Thursday, September 14, 2023

"Killers of the Flower Moon" by David Grann (2017)

This book tells the story of one of the most notorious cases of the 20th century. Unfortunately it was buried by the egotism of J. Edgar Hoover who hogged the limelight and deprived the true story of Texas Ranger Tom White, who, first as a Texas Ranger, and then as an Agent of what was shortly to become the FBI, led an almost 5 year investigation into the multiple murders of several dozen Osage Indians in Oklahoma during the 1920's.

Oil had been discovered on the Osage Reservation, making millionaires of the the tribe's members. But it didn't take long for the white man to devise a way of scamming them of at least part of their wealth.

By reasoning that Indians didn't understand money, or how to handle it, they concocted laws which made it mandatory for each Indian to have a white trustee. Soon white men and women descended upon the Reservation and started marrying the Osage. After that the Judges began to award trusteeships to whites in exchange for securing their votes at election time.

Suddenly, in 1921,  there were murders, poisonings and all manners of schemes afoot to gain hold of the "headrights" to the Osage parcels of land. Each parcel was 160 acres and oil companies came to bid under what became known as the "Million Dollar Elm" for leases to these "headrights".

The book begins in May 1921, with the disappearance of an Osage woman named Mollie Burkhart. When found she had been shot in the head and dumped in a ravine. Local authorities couldn't/wouldn't solve the case. Soon more deaths followed, all with the same lack of prosecution.  It seemed that no white jury would convict a white man of murdering an Indian.

When the investigation was finally handed over to the Texas Rangers things looked as if there would be convictions. But, due to the influence of one man, William Hale, nothing changed at all. Hale controlled everything that happened; on and off the Reservation.

This is also the story of the time when the Bureau of Investigation was under the leadership of William Burns. He was just as bad as the State when it came to results. But by 1925 the Bureau became the FBI and J.Edgar Hoover took over. At the same time Texas Ranger Tom White became an FBI agent and Hoover assigned him to the case.

For another 3 years there were investigations and trials, and even more murders. But no convictions. Finally, through Jurisdictional wrangling, the case wound up in Federal Court. State verdicts were overturned as witnesses recanted and juries were proven to have been bribed.

Too complicated for a simple review, take my advice and read this book before the movie is released. Martin Scorsese is directing the film version which will be starring Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio as the two leaders of the criminals responsible for the murders. Some of these murders even involved their own family members.

In the 1930's Lucky Strike tried a radio show based on the case but struck out. Later on,  Agent and former Texas Ranger Tom White tried his hand at a book which became a fictional screenplay. Again, it didn't make it. By that time the FBI had moved on and J. Edgar Hoover became a national hero due to the John Dillinger case and the birth of the "G-Man." Unwilling to share the truth of this shameful story of exploitation, and dilute his own place in the spotlight, there was no way he was going to share any glory with the real hero of the earlier case, former Texas Ranger Tom White.

The book is all encompassing, covering the history of the Osage, the discovery of oil and the history of the oil barons it created. No movie will ever be able to fully tell the story as well as David Gram does in the book. He lived with it and researched it for 6 years before it was released in 2017. I'll say it again; read the book first. It will enrich you. 

Monday, September 11, 2023

Spain, Hitler and Nuetrality

Hitler and Mussolini had helped Spain fight the Communists in the 1930's Spanish Civil War. But, as the Axis Powers could not convince Spain to join them, by 1940, the Spanish relied on US oil and grain to meet her needs. Also the British controlled Gibraltar and access to the Mediterranean. In effect, Spain, a Facist nation, was surrounded physically, and economically, by the Allied Powers.

While the Germans and Italians had supported Fascist Spain in the 1930's Civil War,  the US officially remained nuetral while allowing Americans to form the Lincoln Brigade to fight on the Communist side against Franco and the Axis Powers. This later came back to haunt the American volunteers in the McCarthy era, when they were considered to be Communist sympathizers.

Twice, between 1940 and 1944 Franco met with Hitler. In 1940 he formed the Blue Brigade to help Hitler, but that Brigade was only to be used to fight Russia on the Eastern Front, not against any other Allied nation. The Spanish could hardy refuse, because they owed the Germans $212 million from the Spanish Civil War, and simply didn't have the funds to pay it back.

The US then scaled back their support, guaranteeing only a 10 week supply as long as Franco was helping Hitler on the Eastern Front. When America and Britain won North Africa in 1942 Franco switched back to complete neutrality, and our full economic support returned.

In return, Franco agreed to keep a fortified border in the Pyrenees and Iberian Mountains to deter the Nazis from entering Spain, which was now bounded on all 4 sides, by the Atlantic to the West, the mountains to the East and Britain and the U.S. to the North and South at Gibraltar, the gateway to the Atantic as well as the entrance to the Mediterranean.

In 1944 when Franco was approached again by Hitler, the US  again imposed an embargo and cut aid. By that time the Axis powers could not provide Spain with the needed goods and so those talks went nowhere, forcing the Spanish to stay neutral.

Spain was not the only neutral country in the Second World War. The Chinese supplied Germany with tungsten for steel, and in turn, Germany provided China with money and arms to fight the Japanese, at the same time as the the US was conducting the  Flying Tiger ops against Japan. Essentially China profited from both sides. It was the only time that the US and Germany were on the same side during the War.

The Portuguese provided Hitler with the tungsten steel needed. They also provided tungsten to the Germans from their colony of Brazil in South America. The rest of South America followed Mexico against the Nazis after Germany sank 2 Mexican oil tankers. Brazil and Argentina were the only exceptions. After the war Argentina was the country to which the Nazis fled to avoid prosecution for War Crimes.

It was a diplomatic mess, which also kept Ireland from entering the war against Germany, even while sending workers to Britain to work in the war plants for much needed employment. Hatred of Britain due to the Bloody Sunday incidents before and between both WW1 and WW2 also played a major role in this decision by Ireland to take this stand.

The Swedish, who could not rely on Britain to protect them from Russia or Germany,  led to their nuetrality even as they provided Germany a safe haven for her finances. At the same time, they played this exact financial and humanitarian role for the US. and its Allies with the Geneva Convention. In addition, Germany, by now fighting Russia, provided the Swedish with protection from that end.

All of these factors make the 2nd World War a complex study. In literature and film, all of these facts are portayed in books such as Hemingway's "For Whom the Bells Toll", and films such as "Casablanca", and even the post war classic "Gilda." All of which first piqued my interest in the subject of nuetrality.

General Sherman said "War is Hell", but it sure creates some great literature.....

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Mezzuzah's


My daughter Sarah went to Halifax on business. She was gone about a week. She lives in a high rise luxury building in Silver Sring, Maryland. They have 24 hour on site Security, cameras and a Concierge. 

When she left, this Mezzuzah, shown above, was hanging on her outside apartment door frame. Sue and I bought it for her when she moved out of our home and married. It has graced the outside door frame of every place she has lived for the last 19 years. Almost half her life. 

She came home to the photo shown below. It is  It is possible, but not very probable, that this was the work of an outsider. More than likely it was done by a custodian, or worse, by a neighbor in the building. Someone she sees each day.

I often wonder about the fate of the many Mezzuzahs which hung outside of my friends apartments when growing up in Brooklyn. My Father and my brother simply left ours when my Mom passed and my Dad moved out. 

I remember that as I left Apartment 2-H that last time, I only had a big scredriver with me and slid it under the edge of the Mezzuzah and pried it loose. I got married 2 years later to Sue, who is Christian, and hung it inside the house on our bedroom door frame. It has hung in that same spot in every home we have lived.

It was a small one, not very sturdily made, or even fancy. Several years ago my daughter bought me a new one,  much larger and more ornate. I took the older, smaller one, and placed the whole thing inside of the new one. And rehung it as one. Somehow that appealed to me. Maybe it represented a sign of continuity. The old one was a part of my life growing up. My Uncle Irving used to kiss his finger tips and then touch it each time he entered our apartment. They are shown, together in the next photo just before I rehung it here at our home on Stonecroft Lane.

No point to this; except that evil will always be around us. It takes many forms. And it is up to us all to report it when it happens, and move to stop it when we see it. And then replace the loss as best we can. It is both the most, and the least, that we can do.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

"The Proof of Worth" by Edward Albert Guest

 The Proof of Worth

by Edgar Albert Guest  (1881-1959)

Born in Birmingham, England and emigrated to Detroit as a child. I cannot find the year this poem was published, but it was probably between the two World Wars. His style is somewhat like Rudyard Kipling and reads easily, while still managing to say much. This is one of my favorite poems of his, though it is often overlooked. 

Though victory's proof of the skill you possess,
Defeat is the proof of your grit;
A weakling can smile in his days of success,
But at trouble's first sign he will quit.
So the test of the heart and the test of your pluck
Isn't skies that are sunny and fair,
But how do you stand to the blow that is struck
And how do you battle despair?

A fool can seem wise when the pathway is clear
And it's easy to see the way out,
But the test of man's judgment is something to fear,
And what does he do when in doubt?
And the proof of his faith is the courage he shows
When sorrows lie deep in his breast;
It's the way that he suffers the griefs that he knows
That brings out his worst or his best.

The test of a man is how much he will bear
For a cause which he knows to be right,
How long will he stand in the depths of despair,
How much will he suffer and fight?
There are many to serve when the victory's near
And few are the hurts to be borne,
But it calls for a leader of courage to cheer
The men in a battle forlorn.

It's the way you hold out against odds that are great
That proves what your courage is worth,
It's the way that you stand to the bruises of fate
That shows up your stature and girth.
And victory's nothing but proof of your skill,
Veneered with a glory that's thin,
Unless it is proof of unfaltering will,
And unless you have suffered to win.

Friday, August 11, 2023

"Rich Men North of Richmond" - Oliver Anthony

I've been selling my soul
Working all day
Overtime hours
For bullshit pay
So I can sit out here and waste my life away
Drag back home and drown my troubles away

It's a damn shame
What the world's gotten to
For people like me and people like you
Wish I could just wake up and it not be true
But it is, oh, it is

Living in the new world
With an old soul
These rich men north of Richmond
Lord knows they all just want to have total control
Wanna know what you think
Wanna know what you do
And they don't think you know, but I know that you do
Cause your dollar ain't shit, and it's taxed to no end
'Cause of rich men north of Richmond

I wish politicians would look out for miners
And not just minors on an island somewhere
Lord, we got folks in the street, ain't got nothing to eat
And the obese milking welfare

Well God, if you're 5 foot 3 and you're 300 pounds
Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds
Young men are putting themselves six feet in the ground
'Cause all this damn country does is keep on kicking them down

Lord, it's a damn shame
What the world's gotten to
For people like me and people like you
Wish I could just wake up and it not be true
But it is, oh, it is

Living in the new world
With an old soul
These rich men north of Richmond
Lord knows they all just want to have total control
Wanna know what you think
Wanna know what you do
And they don't think you know, but I know that you do
'Cause your dollar ain't shit, and it's taxed to no end
'Cause of rich men north of Richmond

I've been selling my soul
Working all day
Overtime hours
For bullshit pay.


Thursday, July 20, 2023

Green Irish Eyes

With your flannel shirts and your Irish eyes
it's easy to see that you hold no disguise.
Hair streaming wet and newly Baptized,
there's no escaping your green Irish eyes!

Surrounded by snow, or in the Sun's glow,
whom could you meet that you don't really know?
You may seem private, but not very shy,
there's no escape from your green Irish eyes!

Late in the evening or early sunrise,
with a bold countenance or tears in your cries
You baffle your foes and keep them surprised
you lash them all with your green Irish eyes.

Like the howl of the wolf or the bark of a hound
with a look that speaks in ethereal sound.
Gently seizing souls they can mesmerize,
there is such a strength in those green Irish eyes.

July 20th, 2023
4 AM

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Charlie's Good Tonight by Paul Sexton (2022)

What can you say about the Rolling Stones which hasn't already been written? Quite alot as it turns out. Especially in a biography of the enigmatic Charlie Watts. Of all the Rolling Stones he was perhaps the one whose life was the least chronicled until now.

From the very first page, with Forewords by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this book by longtime Stones biographer Paul Sexton swings just like Charlie Watts did, never missing a beat. And it is certainly on time.

Basically Mr. Watts was a gentleman throwback to an earlier era. He even wished he had been born in the 1800's. He was the most satorially turned out of the band, eschewing the wilder clothes of his profession for the stately dress of an earlier era. He even owned, and wore, antique suits which once graced the body of King Edward III. They were the exact same build, as he found out after buying the suits at an auction, intending to have them replicated by his tailor.

He took pride in his unusual collections of jazz memorabilia, including unplayed 78 PRM's which he bought from an obscure record store in Vienna. These were original issues of some of the finest recordings ever made, still in the original record sleeves, where they remained, unplayed, in his collection.

He had an incureable case of OCD which he used to his advantage in his collections of cars, clothes, antique guns and of course in his music. His sense of humor is unchallenged in the world of rock and roll. Case in point is when a fan, at the conclusion of an interview, which he hated to do, asked him repeatedly for something, anything, to remember her encounter with him. He stood up and gave her his chair.

With his wife of 6 decades, Shirley, he had over 250 Arab Stallions. Some went for as much as $700,000 apiece. Together, the two ran a stud farm. He also collected antique carriages and owned hand bespoke riding outfits, although he didn't ride. Par for the course since he owned many fine automobiles, even though he didn't possess a driver's license. He simply enjoyed sitting in them.

The book was written by Paul Sexton, using private conversations he'd had with the drummer for about 40 years as the basis of the biography. These are carefully collated with memories of those who knew him best. There are stories by childhood friends with whom he played jazz music for the rest of his life. They even toured quietly when the Stones were not on the road.

On the road he missed home, often calling his wife and daughter Seraphina, for hours after a show, while his bandmates lived the wilder side of the business. When he was home he wanted to tour. His only encounter with the wild side of the business came in Paris, when during the early 1980's he had what Keith Richards describes as " a wobble of his own." Alcohol and hard drugs were his choice for just a few short years before he simply quit using them. No rehab. Just quit.

The book is written in the chronological order of his life. His passions, his love of family are all on display. Whenever possible he took his wife on tour with their daughter. In later years his granddaughter Charlotte was his companion on the road. It was a truly loving relationship they shared, and touching to read about.

The book is written in such a way as enables you to keep reading. The book's 330 odd pages flew by with little effort. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope that others will read it with the same result. It is at once the highly personal biography of a basically private man. He never really understood what all the fuss was about.

And in the end, Mick Jagger had it right in 1969, when he famously remarked on "Get Yer Ya Ya's Out", that "Charlie's good tonight...." But then again he always was. This was a superb read.