Saturday, January 30, 2010

The More Things Change

The French have a saying - "The more things change; the more they remain the same." Looking through an old newspaper confirms this.

This paper is from January 30, 1931. The headlines are pretty much the same as today's paper. The House was set to vote on Food Relief, seeking $25 million to feed the unemployed. There's your recession. The Secretary of the Treasury was backing payment of the War Bonus to the Veterans of the First World War, which they would never get. Similar to the current treatment of our returning Veterans from Iraq.

Below the fold is a story about Einstein and his theory on sunspots. There's your space exploration. On page 3 there is a Coast Guard Cutter capturing a rum runner- an earlier incarnation of today's War on Drugs.

Calvin Coolidge is on the front page- a former President undercutting the presiding one. Sounds like Jimmy Carter. The St.Valentine Day Massacre, barely 2 years old at the time, is laid at the feet of the Chicago Police Department. Police corruption and drive by shootings rolled into one!

In science, the tiny planet Eros was veering out of it's usual orbit and passing the Earth at a distance of 16 million miles. Space exploration.

Actually the only thing that has changed are the Want Ads. Gone are the various categories for Men and Women. In my old neighborhood apartments were renting for about $35 a month. Stenographers were earning about that for a weeks work. Maids were going for $70 per month.

I love to look at old newspapers - it's such an useful way to look back on the past and see what, if any, progress we have made. And by the way - this particular paper is from the day my Dad made his entrance into the world. So, in a way, I guess it was a big day for me - 23 years before I was born.

Snow - A Simple Pleasure

It snowed here last night. We got about 5-7" depending on where you stand or who you believe. The neighborhood looks softer and the houses don't look so much alike when it snows.

The sounds are muffled and the birds are hiding somewhere. It's a nice way to wake up, you can hear the silence of the snow even before you look out the window.

It was like that even in Brooklyn when I was growing up. The snow ameliorates the rough edges of the world. It should probably snow more often.

Friday, January 29, 2010

"Impressionism" by Karin H. Grimme

This is a wonderful book. Beginning with Frederic Bazilles' "Family Reunion" and ending with Frederico Zandomeneghi's "Place d'Anvers in Paris", this book offers up 40 of the greatest Impressionists of all time. That's Georges Seurat's "The Bathers at Asnieres" (detail) on the cover.

The book is arranged alphabetically and the pages alternate with a narrative facing each reproduction. In this way you can enjoy the paintings on your own and then explore what the narratives say. This format allows you to gain some new insights as well as to reinforce the things you already know. It's kind of like a paperback museum.

My preference in art has long run to the Impressionists, so when this one popped up in the Mooresville Library today I was more than happy to take it home. With a forecast of up to 6" of snow this evening I thought I might gather some warmth from the works of these masters.

When I look at the "Boats on the Seine (near Asnieres)" by Renoir the sunshine of a French summers day warms me. The same is true of DeNittis' "Flirt", I can feel the heat of the Parisian streets in the summer. I wander through the "Artist's Garden at Vetheuil" courtesy of Claude Monet and his mastery of light.

I can't pronounce most of the names of these paintings. My tongue gets twisted and I clam up. But my love of them goes beyond the spoken. The use of light and color draw me in more than any other works of art.

The pleasure of these paintings comes from something very simple and innocent. The desire to rest the eyes and soul, drinking in the beauty of a summers day would be explanation enough, but it goes beyond that. It is like sitting in the sun and gathering warmth - deep inside - where I'll really need it on a winters eve when the snow is piling up outside the window as I write.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"The Oxford Project" by Peter Feldstein and Stephen G. Bloom

In April 1984 Peter Feldstein wrote a letter to the residents of Oxford, Iowa. He asked them to participate in a photographic study of the town and its’ people. All 693 of them. And they all agreed!

Setting up in a storefront on Augusta Avenue he taped a sign in the window that said simply “Free Pictures.” He would file these photos away for 21 years and then re-photograph the residents and record the changes in the town. The results were very surprising.

In an era during which we went through the Reagan years and George Bush and then 8 years of Bill Clinton, through the first term of George W. Bush , this town has not changed all that much. The population of 693 is now 705. The racial make up of the town is largely the same as well. There were 265 houses there in 1984. In 2005 there were 286. Births and deaths seem to have been almost equal in number.

The photographs are just part of the real story here. Exclusively in black and white, the photos are stark images of the people who live and work in Oxford. The authors have arranged the photos in family groups with an accompanying narrative on each group. And the people are not at all shy when it comes to assessing themselves and their town. There seems to be no lack of candor in their responses.

The Hoyt family is a good example. Jim, Sr. is a World War Two veteran. He is one of the soldiers who liberated Buchenwald. In 1984 he poses dressed in a dark leather jacket and his VFW cap. He wears a tie. His last job was as a letter carrier.

His son Jim, Jr. is a Vietnam Veteran. He posed in a light colored jacket and slacks, also wearing a VFW cap. Like his Dad, he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He works as a porter for J.C. Penny. In the 2005 photos they are clearly older, but both still look surprisingly strong.

Doris Hoyt is photographed in 1984 wearing a dress with a floral trimmed hem, a string of pearls around her neck. She looks amused. In the 2005 photo she wears slacks with a casual pullover. She still looks amused. She recounts the trials of both her husband and her son Jim, Jr. as well as the other members of the family. When you look at her you see an indomitable spirit. She is clearly the spine of the Hoyt family.

Some of the people photographed were children in 1984. In them you see the physical changes more clearly than in the elderly. But the interviews and quotes are what really give you an insight into these people.

This is an unusual and thought provoking book. Ranging from the simple and patriotic to the wild and adventurous, this book captures more than just the town of Oxford. Though on the surface the statistics show very little change in demographics, the accompanying narratives tell us so much more about the changes in attitude that have taken place all over America, even in small towns like Oxford.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jean Simmons- I'm Getting Older

I know I’m getting older. All of the actresses that I had crushes on when I was a kid are passing away. Last year it was Olivia DeHavilland – (“Robin Hood" with Errol Flynn) and then Betty Hutton – (“Miracle at Morgan's Creek” and “Annie Get Your Gun”). Now, with 2010 barely begun, Jean Simmons, forever Sister Sarah in “Guys and Dolls” to me, has passed away. She died last Friday in Santa Monica, California at the age of 80. The cause of death was lung cancer.

Standing on the edge of a fountain at midnight in Havana with Marlon Brando in “Guys and Dolls”, belting out “If I Were a Bell” is how I will always see her. But her story is so much more.

Originally studying dance she was taken out of school and contracted to David Lean and J Arthur Rank in Britain during the 1930’s. There she appeared in many films, including the classic David Lean production of Charles Dickens “Great Expectations.” She played Estella, the young girl used as revenge against the world by her bitter Grandmother.

Other hits followed, “Black Narcissus” and “Hamlet” with Laurence Olivier are just a few of the timeless classics she was turning out prior to the 1950’s.

Howard Hughes bought her contract and she came to Hollywood in 1951. It was not love at first sight. Hughes had amorous intentions, knowing she was a married woman. Her husband, Stewart Granger, no shrinking violet, confronted Hughes on the phone one evening and demanded he leave her alone. As a result Hughes torpedoed her next few films in an effort to destroy her career.

But good talent always rises back up and with the 1952 production of “Guys and Dolls” starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, her career was once again on top. Other hits and awards followed- notably the 1960 classic “Elmer Gantry.” In this one she plays the opposite of innocent Sister Sarah from “Guys and Dolls.” Rather she portrays a cunning and ruthless woman evangelical preacher who falls for another scam artist played by Burt Lancaster.

Her career was on top again where it would remain until she retired in the late 1990’s. Her retirement came after a successful run in the remake of “Dark Shadows”, where she reprised Joan Bennetts original role as matriarch of the Collins family.

Always very much the lady, she was regarded with much respect in film circles the world over. Her quiet struggles with alcohol and depression led her to disclose her problems in 1983. She said at the time that she did this “so other women would know it is okay to seek treatment.” She was a class act and we shall not see the likes of her again anytime soon.

And as her passing means I’m getting older, I miss her already.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Computer Wars and Snail Mail

My computers are down. Well, not down, just not doing what they are supposed to be doing. And it's frustrating.

So I have to look back and remember how it was when I was younger. Take the picture here for example. I'm mailing a letter to my Grandmother Marcus in California. The year is 1957 and I'm in Brooklyn, corner of Kings Highway and Bedford Avenue. It will take 5 days for that letter to reach Los Angeles. And another 5 days to get a reply, if she wrote back right away. Long distance calls were way too expensive then and reserved for important occasions like illnesses or holidays.

So I guess I'm just trying to put all the frustration in perspective. I have lived in an age where we have progresssed from dropping pieces of paper into metal boxes on the side of the road to sitting in a comfortable chair and hitting the SEND button. Pretty remarkable. And the photo is pretty cool, too.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Havens and Domingo - The Cosmos at Work

Each morning when I wake up I grab my morning paper and scan the headlines. Then I look inside the front page at “This Day In History”, to gain context I suppose. And then I look at "Today’s Birthdays", which always holds a surprise of one sort or another.

For instance, last year when Olivia De Havillandturned 94, I hadn’t even realized she was still alive! So,  I like to keep track. But every now and then I look and see two people born on the same day, same year and doing the same thing as one another all their lives. And it always strikes me as odd.

Was there something in the air that January day in Brooklyn when Richie Havens was born in 1941? And what was going on in Madrid, Spain that same day when Placido Domingo made his entrance into the world?

Richie Havens was one of 9 children. From an early age he began singing on street corners in “Doo Wop” groups and by 1957 was with The McCrea Gospel Singers.

His first influences were Nina Simone and then Dino Valenti. As he began to frequent Greenwich Village he started doing portraits and eventually began singing in the coffee houses that were the mainstay of the Village in the late 1950’s. By the time 1960 rolled around he was in demand on most college campuses as a singer from coast to coast.

Meantime, in Madrid, Placido Domingo was on a parallel path. By age 7 he was studying and performing with his parents, who were Zarzuela singers in Mexico City. He was a busy little man, also studying piano with Manuel Barajas and taking voice lessons at the National Conservatory.

Making his debut as Borsa in Rigoletto at about the same time that Richie Havens was appearing for the first time in New York- these two would continue on parallel courses that continue to this day.

By 1966 both were established in their respective careers, although they would not reach their respective peaks for a few more years.

In 1966 Havens was appearing at The Newport Folk Festival and Domingo was appearing in New York as Pinkerton in Madam Butterfly with the New York City Opera. When 1968 rolled around Havens was appearing at Monterey Pop while Domingo made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

The big year for both came in 1969, when Havens opened Woodstock and cemented his place in Rock and Roll History, just as Domingo was joining Milan’s La Scala and London’s Covent Garden Opera Company's. From this point on both would be recognized as leading talents in their respective genres. Both would go on to do Television and Movie appearances as well as pursue Cultural and Philanthropic goals.

I have no conclusions; and maybe it’s all just a meaningless coincidence. But 2 of the world’s most passionate singers share more than just great voices and a love for music. They share a birthday.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Coast Guard Cutter Cartigan WSC-132

This ship used to sit moored to the wooden foot bridge opposite Lundy's in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. I used to fish from that bridge as a kid. When I was a teenager there was nothing more exotic for me than to walk the less than one mile from my family's apartment on Avenue R to look at it.

When I was 18 I wrote a poem sitting at the opposite end of the Bay and looking at her. You might say we had a relationship with one another. She was always there for me, and she could always count on me to visit her. She was old and in need of a paint job. Her length was only 125 foot long and she displaced a mere 232 tons - but to me she was the Queen Mary and represented the entire world which lay beyond the horizon.

I had been told that she was a World War One vessel that had been designed for Coastal Defense. It was sad to learn that this was not true. But the real story is just as good.

Built by American Brown in Camden, New Jersey, her keel was laid in 1926 and she was at sea by the spring of 1927. Her total cost was $76,000. Her primary duty was as a Revenue Cutter- she chased down and boarded the rum runners which were plying the coast then in defiance of the Volstead Act. Legs Diamond lived a few short blocks away in Manhattan Beach. I only mention this because alot of bootleggers were buying some of the older cutters and intercepting their rival gangs shipments of illegal liquor only 12 miles from the Bay. A bit of irony.

After capturing a rum runner in 1930 she was transferred to Norfolk, Virginia. In 1932 she went to Harbor Beach, Michigan where she would remain for 10 years. In 1942 she was transferred to Connecticut where she did light ice breaking duty. In 1943 she was sent back to Brooklyn to patrol the coast, looking for German U-boats that were sinking ships as close as 10 miles off Coney Island and Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Decommissioned in 1969 and sold in 1972 for $26,129 she remained at her moorings, where she sank in 2003. In 2004 she was raised and sold for scrap.

Fond memories for me of a ship that influenced my decision to join the Navy and then later the Merchant Marines. Sometimes inspiration can come from the most unexpected of places- in this case a battered old ship "welded" to its' pier propelled me on a journey that took me around the world 3 times in an attempt to find out just who I was. By the way, I'm still looking...

No messages or lessons here- just a small tribute to something that was such a great influence in my life.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Jill Dineen Band

There are lots of bands out there. Lots of music to listen to. Last Friday night Sue and I went to see George Terry and the Zealots at the Evening Muse in Charlotte. We arrived for the last half of the previous bands set. Were we lucky!

Jill Dineen is one of those rare and gifted blues singers who can pluck the strings of your heart with her strong and well phrased renditions of anything she sings.

Back her up with some very fine musicians and you get quite a show! From the really clean yet growling guitar licks provided by Jim Snyder, to the lyrical keyboarding of Mike Peters, combined with the pulsing bass and steady drumming of Harold Woodside and Jim Honeycutt, this band really moves!

Just look at the photo above- Ms. Dineen with her head reared back and really feeling the music, while Jim Snyder stands to the left- adding those sweet and sometimes gritty punctuations. This is the blues at its' best.

The songlist is extremely varied, drawing on artists such as Otis Redding, Etta James, Coco Montoya, Lucinda Willams and Delbert McClinton to name just a few. Ms. Dineen has a voice that surpasses the legendary Bonnie Raitt in strength and range,giving life to anything she sings. An easy repartee with the audience caps off a truly inspiring performance.

If you are a fan of the blues then you need to keep an eye out for The Jill Dineen Band. When they come to your town you don't want to miss them! For more about this band go to You will be glad you did!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Reading- "Countergirls" Performed by Old Courthouse Theatre Group

Magic occurs in the strangest of places. A movie theater, an art gallery, a trip to the library, all of these things hold the promise of a journey. But every now and again you come across a real jewel. The Concord based Old Courthouse Theatre Group is one of these jewels.

Sue and I attended a 4PM Sunday performance, actually a "reading", of the play "Counter Girls" by Michael Russell at the Old Courthouse Theatre in Concord yesterday. The Theatre Group were clearly not expecting such a crowd but happily moved us from the small basement theatre to the more spacious playhouse. It was cold inside, as the heat was off, but everyone kept their coats on and gave it a shot.

Good thing they did, too, or else they would have missed a wonderful reading of a wonderfully wry and insightful play. Read by Lenore Young, Betty Porter, Francis Quinn, Tammi Schumate, Jennifer Grant and Jonathan Ewart, the characters took on lives of their own, and the audience sailed right along with them. The personality development was swift and believable. The stools and the music racks were in plain view but vanished with their reading and it was very easy to picture the dime store where the story takes place.

Set in a small Southern town in 1990, the tale is simple on the surface. It concerns Ms. Lib, a former country singer of minor note, now the manager of the independently owned lunch counter at the local five and dime. She is the glue that holds so many lives together during the course of the play. She has faith in everyone, though at times her own patience is tried.

The 4 characters that surround her are all remarkable in their own ways. There is Lynette, a 20 year employee who fears that Betty Ruth, a newly seperated woman, is after her job. Then there is Janita, the aspiring young country singer with a strict Dad, who fears that her lifes dream is already over before it's begun. And finally, there is Donnie Ray, the "slow" young man who was given the job by Lib after his parents are killed in a fire when he was not at home. He is simple but kindly, with a fear of any emergency, as he associates the word with people dying.

The play is a window into the every day lives and dramas of some ordinary people.They form alliances and petty differences, but more importantly, they are like a small family. They even play the weekly "Lotto" out of New York together, with Billy Ray calling in the numbers each Wednesday to a customer who happened in once. Billy Ray struck up a conversation with him and they formed a freindship. Now each week they all chip in to send "Carmine" the money for the numbers they have played and already lost. And with a name like Carmine - you automatically expect the worst.

I won't be a spoiler here- so I'll just say that this play takes you on a journey. You learn to have faith that Lib will help solve everyones problems. And that's pretty easy to accept. There are people like that. And then you also learn that sometimes salvation can come from a very unexpected source in a very unconventional way.

With excellent readings and performances by all including Lenore Young as the Narrator, this was an event not to be missed. Should the Old Courthouse Theatre decide to produce this play, they will find me back to see the performance. At any rate, I will be back to see this remarkable and talented group of performers again. Bravo to all, and well done!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"graffiti NEW YORK" by Eric Felisbret

I have never really understood graffiti. Having been born when graffiti was considered vandalism and a crime it has been hard for me to see it as a legitimate, albeit often interesting, form of art.

TV has also done a good job of painting graffiti (excuse the pun) as the expression of urban gang turf wars. Reading this book has taken me beyond that shallow perception.

In "graffiti NEW YORK" the author introduces us to the artists and their motivations for creating these modern urban murals. He has also observed and participated in the Graffiti movement for over 30 years. He is recognized as an authority on the form and context of the art.

Loaded with page after page of New Yorks best Graffiti, Mr. Felisbret, formerly of the DEAL and CIA graffiti groups, offers insight into the whys, hows and meanings of the various forms that adorn everything from subway cars to the sides of buildings and even bridges.

What statements are these artists trying to make? Are they really artists? And how do the police view these off beat modern troubadours of urban art? The book is informative and filled with the colors of urban living. And though I generally don't like it, I will never look at graffiti in the same benign way again.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

George Terry and The Zealots

We saw George Terry and the Zealots last night at the Evening Muse in NoDa. They were a real surprise! We met Mr. Terry at the opening to the Bechtler Museum here in Charlotte 2 weeks ago. He invited us to the concert.

With an energetic mixture of pop, rock and a hint of reggae the bands original songs and lyrics make for a cerebral and rocking listening experience. Mr. Terry is an excellent rhythm guitarist and doubles on his own leads. He is backed perfectly by Aaron James on Bass and I did not get the drummers name, but he provided the solid backing that lent an insistent energy to the bands sound. That energy and enthusiasm is easily transmitted to the audience.

The songs are rollicking and danceable with lyrics that range from the mildy amusing to wry social commentary. In short, he covers a wide range of the emotions and thoughts that plague us all.

Also an artist, Mr. Terry has some fine paintings. The best place to view them is on his myspace page where there are paintings and music posted. A local talent, Mr. Terry has been active in the arts in the Charlotte area for a number of years. The band is based out of Asheville, NC and it is well worth the trip to see them perform.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Andy Rooney- 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit" by Andrew A. Rooney

From its' foreward by Mr. Rooney's son and all the way through, this book will delight you. If you have ever seen Andy Rooney on CBS you will hear his voice as you read his words.

This book is a compilation of previously released pieces by Mr. Rooney. Some come from his first book "Air Gunner" and are some of the most intense descriptions of aerial combat I have ever read. Other pieces are essays from the 1960's and cover a wide range of topics. My favorite is his essay on chairs.

Today is actually Mr. Rooneys' 91st birthday. He's still out there swinging and railing away at all that seems silly and mundane. Most of the individual pieces are short and quickly read, which makes this book an excellent travel companion.

His style and wit are both hallmarks of American satire. Mark Twain would have felt very much at home with Mr. Rooney. For 60 years he has graced us with his unique outlook on life. From print to radio and then TV there has never been a time that we haven't had Andy Rooney in our lives.

One of the founders of the "Stars and Stripes" military newspaper, still in production today, you will laugh out loud at his description of it's early days housed in the staid offices of the London Times. As the war progresses and the theatres of operations change, the newspaper moves with the war, bringing news to the fighting man at the front. Originally published in 4 pages, 6 days a week, it is hard to find an American soldier since 1943 who hasn't read "Stars and Stripes."

An icon of American Journalism, Mr. Rooney has given us quite a gift with this mirror image of ourselves, reflected in his writing. Happy Birthday Mr. Rooney!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Photo:Box" Edited by Roberto Koch

If I could afford this book, I would own it. This is the ultimate "coffee table" book, comprised of 250 of the world's greatest photographs by the world's greatest Photographers.

From Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, to the European photographers such as Nino Migliori and Edouard Boubat, the entire field of photographic art is covered in these pages. And the packaging! The book is printed on high quality stock and bound in book fashion with an interesting twist- the front cover folds over and closes the book magnetically, ensuring that the pages remain untainted and crisp.

The book is organized in such a way that you are exposed to the things you would normally not look at. I'm more apt to dwell on Dorothea Langes' "Migrant Mother-California 1936" or any of the other contemporary photos than let's say something ultra modern. By dividing the photos into categories the editor forces the reader to look at all the photos. And it's funny- something that you think would not be of interest to you suddenly becomes art.

Each oppossing page contains the story behind the picture and at the bottom a brief biography of the photographer. This adds depth to the photo, in that it allows you to stand in the photographers shoes for a second and "feel" the moment. For instance, when I look at Eddie Adams photo "General Loan Executing a Viet Cong" I grimace with the South Vietnamese soldier standing on the Generals left. I never had that reaction to this photo before. I never noticed him before.

The Categories listed are Reportage, War, Potraits, Nudes, Women, Travel, Cities, Art, Fashion, Still Life, Sports, and Nature. The photos span 3 continents over the last 150 years or so. The earliest photo is of Paris in 1838. The latest is 2008 and I don't understand it. This is an amazing collection and not to be missed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

"L.A. Noir" by John Buntin

This book is a real page turner. Los Angeles has a very colorful and sordid history. From the 1920's through the 1960's is like one big film noir story.

In this book Mr. Buntin explores that history and the characters involved in the making of the legend that Los Angeles has become. This story involves Bugsy Seigel, Mickey Cohen, Clark Clifford, Billy Graham and a host of others. The Billy Graham-Mickey Cohen connection is truly amazing all by itself. The whole book is one long narrative of how crime, vice, politics and religion play such a large role in our daily lives. In this case the connection of these forces shaped the direction of a major city.

If you have ever seen the movie "LA Confidential" you will be amazed at how much of that movie was taken from real life. "Bloody Christmas" really did happen in 1951 Los Angeles. This was a time when people left bottles of whiskey on the corner for the police to pick up for the annual holiday bash at Central Division.

Illegal wiretapping, beatings, prostitution and gambling are the mainstays of Organized Crime and Los Angeles is determined to keep Organized Crime out of the city. They had their own "Combination" going and wanted no competition. The battle was on for control of the city and its' criminal enterprises.

With the advent of the Kefauver Committee in the 1950's Robert Kennedy enters upon the scene as counsel for the hearings. This role helps pave the way for his brother John's Presidential run in 1960. And Los Angeles would be the site of that years Democratic Convention. It is also the city where Robert Kennedy would be killed in 1968 at the height of his own Presidential campaign.

There is a scene in the movie "Mulholland Falls" in which Nick Nolte and his fellow detectives take an out of town hood and throw him off a cliff. If it seemed far fetched in the film- it wasn't. In real life it actually happened- more than once.

The book is gritty and carries the tension of the struggle between law enforcement and the Mob on every page. The personal peculiarities of Mickey Cohen and his henchman make dramatic and sometimes amusing reading.

The book is extensive and follows the history of crime in Los Angeles from the 1930's through the racially charged times of the Watts Riots in 1965 and beyond. It is well written and has an extensive bibliography. And through this book I have learned that Mickey Cohen wrote an autobiography. You can be sure I will be reading that one!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Armed Forces Prayer Book for Jewish Personnel

I have alot of books. And I've read them all. They are my freinds and are all special to me, though some more so than others. This book is one of the more special ones.

I received this book while in Navy bootcamp at Great Lakes in 1976. It has literally been around the world with me 3 times. And even today I use it for weekly Sabbath Prayers. But what makes this book so extraordinary is that it was given to me by the Base Chaplain. Why is that extraordinary? Let me explain.

We live in a "Christian" nation. Christianity, and the right to worship as one pleases, are both principles which form the core of our democratic Republic. That the power structure of this nation saw fit to include my religion in its' plans when organizing the Armed Forces is nothing short of amazing to me. That the book was handed to me by a Christian makes it even more so.

In short, this book is emblematic to me of what we do best as Americans. We respect, and we tolerate one anothers differences in points of view. From politics to God we are a people that are reasonable. We are founded upon the principle of "inclusion" rather than "exclusion." I find that principle remarkable.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Keys to Glory" by Edward T. Rothacker

This is an inspirational book penned by a man who served aboard my old ship,(well it was his before it was mine so let's call it "our ship") the USS Milwaukee.

When you serve onboard a ship you really get to know one another very quickly and very closely. But what do we really know about anothers' inner thoughts? What do we know about their lives? Mr. Rothacker paints a vivid picture of his journey from Cleveland, Ohio and Catholic School, to where he is today. And he does it in less than 100 pages!

Spiritually grounded and with a wry sense of humor the author takes you through the phases of his life. School, adolescence, the Navy, playing in a band, meeting and marrying his wife Cindy and having kids. Two common threads emerge in all these periods of his life. Music and God. First in church with piano lessons, later in the Navy for Chapel and a ships' rock band, music takes him on a journey of discovery.

Spirituality cannot be crammed down your throat. It is an evolving journey that takes place over the course of a lifetime during which one is tried and tested. Therein lies the measure of spirituality. It's in how you deal with what life throws your way.

During the Milwaukee years Mr. Rothacker writes of praying on the fantail under the stars. That feeling is the closest to God you can get while still being alive. I know, I've done it.

After leaving the service he witnesses for God and offers prayers for His intervention in the lives of the people he meets. And the results are so evident that they cannot be ignored. Mr. Rothackers' Faith in God literally leaps from the pages and touches your heart.

This was a real departure for me in terms of reading material. I am Jewish. But the message in this book goes beyond labels. Spirituality knows no bounds, it crosses all lines of demarcation, it pierces the most dense barriers. All you have to do is let it in. And then pass it on.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"When Everything Changed" by Gail Collins

There is no doubt that the Womens Rights Movement of the late 1960's changed the world in which we live. When I was a boy there were no women letter carriers, truck drivers, etc. I could go on and on listing all of the occupations that todays women take for granted. I have often discussed this with my daughter, and though she knows I'm telling the truth, there is that look that says she can't really comprehend it. And looking back, neither can I.

Ms. Collins, noted columnist for the NY Times, has given us a real treasure with this book. It is a book that all young women today should read. Organized carefully and in a logical way, Ms. Collins takes us back to 1960,drawing a picture of what life was like for the average American woman. More accuratley it is a picture of what was "expected" of young women in 1960. And it was a narrow world,indeed.

By utilizing some of the widely accepted quotes of the day; "It Was Not a Matter of Choice" is one example, the author goes on to trace the changes that ensued due to the expectations, and the dissatisfactions of, the average woman in 1960's America.

It is hard for me to even consider life today without women in all of the roles they now occupy. Although I may not agree with all of the changes that have taken place, women in military combat would be the rare example, this is a very worthwhile read, especially if you have a daughter you can share it with.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art- and George Terry's Shirt

Sue and I went to the grand opening of the new Bechtler Museum of Modern Art here in Charlotte today. I'm not much of a modern art fan, being more receptive to the traditional landscape artists and early impressionists. But art is always interesting in any form- even if I don't "get it" I can usually have a good time. And art should have a funny side, so laughing at some of it is, in my opinion, a valid reaction.

The place is large- 4 levels including the Lobby area. The main route takes you up a cage like stairwell with an annoying metal sculpture at the base. The annoying part of it was the electronic beeping at variable intervals and tempos. The flashing lights were just tacky.

The third level was interesting- I remarked to Sue that it was nothing more than a living room set from IKEA. When we got home and read about the exhibit, guess what? The furniture is from Mr. Bechtlers Swedish home! Who says I don't understand modern art?

There were some things by Degas and other more traditional artists as well as the modern works. Of course the Andy Warhol stuff was cool to see. It's so prominent in our lives- on posters, in movies, etc. It was even on the shirt of a guy in line to go down one level to sculptures. His shirt was a print of the old artist himself- Andy Warhol. It drew as much attention as the exhibits- people were even taking pictures of it.

The shirt was worn by George Terry of The Zealots, a band out of Asheville, North Carolina. We had a pleasant chat on the way down. He got the shirt as a gift 12 years ago and still wears it regulary. See how art brings people together? We will be going to see him play on the 15th at the Muse here in NoDa.

The place was crowded for opening day- it was free. We'll have to go back again when it's not as frenetic to give it a fair assessment. But all in all it was an enjoyable experience and it's nice to have an Art Museum downtown where it is accessible to all.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Spirit of New Years - Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest

Low key New Year for us this year. Both down with colds and flu. So after dinner out we settled in with Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest for a "Rockin' New Years Eve."

I know some people say that Dick Clark should step aside but I have to disagree. Each time he shares the stage with Ryan Seacrest we witness something so rare these days. For a moment in time the generations are united in a common cause - the turning of the page that signifies a renewal of hope and promise.

And the humility shown by Ryan Seacrest and ABC in acknowledging the legend that is Dick Clark is touching in todays world. Yes, millions are made using his name to draw viewers, but as long as he wants to be there I say Rock on Dick!

I actually remember my Mom ironing clothes when I was three or four years old and she was watching him on American Bandstand. She was happy and singing.

So it was a quiet and peaceful New Year here and I hope that the year ahead affords you the sense of community that was exhibited by Ryan Seacrest and Dick Clark last night. Remember, we are all connected- we are all responsible for one another. And that's a good thing...

Happy New Year!