Monday, February 28, 2011

"Crusader's Cross" by James Lee Burke

Whenever I get fed up with the real world and all of it's attendant problems, I leave the Non-Fiction section behind and head straight to the Fiction section, usually the B's, as in Burke. The wonder of Mr. Burke's fiction is in it's reality. There are people who firmly believe that fiction is just that, fiction. But Mr. Burke knows better, there are people out there every bit as sinister and depraved as the characters he draws in his novels. I've met some of them.

When former police Detective Dave Robicheaux was a young man, back in the late 1950's, his brother Jimmie worked with him on the off shore rigs of Louisiana, making the money which would put them through college. This is where the story begins.

His brother Jimmie falls for a local girl named Ida Durbin, who saves their lives one day when they are out swimming, and they form a friendship with her. She also happens to play a mean mandolin, and sings like Kittie Wells. But when Jimmie finds out that she is a hooker, working off a debt to a local pimp, he is devastated. When she disappears, after Jimmie has confronted the pimp, offering to buy her debt, only to find himself ripped off, forces are set in motion that lead to a 20 year dead end, which suddenly opens up after a seemingly unrelated string of crimes.

When Robicheaux is re-instated as a detective in New Iberia Parish, in order to help investigate a serial killer, seemingly unrelated to the 20 year old disappearance of Ida Durbin, he joins forces with his old friend and partner Clete Purcell. What they find, when they scratch the underbelly of New Orleans, leads them to believe that Ida might not be dead after all. One thing's for sure in this action packed novel, the "Bobbsey Twins" are back, and nobody is safe until they get the answers they are looking for.

The most amazing thing about Mr. Burke's fiction is the way in which he spins his characters. They range from the seemingly normal schoolteacher type, like the women who killed for Charles Manson, to the truly sick and depraved, both of whom walk amongst us.

Long adept at exploring the dark side of man's nature, this book is no exception. As Detective Robicheaux struggles with the case itself, he is also forced to face the eternal question of just what, if any, are the differences in the motivations that drive both those who stand behind the law, as well as those who oppose it? The answer, like the underbelly of New Orleans, is neither pretty, nor simple.

Loaded with evil, sordid characters, this book will take you behind the headlines and into the world of fiction, which is where non-fiction comes from to begin with. Or is that the other way around....?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"The Gathering Storm" with Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave

This film, like "Adams" with Paul Giamatti and Laura Finney, is an historical docu-drama. But it is also the story of a marriage. At the same time as Germany was gearing up for war, a once powerful Winston Churchill, played by Albert Finney, has, by 1934, been reduced politically to a joke. He is hooted and booed on the floor of Parliment, and seems lost in his efforts to awaken a pacifist population to the gathering storm. When Clementine, played by Vanessa Redgrave, goes on a cruise for four months, he is challenged as he has never been before, both politically and emotionally.

At the same time this is also a bit of a spy story, as Churchill attempts, through a "backdoor" channel into the Foreign Office, to gather all the facts and figures he needs to turn around a Parliment, and a King, who seem oblivious to their own looming destruction at the hands of the Nazis. Through his efforts, which almost wrecked his career, he was able to awaken the people, barely in time to mount an adequate defense against Germany, thereby saving England, while ascending to his coveted role as Prime Minister. He would hold this post throughout the war.

A well written, and directed film that takes a "peek behind the curtain" and gives the viewer a look at the ordinary aspects of life, and the relationships, which sometimes help to shape world events.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

Like books, one You Tube leads to another and this is where I wound up - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was a legendary ukelele player from Hawaii. I first became aware of him in 2005, about 8 years after his death. He suffered from morbid obesity his entire life. But his time was not wasted. He regaled his fellow islanders with a beautiful voice and more than an ample knowledge of the ukelele, an instrument native to the islands.

His beautiful, and somewhat prophetic blending of two beautiful songs, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "What A Wonderful World" has been re-recorded by many artists since his death in 1997, but none has even come close to matching the beauty of Mr. Kamakawiwo'ole and his rendition of this medley.

There is a higher quality version on You Tube, but it has an annoying 10 second ad which I would rather spare you. At the end of this video, which was compiled after Mr. Kamakawiwo'ole passed away, his fellow islanders can be seen taking his ashes out in an outrigger canoe, and scattering them in the beloved blue waters of his home.

Israel, or "Iz", as he was known, was more than an entertainer, he was a force for change, as seen in this video link from a concert in which he implores the youth of the islands to return to the values of their native culture, and to give up the gangs and drugs in order to embrace the land. Notice the oxygen tubes at his nose; even while performing, with his chronic illness, his voice could not be silenced.

Friday, February 25, 2011

George Harrison - They Say It's His Birthday!

It's hard to believe that George Harrison, my favorite Beatle, has been dead almost ten years this coming December. Always known as the "serious" Beatle, Mr. Harrison contributed quite a lot to the sucess of the band. And after they broke up, his last recording with The Beatles was done in July of 1969 for the "Abbey Road" album, he went on to establish a quiet, and varied career, touring the world with many different incarnations of a band. His most notable sucess came in the late 1980's when he teamed up with Jeff Lynne, of The Electric Light Orchestra, and old friend Bob Dylan, along with new friend Tom Petty, and an old influence, Roy Orbison, with whom the Beatles had toured Germany in 1962, to form The Traveling Wilbury's. They made two albums, one before Mr. Orbison passed away, for which he received a Best Vocalist Award, and the second one without him.

This song, "Handle me with Care", takes a hard look at the price of fame and fortune. The vocals are tight, and yet both Roy Orbison and George Harrison each come off as distinctly different vocalists in this song. That was the beauty of this band, it's sheer wealth of writing and performance talents, coupled with no egos. This was also a very unique band, centered as it was,around George Harrison, the man whose curiosity about a sitar on the set of the movie "Help" began a radical shift in pop music, as well as a resurgence in the Art of Yoga. We were lucky to have him for awhile. He would have been 68 years old today. Happy Birthday, George!

I hope that if you have the time, and inclination, you will take a few moments today to view the wealth of music that this quiet man left as a legacy. Here's a link to get you in the slip stream. It features George on his favorite instrument, the ukelele. The song is "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" by Ted Koehler. Mr. Harrison was a big fan of 1930's music, once responding to a news reporters question about what he had been listening to in his car that day with a very unexpected answer; "Barnacle Bill the Sailor and some Hoagie Carmichael." When asked if he was joking, he looked slightly annoyed as he answered, "No. are you?"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Timeless Humor

This is a cartoon which I ran across while organizing some of my personal papers today. It's a cartoon from "Hustler" magazine, drawn by Dwaine Tinsley, back in 1977. Some things never change. Now before all the hate mail and death threats start pouring in - this is a cartoon lampooning the predicament in which we as Americans find ourselves, time and again, in relation to our national addiction to foreign oil, and fossil fuels in general. It is not an attack on anyone's faith or religion. It's a shame that I have to post an explanation on my own blog! But, you know, it's not 1977 anymore... But it's still a funny cartoon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

World War Two Ration Books

This is the cover to a War Rations Booklet from the Second World War. It belonged to my wife's Grandmother, Prudence V. Pensinger. When the war broke out the country was reeling from the effects of the Great Depression. Manufactured goods were down, and the military was woefully unprepared. We had a lot of catching up to do.

By the spring of 1942 the U.S. Government realized that some sort of rationing would need to be enacted in order to meet the material demands of the war. And so, the Food Rationing Program was developed, much along the lines of the system in place in England. This system would ensure that all Americans would receive a fair share of the available goods, as well as keep some control over the "black market."

These are the actual coupons inside of the booklet. Each page was a little bit different. Some showed tanks, while others showed ships, planes or field artillery pieces. It was hoped, that with the people actively engaged in scrap drives, and planting Victory Gardens, more food and materials could be devoted to the war effort. In addition to these measures, by May of 1943, people would need to have a "Sugar Buying Card" in order to purchase an alloted amount of this valuable commodity, which we take for granted today. The registration for these cards took place in school, where each student filled out a form with the names and ages of every member in the household. This information was used to determine how much sugar each family would receive. This was not a guarantee that there would be sugar available, just a way of ensuring that you got a fair share when it was. Sugar rationing ended in the United States shortly after the war, but England and most other countries in Europe would not have unlimited access to "sweets" for almost 15 years or more.

The rear cover contained the rules for using the coupons, along with a warning about paying more for things bought on the black market. An interesting note on the black market is that there was big difference in the way these Ration Coupons were handled in different areas of the country.

Growing up in New York City during the 1950's and 1960's, I never saw one of these Ration Books. My mother told me stories about them, and the introduction of margarine in lieu of butter. (The margarine came in white blocks, with packets of yellow food coloring to mix into it.) The only explanation I have come up with concerning the lack of these Ration Books in the cities after the war concerns the Black Market.

In the cities, with their relative anonymity, it was easier and less risky to buy, sell, or trade the books. With so many people, and so many different neighborhoods to choose from, this was not to hard to do. But in the countryside, the needs, as well as the social structure, were completely different. I was surprised at how many of these coupons were unused, with whole books never having been opened. The explanation is fairly simple.

The people in the small towns and agricultural communities engaged in a tremendous amount of bartering. Their "Victory Gardens" were larger than those in the cities, dairy products originated on the farms in these areas, and even kerosene could be made, along with liquor. The people in the cities had no such opportunities, there simply wasn't enough room. It was far easier to find merchants who were willing to "bend" the rules a bit in order to accomodate the customer. The rationing also included cars and clothing. New cars and certain materials for clothing would not become available until the end of 1946.

In the wake of the September 11th attacks in 2001, I expected that the country would have at least gone on gas rationing. But that didn't happen, and you have to wonder why that is. When a cause is worth fighting for, then everyone needs to sacrifice. It was once called unity. Looking at these old coupon books, at a time when our nation is so divided over so many issues, I can't help but wonder if this system of rationing would work in today's social climate. With a bit of luck, we may never have to find out...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Amelia" with Hilary Swank and Richard Gere

I have always been of the belief that are two types of people in the world. There are those whom, while they may be good looking, open their mouths and become uglier with each word they speak; and then there are those who, while not blessed with the best of features, grow more beautiful with every word, or gesture, that they make. Amelia Earhart was one of the latter.

From the time she was 7 years old and saw her first bi-plane over a field in her native Kansas, all she ever wanted to do was to fly and be free. (There may be some poetic license in use here. I believe she didn't see her first plane until several years later.)

She meets George Putnam, the publisher, when she applies to fly the Atlantic solo in 1928, just one year after Lindbergh made the first sucessful crossing. When it turns out that she is really to be only a figurehead, with two men doing the flying, she initially refuses. George Putnam explains that this is something they must do in order to achieve the goal, as the woman who is financing the mission will not do so if Amelia flies alone. Faced with the alternative, Amelia gives in. But that's the first, and last time in which she bows to the wishes of others concerning her own career.

Way ahead of her time in science and adventure, Ms. Earhart was also way ahead of most women when it came to traditional relationships, eschewing marriage as a cage. But that is a cage to which she eventually succumbs, when she weds George Putnam. But even in that endeavor, she does it her way, refusing to repeat "obey" in the marriage vows. For his part, George Putnam is unconcerned with this. He doesn't want a caged bird, just one that will always fly back to him.

After winning more contests of speed and distance, opening up new avenues for women in a field that was barely 30 years old, Ms. Earhart finally sets out to conquer her dream - flying around the world. To that end she takes her navigator, Fred Noonan, on her final fateful flight. She has had trouble with him before. In her last communication with her husband, she intimates that Noonan is drinking again. She also tells her husband that this is her last flight. She wants to come home and stay with him. She never makes it.

Theories have ranged for years concerning her disappearance somewhere in the Pacific. One of the most prevalent theories is that her final flight was really a cover for U.S. Naval Operations in the Pacific, where the Japanese were beginning to expand their empire in search of the raw goods which were denied to her by an International Embargo. This has never been proven.

As in many good films, a few facts were fudged to make it work, but overall this film is beautifully filmed, acted, scored and a pleasure to watch. It will turn, on it's head, all that you ever thought you knew about this beautiful and gifted woman.

Here is a link to a wonderful site that will give you more insight into the life of Amelia Earhart;

Monday, February 21, 2011

W.C. Fields - American Icon of Humor

I was reading a book about comedy and came upon a chapter concerning William Claude Dukinfield, which was so filled with errors that I had to put the book down. Instead, I will share with you a poem and story from W.C. Fields himself, both of which capture the spirit of the man and his humor.

This poem was written by Fields sometime in the 1930's;

"The Martini" by William Claude Dukinfield

There is something about a martini
A tingle remarkably pleasant.
A yellow, a mellow - martini.
I wish I had one at present.

There is something about an Old Fashioned
that kindles a cardiac glow.
It's soothing and soft and impassioned,
As a lyric by Swinburne, or Poe.

In 1938 when Joe Louis knocked out the German boxer Max Schmeling, Fields placed the cause of Joe Louis' victory squarely in the lap of drinking;

"It simply bears out what I have always contended", he said. "A kidney needs a good alcoholic lining to stand up under wear and tear. Schmeling was a victim of clean living. If Louis, or any other professional slasher, dealt me such a blow, their hands would crumple from the impact. As a result of long and serious drinking, I've developed ripples of muscles over my kidneys. I will live to be one hundred and twelve years old, and perhaps a fortnight longer than that, and I deserve it because I've gone out of my way to live the wrong way. Some of my best friends are bartenders, but most of them die young. Seems they can dish it out, but they can't take it."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Odds and Ends" by R. Crumb

This collection of odds and ends, is exactly what it claims to be. A book filled with odds and ends from one of the most prolific, and influential, artists of the comic book genre. His characters are more plentiful than all of O. Henry's rouques, combined with all of the minions ever dreamt up by Damon Runyon. That is saying quite a lot, but it is true.

From the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers to the antics of Mr. Natural, Robert Crumb entertained an entire generation during the 1960's and early 1970's with Zap Comics. Those were some of the edgiest comics ever seen.

But what happened to those pieces that never made it to print? Like Hollywood, often the best bits are left on the cutting room floor, or in the case of Mr. Crumb, in the wastebasket. This book is like going through his outtakes. And what a journey it is!

There are portraits of blues artists such as Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, The North Carolina Ramblers and many others. There are also invitations, like the one to the 1999 celebration of Jesse Crumb and Erica Detlefsen's "Fifteen Year Thing Together." (They didn't know what else to call it.)

There are portraits of George Jones, weird machines grinding meat, there is even a section titled "R.Crumb's Early Weirdo Period 1981-85." That kind of threw me a bit, as I have always considered his work to be slightly off center, that's what makes it so enjoyable. If I wanted normal I'd read "Batman", not that a caped man with a young boy speeding out of a cave in a Batmobile is any less strange, but it is an "accepted" norm of the genre.

One of the funniest sections in this collection is composed of illustrations with captions we have all heard spoken in movies, or cheap novels. "He couldn't get a piece of ass in a whorehouse with a fistful of fifty dollar bills", is a line I have actually heard spoken aboard ship concerning a fellow shipmate. The illustration of this line, provided by Mr. Crumb, actually had me in tears of laughter. The same is true of his illustration of a "Belt Buckle Polisher", which is an expression I have heard used to describe people who dance seductively in public, holding one another close and grinding their loins against one another.

Filled with illustrations of street scenes and various character studies, this book will have you turning pages faster than the leaves falling from the trees in November. Though some of the art is from the 1990's, indeed a good bit of the book is composed of his post 1970's work, the style and wit are all intact. It was interesting to find this in the Library, and just one more example of why I love the Library so much. It's kind of like "Alice's Restaurant", you know, "You can get anything you want..."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Sad and Blue" by Melvern Taylor

This is one of my favorite songs, and videos, by Melvern Taylor. The unrequited love aspect, explored through lyrics such as "gas staion roses and some screw top wine", touches me for some unknown reason. Maybe it's because I've been there and done that. What makes any song worthwhile? The connection of the lyrics to your own reality? Or just the poignant beauty of the words strung out so plaintively over the music? I don't know. But ever since I first heard this song in 2006, it has become a part of me.

"Sad and Blue" by Melvern Taylor

Sad and blue
I've never known no one as lost as you.
Wandering aimlessly the way you do,
Darlin' you astound me

Valentine, paper hearts
that wish that you were mine.
Gas station roses and some screw-top wine,
Darlin' I'm just wastin' time.

And it don't matter if you break my stupid heart
I've got no place else to go.
And it don't matter if you break my stupid heart
I've got no place left to go.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Vice" by Sgt. John R. Baker

If you are a fan of the TV series "The Shield" with Mike Chiklis, then you will love this book. This is the true life story of the Compton California Police Department in the years leading up to, and including, the rise of gang violence in Compton. The book also examines the role that economics and race, along with the growing drug trade, have played in the devolution of a city.

John Baker was born to a multi-cultural family, and raised in the Compton area in the 1950's during a unique time of change, both socially, and economically. This perspective gives him a very different approach to law enforcement. He has all the sensitivies and knowledge required to deal with the different cultures that make up Compton.

One of the most interesting parts of this book is the way it chronicles the rise of gang violence after World War Two. The how's and why's of the turf wars, along with the graffiti known as tagging, are all carefully explained to the reader, in order to provide a better understanding of the war that rages in the streets of most American cities today.

When the end of the 1950's rolled around, and with it the Fair Housing Act, "white flight" became the driving force behind the deterioration of once vivrant neighborhoods. As the real estate agents took advantage of the fear in these areas, the racial balance of whole sections of the city was changed forever. On some levels this was a good thing, and fair. But on other levels it would prove to be disastrous.

The 1960's brought even greater social change, and upheaval, to Compton. The Black Panthers and other politically motivated groups moved in. With them came the drug trade, and soon the various gangs were waging war upon one another in the streets. This brought about the return of the "drive by shooting", which had been absent from the streets since the days of Prohibition.

But politics makes strange bedfellows, and sometimes the threat of violence has united the police and the gangs. The Watts riot was actually kept at bay by a group of Latino gangs that formed a blockcade at the edge of Compton.

Sergeant Baker also regales the reader with some of the finest anecdotal stories of police work that I have ever read. The cast of characters, and villians, is as long, and varied, as the author's career in law enforcement. This book will take you to the highest rooftops in Compton, as well as deliver you to the depths of depravity that the average Police Officer sees every day on the job. A riveting and informative read, this book looks beyond the headlines and TV shows which purport to portray life in the streets. Compared to Sgt. Baker's action packed memoir, they are all pretenders to the throne.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"John Adams" with Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti

I have no idea why I have not seen this incredible HBO Mini Series from 2008, nor any excuse as to why I have not read the book. I can only atone for it by writing this review. What a pleasure it was to watch history portrayed so accurately, and with such fine acting. The movie, based on the Pulitzer Prize Winning book by David McCullough, is of course, beyond reproach. The research for this project was an enormous undertaking, which included the diaries of both Abigal (Laura Linney) and John Adams (Paul Giamatti), as well as their abundant letters to one another. And in that sense, this movie is the story of a marriage, as well as that of John Adams and the Revolution.

There are 7 parts to this docu-drama, though it really could be termed a documentary.From his beginnings as a lawyer, the film follows the career of one of America's Founding Fathers, as he navigates his way through war, politics and personal tragedy, and helps to form the 13 colonies into a Sovereign Nation.

A large part of the series concerns the conflict between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. They were very much divided on several points. From the subject of currency issue and National Debt, to the formation of a Standing Army, these two men could not have differed more on so many subjects, yet both passionately loved the Ideal that defined the American Revolution.

Eventually, when the two men got older, they became great friends once again, and that friendship would last until both their deaths on July 4th, 1826. Adams last words were, "Jefferson survives." At the same time that he was uttering these words, Jefferson was only hours away from death himself at his home in Virginia. In Philadelphia, where the 50th anniversary of the Revolution which founded the Republic was being celebrated, the Liberty Bell was struck in commemoration, and cracked.

The film is lengthy, it took me 3 nights to watch it. But I actually looked forward to the next disc each evening. A knowledge of history is helpful in watching this film, but not necessary, in order to absorb the magnanimity of the sacrifices endured by the men, and women, who helped to found our Nation. These were extraordinary people, faced with extraordinary circumstances, which they met head on.

Here is a link to a great interview with the author of this beautifully crafted book and film;

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Budget Cuts to Pell Grants - A Short Sighted View

I have just finished reading the weekly White House Newsletter, which touts the importance of Education in furtherance of our National Goals. After all, neglecting Education is something we simply cannot afford to do! Of course, this newsletter came one day after the announcement about possibly cutting the Pell Grants, which the President also says we cannot afford. You cannot make this stuff up. He plans to cut the grants by $100 billion dollars over the next 10 years. Here is both the text of the White House Newsletter as well as the reply which I submitted, along with my request for a response, which they offer as an option. I will gladly print it here, when, and if, I ever receive one.

Good afternoon,

Just a few weeks ago, in my State of the Union Address, I spoke about how America can win the future by out-educating, out-innovating and out-building the rest of the world. I also talked about taking responsibility for our Nation's deficits, because we can’t win the future if we pass on a mountain of debt to our children and grandchildren.

Yesterday, I sent my budget proposal for 2012 to Congress, and I wanted to take a moment to explain some of the tough choices we had to make so we can afford to invest in our future.

Like American families, the Federal Government must live within its means. That means eliminating wasteful spending and cutting programs that aren't working. It also means that programs, like Community Development Block Grants, which I care about deeply, need to be scaled back to confront the crushing debt we face.

You can learn more about the budget proposal and watch Jack Lew, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, explain our approach here:

Getting our fiscal house in order requires shared sacrifice. But even in these tough times, we have a responsibility to make smart investments in our Nation's future.

That's why we must invest in innovation to ensure that the jobs and industries of the future are built right here in America. It's why we need to invest in roads, bridges, high-speed rail and high-speed Internet to help our businesses ship their goods and ideas around the world.

And it's why America must invest in education so that all of our children have an opportunity to fulfill their potential. Even though parents are the key to a child's education, we have a responsibility to ensure that America's students are prepared to compete and thrive in the 21st century global economy.

Yesterday, I visited Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology near Baltimore, Maryland. At Parkville, students gain a strong background in math, science and critical thinking skills that they will need to compete for the jobs of the 21st century. In fact, the most popular subject in their magnet program is engineering.

Investing in schools like Parkville, investing in quality teachers, investing in higher education – these are down payments on our children's and our country's future.

Here are just a few investments in education that I've proposed in the budget I sent to Congress:

•Preparing 100,000 new math, science and engineering teachers.

•Expanding Race to the Top, a reform program that has led more than 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning for less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.

•Helping more kids afford college by making the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent and strengthening Pell Grants for 9 million students.

Here in Washington, we have to take a cue from millions of American families who have been tightening their belts while continuing to invest in their future. And that's exactly what my budget proposal does – it puts us on a path to live within our means so we can invest in our future.


President Barack Obama

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Here is my response;

Mr. President,

I am a subscriber to your White House Newsletter. I find it informative and I am glad to receive it.

But you must realize, that your judgment in touting education as a necessary part of America's future goals, a view with which I agree wholeheartedly, when you are advocating a cut of $100 billion dollars, over 10 years’ time, from the Pell Grants, is questionable at best.

I can only surmise that your words do not apply to your intentions in this instance. Please feel free to correct me in this matter if I am wrong.

When the tax cuts, which were once again extended to the rich, outweigh the cuts to the Pell Grants, which they do, there can be no excuse for the cuts. The Pell Grants are but a drop in the bucket when compared to the burden we will all share as a result of the tax cuts. As such, I am sorely disappointed in your stand on this issue.

Ah, would that it could be, that no Americans could read at all! It would then be possible for politicians to write anything they wished, without fear of their true meaning being understood by the people.

My Best Wishes to you, as you struggle with these and other issues,


Robert S. Williams

Contact as above, or at;

Here is a link to one of many articles concerning these cuts;

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Guys and Dolls" and Other Writings by Damon Runyon

Every now and again I return to the stories of O. Henry, Edgar Allan Poe and the wry, witty writings of Damon Runyon. This neat little paperback was re-issued about 3 years ago with an introduction by Pete Hamill. It contains the complete manuscript of "Guys and Dolls", and then, as promised in the title, a few more stories are thrown in to round things out.

New York City in the 1930's through the late 1950's was a colorful place with equally colorful people. And many of them hung out on Broadway. Long before the re-vitilization of Times Square took place, it was a place to go and see all kinds of various hustlers, tricksters, 3 Card Monte sharks, street salesmen with suitcases that had accordion legs for quick getaways, and all sorts of hookers, shysters and gamblers.

I was first introduced to the Times Square area at about age 5 when my Uncle Irving took me with him to get tickets for a show. My mother was horrified. There were peep shows in antiquated machines that worked with the turning of a handle that caused still picture cards to flip rapidly, making a moving picture. They cost 5 cents. You didn't see much, but those machines were, for me at least, a tangible link to an era which was quickly passing.

The antics of characters such as Sky Masterson, Jew Louie, Sam the Gonoph, Liverlips, Benny South Street and all of their minions are not just some abstract creation of the author. They are the real thing. These "Guys", and "Dolls", are the people like my Grandfather Pincus, who made it out of the Lower East Side and spent alot of time and money gambling on the ponies. They spoke from the corners of their mouths as they went about their business, collecting bets and exchanging tips. They effected a thin veneer of class with their mispronounced mangling of words that they had only seen in writing, but had never heard spoken. They were saavy in the ways of the street, in much the same way as they were lost in the world of art and literature. But they weren't dumb.

The importance of the characters created, or chronicled, by Damon Runyon can be boiled down to the fact their story is the story of New York City during those decades. Mr. Runyon paved the way for the likes of Jimmy Breslin, Norman Mailer and Pete Hamill. His was the template that became the "norm" for a whole new generation of writer's who would go on to chronicle New York City during the 1950's and 1960's. Even the McCourt brothers, with their extensive writings, are an extension of this style of story telling.

New York City will always be in the midst of change. Her sounds and smells will always be in a flux. But the individual stories of people trying to make it, trying to scheme, scam and sell a dream will always remain the same. That's what I love so much about Damon Runyon. He captured it all so well, so many years ago.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day - and a Birthday, too!

Happy Valentine's Day to my wife of 24 years, Sue. Without her I would walk into walls, sleep in theaters, and sometimes find myself face down in my dinner. Well, maybe I still do, but not quite as often as I would without her in my life. We still annoy one another in small ways, as most married couples do, but we also still enjoy one another. And that is the secret of being in love.

We had a rough beginning, and probably didn't get it right for the first few years, maybe we still don't. But we have always clung to one another on this rocky ride we all call life. We have had a daughter together, raised two sons, and lived to tell the tale. And that's no small feat! So, Happy Valentine's Day, Sue, you will always be my partner in life, even if I am a grouch...

And that brings me to my daughter, Sarah. Here I am, holding her at about 3AM in the morning on Valentine's Day 1987, which just so happens to be her birthday. We tend to do things around holiday times. We were married on the Fourth of July, had Sarah on Valentine's Day, and she got married on Halloween. Go figure... But she has bought much joy into our lives, and so I just wanted to wish her a Happy 24th birthday. As I told her last night, "May you never lose direction, and all your horizons lay just beyond your reach. In that way you will always strive to be more." We now return to our regular broadcast.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"The King's Speech" with Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter

It isn't often that I venture into a movie theater these days, and by that I mean the last 15 years, or so. The screens are too large, and the sound is too loud. I once saw The Rolling Stones in the IMAX Theater in Baltimore, and I suppose that I have never gotten over the trauma of seeing Mick Jagger's lips being two stories tall in the close-ups. All that said, "The King's Speech" is a great movie.

I wanted to see it for several reasons, mostly because the whole World War Two period, as well as the decade leading up to it, has always held a strange fascination for me, largely due to the stories which my Mom told me when I was young. Another reason that the movie was of interest to me was the presence of the the much reviled Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The former King Edward VIII and his wife, the former Ms. Wallis-Simpson of Baltimore, were the toast of the town in New York when I was growing up. They graced the society pages almost daily, and were frequent guests on the Merv Griffin Show, so their presence was palpable in the world around me. So was the animosty towards them in many corners, by people who held it against the former King and his wife, that they, along with Joeseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (who lost his Ambassadorship to Britian around the same time that the former King abdicated his throne) were Nazi "appeasers."

Okay, with that bit of background out the way, I will now review the film.

While Adolph Hitler was marching across Europe, the aim of which was to conquer the world, George V, lay dying in London. The heir to the throne of England was his eldest son, Prince Edward, a notorious playboy who was currently engaged in an affair with a twice divorced American, Ms. Wallis-Simpson, played by Eve Best. When the King passes away, the Prince is crowned, but he is torn by the choice of being a reviled Monarch, or to marry the twice divorced American woman. Predictably, and fortunately for history, he chose the latter.

Complicating matters in this perilous time was the fact that Edward's younger brother, Albert, who was next in line for the throne, stuttered. It was impossible to imagine that he could someday be King, until the day that his brother, King Edward, who had ascended to the throne upon the death of King George V, abdicated his position in favor of his love for Ms. Wallis-Simpson.

The future King George VI, born Albert and affectionately known to his family as "Bertie", has tried all manner of "cures" to deal with his speech impediment, all to no avail. With his brother's abdication fast approaching, and the situation regarding Hitler deteriorating rapidly, Albert is introduced, under an assumed name to a Dr. Lionel Logue, who has some Kingly demands of his own concerning treating the future King. He wishes to be treated as an equal, an unthinkable idea to Prince Albert. He also insists on addressing the Prince as "Bertie."

Through trial and error, the pair proceed to try every known, and unknown approach to the Prince's dilemma. They even sing and dance together while speaking and reading, in order to establish a "flow". The experiments have an impact, and the future King is able to establish a degree of normalcy in his speech. As the day of reckoning approaches, and time runs short, the two men form a bond that will last a lifetime, and save a Kingdom.

Some of the best scenes in the movie involve the Prince and his wife, the Queen Mum, and their children, the future Queen Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, at home. Seeing the two sisters as adults all of our lives, it's fairly interesting to see them as children, almost as "normal" people.

This is a very entertaining, and historically accurate film.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Abe Lincoln at 202 - Defining a Legend

Today is Honest Abe's birthday. He was born in 1809. There was a time when this portrait, along with that of George Washington's, graced the walls of every classroom in America. He was like a God. But now we are a bit older and more jaded, and we hear much talk about Lincoln's real purpose with the Emancipation Proclamation was to cripple the South as far as labor was concerned, while doing nothing to free the slaves in the Union held States. This is all very true. We also hear much talk of State's Rights being the true cause of the Civil War in lieu of slavery.

And that reminds me of a story that concerns Old Abe and State's Rights. Like most good stories, there is not likely to be any truth to it, but it does make it's point. I heard this tale about 30 years ago, and have used it many times in illustrating just how inter-dependent we are on one another if we are to make the world a better place in which to live. I hope you enjoy the story, and moreover, I hope you get the point..

Abe Lincoln was riding on a train when the man in the seat next to him lit a big cigar. The smoke, and smell, of the cigar was wafting across Mr. Lincoln's face, making it hard for him to breath. He politely asked the man, "Sir, your cigar smoke is causing me great difficulty. I wonder if you would mind putting it out?"

The other man looked at Lincoln and said, "Sir, I will have you know that I paid for both my seat and the cigar. If I wish to smoke the cigar, and it bothers you, that's too bad!" With that he sat down and blew a large cloud of smoke across Mr. Lincoln's face.

Lincoln reached down into his bag and drew out a large pistol, which he then pointed at the other man's head, stating as he did, "I, too have paid for both my seat and this pistol. If I chose to shoot it and the bullet bothers you, I suppose that is the same thing?" The other man extinguished his cigar..

Lincoln was a most crafty lawyer, arguing, in different cases, successfully, both for and against clients in cases that involved the Fugitive Slave Act, which required that all runaway slaves were to be considered property and returned to their original owners. Lincoln argued, quite easily in one case, that the slave was indeed the property of his client. The slave was returned to his owner. In the other case he argued that since the trial was taking place in a free state, the runaway slave had all the rights of a free man, and therefore could not be treated as property by the law. That slave was given his freedom.

There is a reason that Abraham Lincoln is so important to the history of this nation. It's not that he freed the slaves, or split rails. The reason that Abraham Lincoln is still so important to us today was spoken by Old Abe himself during his 1858 acceptance speech as the Republican Candidate for Senate, when he said, "..a house divided against itself, cannot stand." Truer words were never spoken, nor so apt as they are today.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy Birthday Egypt!

Here's to the rebellion in Egypt. Now let's see which way the winds will blow in the coming weeks. I'm hoping to be proven wrong concerning my fears that the Muslim Brotherhood will take control, ushering in a new era of Islamic, rather than Secular, government. As I said, I'm hoping to be proven wrong.

The courage, and tenacity, of the Egyptian people, in the last 18 days, has been nothing short of extraordinary. Their Armed Forces acted with great restraint as the people stood their ground. So, here's to a free and democratic Egypt, with the hope that it will usher in a new era of Secular Democracy across the Middle East. Hopefully, that will counterbalance the threat of Radical Islam from the countries further East; such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and etc. Only time will tell.

Jerry Orr and the TSA - Brothers in Incompetence

Imagine for a moment, if you will, standing in line at the Airport, shoes in hand, pockets emptied, ticket and boarding pass, along with your drivers license at the ready, next in line to be electronically scanned, or sexually assaulted, in order to board the plane for which you have purchased a ticket. You have no criminal record and no ties to any terrorist organizations. All is well.

Suddenly, crashing through the window of the terminal comes a taxi cab, laden with explosives, detonating in an enormous blast which forever changes your life, as well as the lives of all the people who were, just moments before, standing in line with you.

Sounds a bit crazy, doesn't it? But it's not so far fetched. At least not here in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Charlotte-Douglas Airport, a major hub for air travel in the United States, has had it's share of troubles as of late. First, there was the boy in the wheel well of a plane, who managed to gain access to the tarmac, and fly to Boston, where he fell to his death. As of this writing no changes have been made at the airport in regards to the safety of the runways. And no one is responsible for that breach of security. I know this for a fact. I have called the TSA at Charlotte-Douglas Airport. They informed me that it was the provence of Charlotte Douglas Airport and it's Director, Jerry Orr, to deal with external security measures. Naturally, when I called the airport, they were not allowed to comment, due to security reasons.

Now we have some more fascinating news from Charlotte-Douglas Airport, regarding security, and once again a surprising lack of interest, or understanding, upon the part of the TSA.

This latest problem stems from the fact that Jerry Orr, Director of Charlotte-Douglas Airport, has awarded a contract to 2 cab companies, Royal and King Cab, both of Charlotte. There seems to be nothing unusual about this, until you scratch the surface. Two owners of the companies, who are brothers, have both served time for a felony. Okay, Jerry Orr takes the position that these men have served their time and are thus free to participate in all aspects of society again, including negotiating, and obtaining, contracts to run cabs out of Charlotte-Douglas Airport. Again, there seems to be nothing wrong with this scenario, until you once again, scratch the surface.

Just what was the crime that the brothers, Javed and Naheed Kashmary, were found guilty of in Federal Court in 2007? They conspired to obtain 40 phony driver's licenses, a tool which is indispensable if you are planning to drive bomb laden cars into the airport.

I'm not saying that the brothers Kashmary are planning any type of terrorist act. And even if they were, they would just be doing their jobs. But the task of the TSA, and the mandate of Jerry Orr, as Director of Charlotte-Douglas Airport, is to look beyond the surface and do more than just go through the motions of doing their jobs. The primary goal, for which they are paid, is to protect you and I. To that end, they are both failing.

Charlotte Mayor Pro-Tem Patrick Cannon gets it. He has called for a delay on the awarding of the contracts to the Kashmary brothers. He wants it put to a vote of the Charlotte City Council. He is to be commended for this stance. Call him and let him know that you agree with his measured approach to this sensitive issue. Here is his number: 704-336-3380.

The other contact numbers which I used in preparing this article are as follows;

Terry Stanton of the TSA. His number is 704-916-3328.

Terry Burgess of the TSA. He is the Assistant Director of Security Compliance. His number is 704-916-3322.

Jerry Orr, Director of Charlotte-Douglas Airport. His number is 704-359-4013.

For the record, I was unable to obtain any logical, or sensible answers to my questions. And remember, we pay these people. Now, if I disappear suddenly and without warning, you will know why.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"He Walked By Night" with Richard Basehart and Jack Webb

This is the film that gave birth to the TV series "Dragnet" with Jack Webb. He even has a small part in this movie. The opening sequence of the TV show, with the Los Angeles Police Station and the voice over, are identical.

The film takes place in Los Angeles, shot on locations around the city, and involves a criminal named Erwin Walker, a brilliant thief and somewhat of a sociopath. The real kicker here is that this is a true story.

At the close of World War Two, Erwin Walker is baffling the police all over Los Angeles as they search for a group of thieves. They are wasting their time. There is only one thief, and that is Mr. Walker, played in the film by Richard Basehart. By altering his modus operandi with each crime, he is able to lead the entire Police Department on a chase that has no apparent conclusion. Until one night, when Mr. Walker makes a mistake, resulting in his fatally shooting a Los Angeles Police Officer.

The investigation becomes a "Dragnet", as the police hunt to find the killer. The investigation leads the two detectives, Sgt. Chuck Jones (Scott Brady) and Marty Brennan (Roy Roberts) to an electronics dealer named Paul Reeves, who is able to put a face to the suspect. With no name to work on, the detectives embark on an exhausting, old fashioned manhunt, knocking on doors and rounding up all the usual suspects.

Released in 1948, only one year after the case was solved, this movie was a real shocker at the time. Richard Basehart, who later on would portray the Captain on "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea", was never in better form as an actor. His part is played with all the guile and cunning one would expect from the real Mr. Walker.

Mr. Walker's preferred means of escape was through the vast system of Los Angeles' storm drains, which he used to great advantage in alluding the police. The scenes shot inside these tunnels are reminiscent of the sewer scenes in Orson Welles' "The Third Man", which was released the following year, in 1949. One can't help but wonder if Mr. Welles' effort was influenced by the true life crimes of Mr. Walker, or the film about them.

With it's slow moving and methodical pace, this movie is immediately identifiable as the genesis for the later TV show "Dragnet", which first aired in 1952 and made Jack Webb a star.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Harlem" by Jonathan Gill

From the silver tipped wooden leg of Peter Stuyvesant, which was given to him as a reward by the East India Company for continuing to fight, even after his leg was shot off, to Jan Rodriquez, a Portuguese seaman who went to live with the Rockaway Indians, fathering the first mixed race child in America, this book will disavow all you think you know about the early Dutch in New Amsterdam. It will also give you a whole new perspective on Harlem, and it's journey on the way to becoming a bastion of African-American Culture in the early years of the 20th Century.

It is still too early in the year to proclaim this book as the must read for 2011, but this sweeping history of Harlem ,which rivals the scope of the 1999 release of Edwin Burrows' and Mike Wallace's "Gotham", will certainly be in the running.

From Henry Hudson's first step ashore at what is now 130th Street in Harlem (and you thought he went ashore at the Battery) to the Revolutionary War, when Harlem was a small village and considered the "country", through the War of 1812, the Civil War and right on through the 20th Century, each page will surprise you with the richness of the history you didn't know.

Some of the misconceptions that are righted in this fascinating book concern the Lower East Side. We all have this impression that the Marx Brothers, Rogers and Hart, and a host of other entertainment figures, came from the Lower East Side. Not true. The Marx Brothers, as well as Rogers and Hart, and Oscar Hammerstein all came from Harlem. Even the original Little Italy was located in Harlem.

The Manhattan Project, which had it's beginnings in a warehouse adjacent to Columbia University is also represented in this treasure trove of history. Carefully researched and well written, this book will entertain you on so many different levels, that I hardly know how to begin a coherent review. The history of the tenement, and how it came into being, is a rare look into the background of early urban real estate and the forces which drove it.

The Christmas Riot of 1901, which began when a group of white Irish youngsters attacked an old Negro drunk, who was then defended by a pasing white man, sparked the riots that re-drew the color line in Harlem. Prior to the riot, Harlem, like the rest of New York, was divided into ethnic neighorhoods. There were Irish, German, Spanish, Jewish and Italian areas, each with it's own set of rules and rituals. The Christmas Riot began the ethnic change, and also sparked a cultural revival of the local arts scene. This was the era of Langston Hughes and Du Bois; the so-called Harlem Renaissance. It is one of the most exciting portions of the book.

The narrative follows the history of Harlem from Henry Hudson through the present day and it's hopes for the future. Along the way you will be introduced to such luminaries as James Europe, the bandleader turned soldier in the First World War. He enlisted over 2,000 men from Harlem, forming them into the "Harlem Hellfighters", an all black group that included Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. This band of soldiers trained in the streets, with brooms in lieu of weapons. When they arrived in France they introduced the people to jazz before spending 191 days in the trenches, longer than any white battalion in the war, on either side. They were also the only regiment to continue to move forward during that time, never giving up one single foot of the ground that they fought so hard to gain. They even amassed an extraordinary 171 Croix de Guerre's and Legions of Merit.

Modernist painters, gangsters, politicians, criminals, prostitutes, actors and prize fighters are all represented in this fantastic compilation of what made Harlem the unique Mecca of African-American culture that it became, and continues to be.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Impact" with Brian Donlevy, Charles Coburn and Ella Raines

I thought I had seen all the film noir there is to see, but somehow I missed this one. Charles Coburn, usually the guy who plays a beleagured father in law, or industrialist, is delightfully cast out of character in this film as Detective Quincy of the San Francisco Police Department. Brian Donlevy is the hapless and unlucky Walter Williams, a self-made businessman so in love with his wife that he cannot see what is about to happen to him.

When he leaves for a trip to Denver, where he has just purchased 3 new factories, his wife, Irene, played by Helen Walker, arranges to have her husband give a lift to a relative named Jim Torrance, played by Tony Barrett. Tony, who is not a relative, has been having an affair with Irene, and the plan is to have him kill Walter en route to Denver. Irene and Jim then plan to leave the country for Mexico. But it never comes to pass.

After nearly being killed by Jim, Walter Williams is left for dead on the side of the road. When Jim speeds away in Walter's car, he crashes into a gasoline tanker and dies in the inferno. His remains are beyond recognition, so the authorities assume that the dead man is Walter Williams. Meantime Irene is packing, getting ready to leave town with her lover. But, as the days tick by, she becomes increasingly concerned that Jim has double crossed her.

Walter, by this time, has recovered enough to realize just what has happened. Finding himself battered and alone on the road he ends up in a small town, where he lands a job at a service station, fixing cars. The owner of the station is a war widow and soon the two find themselves falling for one another.

As all this is happening, Detective Quincy is pursuing the case. As the circle tightens it begins to look as if Walter discovered the plot to kill him, and then murdered the would be murderer. Irene captilizes upon this twist, leaving the viewer in suspense as Detective Quincy tries to make sense of it all. When Irene is finally arrested for the plot to kill her husband, Walter still remains in the small town, following the case in the papers, relishing the irony of his wifes predicament. Will he remain undercover? Or will he come forward to see that justice is served, and to reclaim his life?

A very tightly written script by Jay Dratler and Dorothy Davenport, combined with the taut direction of Arthur Lubin, make this film a keeper. With wonderful vistas of San Francisco in the late 1940's, many of the scenes were shot on the streets of the city, this is a very entertaining film.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Shifting Borders In a Changing World

In a world of constantly shifting borders it is often difficult to trace family lineage back through the destruction of the two World Wars that marred the 20th Century, especially in Europe. Throw in Russia's 70 year foray into Communism, along with these shifting borders, and you can run into a real puzzle!

When William and Esther Marcus left Poland for America around 1911, they left Poland. When the Russian Revolution was over and the First World War had ended, the borders had shifted. The same thing happened in the Second World War and then again later, when the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980's.

So, over the years I have been descended from Poles/Russian/Poles. And that's just on that side of the family! My second cousin, Jana Marcus, has done a lot of research on this and come up with a new twist. We have another family member we were unaware of, who died in infancy back in Poland in 1902. Here is a part of the e-mail I received yesterday about this new discovery, with some other background info thrown in;

I wanted to share with you some new family history I have discovered.

As you know, William and Esther were from Kishinev (Chisinau), Moldava.

I did some extensive research in the Moldava marriage and birth
records through I found three exciting things:

1. The name of the village they came from in Kishinev is Rashkov

2. William and Esther had a child we didn't know about! Rivka Marcus
was born in Kishinev in 1901, and died on June 8, 1902 of a cerebral
infection. She died a baby, but was born before Minnie and Sophie.

3. I found William and Esther's marriage record. Married in 1895 in
Kishinev, Esther's "old world" maiden name was Saganovskaya. Her
father was Yosef Saganovskaya. This led me to a search for
Saganovskaya, and I discovered the following:

Yosef Saganovskaya, son of Pinkos Saganovskaya, was born abt. 1848
in Gaysin, Vinnitsa, Ukraine. He had three children:

Avrum Saganovskaya
Jankel Saganovskaya
Esther Saganovskaya

Avrum Saganovskaya married Rakehl Edya and had the following children:

Pinkhos Saganovskaya ( b. 1894)
Yankel Saganovskaya (b. 1896)
Sura Sarah Saganovskaya ( b. 1899)
Sheyndlya Saganovskaya ( b.1904)
Yosef Saganovskaya (b. 1907)

Jankel Saganovskaya ( wife unnknown) had one child that I could find:

Shlioma Saganovskaya (b.1900)

Noticed how many children were named Pinkhos and Yankel or a variation of...interesting, uh? So, we have gone two more generations on Esther's side!

Happy trails to you all,
Jana Marcus Photography

With this new information, Jana has established my family tree as far back as the 1840's on the Marcus (maternal) side. The Henkin side of that tree is shrouded in mystery with no one left to tell the story. And anyway, I like the mystery better, as it probably trumps the reality.

On my paternal side, we have information and Census forms dating back to the 1850's for the Burke's (my Dad's maternal side), and on the Williams' side we can trace our roots to the mid 1800's in Wales and England.

I never get tired of this stuff. The past is where we all come from and a large piece of who we are and where we are headed. Eventually we are all going to come around to the realization that we are all related. That doesn't mean we are going to love one another in the blink of an eye. But it is the beginning of becoming aware that we are all truly connected in one way or another. So don't judge your neighbors too harshly - you just might be related...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Bleed Red" by Ronnie Dunn

Ronnie Dunn, of Brooks and Dunn, one of Country Music's hottest duos of the last 20 years, released his first solo record this past week. The first track released was the stunningly appropriate "Bleed Red", which coming, as it does, amidst all the chaos unfolding in Egypt, and across the Middle East, renders an even deeper meaning to these already powerful lyrics.

"Bleed Red" by Ronnie Dunn

Let’s say we're sorry, before it’s too late, give forgiveness a chance
Turn the anger into water; let it slip through our hands.
We all bleed red, we all taste rain, all fall down, lose our way,
We all say words we regret, we all cry tears, we all bleed red.

If we’re fighting, we’re both losing; we’re just wasting our time
Because my scars, they are your scars and your world is mine.
You and I, we all bleed red, we all taste rain, all fall down, lose our way
We all say words, we regret, we all cry tears, we all bleed red.

Sometimes we’re strong, sometimes we’re weak, sometimes we’re hurt and it cuts deep.
We live this life, breath to breath, we’re all the same; we all bleed red.

Let’s say we’re sorry…. Before it’s too late….

We all bleed red, all taste rain, all fall down, lose our way,
We all say words we regret, all cry tears, we all bleed red.
Sometimes we’re strong, sometimes we’re weak; sometimes we’re hurt, it cuts deep;
We live this life breath to breath; we’re all the same; we all bleed red.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Rainy Day Things

It's a chilly, rainy day here today. Better than the snow and ice gripping most of the nation right now. But this is where I am parked for the day, at the scarred and badly in need of refinishing, Dining Room table. It's one of the first things Sue and I ever bought together after we were married. Maybe that's why we've left it in it's current and battered state. I don't really know why, I just sat down to write this thing, so don't ask me where it's going, or for that matter, where it's coming from. As I said, it's a chilly, rainy day.

I suppose the table, like a good marriage, bears it's share of scars over the years, and it seems kind of vain to cover them up. That table is a reflection of almost 25 years of eating, doing homework, reading the paper and just about everything else that goes along with raising a family.

But today, the table of scars is mine alone. I will be spending most of the afternoon sitting there. I just started reading "Harlem" by Jonathan Gill, and I'll also be listening to music on my MP3 and those little Sony speakers. I might even try to make some guttural sounds of my own while I'm at it. What the hell, most of the neighbors are at work...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Hellhound On His Trail" by Hampton Sides

This is a gripping book, thoroughly researched and adamant in it's conclusion. Just one flaw. It doesn't wash clean. When all the assembled evidence is gathered and analyzed, the reader is still left with several glaring questions; where did an escaped convict get the money to buy a car, travel about using only cash for a year, seemingly stalking Dr. King, meticulously planning his murder using maps to mark his intended locations, only to leave those maps behind in an Atlanta rooming house, along with a $20 bill that would wind up being sequentially matched to the bills that James Earl Ray possessed?

Now, on with the review. If you have ever seen Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece "North by Northwest", then you will understand the way that the various Intelligence organizations operated in the 1950's and 60's. The setting up of identities for ficticious persons, while having non-descript real people carrying out seemingly unrelated "tasks" was the preferred way to accomplish anything of note, without fear of the entire "chain" of seemingly unrelated events being discovered. Moreover, if it were discovered, it would seem to make no sense. This was the rationale behind the Kennedy Assassination, and most probably, given the painstaking research of this book, the same thing that drove the plot to kill Martin Luther King.

What makes this book so remarkable is that even as it sets out to prove that one lone man killed Martin Luther King, it fails. Along the way there are so many glaring holes in the tale that one has to agree with the New York Times editorial of July 1968, which basically said that if you believe this you're nuts.

This is a very well written, and gripping read, even if you don't buy the conclusion. Mr. Sides has written an accounting of James Earl Ray's 21,000 plus mile journey that rivals any work of fiction. The FBI, headed by J. Edgar Hoover, a man known well for his distatse of the slain Dr. King, is tasked with heading the Investigation, against his will. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, along with New Scotland Yard, are prominently on display in their role to capture the assassin.

Some of the best portions of this book concern the American government and it's reaction to the assassination. Coming, as it did, within 5 years of President Kennedy's murder in Dallas, the country's leadership, under LBJ, was hard pressed to bring this case to a quick close. With many of the nation's cities already in flames, including Washington DC, and the Poor Peoples March set to begin in about 4 weeks, time was of the essence. It was also a Presidential election year.

Absent from this account is any mention of the deal that James Earl Ray made in accepting a 99 year prison sentence in lieu of a trial. This had to do with his father's escape from a mid-western prison some years earlier. James Earl Ray was offered a trial- but his father would be returned to prison. This is a rather important piece of the puzzle, that is left out of the book by the author.

Ask anyone about the trial of James Earl Ray - they'll tell you he was found guilty. In reality he accepted the sentence without trial. He then immediatley recanted his statement. So, there never was a trial, not until shortly before Mr. Ray's death in 1998, at which time he was attempting to prove his innocence. Even the King family asserts that James Earl Ray was not the killer. Here is a link to the letter that James Earl Ray wrote from prison concerning these facts;

Whatever your view concerning the King assassination, this book is non-stop action and suspense. And that is a hard thing for an author to accomplish when the ending is already so well known.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day - A Brief Comment

With winter only 5 weeks old, we find ourselves once again engaged in the old tradition of waking up the groundhogs early from their winter's hibernation, in order to ask them when winter will end, as if they know. And, more to the point, would be the fact that, if they did know, they couldn't tell us. So, as with last year, and many years prior to that, I'm rooting for the groundhogs again. This year, I'm hoping they're going to do something dramatic, like take a healthy bite out of the hands that wake them up!

With blizzards raging across a 2,000 mile long swath of the country, the groundhog is the smartest guy in town. He's deep down in his hole, sleeping. To those who wish to trek out into 3 foot of snow, and dig him out - best of luck. My own prediction, based upon the calendar, and not my arthritis, is that it will be winter until it is over in about 6 weeks.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Edge of Darkness" with Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone and Danny Huston

In spite of his otherworldly excursions into drunken madness and Anti-Semitism, this film proves one thing; Mel Gibson can still act. With all of the intensity of his earlier roles in such films as "The Bounty", and "The Patriot", Mr. Gibson shines in his first starring role in 8 years, as Detective Thomas Craven, in this white knuckle thriller set in Boston.

When Dectective Craven's daughter comes home to visit, she is clearly troubled. Employed by a shady international corporation, with political and military overtones, Emma clearly has something on her mind that she wishes to share with her Dad. But before she can clue him in on what it's all about, she begins bleeding from the nose and shows signs of having been poisoned, most likely by radiation. As her father hustles her out the door of his home to take her to the hospital, a man steps out of a car and yells the last name "Craven" as he pulls the trigger, ending Emma's life.

Now the traumatized detective mistakenly believes that he was the intended target of a hit gone wrong, even as he tries to find out what his daughter was trying to tell him. Was the intended target really Detective Craven? And if not, why was his daughter killed and who is responsible?

Using all of his skills as a detective pits him against an array of covert government organizations that are involved in the manufacture of weapons that cannot be traced back to this country, but will be used instead to instigate incidents that will then serve as excuses for waging wars. Proving this is harder than it sounds, especially when the agencies involved all claim National Security, and try to eliminate Detective Craven, who has become a big problem. To that end, they send a man named Jedburgh, played by Ray Winstone, to do the job. But something unexpected comes up, and as Craven gets closer to the truth, Jedburgh seems to back off.

Craven, meanwhile, has been poisoned, just as his daughter was, and now has nothing left to lose. Arriving at the home of his late daughter's boss, he settles the score by shooting the bodyguards and then forcing the man to drink the very poison which killed his daughter and now threatens his own life.

Meantime, while Craven lies dying in the hospital, he is visited by Emma's spirit, who has been watching and calling to her father throughout the whole film. In a very touching and poignant scene, the two are re-united. But that's not how the film ends. I'm no "spoiler" so you will have to see the film for yourself if you want to know the climax.

Although Mr. Gibson's antics of the last several years have undoubtedly cost him a fan or two, he is in fine form in this remarkable film by Director Martin Campbell, from a script by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell. A great film, not to be missed.