Friday, May 31, 2013

Townes Van Zandt


It’s hard to know where to start with Townes Van Zandt. His haunting ballads have been recorded by so many artists. I suppose “Pancho and Lefty” is the most well-known of his works, but this early recording of Mr. Van Zandt performing “Waiting Round to Die” in the movie “Heartworn Highways” is probably my favorite. It reeks of desperation and sorrow.

Performers such as Mr. Van Zandt are seldom fully appreciated until after their death. That is the case with Mr. Van Zandt. He wrote some of the best songs; ones which other artists made into hits; but somehow never had a hit record himself. Sometimes it just works out like that. 

He moved to New York in the 1990’s, where his music influenced artists such as Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant, Gillian Welch, Norah Jones, Steve Earle and even Keith Richards. He passed away there on January 1, 1997 due to complications from years of substance abuse. In some ways, you might say, he was just waiting round to die.

“Waiting Round to Die”
Sometimes I don't know where
This dirty road is taking me
 Sometimes I can't even see the reason why
 I guess I keep a-gamblin'
 Lots of booze and lots of ramblin'
 It's easier than just waitin' around to die

One time, friends, I had a ma
I even had a pa
He beat her with a belt once 'cause she cried
She told him to take care of me
Headed down to Tennessee
It's easier than just waitin' around to die

I came of age and I found a girl
In a Tuscaloosa bar
She cleaned me out and hit in on the sly
I tried to kill the pain, bought some wine
And hopped a train
Seemed easier than just waitin' around to die

A friend said he knew
Where some easy money was
We robbed a man, and brother did we fly
The posse caught up with me
And drug me back to Muskogee
It's two long years I've been waitin' around to die

Now I'm out of prison
I got me a friend at last
He don't drink or steal or cheat or lie
His name's Codeine
He's the nicest thing I've seen
Together we're gonna wait around and die

Together we're gonna wait around and die

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"The Blue Tail Fly" - Politically Incorrect?


We learned this song in elementary school. The other day I was playing it on guitar, getting ready to play it for my granddaughters Molly and Julia, when I stopped as I realized the words and their full import. This song was sung far and wide when I was growing up, and in some places it is still a staple of childhood rhyme schemes. I have no problem with it, as the children singing it usually have no idea of what the lyrics mean. Some folks even think that the lyrics are two separate songs.

The above live performance by Burl Ives is a bit out of synch. I could have used another clip, but this one from 1964 shows just how out of synch most of America was regarding race relations at the same time as the country was experiencing massive racial unrest. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had yet to be passed, and the events in Selma, Alabama were still a year away.

Some folks have objected to this songs continued use in schools due to the racial overtones of the lyrics. The main character is a slave who tends to his masters every need. Some find that offensive. But listen more closely and you will realize that this song makes sport of the master’s dependence upon his servant, which actually plays a small part in his own unfortunate demise. The last verse is the best, and if you remove the quotation marks from the epitaph the meaning is completely changed. Instead of an epitaph it becomes a confession by the young servant.

As the world evolves, changes get made and things get lost. I hope that the people who object to this song will stop and really hear it for what it is; it’s a satire about the people who only think that they are in charge, but haven’t got a clue. If they did, then the blue tail fly could never hurt them.

“The Blue Tail Fly” by Elie Siegmeister and Walter F. Kerr

When I was young I used to wait
On my master and hand him his plate
And Pass the bottle when he got dry
And brush away the blue-tail fly.

Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
My master's gone away.

And when he'd ride in the afternoon
I'd follow after with my hickory broom
The pony being rather shy
When bitten by the blue-tail fly.

Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
My master's gone away.

One day he ride around the farm
Flies so numerous they did swarm
One chanced to bite him on the thigh
The devil take the blue-tail fly.

Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
My master's gone away.

The pony run, he jump, he pitch
He threw my master in the ditch
He died and the jury wondered why
The verdict was the blue-tail fly.

Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
My master's gone away.

He lay under the 'simmon tree
His epitaph is there to see
"Beneath this stone I'm forced to lie
The victim of the blue-tail fly."

Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
My master's gone away.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Blowing Rock

Sue and I took a day trip up to Blowing Rock the other day. It was a beautiful, sunny and not too warm day for a road trip, and we hadn’t been to Blowing Rock in years, so it seemed like a good place to go and catch some fresh air and sunshine. Everything looks so fresh and clean when you’re several thousand feet above everything else.

The views are spectacular, 3,000 feet up with a stiff wind blowing all year long. At times the gusts can be over 150 miles per hour. Hang on to your hats! The cause of the stiff winds is the sheer when the wind hits the side of the mountain and causes a severe updraft.

At times, during the winter months, you can actually watch the snow “falling” upward with the wind. This is no optical illusion, as with the Empire State Building, where the refraction of the sun’s rays can make it appear that the rain is falling upwards. That phenomenon is just a mirror like reflection of the reality. At Blowing Rock it is the reality.

Of course, the best part of any road trip is the people, and pets, you meet along the way. This fellow, Gus, was waiting in the car outside of the chicken place in eager anticipation of a wing or two.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"The King is Gone (And So Are You)" - George Jones


One of the greatest talents which George Jones possessed was his ability to tell a story in a lyrical quality; unique in that he didn’t talk over the music, as in the “talking” type of blues. He actually sang the story. In this one written by Roger Ferris, Mr. Jones laments the loss of his beloved, and sits down to have a chat with himself, Jim Beam, Elvis, and even Fred from the jelly glasses he is drinking from in his drunken revelry. 

The results are both sad and comical as he discovers that his drinking is the cycle which precipitated his whole dilemma in the first place. I particularly like this live performance, for that is when Mr. Jones was always at his best; live and working the audience.

"The King is Gone (And So Are You)" by Roger Ferris

Last night I broke the seal on a Jim Beam decanter
That looks like Elvis
I soaked the label off a Flintstone Jelly Bean jar
I cleared us off a place on that
One little table that you left us
And pulled me up a big ole piece of floor.

I pulled the head off Elvis
 Filled Fred up to his pelvis
Yabba Dabba Doo, the King is gone
And so are you.

'Round about ten we all got to talking
'Bout Graceland, Bedrock and such
The conversation finally turned to women
But they said they didn't get around too much

Elvis said, "Find 'em young."
And Fred said, "Old Fashioned girls are fun."
Yabba Dabba Doo, the King is gone
And so are you.

Later on it finally hit me
That you wouldn't be 'a comin' home no more
'Cause this time I know you won't forgive me
Like all of them other times before

Then I broke Elvis's nose
Pouring the last drop from his toes
Yabba Dabba Doo, the King is gone
And so are you.
Yabba Dabba Doo, the King is gone
And so are you.

Last night I broke the seal on a Jim Beam decanter
That looks like Elvis
.

Monday, May 27, 2013

"The Untold History of the United States" by Michael Moore (2012)


I don’t give many bad reviews. As a matter of fact, in the 4 and a half years in which I have been doing this, there have only been three books which I have reviewed negatively. It is no coincidence that these 3 books were all written with an agenda to misinform. One was written by an Islamic, one was written by a Conservative, and now this one written by Michael Moore; no explanation of his agenda necessary. I offer this as proof on my consistency in reasoning.

As he takes us on a whirlwind tour of our American misadventures, concluding that we have met the “Evil Empire” and it is us, he neglects to position his arguments against the backdrop of history as he deplores, page after page, our imperialistic designs. His take on the acquisition of Hawaii is that we were bent on world domination. Completely ignored is the fact that Russia and Japan were already rattling sabers at one another, and would fight a horrific war between them over domination of the Pacific; its resources; and of course Hawaii. Had we not gained possession of Hawaii when we did, then Japan would have been able to launch her planes from carriers based there against San Francisco. But details have never bothered Mr. Moore before, so why was I expecting something different from this book?

Our domination of the Philippine Islands is fairly accurate, though he does seem to gloss over the fact that we did grant them Independence after helping them to defeat the Japanese. And although there have been problems with our still having troops and ships stationed there, for the most part, the people and government of the Philippines seem to regard our presence in the area as more of a positive than a negative.

This is likewise in just about every one of the 132 countries which Mr. Moore laments about, where we have troops stationed. His thinking seems parallel to that of most Conservatives, who continually lament that we cannot be the “world’s policeman.” This is odd reasoning for an avowed liberal such as Mr. Moore claims to be. It gives one pause to think about just why he writes what he does. Is it how he really feels, or just the lure of easy money? By the way, the lure of easy money is one of the things Mr. Moore complains about the most, blaming many of the world’s ills upon it.

Like a reverse image of Rush Limbaugh, Mr. Moore goes charging through the history of America with an agenda. Where Mr. Limbaugh would have you think us Gods; Mr. Moore paints us as devils. He even takes our country to task over the Cuban Missile Crisis, labeling us as the reckless aggressors, even while acknowledging the massive buildup of tactical nuclear weapons which we did not know about at the time. Had we invaded, we would have been wiped out. The policy Of Mutual Assured Destruction, often derided as MAD, is also something which Mr. Moore fails to realize actually saved us from coming to actual nuclear war. Had one side only been able to launch a first strike, there would have been a nuclear war.

Only the fact that neither side could afford to pull the nuclear trigger on the other saved us from catastrophe. Contrast that against today’s post-Cold War world, with rogue nations; and terrorists ones such as Pakistan; in possession of nuclear unarms. Do you feel safer now? Under the policy of M.A.D., there was never a nuclear confrontation after the bombing of Japan at the conclusion of the Second World War. This is something which the author fails to acknowledge, or even mention.

While taking careful and deliberate aim at the policies of the United States in the 1950’s, Mr. Moore paints a bleak picture of the hare brained schemes being considered by the scientific community. Some of these plans were outright wacky; such as the plan to use nuclear weaponry to hasten the melting of the Polar Ice Caps, raising the world’s temperature by 10 degrees; or the scheme to use the atomic bomb to change the course of hurricanes, regardless of the fallout which would occur. There was also thought given to Project Chariot, which would have had the United States military blast holes in Alaska to harvest the shale oil beneath the frozen surface. What he never tells you is that these plans were never implemented, just tossed about. In Mr. Moore’s world, even ideas are prohibited.

The book is not all negative. But even where his facts are correct, he never gives America the credit it is due for the good things she has done. For instance, what other nation in the world would go to the lengths which we did during the Bosnia-Serbian War, when we helped Islamic people from genocide at the hands of their Christian neighbors? And, we did that at a time when tensions were reaching an all-time high between America, which was being billed as the Great Satan, and most of the other Islamic nations of the world. Where was their help in the aftermath of 9/11, when they danced in the streets, while hiding Bin Laden for 10 years?

When it comes time to examine the Second World War, once again we are the evil ones who firebombed cities, which was even worse than the atomic bomb, notwithstanding that had we not done so, the world today would be desolate place as far as freedom is concerned.

In typical fashion, Mr. Moore laments that the bomb was built without necessity, since we already knew that the Germans had abandoned their efforts at gaining such a weapon in favor of further developing the V1 and V2 rockets which they were using to kill civilians in Britain. He seems not to realize that once the tide of the war had changed back in favor of the Germans, they would have continued the experiments towards obtaining a nuclear weapon, if only to subjugate the Soviets.

As a matter of fact; Mr. Moore inadvertently tips his hand here; as it was only the pressure exerted on Roosevelt by the 3 main scientists who had fled Germany, including Einstein, that the bomb was an absolute necessity if we were to win the war. They even corroborated the fact that Germany was then, indeed, working on such a weapon herself, thus fueling the Roosevelt administration’s decision to go ahead with the bomb. It was only Oppenheimer and Davis who slowed the pace down enough to ascertain that the bomb would not ignite the earth’s atmosphere and destroy all life on the planet before proceeding with the experiments. So, one might conclude that the German scientists on both sides were pushing their respective governments to obtain this new weapons technology. Therefore, it is absurd to place the blame for the resultant Cold War on any one leader’s shoulders. This whole section had me wondering about Mr. Moore squares this view of Roosevelt with his hero of the New Deal? Me, I don’t have that problem; I think he was right on both occasions.

As far as the decision to drop the bomb which ushered in the Cold War, without it we would have lost at least 100,000 more Americans in order to take the island fortress of Japan.
By page 392 it becomes apparent that this book will never cease to amaze me. The author blames the policies of Henry Kissinger for the ruin of America’s stature in the world, and uses that as a pretext for the failed Presidency of Jimmy Carter. He uses the logic that the same people were still calling the shots for the White House. Jimmy was a well-intentioned, but un-involved bystander. By this logic, Reagan was innocent of any wrongdoing during the Iran-Contra affair, and Bush was misled into the war in Iraq by faulty advisers with agendas of their own.

This is an interesting book, with a lot of information in it. As such, it needs to be read carefully. Facts are funny things, and in the hands of professional writers and movie makers such as Mr. Moore, can be bent to support whatever conclusion you care to make them support. But, in the end, this book is mainly an apology for being American, and though my government may be temporarily in the hands of idiots, being born American is one thing for which I will never apologize.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Reverend Dorsey - Father of Gospel Music


Tommy always loved music. Born in 1899, he displayed an early and keen interest in the songs he heard played in church, and even at home. Eventually he would make it to Chicago and study at the Chicago College of Composition and Arranging, but before that he was playing piano in a vaudeville act. After his graduation from the College, he became a fairly well known jazz pianist, playing under the name of Georgia Tom. This was prior to the 1920’s, when Tommy gave his life to Jesus. He was 22 years old at the time.

Leaving the jazz clubs behind him, he began his career as a composer, writing gospel songs. He also became a director of church music, meaning that he wielded great influence over which gospel songs were disseminated to the many churches across the country.

By the 1930’s; whether by design or co-incidence, Tommy had become the Reverend Dorsey; leading a flock of his own. It was during a service in 1932 when his life took a tragic turn. While preaching to the congregation he was approached in the pulpit by a church member who handed him a telegram informing the Reverend that his wife had died in childbirth. Within 24 hours he would also lose his newborn child. He began to doubt his faith in God and fell into a deep depression, vowing to never write another gospel song. But someone had other plans for Reverend Tommy.

Within a week of the events described above, the Reverend was seated at a friend’s piano, and realizing that he was now all alone in the world, wrote the song that would change his life, and influence gospel music in such a way that Tommy would someday become known as the “father” of modern gospel music. Finding his place on the keyboard, he began the familiar chords of an 1844 hymn by George N. Allen, titled “Maitland”. This melody would become the basis for the words of the song he was about to write.

Enveloped by what he would later term a “perfect peace”, he wrote the lyrics in a matter of minutes; with the words coming to him all at once. That song would become the iconic gospel hit “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, which has been published in 40 languages and become a staple of the gospel music scene. It has been recorded by everyone from Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, Little Jimmie Dickens, Al Green, Ike and Tina Turner, Merle Haggard, Elvis, and even Jimmy Durante. The song has also been featured in films such as “Cool Hand Luke.”

The song not only restored  the Reverends faith in God;  but it also prompted him to write many more gospel songs, including “Peace in the Valley”, which was recorded by the Sunshine Boys in 1951 and became the first gospel song to sell over one million copies.  

Precious Lord Take My Hand by Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey  (1932)

Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light:

Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.
When my way grows drear,
Precious Lord, linger near,
When my life is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall:

When the darkness appears
And the night draws near,
And the day is past and gone,
At the river I stand,
Guide my feet, hold my hand.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mel Blanc - Man of a Thousand Voices


Each week I try to run a cartoon and many of them have featured the amazing talents of Mel Blanc, arguably the world’s greatest cartoon voice over artist. So, rather than run a cartoon today, I thought I would share this little documentary about him and his work. It contains interviews with Mr. Blanc himself, as well as those who worked with, or were influenced by this highly unusual and creative man.

There are few among us who have not uttered a phrase created by Mr. Blanc, the most obvious being the iconic “What’s Up Doc?” attributed to Bugs Bunny. So, sit back and take a peek behind the curtain and think about the genius it took to juggle all of the hundreds of characters in his head, while still remaining firmly glued to reality.

There are cartoons, created by the likes of Max and Dave Fleischer, who bring all of their artistry to the screen via their illustrations. But no one has ever come close to creating the alternate world in which Mr. Blanc lived and worked for so many years. And that personal involvement with his characters has made all the difference.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Homicide - Life on the Street" Seasons 1 and 2


When the book by David Simon first came out, I was living in Baltimore and working in the area in which the book, and later this TV series, takes place. The book was the result of a years work by the author, riding with the Homicide Unit, seeing the bodies, feeling the streets, and hearing the anguish that had become Southwest Baltimore in the face of the growing drug epidemic of the late 1980's and early 90's. And you know what? It paid off.

This is one of the best of the TV drama series concerning police work. It is also the show which set the standard for all the other series; shows such as “Law and Order”, “NYPD Blue”, and even “The Shield”. It was also one of the first shows where the cops didn’t just joke around while solving cases. These officers, between solving murders, also delved into their own problems and demons, as well as some of the more pressing issues of the day.

With a roster of actors ranging from Richard Belzer, Melissa Leo, Ned Beatty, Yaphet Kotto, Kyle Secor and all the rest, the cast of this series is one of the best ever assembled. Newcomer Andre Braugher is in fine form as the “loner” of the group who finds himself suddenly partnered with another detective. Daniel Baldwin plays his beleaguered partner.

Together, these detectives track down, and hopefully solve, the homicides which seemingly pour into their precinct, located at the end of the tugboat piers in Fell’s Point. Many people have asked me if that was really the police station in real life. I am happy to report that it was. It was also the home to the tugboats of the Moran family business out of New York at the time. The Fell’s Point area is the music and entertainment district in Baltimore which is situated just east of Harborplace. It caters to the college crowd, featuring music and bars with a flavor unique to “Baltimore”.

Directed by Barry Levinson, himself a native of Baltimore and veteran of such films as “Diner”, the show really feels like the city. And, being filmed there, it even has the gritty feel that still lingers from the day when it was a home to shipyards such as Bethlehem Steel. It is, decidedly, a blue collar town.

What I love the most about this series, aside from the writing; which by the way, the whole cast contributed to at one time or another during the series iconic 7 year run; is being able to see the streets where I worked, and even in some cases lived, during my 18 years in that city. At one point, the show became so connected to the city’s image in fighting crime, that on two occasions, criminals who were fleeing the police surrendered to the TV cast when they rounded the corner onto Howard Street where the show was being filmed that day. Talk about realistic…

I was born in Brooklyn, New York but I came of age in Baltimore, where I found myself living while going to school after I got out of the Navy. I met my wife there, and it’s where my daughter was born. More than other city on earth, it contains the essence of who I really am. Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to this show. And that reminds me of an old country song, written by by Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard in 1966, but best performed by Bobby Bare, about Baltimore. It's used to be on just about every jukebox in the city. Remember, it was, and still is, a decidedly blue collar town;

 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Barrymore" with Christopher Plummer (2012)


Christopher Plummer, in one of the finest roles of his storied career, portrays the classic actor John Barrymore; brother to Lionel and Ethel; and the slave of alcohol. The movie is very simply set, with most of the monologue; which the movie is, with the exception of the unseen “prompter” who feeds him his lines when he strays off course; taking place in a vacant theater which the aging actor has rented in order to stage a comeback that would never take place.

In a brilliant screenplay, Mr. Plummer is allowed to float seamlessly between the stage where the rehearsal takes place; and the dressing room; to flights of fancy borne of the aging masters past experiences. Sometimes you are not certain who he is, or where he is supposed to be performing; but so did he. He was a man lost to himself, and Mr. Plummer does such an excellent job of portraying him that I often found myself thinking that I was watching the real John Barrymore in all his eccentric glory. He has that ability to evoke the madness which raged within Mr. Barrymore, making him the one of the most talented actors of our time.

Capturing all of the demons which haunted Mr. Barrymore; the excesses and regrets; the writer has given all the room the actor needs in which to rant and rave his way through this remarkable film. If you are a fan of Mr. Plummer’s work, and a fan of Mr. Barrymore as well, then this will be a double delight for you. And if you are unfamiliar with the contradictions which were the man, then this film will have you wishing to know even more.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Joe Seneca - Bluesman


I was watching an old Matlock the other night when I heard a familiar guitar sound. Looking at the credits I saw the name Joe Seneca and this old re-run became instantly of more interest to me. For lovers of the blues Joe Seneca is a legendary name. Many people will be familiar with his work in the film “Crossroads”, and some even with his guest appearance on “Matlock” with Andy Griffith. 

In the 3rd season episode titled “The Blues Singer”, Mr. Seneca plays an old guitar picking legend named Eddie Haynes, who has fallen on hard times, and finds himself accused of a murder he did not commit. When Ben Matlock takes the case he gets Joe released to his custody and they share Ben’s house for the duration of the trial. Naturally, the two wind up doing a bit of picking together, to the delight of the viewer. At the end of the show there is actually a little “jam” session with Andy, Joe, and Brownie McGhee.

Coincidentally, Joe Seneca was born Joel McGhee, but apparently changed his name, possibly to avoid confusion with the legendary Brownie. Also of note is that they both passed away in 1996, within 6 months of one another. Brownie passed away in February, and Joe Seneca in August. 

One of the hallmarks of The Andy Griffith Show, and later the Matlock series, is the presence of music in so many of the shows. Andy was a very gifted guitar player and singer whose tastes ran from gospel to folk and even some jazz. And he never lost an opportunity to showcase other musical talents on his show.

The Darlings, who in real life were the Dillard’s, are a perfect example of the tradition Mr. Griffith started on his first show while playing Sheriff Andy Taylor. That group enjoyed several decades of success in real life after the Andy Griffith Show ended its run in the 1960’s.

I was a stranger to the Matlock series until recently, but have found them to be well written and full of surprises. In many of the shows Mr. Griffith manages to feature some of his old buddies from The Andy Griffith Show, and in several episodes even plays the role of his own father in flashbacks.

Joe Seneca was an original member of the group The Three Riffs, and wrote “Talk to Me” in the late 1950’s. The record was performed by Little Willie John. Joe Seneca drifted more and more towards television and film roles in his later years, but always kept up with his music. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Betty Zane


This is the iconic drawing showing Elizabeth Zane performing her great deed of fetching the powder for the besieged men Fort Henry in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1782. The fort was under attack by Indians friendly to the British.
  
Born as Elizabeth "Betty" Zane McLaughlin Clark, on July 19, 1759 , she was part of a large family, originally established on what was then the frontier, by three brothers; Ebenezer, Silas and Jonathan, who came from Hardy County, in what was then just Virginia, in 1769. In addition to her parents she had a sister and 4 brothers.

The story goes that when the men in the fort were low on powder, they sent Betty to get some which they had buried nearby. She was allowed to pass solely because she was a woman. Due to this bravery on September 11, 1782 she is considered a hero of the American Revolution, but I have to wonder why?

Now don’t get mad; just listen to me for a second. This woman supposedly is a hero of a war which ended in October of 1781 at Yorktown, almost a full year prior to this incident. And although the Indians had been allies of the British during the war, this battle was clearly just between the settlers and the Indians, who were no doubt angry about their new neighbors arriving uninvited, as well as bringing a Revolution with them.

Then there is the whole part about the battle ceasing while a woman passed. If that was the case, then she did nothing more than run for powder, a task she was allowed to perform simply because she was of no value to either side, so if the Indians did break their word, there would still be men left in the fort to make a last effort to save themselves.

Ms. Zane is a precedent of the famed author Zane Grey, and lived until 1823 when she passed away at the age of 64. In addition to the scores of Westerns Mr. Grey is famous for, he also wrote an historical biography based on the life of his great grandparents and Betty’s heroic deed in the story.

She has become the stuff of legends, and like all legends, some salt is undoubtedly coating this shaft.  Still, it’s an inspiring story of courage in the days of the old frontier, when Virginia was considered to be the west.

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Detroit" by Charlie LeDuff (2013)


What killed Detroit? The saying used to be “As goes GM, so goes the nation.” If that expression is true, then we are all in trouble. Journalist Charlie LeDuff, formerly of the New York Times, returns home to the city where he grew up to work for the local newspaper, a far cry from the job he held in New York. He hopes to cover what may be the biggest story in America; the death a of a once great city; a place where Henry Ford began the $5 work day, and ended with the loss of the auto industry to the foreign market, before falling victim to the recession of 2008.

Looking back through some of Detroit’s history paints a picture of the city which became home to hundreds of thousands of workers during the great migration from the south. These people arrived seeking a better life, only to find themselves living in the worst end of town, while relegated to a life of factory work. For several generations that was the expected “norm”, but once the Unions got involved, with their demands for high pay and good benefits; even for the unskilled; the industry fell to the complacency which often accompanies the assumption that things will always remain the same.

Why go to college when you can sweep the factory floor for $18 an hour? Why prepare for any other work when you have a virtual guarantee of lifelong employment, and a retirement which meets all your needs? This is the thinking which allowed the people of Detroit to be taken down by crooked politicians, corrupt labor leaders, and the apathy of the people themselves as they watched their world literally crumble about them.

When the city went broke many of the municipal services we take for granted fell by the wayside. Garbage went uncollected, and fires raged out of control as people; unemployed and without hope; set fire to the vacant houses around them. The firefighters have no equipment which hasn't been damaged, or stolen to be sold as scrap, and even the federal bailout money which was supposed to help save the dying city, was pilfered by a cast of characters who rival those in Jimmy Breslin’s “The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight.” The saying in Detroit is that sometimes when there is a crime, the people call the police. And as if to return the favor, sometimes the Police show up.

The authors brother Billie had a job as a writer of sub-prime mortgages, part of what brought the whole nation to its knees, just as the easy credit extended by GMAC in order to make cars affordable to all, did back in the 1920’s. The car was the precursor to the mindset that begat the housing bubble of the early 2000’s. Billie ends up working at a screw factory for $8 per hour, even as he loses the home he, himself, once wrote the sub-prime mortgage on.

Detroit itself, once home to an ambitious and upwardly mobile workforce has become the emblem of what went wrong with America in the heady years after World War Two had come to a close. Lacking any real competition from abroad, we became fat and lazy, allowing crooked politicians to lead us down the path to our own destruction.

With the bailout of Detroit’s “Big Three” comes a great lesson in greed and corruption. Arriving in Washington aboard their corporate jets to beg for a Federal bailout, they return home empty handed, seemingly at a loss as to what went wrong. They had arrived in style, but with no concrete plan to present to Congress. They were shocked when they were turned down for the bailout money, returning to Detroit to regroup. Only after returning to Washington; in hybrid automobiles; would they receive any attention at all.

Detroit’s “hip-hop” Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, presided over much of the city’s decay. And when he was caught and sentenced to prison, he served 99 days and when released returned to live with his mother, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, a United States Congresswoman and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

As the factories and plants closed, the properties remained vacant, becoming a place for the homeless and drug addicted to seek shelter. The description of men playing ice hockey in the basement of one of these vacant buildings is incredulous, especially when they discover a body at the bottom of an elevator shaft frozen in ice. He was there for months before anyone reported him. His name was Johnnie Lewis Redding, second cousin to the great singer Otis.

And, as the city burns, there is no money left for schools, leaving the children to bring their own toilet paper to class. Books are a rarity, and the ones in use are hopelessly outdated. What kind of future awaits these children, who are daily accosted by drug dealers and cannot even play safely outdoors anymore?

Mr. LeDuff has done an extraordinary job at chronicling the demise of a once great metropolis. The scariest part of the book however, is that this is the blueprint of what is happening to America all over, as we watch our jobs; and futures; being shipped all over the world, leaving nothing behind for the average working class person.

When the authors brother Billie moves to a rented property, after losing his home, he packs his belongings in boxes stamped “Made in China” as he wonders aloud, “Don’t we make anything here anymore?” This is a book which will astonish you as it paints a picture of what our national future may look like under the leadership of the incompetent. The real pity is that we are the ones who choose them.

Not only has the author written a book about the fiscal failure of one of the nation's former leading cities, he has also given us a glimpse of what made Detroit the great metropolis she once was. And along the way, he makes some startling discoveries about his own family. Sometimes, while confronting the communal present, we find a mirror image of our individual pasts. A very revealing, and well written book.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Grand Old Opry - April 28, 1956


Whenever I walk along the streets in Mooresville, N.C., which is about 18 minutes from my house, I think of what the town must have been like before Interstate 77 came through several miles to the west of town, in the early 1960’s, when Duke Power created Lake Norman to serve it’s dam on the Catawba River, which in turn would become part of the nuclear power plant that sits adjacent to it. That dam is located about 11 miles to the South, in Huntersville.

Mooresville has had a renaissance in the past decade or so, with new boutiques and shops opening on Main Street, revitalizing the area. Mooresville was primarily an agricultural town, growing corn, cotton and other crops which were shipped by the railroad which bisects the town from North to South. So, naturally, when I think of Mooresville in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, I see a vibrant town with dances on Saturday nights, and train whistles cutting through the sound of the music and laughter.

Sundays were mainly “church” days, with some picnics thrown in and a lot of visiting friends and relatives. Contrasted with Brooklyn, New York where I was raised, I find myself often wishing I could go back for just one night to those years and experience the flavor of the town as it once was.

But, for better or for worse, my memories are all based in the city, so I can only imagine what I missed. They say “even a fool can despise what he cannot get”, but I don’t despise what I missed at all. I hunger for it. And that hunger; as it often does; takes me to You Tube where I can get a glimpse of what life was like outside of New York City and the Ed Sullivan Show.

The Grand Old Opry is still alive and kicking today, pumping out so called country music, which is really just a blend of 1960’s rock/pop music. The acts you see here from the Grand Old Opry in April, 1956, represent the real American entertainment of the time. This show, and others like it, were what the rest of the country were watching while we were watching the more “sophisticated” variety shows which aired from New York and even the stuff coming out of Los Angeles at the time. They are also emblematic of all the good things I missed. Chet Atkins and June Carter both perform, and the commercials are live, touting the benefits of farm products rather than aftershave lotions. Man, I wish I could back for just one night...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"The Dixie Fryer" - Foghorn Leghorn (1960)


When I was a kid Foghorn Leghorn was my favorite Merrie Melodies character. Well, actually, they all had their good points, but perhaps it was because Foghorn seemed emblematic of what was happening in America at the time in regards to Civil Rights. It was also the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. So, to me, Foghorn Leghorn “was” the Southern Dixiecrat; and although in reality his ilk would repulse me; as a cartoon there was an attraction borne of having seen this guy on the evening news.

In this 6 minute cartoon I’m not really sure who gets lampooned the most; the Southerners or the “Hillbillies” who are represented by chicken hawks, but are probably supposed to be African-Americans. But, at the same time, they bear all of the trappings of the stereotypical “Hillbilly.” 

So, if you are offended by this type of humor, remember that this cartoon came out just 2 years BEFORE “The Beverly Hillbillies” appeared on CBS, and which would run for 7 more years after. The Andy Griffith Show had already begun its classic run, and “Green Acres” wasn't even on the drawing board yet. At the same time, most television shows were white, and shows like “Julia” were still almost a decade in the future. And, it would be a full 10 years before Archie Bunker made a fool of himself each week in your living room.

The voices in this cartoon are, of course, Mel Blanc. Foghorn is hitchhiking south; presumably from D.C.; to spend the winter, being pulled by a flock of birds. When he catches scent of the magnolias, he knows he is back down South. Unfortunately for him, just as he is finished setting up camp for the winter, “Elvis” and “Pappy”; the aforementioned chicken hawks; catch his scent, and the race is on to see just who will be having who for dinner.

Forget the political correctness, and enjoy this cartoon for what it really represents. What is that? I’m not sure, but it looks an awful lot like most of us to me.

Friday, May 17, 2013

"Take Me Home" with Amber and Sam Jaeger (2011)


Claire Barrow’s husband is cheating on her; and would be photographer Thom Colvin can’t sell his work. The illegal cab he owns is not making enough money to even keep a roof over his head when these two mismatched people find themselves together on a cross country trip to scatter Claire’s recently deceased father’s ashes to the wind.

Claire has everything, a successful life and husband, while Thom can’t get off the ground. His past relationships have failed and his parents have no idea what he really does for a living. When Claire finds her husband with a co-worker in a compromising state, she decides to chuck it all and grabs the first cab she sees; which belongs to Thom. Instructing him to drive in no particular direction, the two begin a series of misadventures which take them to Las Vegas and ultimately on to the West Coast, where Claire is re-united with her sisters and their father’s ashes are scattered.

But what happens when Claire’s husband arrives, whisking her back to New York, leaving Thom alone and a bit broken from the journey? Deciding that he must continue on his own, he remains in California. But Claire has trouble relinquishing the new freedoms she has found with Thom, and is faced with a very big decision. Will she remain in her present circumstances, or take a chance on Thom? This is a quirky, off beat film which will leave you smiling about what I label the “human condition.” 
  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird" (2011)

If you have never read “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee then skip this film. It will not be as meaningful if you have not read the book which spawned this wonderful documentary look behind one of the most powerful books ever filmed, and the remarkable woman who penned it.

Through archival footage of New York City in the late 1950”s, and also photos of the small Alabama town where Ms. Harper grew up, the film tells the story of how the book came to be written, and the two remarkable people who made it possible.

It was Christmastime 1956 when Ms. Lee arrived in New York City to visit her friends Joy and Michael Brown. She had been working as an airline reservation clerk and writing sketches of the people she knew back home. These sketches tremendously impressed both Joy and Michael who were fellow transplants form the South. Believing in the integrity of her work they proposed to her that she should remain in New York with them for one year in order to write the book they knew she had within her. That was their Christmas present to her. She accepted the offer and “Atticus” was born.

The initial printing was 5,000 copies, which scared everyone except the publisher. By 1960 the book was released and the awards began to flow in. The book garnered the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was made into the classic film starring Gregory Peck in 1962. The film, just as the book, was an instant hit and is considered one of the finest contemporary American classics ever written.

With commentary about the book from such luminaries as Andrew Young, Richard Russo, Roseanne Cash and Oprah Winfrey, the film tells of the impact this book had on the Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of the people who lived through the Jim Crow years down South. When she wrote the book, Ms. Lee had no idea of the impact, and change, that her book would engender.

Sometimes, when explored through the eyes of a child, the image of what we see around us becomes clearer. That is what happened with “To Kill a Mockingbird”. When the nation looked at the plight of Tom Robinson, and then walked around in his skin; as Atticus would say; it became harder and harder to look in the mirror. Though Ms. Lee never wrote another book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” will stand the test of time for the gem that it is.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Home Grown Tomatoes" - Guy Clark (1983)


Here's a really great song by Guy Clark about one of nature's most delectable delights- the home grown tomato. We all have neighbors and co-workers who grow; and even share; their bumper crop during the summer months. There really is nothing sweeter than a home grown tomato, lightly salted, eaten in the field where it was just picked.

Guy Clark was one of the original members of the group of musicians who can be found in "Heartworn Highways", an indie music film from 1975. Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle; all of whom would become legendary songwriters in their own right; really give the viewer an inside peek on what it's like to live and work outside the "norm" as they create some of the best music in decades, launching the independent country movement which would help return the genre back towards it's original roots. If you have never seen the film, you're missing out.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"The Hoax" with Richard Gere (2006)


This is a great movie about Clifford Irving’s alleged attempt to forge an autobiography of Howard Hughes. I say alleged because I have never been convinced that Mr. Irving wasn't the foil of larger forces. Think about it; a mediocre author, rejected by his publisher; suddenly comes up with the idea, and opportunity, to do an autobiography of the world’s richest and most reclusive man, and manages to secure a whopping $100,000 advance from the publisher. Now he has to produce the book.

In his mind he is in actual contact with the legendary millionaire via handwritten letters detailing his life’s story. But is he? The handwriting experts all say the letters are genuine, but are they? In this cinematic version, based on actual documents and interviews, the author has hatched this plan with a friend, who doubts that the scheme will work. Banking on the greed of the publisher to land the most coveted book of the last 50 years, they study Hughes’ handwriting, honing their skills to perfection, and then creating the letters.

When he is accused of forging the letters, he manages to raise the advance to $1 million dollars, which only serves to ratchet up the pressure to produce the book. 

The money is exchanged based on the publisher’s eagerness to get the book out, only to be outwitted by either the author, or the forces he claims are arrayed against him. The goal, of course, was to add fuel to the fire when the real powers that be decided to bring Nixon down via Watergate. What better ammunition to have than a documented payment from Hughes via a disgraced publisher to a suspect author? If this seems confusing you really need to brush up on the connections between the Bay of Pigs, Dealey Plaza, and finally the Watergate affair, which was concocted to bring down the President by exposing his links to some of the most atrocious events of the 1960’s.

Excellent acting by Richard Gere; along with a tightly woven account of the events; are the things which drive this film, making it well worth watching.

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Desperate Sons" by Les Standiford (2012)


Author Les Standiford carefully examines the relationship between the Stamp Act of 1765, which was passed in March of that year by Parliament, with implementation taking pace in November of the same year. Of course the colonies were furious with this new form of taxation. During the months leading to the actual Landing of the Stamps here in America, citizens from Boston to South Carolina were in a foul mood over this latest economic burden, proposed by a government thousands of miles away.

Today’s Tea Partiers claim to be revolutionary, but in reality, they are merely unhappy with their representatives. Unlike the original Tea Party activists in Boston, today’s activists have the opportunity to vote for their elected officials. Our forefathers did not have that luxury.

When the British ships did arrive with the cargo of Tax Stamps, they were not allowed to unload them. And when they did, they were not allowed to distribute them. On October 22, 1765 the ship Edward, carrying the stamps for the colonies arrived off the Narrows in Brooklyn, site of today’s Verazzano Narrows Bridge, and anchored. Without a military escort of British man of wars, it was too risky to attempt to move the stamps ashore at the Battery in Manhattan.

Outraged citizens, from Boston to Charleston, raised Liberty Trees, Liberty Oaks, and in New York the Liberty Pole, which was the mast from a burnt ship, was the rallying point for the colonists on the Commons in lower Manhattan. When the British hacked one down, another took its place. The people even burned the house of the Mayor and Governor, driving them to seek refuge in Fort George. This was New York’s version of the Tea Party that would take place several years later in Boston.

The Stamp Act served as a cohesive force which united the colonies in a way that had never occurred before. With all of the colonies being adversely affected by the onerous new taxes, which included legal documents, nine of the 13 colonies banded together and petitioned the King for redress. Of course, all they received for that effort were the Townshend Acts.

The Crown, reasoning that the colonists were unhappy with being taxed for the things they were making here on their own, decided to tax imported materials only, while not allowing the colonies to place any export taxes on the goods coming from America. The main point of both the Stamp Act, as well as the Townshend Acts, was to have the colonies pay an inordinate share of the costs for the maintenance of the colonies, as well as the spiraling expense of Britain’s war with France.

A fascinating book which takes a close look at the gross inequities which fostered a revolution; Mr. Standiford has written a unique perspective on a portion of our history which may even have relevance to the social and economic inequities of the present day.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

George Jones - The Johnny Cash Show (1971)


I used to look forward to Wednesday nights just to catch a bit of Johnny Cash on his show, taped at the Grand Ole Opry, as well as hear the other guests. In this segment from April 15, 1970 George Jones does a short set consisting of “White Lightnin’” with Johnny Cash, and then goes on to do a medley of his own with “She Thinks I Still Care”, “The Love Bug”, “The Race is On” and then, curiously, back to “The Love Bug” as a finish. All in 4 minutes! He is backed by a group whom Johnny refers to as “The Jones Boys”, but I’m not sure who they are. Looking it up might spoil the memory so I’ll let it be.

The Johnny Cash Show lasted barely 2 seasons. It didn’t have the commercial appeal in the big city market, and that’s a shame, as the groups and other artists featured on this show went on th influence; and in some cases already had; the bands of the 1970’s and even today when you go hear groups like Phish doing George Jones songs. And the shows were really great TV themselves.

On this typical night, Johnny featured Judy Collins and Bobby Goldsboro as his main guests along with George Jones. He performed with each artist and then, as was his habit on the show, left the stage to them. He also performed regularly with June Carter Cash doing duets and also reciting poetry. On this particular night Johnny read an anti-drug poem. This was brave stuff to do if you were trying to make it on TV in 1970, when pop was king, along with all the “special” effects that went into making most music.

I really miss the old variety shows. There was something for everyone in the family to enjoy. Anyone my age will remember Sunday nights watching Ed Sullivan with their family. It was like a ritual. And there seems to have been a different show for each night. Red Skelton, Dean Martin, the list goes on and on. It’s lucky for me that they are all preserved on You Tube.  

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Ants in the Plants" - Max and Dave Fleischer (1940)




This highly imaginative and colorful cartoon was released in March 1940 by Max and Dave Fleischer. It is a glimpse into the lives of the hardest working insects on the planet; ants. Highly organized and motivated, these little fellows can do more work; and even more damage; to anything they set their little minds upon.

In this tale, the ants are gathered in school and taught about the dangers lurking in the world they inhabit. Chief amongst their concerns are, of course, ant eaters. The ants even have an early warning system in the event of a sudden attack by their natural predator.

A fun cartoon with a little bit of a lesson to it. This cartoon came out in the last days of the Great Depression, and when viewed in that light, the lessons are obvious; stick together and work hard, battling your common enemies. It’s the only way to survive. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Drew Peterson: Untouchable" with Rob Lowe and Catherine Dent (2012)

Rob Lowe has never shined as well as he does in this true life story of jealousy, anger, control and murder. Told from the perspective of the news and numerous talk shows on which Mr. Peterson appeared while proclaiming his innocence, this movie moves along at a quick pace. It’s not about the ending; as we all know what that ending will be; it’s more about how this man’s arrogance, and attitude, bought about justice for the two wives he murdered.

After the death of his 3rd wife under mysterious circumstances, Sgt. Drew Peterson, of the Bolingbrook     Police Dept., marries Kathleen, a woman half his age. She is blissfully unaware of his marital history and taken aback by the generous gifts he lavishes upon her. Against the advice of her sisters and friends, she marries anyway.

Before long, his controlling ways come to the surface. He has her checking in by cell phone every few hours and questions her whereabouts at all times. After all, she had broken up his former marriage, so why should he trust her? Such is the mindset of Sgt. Peterson.

The movie is cut in the style of Michael Moore, and Oliver Stone; with real footage of the interviews Mr. Peterson undertook with such media personalities as Larry King. This technique only underscores just how perfect the casting and make up in the film are. Rob Lowe has captured every nuance of Mr. Peterson, just as he did in “Chaplin”, making this one of his finest performances ever, and surrounded by a very competent cast of supporting actors, this movie rings true.

Mr. Peterson was a member of the Bolingbrook Police Department in Illinois from 1977 until he became a suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, in 2007. He was suspected and later tried for the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. He was convicted and sentenced for her murder in November of 2012. Stacy Peterson’s body has never been was found.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Midnight Wakes


This is Midnight sleeping in what I call the "Galloping Horse" position. It means he is warm and feels safe enough to be sound asleep. The fact that he feels this way about my front porch makes me very proud, and happy. I can always count on him to be there when I get up from my mid-morning nap; he naps at about the same time that I do. But he stays out late at night, so I let him sleep until around noon.


And this is Midnight as he becomes aware of my presence. He used to simply jump up and run away; like greased lightning; but that was a while back. We have settled into an easy routine with one another, and he even trusts me enough to let me brush him with a corn broom. (I can't use a regular hair brush due to my allergies to him.) All in all, it's a nice friendship. Except for one thing;


I don't know whether this is a typical cat "yawn", or if he is just trying to tell me to go away and leave him alone. Perhaps it's the "roar of the jungle", which still runs in his veins...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Railroad Coins

When I was a kid we used to put coins on the railroad tracks and retrieve them after the trains had passed. We did this at the elevated section of the BMT in Brooklyn, Actually it was on the Avenue S trestle at East 16th Street, next to Kelley Park and the Public Health Building. I still have one of the coins; a nickle with the year of my birth showing. The rest have all been scattered to the ages, lost years ago. And, I miss them. 

So, taking myself over to the freight tracks which run along Route 115 in Cornelius, I decided to relive a bit of  my youth, placing several coins on the rails, intending to retrieve them in a day or two.

Upon my return, I was rewarded with the most perfectly flattened and oval shaped remains of the two coins. Art is all around us in various forms. The quarter even has all the ridges on the rim intact, making it perfect material for a pendant. 

Art is all around us. We can ignore it, appreciate it, and sometimes even create it. The quarter which was crushed will be turned into a beautifully engraved pendant for my wife. And she loves me enough to wear it! I know because I asked her.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"Osso Bucco" with Mike Starr and Illeana Douglas (2008)

As the biggest snow storm to hit Chicago arrives, three couples find themselves stranded in the same restaurant. Unbeknownst to 2 of them, they are all inter-connected. The first couple is a pair of wise guys, Jelly Dinotto, played by Mike Starr, and his cousin Nick, who are on an errand for their boss.  They have stopped off to eat while waiting for their connection. Nick does not know that Jelly is planning on leaving the mob. The second couple is a pair of inept police officers; armed with a warrant; who are there to arrest them.

And finally, the third couple is the restaurant manager and his girlfriend, Megan, played by Illeana Douglas, who is the object of Jelly’s affections. When her boyfriend insults her in front of the patrons, Jelly insists on an apology from him. To further complicate matters, there is only one order of Osso Bucco, a veal dish, left, and two very opposing patrons who want it.

As the two detectives become involved; while trying to exercise their warrant; things go awry quickly, leaving everyone in doubt as to the outcome of the night’s events.

Soon, the weather worsens; the lights go out; and Megan finds herself the only one left armed with a gun. This night will change the lives of all 6 people involved; depending on what Megan does; and what Jelly allows to happen. This is a darkly romantic, fast paced film about love and veal. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

"Law and Disorder" by John Douglas (2013)


Brace yourselves for a gripping and thought provoking read in this book by veteran FBI Agent/ Profiler John Douglas; who, along with writing partner Mark Olshaker; will change your mind about capital punishment, and then, change it back again. By explaining the art of forensic science and profiling, the authors have created a work which accurately portrays the reality which the TV shows we have all come to know and love so well are really based upon. And the truth is far from the simplified version of what is presented there and even from that which is portrayed in the media. Mr. Douglas does a very good job in explaining how it works in real life, while using some of his; and the nation’s; most infamous cases to prove his points.

Starting with the Salem Witch Trials of the 17th Century, the book also delves into the evolution of crime; including arson, murders, and serial killers, on into the late 20th Century. In that time frame he explores what makes the killer think; or the rapist rape? What turns a petty house thief into a killer? Is it power? Greed? And ultimately, what do we, as a society, do about it?

Beginning with one of his earliest cases; in which he still harbors doubts about the suspect’s execution, and the role he may have played in it; Mr. Douglas questions not only the perfection of the system; but also the failure of some of today’s most expert, and advanced, methods of crime detection. And that includes the much touted DNA; which when taken out of context to the crime, and without regard to other mitigating factors which may alter the evidence offered by the Prosecution; is not always the solution we have been led to believe it is.

Also explored is the way that “justice” is handled once a verdict and sentence has been rendered. It is, under the present system, possible, to have new and exculpating evidence not admitted at the last minute in order to “stay” an execution. With most of the condemned men waiting for years to exhaust their appeals anyway, what do a few more months matter in the pursuit of Justice? Why the rush to execute?

The supposed Multiple Personality Disorder; in which the criminal did the crime, but not as his himself; is given deep thought and the authors come to a very definite conclusion. MPD is a crock. If the accused has a history of the disease, that is one thing. But when they suddenly develop the ailment on their third appeal, how much credence should it be given? Is it right; or moral; for a killer to languish in jail for more years than their victims lived? That was the case with Marine Private Suzanne Collins, whose killer took 21 years to be executed for taking the life of a 19 year old woman. How absurd is that?

With experience in the Jon Benet Ramsey case, as well as some very other high profile cases, the book is gripping in both its scope and depth. The cases all range from murder, arson and kidnapping. And, surprisingly, against all scientific evidence, many have been innocent.

The case of the so-called West Memphis 3; accused of killing three 8 year old youngsters as part of a Satanic Cult; when no such cult even existed; would be a fascinating book all on its own account. Only the interest of a woman outside of prison would serve to break that case open again; this time with justice ruling the day. Too bad it took over 15 years for that justice to be served.

Though he has seen it all in the way of injustice; even seeing innocent men being “murdered” by the state when new evidence has been available; Mr. Douglas is still in favor of the death penalty as a deterrent for the most heinous of crimes. But, only after all reasonable avenues have been explored. This was a surprise and came about just when he had me convinced that I was wrong in my support of Capital Punishment in the first place.

Straddling the wire between his own beliefs, and the needs of justice for the accused; as well as the victims and their families; cannot be easy. But Mr. Douglas need lose no sleep over the issue. He has presented his case; and cases; in a forthright and logical manner, causing the reader to do the most important thing of all; think. No matter what you believe about the issue of Capital Punishment, this book will strike a chord with every reader.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Karl Malden in "On the Waterfront"


In one of the most poignant scenes from the film “On the Waterfront”, Karl Malden delivers one of the all-time great sermons ever captured on screen. Father Barry, portrayed by Malden in the film, has taken an oath to stand by one of the men who has agreed to testify against the mobsters who control the waterfront. When that man is killed Father Barry steps up to the plate and tells the truth about the corruption that mires the world all around him.

In the 6 decades since this film was released many things have changed. Technologically we have eclipsed some of our wildest dreams, yet there is still a vacant spot in our hearts and souls. And the problems always come back to the same point of origin; greed and vanity. 

That’s right, vanity. For what can be more vain than to think that your life; your needs, your desires; are more worthy of fulfillment than another’s? Until you can answer that question honestly, and without prevarication, then we will never grow to our true height as a civilized society. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Kent State - 1970


On the night of May 2nd, 1970 demonstrators had burned down the ROTC building on the Kent State Campus. This led to the National Guard being called in to preserve order. What happened on Monday, May 4th, 1970 did little to restore that order. Instead, it locked both sides into a struggle that would cleave our nation into 2 halves for decades.

Extremism begets extremism. History is filled with examples. We are living through some dangerous and fractious times right now. The most important thing to remember is that any position, when taken too far, will always lead to the same thing, disaster.

The Vietnam era was a volatile time in our nation's history. Families were split along political lines. Friendships were formed and broken over the issue of the Vietnam War. We became a nation divided by our politics, rather than a nation united by our political system. And we have remained so. And the people at the top want it that way. It's the only way that they can continue to run the show the way they see fit.

In memory of Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandy Scheuer and William Schroeder; 4 young people; caught up in a sea of rhetoric, going too far and coming face to face with another group, equally caught up in their own rhetoric. When each side is so right; when each side claims the high ground; where do the little people go? When both sides cling so tightly to their beliefs, that they are willing to burn; or kill; those who are in opposition, then it is time to step back and re-examine the cause and its worth.

Today, on the 43rd anniversary of this tragic event, I hope that we will all take the opportunity to look inside of ourselves and our respective political positions. And in tribute to these 4 young Americans, let's all take a step back from the edge of division and look to re-unite ourselves as a nation. I really think that is what these 4 victims would have wanted us to learn.