Friday, February 28, 2014

February - The Short Month

I posted this article 2 years ago today. It is one of the more popular posts which I have written. The history of the calendar has always fascinated me; from the early religious lunar calendars to the more modern solar calculations and even the atomic clock; it’s all of interest to me. Time itself may be infinite; but you and I are here for a finite period, which will come to an end soon enough. Maybe that’s why I’m so concerned about how they keep score; I wouldn’t want to miss a single minute!

Imagine having your summer vacation in January, or Christmas in June. Seems unlikely, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly where we would be at today if Caesar had not adopted the changes to the “Julian” calendar when he added one day every fourth year to keep everything in order. Of course, we know it as leap year, and it is an accepted part of living, engendering such witticisms as, “If you’re born on February 29th then you don’t get to vote until you’re 72 years old!” Or, “If you marry on February 29th then you only have to buy the wife a gift every 4th year.” Right; you try it, and let me know how that works out for you.

I have always been fascinated by numbers, even when failing math in grammar school.(I was fascinated at how low my grades were.) Still later, while working as a grocery clerk, before the advent of the modern day cash register, I was further enamored of the precision of numbers in general. And, still later, as a Quartermaster in the Navy, and then as a qualified 3rd Mate aboard oil tankers, the absolute nature of the stars in their movements, hooked me on math forever. In that spirit I offer the following, and accepted, mathematical reasons for the need of a leap year.

In 46 BC, Julius Caesar was faced with the problem that the Roman calendar then in use had slipped 81 days. This was especially noticeable at the spring equinox, which was an agricultural benchmark affecting the planting of crops. Something needed to be done to correct the error. Caesar simply added 81 days to the calendar, and instituted the leap year, bringing all things back to their proper order; for a time.

The Julian calendar, which is the one in use from 46 BC until 1582 AD, was based upon 365.25 days for one journey around the sun. Now, this was pretty good shooting for 46 BC, but by the 16th Century advances in science, and navigation, had revealed the actual length of time to orbit the sun as being a bit shorter; 365.2422 days, which meant that we were now out of whack by 10 days, which was fouling up the date on which to observe Easter. In preparation for Easter of 1582, Pope Gregory XIII deleted 10 days for that year, which reset the clock, so to speak. That became known as the Gregorian calendar, which is what we still use today.

As time has gone by, even the Gregorian calendar has come up for correction. George Washington, the father of our country, was actually born on the 11th of February in 1732. His birthday was advanced by 11 days in 1752 when the colonies switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. I have never really been sure of why the colonies were using the older Julian calendar, so I will have to look into that. But poor George Washington, he seems destined to never have a permanent birthday, as we now celebrate his special day as a three day weekend, or President's Day, which gives him a “leap” in his birthday every year, rather than one in every four.

There are many different calendars in use around the world, each with its own version of Leap Year. My own religion, Judaism, makes use of the older Lunar calendar which requires a correction of almost 20 days, or so, making it a 13 month year. That month is named Adar I, or, the "lucky" month. It is neatly slipped in between the months of Shevat and Adar, giving the leap year a total of 385 days. The Jewish Leap Year is also known as the "Pregnant" year; "Shanah Me'uberet" in Hebrew; as it bulges with extra days. These leap years are distributed 7 times over a 19 year period, and occur during the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years of the cycle. This is known as the Metonic cycle and marks the moons return to the exact place, at the same longitude, with the same constellation in the sky. Moreover this occurs at the time when the moon is in the exact same phase as it was at the beginning of the cycle.

I hope this has been of some help to you in understanding the calendar we use today; especially how it relates to the lunar, religious cycles which govern most of our religious holidays. It’s a fascinating topic and this small post of mine merely touches upon the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"The Unknown Love" by Raymond Chandler (1908)

We all know and love Raymond Chandler for his hard-boiled detective novels, featuring Philip Marlow, as well as his other “pulp fiction” type stories; and also his screenplays; for films like “Double Indemnity” and "The Big Sleep." But what I didn't know was that he once wrote poetry. He was only 17 when he wrote this one, which was published on December 19, 1908 in Chamber’s Journal, a magazine out of London at the time.

I was reading a biography of Mr. Chandler by Tom Williams (no relation) when I came across the first verse of the poem in the chapter about Mr. Chandler’s years in London. He went to school there for a time, and evidently wrote poetry as well.

This poem places an unknown woman on a pedestal, much as he would do in his later writings. Actually; according to Tom Williams; the poem holds all the elements of a Philip Marlowe story. There is a seductive, almost unknowable woman, and then a man, seemingly trapped by his own passion for her, in a relationship which is always doomed from the start. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a 17 year old.

Anyway, here it is; a Raymond Chandler poem. I got the text from a website which has all of his early poetry. It’s unpolished, and some would say not that good. No matter; I really like it.

“The Unknown Love”

When the evening sun is slanting,
When the crickets raise their chanting,
And the dewdrops lie a-twinkling on the grass,
As I climb the pathway slowly,
With a mien half proud, half lowly,
O'er the ground your feet have trod I gently pass.

Round the empty house I wander,
Where the ivy now is fonder
Of your memory than those long gone away;
And I feel a sweet affection
For the plant that lends protection
To the window whence you looked on me that day.

Was it love or recognition,
When you stormed my weak position
And made prisoner my heart for evermore?
For I felt I long had known you,
That I'd knelt before the throne you
Graced in Pharaoh's days or centuries before.

Though your face from me was hidden,
Yet the balm was not forbidden
On your coffin just to see the wreath I sent.
Though no word had passed between us,
Yet I felt that God had seen us
And had joined your heart to mine e'en as you went.

Let them talk of love and marriage,
Honeymoon and bridal carriage,
And the glitter of a wedding   la mode!
Could they understand the union
Of two hearts in dear communion
Who were strangers in the world of flesh and blood?

In my eyes the tears are welling
As I stand before your dwelling,
In my pilgrimage to where you lived, my fair.
And ere I return to duty
In this world of weary beauty,
To the stillness of the night I breathe my prayer:

When the last great trump has sounded,
When life's barque the point has rounded,
When the wheel of human progress is at rest,
My beloved, may I meet you,
With a lover's kiss to greet you,
Where you wait me in the gardens of the blest!

R. T. CHANDLER.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Death from Above - A "Midnight" Story

This is a story about the cat who adopted us. His name is Midnight and he gets into all kinds of stuff he shouldn’t. For instance, there are several “strays” on my street; and even some “housecats”; but Midnight is the only one among them who can actually claim to have flown. Not once; but twice.

Now, there may be a cat somewhere in the neighborhood that has been “transported” via plane while locked in a cat carrier; but that hardly qualifies as real flying. Midnight has actually flown; although his 2 flights were mostly freefall. Let me recap those adventures and explain the picture above, which is the result of his 2nd; and latest; “solo.”

Midnight’s first flight occurred in the middle of the afternoon. He was traversing the open area in back of our house; which is about the length of two football fields; when a large shadow loomed over him; and then; in an instant; lifted him off the ground; higher than he had ever been.

A hawk had been circling overhead, and with his infra-red, heat sensing capabilities, said hawk spotted Midnight and came roaring down to snatch him up for a meal. Luckily we feed him too much; he is very spoiled; and so the hawk was unable to hold him for more than about 200 feet horizontally, and about 40 feet vertically. Midnight was very spooked by the whole thing and I have to say that he put up as much of a fight as one can while being suspended by the scruff of your neck 40 feet in the air.

In the end his first flight lasted about as long as the Wright Brothers did at Kitty Hawk. The only real difference is that I had no camera at hand. Midnight suffered a torn ear which has never really healed properly; causing him to have a very strange “meow” as a result of some hearing loss. Doesn’t matter; he still lets us know when he’s hungry. He just doesn’t play in the back anymore.

Now; as for the picture above; we are actually only guessing that this latest injury was the result of another “air raid.” We’re basing that premise on the fact that if it wasn’t a bird which attacked him, then it would have to have been a very large coyote; about as big as a Great Dane; or a bear so weak that when he bit Midnight’s head he didn’t quite break the skin; just ripped off all his fur and left two white patches of skin, which have swelled a bit. I’m betting on the hawk.

Midnight’s reaction to this latest outrage has been pretty interesting. He came home and ate a tremendous amount of food; which is not all that unusual when he has been out all night. Then he went to sleep; waking up to be sick. He actually left the garage so as not to make a mess. “Bless his little heart”; as we say here in Dixie. Then he wouldn’t eat for a day or so, before disappearing again; with Sue and I thinking he had gone off somewhere to die.

Well, I guess we were wrong; or maybe it was the fact that we bought him a new bag of food and some tuna, betting against the odds that he wouldn’t return. At any rate, he came home the next day; along with his appetite. And we were really glad to see him.

He depends upon us for so much. He doesn’t know how to kill or hunt. He watches birds take the food from his bowl. He plays with grasshoppers; swatting them with his closed paws; gently prodding them so that they will hop. He’s basically helpless. So, he really needs us to survive. And when he’s gone; we realize how much we need him, too. I wish he could read this, just to know how important he has become…

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

4 Non Blondes - "What's Up" (1992)


One of my favorite videos and songs was introduced to me by my daughter, Sarah, back in 1992. 4 Non Blondes was a group which featured Linda Perry on guitar and vocals. She's the one wearing the hat and dreadlocks. Great song and style.

The other night I was watching the final episode of the TV series "The Shield"; the one in which Michael Chiklis; as Detective Vic Mackey; finally gets his own prison cell as a government bureaucrat assigned to a desk.  The final scene has him coming to the realization that although he has avoided prison, he has not escaped; nor will he ever; the consequences of his crimes.

The song which was the backdrop fro the final 2 minutes of the show was so appropriate that I had never previously focused on the singer. But last night I happened to pick up the guitar to play along with the music (I do that) and realized that there was something eerily familiar about both the chord pattern and the style.

I came to the conclusion that it was Linda Perry, but couldn't remember the name of the band, though I was able to remember the song, just not the name of it. By this afternoon listening to the song in the car we both came to it right at the same time- 4 Non Blondes! And the singer was definitely the same.We came home and looked it up, too.

Unfortunately I  was wrong and Linda Perry was not in both bands. An alert reader caught the error in July of 2014 and commented below.

So, Linda Perry was not the lead singer for both bands; 4 Non Blondes and Concrete Blonde; which is the band I heard on the TV show, and sounded so similar. Here is the song which started the search to begin with. I couldn't download the actual scene from from the show, but here is the link to the album version of the song "Long Time Ago" from the 1992 release by Concrete Blonde called "Walking In London";

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=II2zX0S9-iQ

Monday, February 24, 2014

"Among My Klediments" by June Carter Cash (1979)

What can you possibly say about the woman who tamed Johnny Cash? Before there was a Women’s Liberation Movement, June Carter was hitching logs to traces, sowing crops, sewing clothes, and even pursuing a career in show business as, first a comedienne, then as a singer. She even went to New York to study and pursue a career on stage. This was not your typical girl from the sticks. And she did it all while staying true to her Christian beliefs; which given the times and places required of her work; was no easy achievement.

In this slim, less than 150 page book, June Carter Cash; of the Carter Family fame, as in A.P. Carter, Mother Maybelle, and even a cousin named Jimmy; writes unflinchingly of her own feelings of failure in her first 2 marriages before becoming Mrs. Cash in 1967. Without contradiction she talks about how her own work schedule may have helped in the dissolution of those relationships; the first of which brought her 2 daughters.

Her life before all that began in the hills of Virginia, listening and playing music. Most of the music of the Carter family has its roots in the traditional ballads and poems which came over with the settlers. Since many couldn't read, they sang the verses, giving birth to Appalachian music. A.P. Carter was just the guy who collected it all and wrote it down; as well as played it.

Ms. Cash recounts her father’s struggle with alcohol and also how his life was changed; as was the case with Johnny Cash years later; by a strong relationship with Christ. This is one of those tricky subjects to work into a book without coming off as too “preachy”. Some might find it offensive, or uninteresting; but this is a large part; a very large part; of who she was, and just as with Ricky Skaggs memoir, to leave out her faith would be to tell an incomplete story.

Indeed, as a Jewish person long a fan of Both John and June Cash, I found her expressions of her religious faith to be both sincere and informed. For instance; she considered herself to be a Seventh Day Adventist Baptist Methodist Pentecostal Jew. She believed in the 7th day as the Sabbath and that she was an engrafted Jew. (If you are unfamiliar with that last term then you should read Romans 11 in the New Testament. As a Jew I find that to be a major key in understanding Christianity.) This is tantamount to saying that Jesus was a Jew, and by extension all Christians are Jews; just as all Jews are Christians; and a remarkable thing for a Born Again Christian to state.

Another part of the book which I found of particular interest is the section dealing with her radio appearances in Charlotte on radio station WBT in the early 1940’s. Mother Maybelle and her daughters sang on the Grady Cole Show each morning. I’m trying to find some of those recordings if they even exist. Her descriptions of the city are vibrant and much more appealing than the corporate town which has developed in its place since that era. WBT is still a Colossus of the South at 50,000 watts; though nowadays you only get traffic and news in the morning. No more Mother Maybelle Carter. And Grady Cole is a small venue stadium located south of “uptown”. Younger people don’t even remember his name.

Her first meetings with Johnny Cash while working on tour with him are really interesting. If you don’t know much about John and June Cash beyond that movie which came out a couple of years ago, I’d recommend reading this book for a more accurate account of their relationship. Her description of Johnny walking the beach all night long is haunting; as it should be.

He was haunted at the time by demons that would only be conquered by his love for Ms. Carter and his own religious faith. And when he did decide to kick drugs he put up one hell of a fight. Ms. Cash describes it as being the toughest battle Satan ever fought; and lost. You might laugh, but this is some good writing! I was cheering for Johnny the whole time; literally.

Along the way this amazing woman becomes a member of the Grand Old Opry; only to resign later for spiritual reasons; and even meets and works with a young man named Chester Atkins, whom she has to teach to laugh on stage. He is just one of the many "royals" of country music with whom she has appeared over the years; and befriended in the bargain.

If you've already read Johnny Cash’s own autobiography I hope that you will not dismiss this as just another book by a celebrity wife. June Carter Cash was so much more than that. Don’t take my word for it; pick it up and find out for yourself.

The video below is not the live performance I was looking for, but it's pretty good. It is a song about 2 people in love who each promise to wait for the other on the "far side of the Jordan". When June died before him she knew he'd be coming soon; just as he knew that she'd be waiting. And I have no doubt about that either.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Neil Young Live - Shepherd's Bush Studios, UK (1971)


I never really know what to post for Sundays. For awhile I was posting old country variety shows; then I switched to something spiritual each week; and for a while it was gospel music. Got some nice feedback; kicked up some old memories for a few folks; but I was casting about today (Thursday) to find something for Sunday, when I came upon this "mini-concert" performed solo by Neil Young in 1971.

I actually listened to it; as well as downloaded it for my car; and found it covers a good portion of Mr. Young's early career. There is some of his coffee house sound still evident in his vocals, which never quite came through when he was singing harmony with Crosby Stills and Nash. Something got lost; although the resultant sound created by CSN&Y was anything but unpleasant.

So, here he is, on Rooftop's stage for the very first time; that incredibly talented bacon lover from North of the Border; Mr. Neil Young at Shepherd's Bush Studios in 1971.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Nina Simone - Triple Threat Artist


Today is Nina Simone's birthday. I first became aware of her in 1967. I was 13 years old at the time and living in Brooklyn, New York. The radio behind the lunch counter was tuned to a jazz station and the sound of Ms. Simone's voice seemed to pierce right through my teenage reverie. Not only was her voice interrupting my thoughts, but also the words were grabbing my attention as she searingly sang an indictment of racism and strife born of the Civil rights struggle.

That song, "Backlash Blues", was the work of  Langston Hughes; the poet of Harlem Renaissance fame; who was on his deathbed even as Ms. Simone sang his words. His last request to her was that she never stop singing it. And, as far as I know, she never did. I also know that I have never stopped listening to it. It's on my I-pod and even on a CD in my car. It is as important a song as "Bitter Fruit" by Billie Holiday; or even "Black and Blue" by Louis Armstrong. It also marked Ms. Simone as an activist in the struggle for Equality then sweeping the nation. This is the version of the song that leapt from the radio that day;


But before that, Ms. Simone was already a major artist in jazz, blues and even pop circles. Even her 1959 rendition of "Little Girl Blue" would be covered over a decade later by Janis Joplin. The woman was a triple threat; she sang, wrote, played piano; all while covering genres which ranged from classical to Jazz, Blues, Folk, R and B, Gospel and even Pop music. She literally knew no boundaries.

Born in Tryon, North Carolina on February 21, 1933 as Eunice Kathleen Waymon, she was the 6th child born into a Preacher's family. Her original goal was to be a classical music pianist but her goal changed when she was denied a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. That denial was based purely on race. It was while singing in local clubs in Philadelphia to make up that deficiency of funds that she began to sing.

By 1958 she had begun her recording career with the single "I Loves You Porgy" and an album called "Little Girl Blue." She made nothing off of these recordings beyond the initial $3,000 for which she asked at the time, releasing her royalties forever. Those recordings went on to make millions.

Her recording career lasted from 1958-1974. Most known for her fusion of blues and gospel with clasical music, Ms. Simone was an enigma at first. She never fit neatly into any of the "slots". Her recordings almost all have a classical element in them somewhere. If not in the composition itself, then in the vocals arrangements.

Her early years playing gospel in church helped her to have an instinctive feel for her audience. She knew which crowd would understand her more jazz like renditions of her hits, and which ones wanted to hear the record. She measured them all up with a discerning eye,  sometimes being mistook as too much of a "purist." But whatever label you put on her, you could never deny that she was a force to be reckoned with.

By the early 1960's she was embracing the Civil rights Movement openly, which was still a risk until the later part of the decades. Careers could be smashed over this divisive issue. Her earliest taste of racism came when she was 12 years old and her parents were asked to move to the rear of the concert hall where she was making her first recital. We can only imagine how much that must have hurt. Ms. Simone refused to pay until her parents were restored to their seats. Imagine the courage which that took! This is a woman who would never know stage fright!

Her mother was the preacher in the house; she was a Methodist Minister and a housemaid. Her father worked as a handyman, after having tried his hand in business. His health was not always the best, making Ms. Simone's mother the main wage earner. Her mother's employer actually set up a fund for Ms. Simone to continue taking piano lessons, having heard something of promise in her. With some of that money she was able to attend Allen High School for Girls in Asheville. She then went on to the Curtis Institute where she was rejected. It must be noted that the Institute had already begun accepting African-American applicant as early as the 1940's. The first such graduate was George Walker in 1945. He would go on to earn a Pulitzer Prize. Ms. Simone went to New York and studied at Juilliard.

It was while attending school in New York that she became "Nina", performing in Atlantic City to pay for school. She took the last name Simone for Simone Signoret, the French actress, whom she admired. In later life Ms. Simone would go to live in France, where she was even more highly regarded than here at home.

Another signature Civil Rights Era song which Ms. Simone wrote has become almost an anthem, "Mississippi Goddam" which she wrote in response to the killing of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the church in Alabama which left 4 children dead. It was widely banned; as was to be expected; down south.

She opposed the war in Vietnam and refused to pay her taxes in protest. When she left the United States for Barbados she left her wedding band behind. Her husband/manager took this as a sign that she wanted a divorce. When she returned to the United States she found that a warrant had been issued for her arrest concerning the taxes. She quickly returned to Barbados, where she lived for many years before relocating to Liberia. From there she moved to Switzerland and the Netherlands before finally settling in France.

Her recording career was up and down during the decades she was moving about, but took an unexpected upturn in the late 1980's and 1990's when she recorded several well regarded jazz albums, as well as a collection of varied songs called "Baltimore."  Her last recording was in 1993, with an album called "A Single Woman." Her autobiography; published the year before; is called "I Put a Spell On You."

By far her most well regarded recording is the album "Montreux Jazz Festival" for which she will always be remembered. That album is also available on film.

In 1993 she settled in Aix-en-Provence in France. She died in her sleep on April 21, 2003. Her ashes were sent to several African countries. She left one daughter, Lisa Stroud, who uses the name Simone. She has appeared on Broadway in "Aida." 

While one of the more controversial artists of her time she has become one of the most well loved since her death. She was inducted into the  North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.  And, in 2010 a statue in her honor was erected on Trade Street, in Tryon, North Carolina, the place it all began.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

North Carolina Music Hall of Fame - Kannapolis


The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame is located in Kannapolis at 109 West A Street. It is housed in a small red brick building that at one time was the town jail. In these days of corporate ownership, it is a rare pleasure to have an independent and growing operation like the Music Hall of Fame. North Carolina has been the stomping grounds of many illustrious musical legends. And this spunky little museum does its best to highlight them all.

Walking in, and immediately to the right, as you enter are some plagues and photos from James Taylor. He wrote "I'm Going to Carolina In My Mind", which is our State Song. He continues to perform today all around the world.

This snappy little outfit was worn by Nina Simone. Her earthy and insistent rendition of "Do I Move You" still sends shivers down the backs of her listeners. It's almost as if she's daring you to say no. And her scathing indictment of segregation in "Backlash Blues" still ranks among the greatest of the 60's social protest songs. It's right up there with "Bitter Fruit" by Billie Holliday, or "I'm Black and I'm Blue" by Louis Armstrong. Powerful stuff.

Most people think of North Carolina in connection with bluegrass and gospel music, and we do have our share of that. Charlie Daniels, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson all immediately spring to mind. But we have such a wide variety of music in our history. From the beach sounds of groups like The Chairmen of the Board to the funky soul sound of George Clintons' Funkadelics, it's all on display here, with plans for adding more.

The second floor is not open yet, but there is already a need for more space. As more items keep on arriving and new members are  added to the ranks of inductees, the need for more space will arrive sooner than later. Each years Induction Ceremony brings with it new and more contemporary artists, all requiring a space of their own.

Also, to accommodate the continuous need for more space there are plans to use part of the first floor as a revolving type exhibit. This will enable the Museum to remain current and involved in the music scene as it relates to North Carolina.

This gown belonged to Victoria Livengood, the noted opera star. She is still performing today. The exhibit runs the entire gamut of music. From Andy Griffiths' early comedy records and his later gospel recordings, to the likes of The Shirelles, Ben E. King and Roberta Flack. And there is more on the way.

Vice Chairman Eddie Ray is hoping to get some more memorabilia from "American Idol" to represent the artists; such as Carrie Underwood, Clay Aiken and Bo Brice, to highlight North Caroilna's unique connection to the show.

But the real star of the whole show is Mr. Ray himself. He is half of the partnership that gave life to this museum. His history in the music business is an education in itself.

In 1954 Mr. Ray was already established in the music industry, on the distribution end, and also promoting artists such as The Drifters, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, B.B.King, Clyde McPhatter, and Joe Turner, just to name a few! It was also the year he released his self penned hit recording of "Hearts of Stone" by The Jewels. It was a crossover hit and also covered by many of the leading R & B groups of the era.

In the mid to late 50's he was handling Ricky Nelson, Fats Domino, Slim Whitman and Johnny Rivers while employed at Imperial records. In the 1960's he joined Capitol records as Director of A & R for the Tower label. It was there that he acquired Pink Floyd. It was also around this time that he became the first African American V.P. of a major recording company.

Mr. Ray, along with his old friend, Mike Curb from Tower Records, have put this museum together to honor and showcase the artists that have made North Carolina a great place for music. But I have to say, that although all of the exhibits are wonderful, for me it will always be Mr. Ray that gave this visit it's own "Heart and Soul."

For more information about the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, and their upcoming annual 5K race in May, use this link;

http://northcarolinamusichalloffame.org/

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Johnny Carson and Jack Webb (196 )


This is probably the best tongue twister ever. Jack Webb and Johnny Carson wowed me with this one when I was 14 years old, and it still floors me today. It’s not really that hard to pull off;  but the part which always impressed me the most was the alliteration itself. I mean, just when you think it can’t go any further; it does.

Entertainment has changed drastically over the years. Our perception of what’s funny changes with time and fashion. But words will always be a source of fun and amusement. Just think back to Abbott and Costello with their iconic “Who’s on first?” routine, or even the Marx Brothers with their myriad word plays and double entendres. That stuff never gets old.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Virginia Same Sex Marriage Ban

There comes a time in every argument where one side must give way to the other; either out of common sense, or self-preservation. As regards the arguments for; or against; gay marriage, that time has come.

There is a scene in the docudrama “Adams” in which David McCullough has Benjamin Franklin stating that; in regards to the colonies being free; the time had come to state the obvious, that these colonies were not asking for freedom, rather they were declaring it to be a fact.

The recent decision by the Eastern District Court in Norfolk by Judge Arenda Wright Allen; in which she stayed Virginia’s new law banning gay marriage; going so far as to draw upon the Declaration of Independence to arrive at her decision ignores the fact that the Declaration of Independence is not considered law. But this seems to be of no concern to the Judge as she tramples upon the stated wishes of the voters in her district. Which is not to say that this issue is one which should be up for a popular vote to begin with.

Let me state right here that I don’t care who marries who; and my marriage never needed the “protections” offered by Bill Clinton’s DOMA; an absurdity unto itself. But to celebrate; as they are in Virginia and elsewhere; this decision, as a victory for anybody is a farce. I’ll explain.

Look at the article below, which I have reprinted from the Associated Press. You can check it at the link below the article for accuracy. Tell me if you find any reference to the judge’s misnomer in citing the Declaration of Independence as a source for her decision. Then look below at the text of her actual decision and tell me why that is not in the news reports. And, if you don’t know why it’s important I’ll tell you.

People are celebrating a STAY of a law. This is not an automatic win. Coming, as it does, after 57% of Virginians voted for the ban, is inflammatory and does little to ease the divide in relation to an already controversial issue. As a matter of fact it does the opposite.

Moreover, it distorts the very foundation of the law our society rests upon; the United States Constitution. So, what would I do? That’s simple. I’m with Benjamin Franklin. Rather than continuing this divisive voting on an issue which is a Civil Right; and as such is not subject to a Popular Vote; why not declare it what it is; a Right and be done with it?

In short, you have people celebrating a non-existent victory over a STAY, which is founded upon a document which has no legal merit in court, of a law approved by Voters who really have no legal basis to decide a Civil Right. I am not making this up- and, if I did; I hope that you would not believe it. I can hardly believe it myself.

Other than making judges appear to be fools, and voters appear to be bigots; why not recognize that; just as you cannot vote to disenfranchise an African-American, or a Woman from marrying the person of their choice; regardless of color; the same right is inherent for all human beings?

The only reason I can discern is to keep us all divided upon a social issue, and thus ensure that the power remains with those who already hold it. I urge you to call Judge Wright Allen at her chambers in Norfolk and ask for an explanation about that Declaration of Independence thing. Here’s the number;

1-757-222-7013 Tell ‘em Robert at Rooftop is still waiting for an answer.


A 1st for South: Va. Gay Marriage Ban Overturned

NORFOLK, Va. February 13, 2014 (AP)

By BROCK VERGAKIS Associated Press

Associated Press

In a first for the South, Virginia's same-sex marriage ban has been overturned, with a federal judge ruling that the voter-approved amendment is unconstitutional and declaring the move "another moment history when We the People becomes more inclusive."

U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen on Thursday issued a stay of her order while it is appealed, meaning that gay couples in Virginia still won't be able to marry until the case is ultimately resolved. Lawyers for the clerks in Norfolk and Prince William County who defended the ban are expected to file the appeal, which will be heard by the 4th Circuit Court in Richmond. It could uphold the ban or side with Wright Allen. If the 4th Circuit sides with overturning the ban, it too could issue a stay while the case is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Both sides believe the case won't be settled until then — or until the high court rules on a similar case.

Wright Allen's decision echoes recent rulings elsewhere in the U.S. and is the strongest foothold yet in the South for the gay-marriage movement. On Wednesday, a judge declared that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, but didn't rule on the constitutionality of whether such marriages can be performed in the state.

The office of newly elected Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring took the unusual step of not defending the law because it believes the ban violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. In her ruling, Wright Allen agreed.

She struck down the three key arguments offered for denying gay marriages.

"Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country's cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family," Wright Allen wrote.

She also wrote: "Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships."

Wright Allen's stay was requested by the Virginia Attorney General's Office to avoid a situation like what happened in Utah when a gay-marriage ban was declared unconstitutional. More than 1,000 couples were married in the days after the ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state an emergency stay, creating a cloud of uncertainty for their status. Soon after, a federal judge also declared Oklahoma's ban unconstitutional. That ruling also is on hold while it is appealed.

In a Valentine's Day news conference, the two couples at the center of a Virginia case said that while the decision has been stayed, it brings them one step closer to marriage.

"The saying here is Virginia is for lovers, and truly we are experiencing that today in a way that we never have before," Carol Schall said. She and Mary Townley have been together about 30 years. They married in California in 2008 and have a teenage daughter. The couple wants Virginia to recognize their marriage.

Timothy Bostic — who was denied a marriage license with Tony London by the Norfolk Circuit Court on July 1, shortly after the Supreme Court struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — said the judge in this case "gets it."

"She understands why we're doing this and how important this is to us, and anyone that believes in the ideals upon which this country was founded can't help but understand," Bostic said.

Adam Umhoefer of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which sponsored the challenge for the plaintiffs, emphasized the message the ruling sent to the South. "Today in places like Birmingham and Biloxi, Chattanooga and Charleston, gay and lesbian couples know that equality isn't just something that happens up north," he said.

Supporters of the state ban on same-sex marriages issued statements decrying Wright Allen's ruling.

"It appears that we have yet another example of an arrogant judge substituting her personal preferences for the judgment of the General Assembly and 57 percent of Virginia voters," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council.

Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, called the ruling "another example of an Obama-appointed judge twisting the constitution and the rule of law to impose her own views of marriage in defiance of the people of Virginia."

In a movement that began with Massachusetts in 2004, 17 states and the District of Columbia now allow gay marriage, most of them clustered in the Northeast. None of them is in the old Confederacy.

Opponents of the Virginia ban say the issue resonates in Virginia in particular because of a landmark 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a Virginia couple and interracial marriage.

Mildred and Richard Loving were married in Washington, D.C., and lived in Virginia when police raided their home in 1958 and charged them with violating the state's Racial Integrity law. They were convicted but prevailed before the Supreme Court.

During verbal arguments in the gay marriage case, Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael said that ban is legally indistinguishable from the one on interracial marriage. He said the arguments used to defend the ban now are the same ones used back then, including that marriage between two people of the same sex has never been historically allowed. Wright Allen concurred with that assessment in her ruling.

"Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so. However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia's ban on interracial marriage," she wrote.

In defending the law, the attorney for the Norfolk clerk said the issue is best left for the General Assembly and the voters to decide.

Attorney General Herring, in a news conference Friday, said his decision not to defend the ban was "consistent with the rule of law."

"Although this process is far from over, it remains a great day for equality in Virginia," he said.

Nationwide, there are more than a dozen states with federal lawsuits challenging state bans on same-sex marriage.




Monday, February 17, 2014

"The Other Side of Oz" by Buddy Epsen (1993)

Everybody loves Buddy Ebsen. And we all know that he was supposed to be the original Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz”; only leaving the role due to an allergic reaction to a very stupid choice of pure aluminum powder for makeup. But the full story of Buddy Ebsen’s life and fabulous career is rarely told. And, who better to tell it; in that inimitable style of his; than Buddy Ebsen.

Born in 1908 Mr. Ebsen was one of those lucky enough to have a career in vaudeville, silent films, talkies and then television. Alone at first, and then with his sister Vilma by his side, he played in several shows on Broadway, and even in the Ziegfeld Follies.

There is so much of Mr. Ebsen’s personality in these pages; it’s like having your grandfather talking to you; especially if you read it like Barnaby Jones. His chapter on the film he did with Shirley Temple was very timely; Ms. Temple passed away just as I finished reading it. His description of her as a very sincere child ring true to what I have read elsewhere. She was slated to play opposite him in “The Wizard of Oz”, but a scheduling conflict with the other studio made it impossible.

Mr. Ebsen is philosophical about it all; including his own problems associated with the film; dismissing it as a stroke of luck. So many of the people involved in that film were the victims of “bad luck” later on in life that he feels almost as if he and Ms. Temple may have both “dodged a bullet”, so to speak. Even Margaret Hamilton; the Wicked Witch of the West; was the victim of severe burns on the set.

This type of thinking concerning fate appears several times throughout the book, as when he encounters Max Baer at a Championship fight in the late 1930’s. In describing the incident he marvels that he was interacting with a man who would later father the child who would not only appear with him in one of his greatest commercial successes, but would also save his life. I won’t spoil that one for you; let’s just say it’s worth the read.

His experiences trying to get in the Navy, and finally settling with the Coast Guard; before winding up in the Navy anyway; are an excellent example of the futility in trying to deal with the government. There was a war on, Mr. Ebsen wanted to fight for his country, yet he couldn't get in! Only after he gave up trying did he get to serve. And then it was on a weather ship off the NW coast of the United States, where he served as Executive Officer aboard the USS Pocatello. He spent a couple of years sending weather balloons aloft in defense of freedom.  This was actually good preparation for his later role on Broadway, where he played the hapless Mr. Roberts, a Navy Lieutenant who was just dying to get off his cargo ship and into the war. Most people remember Henry Fonda in that role, but Mr. Ebsen played it first. Still, this experience was the culmination of his boyhood love for the water, and the springboard to a lifelong love of yachting and racing.

After the war came his only real lack of steady employment in the entertainment business. With the advent of TV came the decline of Vaudeville. Broadway was in a new heyday, but with fewer shows than there had been pre-war. At one point he was reduced to one night stands as part of a 3 act show in movie houses in Brooklyn. This was the lowest point of his career. After having played in the Ziegfeld Revue and alongside some of the best acts in entertainment history, this was the point at which he almost gave it all up. But then along came Disney.

His role alongside Fess Parker; who wound up playing the title role originally promised to Mr. Ebsen; made him “hot” again, and he began to get offers from just about every TV show around. He even got to do his dance routines again for a new audience. Then came the guest spots on programs such as The Andy Griffith Show, where he played a vagabond who has a bad influence on Opie. To prevent the boy from idolizing him too much, he does something very bad; but also very brave; in order to bring the boy back in line.

Within a year of that episode he was in front of the camera, starring as the straight man in Paul Henning’s award winning “The Beverly Hillbillies”, which ran 9 years. This show featured Max Baer, Jr., the son of the boxer previously mentioned. He really does save Mr. Ebsen’s life during the filming of one particular episode. The only hint I’ll give you is that it happened during the filming of one of the “Double Naught Spy” episodes.

This book was an unexpected surprise which came to me while wandering the “stacks” at the library in Mooresville last week. Beautifully illustrated with photos from the authors own collection, this is a book for fans of Broadway, vaudeville, movies and television. And, even if you don’t like The Beverly Hillbillies, you will find much to like about this book.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sammy Davis, Jr. - Entertainer.


You need only one word to describe the essence of Sammy Davis, Jr; that word is Entertainer; with a capital E and a period at the end. Fluent in the arts of singing, dancing, impressionism, and everything in between, Mr. Davis is one of those who came out of the last days of vaudeville; touring with his Uncle in the Will Maston Trio at the age of 3. The man was literally born on stage. And then dominated it, in spite of racial and physical difficulties which would make it hard even in today's enlightened era.

After serving in the army during the 2nd World War Mr. Davis took to the stage and from there went on to Hollywood and Las Vegas. It was during that period when he made the acquaintance of Frank Sinatra, beginning a friendship which would last until the two men died. Sinatra was the one who brought Mr. Davis into the fabled Las Vegas "Rat Pack", making him part of a legend even while they were still performing.

His solo career soared after the release of his first #1 single "Hey There" in the early 1950's. With his signature voice and suave style of performance it was not too long before he was headlining on that new medium, television.

This film is from one of the literally hundreds of TV appearances he made during the late 1950's and 1960's. I don't know which show it's from; if you recognize it please let me know. What really makes this a great clip to watch is that it's longer than the average 3 minutes, and Mr. Davis gets to show off his unique range of talents.

To really hear Mr. Davis at his best; using his fantastic vocal power and range; then listen to this song which is usually associated with Robert Goulet; the heckler is Frank Sinatra. The recording was made in Chicago in October 1963. And, for a really good book on Mr. Davis' life, I'd recommend his autobiography, "Yes, I Can."



Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Coney Island Baby" - The Excellents (1962)




With all of the cold weather slamming us lately I thought we all could use a break and head to the beach. While looking through the you tubes I ran across this "oldie but goodie" by The Excellents from 1962. Lou Reed also did an album called Coney Island Baby in the late 1970's or early '80's. I always thought he took the name from this song.

The Excellents were really the remnants of the Bronx based sextet known as The Premieres. Not having an amusement park on their beach, naturally they had to sing about ours in Brooklyn. And there was no way that a doo-wop group outta the Bronx was gonna cut a record about Brooklyn, and so they became the Excellents.

Brooklyn isn't the center of the earth; though it's close. The first time that I was in Italy I was kind of surprised to see that they had chewing gum called "Brooklyn Bridge". I was flattered. And even in the red light districts of France, Germany, Alexandria, Subic Bay and all the rest, there is always a Brooklyn Bar. We're everywhere!

Enjoy the song and sights and sounds of the past with this little video. Hope it carries you through the cold weather. Don't worry, spring is coming soon! I hope.

Friday, February 14, 2014

"Amazing Grace" with Ioan Gruffudd and Albert Finney (2006)

Ioan Gruffudd is outstanding in his portrayal of William Wilberforce, the iconic British statesman whose tireless efforts would end the slave trade in all of the British colonies. Albert Finney; plays former ship’s Captain John Newton;  who has turned to life as a Priest in order to assuage the guilt having transported 20,000 human beings into slavery. That guilt would haunt him for the rest of his life. He also wrote the timeless hymn “Amazing Grace.” Together, the two give stellar performances in this unforgettable film.

Wilberforce is a young man of privilege who, as the youngest Member of Parliament at the time, would have slavery abolished in all of the English territories and possessions. But he is in for a long hard struggle; a struggle which eventually costs him both his health and a good bit of his sanity. He must fight the moneyed interests who ply the slave trade and build the ships which transport that cargo.

The scenes in Parliament are well documented exchanges of opinion between those who would uphold the practice of slavery and those who would like to see it gone forever. It is well to note that this film takes place in the period from the late 1700’s through 1833 when the law banning slavery for good was finally enacted. Wilberforce, however, didn’t live to see it put into practice. His tireless efforts to achieve that goal resulted in his death in 1834 just as the law he had championed for so long was taking effect.

This is a superb film, one that is as gripping as Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” The direction is taut, the writing distinguished and the acting flawless. The only criticism that I can find with this movie is that it might leave some with the impression that Wilberforce singlehandedly put an end to the slave trade in 1833. In truth though, the slave practice was halted on English soil in 1772 by Lord Mansfield.

The full story of slavery’s abolition in Britain involves a slave named James Somerset and an English Justice named Lord Mansfield. It is one of the most captivating stories ever told concerning the abolition of slavery, and I would be remiss if I did not recount it briefly here. Not only did it lead to the abolishment of the practice on the English island in 1772; it did so while the American colonies were fighting for their own freedom, which did not include the slaves.

James Somerset was owned by Charles Stewart, an English customs official who made the mistake of bringing his servant with him on his return to England. Once there Somerset escaped for almost 2 months, hiding in the slums of London. When he was captured he was slated to be shipped to Jamaica, and a slow, sure death in the sugar fields.
Only a petition by 3 persons claiming to be Somerset’s “godparents” was Somerset able to obtain a hearing in front of Lord Mansfield, the chief jurist in England at the time. He found that Somerset was a free man by virtue of the fact that he could find nothing in English law that upheld the practice of slavery.

But, to dodge the threat of economic ruin in England’s colonies, he found that slavery was only disallowed on the main island of Britain, and was to continue in all of her possessions, commonwealths and colonies. But, without Lord Mansfield’s decision 60 years earlier, there would have been no William Wilberforce to end the practice for good in all the British Empire.

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Sarah is 27 years old today. She's also stuck in Washington, D.C. for her birthday! This picture was taken in 1989 at our house in Maryland.  Sarah's grown up; and the sled is long gone; but I still have that fur lined hood to keep me warm. Happy Birthday Sarah, stay warm!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What is Ethics?

While reading “The Unarmed Truth” by John Dodson; a very good book by the way; I ran across the old question which is thrown out in classes on philosophy, religion, and even law enforcement. That is the age old question of just what comprises ethics?

The classic question usually goes something like this; “You are all alone in the car at night when you come to an intersection governed by a traffic light. It’s red. You stop and look around. The cross street allows you to see for miles and there are no cars coming. As a matter of fact, there aren't any buildings, or even people for as far as you can see. What do you do? Do you run the light, or wait for the green?”

The accompanying statement is usually along the lines of, “What you do when no one is looking; the decisions you make then; that’s ethics.” I couldn't disagree more strongly with that conclusion. As a matter of fact, I find the question irrelevant.

The converse side of this argument is often touted as, “Ethics is what you do when everyone around you is doing wrong; and you know it to be wrong. Do you go along to get along? What do you do when all eyes are upon you?” This is a bit closer, but still falls a bit short of the mark I set for myself.

Ethics is better defined as having the consistency to stick to a set of personal values which you have laid out for yourself so that you can look in the mirror each morning without averting your eyes. It’s about having the courage to stick to your convictions; whether others are looking or not. If you ask yourself how something affects those around you; as well as how it affects your moral compass; only then you can weigh whether or not your decision meets the definition of ethical behavior.

Some would argue that this method allows you to deviate from a rigid ethical position; but think about that for a moment. If you take an Occam ’s Razor approach to everything in life then you never allow for the different nuances inherent to any situation. Nothing is so simple that it can be decided in that manner. Life is not black and white. It is made up, instead, of many shades of black and white. Those are the grey areas, where most of life takes place.

I suppose that ethics can be more succinctly defined by the words of the Golden Rule; “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” If you stick with that, you can never really go wrong.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"At the Codfish Ball" - Shirley Temple with Buddy Ebsen (1936)


Shirley Temple passed away the other day. She was 85 years old. She was also Buddy Ebsen's favorite dance partner; next to his own sister Vilma, of course.  I was just reading about Ms. Temple in Mr. Ebsen's autobiography "The Other Side of Oz", which I will review here next week.

Ms. Temple was the first choice for the role of Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz", which would've suited Mr. Ebsen just fine, as the two had worked together before. This number, "At the Codfish Ball" is from the film "Captain January", which was released in 1936. Godspeed and keep on dancing Ms. Temple!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Jayne Mansfield's Car" with Billy Bob Thornton, John Hurt and Robert Duvall (2012)

With a cast as diverse as this film; and a script by Billy Bob Thornton; this film is a work of art. If you have read Billy Bob Thornton's auto-biography, then you are aware of what a personal journey making this was for Mr. Thornton.

The film traces the mis-adventures of a family in Alabama circa 1969, as family patriarch Duvall struggles to hold together some semblance of the old order in the midst of great social upheaval. He is not always successful. He is further challenged in his efforts when his son's ex-wife passes away and her body is returned from England, where she has been living since her re-marriage years earlier.

This macabre re-union results in two families who are seemingly worlds; and cultures; apart being forced to deal with one another as well as their own feelings about the deceased and the rest of this dysfunctional family.

Ron White is particularly convincing as the socially inept brother in law, and all of the rest of the cast turn in wonderful character performances which are often at odds with their usual roles. Billy Bob really stretches their limits of creativity with this quirky film that deals with life, love, and the changing definitions of family which have evolved along with the changing social mores of the times.

You'll have to draw your own conclusions; and perhaps watch this one twice to really get the full meaning of what Mr. Thornton attempts to say here. But when you do, it will be worth it, as you will undoubtedly identify with someone, someway, in this film which could only have come form the mind of Billy Bob Thornton. Thanks, Billy, for letting us in.

Monday, February 10, 2014

"The Unarmed Truth" by John Dodson (2013)

I have wanted to read this book since it came out; and for a very good reason. Many people lay Operation “Fast and Furious”; the government sponsored program in which guns purchased by “straw buyers” are allowed to leave the country, supposedly to track their destination; at the feet of the Obama Administration.

While it is true that the program of that name began under his administration, the same program was already in operation during the Bush Administration’s second term under the name Project “Gun Runner.”  Much to his credit, author John Dodson does point this out on page 146. It was operated by more than one government entity, including the Blackwater Security group which was responsible for security in Iraq. I know about this program because I had a personal “experience” with it in late May 2007. But that’s for later…

John Dodson was working for the ATF in Virginia before he transferred to Phoenix, Arizona to participate in what was being dubbed “Fast and Furious.” He had no way of knowing about the true ramifications of the program. He quickly learned. “Fast and Furious” was; at the best; a vehicle by which the government aided and abetted the sale and transfer of automatic weapons through “straw buyers”, who then transferred those weapons to criminals who were then transferring those weapons to Mexico and the drug cartels in order to “track” them and see where they were bound.

The other side of this equation is that nobody ever got arrested and, in effect, the government was deputizing Federal Firearms Licensees to sell the weapons to the suspected straw buyers. In most cases the firearms dealers were the first to approach ATF about the bogus sales, which they wanted to stop. But the ATF responded by enabling more and more weapons to leave the country for Mexico with no tangible results to show. This infuriated Agent Dodson, who was under the impression that the program was designed to stop the trafficking of the illegal weapons.

On December 15, 2010 all of Agent Dodson’s fears about the program were realized when Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a shootout with criminals whose weapons were traced directly back to “Fast and Furious.” This was the straw which broke the camel’s back; the camel in this case being Agent Dodson, who felt almost responsible for Brian Terry’s death. At that point he teamed up with a journalist from CBS and embarked on a phase of his life he had never even dreamt about. He was about to become a “whistle-blower.”

From the very first page of this book, and through the last paragraph, this book chronicles the insanity that passes for intelligence at the highest levels of our government. It is a world of acronyms and agencies with strings of letters that never really identify their true purpose. With a sharp pen Agent Dodson enumerates the times he tried to make his superiors realize that they were actually legally culpable for the weapons they were allowing to flow freely across the border. His superiors; concerned more with statistics rather than actually fighting crime; continuously ignored his concerns; at least until December 15, 2014 when it all “hit the fan.”

The story which follows is typical of the bureaucratic cover my ass  syndrome which plaques the entire government, rendering it ineffective. And when someone like Agent Dodson does take steps to right the wrong, they are cast aside and sometimes even dismissed for their efforts. 

The rest, as they say, is history. Mr. Dodson does a credible job of chronicling the whole sordid affair, and does it in such a manner that you can’t wait to get to the part where he has had enough. The trials of being a whistle blower become evident to him immediately as he is systematically ground up by the powers that be, placing his entire career in jeopardy for telling the truth. Just like Anthony Snowden, Agent Dodson becomes a pariah.

There are those who would argue that Snowden’s revelations might lead to the unintended death of one of our operatives overseas by an agent of an enemy government, and that’s a valid point, though those “assets” are fully aware of the risks that they run. This is not the same when it comes to people like Brian Terry, or any of the other law enforcement personnel who go to work each day expecting not to be killed with a weapon provided to the criminal by their very own government.

This is the end of the review. The following is my own story concerning "Project Gunner." 

And now, let’s go back to the beginning of this post and the story I have to tell about Project “Gunrunner.”

There are very few people who have not heard of John Dodson or the “Fast and Furious” program. But what many people don’t know is that this program was begun during the Bush administration in 2006 as “Project Gunrunner”, which was pretty aptly named, as that was the true purpose of the program; to run guns. The link between these two programs is clear; the United States is engaged in an effort to destabilize foreign governments. We have seen this in Iraq, and also Mexico.

In  May of 2007  I was on my way home from work in Hickory, travelling South on I-77 and passing through Mooresville, N.C. At the time Blackwater was working for the Federal Government in the capacity of providing “support” to the troops in Iraq. Their excesses are widely known and chronicled. But some of the things they were involved in were not related directly to the War in Iraq. Running guns was one of those activities.

It was Memorial Day Friday and it seemed as if everyone had hit the road for the 3 day weekend. I was driving a company provided pick-up truck and thinking about the weekend when I got rear ended by a guy in a BMW. Somehow, in spite of all the traffic, he managed to get around me after hitting me, so that his car was in front of mine on the shoulder when the State Police arrived 20 minutes later.

During that time I was offered cash to take care of the damage and I noticed that the driver was intoxicated. I explained to him that it was a company vehicle and the decision was not mine to make. He then proceeded to show me his identification and asked if I had heard of Blackwater. I replied that I had but that it did not alter the fact that he had hit my vehicle and that no amount of cash; or muscling; would alter that fact.

When the Trooper arrived I explained what happened and that the other driver was drunk and had offered me money if I would allow him to leave the scene. The trooper then went to interview the other driver and what happened next still has me shaking my head in wonder.

He showed the trooper some identification which he had not shown me and the whole atmosphere of the situation changed. The officer was joking and laughing with the other driver and they both went to his trunk, which the driver proudly opened, displaying an array of automatic weapons and high capacity ammunition clips. No boxes, just loose weapons and cartons of ammunition. There were about 20 weapons in all. But it gets even better.

Within a few minutes the trooper was joined by another and they began to play with some of these weapons; unloaded; by the side of the road. The troopers seemed to give no thought to the fact that they were handling these weapons, marking them with their own fingerprints. What a bizarre sight this must have been for all who passed by in their cars. I’m sure they thought they were witnessing a big time “bust.” After all, that’s what should have happened. But wait, it gets better still.

At one point the other driver; who was very well rehearsed in all of his dealings with me; somehow convinced one of the troopers to show him what kind of ammo he used in his state issued 9 MM. The officer actually unholstered his weapon and ejected the clip. Removing a round he passed it freely to the other driver for inspection. At this point I was apoplectic. But there was clearly nothing that I could do about it.

Returning home I related the experience to my wife, as well as a friend who was Lieutenant on the police force in my town. He was hocked beyond belief; as every protocol known to law enforcement had been violated by the actions of the troopers who were clearly enamored of the mysterious other driver. When I asked him what he thought I should do about it all; I did have the man’s name and address etc; he told me quite seriously that the best thing I could do about it was to keep quiet.

Two weeks later my boss called me into his office and thanked me for the $1,200 dollar check which he received as payment for the damaged bumper. And I have never written this story down until now. But, I assure you, every word of it is true.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"Winters Come and Gone" - Gillian Welch and David Rawlings


The music of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings always makes me feel warm. And this song is perfect for the dead of winter. With storm after storm dumping on half of the country, even people unaffected by the storms can get a bit antsy from waiting for spring.

In this beautiful ballad Ms. Welch, along with some help from longtime partner David Rawlings, takes on the woes of winter. With her beautifully nuanced voice, along with David Rawlings poignant guitar work, she coaxes on the arrival of spring while melting away the frigid weather. It’s an art.

Oh little red bird
Come to my window sill
Been so lonesome
Shaking that morning chill
Oh little red bird
Open your mouth and sing
Been so lonesome
Just about flown away

So long now I've been out
In the rain and snow
But winter's come and gone
A little bird told me so

Oh little blue bird
Pearly feather breast
Five cold nickels all I got left
Oh little blue bird
What am I gonna do
Five cold nickels
Ain't gonna see me through

So long now I've been out
In the rain and snow
But winter's come and gone
A little bird told me so

Oh little black bird
On my wire line
Dark as trouble
In this heart of mine
Poor little black bird
Sings a worried song
Dark as trouble 
'Til winter's come and gone 

So long now I've been out
In the rain and snow
But winter's come and gone
A little bird told me so

So long now I've been out
In the rain and snow
But winter's come and gone
A little bird told me so

Note: There was no live video of this song by the artists, just cover versions by other performers.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

"The Snow Man" - (1932)


With much of the country in the icy grips of late winter storms I thought a cartoon about snow would be appropriate. So, I picked one which shows bad weather to be all that it is, and yet offers some hope for a reprieve from the onslaught.

I have no real information to share about this cartoon; the credits at the beginning have been cut short, so I can't even tell you what studio produced it. But it is good enough to stand on it's own merit.

Apparently the evil Snowman arrives right around Christmas; kind of like the Grinch; and makes everybody miserable. That's just what he does; it's his "thing."

But soon his victims grow tired and one of them fast forwards the wintry season through the use of what appears to be a seasonal adjuster, bringing on a new spring. And, just like the Wicked Witch of the West in "Wizard of Oz", he melts away and the world goes back to a warm and friendly place once again.

So, take heart. This won't last forever.