show for a week in 1970, or maybe 1971.

Anyway, feeling a bit lazy today, and thinking of the old songs from the summer of love. With temperatures rising here, it's hard not to feel like going up and laying on the old roof in Brooklyn. With only a 6 transistor radio; 7 stories up and less than 1 mile from the ocean;  I was king of the sky! The old AM radio stations made many a summer day tolerable back then. Well; cartoon tomorrow; and see you Sunday!

RAINBOWS ALL OVER YOUR BLUES
John Sebastian - 1970

I been waiting my time just to talk to you,
You´ve been lookin´all down in the mouth and down at your shoes.
Well, baby, I came to give you the news,
I´ll paint rainbows all over your blues.

I heard you been spending a lot of your time up in your room,
And at night you been watchin´ the dark side of the moon.
You don´t talk to nobody, if they don´t talk to you.
So, Buddy and me came here to sing you a tune.

"I give up" is all you´ve really got to say,
It´s time to find a new life style 'cause this really ain´t the way.
Let´s go for a bounce on my trampoline,
I can show you the prettiest mountains that you´ve ever seen.

You better run to your closet,
and fish out your blue suede shoes,
I´ll paint rainbows all over your blues.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Out of the Past" with Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas and Rhonda Fleming (1947)


Robert Mitchum is quiet, but tough, in this thriller set a few hundred miles from Los Angeles in the late 1940's. As a former Private Investigator, Jeff Bailey has a past which he wants to leave behind him. He works at a small town garage with a deaf mute, played by Dickie Moore. Life seems a bit boring, but sometimes boring can be a good thing.  All of that is about to change, however, when a stranger comes to town, summoning Jeff back to his old life, and his former underworld connection, Whit Sterling, played by Kirk Douglas.

Jeff has been seeing a local girl, Ann, played by Virginia Huston, and she knows nothing of his past. Before he leaves town to meet Whit at Lake Tahoe, Jeff calls her and tells her the truth about his past. He had been hired by Whit to find his missing girlfriend Kathie, played by Jane Greer, who has run off with $40,000 of Whit's money. Jeff finds her in Acapulco, but not the money. At the same time that he is trailing her, he falls in love with her. Making their escape from Whit, they hide out in a cabin in the mountains outside of Los Angeles. But a former partner of Jeff's finds them there, launching the pair into a series of double crosses and half truths, which result in his partner's death. When Jeff finds that Kathie does have the $40,000 he leaves her, setting off a chain of events that can have only one conclusion.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Butterflies



These 2 butterflies were a real treat while I was at the local nursery looking at plants and trees for the house. Well, actually, Sue was looking at the plants and trees; I was busy fooling around with these two overly friendly guys.

At first they won't sit still for a photo but then I guess they felt sorry for me and posed for several shots. They were even conversing with one another about the inept human with the camera; like, "should we give him a break?" They did, landing at my feet, allowing me to get some ground level shots.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"Island of Vice" by Richard Zacks (2012)


1896 was a crucial year in the history of New York City. The annexation of all 5 boroughs was less than 2 years away. The City of New York, comprised at the time of the island of Manhattan, was in the throes of a crime wave the likes of which would never be seen again. Literally, as the title of this book suggests, it was a city of sin. This was also the beginning of the end for Tammany Hall, the political party which had ruled the city for decades.

In a story propelled by the likes of characters such as Nellie Bly, the female reporter of crime at the New York World; and Reverend Charles Parkhurst, the leader of an anti-crime crusade; this book rips and roars its way through the final years of the 19th century, ably guided by the skillful authorship of Richard Zacks.
Much of the story centers on Theodore Roosevelt, who would in short order become famous for his exploits at San Juan Hill during the war in Cuba, as well as becoming President of the United States at the dawn of the 20th century. And what a story it is!

Think of any criminal enterprise in operation today, and it was available then. The only difference was in the technology used in committing the crimes; as human nature has not changed much in the intervening years.
For instance, in the place of todays "chop shops", which alter automobiles, the horse thief of the 19th century merely rode the animal to one of the scores of stables dotting the riverfronts on both sides of the island, and had the animal dyed, the mane clipped, and the saddle changed. The rider then emerged on a "horse of a different color"; so to speak; free to gallop away out of the city to sell his stolen steed.
Gambling was rife, with hundreds of illegal gaming establishments throughout the city, all under the protection of the Police. Prostitution, in every known form, was also readily available in all areas of the city. Women, respectable ones, did not roam about freely at night. Even gentlemen did not stroll after dark without a sense of foreboding.
Into this scenario came Theodore Roosevelt, who had been raised in New York, but had spent the last several years in Washington, D.C. He was now back in New York, determined to clean up the city, as well as make a name for himself. He lost no time in doing both.
Teaming up with Reverend Parkhurst, as well as with Jacob Riis, these men set out to put the city back on course to become the greatest metropolis ever known.  Riis and Roosevelt had become great friends, and mutual admirers, after Roosevelt read Riis' "How the Other Half Lives", which was published in the 1880's when Jacob Riis was working as a Police Reporter for the Evening Sun.
The photos, and their accompanying stories, shocked the city into a social awareness which would spark the changes affecting the most disadvantaged citizens Manhattan.
Roosevelt and Riis, in disguise, went on a series of midnight journeys into the seediest parts of the city, seeking to document the criminal activities, and then tear them down. Acting upon the heels of Reverend Parkhurst's own campaign against vice, in which he too, toured the city at night under the protection of Detective Charles Gardner, the city was rocked by scandal after scandal, as the veneer of corruption was laid bare for the people to see.
The Police Department was so corrupt that Roosevelt canceled the 1895 annual Police parade, declaring that the force was unworthy of the honor. When he went on his midnight tours he found himself threatened by his very own officers! With tireless effort, and knowledge that his crusade was a just one, he re-enforced the Civil Service laws, giving the city a better police force with which to fight crime.
With a bold and exciting style of writing, Mr. Zacks has created a veritable visual montage of New York in the not so "Gay Nineties", putting truth to the sepia colored images we all hold of that era. Illustrated with some of the best photos ever of old New York, this book is a "must read" for anyone interested in, or in love with, the history of Old New York.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Gitmo Defense Attorney - Head Case?


Attorney Cheryl Bormann, a non-Muslim representing alleged terrorist Walid bin Attash, has made a fool of herself at the hearings being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (That’s Gitmo to those of us who have had the "pleasure" of a port "visit" there while serving in the Navy.)

While I really don’t have a problem with her making a fool of herself over the issue of respecting the religious rights of the suspects in the trial; I do resent that she is attempting to make fools of the rest of us. Ms. Bormann was making the demand/request that all females present at the trial dress in a more modest fashion, so as not to cause her client to inadvertently commit a “sin” by looking at them. It would, she infers, be an atrocity.

She, herself, has chosen to don the black religious garment required of all Muslim women. It is, I believe, a very transparent, albeit misguided attempt, to infuse the military tribunal with an air of tolerance for the religious beliefs of the defendants.

Her client, who is an accused terrorist from Yemeni, is undoubtedly gloating at the thought of the political havoc he is creating with this issue.  But he has miscalculated the chief military prosecutor, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, who refused the request on its face, as unworthy of a response. We applaud his willingness to do the politically “incorrect” thing in response to this absurd demand from an obviously Islamic influenced attorney. That the request was made on behalf of a thug like her client speaks volumes about Ms. Bormann herself.

If the trend of “tolerance” for terrorists is allowed to take hold, does Ms. Bormann not realize that she may someday be required to dress this way permanently? What happens to the rights of the rest of us then? Will Ms. Bormann defend our rights with the same vigor? Probably not, since she would, under the laws of Sharia, be ineligible to hold the position which she enjoys now.

As for attire that is appropriate in court; how about putting these guys in orange jumpsuits, just like all other prisoners wear? Or, better yet, make ‘em all wear suits and ties, with new shoes.

Landsford Canal State Park - Revisited


This is the same area that Sue and I visited to look at the turtles and walk in the old Landsford Canal about one month ago. There was not a single lily in sight then. Just rocky rapids; which is why the canal was built in the first place. So, when we heard that the change was really remarkable to see, we weren't skeptical; but let's just say that we were reserving our judgement until we saw it for ourselves. Well, now we have.  As you can see from this photo, although it is still early in the season, it is all it is cracked up to be.

And, with the scent of honeysuckle hanging in the air, it is a remarkable place. The lilies bloomed a bit earlier this year, due to an exceptionally mild winter. They usually start blooming in late April, reaching their peak in June and then lingering on through August, as the weather changes. This is a beautiful place to go, even when the lilies are not in bloom. But, somehow, with their annual appearance, these exceptional plants make it even more so.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bird Fight

                        
I was eating breakfast on the back porch when I became aware of the screeching of these 2 birds as they flew about the yard. Upon closer examination I realized that they were engaged in a life or death struggle over another, presumably female, bird. There was also the bird feeder to be considered, as the victor would be the one claiming ownership of this coveted spot.


They came down to the ground, battling one another like prize fighters. A left wing to the beak, and even some claws were involved. From there they went on to some vicious pecking of one another, so I lowered the camera and tried to part them.


I got the two to break off the engagement, but they continued to circle one another, looking for a good opportunity to continue the fight. The object of their affections had, by this point, flown away, presumably seeking more sane company; or maybe just another bird feeder; perhaps one with less drama.


And so the winner now sat all alone on the fence, bewildered by the lack of company. He was now the official winner of this amazing aerial combat which interrupted my breakfast, but gave me a ringside seat to the ongoing battle in nature.                                                                   

Saturday, May 5, 2012

"I Haven't Got a Hat" with Porky Pig (1935)


This 1935 Merrie Melodies cartoon is notable for Joe Dougherty's voiceover of Porky Pig. Joe Dougherty, a real-life stutterer, was Porky's first voice. Later on, Mel Blanc took over doing all of the voices for the Merrie Melodie series of cartoons. The story line is simple; it's the story of a school musical and recital. What makes this cartoon so noteworthy is that it was released in 1935 and delivers a surprising message for the times.

Note the sign at the schoolhouse door. The recital is open to ALL children. And the cartoon delivers on that promise by showcasing the talents which exist in all of us. This was a very controversial message to deliver in the 1930's. The notion that we are all equal was certainly ahead of its time, and is delivered well in advance of the social changes that would be taking place during the next 3 decades. The stereotyping of individuals, including Porky Pig in his cartoon debut as a stutterer, was not done in a mean spirited way. Rather, this cartoon seems to trumpet the idea that we ALL have something to contribute to the world in which we live. What a great message for these troubled times.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Pendulums / It's That Time Again


It’s that time, once again, for a short talk about Pendulums and how they work. A pendulum is attached to a fixed point, which, for the purpose of this discussion, we shall label the 12 o’clock, or, “noon” position. The pendulum, when left alone, hangs straight down, in what we shall refer to as the 6 o’clock position. That is the center of its gravity. It is also the beginning point for any deviation which might occur, causing the pendulum to swing to either the left, or right. This is healthy, as that is what pendulums do. They swing, in a predictable arc. But what happens when it swings too far, either to the right, or to the left?
In politics, we have the Pendulum of Democracy, which works best when swinging back and forth, over a period of time, while never exceeding a point further than half way up either side. Think of it as a clock face. When the hour hand goes too far right, passing the 3 o’clock position; or too far left, passing the 9 o’clock position; we are in trouble.
Examine the role of the Pendulum in history. When the Pendulum is straight down, at 6 o’clock, things are going well, though a bit stagnant. Kind of like the 1950’s. When the Pendulum swings to the left there is usually some kind of social change driving that motion. And, when that Pendulum starts to swing too far to the left, the gravity inherent to that situation is usually enough to bring it back to the six o’clock position. The same is true of the Pendulum when it swings too far to the right.

Two great examples of the Pendulum swinging out of control occurred in the 20th century, and as such, should still be fresh in most people’s minds, if not their memories. The first example is the Russian Revolution, which put the Communists in power for 70 long years, plunging that country into a darkness which overtook all thought and reason. That out of control swing was to the left, and gave us leaders like Joseph Stalin and the millions of deaths at his hands.
The second occurrence was the rise of the Nazi’s to power in Germany. That event also sucked all thought and freedom from the population. It also gave us Adolph Hitler, who; with his out of control swing rightward; also piled up millions of deaths.

So, the question is this; which is best; a swing too far to the right or a swing too far to the left?
The answer, of course, is that neither extreme is healthy.  What is the difference between Stalin and Hitler? A few million bodies is all that separates them.

Are these extreme examples? Not really. Just look back through history and you will see that the Pendulum has been an indicator of freedom for thousands of years. And how does this apply to us, here and now?
This election year will take its usual course, with folks on both sides urging you to support a swing to either the far left, or the far right. They will disguise their intentions; clothed as they are; behind the flag, or the Bible. You will be bombarded with vitriol concerning Gay Marriage Amendments, Abortion, and all manner of other social issues, designed to take your eyes “off the ball”, so to speak. Don’t be fooled.

The issues which concern us most, as a nation, go far beyond those “window dressing” topics. The economy, the wars, the health care debate; these are the real issues. And, as you ponder your beliefs, be sure to think about that Pendulum of Democracy. And remember this; when the Pendulum has swung too far in either direction, you may not be allowed to think at all.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Employee of the Month


My wife Sue was selected as the employee of the month for April. The photo above is of Sue, on the right, in Annapolis, Maryland last week. Working out of the house, and traveling as necessary, Sue underwrites yacht policies, something which she has done for over 20 years. Working from home takes a strong work ethic, especially when your husband is hanging around a good bit of the time. And when that husband is me, well, let's just say it takes a very patient person to remain focused and productive. Sue does a great job at both, while still being civilized to me! And did I mention that the Employee of the Month gets a gift card? Hmmm, I can smell dinner out already...
From: Christopher Pesce

Sent: Tuesday, May 01, 2012 6:30 PM
To: MPG Mailgroup
Subject: Congratulations to Sue Williams!
Congratulations to Sue for being selected as our employee of the month for April! Sue has done a remarkable job of navigating the Chubb book roll to New Hampshire Ins. over the past 8 months and is now in the final stretch. She’s worked hard to get and keep our brokers onboard with the rollover and her following has proven strong as the loss of business has been very minimal. Additionally she’s taken on new relationships from the New Hampshire Insurance Company portfolio and has been very proactive about getting on the phone to court and welcome new brokers that our marketing efforts drum up, which is critical in the current market environment.
Keep up the great work Sue and thank you for all your hard work!
Christopher L. Pesce
President
Maritime Program Group
70 Essex Rd.
Westbrook, CT 06498





Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Like A Rolling Stone" - Jimi Hendrix (1967)


With temperatures soaring into the 90’s this week, I thought it was time for a bit of summertime music. This 1967 performance of “Like a Rolling Stone” by Jimi Hendrix certainly qualifies.  Even the dark of night can’t mask the seething delivery of Bob Dylan’s words. And nothing comes close to the mastery Jimi Hendrix had over his guitar. Both his playing, and singing, come across as one. Even at the beginning he is so carried away that he has to excuse himself “while I play my guitar.”

The Monterey Pop Festival was the real precursor to the Woodstock Festival 2 years later. It even had a larger crowd.  Listen carefully at about 5 minutes and 18 seconds into the video, as Hendrix drops an entire verse and comments on it to the rest of the band. This man was so into, and behind, the notes he was playing, that even his mistakes are triumphs.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"The Maltese Falcon" with Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sidney Greenstreet (1941)



In 1530 the Grand Master Villiers de I'lsle Adam returned from his tour of Europe, during which he had persuaded Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to make a gift to him of the Maltese Islands, with one stipulation; that each year a falcon would be sent from the Island of Malta to the Viceroy of Spain, and that a mass be held in Charles honor by the Pope on All Saints Day.

From this simple historical fact Dashiell Hammett was able to create one of the most enduring mysteries of the 20th Century. Directed, with his trademark perfection, by John Huston, the movie version of Mr. Hammett's novel sails along without a hitch. And supported by Peter Lorre and Barton MacLane, Bogart shines as Sam Spade, the detective who blunders and bluffs his way to the truth behind the disappearance of the mysterious "black bird."

Being set in San Francisco of the late 1930's lends an air of nostalgia to the plot. The telephones, the cars, even the waterfront all serve as a wonderful backdrop to the story. Simply put, private detective Sam Spade, played by Bogart, has been having an affair with his partner's wife. When his partner; Miles Archer; is killed on a stakeout for a new and somewhat mysterious client, Brigid O'Shaughnessy, played by Mary Astor, all the clues point to Sam as the killer.

But as Sam digs further into the mystery he finds a group of characters who are all pursuing the rare statue of a falcon. That statue is thought to be the jewel encrusted falcon which was supposedly sent to the Viceroy of Spain, but never arrived.

Sidney Greenstreet, as Kasper Gutman, heads a rogue’s gallery of villains, each determined to recover the "black bird" for their own. Peter Lorre plays the part of Joel Cairo, a slightly effeminate fellow who has been involved with Mr. Gutman from the beginning, as they roam the world in search of their prize. Elisha Cook, Jr., plays the part of small time detective Wilmer Cook, who is a man with something to prove to himself. Unfortunately, he is way out of his league.

Ward Bond, as Detective Tom Polhaus; along with Barton MacLane as Lt. Detective Dundy; give it their all as they try to unlock the puzzle of just who the bad guys are. Staying one step ahead of them is Sam Spade as he spins the web that may make them all fabulously wealthy, or land them all in jail. Of particular note in this film is that it is Sydney Greenstreet's first film appearance. He was 62 years old at the time. Of course he went on to play the iconic owner of the Blue Parrot, opposite Bogart in the all-time classic "Casablanca." But when you watch him in this film, you just have to wonder, what took him so long to make it to the screen? Watch him in the clip below, in which he meets with Sam Spade for the first time to discuss the "black bird."

Keep an eye out for the uncredited appearance of Walter Huston as Captain Jacoby. He is director John Huston's father, and appeared in several of his films. He plays one of the prospectors in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre", also opposite Bogart. He was one of the finest actors of his time.

To view the original article about the Siege Of Malta, see my post from last year, concerning the Knights of Templar;
  
http://robertwilliamsofbrooklyn.blogspot.com/2011/05/siege-of-malta.html

And here is the scene in which Sam Spade meets Mr. Gutman for the first time;