Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween - Trick or Treat!

Happy Halloween to everybody. The Trick or Treating began at 6 and went on until 8. We had all sorts of ghouls and goblins. We even had some politicians and super heroes as well. Halloween is so much different now then when I was a kid. Gone are the days of "egging" passing cars and "chalking" the stoops of the folks who didn't answer the door. The kids now are almost always accompanied by adults. Too many "Nightmare On Elmstreet" movies I suppose. Today's parents tend to think that there is a real Freddy Krueger lurking behind every door.

When I was about 3 years old the TV station used to broadcast "The Wizard of Oz" every Halloween. And let me tell you, those Flying Monkeys scared the hell out of me! Come to think of it, they still do...

Some things never change, while other traditions come and go. Halloween seems to be here to stay. And I like that. The kids get to use their imaginations, and the adults get to have a bit of fun. Some of the grownups come along with their kids dressed as Stripers, Klondike Dance Hall Girls, French Maids and an assortment of titillating costumes. The men are usually dressed as, hmmmm.... I guess I'm too busy looking at the French Maids and the Klondike Girls. I wasn't going to dress up as anything this year, but at the last minute I opted to be a Human Pumpkin, as evidenced by the shirt I am wearing.

So, to all of you who are trick or treating, as well as those that are giving out the candy, Happy Halloween! Have a good one, a safe one and have some extra candy on me.

Kings Mountain

Sue and I went to Kings Mountain yesterday. Kings Mountain was the site of one of the smallest, yet most important battles of the American Revolution. There is no fort, or any other indication that a battle was once fought here, other than the Visitor's Center.

The importance of this battle has often been overlooked in classroom study of the war. But Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "This brilliant victory marked the turning point of the American Revolution." Thomas Jefferson put it more simply, terming it "The turn of the tide of success." In 1930 a huge 150th Anniversary was held with President Hoover in attendance and stating, "This is a place of inspiring memories. Here less than a thousand men, inspired by the urge of freedom, defeated a superior force intrenched in this strategic position. This small band of patriots turned back a dangerous invasion well designed to separate and dismember the united Colonies. It was a little army and a little battle, but it was of mighty portent. History has done scant justice to its significance, which rightly should place it beside Lexington, Bunker Hill, Trenton and Yorktown."

The Battle of Kings Mountain came about when it did, and where it did, due to two things. The first was the British belief that by invading Charleston, South Carolina and marching North, they would be able to split the Colonies in half, gaining control of the Southern colonies as a means of advancing North. The second, and more important reason is that the British had not counted upon the deeply divided loyalties that were in play at the time in the immediate area.

The battle did not really include any British "regular" troops beyond the 100 red coated riflemen from the New York Division. Instead, the 1,000 "Loyalists", or Tories, who gathered atop Kings Mountain on October 7th, 1780 were local farmers, hunters and other residents who did not agree with the cause of the Revolution. Under the command of Major Ferguson they encamped atop the spine of the mountain, taking the high ground, and thus the strategic advantage. A good plan. They wore buckskin clothing in lieu of uniforms and placed green sprigs of pine in their caps for identification.

Word spread quickly that the Loyalists had gathered atop the mountain and the call went out in all directions for local militia to gather and oppose the Loyalists. These were the "Whigs", and they wore strips of white cloth in their caps as a means of identification. They were under the command of Major General Nathaniel Greene and the rebels included John Crockett, father of Davie Crockett. This piece of petrified wood comes from the battlefield grounds.

The stakes were high, as General Cornwallis realized that if he did not gain control of the Colonies south of Virginia, the war would effectively be lost. Eight groups of rebels approached the base of Kings Mountain. These groups, of about 100 men apiece, would attack, each under it's own command. The Loyalists troops never even knew that Greene's forces were in place until 3 PM that day, when the Whigs charged the mountain.

More than even the Civil War, this battle pitted father against son, brother against brother, as the battle waged between those for, and those against Independence. In the Civil War, the enemy combatants may have been related by blood, but lived in different states. The Battle of Kings Mountain was neighbor against neighbor.

The fighting lasted slightly longer than one hour, when the Loyalist Major Ferguson was killed. The Patriots at first refused to accept their surrender, but eventually the skirmishes stopped and prisoners were taken. The Patriots held field Court Martials and even hung 9 Loyalists before sanity was fully restored.

There is no doubt that the American Revolution was a turning point in the history of the world. But walking through these woods on a clear and cool autumn day, it is hard to believe that these trees, and the quiet stillness in the air, were once wracked by the violence of war.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Indigo Girls - Closer to Fine

Sue and I just missed the Indigo Girls a few weeks back. I hate it when that happens! From the very first album these ladies have penned some of the best folk rock lyrics since Dylan. "Closer to Fine" is a perfect example. It is, at once, an accusation as well as a celebration. The former attacks all the established rules,while the latter highlights our abilities to overcome the obstacles which we often place in our own paths. Here's the lyrics, followed by a performance on "The David Letterman Show" in 1989.

Closer to Fine
(words and music Emily Saliers)

I'm trying to tell you something about my life
maybe give me insight between black and white
and the best thing you've ever done for me
is to help me take my life less seriously
it's only life after all

well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
and lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it
I'm crawling on your shores

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
there's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
and the less I seek my source for some definitive
(the less I seek my source)
the closer I am to fine
the closer I am to fine

and I went to see the doctor of philosophy
with a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
he never did marry or see a b-grade movie
he graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
got my paper and I was free

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
there's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
the less I seek my source for some definitive
(the less I seek my source)
the closer I am to fine
the closer I am to fine

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
to seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
and I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
and I went in seeking clarity.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
yeah we go to the doctor, we go to the mountains
we look to the children, we drink from the fountains
yeah we go to the bible, we go through the workout
we read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout
there's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
the less I seek my source for some definitive
(the less I seek my source)
the closer I am to fine
the closer I am to fine
the closer I am to fine
I'm trying to tell you something about my life
maybe give me insight between black and white
and the best thing you've ever done for me
is to help me take my life less seriously
it's only life after all

well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
and lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it
I'm crawling on your shores

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
there's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
and the less I seek my source for some definitive
(the less I seek my source)
the closer I am to fine
the closer I am to fine

and I went to see the doctor of philosophy
with a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
he never did marry or see a b-grade movie
he graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
got my paper and I was free

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
there's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
the less I seek my source for some definitive
(the less I seek my source)
the closer I am to fine
the closer I am to fine

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
to seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
and I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
and I went in seeking clarity.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
yeah we go to the doctor, we go to the mountains
we look to the children, we drink from the fountains
yeah we go to the bible, we go through the workout
we read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout
there's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
the less I seek my source for some definitive
(the less I seek my source)
the closer I am to fine
the closer I am to fine
the closer I am to fine

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Brooklyn Steel - Blood, Tenacity" by Frank Trezza

One of the best things about writing a blog are the e-mails you get from people you would ordinarily never meet. They can range from the famous, such as Tommy Chong or Olivia DeHavilland, to some contemporary authors and my main stock in trade, the ordinary reader. And all are of equal interest to me. I love the feedback. So, when I got an e-mail about the Brooklyn Navy Yard from Frank Trezza, I was immediately interested in what he had to say.

Mr. Trezza is the author of the book "Brooklyn Steel - Blood, Tenacity" which deals with the Brooklyn Navy Yard and it's struggle to survive the turbulent decades of the 1960's through the last days of the 20th Century. These are the decades in which shipbuilding took many great blows in an industry that harkens back to Colonial Days, when American made wooden ships plied the waters of the world, forging our new nation into a global trading partner.

At the end of the Second World War, there was no "bigger dog on the block" than the United States. We had just saved the world from a couple of brutal dictators and established Democracy in corners of the earth where it had never existed before.

In New York, at the 23rd Street Pier, sat the SS John Brown, a World War Two Liberty ship that served as a Maritime High School. My father graduated from her in 1948. Mr. Trezza would graduate from the same ship in 1971, as a Marine Electrician, intending, as did my father, to go to sea. Unexpected circumstances diverted them both from their courses.

In the case of my father, it was love which intervened. Having met my mother the year before he graduated from the Brown, he had a decided change of heart concerning leaving my mother alone. And she would not marry him if he went to sea. So that was out. In Mr. Trezza's case it was economics which kept him from shipping out. By the time that he had graduated from the Brown, American shipping had declined drastically, as it would through the 1980's. Shipbuilding was still an option, so Mr. Trezza took a job as an Electrical Engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The two main employers for shipbuilding there were Coastal Drydock, which handled the refit of my ship, the USS Milwaukee, and Seatrain, the company which hired Mr. Trezza.

The author recounts the days of working there in great detail. While recalling the constant safety violations, lack of proper equipment, Union goons who track the "bathroom" breaks of the employees, hazardous working conditions and local politics, Mr. Tezza has also written a vivid account of what it is like to raise a family while working under such harsh conditions.

In the effort to gain work at competitive prices, all pretense of safety and accountability are thrown to the wind by the shipbuilders, as well as the Unions, who are determined to keep the jobs in place that ensure the easy flow of Union Dues to the fat cats who sit at the top of the pyramid. As a former memeber of the National Maritime Union, I can identify with the frustation that comes with the realization that you have been paying dues to the very people who are doing their level best to forfeit your job.

By the time I entered the dry dock in the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs in 1980, I was already familiar with the grounds, having been there with my father during the 1960’s. He was like that, taking the odd drive and showing my brother and I the different aspects of the city. We roamed the Fulton Fish Market, which at the time was completely worn down and decrepit. We wandered Battery Park when the remains of the old Castle garden were still there, and rode the Staten Island Ferry, climbed the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. But nothing captured me like the aura of history surrounding the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

From 1801- 1966 this was the place where many of the great ships had been repaired prior to returning to sea duty. It was also the birthplace of countless other vessels, among them the hundreds of "Liberty Ships" that helped to win the Second World War. Located in Wallabout Bay, opposite lower Manhattan, this was where the Battle of Brooklyn was fought. The bay was where the British held Yankee prisoners aboard “prison hulks”, ships that were derelict and filled with rats and vermin. Most of the prisoners never left the “hulks” alive.

Mr. Trezza has a wonderful site for this book that deals more closely with the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Coastal Drydock, as well as Seatrain's history of their time in the Yards. This is the link;

In addition, he has posted 20 years worth of photos from the last 2 decades of shipbuilding at the Navy yard. This is the link to those photos;

Be sure to reference the Brooklyn Historical Society-Seatrain Collection. Mr. Trezza is currently working to establish a Museum, within the Navy Yard, that will showcase our skills,and history as Americans, of building ships; as well as to cast light upon the political weaknesses and calculated business moves, that came to desroy a once thriving industry. His story is a fascinating tale about one man's struggle to deal with it all, while still putting food on the family table.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Stalling For Time" by Gary Noesner

We've all seen them in action, on the news, in the movies, and even in books. But what's it really like to talk someone out of killing themselves, or someone else, and then, even if you succeed and they don't blow their brains out, you have to go home and relate to your family? How do you cope with the pressures of the job and then go home and do math homework with your kid? How do you make your family understand that what you do makes a difference? Do you really make a difference?

In this remarkable book, Mr. Noesner not only poses these questions, but answers some of them as well. And in between he treats the reader to an inside look at the thought processes taking place in the negotiators mind, as he spars mentally with people who are on the edge, and about to go over it.

Mr. Noesner has penned an engaging book about his life and career in the FBI. Starting out as a child, watching "The FBI" on TV, he was thrilled with the sense of Justice that permeated the shows. He became an avid fan of the Bureau. In 1972 he joined it.

Case by case, the author takes you from one tense and seemingly hopeless situation to another. Some are successful and everyone goes home alive. But, at other times, misjudgements are made, and the consequences can be devastating, not only for the deceased, but for the negotiator as well. When the dialougue breaks down, and a life is lost, these guys take it personally.

A very well written book concerning an often misunderstood group of dedicated professionals, this is a read you will remember. Not so much for the violence, as for the compassion and humane side of the Hostage Negotiator's profession.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Man On Wire" with Philippe Petit

So much has been written about the World Trade Center since 9/11. And all of it, has been sad, or negative, focused on the tragedy that occurred there that day. So, what a delight it is to watch a film that celebrates one of the most fascinating moments in the World Trade Center's History. The moment in which she became part of advant garde art through the daring of French "event" artist Philippe Petit.

I watched the WTC being built, along with my friends. We would take the subway and go to Manhattan, watching as the ground was broken and the towers began to rise. We were there for the Vietnam Protests, when the Carpenters came down into the crowd, swinging hammers while the police stood by with their backs turned. So, I have a lot of memories tied up in that building prior to 9/11.

On August 9, 1974 I was working at H and A Foods on Kings Highway in Brooklyn. The radio was on, as always. An announcement was made concerning a man "walking" a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center. At that moment, Harry, one of the owners of H and A Foods, came running downstairs from his office, screaming about what he had just seen/heard on TV.

This film deals with every aspect of that day. From the moment Philippe Petit read of the plans to build the World Trade Center, he dreamt of walking a wire between the two towers. The film contains footage of a young Philippe Petit learning to walk the tightrope with his girlfiend. He goes on to walk the towers between the bridge in Sydney Harbor, as well as walking between two towers in England. When he reads that the top floors of the World Trade Center have finally been completed, he goes to New York to plan his feat of artistry.

With some trusted friends, and lax security, he is able to get all of the gear up to the 104th floor of both towers. Now the wire must be sent over from one tower to the other. This is no small feat, especially while working under the cover of darkness with security patrols making the rounds!

The distance between the corners of the two towers was about 300 feet, but getting the cable across would take a cross bow in the dead of night to send the wire over. After loosing hold of the cable and then having to haul it back up by hand, Mr. Petit then waited for the day to dawn and the streets below to be filled with people before stepping out on his wire. This link captures some of the aerial footage taken by a traffic reporter.

When all was said and done, Philippe had crossed the wire 8 times, each time coming close to being grabbed by officers who were waiting at both ends. He would laugh, turn around and dance out to the middle again, sometimes even laying himself down on the wire. He swears that he could both "hear and feel" the crowd below, although he knows that this is not possible, merely a perception, a by product of the adreneline rush that came of his feat.

In all, Philippe Petit was on that wire for about 45 minutes, creating a living work of art, that, while fleeting and ethereal, is real enough to still be thrilling today. This is the way I prefer to remember the World Trade Center. As the work of art that it was.

This film captures all of the excitement that was New York in the 1970's. It also captures the thrill of Philippe Petit. Eventually he comes off the wire, is arrested and taken to Beekman Hospital for a pyschiatric evaluation. He is found to be sane, charged with Trespassing, fined $25 and ordered to give a children's performance in the park for his crime.

This film will take some of the sting out of 9/11 if you let it. When we had it, we had it good. When Philippe Petit did what he did, he did it for all of us. Until I saw this film I never really understood "living art." Watch this film at night before going to sleep - it will affect your whole outlook the next day. That's what this film did for me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The ERA, the 14th Amendment and Why You Should Care.

Did you think that the Equal Rights Amendment, or, ERA, was passed? Do you understand the connection between the threat to Roe V. Wade and the looming fight to overturn the 14th Amendment to the Constitution? Did you even know that such a movement was afoot? Join the amazing number of Americans who have no idea what is in store for them in the near future. First, as I love to say, a little background;

The Equal Rights Amendment, was first proposed in 1923 and was to have stated that women have equal rights under the law. It didn't make it. Fast forward about 48 years to 1971. With an election looming ahead, and Roe V. Wade on the Supreme Court calendar, something needed to be done to ensure the female vote, for the sake of both parties.

The ERA passed from Congress, to the Senate for Ratification, in 1972. It has since been ratified by only 35 of the 38 states necessary to comprise a two-thirds majority and become law. So, with the assent of only 3 more states, women could become full Citizens by Law. It would be the 28th Amendment to the Constitution.

Quick question; why hasn't this been done in the 38 years since the passage of the Bill by the House? Quick answer; I don't know.

Now, for the connection to the 14th Amendment; Have you read, or heard, that some Candidates for Congress, and even the Senate, are talking about repealing the 14th Amendment? That's the pesky little "Reconstruction Era" Amendment that says the following;

Section. 1. "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

This Amendment has other components, but it is the first section with which we are really concerned. The whole Amendment was passed amidst much confusion about which of the former Confederate States really had the right to cast a vote on the bill at all. Remember, at that time, and until the passage of the 17th Amendment by Congress in 1912, and later Ratified by the Senate in 1913, the Senators were appointed by the Governors of their respective states. At the time, several of the former Confederate States were still under Federal Jurisdiction, thus calling into question whether or not they had the Right to Representation in Washington. The same held true for the District of Columbia, which had no Right to Vote until the 23rd Amendment was Ratified in 1961. To this end, the bill was rejected several times, until finally on July 28th, 1868 the Secretary of State declared it Ratified by Proclamation. So,that Amendment,on which so many of our Civil Rights are founded, is based on shaky ground. Although long considered "settled law", it is apparently under attack in some quarters. This bodes ill for many of the so called "special Interest" groups. Women are amongst them.

Your Right to Abortion is at question, based on the actions of those who would repeal the 14th Amendment. So is the Miranda Ruling, which has already taken a hit at the hands of an increasingly Conservative Court. The Federal Voting Rights Act of 1964, the 24th Amendment, would be in jepordady, as has been demonstrated recently by the actions of several Candidates for Public Office. These proponents of the Move to Repeal the 14th Amendment, state a "return to states right's", as their motivation, but there is something more foul afoot here, at least in my estimation.

At any rate, if I were you, I would be calling my local representative concerning getting that ERA thing ratified as the 28th Amendment, before they knock down the 14th Amendment. I don't really think their efforts to Repeal will be successful, but still, you've been waiting 38 years for the ERA to be Ratified, and most women aren't even aware that it never was. That should trouble you, my 14th Amendment ramblings notwithstanding.

The real pity of this whole thing is that the Equal Rights Amendment was sold as a "Women's" issue, kind of like a "chick flick." But in reality it covers all. Here is the text of this very brief, yet important Amendment;

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Wow! This would cover Gay Marriage, Transgender, even the flawed policy of "Don't Ask, Don't tell" would fall under this Amendment. No wonder they have swept it under the rug... So, if this issue concerns you in any way, and it should, then you need to get on the phone and make your voice heard.

Here is a list of the States that have NOT Ratified the ERA, there are 15 of them. Remember, you only need three and the Vote can be called by any state, at any time, as the Bill has already passed the House.

North Carolina,
South Carolina,

And here is a great Resource site for this issue;

Monday, October 25, 2010

Smiley's People?

These guys were in our mailbox Saturday. They were sent by some agency that got our name from another agency, who got our name from some other agency to whom we may have contributed to a very long time ago. And that is why we have scads and scads of return address labels and flag stickers, etc. I'm sure most of you are acquainted with these items, having received them in your own mailboxes.

But these guys have me stumped. What are they supposed to represent? Why is one row composed of stripped Smiley's? Why are the third and fourth rows winking at me? Are the guy Smiley's Gay? Are the female Smiley's on the make? And the last row- what did he just get away with? He looks like a winning politician the morning after the election.

When I was a kid we got stuff from the Indians out in Arizona. Beaded stuff, and Plastic Crosses along with statues of the Virgin Mary. And we even got little stamped coins from the Indians which carried wise old Indian proverbs and were supposed to be lucky. We even got thermometers in the shape of Totem Poles. I can't believe my folks were annoyed with that stuff. It only cost a nickel and was really exotic to me as an 8 year old.

Hey, I'll trade you these Smiley stickers for one of those old plastic Indian thermometers. But, just tell me one thing, how did they ever get them through the mail without breaking?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

2nd Annual Fall Festival - The Villages of Skybrook North

The Village of Skybrook North, where I live, held it's 2nd Annual Fall Festival yesterday. It was a perfect day, clear and sunny, about 70 degrees. In addition to the float thing pictured here, there was barbecue, provided by Troutman's BBQ, and various dishes and deserts made by the people, some of whom I actually knew, of the neighborhood.

At this time of year, as the days turn into nights so quickly, it's great to see all the neighbors planning Hallowen stuff for the kids. This year some of the neighborhood children will gather at a neighbors house for a pre Trick or Treat Party. There, they will be stuffed with things to prepare them for the yearly blitz of candy.

I'm a loner by nature, so I usually show up late for these things, and even then I don't stay long. But a word of thanks is in order to those neighbors, my wife Sue included, for taking the time, and caring enough, to keep all the neighbors engaged with one another. It makes all the difference in the world. It is the choice between merely living in a neigborhood, versus co-existing as a community. We prefer the latter.

More pictures posted by Sue at;

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Blue Skies" / Day Off

The skies are a perfectly clear blue and it is a beautiful fall day. So I'm taking a day off. Nothing to do, just a day off. I feel like that old Irving Berlin song that Al Jolson used to sing, "Blue Skies." I'll see you tomorrow or Monday. I promise. Thanks!

Blue Skies

I was blue, just as blue as I could be
Ev'ry day was a cloudy day for me
Then good luck came a-knocking at my door
Skies were gray but they're not gray anymore

Blue skies
Smiling at me
Nothing but blue skies
Do I see

Singing a song
Nothing but bluebirds
All day long

Never saw the sun shining so bright
Never saw things going so right
Noticing the days hurrying by
When you're in love, my how they fly

Blue days
All of them gone
Nothing but blue skies
From now on

I should care if the wind blows east or west
I should fret if the worst looks like the best
I should mind if they say it can't be true
I should smile, that's exactly what I do

Lyrics are © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Tales of the Black Widowers" by Isaac Asimov

When this book first came out in 1974 I was blown away. I have always been impressed by authors who are able to break out of their respective modes. In this vein, H.G. Wells comes to mind. From his "History of the World" to his fantastic fiction, some of which would someday come to pass, he managed to span the worlds of science fiction and real life. And we are the richer for it. Isaac Asimov is an author in the same vein.

From his well known works of Science Fiction, and on through to his Autobiographies, his writing knew no bounds. And when he delved into mystery, well, we were all in for a treat.

This book, the first of 6, deals with a group of elderly gentlemen, who gather once a month, at a restaurant, to solve any current mystery that may plague one of it's members. The only rule is that the crime must be solved that evening, at the table, using only logic and a knowledge of trivia.

With the success of this first book, Mr. Asimov launched a series that eventually came to comprise the 6 volumes of these most unusual stories. In the later books, members bring "guests" with them to the dinners. These guests are a combination of people, who like the Black Widowers, have mysteries of their own, which they need help to solve. And, of course, there are a few skeptics along the way.

A fascinating departure from one of America's greatest Science Fiction writers, this book, along with the 5 subsequent volumes, kept me company many a night when I first read them. I'm not sure what happened to the other 5 volumes, but this one is still with me. Two of the others were lent out, while two others succumbed to the ravages of more than 3 decades. As for the sixth and final volume, I'm thinking of hosting a dinner to try and solve the mystery of it's disappearance.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Seven Days In May" with Frederic March, Kirk Douglas, and Burt Lancaster

Director John Frankenheimer had his pulse on the State of the Union when he directed this political thriller set in the White House amidst the height of the Cold War. Coming, as it did, on the heels of his 1962 release of Richard Condon's "Manchurian Candidate", these two films are a blueprint of what was happening in Washington during those years. President Kennedy watched "The Manchurian Candidate" at least three times in 1962 and 1963. When "Seven Days In May" was being considered for production, the President went so far as to phone Kirk Douglas, urging him to make the film.

Briefly, this film concerns the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military group which surrounds the President and advises him during times of National peril. They wield enormous power. Although by theory they serve to implement the President's decisions, the possibility always exists that they have the capability to assert the ultimate control in the form of a coup. Most people think that this can never happen here in America, while some think that it has already happened, at least once.

In reality, this film was made during the time that President Kennedy was pushing through his landmark Test Ban Treaty in the summer of 1963, shortly before his assassination. In the movie, the President is making the case for a Test Ban Treaty while under pressure from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who not only oppose the President, but in some cases actually question his motivations.

When an alert Officer, Colonel Casey, played by Kirk Douglas, accidently comes across some things that make no sense, he begins to piece together the plot that is being assembled by fellow Officer General Scott, played by Burt Lancaster. When Casey approaches the President with his suspicions, the President, played by Frederic March, is skeptical. But when all the facts are gathered before him there is no denying the obvious and the President is forced to act.

Edmund O'Brien is brilliant as the Southern Senator Raymond Clark. With his love of whiskey and spot on impersonation of a Southern Senator, he lends a sense of outrage to the plot that would destroy our system of government.

This film, along with The Manchurian Candidate" (the 1962 version) both shed light on what was really happening in the early 1960's in relation to the Cold War and our own politics here at home.

Monday, October 18, 2010

"Angels With Dirty Faces" with James Cagney, Pat O'Brien and Humphrey Bogart

This is one of the all time great gangster films. The incredible screen chemistry of James Cagney and Pat O'Brien (two very close friends in real life) along with the rough edged performance of Humphrey Bogart, make this film worth watching time and again. And there is always something new to be noticed with each viewing.

Briefly, the story concerns 2 young boys in the slums of New York during the 1920's. They go to church together, even sing in the choir. But outside of church they are caught up in the petty thefts that are necessary to survive. When Rocky Sullivan (played by Cagney) and the future Father Connolly (played by O'Brien) are caught breaking into a freight car to steal a load of fountain pens, Rocky goes to Juvenile Hall, while the future priest manages to escape. This single event sets the stage for both of their futures.

Rocky goes to reform school, where he gets a real "education" in the ways of crime. His pal goes on to become a Priest, serving in the parish where they both grew up. Rocky, has, by this time, embarked upon a life of crime that has him in and out of prison. He becomes a "name" in the daily papers. The neighborhood kids, where Rocky and Father Connolly grew up, see him as the guy who "made it big." This makes Father Connolly's job, trying to teach the kids moral values, that much harder to accomplish.

When Rocky returns to the neighborhood to live, he repeatedly offers the greeting "Whaddaya hear, whaddaya say?" to Father Connolly. In real life Cagney picked this phrase up from a bookie who hung around 1st Avenue when he was growing up.

The kids, Leo Gorcey and the rest of the "Bowery Boys", aka "The Dead End Kids", now give up on the church, turning instead to the pool room for their education. Their new found freind, Rocky, has stolen Father Connolly's "flock." Father Connolly asks Rocky to stop inspiring the boys, and finally lets him know that freindship is no longer a barrier in his quest to clean up the crime and corruption that plagues the city. Rocky agrees, thinking that "nothing will ever come of it."

Knowing that Father Connolly has been trying to build a gym for the boys, Rocky donates $10,000 anonymously to the fund, only to have Father Connolly return it as being unworthy. Interestingly, this $10,000 represents one tenth of the $100,000 which Rocky has extorted from Bogart. In other words, he was tithing 10% of his take to the church.

When the crime commission, at the direction of his pal Father Connolly, indicts Rocky, a contract is issued on the life of Father Connolly. But loyalty between friends runs deep, and Cagney cancels the contract in a very permanent way. Wanted now for murder, he is a fugitive caught in a web of his own design.

The warehouse scene, where Rocky is finally apprehended, is a movie legend of sorts. When the police are firing those Thompson machine guns at the window where "Rocky" is standing, the bullets are real. You can actually see the shattered glass shards on Cagney's hat and shoulders. According to Cagney, the shots were so close that this was the last time he would consent to live fire sequences in any of his films.

Rocky is captured, tried and sentenced to death in the electric chair. This leads to one of the all time greatest of movie endings. Father Connolly comes to see Rocky just before the execution, asking him to fake cowardice on the way to the chair. Only in this way can he make the boys understand the false bravado of criminals and that crime never really pays. Cagney is incredulous at this request and refuses his old friend, stating, "You're asking me to give up the last thing I got left!"

When the Warden comes with the guards to escort Rocky to the death chamber, Father Connolly walks alongside of him and pleads one last time for Rocky to "turn yellow." Rocky still refuses and stoically enters the last room he will ever see in this world. This is the payoff scene. Silhouetted against the wall, the viewer sees Rocky grasping at the radiator, the legs of the guards, in short, at anything that he can, while screaming "Please, I don't want to die!" Sobbing and struggling he is strapped into the electric chair. The switch is closed and the lights dim. Rocky is dead.

Father Connolly returns to the neighborhood, where he finds the boys in the cellar which they use as a clubhouse. They are reading the newspaper account of Rocky's death and refuse to believe that he died "yellow." Father Connolly, although doubting that Rocky had really turned "yellow" at the last minute, tells the boys it's true. He then asks them to come with him to the church and "say a prayer for a boy that couldn't run as fast as I could." The movie closes leaving the viewer to decide whether Rocky was faking his cowardice as a favor for Father Connolly, or if he really did turn "yellow."

This film was nominated for 3 Oscars and garnered Cagney the New York Film Critics Award as Best Actor for 1938. Seventy two years after the fact, this film remains relevant and inspiring. The clothes are different, and the cars are old, but the social problems outlined in the film are still with us. And that's what makes this film so worth watching.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rooftop Meets David V. Herlihy

I don't often get to meet the authors of the books I review. I do get e-mails from some about the reviews I post, but it's a rare treat to meet one in person. Today was an exception. David Herlihy was here in Charlotte, promoting the second of his books on bicycling, "The Lost Cyclist" which I reviewed here in August. It was real treat.

He is currently searching for that bit of inspiration to embark upon a third book about bicycling. His first book, "Bicycle: The History", was met with much acclaim upon it's release in 2006. It deals with the invention and development of the bicycle. I have not read it yet, but will do so shortly. The latest, "The Lost Cyclist", was released this August and is doing rather well.

Let's hope Mr. Herlihy finds that spark of inspiration soon, so that he can begin work on the next book. Meanwhile, here's a re-run of the August review of "The Lost Cyclist". It's a book well worth reading.

In 1952 a man named William Sachtleben walked into the Alton, Illinois office of the Evening Telegraph. He was greeted by the Editor who had not seen him for over 50 years. Mr. Sachtleben was the man who completed a trip around the world, by bicycle that was begun in 1892 by Frank Lenz of Pittsburgh. Mr. Lenz perished somewhere in Armenia under mysterious circumstances in 1894. It is believed that he was murdered there. Mr. Sachtleben, a friend of Mr. Lenz’, actually went to Turkey seeking justice for his colleague. But let’s begin at the beginning…

Mr. Lenz was a bicycling enthusiast in the age of the high wheelers. These were the 6 foot tall, hard rubber tired cycles that were so popular beginning around the 1870’s. These cycles were powered by pedals attached directly to the front wheel. That was “direct drive”, which although simplistic in its form, allowed a hearty rider to attain some serious speed and distance. A wheel which is six feet in diameter will cover considerably more distance with each turn of the pedal than a modern bicycle could, were it not for the addition of “gears.” But falling from these older contraptions could be serious, and in some cases fatal.

In the 1880’s people began to experiment with what came to be known as the “Safety” bike, which is the forerunner of today’s bicycles. They look identical, were made of tubular steel, had chain and sprocket drive, inflatable tires, front and rear breaks, reduction gears and were easily mounted due to their height of approximately 36 inches atop two 27 inch inflatable tires, as compared with the 6 foot high cycles of the earlier years. After mastering the art of the 6 foot high cycles in races and road trips, Mr. Lenz was more than eager to plunge head first into these new “safety” bicycles.

Continuing to run in local cross country races during the 1880’s, he came to the attention of the public, who responded enthusiastically to this new sport. So, eventually “Outing Magazine” sponsored a bicycle trip around the world, and Mr. Lenz was hooked.

The round the world trip had already been done on a 6 foot cycle by a man named Thomas Stevens. I’d tell you more about him but don’t know that much beyond what I have read in “The Lost Cyclist.” I will google him later, on that you can be sure.

Frank Lenz began training for this eventual race with a partner named Petticord. They took several road trips, one down to New Orleans in 1890 and another one to St. Louis. Being an amateur photographer allowed Mr. Lenz to photograph the trips. Using a cord that ran to the camera’s shutter he was able to capture images of himself and Petticord sitting atop boulders, lounging in a hotel room and even along the roads.

In May of 1892, Mr. Lenz finally left his job as an accountant to embark on this amazing journey, from which he would never return. But along the way he filed articles with “Outing Magazine”, so we have a pretty good idea of what his journey was like.

He traveled East to West from Pittsburgh to San Francisco, where he caught a ship to Hawaii. From there he shipped to Japan and then on to China and Burma. This journey would be difficult even today. Making this trip in 1892 is mind boggling. From Burma he went through India and across present day Kuwait, Iraq, Iran and there his trail ends. He had shipped his trunks ahead to Constantinople, where they were later recovered by his friend William Sachtleben. But Lenz himself never did arrive there.

The book has an abundance of photographs, some taken inside the Coliseum in Rome, wearing a Pith helmet as he arrives at the gates of Tehran, and others of Lenz standing with some Chinese on the way to Peking. The Chinese were especially enamored of his bicycle, and though there were several unpleasant incidents while traveling through the country, he found the Chinese, on the whole, to be quite gracious and accommodating. When he disappeared, presumably in Armenia sometime in 1894, “Outing Magazine” sent William Sachtleben to find him.

When he arrived in Turkey, he landed in the midst of a very tender political situation concerning the Turks and the Armenians. Having no luck with the American Minister there, a former Confederate Colonel, named Alexander Terrell, who can only be described as arrogant and lazy, he turns to a Canadian Missionary named William Chambers, who had based himself in Erzurum province, where he had founded a missionary school and a church.

Making the task more difficult was that Armenia, especially the area around Bitlis, had been sealed off by the Turkish Government. This area was the site of some of the worst ethnic violence in the history of Turkey, culminating in the “ethnic cleansing” of some 15,000 people by the following summer of 1895.

That he was able to track Lenz at all is somewhat of a miracle in itself. That he was able to figure out what happened to his friend is incredible. His attempt to prosecute those whom he believed to be behind Lenz’ disappearance is amazing. Of the 5 Kurds who were accused and imprisoned for the killing of Frank Lenz, two perished in prison, and the others have gone missing in the annals of history. That Mr. Sachtleben did not succeed in his effort to seek justice was predictable, but no less admirable for his having made the effort.

He also went on to complete his friends journey, traveling through Turkey, amd on through Europe, then crossing the Atlantic before riding back into Pittsburgh the following year. This book is a testament to the Human Spirit and those who dare to go where no one else has gone before. Without them the world would be a much different, and less vibrant, place in which to live.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Seized" by Max Hardberger

This book is a page turner. Every word rings true, from the Foreword to the very last page, this one will have you amazed at what takes place where ships are concerned. Written in an informative and quickly paced manner, the author offers up a treasure trove of adventure on today's high seas.

Having been a Third Officer myself, I identified with every port of call in this page turner. The phone calls summoning you back to sea, the leaving of friends and loved ones, it's all here.

Mr. Hardberger has some fantastic stories to tell. This is a man who steals ships back from unscrupulous shipyards for a living. When a ship is put into drydock for a repair, the ownwer gets an estimate of the cost. In most countries there are laws pertaining to cost overruns. But in some third world countries there are no rules. Anything goes. Such is the case with a ship that Mr. Hardberger takes back from a shipyard in Jamaica, where the owner was given an estimate of $300,000 and the ship is being held for $1 million.

Assembling a crew and an ocean going tug, the author sneaks into the shipyard at night. Carefully calculating the wind, current and tides he cuts the mooring lines and lets the ship drift out into the channel and on into International waters, where they are met by the tug and crew.

This is just one example of the ingenuity and daring that is required of this sort of work. The author also emplys the use of his wife and family in this account of his work. This lends some real humanity to the narrative, as we can all identify with being away from our loved ones and the tensions that often accompany such absences.

The dangers aboard ship are not ignored here, as the author describes the perils of lines under tension and the injuries, and sometimes deaths, that can accomany a single mistake.

This is a perfect read for anyone who is wishing to lose themselves in tales of the sea. And the fact that they are true and contemporary, make the reading all the more exciting. Well done, Mr. Hardberger!

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Limelight" with Charles Chaplin and Claire Bloom

This film is Charlie Chaplins "swan song." He plays Calvero,a has been vaudevillian who comes home inebriated one day to find Terry, a fellow lodger played by Claire Bloom, has attempted to commit suicide. The landlady wants her out, Calvero wants her to stay. He takes her in to his room and nurses her back to health and a career on stage as a dancer. But, predictably, Terry's career rises as Calvero's falls.

As Terry falls in love with him Calvero reasons with her that their ages must keep them apart. The past is gone now and the present and future must hold forth. But he still wants that old feeling of being on top, even just one more time. Terry becomes the vehicle for this success. Along the way you will see him imitating a rock, a tree, a flower, etc. The "Phyllis and Henry Circus of Fleas" is a wonderful number, performed with vocals by Mr. Chaplin. The use of his body to convey an image, even while speaking, is still remarkable today.

The most interesting thing about this movie is the sound. It exists where you least expect it, and at other times is lacking where it "normally" should be. For instance, the street scene at the beginning of the film is silent. There are children playing and horse carriages roaming the streets, yet the only sound heard is the organ grinder and some faint background "noises."

Brilliant support from Buster Keaton and Nigel Bruce, and absolutely flawless direction and writing by Mr. Chaplin, all come together to make this the definitive film of Mr. Chaplin's long career. During the scenes where he has gone back to being a street clown and passing the hat for tips, he remarks, "I don't really mind the streets. I suppose it's the tramp in me."

I haven't seen this film in over 35 years. I just wish I knew why.

Two Poems

I wasn't sure whether I wanted to put these two poems on here. It's risky. They deal with my own struggles concerning religion. They are not emblematic of my system of beliefs. They are, rather, questions that I have posed to myself many times over the course of my life. They contain no insights, and draw no conclusions. It is my hope that they offend no one, and that you will enjoy them simply for what they are.

My Prayer

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
It's not like I was using it right now.

And late at night I lay awake
And pray the Lord my soul to take
I had no plans for it anyhow.

Sometimes I get on my knees
Say hear me Lord and help me please
And bless this food that I eat today-
I'm gonna have to eat it anyway...

Hear O Israel, God is One.
And let thy Holy will be done.
Down here on earth as well as in the sky,
But mostly I just pray that I'll get by...


It’s hard to visualize it
when you’re trying to survive out
In the wind and the thunder and the rain.
Lightning can be frightening
and there’s not too much inviting
When you’re frozen with fear and numb with pain.

But you keep on believing
that someday you’ll be receiving of
The thing that you’ve been chasing for so long.
Don’t let up on trying
and you’ll find yourself arriving at a place
Call it heaven – call it home.

In the sense of what is beautiful
I prefer unusual,
Once gotten used to - doesn’t feel so strange.
The things that seemed impossible
and even implausible
Can suddenly seem not so out of range.

Some find it inconceivable–
and other's say believable
Otherwise He only died in vain.
If you think He wasn’t anointed
Then you can’t be disappointed, in someone
Who only tried to ease your pain.

And I find it quite amusing
And a little bit confusing
That relief can be found in a song,
While prayers can be chanted
The relief that gets granted
Don’t last long.

You may feel you’re forsaken
For the liberties you’ve taken
And you've hoped to be forgiven for your wrongs.

So therein lies the lesson-
that the ones you were impressing
With the shortcuts you have taken for their trust,
Can not leave you complaining of the
ones that you’ll remain with
When it all- turns to dust...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Welcome Back Chilean Miners!

Welcome back to the Chilean miners! Thanks for your example of grace under enormous pressure while facing tremendous hardship. Your conduct serves as a beacon of light in today's troubled world.

The Secret Ballot

When I was a kid people wore campaign lapel buttons which carried the names of the candidates of their choice. This led to some lively political discussions, maybe some harsh words were thrown around, but basically everyone went about their own business and voted without fear of alienation.

Lately, things have changed. The 24/7 news media has turned most folks into political hacks, willing to crash friendships, and even family ties, over issues in which they never will have a direct say to begin with. We all seem to be shilling for the positions of the politicians, sometimes at the expense of civilized discourse. Wouldn’t it be nice to shut off the noise?

It’s still not too late for this election, so let’s try. When you are asked who you’re voting for, say “it’s none of your business.” Or, to be more kind, you can say, “I’m sorry, but in this country we have the secret ballot.” The reactions you get, and the people who object to this the most, will surprise you. They will rage, they will rail against you. Because these types of people, both Left and Right, will never admit that they may be wrong about anything. They cannot countenance a civil discourse on an issue, without the guarantee that their point of view will prevail.

I have lost several friends of long standing recently, due, not to any untimely demise, but to political differences. What a shame it is, that the Powers That Be, can turn us, one against the other, while they continue to carve up the spoils. And what a shame it is, that we do nothing to turn that tide back.

We don’t have to agree. We just have to Vote our individual consciences. And if your side loses, then you have only to accept, for a short period of time, that it may be someone else’s turn. The beauty of the system under which we live is that we get to do it again and again, ideally with everyone getting a turn at the helm. It’s called a Republic, which is a form of Democracy based on the Greater Good, rather than one’s individual desires.

So, as we ramp up to Election Day, remember this, we are only unified by our divisions. Our right to differ is the trait that unites us. Now go quietly forth and Vote.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ted's Music - A Baltimore Story

Back in the 1980's and 90's I lived in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore is home to The Peabody Institute of Music, so naturally there is a music store right around the corner, on Centre Street. It's been there for years. This photo is from InfoUSA. It is how the shop appears today.

I had a Fender F-15 Acoustic guitar at the time in need of a repair. This was back in 1993 or so. There were two Portuguese brothers that ran the place. They fixed my guitar and the older guy played some amazing riffs on it plus a bit of flamenco. He then handed the guitar back to me and said, "Here, you play."

Now, I am an amatuer player at best, so I made an excuse about my car being double parked, paid a very fair price for the work, and left. I got to my car, which wasn't double parked, and began to strum Dylan's "You Ain't Going Nowhere", which is like 4 simple major chords. I was sitting in the car strumming, with the neck sticking out the driver's side window. Someone must have seen me and told Ted. That's when he came out laughing. I was embarrassed by my comparitive lack of expertise on the instrument, until he smiled and said, "Hey, all music is beautiful. You play very nice." And then he went back inside.

I haven't gotten that much better at really playing guitar over the years, although I do enjoy it immensely, and whenever I feel discouraged, I think back to that day and Ted's word's "Hey, all music is beautiful." And then I keep playing. Thanks to Ted.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Columbus Day Memory - 1958

This is me on Columbus Day 1958. Back then, especially in New York, Columbus Day was a big thing. There were parades, and schools and banks were closed. I don't remember if there was mail or not, but the point is that Columbus Day was a big deal. With the advent of revisionist history, coupled with the desire for more leisure time, Columbus Day became one of those "floating" holidays reserved primarily for Federal Employees. I was sad to see this happen over the years as I have some great memories of Columbus Day back in Brooklyn as a kid.

I remember waking up on the holiday and making a Columbus Day "tree" from the newspaper. This photo is of my attempt today to try and replicate that feat. This is the first time in over 50 years that I have tried this. Pretty simple to do. Just take the newspaper, open it to the center and start rolling it into a cone shape. When you are done, simply tape the bottom so that it does not unroll. Then, using a scissors, cut the newspaper from the top opening of the "cone", cutting downward, about 1/3 of the way. Then reach inside the top and gently pull the interior section up and out. If you do this correctly the tree will blossom before your eyes. After doing that, my brother and I would march around the living room, holding our "palm trees" as we did.

The signifigance of the palm tree was that it was the first tree Columbus would have seen when he landed in what he thought was America, but was actually Hispaniola. No matter. My favorite part of the Columbus story has always been his third voyage. That's the time when his group of ships insisted on leaving for Spain just before a low pressure system was due. Columbus, who was an average navigator, but a great meteorologist, cautioned against it. The others left more than 2 weeks ahead of him,and vanished in what we now call a hurricane. And when Columbus arrived in Spain, they were nowhere to be found.

Monday, October 11, 2010

"The Petrified Forest" with Leslie Howard, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart

Before Humphrey Bogart became typecast as, well, Humphrey Bogart, he worked as an actor on Broadway. And he was good. In 1935 he was in a play, "The Petrified Forest", acting opposite Leslie Howard, who would go on to be forever immortalized as Ashley Wilkes in "Gone With the Wind." The play concerned a ruthless gangster named Duke Mantee, played by Bogart. After escaping from prison with 3 other fugitives they head for the Mexican border. When a sandstorm strands them, they wait and hijack the first car that comes along. They then seek shelter in an out of the way cafe owned by an old man, played by Charlie Grapewin, and his son,played by Porter Hall, along with the old man's grandaughter, Gabrielle, played with perfect innocence by Bette Davis. When an idle dreamer wanders into the cafe, Leslie Howard's role, the dynamics of all three parties are changed as each of the characters attempt to assert themselves, and the things in which they believe. When the former occupants of the stolen car arrive, the circle is closed and the tension mounts.

This movie might not have been made were it not for the generosity and fellowship of Leslie Howard for his friend, and acting partner, Humphrey Bogart. In late 1934 Robert Sherwood was casting for the play of a book called "The Petrified Forest." He had seen Bogart earlier that year in "Invitation to a Murder" and decided that he would be perfect in the role of Duke Mantee. Bogart got the part and the show opened on January 7th, 1935 to rave reviews for Leslie Howard. Bogart was not even named along with the cast in the Herald Tribune.

The show was a hit and Warner Brother's studios bought the book, intending to make it into a movie. Leslie Howard had already promised Bogart that if a movie were made from the play, Bogart would have his original part. But this was not his promise to make.

When Bogart got word that warner's had bought the book, and that he was only to be "optioned" for the role of Duke Mantee, he sent a cable to Scotland, where Leslie Howard was on vacation. Leslie Howard shot a telegram to Warner's that stated either Bogart was in, or Howard was out. Bogart got a $400 per week contract and the role as Duke Mantee. The rest, is of course, history.

The movie itself is a real gem. Over-emoted in places, this is a real old fashioned melodrama, where each character has a deeper meaning. Duke is Evil, but with his own sense of honor. Gabrielle is Innocence, and she falls for Leslie Howard's Dreamer with his ever questioning cyniscm, walking across the country, on his way to the Pacific "to drown, perhaps." The old man represents Memory, and he clearly rejoices in Duke's living outside the law. His son represents the old ways, the way things have always been and should be, with no room for change. The banker, his wife and chauffer are the Establishment, thinking only of money and looking to buy their way out of any situation they are in.

But the real star in this finely written and directed movie, is love. Leslie Howard loves Gabrielle so much that he strikes a deal with Duke. He wants to be shot as Duke leaves, after all Duke is already on death row, so what can they do to him? In turn, he has signed his life insurance over to Gabrielle, so that she can leave the desert and pursue her dream of living in France to become a writer. I told you this was a melodrama...

The interaction between the black chauffer,Joseph, played by John Alexander and his counterpart in Duke's right hand man, Slim, played by Slim Thompson, is a visual lesson in "lean freedom versus fat slavery."

This is one of my all time favorite films. I used to watch it on PBS on Saturday nights when they ran classic films. Classic films have now become the province of AMC and TCM, where there are always classic films playing. And I enjoy them all. But somehow I find myself missing those late Saturday night viewings. They seemed so special when you had to wait.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"The Fiery Trial" by Eric Foner

Abraham Lincoln was a complex man. A potrait of him hung on the wall in my Kindergarten class, so his image is a part of my psyche. There are certain things I have come to accept about him. The Emancipation Proclamation is one of those things. But the story behind it is quite another. History is never cut and dry, and as I said, Lincoln was a complex man.

The author of this book has done a superb job of attempting to find the "real" Lincoln. He has gone to painstaking lengths to do so, and in the process has shed some light on a very volatile, and often misunderstood, chapter in our collective history.

Did Lincoln free the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation? All the slaves? Right away? Most Americans believe the answer to be yes to all three of these questions. And most Americans would be wrong. The issue of slavery has been a thorn in the side of the Republic since the first day of it's founding. How one group of men could write of tossing off "the chains and shackles that bind us", while continuing to allow the institution of slavery to exist, is mind boggling. That the Civil War didn't occur sooner than it did, is amazing.

Lincoln found himself in the middle of all these questions, both moral and legal, which surrounded the issue of Abolition. And he took all sides, playing them all. He was a moral man, to be sure. But, he was also a shrewd politician, and that profession can often trump "our better angels."

Take the Missouri Compromise as an example. As a Congressman, Lincoln was for it. It would abolish slavery East of the Missouri, but allow it to continue West of that divide. True, he was attempting to hold the Union together, but how wise was it to delay the inevitable confrontation that awaited the nation?

Once the war began, Lincoln found himself committed to taking some sort of action that would underscore the issue of slavery. In late 1862 he rolled out the Emancipation Proclamation. This document was immediately construed to be the Instrument by which slavery, as an institution, was abolished in the United States. But that is only a half truth.

The Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in the states that comprised the South. The slaves in the North would not attain full freedom, by this Instrument, until 1900. The main idea was to grant freedom to the slaves in the South in an effort to get them into the fight on the side of the North.

As early as May of 1861, only 2 months after the war had begun, General Butler was already allowing runaway slaves to take refuge in Fortress Monroe, at the mouth of the James River opposite Norfolk, in Virginia. This was in direct contravention to the Fugitive Slave Act, which was nullified as soon as the South fired the first shot at Fort Sumter. The irony here is that these slaves were taking refuge to avoid working as slaves for the Confederacy, yet when they arrived at Fortress Monroe, they were immediately assigned to work details as cooks and laborers, for the Union Army, without pay.

Meantime, in Washington, Lincoln was formalizing plans to ship ex-slaves back to Haiti and Liberia. There was also something called the "Chiriqui Project", which Lincoln had discussed as early as 1861. This plan would have shipped all African-Americans to Colombia to build a colony on land owned by one Ambrose W. Thompson.

As all this talk of Emancipation and Repatriation was taking place, there was considerable opposition in the black community. Some, if not most, of the freed slaves were born here in America, which technicaly made them natural born citizens.Once again, irony rears it's head, as Lincoln had made this very argument himself while in Congress. Moreover, there were many white Republicans opposed to the plan, further hindering it's implementation. Frederick Douglass was also one of the most vocal opponents of these plans to ship African-Americans away from the land of their birth.

This is a fascinating book that will inform the reader on many levels concerning the Institution of Slavery and how it came to an end in America. And some of it will suprise you, because history is not always what you have been taught to believe.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

John Lennon at 70 - Imagine!

This photo was taken by my late friend Michael Held in the spring of 1974. It was the March of Dimes Concert in Central Park. Michael and I had gone to volunteer and help move some sound equipment around. Michael, as always, had his camera with him, and took this great shot of John, along with Harry Nilsson, just as they took to the stage. They did not perform, just spoke to the crowd. They had been watching the crowd enter the Park from Lennon's apartment in the Dakota, on Central Park West, and on a whim, decided to go down and "have a look."

I can't imagine what direction Mr. Lennon's music would have taken had he lived past the age of 40. But his message of Peace, though still unfulfilled, resonates as strongly today as it did 30 years ago. When you go out today, do something nice for someone. Say hello to a stranger, give a buck to the homeless guy you usually pass by. I bet that John would love it if you do.

This is the link to John Lennon rehearsing "Imagine" for the first time;

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Party Has Begun!

The partying began at dawn and will continue until after the last ray's of sunshine have left the sky. That's when the fires will be lit.... I wasn't going to post anything today, but when these guys (all old friends) showed up to party, well, I just had to share it.

Today Is My Birthday - No Post Today

I'm 56 years young, or old, today. Ask me after 12 noon and I'll have a better assessment of it by then. It takes me a little longer to get started these days, but I believe some of the old spark is still alive inside of me.

I'm going to take the day off and lay around a bit... Skip making any profound judgements and just enjoy being 56. Truly, there were times when I never thought I'd make it this far!

So, as last year, from all of me to all of you, Happy Birthday! See you tomorrow, and thanks for stopping by. It means a lot to me that you do.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Edgar Allan Poe

It was on this date in 1849 that Edgar Allan Poe passed away. He was on his way from Richmond to Philadelphia via steamboat. He was to catch a train in Baltimore and then continue on to Philadelphia. He never made it. After having vanished for a period of 5 days, he was found in a tavern on High Street in Baltimore. Theories range from his death at the hands of his fiancee's brothers to his having been kidnapped and "cooped" in the cellar of a local tavern, where he was plied with cognac and opiates. He was then marched to several precints to vote for whatever candidate had "cooped" him prior to the election. We will probably never know the full extent of the mystery surrounding his death. But his poetry and stories will live on forever. Here is one of the first Edgar Allan Poe poems to which I was introduced. I was about 8 years old at the time and the lyrical quality of this poem, along with the sadness of his lost love, hooked me on him forever. While living in Baltimore, my daughter Sarah, and I, were regular visitors to his grave.

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Putumaya - World Music Series

Fot those not familiar with the Putumaya Series of World Music I should explain that this album is but one of many. There are Putumaya albums for virtually every type of music, and I have them all, courtesy of my local Public Library. As a matter of fact, these CD's represent world music in such a way that even the Mooresville Public Library, which does not have CD's, has these CD's. They are, literally, that valid, almost as much so as literature.

This album, "Americana", draws on every genre of American music, from the jazzy sound of Nora Roberts singing with The Little Willies, to the gospel sound of Terri Hendrix ,all the sounds of American music are on display. The playlist may contain some names you have not heard before, such as The Little Willies, but these are the sounds that really drive the creativity of today's musicians.

1 Robinella • Down the Mountain
2 Mulehead • Frankie Lee
3 The Little Willies • It's Not You It's Me
4 Robert Earl Keen • Ride
5 Eliza Lynn • Sing a New Song
6 Old Crow Medicine Show • Wagon Wheel
7 Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez • Sweet Tequila Blues
8 Tim O'Brien • House of the Risin' Sun
9 Alison Brown • Deep Gap
10 Terri Hendrix • Prayer for My Friends
11 Josh Ritter • Harrisburg
12 Ruthie Foster • Hole In My Pocket

It's interesting to note that many of the progressive sounds we listen to in music are derived from the basic folk and bluegrass scenes, with a touch of jazz thrown in.And when it's all lumped together it becomes a uniquely American sound.

This album is so good that I keep a copy in each car and on my flashdrive. I just don't want to lose it! Here's the link to the site if you care to hear some of the tracks;

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Two Men Come Down the Same Chimney

The following story concerns the Talmud, the book that codifies the meaning of Judaic Law. They are somewhat akin to the Parables used in Christianity when explaining the meaning of some things in the New Testament. I first ran across this tale a few years ago while reading Rabbi Telushkin's "Jewish Humor." I hope you will enjoy the story, but more importantly, the meaning of the story. And the book is terrific, as are all of Rabbi Telushkin's writings.

Two men Come Down The Same Chimney

A young man in his mid-twenties knocks on the door of the noted scholar Rabbi Shwartz. “My name is Sean Goldstein,” he says. “I’ve come to you because I wish to study Talmud.”

“Do you know Aramaic?” the rabbi asks.

“No,” replies the young man.

“Hebrew?” asks the Rabbi.

“No,” replies the young man again.

“Have you studied Torah?” asks the Rabbi, growing a bit irritated.

“No, Rabbi. But don’t worry. I graduated Berkeley summa cum laude in philosophy, and just finished my doctoral dissertation at Harvard on Socratic logic. So now, I would just like to round out my education with a little study of the Talmud.”

“I seriously doubt,” the rabbi says, “that you are ready to study Talmud. It is the deepest book of our people. If you wish, however, I am willing to examine you in logic, and if you pass that test I will teach you Talmud.”

The young man agrees.

Rabbi Shwartz holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

The young man stares at the rabbi. “Is that the test in logic?”

The rabbi nods.

”The one with the dirty face washes his face,“ he answers wearily.

“Wrong. The one with the clean face washes his face. Examine the simple logic.The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes his face.”

“Very clever,” Goldstein says. “Give me another test.”

The rabbi again holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“We have already established that. The one with the clean face washes his face.”

“Wrong. Each one washes his face. Examine the simple logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes his face. When the one with the dirty face sees the one with the clean face wash his face, he also washes his face. So each one washes his face.”

“I didn’t think of that,” says Goldstein. It’s shocking to me that I could make an error in logic. Test me again.”

The rabbi holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“Each one washes his face.”

“Wrong. Neither one washes his face. Examine the simple logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. But when the one with the clean face sees the one with the dirty face doesn’t wash his face, he also doesn’t wash his face. So neither one washes his face.”

Goldstein is desperate. “I am qualified to study Talmud. Please give me one more test.”

He groans, though, when the rabbi lifts two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“Neither one washes his face.”

“Wrong. Do you now see, Sean, why Socratic logic is an insufficient basis for studying Talmud? Tell me, how is it possible for two men to come down the same chimney, and for one to come out with a clean face and the other with a dirty face? Don’t you see? The whole question is "narishkeit", foolishness, and if you spend your whole life trying to answer foolish questions, all your answers will be foolish, too.”

Monday, October 4, 2010

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin passed away 40 years ago today at the all too young age of 27. Her image as a hard drinking, heroin shooting blues singer has endured the 4 decades since her death. But there was so much more to this woman than the hype of drugs and booze. She really was a very talented singer who was in control of her career, and it's direction, right until the end.

With both movies and books depicting her as merely a stoned out blues singer,acting at the direction of others, it is often hard to keep sight of the vision and talent she possessed. Not many artists can take a song, which is already a hit by someone else, and make it their own. Janis Joplin did this several times.

From George Gershwins "Summertime", and The Chantels "Maybe",and even such standards as "Little Girl Blue" by Rodgers and Hart, time and again Ms. Joplin was able to transform established songs into new works that still resonate today. Take Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" as an example. This was a country-folk song written and recorded by Mr. Kristofferson in 1969. It was one of his first big hits and made him a star. But when that record comes on the radio, even Mr. Kristofferson has to pause and listen. Here is the demo that Ms. Joplin recorded a few months before her death. She simply walked into the studio, announced that she was doing this song and ends it by saying it needs an ending.

The finished version is exactly the same length as this demo. The only change is the addition of the electric instruments and her improvised vocal ending. This lady had some serious talent and vision.

She did the same thing with the seemingly banal "To Love Somebody" by The Bee Gees, turning the 4 minute pop song into a lengthy blues number backed by a brass section. And who can ever forget her ballsy live version of Willie Mae (Big Mama) Thornton's "Ball and Chain" from the album "Cheap Thrills." Also on that album is a real gem written by Ms. Joplin, "Turtle Blues."

When it came to cover art, Ms. Joplin was as far reaching as you can imagine. Take this cover by Robert Crumb for the 1968 release "Cheap Thrills." You can literally spend 20 or 30 minutes digesting all the wacky and colorful things which are crammed in this 12" x 12" space. The covers of her subsequent albums were equally daring - the out of focus photo taken under the red and blue stage lights that adorns the cover of "I've Got 'Dem Old Kozmic Blues Again" album is a great example.

Working with Big Brother and the Holding Company really pushed her into the light, but that band was a bit confining for her. She wanted a band like James Brown had, complete with brass. With that thought in mind she formed The Full Tilt Boogie Band, which would be her last. They were the epitome of the Stax Record sound. When viewing live performances of her on YouTube you can see the transformation in her style of singing, often delivering spontaneous blues "raps" in the middle of her numbers. This was standard James Brown procedure, really preaching the blues to a more than receptive audience.

We will never know where Ms. Joplin's career might have taken us. What direction was she going in next? But her unique style of delivering the blues will always be with us to enjoy. Just hit YouTube sometime today and check out the live videos from TV shows like Tom Jones, Dick Cavett and all the rest. You will be amazed at the vitality and sense of humor that ultimately define her.