Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Quote From Archbishop Desmond Tutu


"A self sufficient human being is sub human. I have gifts that you do not have, so consequently, I am unique - you have gifts that I do not have, so you are unique. God has made us so that we will need each other..."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Mona Lisa - NYC 1845

I found this little treasure back in 1980 in the basement of Jackie Onassis' apartment building on 5th Avenue across from Central Park. I was doing some work for my Dad at the time. We installed anti-pollution controls on incinerators.

Rich people throw away some pretty cool things. This pencil drawing from about 1845 is a good example of some of the things I found.

Just look at this picture. She stares with beauty in her eyes and just a hint of a smile plays across her mouth. I snatched her up in her black wood shaved matting with a matching black frame. She has been with me for the past 30 years.

Was this a portrait done for a loved one? Or perhaps it was just a sketch by an amateur artist?

I find her mysterious, yet so real. There is something flirtatious about her that captivated me long ago. She hangs on the wall beside my bed. She is the only woman that my wife doesn't object to my seeing on a regular basis.

The pencil strokes, when the sketch is held at an angle to the light, are vivid and exact. They give life to the portrait. I must admit to being in love with this woman - our age difference notwithstanding.

Friday, November 28, 2014

"Out of the Furnace" with Woody Harrelson, Christian Bale and William Dafoe (2014)

Woody Harrelson stars as Harlan DeGroat; a degenerate modern day outlaw;  in this engaging drama about the modern criminal underworld. Russell Baze; played by Christian Bale; and Rodney Baze; played by Casey Affleck; are two brothers from a steel mill town in Pennsylvania. Rodney  is just back from his 4th tour in Iraq and is not interested in following his brother and father into the steel mills just outside Scranton, Pennsylvania. He has seen their lives degenerate into poverty and illness, and he vows to make something better for himself. But what can he do?

After coming back from his last “stop loss” extension in Iraq Rodney has a lot to be angry about. And a local fight promoter named John Petty; played by Willem Dafoe; is there to exploit that anger as he loans the boy enough money to force him to work off the debt in the ring. Of course Rodney owes Petty more money than he can ever earn in these local fights; unless he takes a “dive” to ensure that Petty wins. But this is something he just cannot seem to make himself do.

Looking at a long future of small time fights leaves him longing for the chance at one big fight to free him from the clutches of his debt to Petty. Petty warns him of the dangers involved in going up against some of these other men, but his warnings go unheeded and Petty sets up the match. The man who controls the fighting game in the area of New Jersey where they go is named Harlan DeGroat and is played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson. From the opening scene in the drive in theater you will loathe this character.

Forrest Whitaker plays local Sheriff Wesley Barnes, who arrests Russell for a DUI. Russell had just paid off Rodney’s gambling debts to Petty. His brother doesn’t know this and so thinks he is still indebted to the loan shark/promoter. In addition, his girlfriend Zoe; played by Lena Taylor; thinks he has abandoned her and is now pregnant with the Sheriff’s child.

When everything goes wrong at the fight in the hills with Harlan DeGroat and his crew, Petty is killed and Rodney goes missing. Russell sets off to find him, mistaking the Sheriff’s methodical ways as stonewalling due to the tangled relationship they have concerning Zoe. In reality that is not true. Knowing that chasing down someone like Harlan DeGroat will get him killed he tries to dissuade Russell from going after him.

But trying to stop Russell from looking for his brother is like trying to stop the wind; it can’t be done. And when he does find him the results are almost predictable, as Russell’s anger seems to have leapt out of the furnace as he extracts his revenge.

This film is written, filmed and directed in a way which will keep you engrossed in the plot and have you feeling involved and sympathetic with the Baze brothers as they attempt to navigate the waters of fate which ultimately come to engulf them.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving - 1965

I always thought this photo was taken on Thanksgiving Day 1963. Recently I realized that it was taken in 1965. or maybe 1965. The proof is in the outline of the love seat in the background, which was my Great Aunt Katherine’s, who had passed away earlier that year. I know it was after her passing, as she was very strict about relatives removing her furniture and would never have allowed us to “borrow” it. 

The photo is a real "keeper"; which I have obviously done. Uncle I is looking a bit fatigued; probably wondering why he can’t afford to spend the winter in Florida like Benny the Good Humor Man. Mom is just happy to be out of the hospital in time for the holiday and you can see how glad I am. My buck teeth are smiling like Bugs Bunny. Even my brother is actually looking happy; which was unusual; so it’s a great photo. My father took the picture.

Thanksgiving is about giving Thanks; but it's also about making memories. So, wherever you are today - make some.

The turkey’s done;
The cider’s poured.
We thank you for this feast
Our Lord.

Hey, that’s not a half bad prayer. I may use it at dinner tonight. Have a great Thanksgiving wherever you are. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Charles Dickens, Pulp Fiction and Mickey Spillane

There have been many great books written throughout the centuries. Some of them begin with paragraphs that have become immortalized, as with Charles Dickens opening to "The Tale of Two Cities". It is a lyrical portrait of the age in which it was written. And, of course, it is still applicable today.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

I have always been highly cognizant of the first page of whatever I am planning to read. It sets the tone for the rest of the book. And sometimes, as with Dickens, the opening paragraph speaks to an enduring human condition.

I'm kind of taking a day off, but wanted to share with you one of the best opening paragraphs to a mystery that I have ever read. It is the opening page to Mickey Spillane's 2nd book, the 1950 bestseller "My Gun Is Quick." This is the book that got me yelled at in 4th grade. And here I am, 46 years later, still in awe of this runaway paragraph. With it's inattention to punctuation notwithstanding, it is still, to me, one of the most powerful openings of any mystery that I have ever read. And the rest of the book isn't bad either!

From "My Gun Is Quick" by Mickey Spillane (Page 1)

"When you sit at home comfortably folded up in a chair beside a fire, have you ever thought what goes on outside there? Probably not. You pick up a book and read about things and stuff, getting a vicarious kick from people and events that never happened. You're doing it now, getting ready to fill in a normal life with the details of someone else's experiences. Fun, isn't it? You read about life on the outside thinking about how maybe you'd like it to happen to you, or at least how you'd like to watch it. Even the old Romans did it, spiced their life with action when they sat in the Coliseum and watched wild animals rip a bunch of humans apart, reveling in the sight of blood and terror. They screamed for joy and slapped each other on the back when murderous claws tore into the live flesh of slaves and cheered when the kill was made. Oh, it's great to watch, all right. Life through a keyhole. But day after day goes by and nothing like that ever happens to you so you think that it's all in books and not in reality at all and that's that. Still good reading, though. Tomorrow night you'll find another book, forgetting what was in the last and live some more in your imagination. But remember this: there are things happening out there. They go on every day and night making Roman holidays look like school picnics. They go on right under your very nose and you never know about them. Oh yes, you can find them all right. All you have to do is look for them. But I wouldn't if I were you because you won't like what you'll find. Then again, I'm not you and looking for those things is my job. They aren't nice things to see because they show people up for what they are. There isn't a coliseum any more, but the city is a bigger bowl, and it seats more people. The razor-sharp claws aren't those of wild animals but man's can be just as sharp and twice as vicious. You have to be quick, and you have to be able, or you become one of the devoured, and if you can kill first, no matter how and no matter who, you can live and return to the comfortable chair and the comfortable fire. But you have to be quick. And able. Or you'll be dead."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Heifer, the She Goat and the Ewe in Partnership with the Lion

Jean LaFontaine, the noted French fabulist and poet, wrote the following poem several hundred years ago in 1668. It has never been more applicable than now, and so I offer it here in two translations from the French for your enjoyment, as well as your enlightenment. The poem adds credence to the adage of being wary of  whom one would lie down with. You might feel secure relinquishing a few rights here and there; but the point is, will you survive the change?

The best critique concerning La Fontaine's "Fables" was penned by Silvestre de Sacy, who believed that the stories were capable of three interpretations. Children enjoy them for their sheer delight and imagination; and students see the beauty of their composition; while the more mature appreciate the moral lessons to be learned, and are also able to see the relevance of these fables to human nature. As usual, great insights can be found in the classics.

THE HEIFER, THE GOAT, AND THE SHEEP, IN COMPANY WITH THE LION.

The Heifer, Goat, Sheep, and Lion.
A partnership with men in power
We cannot build upon an hour.
This Fable proves the fact too true:
An Heifer, Goat, and harmless Ewe,
Were with the Lion as allies,
To raise in desert woods supplies.
There, when they jointly had the luck
To take a most enormous buck,
The Lion first the parts disposed,
And then his royal will disclosed.
"The first, as Lion hight, I crave;
The next you yield to me, as brave;
The third is my peculiar due,
As being stronger far than you;
The fourth you likewise will renounce,
For him that touches, I shall trounce."
Thus rank unrighteousness and force
Seized all the prey without remorse.

and still, another translation.

The heifer, the goat, and their sister the sheep,
Compacted their earnings in common to keep,
'Tis said, in time past, with a lion, who sway'd
Full lordship o'er neighbours, of whatever grade.
The goat, as it happen'd, a stag having snared,
Sent off to the rest, that the beast might be shared.
All gather'd; the lion first counts on his claws,
And says, 'We'll proceed to divide with our paws
The stag into pieces, as fix'd by our laws.'
This done, he announces part first as his own;
'Tis mine,' he says, 'truly, as lion alone.'
To such a decision there's nought to be said,
As he who has made it is doubtless the head.
'Well, also, the second to me should belong;
'Tis mine, be it known, by the right of the strong.
Again, as the bravest, the third must be mine.
To touch but the fourth whoso maketh a sign,
I'll choke him to death
In the space of a breath!'

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Uncle Sam Can't Count" by Burton and Anita Folsom (2014)

This was almost a good book. There is much to love about it, and until the last 70 pages, or so, this was also an informative book. That was before the authors unleashed their true agenda against Obamacare, and a few other things not in keeping with their agenda of promoting fracking as the private enterprise answer to government subsidies, even as the government is being asked to fund the Keystone pipeline.

I love history, and for the first 100 or so pages this book truly rocked with the stories of failed government attempts to build canals, planes, guns; even trade in furs during the early days of the Republic. It was wonderful to read, all factually based and backed up by history. That was before we got to the 20th century and oil.

From the moment Rockefeller enters as a hero the book goes downhill. There is a lot to be said concerning the accomplishments of the world’s first billionaire. But at the bottom of those accomplishments are the land grabs, and drilling sideways into a competitor’s well. But that never gets mentioned. To the authors, he was a visionary.

The Great Depression is distilled into one bad decision at the end of President Hoover’s last year in office. The prosperity of the twenties is touted loudly, while ignoring the fact that the farm foreclosures and falling prices for agricultural produce were even then combining with the over production of automobiles by Ford, and the buying of stocks on margin, to create the biggest disaster in American economics until the “recession” of 2008.

In the world of these two authors the only successful government project was the Manhattan Project, which produced the first 2 atomic bombs. The fact that those bombs killed less people for more money never gets mentioned, although getting a smaller plane for more money was an evil when the government was subsidizing Langley in the race to build the first plane. If this seems to be a strange and unequal analogy, don’t blame me. It is the result of the inconsistency of the authors in attempting to make their case.

The TVA and the Hoover Dam are never mentioned at all in this book, even as the authors take careful aim at all of Roosevelt’s other Depression Era programs as ineffective. It’s pretty convenient to cherry pick the facts in order to obtain the conclusion you desire.

Presidents Reagan and Bush, who first opened up the doors for ethanol; which is one of the biggest frauds ever, are both mentioned before the ball is passed to President Obama, leaving the reader with the impression that he is responsible for the debacle of using food for fuel.
   
Ethanol saves neither fuel nor alleviates pollution. It simply wastes food and drives up the cost of everything. This is something on which the authors and I agree. The only difference is that I blame Reagan and Bush, who started it. If they think that Obama can end the farm and fuel subsidies on his own, then they are living in a dream world.

As I said, there is much to like about this book. I just happen to like my history served up plainly, without the agenda. The funny thing is that until they started hammering me with that agenda I was sort of seeing things in the same light.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Randy Scouse Git" - The Monkees (1968)


This is one of those songs that sometimes nag at your memory. You can almost hear it but not quite. I was trolling through the You Tube garden and ran across a title I didn’t recognize; which is this record. That was weird, because I remember the song completely. Just never stored the title I suppose.

The real reason I probably remember this song is because of the backstory to it; which involved The Beatles, who had thrown a party welcoming the Monkees to London in May 1967. This was the same time frame as the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards “Redlands” bust. I remember the news saying stuff like “but the American pop group The Monkees have stayed out of trouble while in London.”
   
Micky Dolnez came up with the title while watching the BBC show Til Death Do Us Part”; which was the precursor to our American series “All In the Family.” In this show the main character was a guy named  Alf Garnett who spent much of the shows insulting his son-in-law from Liverpool and calling him a “scouse”; which is is kind of a nasty term. Anyway, it made an impression on Dolnez; enough that he wrote his first song about it. That’s some powerful TV!

The Beatles threw a party at the Speakeasy; a popular London nightclub of the day. The song is really about the people at the party. From the opening line of “She’s a wonderful lady, but she’s mine…” it alludes to the people they met that night. The “wonderful lady” is Mama Cass Elliot; while “the four kings of EMI” are The Beatles themselves. The “disc  girl” is Samantha Juste, who later became Micky Dlonez’ wife. It’s interesting to note that this is kind of the same way in which Don McClean wrote “American Pie” about 4 years later.

This song was never released as a single; only on the album. The Monkees; as was the practice with most groups at the time; released several singles which were not on the LP’s; like “D.W. Washburn”, which was a favorite of mine.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dallas - The Day the Music Died

I was only 9 in November of 1963, and I saw the world in shades of black and white. Just like this photograph of President and Mrs. Kennedy. This still gives many of my early childhood memories a distant, sepia like feel, almost as if I were watching them, rather than being an actual participant. But that was all about to end on this Friday afternoon in late November.

I was in third grade, and a big supporter of President Kennedy. I participated in the President's Science Program, and even the Physical Fitness Program, at Public School 255 in Brooklyn, where I lived. I also had a picture of the President that had been sent to me by the White House. The space program alone was enough to capture the minds, and hearts, of every kid in the nation. It seemed that there was nothing beyond our reach. And then came Dallas.

My 3rd grade perception of Dallas was all tied up in the fact that it was in Texas. The Texas that I imagined was made up of dirt Main Streets, with raised wooden sidewalks, where everyone wore a gun on their hips. My perception of the world was about to grow larger.

My class had been visiting the Museum of the City of New York in Manhattan. We left the museum shortly before 2PM that afternoon to head back to Brooklyn. Whatever we had seen in the Museum that day is a complete blank to me now.

Stepping onto the bus I noticed that the bus driver was listening intently to his transistor radio. You could feel the tension in his body as he strained to hear the radio over the sound of 35 yelling 9 year old boys and girls. At some point I recall the teacher conferring with the bus driver and then turning to the class, all of whom were by this time seated and quiet. She spoke with an earnest quality, one that I had never before seen in my dealings with adults, as she said, "Class, the President has been shot in Dallas, Texas. We don't know yet whether he is going to live." The rest of the ride back to Brooklyn was uneventful, as 9 year olds we were not fully cognizant of the more serious implications involved in the assassination, beyond the fact that it was of historical importance.

About 10 minutes into the trip the driver spoke with the teacher, who informed us that President Kennedy was indeed dead. We were also informed that a "lone nut" had done it.

Arriving back at school I remember being released to go home. It was right about 3 o'clock when we got there, so everyone was getting out of the building when we arrived. We would not return to school until after the following Monday, November 25th, when the President was buried.

I remember walking home from school that day and thinking that I was living through history. This was like Lincoln! This was something I would someday be telling my kids about. And I have...

Since this was a Friday, Uncle "I" would be coming over, as was his usual custom. We spent the the night in front of the TV, first watching the arrival of Air Force One at Bethesda Air Force base, outside of Washington, with Jackie Kennedy still in her blood smeared clothes stepping off the rear of the plane with Robert Kennedy, the President's brother.

The funeral would occupy the next four days, as tens of thousands of Americans poured into Washington to pass the President's casket as it lay in State in the Capitol beneath the Rotunda. Millions more watched on TV. I remember getting up several times during the night and turning the TV on, only to be confronted by the same image on each station. The casket laying on the bier, surrounded by one member of each of the Armed Forces posted at the corners of the casket, with rifles. I'm writing this now with no photo in front of me. Even at the distance of 47 years the memory of it is still crystal clear.

My family would not see John Kennedy's grave until about 6 weeks after the assassination. There were still crowds and a line to see the grave, which was nothing like it is today. This photo shows the grave at the time of our visit in January 1964. The President's son, Patrick, who had been stillborn that August, is interred to the right in the photo. The gravesite today is a concrete monument, which leaves you feeling disconnected, both from the man, and the events of his life and death. When I was there, the earth was still freshly turned, and the only thing separating the people from their fallen leader was a white picket fence.

Friday, November 21, 2014

"Jerky Turkey" - A Tex Avery Cartoon (1945)


In this cartoon from 1945 the Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock to found a colony. There are many sight gags to enjoy taken in the context of the times. For instance, some of the Pilgrims are standing in line waiting for their cigarette rations. The war was not over yet and tobacco was still one of the rationed items.

When one of the Pilgrims does decide to go hunting for a turkey, he gets outwitted by the bird and ends up eating at Joes Diner. The turkey comes along as the two have mended their feud. The proprietor is a bear who ends up eating both of them for his holiday. The bird and the Pilgrim wind up inside his stomach, complaining about their fate, and wondering what they have to be thankful for.

A lot of the jokes in this cartoon are reflective of the home front in America during the war. Rationing and the black market are two of the main topics in this cartoon. The bird is a caricature of comedian Jimmy Durante.

Directed by Tex Avery, this cartoon was written by Heck Allen, and scored by Scott Bradley. The animation was done by the team of Preston Blair, Ed Love and Ray Abrams, while the voices were done by using radio actors such as Harry Lang, who was known for his work on the “Cisco Kid”, and Leone LeDoux, who actually made his mark in cartoons doing baby cries. This is a fun cartoon for children of all ages. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Under the Weather


I'm under the weather again; or still; not sure which is the more correct application. I was looking around for some old posts to rest of the week with, and I came up with an interesting surprise. I always get sick this time of year.

Apparently, in this post from 2010, all I could do was snap a picture of the clouds in the sky and write the following 3 sentences;

I'm feeling a bit under the weather today. So I'm taking the day off to finish a good book. Talk at you all tomorrow.

Well, it's 4 years later and once again I am just finishing a book for next Monday; as always; and I've got another one to start about an exhibit in Coney Island in 1905 for the following week. So I guess it's just a case of the same old thing, just a different year. Hope everyone is warm and well fed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Laugh or Cry - Spinoza or The Monkees

I posted a video on Sunday of the Monkees doing “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” I posted it along with Carole King’s demo recording of the song from 1966. I got 700 hits in the first 24 hours. I had to check my counter and make sure it wasn’t counting any spam hits. It wasn’t. 68% of the hits came from Facebook, while the rest came from, well, everywhere.

Now this was a surprise. I posted it Sunday only as a place holder, and because it had the word Sunday in it. I never expected more than 25 hits at best. I average about 200 a day; with most coming from people googling different things. At this point I have a couple of thousand posts out there, so people bump into my site all the time; just not 700 per day.

This got me thinking about what topics were the most popular. Here is a sampling of what I found just by looking at one typical week from June 2011.

Conrad Shuman – 1095 hits.

Einstein and Spinoza –  812 hits.

“Shifty’s War” – 8,842 hits.

Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire” – 683 hits.

“Pictures of Matchstick Men” by Staus Quo -432 hits.

Wendell  Berry’s “Manifesto” – 1,041 hits.

Remember, those totals are for over 3 years. Compare those totals to the Monkees getting 700 hits in 24 hours on a silly little blog like mine, and you will understand why I say I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

For the benefit of those who may not have read it before, here is Wendell Berry’s powerful poem “Manifesto.” I hope it gets a couple of dozen hits.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Name the States

I read the news today; oh boy; and it said that half of college students couldn't name the states or place them in the right location on a blank map of the US. I wasn’t surprised and decided to show off my superior skills at geography. I have; after all; been around the world a few times, so this should be a snap. Wrong.

The best way to take this test is not the way I did; which was to fill in the blanks. You’d be better served if you listed the states in alphabetical order first; and counted them to make sure you didn’t miss one or two; then match the names to the locations on the map. I wish I had.

Check this out and see how you do. I did better than the college crowd; scoring a whopping 78% or so. I got 11 wrong! I’m embarrassed; I’m ashamed. I wish I’d made that list first.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Removers" by Andrew Meredith (2014)

They tell me not to pick a book by its cover; but I keep on doing it anyway. Maybe I've just been lucky, but it seems to work out well for me. The first time it happened was when I read “Moby Dick”; the giant tail on the cover, flailing in the sea and swamping the small whaleboat, promised all kinds of excitement within. And the book delivered beautifully, so I've been doing it that way ever since. I was 11 at the time.

Now this is no Moby Dick; let’s get that straight right from the start. But it has a compelling quality to it which reveals itself as you find yourself turning the next page eagerly. It is the story of the a young man who was cheated out of a portion of his adolescence by his parent’s failed marriage; and it is also the story of how he allowed that loss to rob him of the ability to live and love for many years afterward.

After his father is fired from the university where he teaches; for “inappropriate” behavior with a female student; his marriage to the author’s mother crumbles. No one ever divulges the details of just what his father did; was it a physical relationship, or just becoming too familiar with someone? Or was it what today would be deemed as an “emotional” affair? Silence reigns supreme in his home. No questions are asked and no explanations offered.

Silence never really accomplished much in the way of resolving things; and so it goes with Andrew’s life. He is living among the ashes of what was once a secure home; his mother and father along with his sister were an average family until this one event rocked their world, crumbling its foundation. You have to wonder; as the author does; how solid that foundation was to begin with, and why neither parent seemed capable of even attempting to deal with the problem?

As his father finally settles into a job as a “remover”; someone who removes the body and takes it to the funeral home for final preparations; his son follows suit. As he learns the craft of cremation he draws analogies between his life and the work he performs. He finds that he has shut himself off from all emotions, building a wall which will never reach its full height. No wall could ever be high enough to keep his emotions from spilling out; nor could it ever be high enough to let other emotions in.

After trial and error; coupled with some heartbreak and a trip to the west coast; he finds himself back in the Philadelphia area where he was raised, living with his mother at the age of 27. As he continues to grow he learns about his ability to get beyond that wall and let things flow in and out. He finds answers to the unasked questions which have troubled him; and his father; for so many years.

This is a quickly read and yet deeply written book. The author had to dig deep to write this, and as such it is well worth the read. His conclusion is somewhat like my own; that in the final analysis we all carry our own water. And, as such, we need to be careful not to waste any by either splashing it on others; or using too much of it in an attempt to rinse ourselves of the past. But either way, that bucket of water is ours alone to carry.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Pleasant Valley Sunday" - Carole King Demo (1966)


Here’s Carole King’s demo recording of “Pleasant Valley Sunday” which she co-wrote with her then husband Gerry Goffin. He wrote the lyrics about the life they were then leading living in a suburban development in West Orange, New Jersey.

Demos are recordings made by artists who are writers and not necessarily performers. The demos are shopped around to various artists in the hopes that one of them will score a Number One hit with their own version of the song. The resultant royalties due the writer are enormous when a record goes Gold or Platinum. In the days before she recorded her own songs, Ms. King made a small fortune in this way. That was before she released her blockbuster album “Tapestry” in 1970.

The Monkees had the big hit with this one. Of course they aren’t really playing all the instruments as they appear in the film below. Chip Douglas, their music producer, played bass on this one, after showing Mike Nesmith which strings to play on guitar to make the signature riff. 

Notice the absence of that riff in Ms. King’s version and you will understand the difference between being a writer and a performer. That riff is actually a variation of George Harrison’s guitar part on “I Want to Tell You” from the Revolver album. Peter Tork did actually play the piano and Davy Jones shook the maracas while Mickey Dolnez sang the lead vocal.

The record peaked at Number 3 and still gets plenty of airplay today. It’s always an interesting experience to compare a writer’s version of a song to the “hit” by someone else. More often than not I enjoy the writer’s version more. But in this case, I have to go with the Monkees.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Freedom Riders" - A PBS Film (2011)

This post is in remembrance of former Assistant Attorney General John Doar, who passed away in New York City this past week. He was 92 years old. Many will be familiar with him from the Civil Rights demonstrations of the 1960’s, where he was on the front lines facing the violence of segregation on its deathbed. He was dispatched to Montgomery, Alabama in 1961 along with John Seigenthaler, to protect the Freedom Riders.

The Freedom Riders were a group of young, idealistic students who wanted to dramatically demonstrate to the world that it was not possible to travel from one state to another without the risk of violence if you were African-American. This demonstration came at the same time as the Lunch Counter sit-ins which took place in many of the segregated cities were occurring.

John Doar’s role in the movement came about in a kind of left handed way. The Kennedy Administration was about to have its first summit with the Soviets and the specter of violent protests calling attention to the lack of freedom for African-Americans was the last thing they needed to be packing along with their bags when they went abroad.

This was the beginning of Mr. Doar’s 7 years of service as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, where he was frequently on the front lines of the Movement, where he became highly regarded as both a committed and somewhat fearless man. He was present at the admission of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi, confronting Ross Barnett and providing Meredith with protection. He was also the lead investigator in the 1964 case of the 3 missing Civil Rights workers; Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner; as later depicted in the film “Mississippi Burning.”

He prosecuted Collie Leroy Wilkins for federal civil rights violations in the murder of Viola Liuzzo. This was extraordinary as the jury was all white and the trial took place in 1963 in the segregated state of Alabama. Later that same year he confronted and calmed an angry mob after the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, murdered outside his home. The following account of the rioting which took place in the wake of that murder demonstrated Mr. Doar's faith in non-violence as a weapon.

The full story is at  http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/trialheroes/doaressay.html

"Into the no-man’s land between the police and the rioters walked John Doar.  The crowd stopped for a moment, stunned as though they were watching a ghost. Then bottles, bricks, and other missiles began crashing around him. Doar called to the crowd.  “You’re not going to win anything with bottles and bricks,” he said.  He could hardly be heard above the roar of the crowd, which began to encircle him. A man with a tire iron lifted it and took aim at Doar’s head. 

An angry black woman yelled in his face, “We get our rumps shot up!”  She asked with sarcastic disgust, “Are we gonna wait for the Justice Department?” Doar pleaded, “Aw, give us a break.” Then he shouted again, “Hold it! Is there someone here who can speak for you people?”  One black youth emerged from the demonstrators and joined Doar in the street.  “This man is right,” the youth said, pointing at Doar.  

“My name is John Doar—D-O-A-R,” the official called again and again.  “I’m from the Justice Department, and anybody around here knows I stand for what is right.”  He walked toward the mob, shouting—begging—for the crowd to disperse. “Medgar Evers wouldn’t want it this way,” he called.

In an alley, a CORE worker grabbed a teenager with a rifle who was taking aim at Doar. “Hold hands with me and help us move these people along,” Doar said to some nearby protesters.  A few people linked hands and they slowly began to push the mob back from the police line. A massacre was averted.  Barricades were removed and a motorized streetsweeper began whisking up the broken glass and other hurled debris."

During the March on Montgomery in early 1965 he was in the front of the 3rd; and successful; attempt to reach the state capitol, walking “point” one block ahead of the marchers. He was Assistant Attorney General to Robert Kennedy at the time.

This film captures all of the drama and fear that were part of the Freedom Riders campaign. Utilizing one Greyhound Bus and one from Trailways, these brave activists; recruited by the Congress for Racial Equality, or CORE; set out to highlight the segregation that was commonplace in the cities throughout the Southern states.

On May 4, 1961, the first group; consisting  of 13 African-American and white civil rights activists left Washington, D.C., in an attempt to integrate the rest rooms and waiting rooms at bus stations along the way on the journey South. African-American Freedom Riders tried to use “whites-only” restrooms and lunch counters, and white participants attempted to use the “Colored Only” facilities.

What many people do not realize is that the Freedom Rides were meant as a replication of the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, designed to test the 1946 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Morgan v. Virginia. That decision held that segregated bus seating in Interstate Commerce was unconstitutional. This did not apply to the individual states and it would be another 9 years until Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a local bus in Alabama.

The violence began as soon as the first bus hit Rock Hill, S.C. on May 12. The next day they were again attacked in Atlanta, Georgia where some of the riders boarded a Trailways Bus. By the time the Freedom Riders hit the state of Alabama the violence was so out of control that the bus could not even stop at the terminal. With an angry mob slashing tires and breaking windows the bus left with a contingent of angry whites chasing it.

When the tires finally gave out the bus pulled over and the white driver fled. The mob then threw in gasoline bombs in an attempt to smoke the passengers out. When they emerged they were beaten under the watchful eyes of the Alabama State Police. The images of the burnt bus made the front page of newspapers worldwide.

Throughout the summer the Freedom Rides continued until the Interstate Commerce Commission issued new regulations barring discrimination in accommodations at bus stops acroos the country. Thjis had the same effect as the 1946 Supreme Court Ruling, and it would be another 4 years before the Civil Rights Act would be finally passed and enshrined as law.

This film captures all of the drama and violence which invaded our living rooms via the nightly news, and eventually changed the way we looked at ourselves in terms of being a truly free country. And while all of this was happening here, the struggle in South Africa was portrayed as something different and more evil, while in reality there was no real difference at all.

This is an important film for these times, when some people are calling for a repeal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other legal protections which were won by the hard work of many people at grave risk to themselves. The fact that there are people trying to roll back those protections is ample proof in itself that these laws are still very necessary. Watching this film is one of the things you can do to honor the memory of the late John Doar.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fridays at the Bank - Nostalgia

When life changes in increments it sometimes passes unnoticed until that one day when you look about and wonder what happened. That was my experience last Friday when I went to the bank and actually went inside to make a deposit. That, in itself, was unusual. I mean, who goes inside a bank anymore?

 The ATM and I have actually become so close over the years that I greet him/ her/ it with a hearty “Hello Machine!” whenever I visit. I do the same in the Self-Checkout line at the grocery. The grocery store machines have always spoken, while the ATM has been mum in a dignified way. But, recently, even my ATM has acquired a voice; which lends a whole new dimension to the relationship which is not unwelcome by me.

So, here I was inside the bank on a Friday afternoon around 3 o’clock and suddenly it struck me. Aside from the one teller, there was nobody there! And I mean there was not one single “customer” in the whole place! I’m 60 years old, so naturally I remember the days before “automatic deposit”, the means by which you are deprived of ever laying eyes upon your hard earned money. This is a process by which your pay has become somewhat akin to a rumor; the facts of which are heard, but the proof never actually seen.

As a man I found automatic deposit to go against the very grain of my natural “hunter gatherer” instincts; by which I was able to “bring home the bacon” each week in the form of the cash I had earned and lay it triumphantly before my wife. Those days are gone; and along with it a life which many women knew nothing about at the time. I’m talking about the world of “wife free” cash.

“Wife free” cash was a commodity which consisted of various means of converting assets; from grocery coupons to bonuses and even gas money; to unaccountable cash. It was somewhat like Nixon’s slush fund; available to be used at the sole discretion of the husband who was brave enough to procure it. And there were quite a few of us. Witness a fully packed bank on a Friday afternoon about 30 years ago.

Back then men never liked to wait in lines; we always tried to fob that off on our spouses. DMV, bill paying etc. were always relegated to the wives. We got away with it by letting them think we did this so that they could feel more secure about the bills being paid on time etc. And some of that was true. But it was all done in the name of credibility, while the reality was that it also masked our pursuit of “wife free” money; and nowhere was that pursuit more in evidence than on a Friday afternoon at the bank.

All the men in line had checks; some had more than one, the second being an “expense” check for re-imbursement of any money the employee had laid out during the previous week; some may have even had a bonus check which their wives knew nothing about; and still others may have kept a few bucks for gas which their bosses were actually paying them back for in that expense check.

There’s no real point to this post; other than to call your attention to a Friday ritual which has gone the way of all the other changes we sometimes call progress.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"The Four Feathers" with John Clements and C. Aubrey Smith (1939)

Have you ever wondered how an old favorite film would hold up after several years? Can it still measure up to the thrill of your memory? This one does all that and then surpasses itself. The sheer scope and message of this film rings even louder than it did in 1939 when it was first released. They did a remake of it in 2002 with Heath Ledger. I got through about 15 minutes of it before hitting the eject/reject button.

This is the story of a young man who has been through military school and is the youngest member of a family of soldiers going back centuries. It has always been his presumed destiny to follow in their steps. He and his 4 friends are chomping at the bit waiting for a war to break out so they can go off on their big adventure.

But when war does break out in Khartoum one of them begins to question the whole sanity of fighting. He has fallen in love and spoken of this feeling with his fiancée many times; and she agrees with him. At least until the flag waving and parades begin as the soldiers head off to Africa for the fight. Then she becomes ashamed of him.

As if losing the love of the woman he loves is not enough he also loses the friendship of his 3 best friends who are doing their duty and going off to fight as planned. His former comrades; as well as his fiancée; each send him a white feather, a symbol of cowardice. He can only redeem himself by returning the feathers after doing a courageous deed. It seems as if all is lost.

Now heroes come in all shapes and sizes; and heroics do not always follow a set form. What this young man does o redeem his honor and respect will astound you. Going off to war as a group; under the color of a flag; is fairly easy. The artificial camaraderie of group action can have a calming effect, and things you formerly thought impossible become almost second nature.

But when you have to face your own demons; rather than a common enemy, all alone; a different form of courage becomes necessary. The question then becomes not when, but how you will acquit yourself and recover the honor which others perceived to be lost. The answer may be that your honor was never lost to begin with; it just took a different form.

This is a truly classic film produced and directed by the Korda Brothers; Zoltan and Alexander. Remarkable character roles filled by the likes of C. Aubrey Smith; and a screenplay by R. D. Sherriff combine to prove that they just don’t make films like this anymore.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Lucky"

In the last few years of my mother’s life she began to write. She even took a creative writing class which resulted in her submitting stories to several publications, including the Jewish Daily Forward. I have re-printed one of her stories here before. But I never recall her writing about “Lucky”, the inaptly named pet duck she had when she was about 6 years old. I used to love hearing the story as it reminded me so much of the tumult in “You Can’t Take It With You”, the Kaufman-Hart play which was turned into a classic movie starring Lionel Barrymore. My mother’s home was just like that.

My mother was raised by her mother and a woman named Mary, a delightful Irish lady who worked as their maid and nanny. She became part of the family, with my grandmother and Mary living together even after Mary married and had children of her own. Added to this mélange were my Great Grandfather Max Henkin, from Russia, and his son, my Grand Uncle Irving.

My grandmother had caught her own husband with one of his lingerie models, flagrante delecto, at the time she was pregnant with my Mom, and so, she divorced my grandfather and became a single mother. This was in 1929 and very unusual for the times. She worked, though she didn’t need to, and the care of the children; my mother Ruth and her brother, my Uncle Walter; was largely left to Mary.

I’m a bit unclear as to how “Lucky” got into the picture. I seem to remember part of the story involving Miller’s Meats on Kings Highway, and he may have come from there. Anyway, “Lucky” ended up taking up residence in the bathtub of apartment 3-C at 3619 Bedford Avenue, on the corner of Kings Highway in Brooklyn, quickly becoming my mother's pet. If you live there now this may be of interest to you.

“Lucky” seemed very content with this arrangement, though again, on this point I am unsure just how long the arrangement lasted before disaster set in. In this case the disaster was initiated by my Uncle Irving, who had a desire to take a bath. This was not at all unusual for Uncle “I”, as he was a fastidious person in all aspects of his living.

Reaching past the shower curtain, he started the warm flow of water, waited a few moments and then stepped behind the curtain. That’s when he screamed. It was, reportedly, a scream of epic proportions, echoing throughout the apartment, sailing from the windows into the courtyard and throughout the neighborhood. It came very close to being the "scream heard ‘round the world."

“Lucky”, initially happy to have company in what he perceived to be a spring shower, reacted to the scream by nipping at my Uncle’s legs while flapping his wings and quacking. The quacking and flapping soon ceased, and although it is unclear just who wrung “Lucky’s” neck, wrung it was, and the quacking ceased.

My mom was downstairs playing at the time and, with no foreknowledge of the incident, returned home in time for supper, ready to eat. Mary was finished cooking and my Grandmother had just laid the table when my mother arrived. The family sat down to dinner and my mother started in with relish, as she had been out all afternoon. She had just swallowed her first bite of dinner when Uncle Walter asked her if she was “feeling lucky tonight?” My mother had no idea what he meant by this question and went on eating.

That’s when Uncle “I” spilled the beans. Gently, he asked my mother how she liked the taste of duck. My mother stopped eating, and for the first time noticed that the whole table was staring at her. Quickly she put two and two together, and then, running from the table she entered the bathroom, with it’s now dry, and empty, bathtub. “Where’s ‘Lucky’?” she asked in all innocence. “You just ate her”, came the amused reply from her brother.

Sobbing hysterically, and feeling very much betrayed, she ran to her room, where she remained for the rest of the evening, not to be seen again until breakfast. There is no moral here, no lesson to be learned. Not many people keep ducks in their bathtubs nowadays anyhow. It’s just a warm memory of my mother telling me a story while she was preparing dinner one night. Although the story sounds a bit cruel, it apparently left no emotional scars on her. How do I know this? She told me the story while preparing dinner. We were having duck that night.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day - This Little Pin

A very “Happy Veterans Day” to all who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States; whether in times of War, or in times of Peace. There are no "good" wars. But there are "just" wars, in which man is pitted against his fellows for a legitimate cause; although usually by others who seem to never have to serve.

This is my Discharge Pin. It represents not only the 4 years that it took me to earn, but all of the sacrifices made by the many; over the years; in defense of something greater than themselves. Today is their day and this is their pin. I am just privileged enough to be able to wear it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

"On the Road with Janis Joplin" by John Byrne Cooke (2014)

To my mind there has never been a good book yet about Janis Joplin’s life on the road; from Big Brother and the Holding Company through the final days of the Full Tilt Boogie Band. Now there is. John Byrne Cooke was the road manager for all three incarnations of Janis’ career and he was taking notes; and filming some of it on his 8mm. And because he did that we have a great record of what Janis; and the 3 bands she fronted; were doing from early 1968 until her death in October 1970.

Written in the present tense and against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the attendant election of Richard Nixon in 1968, this book is almost animated in its presentation. The 1960’s were lively, to be sure, which can make them difficult to capture on paper. No such problem for the author here. He has done a great job of melding the two into a very entertaining, and yet informative, account of one of the most vibrant stars of the decade.

Along the journey you will hear the story behind some of the stories which have become legendary since Janis Joplin’s passing. The Jim Morrison and Janis fight; in which she smashed a bottle on his head while playing pool and he told her she couldn’t sing the blues worth a shit;  or the slapping of Jerry Lee Lewis, who slapped back; are two great examples of the raucous side to Janis. But there are softer moments, too.

A bit of rock and roll history gets thrown in; the situation which existed in NYC that literally made Bill Graham feel as if he had to open a decent musical venue on the East Coast is explored. The Anderson Theater was right across the street from another old Yiddish Theater. Bill Graham had it up and running in about 8 weeks flat. Big Brother and the Holding Company were the headliners on opening night.

My own memory of “Cheap Thrills” did not include the fact that within a few weeks of the album’s release and ascension to number 1 on the charts in November 1968, the band dissolved by the end of November. Janis was going to front a new band and they were already booked for engagements beginning in January. Many fans were upset with the breakup. Big Brother seemed to embody the San Francisco scene and the album, with its cover by Robert Crumb, quickly became an icon of acid rock and hung on the walls of many bedrooms across the country.

This new band became the Kozmic Blues Band and featured a horn section for the first time. With this album’s releaaseI began to think of Janis as the female version of James Brown. Listen to, and watch, some of the performances and her introductions on You Tube and you’ll see what I mean.
Still not happy with the sound she was searching for led to the Kozmic Blues Band going through many changes in personnel. Mr. Cooke has supplied a listing of personnel associated with each band at the front of the book which comes in handy for reference on several occasions. Just keeping track of the horn section is a chore. They underwent 3 changes in that department before getting it right. Still, they produced a magnificent album with the release of “I’ve Got Them Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama.”

The author also adds a nice touch to the book by showing the dates of almost all of the shows Janis performed with the band during his time as road manager, which was pretty much her entire recorded career from before “Cheap Thrills” until the very end. This lends an air of immediacy to the narrative as you can actually see the hectic touring schedule as you read about what the band was up to in between shows and cities.

With Full Tilt Boogie Band being formed and a new album waiting to be recorded Janis ventures back home for a high school re-union in 1970. I always have felt that this visit; along with the lack of any real acknowledgement of her success by her peers; contributed to her spike in heroin use which finally killed her a few months later. Instead of just giving her a dozen roses and making her feel welcome, she was summoned to a meeting of the “clique” and asked what she “wanted”.

What can you say to that? So, she replied that she was just there to enjoy herself and they took that a license to basically ignore her. That; along with the fact that her parents were away at a wedding for someone else’s daughter; had to have hurt her. You can see it in her face when watching the film of the press conference.

The Full Tilt Boogie Band had recorded about 10 songs for the new, as yet unnamed, album when Janis died. The numbers ran from a Capella to raw vocal tracks and even an acoustic version of “Me and Bobby McGee”, the song written by Kris Kristofferson. If you look at the material you get the sense that Janis was trying to lay out all of her musical influences and styles in one album. This is a woman who was influenced very early on by Jean Ritchie and her dulcimer; which she often played using a feather. She was also a devotee of Bessie Smith; a la “Turtle Blues.” And she also enjoyed country music, hence her acoustic version of “Bobby McGee.” With her death came the unique problem of what to do with these recordings.

The outcome was a posthumous album which would have made Janis proud; “Pearl.” It was named using the nickname she had bestowed upon herself while on the road. It was a way for her friends not to have to call her Jains Joplin. When Kris Kristofferson was invited to the studio to hear the demo of Janis singing “Me and Bobby McGee” he was only able to listen to the first 2 verses before leaving in tears.

This is still my favorite version of the song. It’s exactly the same length as the overdubbed version on “Pearl”. I have included a link to it here;  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5EArR3Qnzg

If you like Janis Joplin you will find this book very enjoyable. If you are interested in the 1960’s there will be much to interest you. And if you enjoy learning about the history of making music this book will fit the bill nicely. 

But the best part of reading this book is that it was written by someone who enjoyed what he was doing then, and is still finding satisfaction in it all these years later. His enthusiasm for his subject is palpable and easily transferred to the reader.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Aunt Gloria

This is not a picture of Aunt Gloria today. It was taken a few years ago, when she was younger. I’m 60, so she was 15 when I was newly minted and 18 when I first became fully aware of anything. So, my first recollection of her goes only as far back as this photo and the fishing trip to Sheepshead Bay. That was in 1957 when I was 3. I look different, but Gloria still looks and sounds the same to me.

In my mind we took a car; probably stolen; to the Bay. We parked and walked out on one of the piers to fish. My brother wouldn't; or perhaps couldn't; bait his hook. He was almost 2 years older than me and already setting a poor example of the role an older brother should play in the development of his younger sibling. No matter; Aunt Gloria was up to the task of assuming the role of big brother if necessary. She was different than my other Aunts. You always felt safe with Gloria, never threatened. She always had something funny to say; even at funerals. Wait; make that especially at funerals.

Anyway, on this day in Sheepshead Bay, she picked a nice long wiggling bloody worm from a Chinese food container; which is how bait was sold back then; and then swung it before my brother’s face, making him squirm like a worm, and making me laugh like a hyena. Then, after traumatizing him for life, she plunged the hook gleefully into the worm, hitting it mid-section and causing the little fellow to double over. Then she cast the line into the Bay and in short order we hooked a baby carriage, a boot, and finally a huge horse shoe crab. Eventually we did catch some fish; or maybe bought them; to take home.

This is one of my earliest memories of going anywhere without my parents. There would be other outings and adventures. There were Telephone Company ball games; both Gloria and my other Aunt Gladys both worked for Bell; there were days and nights in a bungalow at Breezy Point; movies and just a lot of fun whenever she was around. My Mom was always ill and for 2 summers in the mid 1960’s she and her husband Bobby were like a refuge for me.

So, all my memories of Gloria are all fun memories. And that’s why I don’t really see her as having gotten any older through the years. She’s like her own force of nature. Hell, she won’t even see this until she gets back from the cruise she’s on. She’s always on cruises and has probably logged more miles in the Caribbean than I have in all my travels around the world. She still swims every day, although hopefully that will not be necessary on this cruise.

So, this is my big Happy Birthday to Gloria, who is young at heart and still my favorite Aunt; in spite of the fact that her getting older has aged me…

For a link to the story of Bobby and Gloria's Halloween cruise in 2009 hit this link;

http://robertwilliamsofbrooklyn.blogspot.com/2009/11/fork-and-spoon.html

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Kristallnacht - The Excuse Behind the Glass

I have always been interested in what happened right before Kristallnacht; the Night of Glass; in Germany on the night of November 8, 1938. Not there would be any legitimate excuse for it. But because I am always interested in just how governments; and political groups, which are governments looking for a home; manage to get people to do some of the crazy, violent and extreme things they do.
 
Kristallnacht; like all things; has a beginning. We know the end result; the looting and burning of Jewish synagogues and businesses by ordinary Germans. These are the people who later said they knew nothing; kind of like Sgt. Schultz in the TV sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes”. But the people doing the looting and burning that night were not in uniforms, and some may not have even really embraced the Nazi ideology. So how then did they wind up with bricks and bats in hand, smashing windows, looting and burning; beating people in the street who they merely suspected of being Jewish?

Here’s the story. In 1938 the Germans began to deport Jews who were not born in Germany. “Germany for Germans!” was the cry. But there was a snag; the Jews being deported by the German government were refused entry back into Poland; which had not yet been conquered by the Nazi’s. That would be the next year. You have to marvel at the fact that the Polish people seemed to agree with Hitler’s stance against Jews, but when he conquered them he became evil incarnate.

Anyway, a Jewish man in Paris; born of Polish-Jewish parents who lived in Germany;  was outraged at the thought of his parent’s being involved in a game of political football. Moreover he decided to do something about it. His parents names were Riva and Sendel Grynszpan.

Taking himself to the German Embassy he asked to see someone; anyone. Now, that should have been a clue. But when you’re a member of the “master race” you don’t really think anyone is going to hurt you, so he was ushered in to see a low level attaché; a man named Ernst Vom Rath, who had spoken up in defense of the Jews before.  The young Jewish man living in Paris knew nothing about this German official and shot him dead.

Back in Germany the Brown shirts were grinning from ear to ear. Now the Jews weren’t only taking jobs away from the German people; they were killing them! They were killing them in foreign countries! They were killing even the moderate Germans who supported them! No longer could the people afford to wait. They must act now! They must send a clear and decisive message that the world would never forget.

Of course the irony is that; although the world would never forget; after the war was over you couldn't
find a single German who remembered where he was on the night of Kristallnacht. They knew only one thing for sure; they “knew nothing!”

Friday, November 7, 2014

"The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" with Asa Butterfield and David Thewlis (2008)

This is a film about the unthinkable. This is also a very intense film; although not at first. It is only after the stage has been set that you realize where this film might be heading; and then, even when you do, there is still a doubt as to what will actually transpire.

An SS officer and his family move into a beautiful home somewhere in the countryside. The home is part of Commandant Ralf’s assignment as the commander of a German facility of some kind. That is al his son knows. There is a Jewish servant in striped pajamas who does all sorts of work about the house. His mistreatment at the hands of young Bruno’s father is the first clue that boy has that something is not quite “normal” about his new home.

Bruno; played by Asa Butterfield; is an intelligent little 8 year old with a precocious 12 year old sister named Gretel; played by Amber Beattie. She is mostly concerned with acting older than her age and is a very insensitive person; not at all like Bruno. Their mother, Elsa; played by Vera Farmiga; is more like Bruno. She is a sensitive and kind woman who doesn’t understand her husband’s hatred and fanaticism.

Bruno discovers a back wall to the house garden and this leads him to the edge of the wooded area surrounding his new home. What he sees when he emerges into a clearing puzzles him. It is a bleak looking collection of wooden barracks surrounded by barbed wire fencing. Inside are people who look haggard and worn out. Bruno spots a boy, about his own age, loitering by the fence. He is wearing striped pajamas, just as the servant in his home. His father has told him that these people are not human beings at all, and they are to be despised. Bruno approaches the fence and the boy, who is named Shmuel; played by Jack Scanlon; and the two become sort of friends.

One day Bruno comes home to find Shmuel in his home cleaning the crystal glasses. His fingers are just the right size for the work; which is the only reason he has been selected. Bruno is happy to see him there and offers him some of the food from the table. When his father’s aide comes in and sees this he is enraged. Bruno is too frightened and confused to admit that he gave the food to Shmuel, and the boy is taken away.

Days later Bruno meets him again at the fence and is shocked to see that Shmuel has been beaten. He apologizes for not owning up to his act of kindness, explaining that he was scared. Bruno forgives him and enlists his aid in finding his “missing” father in the camp. In a scene reminiscent of “The Prince and the Pauper” Bruno dons an extra set of pajamas provided by Shmuel and joins him inside the compound to look for the missing man.

As luck would have it the two boys are caught up in a group headed to the “showers”. At the same time as these events are occurring Bruno’s mother notices that he is nowhere to be found. Summoning her husband and his soldiers they look for the boy, only to discover open gate in the backyard wall leading to the compound.

As the search intensifies Bruno’s parents realize the possibility that he has entered the camp; prompting a furious search to discover him before the unthinkable happens. Sparse direction and incredibly underplayed acting make this film one which you will be thinking about long after the final credits have rolled.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Cab Calloway Live at the Cafe Zanzibar (1943-1947)

There are few live recordings which really capture performances successfully. This is one of those. Recorded at the Café Zanzibar in New York City this collection of some of Cab Calloway’s greatest live musical performances seem to come to life. The closest thing to the live energy captured on this disc would probably be James Brown Live at the Apollo, which was recorded in 1962. And although it is recorded in mono the re-master of these numbers is flawless.

These are not the songs most people think of right off hand in connection with Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club, which had closed just a few years before this recording was made at the Café Zanzibar. In many ways the Zanzibar came to replace the Cotton Club as the musical Mecca in midtown Manhattan at 49th Street above the old Winter Garden.

Originally called the “The Frolic” the club had such a bad reputation that most performers at the time referred to it as a “jinx joint.” All that changed on July 1, 1943 when the club opened under new management with Ella Fitzgerald headlining the first show. The new club also had a stated policy of hiring the best of the African-American performers of the day. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, The Mills Brothers, Pearl Bailey and even Bill Robinson were regularly featured stars.

These were the days when the white folks would see the show at the Zanzibar and go home by about 2 AM. That’s when the performers headed back uptown to Harlem where they swung the rest of the early morning hours away at the smaller venues located there. Bear in mind as you listen to this album that you are probably being short changed a bit, although you won’t notice let alone mind. There are no recordings of those late night jam sessions anyway, so this is about as close as you will ever get to hearing them.

The tracks contained on this disc run from “We the Cats Shall Hep You”; 2 different versions; “Russian Lullaby” by Irving Berlin. “Lamar’s Boogie” and “Everyone Eats When They Come to My House “are two fantastic numbers which will have you swinging from the very first bars. “Afternoon Moon” by Duke Ellington gets a wonderful workout at the hands of Cab Calloway, as does “That Old Black Magic”.

Even if your only previous knowledge of Cab Calloway is limited to “Minnie the Mooch” or “Reefer Madness” this collection will not disappoint you at all. If anything it will have you listening harder than ever to the unique sounds of one of the “heppest” of the “hep cats” that ever graced a stage. As a matter of fact you don’t even need to be a jazz fan to enjoy this recording. It will swing you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Misrepresenting Deuteronomy 30:19

This is the face of God; as depicted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. If he looks angry he has good reason. People are misrepresenting his words again. Bear in mind, this is not a post about abortion. Rather it is about the misrepresentation of the Holy Bible for political purposes. It is an issue I feel very strongly about and I hope that you will understand the point I am trying to make. That is; no matter what your views on the topic of abortion may be; it is never okay to misrepresent the Bible. It means too much to too many for it to be politicized by any group, for any reason. 

Sometimes politicians and political groups do us a favor when they send out their propaganda. Last week was one of those times. I got a big, over sized postcard type of advertisement about voting for Pro-Life candidates in the recent election. There’s nothing wrong with that; this is America. We encourage that sort of thing. It’s healthy.

The only thing I find objectionable about it is that they quote 2 words; completely out of context; from Deuteronomy 30:19. They have adopted these 2 words as their clarion call although they have nothing to do with abortion.

I call your attention to the use of these 2 words; “Choose Life”; as a false way to make a case concerning abortion; either for or against; with anyone who is familiar with Deuteronomy. Not only is it disrespecting of the Bible; but it also assumes a certain ignorance on the part of the reader. And, in this case, that reader is me.

So, I asked several different people with whom I interact in the course of the day where the quote “Choose Life” came from. I made sure to ask people that I know well enough to preface the question with “Do you go to church?” I also asked if they were Pro-Life. I asked people with these beliefs because it is their groups which have been using the quote. It would have been pointless to ask this question of people who do not believe in God, or are Pro-Choice.

It broke down to only 2 people; out of a total of 5; even knowing where the phrase “Choose Life” came from; other than a vague reference to “it’s in the Bible.” And of the entire group not one could tell me how it related to abortion at all beyond the obvious quotation. And there’s a good reason for that. It doesn't.

Deuteronomy 30:19 taken out of context is a nice slogan; period. It has no reference to abortion; either for or against. It is troubling to me on several levels that so many people have been using this slogan for so long without even questioning its context.

It’s kind of like when Obama was going to that church in Chicago with Jeremiah Wright and claimed not to have understood what Reverend Wright was saying when he dammed America. For years the President claims to have sat there without knowing; or apparently even listening. No one believed him, including me. But if this Deuteronomy thing is any indication of how people do not listen; but blindly follow religious leaders; then perhaps I was being too harsh on the President.

Deuteronomy 30:19 follows 30:17 and 30:18 in a very coherent manner. It talks about “choosing life” in 30:19 rather than accepting the alternative of death which is promised in 30:17 when it says; “...if your heart turns away and you worship other Gods and serve them. 30:18 I announce to you today that you shall surely perish. You shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. #30:19 I call heaven and earth as witness against you- that I have set before you life and death. Therefore choose life, that you and your descendants might live.”

Deuteronomy 30:19 is the conclusion of the thoughts begun earlier in the chapter; particularly sections 30:17 and 30:18. Please grab your nearest Bible and read for yourselves. I have used a 1985 King James Version placed by the Gideon's; commonly called a Gideon's Bible. Technically this is a New King James Version Bible and the translation most commonly used by Christians worldwide.

I don’t mind differing political points of view. As I have said, I find that to be healthy. What does make me mad are the organizations who play upon the religious emotions of uninformed people like a harp. And it’s especially annoying to me when people misquote the Old Testament out of context to make their political point. Not only that; it actually serves to undermine the credibility of their point of view.