Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day to all my freinds and fellow Veterans. Serving this country was the most eye opening experience of my life. My service was kind of like the guy in this Norman Rockwell drawing "On Leave." But others have served under more arduous conditions and this is for you.

Thanks to all those who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom. There have been times in which the cause was not popular, and that made the job harder. And there have been times when the mission was questionable, which made the job impossible. But there have also been times when the job was to defend the liberties which we all enjoy and you shined like a beacon.

To all those who have fallen, for a cause right, or even misguided, your sacrifice is not unnoticed and your absence is always with us.

The rest of you can just go shopping.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Lost Voices of the Titanic" by Nick Barratt

I have long been fascinated by the Titanic. Ever since Walter Lord's "A Night To Remember" came out on film when I was 4 years old, this is a topic of which I can never grow tired.(I do, however, skip past fictionalized stuff. It took me 10 years to even bother seeing the Kate Winslet movie, though I did enjoy it.) So I was very pleased to see this book peeking at me from the shelves the other day. It is a compilation of all the odds and ends concerning the sinking of the Titanic.

Utilizing the archives of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, as well as the Father Browne Photographic Collection, the author has pieced together a very accurate and moving piece of work.

Taking us from the shipyard to the scene of the collision, he has painstakingly gone beyond the Walter Lord books. At times he even makes use of some of Mr. Lord's letters and the replies in their full form for the first time. The eyewitness accounts taken within days of the Carpathia's landing in New York are stark and revealing.

Beyond the collision itself, Mr. Barratt takes us through the hearings in the United States, as well as in England, regarding the disaster. The descriptions of recovering the remaining bodies from the scene are ones with which I was not previously acquainted and they give a whole new dimension to the scope of the tragedy.

Also included are accounts from the crew members of the Californian, the ship which lay only 10 miles from the Titanic and could have saved everyone. The letters, written to Walter Lord in the 1950's while he was researching "A Night To Remember", are very revealing and cast the Californian's captain in a very dim light.

Also of great interest is the account given by the Captain of the Carpathia. She was the ship that raced 58 miles to the scene and transported the survivors bak to New York, from where she was bound enroute to England. He candidly retraces his decisions as to what to make ready for the recovery operation, as well as the preparations made aboard for the berthing of the survivors. His letters show a man of tremendous compassion and common sense.

Loaded with photos from the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, as well as many from the Father Browne Photographic Collection, make this an indispensable read for anyone who is as obsessed with the Titanic as I am.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Enemies of the People" by Kati Marton

This is some book! It opens with the author, Kati Marton, a journalist and author, seeking information from Hungary about the events of her childhood and her journalist parents. She is warned by the case worker that she may not like all that she finds. Lucky for us that Ms. Marton forged ahead and delivers a gripping account of what happens when governments garner too much power.

Hungary at the end of World War Two was a country in the midst of radical changes. Before the war Hungary, especially Budapest, had been a cultural center. There were plays, movies, authors, great food and most of all, a belief in the future. When the war ended all that changed. The Russians were in control and the noose was tightening on all the social freedoms which we take for granted here in America.

Kati Marton was the daughter of Endre and Ilona Marton, two journalists who worked for the Associated Press and United Press, respectively. Endre's parents were Jewish and did nothing to hide that fact. Endre was the grandson of a Rabbi and a devotee of all things Western and he did little, if anything, to hide that.

When the war ended the Russians inherited Hungary as a part of their so-called "satellite" states. The intellectual and political freedoms which were once the norms of Hungarian Society began to fade away. Endre and Ilona Marton decided to ignore all this and continued leading open lives. They even owned an American car, a Studebaker, at a time when there were less than 2,000 cars in the entire country. Their children's clothes came from the hand me downs of the American Ambassador's residence. All this set them apart from the crowd. It also, undoubtedly contributed to their downfall.

When the Hungarian Government banned all foreign reporting, the Martons continued to show up for daily briefings at the American Legation. When the Communists ordered the Legation to cease showing American movies and hosting concerts, as well as shut the library, the Legation refused and the Martons, as reporters, continued to cover these events. This did little to elevate their position with the Hungarian government.

Kati and her older sister Julia, led a life of privlege amidst a background of increasing gloom as the Communists continued their march toward intellectual and political darkness. All around the Martons people whispered their private thoughts to one another. But the Martons kept on with life as if all this would soon pass.

When Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin died in 1955 many people expected that some normalcy would return to the Soviet Union and hence the "satellite" states. Nothing would turn out to be further from the truth. In 1955 Ms. Martons parents were arrested for "espionage", a convenient way to shut down the last remnants of freedom of the press. The children were present when the AVO (State Secret Police and sucessors to the earlier Arrowheads) came in the middle of the night to search the apartment and take the mother away. Their father had already been imprisoned.

To make matters worse, the family friends that had agreed to take care of their children if should something like this occur, backed out and left the children sitting on the sidewalk outside their home.

When Ms. Marton began this quest for the history of her family's ordeal she was told that she was opening a "Pandora's Box" and may regret what she learns. For instance, the file contains not ony the childrens artwork, but depositions by their nanny as well as neighbors. Her parents seperate affairs are recounted in detail in the reports of the agents assigned to watch them. There is no shred of privacy, or dignity, left intact. But sometimes things have unintended effects.

Ms. Marton is able to find solace in the fact that her parents were so human, that they were in some ways flawed. And she takes great pride in the fact that her parents fought, and paid dearly, for their beliefs. In the files of the Secret Police she finds descriptions of things she had forgotten. There are reports that showed how much love and attention the Martons heaped upon their daughters. Some of the most touching aspects of Ms. Martons childhood are restored through reading the files of the Secret Police. Talk about irony!

Eventually, by the early spring of 1956, her parents are released. The files show that the father had agreed to do some work for the Hungarian Government, but there is little evidence to support that he ever made good on that promise.

Eventually the family is reunited and they emigrate to America where Ms. Marton becomes an accomplished writer and author, as well as an award winning correspondent for NPR and ABC.

The lesson learned here is that sometimes the bad guys win, but sometimes they don't. There are no guarantees. But we all share a responsibility to resist the forces that attempt to divide and destroy us. It is evident today, even in America, that truth will always be under assault and that is the responsibility of us all to resist the forces that attempt to engulf the light of truth with darkness.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'm Amazed!

I was really amazed at the volume of people that hit my blog, commented/ sent me e-mails about yesterday's post. I really thought something was wrong with my counter! I am used to about 35 hits a day and today's count exceeded 300! I hope that I've gained a few more readers and it's not just a one day spike. In the meantime I'm finishing up reading a book that was supposed to be today's post.

It's a memoir written by the daughter of a news reporter behind the Iron Curtain in Budapest, Hungary in the years just after the Second World War and up through the Revolution of 1956. But that's tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Davidson Community School's Holocaust Memorial

I never know what I am going to do when I wake up each day. Aside from emergency situations that pop up here and there, I am largely at my leisure. When I read this mornings paper I saw that the Community School of Davidson was having a Holocaust Memorial Exhibit for the next few days. It sounded intriguing so I figured I’d check it out.

To begin with, I was kind of surprised that the Community School of Davidson would be having this event. No real reason for my surprise, I just thought of them as an elite school and accordingly, and incorrectly as it turns out, to place no real emphasis on social issues. I love it when I’m wrong. Leason learned.

These kids spent two weeks, or more, preparing the exhibit. Upon first entering you are given a guide, in my case it was Lauren Best, a 6th grade student at the school. She was animated and well informed in her presentation. The diagram shows the route and nature of the exhibits. The journey begins with Propaganda and moves onto Kristalnacht, the November 1938 “Night of Glass”, considered by many to be the beginning of the Holocaust.

From there the exhibit moves on to the Warsaw Ghetto, where in October of 1940 the Jews of Warsaw were restricted to a small area of the city and basically allowed to starve. The exhibit was done by creating a small alcove into a replica of a typical ghetto apartment. Remember, these kids were working with construction paper and magic markers, and yet the effect was claustrophobic. It was very effective work.

The Railcar was a particularly useful tool for realizing the cramped conditions and sheer inhumanity of the deportations. First there is a square foot marked off in the hall outside the exhibit into which you are asked to stand with 5 other people. That’s what the Jews experienced on their way to the concentration camps. It was unnerving for 5 minutes, think of the reality of it for an average of 2 days, without food or water. No sanitary facilities; stripped of all belongings except for the clothes on your back.

The Auschwitz Camp and Anne Franks’ hidden apartment were also displayed with great effect. The use of photographs and even laptops added to the availability of the presentations. The lighting was subdued and managed to add an appropriately tangible darkness to the subject.

There was a small exhibit about Oskar Schindler and Rabbi Gerber’s Red Shoes, as well as a section of children’s art depicting replica’s of the art work done by the children interred at the Terezin Concentration Camp.

This exhibit was important in many ways, but chiefly it was comforting to know that the Holocaust will not be forgotten, it cannot be ignored. And these kids prove it. My thanks to Davidson Community School for their efforts on behalf of tolerance. And thanks to Lauren Best for her time and a very insightful tour.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dubrow's - A Brooklyn Legend

Dubrow's was a cafeteria on Kings Highway and East 16th Street in Brookly, New York. It sat on the corner by the BMT elevated Subway line - an interesting combination in itself, an elevated subway. But that's Brooklyn for you. Along the BMT line were several stops going from Coney Island to Manhattan. And about every third Avenue was an express stop on the elevated portion of the subway. Kings Highway was one of those avenues and had lots of stores, just as the other express stops did. But it had one thing more. It had Dubrow's Cafeteria.

Dubrow's was a family owned chain of cafeterias, which were once in style all across America. You walked in, and got a ticket which got punched by a guy behind the counter when you got served. This was actually your check and you presented it to the cashier on the way out and paid for what you had eaten.

But really, Dubrow's was a place where people met and talked over coffee and pie in the late evenings, eggs and coffee in the wee hours returning from a concert, or occassionally, dinner. Their halibut was delicious, as was the creamed spinach.

Decorated in Art Deco style from the 1930's, it was the perfect place to hang out and kill time on a rainy night. As the establishment got older the patrons were treated to various activities that precluded food. Roach races were one of these pastimes. This consisted of sitting at your table, preferably next to a wall, and watching two roaches headed to the top of the wall. The stakes were small, usually coffee and pastry. Many a night I lost to Mike Held, who seemed to have a knack for picking the fastest roaches. I never figured out his secret...

It could also be the scene of danger and intrique. Drugs could be purchased on the opposite corner from some shady and wasted fellows. I was warned very early in the 1960's to avoid "hanging out" on this corner. At that time it ws a gathering spot for heroin dealing. This was about 1961. By the time the '60's had ended it was a place to meet your friends before heading to Manhattan for a concert, or just to hang out around the corner and smoke one.

It also served as a place where politicians met the public. Being by a major train stop was great for meeting a lot of voters at about 5 and 6 PM when they came off the train in droves! JFK spoke around the corner on East 16th Street in 1960, opposite the bakery that sat next door to the Waldbaums Supermarket. You can see the Bakery sign in the photograph. I saw RFK there in 1964 when he ran for Senator, Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968 when he ran for President, and John Lindsay both times he ran for Mayor.(He got booed one time for his handling of a strike.)

There was a famous holdup of the Cafeteraia in 1952, I wasn't there, but here is the newspaper article describing it;

$14,000 Taken In Hold-up

An apparently intoxicated man staggered up to the manager of crowded Dubrow's Cafeteria, 1521 King's Highway. Brooklyn at 12:45 o'clock this morning, took between $14,000 and $15,000, reeled out, and disappeared.

The victim was Max Tobin, 48 years old, manager and part owner of the restaurant, which is at East Sixteenth Street in the Sheepshead Bay section. He said 450 customers and 50 employes were unaware of the holdup in a balcony office.

Mr. Tobin said he noticed a man reeling along behind him as he went to a balcony but thought he was going to a washroom. However, Mr. Tobin said, as he unlocked the door to the office, the man bumped into him, knocked him inside, then produced a small black pistol and told the manager to sit down.

After taking the money from the safe the robber bound and gagged Mr. Tobin, said "So long" and left.

(New York Times, January 7, 1952)

The place was a Magical Mystery Tour for watching people. All kinds came and went at all hours. I know - I was there at all hours along with some of my friends. I think we used to go and watch the people who were often there to watch us!

There were several Dubrow's, all owned by the same family. There were two in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan and even another in Miami Beach for those retirees who got homesick. Even today, long after Dubrow's has disappeared (it was initially replaced by a Gap, but I'm not sure what's there now) people remember it with a fondness. Just google Dubrow's and open your senses to a time and place we will never see again. (They even have a blogspot) I'm glad to have been a part of the tapestry that was Dubrow's. Memories were made there.

Monday, May 24, 2010

TCM Archives - Forbidden Hollywood Volume 3

This video collection should be called the William Wellman Edition. It is 3 discs with 2 films on each one. All the films are directed by William Wellman and have social statements to make concerning the Great Depression.

The films are all Pre-Production Code (1933 or older) and none shy away from volatile topics, such as morphine addiction in "Heroes for Sale", which deals with a wounded World War One Veteran and his stuggle to regain a normal life. Just as they do today, the returning Veteran needed help. And just like today, he didn't get it.

Barbara Stanwayck gets more than she bargained for, but gives more than she thought herself capable of, in "The Purchase Price" which explores the still ongoing practice of mail order brides and women as a commodity.

Another one of these outstanding films deals with the subject of unwed motherhood in "Frisco Jenny." This is the story of a woman who, through a series of circumstances, loses custody of her son. He is raised to be a fine upstanding citizen and becomes Head District Attorney in San Francisco. He lands a big case involving a Prostitution Ring and murderess. The woman charged in the crime, for which he has asked the death penalty, is his mother. He can save her if she will cooperate - but if she does and reveals herself as his mother then his life will be ruined. She is a woman forced to make the ultimate choice.

But the real gem of the whole collection is "Wild Boys of the Road." This one deals with the issue of child runaways during the Depression. They would form whole communities, usually around railroad yards. They actually had elected officials and routine job assigments such as collecting trash and keeping the area clean. They were places of refuge for families displaced economically. In "Wild Boys of The Road" these scenes are beautifully and realistically recreated. And when the police are ordered to tear gas and kick them out of their makeshift homes, it gives you a fair idea of the injustices being heaped upon the average displaced American of the Depression Era. Just think of the Vetran's Bonus Army and their March on Washington. It happened in the same year that this film was released.

William Wellman was a maverick director who said on film what was in his heart. The films are a subtle form of leftist propaganda, to be sure. But the heart and soul of William Wellman will live on in his films for centuries. They portray hope for the Human Condition. They are testaments to "man's better angels". And besides that, they're damn good films.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"A Time To Betray" by Reza Kahlili

This memoir, written by a former member of Irans notorious Revolutionary Guard, illuminates the oft misunderstood period of the Iranian Revolution. He has used a "pen name" to protect the identity of his family. They now live in the United States.

Iran was, prior to the First World War, primarily a vassal state of Russia and England. The stakes were high, as the region is rich in oil. This vast reserve of oil has made Iran a pawn to many nations, including some of her own Arab neighbors. The 1980 war between Iran and Iraq is a prime example of the latter.

That war was largely the result of a power vacumn created when Ayatollah Khomeini returned from 12 years of exile in France to overthrow the government of the Shah. With promises of freedom and democracy, Khomeini was able to take over Iran in an Islamic Revolution that left the country in worse shape than before. Seemingly overnight, all freedoms of assembly, dress, speech and even the type of Islam practiced were affected. The death squads of the deposed Shah (SAVAK) paled in comparison to the new regime and it's Revolutionary Guards. When his own Air Force tried to oust him in a coup, Khomeini had every military officer in the country executed. This left his military in the hands of amateurs and gave great hope to Saddam Hussein in his desire to conquer Iranian oilfields. The war lasted 8 years with no clear winner.

The author spends his boyhood years in Iran with two close friends, Kazem and Naser. In this phase of the book he gives us a good bit of background on the political turmoils that led to the overthrow of the Shah. When the author goes abroad to study at USC in America he returns to an Iran that is vastly different than the one he left. He finds himself enthralled with the return of the glory of the Persian Empire. Under the leadership of Khomeini he is moved to join the Revolutionary Guards, planning to use his computer skills to further the Revolution.

Through a series of events, one of his boyhood friends, Naser, becomes a Mujahedin and therefore an enemy of the Ayatollah. He is executed. His other friend, Kazem, becomes a powerful member of the Revolutionary Guards. Kazem, like the author, is a true believer.

When their boyhood friend, Naser, is arrested and his sister and brother taken to the notorious Evin Prison, the author begins to feel his first doubts about the Revolution. He has been exposed to the intellectual freedoms of America and cannot understand the harsh treatment of human beings for "thought crimes." His education is just beginning.

When Naser's sister is raped in Evin before being executed (this is done to keep her from being allowed to enter Paradise) Reza vows to do something to alter the course of events in Iran. Under cover of his Aunt Gitta's illness in the United States, Reza is able to return there to help her. While in California he contacts the FBI and the CIA. He is then trained in London, where he goes on the pretext of visiting his in-laws, before returning to Iran.

Once back in Iran he begins his assignment, which consists of writing seemingly innocent letters to a relative in London. He is actually providing important information concerning the political situation in Iran, as well as laying out the power stucture of the Ayatollah's government.

When the author comes under suspicion he sends his wife and child to London to live with her parents. Eventually he joins them there and continues to work for the CIA. Tensions with his wife begin to mount and he realizes that he can never go home again. With this realization comes the knowledge that he is caught between two worlds. One is the world of terrorism, in which he is forced to play a part in order to keep his cover. The other world is one in which he is forced to betray his past and some of his family and friends. He comes to a conclusion; he is going to the United States with his family to live.

This book is an eye opening account of the forces that led to the Iranian Revolution and it's violent aftermath. It is also an insight into the dangerous games played by both sides in order to garner and retain power. A must read for those wishing to understand just how we got ourselves to where we are currently in the Middle East, particularly concerning Iran.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bottles and Old Houses

I was originally intending to review a book today. It's the story of an Iranian man who comes to America for an education. He then returns to Iran as a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. I actually began writing it, and I will, it's a great book, but I needed a break from his ordeal! So I went for a ride to clear my head.

There are several old houses peeking out from the overgrowth along Shiloh Church Road that I have been meaning to explore for about a year now. Something about the properties spell GLASS to me. And I was pleasantly surprised with this assortment of brown and green glass as well as an old blue cobalt Noxema jar. The planter is nice, too, but that's for Sue. So I was pretty happy with my catch, until I saw the BOX.

The box was staring at me and overflowing with papers that were dying to be unfolded and read. Onionskin, typewritten copies of legal papers, deeds, business correspondence and even a High School Diploma from 1952. But the best was this photograph. There are several other old ones similar to this, but this is the one I like best. It shows the porch still intact with the family all gathered together. Along with the glass bottles and letters it lends evidence that there was once a family that called this old house home.

You have to wonder about the things people leave behind when they leave their homes. Was there a death? Financial troubles? Did everyone simply just grow up and move away and move on, to newer and better lives? I hope so. But I will always wonder why they left so much of their history behind.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"To Dance With The White Dog" with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy

This is an absolutely stunning film starring two of the world's greatest actors, Hume Cronyn and his real life,off screen wife, Academy Award Winner Jessica Tandy. The story takes place at the time of the couples 50th wedding anniversary in 1966 Wisconsin.

When Cara (Tandy) passes away, Sam (Cronyn) has a hard time adjusting to the over attention of his chidren, all grown and married with children of their own. He encounters a brillant white dog one morning, which only he seems to be able to see. This convinces his children that the old man is nuts. But gradually, the dog reveals itself to all. It accompanies Sam wherever he goes, even on a trip to his High School reunion in Madison, Wisconsin. During this journey Sam gets hopelessly lost and begins to relaize that he is losing his hold on the world. Comforted by this thought, he releases the white dog from it's obligations to him, promising that they will meet again. Obediently, the dog goes away, as quickly as it appeared.

Sam finds himself desperately ill and summons his children (amongst them Christine Baranski in a role cast against her usual type) and tells them the truth about the white dog. It was Cara, their mother, who had come back to look after him. The children, of course, don't believe him, but then again, maybe there is a reason that they should.

Outstanding performances by all, with special mention to Esther Rolle(of TV's "Diffent Strokes")as the maid, and Harley Cross as the grandson, Bobby. Mr. Cronyn and Ms. Tandy are, as usual, pure poetry in their demeanor and delivery. (Can you tell that I'm a fan?) And the outstanding photography actually captures Wisconsin in the fall adding to a rich and multi-layered production.

The story of a subject not often explored,the one of aging, and how it affects us all,is gracefully and poignantly examined in this screenplay by Susan Cooper as taken from the book by Terry Kay. It is really a film not to be missed.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My First Libray - Kings Highway and Ocean Avenue

This is the Library on Ocean Avenue at the corner of Kings Highway in Brooklyn, New York, where I was raised. It's also where, at the age of 5, I got my first library card. And I've had one, or more, ever since. It's the first stop my wife, Sue, and I make when we move to a new town. It's where we register to vote and gain some sense of the town. Libraries are like that, they are, in their own way, the heart of any town.

Until I thought about it today, there were several things I didn't know about the Library where I grew up. I remember that I was fascinated with the flagpole at the Northern Entrance (left side) of the Library and considered the building itself to be somewhat of a temple. The process of getting the card was very simple, and still is, but the card was delivered with a solemnity that, in retrospect, fit the occasion.

Today while browsing about and thinking of Brooklyn, I learned quite a bit about the Library from their web site at;

But to make things easy for you, here is some of the story. The part I found most fascinating was that the branch opened on October 12th, 1954, just 4 days after I was born! I'm glad my parents got it done in time for me to learn to read. And I'll never forget my first trip to the Library.

Branch History

In the early days of the Brooklyn Public Library, many unstaffed deposit stations were established in stores and other facilities throughout the borough. The location of the Kings Highway station was probably unique: according to a newspaper report, in 1910, the library placed a collection in the undertaking establishment of a Mr. Cornell at Kings Highway and E. 12th St. After the undertaker's, the station soon moved to a shoe store. In 1912, the Kings Highway branch opened in its own quarters. The branch's new home, a little frame shack at 1508 Kings Highway, quickly proved too small for the reading public. Several additional moves followed. Finally, in 1952, a ground-breaking ceremony took place at the current Ocean Avenue site.

The new building, designed by architects Knapp and Johnson and constructed by the Department of Public Works, was the first branch library to be erected in Brooklyn by the City of New York. The official opening ceremony was held on October 12, 1954. The busy Kings Highway branch currently serves as a Reference Center, offering a wider range of reference materials than other branches. The branch has the highest circulation rates in the BPL system, serving a community that is notable for its thirst for books and information. Resources available include specialized encyclopedias as well as collections focusing on health, business, computers and literary criticism. The branch receives over 300 magazines, and hosts weekly programs for Brooklyn Public Library's Service to the Aging department. Through these and other resources and programs the Kings Highway Branch looks forward to serving the community for generations to come.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Buttonwood Tree - New York 1792

Today is the anniversary of the birth of the New York Stock Exchange. It began outside of 68 Wall Street with the gathering of 24 stock brokers who signed an agreement beneath the Buttonwood tree which stood outside that address. Across the street once stood the 12 foot high wall erected as a barricade against invasion by the Lenape Indians. This invasion never occurred and eventually the planks were torn up and used for building materials and firewood. The wall was completely torn down by 1699, however the street kept it's name. It would be almost another hundred years until the 24 original traders would meet and sign the agreement which became the stock exchange. That agreement stated;

"We the Subscribers, Brokers for the Purchase and Sale of the Public Stock, do hereby solemnly promise and pledge ourselves to each other, that we will not buy or sell from this day for any person whatsoever, any kind of Public Stock, at least than one quarter of one percent Commission on the Specie value and that we will give preference to each other in our Negotiations. In Testimony whereof we have set our hands this 17th day of May at New York, 1792."

These are the parties who signed the "Buttonwood Agreement";

Leonard Bleecker … 16 Wall Street
Hugh Smith … Tontine Coffee House
Armstrong & Barnewall … 58 Broad Street
Samuel March … 243 Queen Street
Bernard Hart … 55 Broad Street
Alexander Zuntz … 97 Broad Street
Andrew D. Barclay … 136 Pearl Street
Sutton & Hardy … 20 Wall Street
Benjamin Seixas … 8 Hanover Square
John Henry … 13 Duke Street
John A. Hardenbrook … 24 Nassau Street
Samuel Beebe … 21 Nassau Street
Benjamin Winthrop … 2 Great Dock Street
John Ferrers … 205 Water Street
Ephraim Hart … 74 Broadway
Isaac M. Gomez … 32 Maiden Lane
Julian McEvers … 140 Greenwich Street
Augustine H. Lawrence … 132 Water Street
G. N. Bleecker … 21 Broad Street
John Bush … 195 Water Street
Peter Anspach … 3 Great Dock Street
Charles McEvers Jr. … 194 Water Street
David Reedy … 58 Wall Street
Robinson & Hartshorne … 198 Queen Stree

Public trading had been going on in Philadelphia since 1790, but with no real written agreement amongst the brokers there. The first Publicly traded Securities offered in New York were $80 million in US Government Bonds to retire the debt from the American Revolution. The Bank of New York, as one of the first traders, bought some of that debt.

Trading has been going on since the earliest days of record keeping. Some of the earliest trades were done in cuneiform, which is considered to be the earliest form of writing. Around 3500 BC "bullae" became popular for the trading of commodities. These were small clay bags containing tokens used for accounting. The item being traded was displayed on the bag. It was often a depiction of something such as a sheep, or some other agricultural item, to denote the commodity being traded. The tokens represented the quantity being traded.

Later, in the Midddle Ages, Euro-Fairs came into existence. At these fairs items other than agricultural commodities began to be traded. It was around this time that Certificates of Credit came into use. These were the precursors to the Certificates of Ownership that would come into use in the 17th Century.

From these humble beginnings arose the Stock Exchange of today. There have been many ups and downs in the history of the market, and these ups and downs will likely continue for as long as man endures. Some notable firsts;

Bank of New York was the first trader.

Con Edison is the oldest and longest trader- established in 1824 as the NY Gas Light Company.

Ticker tape was introduced in 1867. The telephone came in 1878 and electric lights in 1883. The electronic ticker display board would not come into use until 1966.

In 1886 the daily trades topped 1 million for the first time. By 2007 it would exceed 5 billion per day.

The Stock Market drives the ups and downs of our economy and sometimes falls victim to itself. It reflects the public's confidence, or it's disdain, during times of crisis as well as in times of prosperity.

Like many Americans, I do not profess to fully understand it. And at times, like many Americans, it can make me angry. Someone blew it up in the 1920's. It crashed by itself in 1929 and then came back full force during the Second World War. To this day it continues to finance everything under the sun. Whether you like it or not, from the look of things, it's here to stay.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Jake's Corner" with Richard Tyson, Dianne Ladd and Danny Trejo

When ex-football star Johnny Dunn (played by Richard Tyson) retires to the small town he owns in the desert, the last thing he expects is to become a father. But that's exactly what happens to our hero when his brother and sister in law are killed in a car wreck. He becomes a father to his nephew Spence.

Initially he tries to pass the child on to his sister in law, who clearly has no room in her life for him. With 4 children of her own, she is living on the edge. But Johnny is a bar owner in a small desert town, unmarried and surrounded by a cast of characters that will astound you. (Watch for a great appearance by BJ Thomas) He is surely not the right person to raise a child.

But through this unexpected turn of events, Johnny and Spence, along with the people of Jake's Corner, are able to learn from one another something about life and what it means to be connected to one another. People needn't be related by blood to share universal truths. They just need to be who they are.

This is a superbly directed and performed movie, with a carefully nuanced screenplay which has been masterfully filmed.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Taking the Day Off - Gone Fishin'

It's 92 degrees at 11 o'clock in the morning. I'm taking the day off, just like the old man in this wonderful Norman Rockwell drawing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"A Measureless Peril" by Richard Snow

This book kind of ties in with the last one. I read them concurrently and was surprised at how many of the principals of the Second World War had played a large part in the First World War.

After the stunning German Naval Victory at Jutland in 1916, the German Navy did very little. It remained bottled up and neglected, until the point where crews were staging mutinies to avoid going back to sea. As a common soldier, Hitler detested the Navy, and as a Submariner so did German Admiral Donetz. He considered the U-boats to be independent of the Navy. When Hitler made him Admiral,he concentrated on the U-boats to the exclusion of the surface ships.In doing so, he effectively cut the German supply line to the outside world. That they made this mistake two wars in a row, and only 20 years apart, by neglecting their navy is astonishing.

The book chronicles the war in the Atlantic from January 1942 through 1944. Much of the action takes place off Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York where I grew up. No doubt this added to the allure of the book for me. I grew up on stories of ships exploding within sight of the beach and the U-boats that sank them. These stories, no doubt, fueled my desire to go to sea later in life.

It is also the story of the 5 individual U-boats that were doing all this damage 5 miles from our shore. The deprivation, the close quarters, all are written of here in detail, but with a writer's flair for the colorful thrown in. In addition the author manages to encompass the oft untold tale of the more than 40,000 Merchant Mariners who gave their lives transporting the goods of war to the European theater of operations. Without them we could not have won the war.

At the same time, the author is able to give us the history of the Lend lease Act and tell us how President Roosevelt, on the advice of Admiral Stark, met with Churchill and worked it all out. We would begin supplying the British, reducing our status as a "neutral" nation. As a consequence of this, the Germans would henceforth start sinking American merchant vessels. The last one before Pearl Harbor was the Rubeun James, in November of 1941. Woody Guthrie, a merchant seaman himself, wrote the famous song about the sinking, titled "Sinking of the Ruben James."

As if all this is not enough, the book is also about the birth of the modern anti-submarine technology that helped America win the Cold War over 40 years later. New weapons and ships needed to be designed, and built quickly in order for us to not lose control of the Atlantic for the re-supply of our troops. To do so would have brought the war to our shores, with longstanding consequences.

As a former member of the US Navy, and as a licensed Merchant Mariner, I can heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in either the sea, or history. It is obvious that I enjoyed this book.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"The Wolf" by Richard Guilliatt and Peter Hohnen

World War One was the last war which was fought with any "civility." The story of the Christmas Eve Truce in 1914 comes to mind. That was when the soldiers in the trenches began singing Christmas Carols and slowly emerged to share with one another, food, wine and photographs of loved ones. Several hours later they went back to killing.

But of all the stories from the Great War, the one that has always fascinated me the most was the story of the German Raider "Wolf." This was an ordinary freighter disguised as a neutral ship. She would plow the seas, making a 64,000 mile journey in search of ships to seize. The ships were emptied of anything that the Germans could use, the passengers and crew were taken aboard Wolf and the other vessel sunk.

The German Navy, after her stunning victory at Jutland in 1916, would be largely absent from the remainder of the war. The new submarines, or U-boats as they came to be known, were doing all the "heavy lifting" while the fleet remained in and around German waters. This was an extreme frustration to German Naval Officers, who finally hatched a plan.

This plan was mainly the idea of Captain Karl Nerger. He oversaw the upfit of the "Wolf", including large tanks for storing fuel. It was his intention to never touch land until his return to Germany. His voyage would last 444 days and take his ship to all corners of the world. She sailed, and prevailed, in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, seizing coal and provisions from all she encountered. By the end of the voyage she was carrying 400 prisoners. Some of these were men, women and children taken off the merchant vessels.

Being so long at sea there was some interaction betwen crew and prisoners. There were even some romances. There was also a "split" system for holding prisoners. After the first vessel is seized and sunk off San Francisco, the Captain of the stricken vessel along with his wife and daughter, are given a private cabin that had been the home of 2 Officers. But as the ship becomes increasingly crowded, things change. Captured ships crews are held below decks in deplorable conditions, while above deck the Officers and wives of the Merchant ships are treated well.

Laying mines and running British blockades are two more of the many perils which give this book the suspense and edge that keep you reading. Just one more page....

When the ship runs aground off of neutral Norway enroute home, things become chaotic. The neutral countries refuse to help her off the sandbar. They also refuse to help her with anything that might violate their own neutrality. This sparks an international political crisis. The passengers/prisoners are finally released and the ship eventually does make it back to Kiel. The followups on the various principals in this story are very intersting as well. Written in an easy and engaging style, this book will give you quite a ride into the past.

While the nature of war never changes, the nature of the people who fight them does. That is the sad lesson I have taken from this book.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Newspapers - Forums for Exchange

This is why I love newspapers. Ever since the first one rolled off the press several hundred years ago, people have been exchanging ideas and learning from one another. A large amount of this interaction has taken the form of "Letters to the Editor" - or in the case of the Charlotte Observer, the "Forum."

Last Sunday I read a Letter to the Editor with which I totally disagreed. Sitting down at my computer I tapped out a few words in response. Yesterday morning my letter appeared and I got to have my say. This is what it's all about, an exchange of opinions and ideas. No rancor or disrespect. Just two people differing, yet respecting, one another's opinions.

I called Mr. Kniegge last evening to let him know that while I do not agree with his opinion, I certainly respect it. He was unavailable and I spoke with Mrs. Kniegge. She assured me that they both felt the same way about it. And that was so comforting, to hear a voice of reason while all around us the Powers That Be do their best to pit us against one another. Lincoln said it best, "A house divided cannot stand."

Mr. Kniegge is a rare example of the ability to agree to disagree without rancor. The principles on which this country was founded will remain in force only as long as people like he and I can show tolerance for one another. Even when we disagree. Once again, it's all about respect.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Packers Pine Tar Soap - Treasure From a Yard Sale

This is the tin container for a 1939 bar of Packers Pine Tar Soap. I got it at a yard sale the other day for 50 cents. Prices range from $3 on E-bay to $32 on a vintage antique site. If you have the bar of soap that goes with it the price is dramaticaly higher.

I've never really been one for yard sales. But we were passing one on Sunday and the glass bottles and stuff caught my eye, so we turned around. I was attracted to this colorful little tin box right away. Of course it gave me a good excuse to google pine tar soap, which we never used in my house growing up,and until Sunday had never heard of.

Turns out that pine tar is a sticky substance produced by the high temperatures used to carbonize wood. The reason we carbonize wood is to make things such as charcoal and pine tar. I knew that charcoal is used for cooking but the pine tar was still a mystery beyond knowing that it was once used in soap.

Carpenters take note, pine tar is also a preservative for wood in harsh conditions. Ship decks and rigging are prime examples. If I had been born 100 years earlier I would know this from my time aboard ships. It is also a veterinary care product, being used for an antiseptic as well as hoof care. But wait... we're not done yet.

In the sports world pine tar is used to give the batter a better grip on the bat. There is actually a rule on this in Professional Baseball. Rule 1.10(c) of the 2002 Official Rules of Major League Baseball allows batters to coat the handle of the bat no more than 18 inches on the handle in order to get more "pop" out of a hit. There is actually a game known as "The Pine Tar Game" which took place between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees on July 24th, 1983. George Brett of the Royals hit a home run which put them ahead with a score of 5-4. Billy Martin, manager of the Yankees called a protest and the umpire nullified the hit. But the League President overruled the ump (didn't know he could do that!) and the game was rescheduled for August 6th. The Royals won.

Pine tar has also been used by pitchers in colder weather for greater control of the ball. The practice is illegal under 8.02 of the same Official Rules of Major League Baseball. Apparently what's good for the bat is not always good for the balls.

Well, I've gotten my 50 cents worth from this little treasure already. Even learned a few things, too. But I'll still keep it around anyway, simply because I like the way it looks.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Jade Buddha

The Jade Buddha is in Charlotte for the next week. It arrived here last week and is on display at Lien Hoa Temple on Lake Drive. The statue is only 10 feet tall but seems much larger. Made from 4 tons of jewelry grade Jade and adorned with a halo of gold gilt, the statue beams benevolently over all who come to view it.

The four-ton "Jade Buddha for Universal Peace" is being exhibited around the world on the way to its permanent home at the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion in Bendigo, Australia. The Buddha is worth about $5 million. Smaller ones for wearing are on sale for about $10 dollars.

The tour began in Miami on April 9th and was in Tennessee before arriving here in Charlotte last week. On Sunday it drew over 3,000 visitors. The Jade Buddha stops in each city for 9 days. On May 16th it moves to Worcester, Massachusetts. This is the link to the tour dates through 2011;

According to the Jade Buddha website the goal of the tour is as follows;

The purpose of exhibiting the Jade Buddha around the world is for everyone, irrespective of their religion, to take a moment to reflect upon peace; peace for the world; peace in their relationships; peace for their families and friends; peace at work; peace in their mind. We hope that such positive inspiration will bring joy and motivation in the lives of those who are able to see the Jade Buddha.

The statue has also previously been displayed in Vietnam and Australia. The sight of so many Buddhists devotees, as well as the smell of the food, both work together to put a smile on the faces of all who come to view it. And that's exactly the point of the tour.

Charlotte has quite an active Buddhist Community. Last year Sue and I went to see the Essences of the Dalai Lamas. That exhibit consisted of the remnants of the cremated remains of the past Dalai Lamas. When the body is cremated a small portion of bone, or metal and minerals, are left behind and these are called the "Essence" of the deceased. In the case of Dalai Lamas the remnants are considered sacred relics which contain wisdom. They are almost like jewels.

Another Buddhist event worth catching is the sand painting ritual. This tradition consists of groups of Buddhist Monks working in teams to create an intricate work of art. The colored sand is painstakingly applied through brass cones that are manipulated with a metal rod to allow the exact placement of each grain of sand in a pre-ordained traditional image. Upon completion this work is carried lovingly to the nearest body of water and thrown in, thus symbolising the impermanence of all things.

Events like these serve to hammer home the reality that we all must share this one small planet. And when you look around at the different faces and explore the different cultures you are helping to achieve that goal.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

McGill Rose Gardens - Charlotte's Secret Oasis

Just on the northern edge of uptown Charlotte there is McGill Rose Garden, filled with hundreds of different roses. It occupies about one half of a city street and sits near the auto scrap yards on one side, and at the edge of the Mass Transit Bus Terminal on the other. The fact that it is there at all is interesting enough, but the way it got to be there is even more interesting.

This is the history as per the brochure that is available at the McGill Rose Gardens;

In 1950, Henry McGill purchased a block of land that was home to a coal yard owned by W.A. Avant, owner of Avant Fuel and Ice Co. Henry McGill decided to keep the coal business running for a while afterwards. Helen McGill, Henry's wife, decided to beautify the area by planting two rose bushes. Helen eventually earned the title of "The Rose Lady" and added numerous rose beds over three decades. Henry lovingly maintained the the garden long after Helen's death in 1985.

In 1952, the McGill's opened the garden to the public for the first time on Mother's Day, and it was opened year round in 1967. The property was sold to the City in 1975 with stipulations; that the gardens would remain on the property, and that the McGill's would operate the garden on behalf of the City. Henry helped with the garden until his death in 2007 at age 103.

McGill Gardens, Inc, a 501(c)(3) non profit corporation was formed in 1996 to fulfill Henry and Helen's dream of keeping the garden alive for visitors to enjoy in the future.

The garden is lush and filled with over 1,000 roses and plants. They include native herbs and spices as well as 1,000 sunflowers each year which are havested and used to feed the birds at Presbyterian Hospital. The site includes a meditation garden for hospice as well as a children's garden for early exploration by tomorrow's would be botanists. Mixed in with this are various sculptures and statues that make gardening more that just about the flowers. The whole place is laid out with a casual indifference that only adds to its charm.

The garden is as large as it is dense, and at times it is easy to lose sight of the 65 story office buldings that sit less than 1/4 of a mile away. The area itself is, and has always been, industrial, so this Garden is somewhat of an Oasis. The varied landscaping, utilizing anything available, including this old railroad car, brings a new perspective to gardening. Daring to be different, while preserving the intended beauty, in the midst of an industrial area, is quite an achievement. To ensure that it is a gift that will keep on giving, long after you have gone, is quite a vision.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Rising Road" by Sharon Davies

America at the close of World War One was a diverse mixture of nationalities and religions. By the early 1920’s the Ku Klux Klan had re-organized and begun a campaign of xenophobia and hatred that spread across the land. At the same time there was a growing Socialist movement involved in labor organization. All this served to pit one American against another, either along the lines of religion or race, politics or money.

Beneath the emerging prosperity there was a growing discontent and intolerance for views that differed from ones own. By 1925 the Klan was marching in Washington, DC, unopposed, down Pennsylvania Avenue and past the White House.

Catholicism was under severe attack. Its adherents were likened to “cross kissers” and “papists.” Into this seething cauldron that was America in the summer of 1921, two people married. This seemingly innocent event would turn into a sensational murder trial involving the girl’s father, Edwin Stephenson,(a former barber turned lay minister)Reverend James Coyle,(the local Catholic Priest) and Hugo Black,(a KKK sympathizer who would go on to become a Supreme Court Justice.)

Ms. Davies has done the seemingly impossible with this book. She has at once presented us with a true life murder-mystery, as well as a complete and accurate overview of the social issues of the time. No easy task.

The two lovers who bought about this commotion are of great interest. The girl, Ruth Stephenson, a Protestant,who is fascinated by the Catholic Church, meets Pedro Gussman at the age of 13 when he is doing some work at her family's home. He is a practicing Catholic from Puerto Rico. He is 24 years older. This is a doomed relationship from the start. The three strikes of race, religion and age make it imposssible for the couple to begin dating a few years after they meet.

Added to this combustible mix is Mr. Stephenson's lack of work as a barber. After accidentally shooting himself in the foot he can no longer stand for long periods of time. He becomes a Protestant lay preacher. Birmingham was a thriving town where many runaways went to get married in civil ceremonies. Mr. Stephenson takes to wandering the steps of the court house in an effort to seek out and marry these young wayward couples in the eyes of God. This effort is frowned upon by the Reverend Coyle, who feels not only that his church is being cheated of the revenue afforded by these marraiges, but also that these marraiges are not valid in the eyes of God.

Ruth's growing relationship with Pedro only fuels her passion for the rituals of his Catholicism and she decides to convert and marry him in the Catholic Church. She is 18 and does not need, nor does she seek, her parents consent. This enrages Mr. Stephenson to the point of confronting Reverend Coyle on the porch of his rectory. What happens there triggers this sensational trial for the Reverends' murder.

There is no doubt that Mr. Stephenson did it, there were witnesses to the act. The trial, instead turns on the "why" behind the murder. Was Ruth brainwashed into becoming Catholic? Aren't Puerto Ricans merely light skinned blacks, as claimed by future Justice Black? And therefore not entitled to marrying outside of their race? The fact that Hugo Black would go on to become such a stalwart advocate of Civil Rights only makes the book more interesting.

The motivations of all the characters involved is mind boggling. Every one has an ulterior motive for the verdict they wish to see. Race, religion and politics, a volatile mixture back in the 1920's, has not changed all that much. The racists seek to keep another group down socially, while the religious crowd tries to force their particular God down your throat and the politicians attempt to walk a fine line, attempting to satisfy us all, on their way to higher office at our expense. One of the arguments presented by the Defense touches upon what would later become known as the "Miranda Decision", in which a defendants right to counsel is affirmed by the arresting authority. This was not done in Mr. Stephenson's case, and Hugo Black skillfully uses this argument to cast doubt upon the evidence for the Prosecution, which included Mr. Stephenson's confession on the night of the murder.

Mr. Stephenson is freed by a jury that takes it's course from the Bible, rather than enacted law. Mrs. Gussman never reconciles with her parents, citing "years of abuse" as her reason. This is a riveting book with applications to today's world and our continued division over these same issues.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Washington Said It - Don't Blame Me!

My recent Kent State Post got me an e-mail from my daughter, Sarah, which likened what I said to paragraphs 20-25 of George Washington's Farewell Address in New York at the end of the Revolutionary War. This was, to say the least, high praise indeed, coming from her. But, truthfully I had no idea what Washington said in paragraphs 20-25 of his farewell Speech. So I set out to rectify that, in case it should ever come up I want my daughter to think I knew all about it, but seeing as she reads this thing, I guess I'm not fooling anyone. But here it is, don't blame me, Washington said it- although I do tend to agree with him. Google the entire speech, it's worth reading as we plunge into a campaign year that is sure to be filled with venomous rhetoric and false allegations from both sides of the aisle. You'll find me sitting quietly by...

Paragraphs 20-25 of Washington's Farewell Address in New York

20 I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

21 This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

22 The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

23 Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

24 It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

25 There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

20 I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

21 This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

22 The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

23 Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

24 It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

25 There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Music in the Car - Paradise By Dashboard

My earliest memory of hearing music is at about age two or three. The record was Patti Page singing "How Much is That Doggie In The Window?" backed with "Tennessee Waltz", or Betty Hutton doing "Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief." They were both, as far as I remember, on 78's. I also recall my mother ironing to Dick Clark on American Bandstand in the afternoons. But my first encounter with true musical intimacy came about two years later, at the age of five, on the evenings when my parents would drive to Marine Park to play handball.

With little else to do, my brother and I would run around while our parents played. Then, as we tired out and it grew dim, we would go back to the car. Sometimes it was almost dark when my parents got finished playing and returned. But they seemed to sit there for awhile as it went from twilight to full dark. And the radio was always on, playing big band, pop, and even rock and roll. Between nodding out and waking up I would catch glimpses of my parents "necking" which always made me giggle. But beneath it all I was really listening to the music. The sound and imagery of those songs have stayed with me always. The intimacy of listening to music in the car is still my preferred mode of really hearing music.

What do you listen to in the car? This is a very revealing question. As with books on shelves, you can tell alot about someone from the music they listen to while they drive. Even with the ever present cell phone, the car is still the place where most people get to be alone with their thoughts and music or radio. This where I do most of my listening, in the car, alone.

Listening alone poses little risk of ridicule or embarassment. If I want to listen to "Cabaret", why shouldn't I? And if I want to sing opera off key and out of tune, like Al Pacino in "Serpico", I don't want an audience. Likewise with having to explain or defend my choices in music.

Lately I have been listening to things I download off You Tube. Converted into MP3format they make great companions on the road. I have bits of movie soundtracks-("Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!" from "The Treasure of the Sierra Madres")and the courtroom scenes from "Inherit the Wind" with Spencer Tracy and Frederic March debating, no, make that battling, with one another over Evolution. The fiery words spoken in that film are the actual words spoken by Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryant. I even have the original radio recordings from the trial itself for comparison.

I listen to off beat tracks like Hoagy Carmichaels "Lazybones" and Artie Shaw’s version of “Stardust.” I prefer live recordings, so I comb You Tube looking for things like John Sebastian singing "Rainbows All Over Your Blues" live on TV. I have the Charles Manson interview with Diane Sawyer. That's a hoot to listen to. "I'm an outlaw woman- I takes what I want!" I've got Merv Griffin's version of "Lovely Bunch of Coconuts"(following the Charles manson clips) and Pavarotti with James Brown dueting on "It's a Man's World" live in Italy. You just can't tell what's going to come out of my speakers. Sometimes even I get caught off guard!

I have Charles Laughton reciting the Gettysburg Address, Louis Armstrong being "Black and Blue", and Janis Joplin doing "Little Girl Blue" live on Tom Jones. I've even got The Smothers Brothers Show with Donovan from their 1968 show in the round. Also high on the list is the 1987 Austin City Limits "Writer's Night" with Roseanne Cash, Lacey J. Dalton and Emmylou Harris.

Most of my music is on Scanstiks (a 4 GB stick carries something like 60 hours worth of music) but I carry extra CD's with specific tracks on them and give them to people who ask about what I'm listening to. Kay Starr's "Wheel of Fortune" is currently the front runner in this category. So is James Brown's fantastic "Live at The Apollo." I think I have given away about 6 of each at this point.

Paolo Nutini is my current repeat CD- I let it replay several times before reluctantly changing it. These are all live tracks recorded in music stores and book stores like Borders. Incredible sound. Will Kimbrough's latest album "Wings" is also a recent favorite. But the best thing about my CD's are that they are unmarked- so even I don't know what's coming next. After a while, when I get to know the sequence too well, I just hit scramble. But usually by that point I have moved onto something else and have a whole new pile of CD's to play with. All unmarked.

So, I'm curious, what do other people listen to in their cars? I really do want to know.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kent State 1970 - When Everyone Went Too Far

There is a valuable lesson to be learned from this infamous photograph. It was taken, of course, at Kent State University on May 4th, 1970, a day when extremists on both sides, went too far. Democracy is a fragile vehicle. Tensions flare, rise up and sometimes die away. Sometimes there are changes left in the wake. Sometimes there are only scars.

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

Extremism begets extremism. History is filled with examples. We are living through some dangerous and fractious times right now. If you are for the current administration you are labeled a Communist, if you support the Tea Parties you are a Nazi. Interestingly, both sides, when taken too far, lead to the same thing, Fascism.

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

These are the victims of extremism. 4 young people, caught up in a sea of rhetoric, going too far and coming face to face with another group, equally caught up in their own rhetoric. When each side is so right, when each side claims the high ground, where do the little people go? When both sides cling so tightly to their beliefs, that they are willing to burn, or kill, the opposition, then it is time to step back and re-examine the cause.

In memory of Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandy Scheuer and William Schroeder I hope that we will all take the opportunity to look inside of ourselves and our respective political positions. And in tribute to these 4 young Americans, let's step back a bit from the edge of division and look to re-unite ourselves as a nation. I really think that is what these 4 victims of extremism would have wanted us to learn.

Monday, May 3, 2010

"Blues Story" - Shout Factory Anthology

This is a compilation of blues from the early 1920's to the mid 1950's. Music underwent vast changes in these decades. And Shout! Records has caught it all in this neatly packaged 2-CD set complete with a booklet outlining those changes in the years between the Roarin '20's and post war Jim Crow America.

The recordings are arranged in the order in which they were released. This lends a nice flow to the evolution of the blues sound. You can listen to each artist as they build upon one another in an ever expanding sound that has evolved into the blues of today.

Just a quick look at this playlist will give you an idea as to the scope of music this album encompasses. Beginning with some very early Mamie Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson, the 2 CD's take you through the entire history of the blues genre. Pinetop Perkins is represented well with his wonderful version of "How Long" and Big Joe Turner ushers in real Rock and Roll with his "Shake, Rattle and Roll", which really did shake and rattle the world of music when it was released.

The second disc begins with Muddy Waters doing "Hoochie Cootchie Man" and Little Walter doing "Rollin' and Tumblin'." It's interesting to note that Eric Clapton and Cream had mega hits with their version of these 2 recordings. The blues, it would seem, knows no lines of demarcation where race and generation are concerned.

The CD finishes out with Big Bill Broonzy and Mississippi John Hurt (someday I'm going to do a post just on him) and actually closes with Big Mama Thorton's "Hound Dog", which made Elvis Presley a star. And 15 years later Janis Joplin would transform Ms. Thorton's "Ball and Chain" into her own raucous pyschedelic version.

Like I said, the blues neither knows, nor respects, any boundaries. It is a link we all share. And that's why each generation keeps on re-doing these basic standards. They are as relevant today as they were when first released. BB King said it best -"Everyday I Have the Blues."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Facebook - They Finally Got Me....

This is my fifth grade class photo from 1965. I have just joined Facebook, which I vowed never to do, as I have too many mailboxes as it is. But it is pretty cool to suddenly appear in someone else's mailbox and say hello. I am surprised at the warm reception from people that I considered "unapproachable" at the time. And the photos that are being passed around - some of which you've never seen of yourself - make it even more surprising.

I finally caved in to join a memorial site for Michael Held at the request of John DiStefano. He is the only one that could get me to do it. Thanks, John!

Some of the people in the photo here I have already been in touch with, some I've never lost touch with. But to suddenly be linked back to all of the people you knew as a kid is simply amazing to me.

So if you recognize you in the above photo, please give me a shout. I want to collect the whole set!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Night at the Opera - Love American Style

Sue and I went to see an unnamed theater group tonight. They performed a play which shall remain untitled. It was horrible. It was 2 of the longest hours I have ever spent in the theater. During the intermission I was forced to seek "libation." This had some predictable results. It is only fair, at this point, to let Sue have her say and let you in on what it is like to be my wife of 24 years. That alone, baffles science. Here is her side, unedited;

The play tonight was a bit out of my comfort zone, aside from the subject matter, it reminded me a bit of the old Jerry Lewis movies, which isn’t my type of humor. It was performed well, the actors had the parts down and the play had a lot of thoughtful insights. But I could tell, even before the intermission, that Robert was struggling to stay awake, but I had no idea until after the break, the extent of his 'pain' with this play. We have seen a play,(and I only remember one) that was so bad, we left at intermission.

But this wasn’t a bad play, just a bit loud which it needed to be to portray the characters. The lights came on and it was intermission, we got up to stretch our legs and exit out to the lobby. I stood in line to buy a glass of wine and Robert headed out the door for some fresh air. The lobby lights were dimming as we found each other and got back into our seats. The first thing I noticed was that he ‘reeked’, eech! I quickly dug in my purse as the play began and found a piece of Dentyne and slipped it in his hand. He looked at me dumbfounded and slurred, "I smell?" This was just the beginning!! About ten minutes into the second act, his shoes were off and he was spread out every which way across the empty seats beside him, occasionally with a "huh", as he woke up out of his stupor and to sit up and than fall forward into his lap.

This was bad enough, a "Nick Nolte" scene to be sure, but then the floss came out and he started flossing his teeth - and not discreetly. I edged toward the end of my seat, away from him, but surely the audience behind ,beside and in front of us must have thought I picked up an inebriated homeless person. My vibes – and they were not good - were certainly sending messages his way and then a very loud scene in the play, almost sent him over the edge. Awaking out of semi-unconsciousness, I thought he was going to stand up and start screaming at the actors to "shut up."

Thankfully the scene and the play was coming to an end and we high-tailed it out of there quickly. No lingering this time though I’m sure that we were the topic of a few conversations on the way home. Note to self; after all these years together, if Robert asks at intermission if I want to leave – it means he does – so don’t hesitate – go and don’t look back!