Saturday, April 30, 2011

La Vie En Rose en Deux

There are 2 versions of this song "La Vie en Rose" which will live forever. Louis Armstrong's version is my favorite- the plaintive sound of his coronet and the abbreviated lyrics make this a tight and soulful version of Edith Piaf's original recording of the song. These are the lyrics, as translated for Mr. Armstrong;

(Il existe 2 versions de cette chanson "La Vie en Rose" qui vivra éternellement. La version de Louis Armstrong est mon préféré-le son plaintif de sa couronne et le lyrics cette version abrégée un virage serré et soul de l'enregistrement original d'Edith Piaf de la chanson. Ce sont les paroles, traduit de M. Armstrong;)

Hold me close and hold me fast
The magic spell you cast
This is la vie en rose

When you kiss me heaven sighs
And tho I close my eyes
I see la vie en rose

When you press me to your heart
I'm in a world apart
A world where roses bloom

And when you speak...angels sing from above
Everyday words turn into love songs

Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La vie en rose

This is the original version by Edith Piaf, the noted French chauntuse. The lyrics are a bit more complicated, but it was originally intended as a woman's song, which is why the lyrics of Mr. Armstrong's version were simplified.

(Il s'agit de la version originale par Edith Piaf, l'a noté chauntuse français. Les paroles sont un peu plus compliqué, mais il était initialement conçu comme un chant d'une femme, ce qui explique pourquoi les paroles de la version de M. Armstrong ont été simplifiées.)


Des yeux qui font baisser les miens
Un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche
Voilà le portrait sans retouche
De l’homme auquel j’appartiens

Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose

Il me dit des mots d’amour
Des mots de tous les jours
Et ça me fait quelque chose

Il est entré dans mon coeur
Une part de bonheur
Dont je connais la cause

C’est lui pour moi, moi pour lui dans la vie
Il me l’a dit, l’a juré pour la vie

Et dès que je l’aperçois
Alors je sens en moi
Mon coeur qui bat

Des nuits d’amour à plus finir
Un grand bonheur qui prend sa place
Les ennuis, les chagrins s’effacent
Heureux, heureux à en mourir

Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose

Il me dit des mots d’amour
Des mots de tous les jours
Et ça me fait quelque chose

Il est entré dans mon coeur
Une part de bonheur
Dont je connais la cause

C’est toi pour moi, moi pour lui dans la vie
Il me l’a dit, l’a juré pour la vie

Et dès que je l’aperçois
Alors je sens en moi
Mon coeur qui bat



Eyes that gaze into mine,
A smile that is lost on his lips—
That is the unretouched portrait
Of the man to whom I belong.

When he takes me in his arms
And speaks softly to me,
I see life in rosy hues.
He tells me words of love,
Words of every day,
And in them I become something.
He has entered my heart,
A part of happiness
Whereof I understand the reason.
It’s he for me and I for him, throughout life,
He has told me, he has sworn to me, for life.
And from the things that I sense,
Now I can feel within me
My heart that beats.

In endless nights of love,
A great delight that comes about,
The pains and bothers are banished,
Happy, happy to die of love.

When he takes me in his arms
And speaks softly to me,
I see life in rosy hues.
He tells me words of love,
Words of every day,
And in them I become something.
He has entered my heart,
A part of happiness
Whereof I understand the reason.
It’s he for me and I for him, throughout life,
He has told me, he has sworn to me, for life.
And from the things that I sense,
Now I can feel within me
My heart that beats.

"The Beaver" - A True Life Tale by Michael Hoffman

My daughter Sarah, and her husband Michael, were out paddling about in the creek which runs behind their apartment. The creek leads to a part of Lake Norman which is filled with wildlife of all descriptions. It is not all that unusual to see a heron, or groups of geese (I think that's called a "gaggle")as well as various wildlife ashore, which include deer, raccoons, groundhogs and, in this case, the occasional beaver. This is the text of the e-mail from Michael, sent while still paddling about. Technology, ain't it grand?


During our excursion over the nearby portion of the lake, Sarah and I were relaxing when your daughter glimpsed something just peeking from the water's surface, moving across the inlet.

"A water-dwelling mammal!"she exclaimed and led the way as we took our individual inflatable rafts to follow in the creature's wake. After it disappeared beneath the surface, Sarah spotted it once again, eating leaves calmly as it edged out of the water. For nearly one half of an hour we watched the beaver eat, and I endeavored to capture it's presence with the low quality camera on my cellular phone. What I have attached to this e-mail is the best of my attempts, and while it may not be visible here, we guarantee you it's tail was flat, and glorious.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Age of Chivalry is Not Dead.

Thanks to Coleman, our 2 year old neighbor, for proving that the Age of Chivalry is not dead. Sue was out doing the lawn today when Coleman came outside with his mom, Ashley. Sizing up the situation in a glance, he grabbed his trusty, lightweight mower and pitched right in. He didn't even ask for gas money! Watch out for this little guy,he's going to break hearts someday...

"Atlantic" by Simon Winchester

There are so many books written about the sea, and for the most part, they are very entertaining. However, they usually confine themselves to one topic; either a ship's voyage, a discovery, a wreck, a storm, and even the occasional mutiny. But this book has it all.

The author, Simon Winchester, author of about 20 books, ranging from travel to history, has outdone himself with this all encompassing tome to the world's most well traveled ocean. His love of the sea began in earnest at age 18, in 1963, when he booked passage from Liverpool aboard the Empress of Britain, bound for Montreal.

From the formation of the oceans and the first voyages upon them, the author carefully delves into all the major aspects of the history of the Atlantic. The Vikings conquest of Northern Europe, and the battle for control of the continent during the Crusades is well documented and lively. The interplay between the politics of the Mediterranean Sea, with it's marauding pirates on the ocean, and bandits on the land trade routes, blocked access to the Far East, and lent a new urgency to explore the vast Atlantic Ocean as an alternative.

Further exploring the history of European expansion, the author takes us on the voyages to the New World, the conquests of South America, and the attendant decimation of the native popoulation. The first slave ships of the 16th Century, were mostly comprised of native prisoners taken from South America by the Spanish. Later, the French and English, and even the newly founded American colonies, would occupy themselves with the importation of slaves from Africa to work the plantations of the South. The last slave to have come over on an American slave ship was Cudjoe Lewis, who died at age 94 in 1935, living just outside Mobile, Alabama. He had been taken from his native Benin in about 1858.

One of the most unusual slave stories involves James Riley, a farmer's son from Connecticut, who set out on the brig Commerce from Hartford in 1815. They were off to North Africa, looking for slaves. But, as luck would have it, the shearers became the shorn. The Commerce ran aground in a fog, and Mr. Riley was captured, along with his crew and, you guessed it, they were enslaved by a group of Sahara nomads. His ordeal lasted 2 years and came to an end only after he managed to slip a note to the British Consul in Essaouira. Ransom was arranged in the amount of $920 and two double barreled shotguns in order to secure the release of Mr. Riley and his crew. Upon his return home Mr. Riley penned "An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce", which sold over a million copies. The book is back in print today under the title "Sufferings in Africa." Abraham Lincoln described it as having more influence upon him than any other book, save for the Bible and "Pilgrim's Progress."

The author also explores the ocean currents and their effects upon trade and travel. The progress made by technology is also addressed in this sweeping history of the Atlantic Ocean. The triumphs and tragedies, the joys and sorrrows, the mysteries of forgotten ships; are all gathered in this one remarkable collection that will keep you reading past bedtime. And even then, when you do fall asleep, you will probably dream of the sea.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Banksy - Wall and Piece" by Banksy

Of all the books I have seen on graffiti this is the most unusual. Even the copyright, or lack of a proper one, is unusual. In the authors opening statement, he asserts that, "The people who truly deface our neighbourhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff. They expect to be able to shout their message in your face from every available surface but you're never allowed to shout back. Well, they started the fight and the wall is the weapon of choice to hit them back." This statement sets the tone for the book, which is a beautifully printed 200 and some page collection of some of the most politically, and socially, provocative graffiti which I have ever seen.

Banksy is an internationally known, and anonymous, graffiti artist, painter, writer and filmmaker. This book is a collection of some of his favorite, and most provocative works.

Most of the book is comprised of his work in London, but it also branches out to other countries as well. Isreal, the Palestinian Territories, Paris and even California are all represented here. But this is not the usual type of graffiti that marks gang turf. This stuff is sociological in it's nature, reflecting the concerns, political as well as economic, of the people who live in these countries. Some of the work is truly art.

The beautiful vistas painted on the seperation wall in Bethlehem are breathtakingly real. It appears almost as if you could walk through the wall to the other side. You can taste the freedom of movement intended by the artist.

The British graffiti is also very different than our own brand here in America. Much of it is comprised of "stencil" art, prodding the officials with satirical artwork, exposing the fallacies of the system. One of my favorites involves the sign posted in the water of the lake at St. James Park in London. The sign, complete with the symbol for a Radiation Hazard, simply appeared overnight. The Metropolitan Police actually posted a guard at the site to assure passers-by that it was not a threat.

From road signs depicting "Flying Pigs Crossing", to stencils of children holding helium filled balloons in order to float over the Seperation Wall, this book kicks, and prods, the reader into thinking. And thinking is what good art is all about. Isn't it?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2012 and the Secret Ballot - An Opinion.

The Presidential Election is looming ahead of us, and though over a year away, the battlelines have already been drawn, and the worthless rhetoric begun. What can we do, each of us, as individuals, to break the cycle of rancor and division? It's quite simple. The Secret Ballot. You have it, it's your right, use it.

Imagine an election in which there are no polls to highlight the divide between political factions. Some people might even think about the issues. I have proposed this in 2004 and 2008, to no avail. I believe I was a bit ahead of the times then. But I also believe that it is a viable solution, as well as a possible deterrent, to the forces that seek to keep us split, 49% against 51%, in a continuosly shifting battle, one which serves only the politicians, and the media, running the show.

In this coming election cycle I encourage you, when asked, by friends and pollsters alike, who you are voting for, to reply with something like, "I am exercising my right to vote a Secret Ballot." If they persist, question their loyalty to the Constitution, which they all, on both sides, so vociferously defend.

If the Conservative persists, you can accuse him of betraying the Constitution. On the other hand, if a Liberal is bothering you, you can question his patriotism as well. After all, both sides are extremists, and as such, threats to the order of our society. Numerous as they may be, the faults of the system in place now, pale in comparison to the spectre of Tea Partiers, or Juinor Congressman, running the country. And as for Donald Trump, don't even get me started.

So, vow to vote your conscious. That is your Right. But don't give the 24/7 news cycle the fuel on which they feed, as they continue to influence elections with their "polls." That's your Right, too. And in a more important way, it's also your Responsibilty.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"The Mob and Me" by John Partington and Arlene Violet

John Partington is one of the original founders of the Witness Protection Program. Along with former Attorney General Arlene Violet, he has written a book that is at once, both historically accurate, and very insightful. The book takes you beyond the world shown in films such as "Goodfellas", where the bad guys are the heroes, and shows what it is like when things don't go right for members of organized crime.

Mr. Partington's experience begins in the mid 1960's, working as a U.S. Marshall. It was in this position that he first encountered Robert F. Kennedy, who was a strong believer in getting mobsters to "roll" on one another. The Witness Protection Program became the vehicle which would drive that effort. With promises of protection, money, housing and even jobs, the program almost became a retirement plan for some of the nation's worst criminals.

By dangling bits of information in front of the Feds, the mobsters learned quickly how to play the "Program", just as they had learned to "fix" the gambling in Vegas.

This is an insightful look at the other side of organized crime, taking the reader into the lives of the families of the mobsters. The price that they pay, in lost relations, normal childhoods and freedom are enormous. But there is another side to this book as well.

What toll is taken on the family of the agents involved in this program? How do the wives, and children, of the agents involved, deal with the long absences required of this highly unusual job?

From Joe Valachi, Bob Leuci (Prince of the City) to John Dean and Howard Hunt of the Watergate Affair, the author fills his account with some unforgettable characters. And one of the most important things which the reader takes away from this book is that the Criminals and Marshalls are but two sides of one coin. By that I mean, that though their goals may be totally different, the problems they face in their personal lives are too often the same.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"Helmut and Lisa In the Big Apple" by Stuart Sokol

Helmut and Lisa came to New York to spend their honeymoon on a day in early March. It was about 35 degrees with wind gusts up to 50 mph on and off, with a mix of light snow and sleet. Helmut looked like the prototypical Austrian ski instructor, he was about 6 foot 4, and built like Paul Bunyan, he kind of looked like a blonde Harry Hamlin. Lisa looked like Heather Locklear, but prettier, with gorgeous blonde hair and huge green eyes, wearing a lavender skintight pants suit on a body that would redefine the word hourglass.

They were both beaming from ear to ear, showing their pearly white teeth and perfect mouths as they landed in Newark Airport, headed to the Marriot Marquis in the center of Times Square in Manhattan. As I loaded their velvety brand new luggage I remember thinking, God chose to reach down and give these two people that perfect life we all dream about.

We then headed out of the airport and onto the New Jersey Turnpike for New York City when I became concerned about an issue involving my cab. The roof light on top was held on by magnets, this was due to the fact that it was also my personal car, and when I was using it with my family I didn’t want it to look like a taxicab.

One of the magnets started to rattle and I became concerned that it was slightly loose, and since it was abnormally windy I decided to pull off to the shoulder and remove it before it flew off and killed somebody. When I returned behind the wheel I proceeded to explain to Helmut and Lisa what I had done. They spoke very little English, so I proceeded to explain it using gestures to explain myself. It made perfect sense to Lisa, but Helmut started to behave erratically, and he demanded another explanation.

Lisa was trying to explain it to him in German but he kept acting crazier. All of a sudden Helmut started yelling, "We get out we get out!" I said, "What are you talking about? You can’t get out here, we are in the middle of the New Jersey Turnpike!" At this point Lisa realized what was happening and her face had a look I had only seen once before in my life. I was at Shea Stadium watching a Met game when a woman about 60 years old caught a foul ball squarely in the mouth as her face exploded in blood; she wore a similar expression to what Lisa wore at the moment.

Helmut kept screaming louder and louder like a man possessed and I started to fear for my own safety. If you are driving a cab and refuse to let someone out, it is technically kidnapping, so I did the only thing I could do. I put my flashers on and stopped on a bridge on the New Jersey Turnpike in thirty five degrees with the 50 mph gusts, and the freezing rain, got out, unloaded their luggage and continued on my merry way back to the airport, hoping that my next passengers would be a bit more rational.

I’ll never know what happened to Helmut and Lisa, but I have speculated that he never get to touch her beautiful face and body again.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

An Afternoon in the Sun with Sue.

Sue and I celebrated the Easter Holiday with a late brunch at Mimosa Grill, which was out of this world. They called it a brunch, I called it a Feast! There was everything listed here below, and more, all prepared to perfection, and served with a smile by Hannah, who was our server. She made the visit just that, a visit, rather than a meal. Thanks, Hannah! She also took the photo. Sue looks scared because she's alway thinking about the bill. I don't think, I just eat.

And what better way to end the afternoon than with a walk through Elmwood Cemetery, located just a few blocks from the restaurant. The peaceful vistas, along with the unusual markers found there, make this an interesting place to wander about after a filling meal on a warm (85F) day. Along with a steady breeze to tossle your hair, this was one of those rare Charlotte days that fall between the too short spring, and the oppressive heat of the long, hot summer ahead.

Of course no visit to Elmwood is complete without dropping by the "Big" Elm, so we did. Just to pay our respects. It's one of the most symetrical, and wide, Elm trees I've ever tried to wrap my arms about, and couldn't, although there was a time that I could climb it.

Happy Easter - "The Resurrection" by Rubens (1611)

This is a wonderful painting by Peter Paul Rubens, a German born painter. He moved to Antwerp when he was 10 years old in 1587. His works speak for themselves and he is considered to be one of the Masters of the Flemish painters, as well as one of the chief influences of the "Baroque Period."

His paintings are largely religous in their themes, and he was unique, for his time, in painting Christ as empowered, rather than as a victim. His father had been persecuted for his religous beliefs and fled from Antwerp to Germany, seeking religous freedom. It was there that Peter Paul Rubens was born in 1577. When the elder Mr. Rubens died in 1587, his widow returned, with the young Peter Paul, to Antwerp, where he was destined for great things, both as an artist, as well as a diplomat.

Rubens was fluent in Latin and Greek, and became a messenger to a noblewoman, the Countess of Lalaing. Although he disliked court life, he did make friends and forge alliances, which would be of aid to him in his later years as a diplomat.

When he returned home to Antwerp, he made the decision to become a painter. A student of three masters —Tobias Verhaecht, Adam van Noort, and Otto van Veen, he honed his skills, until in 1598 he was accepted as a Master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke. He was now a Master Painter at the age of 21.

By 1616 Rubens would go on to paint what is often considered to be the companion piece to this painting. It was called "Christ Risen." Google him and look at some of his extraordinary art.

Meantime, Happy Easter to all those who observe. And let the rest eat chocolates!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

San Francisco 1906 - Rebuilding a City

This is the Flood Building in 1904.

This is the Flood Building immediately after the quake.

This is the Food Building during rebuilding.

And this is the Flood Building today

When San Francisco awoke to an earthquake early on the morning of April 18th, 1906 the worst was only beginning. Rebuilding a city, and a vibrant one at that, would take years, but the infrastructure was the primary concern. Railroad tracks, trolley lines, electricity and phone service all needed to be restored quickly in order for San Francisco to reclaim itself. And the people of the “city by the sea” rose to the ocassion; rebuilding their "city by the sea again."

The following account, by Jack London, was posted here previously, but with fewer photos.

The following is the incredible job of reporting done by Jack London when he went to San Francisco in the aftermath of the Great Earthquake of 1906. His sharp insights into human suffering, quite evident in this piece of journalism, clearly show the work of a genius writer, as well as a reader of human souls. Born in San Francisco, to an unwed mother, this remarkeable author, who would be dead by age 40, would go on to leave his mark in the world of both journalism and literature. Here is his story;

The San Francisco Earthquake

Upon receipt of the first news of the earthquake, Collier's telegraphed to Mr. Jack London-who lives only forty miles from San Francisco-requesting him to go to the scene of the disaster and write the story of what he saw. Mr. London started at once, and he sent the following dramatic description of the tragic events he witnessed in the burning city.

The earthquake shook down in San Francisco hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of walls and chimneys. But the conflagration that followed burned up hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of property There is no estimating within hundreds of millions the actual damage wrought. Not in history has a modern imperial city been so completely destroyed. San Francisco is gone. Nothing remains of it but memories and a fringe of dwelling-houses on its outskirts. Its industrial section is wiped out. Its business section is wiped out. Its social and residential section is wiped out. The factories and warehouses, the great stores and newspaper buildings, the hotels and the palaces of the nabobs, are all gone. Remains only the fringe of dwelling houses on the outskirts of what was once San Francisco.

Within an hour after the earthquake shock the smoke of San Francisco's burning was a lurid tower visible a hundred miles away. And for three days and nights this lurid tower swayed in the sky, reddening the sun, darkening the day, and filling the land with smoke.

On Wednesday morning at a quarter past five came the earthquake. A minute later the flames were leaping upward In a dozen different quarters south of Market Street, in the working-class ghetto, and in the factories, fires started. There was no opposing the flames. There was no organization, no communication. All the cunning adjustments of a twentieth century city had been smashed by the earthquake. The streets were humped into ridges and depressions, and piled with the debris of fallen walls. The steel rails were twisted into perpendicular and horizontal angles. The telephone and telegraph systems were disrupted. And the great water-mains had burst. All the shrewd contrivances and safeguards of man had been thrown out of gear by thirty seconds' twitching of the earth-crust.

The Fire Made its Own Draft

By Wednesday afternoon, inside of twelve hours, half the heart of the city was gone. At that time I watched the vast conflagration from out on the bay. It was dead calm. Not a flicker of wind stirred. Yet from every side wind was pouring in upon the city. East, west, north, and south, strong winds were blowing upon the doomed city. The heated air rising made an enormous suck. Thus did the fire of itself build its own colossal chimney through the atmosphere. Day and night this dead calm continued, and yet, near to the flames, the wind was often half a gale, so mighty was the suck.

Wednesday night saw the destruction of the very heart of the city. Dynamite was lavishly used, and many of San Francisco proudest structures were crumbled by man himself into ruins, but there was no withstanding the onrush of the flames. Time and again successful stands were made by the fire-fighters, and every time the flames flanked around on either side or came up from the rear, and turned to defeat the hard-won victory.

An enumeration of the buildings destroyed would be a directory of San Francisco. An enumeration of the buildings undestroyed would be a line and several addresses. An enumeration of the deeds of heroism would stock a library and bankrupt the Carnegie medal fund. An enumeration of the dead-will never be made. All vestiges of them were destroyed by the flames. The number of the victims of the earthquake will never be known. South of Market Street, where the loss of life was particularly heavy, was the first to catch fire.

Remarkable as it may seem, Wednesday night while the whole city crashed and roared into ruin, was a quiet night. There were no crowds. There was no shouting and yelling. There was no hysteria, no disorder. I passed Wednesday night in the path of the advancing flames, and in all those terrible hours I saw not one woman who wept, not one man who was excited, not one person who was in the slightest degree panic stricken.

Before the flames, throughout the night, fled tens of thousands of homeless ones. Some were wrapped in blankets. Others carried bundles of bedding and dear household treasures. Sometimes a whole family was harnessed to a carriage or delivery wagon that was weighted down with their possessions. Baby buggies, toy wagons, and go-carts were used as trucks, while every other person was dragging a trunk. Yet everybody was gracious. The most perfect courtesy obtained. Never in all San Francisco's history, were her people so kind and courteous as on this night of terror.

A Caravan of Trunks

All night these tens of thousands fled before the flames. Many of them, the poor people from the labor ghetto, had fled all day as well. They had left their homes burdened with possessions. Now and again they lightened up, flinging out upon the street clothing and treasures they had dragged for miles.

They held on longest to their trunks, and over these trunks many a strong man broke his heart that night. The hills of San Francisco are steep, and up these hills, mile after mile, were the trunks dragged. Everywhere were trunks with across them lying their exhausted owners, men and women. Before the march of the flames were flung picket lines of soldiers. And a block at a time, as the flames advanced, these pickets retreated. One of their tasks was to keep the trunk-pullers moving. The exhausted creatures, stirred on by the menace of bayonets, would arise and struggle up the steep pavements, pausing from weakness every five or ten feet.

Often, after surmounting a heart-breaking hill. they would find another wall of flame advancing upon them at right angles and be compelled to change anew the line of their retreat. In the end, completely played out, after toiling for a dozen hours like giants, thousands of them were compelled to abandon their trunks. Here the shopkeepers and soft members of the middle class were at a disadvantage. But the working-men dug holes in vacant lots and backyards and buried their trunks.

The Doomed City

At nine o'clock Wednesday evening I walked down through the very heart of the city. I walked through miles and miles of magnificent buildings and towering skyscrapers. Here was no fire. All was in perfect order. The police patrolled the streets. Every building had its watchman at the door. And yet it was doomed, all of it. There was no water. The dynamite was giving out. And at right angles two different conflagrations were sweeping down upon it.

At one o'clock in the morning I walked down through the same section Everything still stood intact. There was no fire. And yet there was a change. A rain of ashes was falling. The watchmen at the doors were gone. The police had been withdrawn. There were no firemen, no fire-engines, no men fighting with dynamite. The district had been absolutely abandoned. I stood at the corner of Kearney and Market, in the very innermost heart of San Francisco. Kearny Street was deserted. Half a dozen blocks away it was burning on both sides. The street was a wall of flame. And against this wall of flame, silhouetted sharply, were two United States cavalrymen sitting their horses, calming watching. That was all. Not another person was in sight. In the intact heart of the city two troopers sat their horses and watched.

Spread of the Conflagration

Surrender was complete. There was no water. The sewers had long since been pumped dry. There was no dynamite. Another fire had broken out further uptown, and now from three sides conflagrations were sweeping down. The fourth side had been burned earlier in the day. In that direction stood the tottering walls of the Examiner building, the burned-out Call building, the smoldering ruins of the Grand Hotel, and the gutted, devastated, dynamited Palace Hotel

The following will illustrate the sweep of the flames and the inability of men to calculate their spread. At eight o'clock Wednesday evening I passed through Union Square. It was packed with refugees. Thousands of them had gone to bed on the grass. Government tents had been set up, supper was being cooked, and the refugees were lining up for free meals

At half past one in the morning three sides of Union Square were in flames. The fourth side, where stood the great St. Francis Hotel was still holding out. An hour later, ignited from top and sides the St. Francis was flaming heavenward. Union Square, heaped high with mountains of trunks, was deserted. Troops, refugees, and all had retreated.

A Fortune for a Horse!

It was at Union Square that I saw a man offering a thousand dollars for a team of horses. He was in charge of a truck piled high with trunks from some hotel. It had been hauled here into what was considered safety, and the horses had been taken out. The flames were on three sides of the Square and there were no horses.

Also, at this time, standing beside the truck, I urged a man to seek safety in flight. He was all but hemmed in by several conflagrations. He was an old man and he Was on crutches. Said he: "Today is my birthday. Last night I was worth thirty thousand dollars. I bought five bottles of wine, some delicate fish and other things for my birthday dinner. I have had no dinner, and all I own are these crutches."

I convinced him of his danger and started him limping on his way. An hour later, from a distance, I saw the truck-load of trunks burning merrily in the middle of the street.

On Thursday morning at a quarter past five, just twenty-four hours after the earthquake, I sat on the steps of a small residence on Nob Hill. With me sat Japanese, Italians, Chinese, and negroes--a bit of the cosmopolitan flotsam of the wreck of the city. All about were the palaces of the nabob pioneers of Forty-nine. To the east and south at right angles, were advancing two mighty walls of flame

I went inside with the owner of the house on the steps of which I sat. He was cool and cheerful and hospitable. "Yesterday morning," he said, "I was worth six hundred thousand dollars. This morning this house is all I have left. It will go in fifteen minutes. He pointed to a large cabinet. "That is my wife's collection of china. This rug upon which we stand is a present. It cost fifteen hundred dollars. Try that piano. Listen to its tone. There are few like it. There are no horses. The flames will be here in fifteen minutes.''

Outside the old Mark Hopkins residence a palace was just catching fire. The troops were falling back and driving the refugees before them. From every side came the roaring of flames, the crashing of walls, and the detonations of dynamite

The Dawn of the Second Day

I passed out of the house. Day was trying to dawn through the smoke-pall. A sickly light was creeping over the face of things. Once only the sun broke through the smoke-pall, blood-red, and showing quarter its usual size. The smoke-pall itself, viewed from beneath, was a rose color that pulsed and fluttered with lavender shades Then it turned to mauve and yellow and dun. There was no sun. And so dawned the second day on stricken San Francisco.

An hour later I was creeping past the shattered dome of the City Hall. Than it there was no better exhibit of the destructive force of the earthquake. Most of the stone had been shaken from the great dome, leaving standing the naked framework of steel. Market Street was piled high with the wreckage, and across the wreckage lay the overthrown pillars of the City Hall shattered into short crosswise sections.

This section of the city with the exception of the Mint and the Post-Office, was already a waste of smoking ruins. Here and there through the smoke, creeping warily under the shadows of tottering walls, emerged occasional men and women. It was like the meeting of the handful of survivors after the day of the end of the world.

Beeves Slaughtered and Roasted

On Mission Street lay a dozen steers, in a neat row stretching across the street just as they had been struck down by the flying ruins of the earthquake. The fire had passed through afterward and roasted them. The human dead had been carried away before the fire came. At another place on Mission Street I saw a milk wagon. A steel telegraph pole had smashed down sheer through the driver's seat and crushed the front wheels. The milk cans lay scattered around.

All day Thursday and all Thursday night, all day Friday and Friday night, the flames still raged on.

Friday night saw the flames finally conquered. through not until Russian Hill and Telegraph Hill had been swept and three-quarters of a mile of wharves and docks had been licked up.

The Last Stand

The great stand of the fire-fighters was made Thursday night on Van Ness Avenue. Had they failed here, the comparatively few remaining houses of the city would have been swept. Here were the magnificent residences of the second generation of San Francisco nabobs, and these, in a solid zone, were dynamited down across the path of the fire. Here and there the flames leaped the zone, but these fires were beaten out, principally by the use of wet blankets and rugs.

San Francisco, at the present time, is like the crater of a volcano, around which are camped tens of thousands of refugees At the Presidio alone are at least twenty thousand. All the surrounding cities and towns are jammed with the homeless ones, where they are being cared for by the relief committees. The refugees were carried free by the railroads to any point they wished to go, and it is estimated that over one hundred thousand people have left the peninsula on which San Francisco stood. The Government has the situation in hand, and, thanks to the immediate relief given by the whole United States, there is not the slightest possibility of a famine. The bankers and business men have already set about making preparations to rebuild San Francisco.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day and Humphrey Bogart

The Earth; it’s a beautiful place to be. It’s kind of unique; with just the right balance of gases and elements to support life; as we know it. So, take the time today to do one thing; one which you don't usually do; and recycle that soup can, or don't burn that pile of brush from the winter; compost it instead. If you have a yard, plant something and watch it grow.

It's like that scene in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre"(1948) when Walter Huston insists on returning the mountain, from which they have gained their treasure, to it's original state. Here is the dialogue between Walter Huston, Tim Holt and Humphrey Bogart;

Howard(Walter Huston): We've wounded this mountain. It's our duty to close her wounds. It's the least we can do to show our gratitude for all the wealth she's given us. If you guys don't want to help me, I'll do it alone.

Bob Curtin(Tim Holt): You talk about that mountain like it was a real woman.

Fred C. Dobbs(Humphrey Bogart): She's been a lot better to me than any woman I ever knew. Keep your shirt on, old-timer. Sure, I'll help ya.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"My Father at 100" by Ron Reagan

Don't dismiss this book. Whether you loved him or hated him, and there seems to be no middle ground on that score, Ronald Reagan was arguably one of the most influential Presidents to come down the pike since Roosevelt. His presidency set the stage for many of the divisions that still divide the nation today over economics, as well as foreign policy. He was, and will always remain, a controversial man.

Ron Reagan, his eldest son, sheds new light on Ronald Reagan the man, as he explores for himself just who his father was. He travels back to the places his Dad lived and worked, from the small town years in Illinois to Hollywood, and then on to Washington and the Presidency, Mr. Reagan paints a candid portrait of his Father. He talks openly of their political differences, as well as some of his Dad's shortcomings, without rancor. He is deeply interested in just who his Dad was.

Going as far back as the year 1014 and the Battle of Clontarf, he shows his family's surprising link to the Kennedy clan, who were at that time the Cennotig clan. He then moves quickly forward to the 1800's and from there on to his own Father's extraordinary life.

I admit to having mixed feelings about the Reagan Presidency. On the one hand his foreign policy changed, for the better, the way in which we, as a nation, were perceived overseas at the time. I can attest to this, having spent the later half of the 1970's at sea, with the Russians harassing us everywhere. The moment Reagan took office in 1981, this ceased. He put the teeth back into our military at a time when it was sorely needed.

His domestic policy was a different story, slash and burn seemed to be the order of the day. During his second term I was a working father, and sometimes it felt like he was working against me.

So, though I was reluctant at first to pick up this book, I found it to be an engaging memoir, with just enough history thrown in to make it a very interesting read. As I said, don't dismiss this one. It's actually worth reading.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"The Conspirator" with Evan Rachel Wood, Kevin Kline and Robin Wright Penn

Robert Redford has done a remarkable job in the filming of his latest movie "The Conspirator", which deals with the trial and execution of the assassins involved in the death of Abraham Lincoln, and the attempted murder, by Lewis Powell, of Secretary of State William H.Seward, who would later buy Alaska from Russia, in his home, where he was recovering from a carriage accident and lay in traction.

In addition there was also a plan, by three other conspirators, to kidnap or kill, both Vice President Johnson and General Grant. The latter was to have been at Ford's Theater that night, but in one of several instances of what can only be termed ESP, Mrs Grant persuaded her husband to depart Washington some 4 hours before the carnage began. (She would later save his life again in Chicago on the night of October 7th, 1876 when they were to have stayed over in a wooden hotel. Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked the lanten, the hotel burned down, killing all, but sparing Grant and his wife, who were by now long gone.)

The movie is historically accurate and impeccably filmed. Out of necessity it confines itself to the trial proceedings of Mary Surratt, played with much dignity by Robin Wright Penn, as the widowed boarding house keeper, who was charged with conspiracy in the death of President Lincoln. Her attorney, Frederick Aiken, played by James McAvoy, is a Union soldier, a veteran of the war who has little use for, and no desire to, defend her.

Appointed against his will as Defense Counsel in the Military Tribunal which would serve as the trial of the conspirators (we were still at war when the crimes occurred) Lt. Aiken has no desire to defend Mrs. Surratt. He is openly contemptuous of all the conspirators, believing that they are all guilty and should be hung. But as the story unfolds, even though there is little doubt that the charges are all true, Lt. Aiken comes to see the trial for what it is, a quick way to bury the whole affair, without ever really arriving at the whole truth behind the assassination plot. There is still credible speculation today that General McClellan, having opposed Lincoln in the Party Convention of 1864 as a candidate for President, was involved in the plot. He had also been fired by Lincoln, who replaced him with General Grant.

Denied any access to witnesses, cross examination, papers and documents, as well as not being allowed to confer with the accused prior to the trial, make it impossible for Lt. Aiken to do his job in defending Mrs. Surratt. But as he comes to realize the error of rushing to judgement, he is forced to deal with his feelings about the powers that have been given to him, and by whom.

The history contained in this film already being well known, I cannot be considered a "spoiler" when I tell you that he loses the case and Mrs. Surratt is hung along with her co-conspirators. She would be the only woman put to death by the Federal Government until 1950, when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were both electrocuted for passing the hydrogen bomb secrets to the Soviet Union.

With many parallels to today's War Tribunals, the rush to judgement after John Kennedy was killed, and the humanitarian issues involved in the Rosenberg case, this film is engaging and tightly woven. The whole story takes place in the space of 10 weeks.

Top notch performances by all, and flawless direction by Robert Redford make this a must-see film for all. From the politically correct, anti tribunal crowd, to the "hang 'em high" viewer, this film has something for everyone, even serious history buffs such as myself.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pulte Homes: "Normal Settlement"

The following post was my reaction to a few problems in getting some Warranty work done on our home in 2011. At that time I was having little to no luck in achieving that. So, basically I just waited a bit and this January; almost 3 years later; I began again to request the repairs which had not been done. I expected a long and protracted battle.

I am happy to report that, as of this writing, on April 3, 2014 all the outstanding items have been addressed in a perfectly acceptable way. The brick is back in place, and more importantly the drainage issue has been resolved with the installation of a hydro-static sub-drain system. The interior work in the bathroom has been repaired and now we are ready to paint the interior, which we had been holding off on doing until the repairs were made.

Sometimes it takes a while to get what you play for, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with the speed and willingness which went into making these repairs after so long a period of time. Thanks, David, for restoring my faith in Pulte Homes!

I don't know about you, but when I buy a home I at least expect the bricks to stay put. According to both Pulte Homes, and their engineers, this is an example of "normal" settlement. Sue and I bought this home less than 2 years ago from them, and it is falling apart, as plainly evidenced in this photo. And that's just the outside! Inside the house, there are more "wall Pops" than at the time of last years 11 month walk through. The interior stairway is particularly impacted, with bowing moldings and shifting walls. This is AFTER the repairs were done last year. Obviously, this house is still "settling."

This is the left rear portion of my yard, clearly showing the inadequate drainage and standing water. It should be noted that this photo was taken AFTER the area was regraded last year! Although an underdrain is clearly needed in this area, Pulte Homes has already informed me that this is as good as it gets! I'm thinking this is the Community Swimming Pool which was promised and never delivered. Proper drainage on any home is a must in order to avoid interior damage, which results from the stresses on the structure, and in some cases the undermining of the slab.

This is the Master Bath vanity as it separates from the wall, which is directly in line with the photo of the standing water above. That water infiltrates the soils underneath the home- and has caused several problems. Soils that are "marginal" can also cause this type of problem, and indeed the soils report done for Pulte Homes by Shield Engineering indicates "marginal soils" in the front left corner, as well as the other 4 borings which were taken around the exterior of the home. In other words, my home sits on "marginal soils."

"Marginal soils" are defined as "loose sands, soft clays, and organics are not adequate materials for construction projects. These marginal soils do not possess valuable physical properties for construction applications. The current methods for remediation of these weak soils such as stone columns, vibro-compaction, etc. are typically expensive." (Ref: Carreon, Delfin G.,"Stabilization of marginal soils etc" (2006). Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2473.

One of the least expensive ways to alleviate standing water is the use of a sub-drain system, which at about $8 a linear foot, offers the best relief from inadequate grading in areas with little to no "fall." Apparently this is too much for Pulte Homes to spend in order to fix the root of the problems.
Pulte Homes has, apparently abandoned us in regards to their responsibilities regarding the repair of our home. All I can say, at this point, is that if you are buying a new home from Pulte Homes it's a case of Buyer Beware! I'll let you know if things change!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Palm Sunday Memory - 1959

This is one of my favorite pictures of Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on what became known as "Palm Sunday", which happens to be today for the world's Christians, who number in the billions. Although I am a Jew by birth, my father was a practicing Catholic until I was about 6, attending Church each Sunday morning. And, occassionally, I used to go with him.

I especially looked forward to Palm Sunday, for several reasons. The first was purely mercenary, it was one week until Easter, and the candy which the Easter Bunny would bring. The second, and more immediate delight was in the long palm fronds which were handed out to the congregants, in order that they symbolically welcome back their Saviour. These Palm fronds, to me, represented not only Jerusalem, the Crusades, Kings and Gods; these Palm fronds were no mere leaves! Rather they were the embodiment of the whole world, and what lay beyond the borders of my little life beyond Kings Highway and Bedford Avenue.

The last time I went to church with my Dad on Palm Sunday was in 1959. I still remember coming home from church with him, and the long palm fronds, teasing my brother with them. The fronds seemed so much longer to me then. The ones I see now a days can hardly compare to the expectations of that six year old boy I used to be. But just the memory of them awes me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Fatherly Encouragement

"Punch his eyes out! Slam his head on the ground! Throw him punches, son! Knock him out!" These are the words Philip Struthers used, he says, in order to encourage his son last week in a fight over a girl. His son, who was not charged, is 15.

"I regret having gotten caught up in the heat of the moment" says the elder Mr. Struthers, 41, of Tampa, the boys father. But truth be told he simply regrets that it was the wrong moment, and of course, that he got caught.

"I was encouraging my son to settle the issue", says Mr. Struthers. I wonder if he ever thought that encouraging his son to "Slam his head on the ground", would be discouraging to the other 15 year old involved in the incident? Quite simply, one must wonder if he thinks at all?

Here is the link to the video;

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Branch Rickey" by Jimmy Breslin

You don't have to be a sports fan in order to enjoy this book. You don't even have to be from Brooklyn. But it helps. Jimmy Breslin, one of the best newspaper columnists ever, colored my world each day while I was growing up in New York. His columns were satirical, witty and even educational. Through those columns, and several of his books, I learned so much about the politics that drove New York in the 1960's. His novel, "The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight" still stands the test of time, and, along with Damon Runyon's "Guys and Dolls", will forever serve as a portrait of a bygone era in the history of the city.

Now add to Mr. Breslin's accomplishments this fine 146 page book, which is at once a biography of one of baseball's leading figures, and also the story of Jackie Robinson's entry into the Major Leagues. Branch Rickey served as his "Rabbi" in that endeavor. And what an endeavor it was!

At the close of the Second World War many African-Americans returned home to face the same old Jim Crow laws and segregation that they had left behind while fighting overseas. Freedom abroad and segregation at home was not going to work anymore.

Mr. Breslin paints a fine picture of Branch Rickey, extolling his virtues along with his quirkiness. In a ball park where everyone drank, Mr. Rickey was like Molly Hatchet, regaling reporters and players with the hazards of drink. Coming from an overweight, cigar puffing man in his 50's, this only served to endear him more to those who knew him.

Mr. Rickey did so much for baseball. He established the modern day "farm league", de-segregated the sport, and just by being Branch Rickey, kept the game exciting and viable. Don't get me wrong, he was in it for the money, he sold players, that was his job. He had been a player himself, until World War One interrupted his career, while he served overseas in the First Gas Regiment as a chemical-assault engineer. When he returned home he managed the St. Louis Browns, until he was replaced, at which time he went over to the St. Louis Cardinals as manager.

During the 1920's he began buying teams all across the United States, from farm leagues to Negro leagues, and even women's leaugues, amassing a small army of minor leaguers, some of whom would go on to bigger and better days in baseball.

During the Second World War, in July of 1944, Jackie Robinson had been in some trouble. (He refused to give up a seat on a bus in Temple, Texas.) He was given a General Court Martial and faced some serious time in prison. The fact that the military police officer in charge of the arrest had called him a "nigger" caused all charges to be dropped, and Lt. Robinson was released.

By 1946 Jackie Robinson was playing for the Montreal Royals in the minor leagues. He hit .349 and stole 40 bases. He was beginning to attract attention. Team owners met in Chicago and began to discuss the "race question" in baseball. This was the first step towards Jackie Robinson, along with Branch Rickey, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

A short, informative read, filled with stories of baseball legends and lore, this is the perfect book for the beginning of another season of America's favorite pastime.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jacob Pensinger, Jr. - Civil War Vet

Listed in the Biographical Annals of Franklin County, Pennsylvania is one Jacob Pensinger, Sr. The photograph shown here is of Jacob, Jr., his son, who served, along with two of his brothers, George and David, in the Civil War. They were all born and raised on a farm near Greencastle, Pa.

Jacob Pensinger Jr. was born in the year 1813. He enlisted in the Union Army sometime in 1862. He was 49 years old when he volunteered. It is speculated among the family that his having 15 children may have had something to do with his enlisting at such an advanced age. It's possible that the relative peace and tranquility of war may have been preferable to the noise level in his own home!

According to the Annals , he enlisted in Company D of the 126th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. This would be the first of the 2 enlistments he made during the war. He served with the 126th at both the Battle of Fredericksburg and at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

At the conclusion of that period, he re-enlisted with the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry, fighting with that regiment at the Battles of Cold Harbor, and eventually at Appomattox, where Grant took Lee's surrender in April of 1865. He mustered out shortly afterward in Lynchburg, Virginia, returning home to Franklin County.

My wife, Sue's family has a rich and diverse history, having first arrived in America back in the early 1700's aboard the ship Patience, landing in Philadelphia. There is also a wealth of information about them on line. Here is a letter from a Captain Davidson, written to Jacob, Jr., concerning the mortal wounding of a mutual friend, Sgt. Rupley, in the fighting near Chancellorsville. There is also a postscript which informs Jacob of his brother David's good fortune in escaping from the battle unhurt;

Camp near Falmouth, Va.
May 7th. 1863.

Mr. Jacob Pensinger

Dear Sir:-Having arrived in camp late last evening, I take this the first opportunity to inform you of the death of Sergt Simon W. Rupley of my Company. He was severely wounded in the action near Chancellersville about 11 o'clock A. M. on the third of May and died on the evening of that day in the hospital of our division.

In him we have lost one of the best soldiers in the company, and Greencastle certainly one of its best citizens. I have received from the surgeon in charge of the hospital what notions he had in his pockets when he died, Viz-1 pocket book containing $7.65, 1 knife, comb, testament and etc. He was buried in a coffin near the hospital.

You please communicate these facts to his wife and oblige.

Yours respectfully,

Capt. A. R. Davison, Co. K.

P. S. - Your brother David escaped unhurt. Lieutenant Rowe is severely wounded though not dangerously, George Missavy died of his wounds. John Rebinsoa, Wm. F. Rupert, Scott K. Snively, Iac Winger and John Beamisdefer were all slightly wounded.

In Co. B, Johnathan Bowman is missing I don't know who are wounded.
Wm. H. Snively of Co. K. is also missing and I suppose taken prisoner, at least we have not heard from him since the action.

I will take the articles from Sergt. Rupley home with me when I come home which will be between 15th and 20th of month.


Living around the area of Gettysburg, Pa. during the Civil War, this family was witness to, and a part of, our national heritage. The sacrifices on both sides were great, and the issues involved enormous. So large, in fact, that some of these same issues continue to divide us today.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Redemption" by Howard Fast

Howard Fast was one of America's most prolific authors. And the range of his work is truly phenomenal, encompassing Fiction, History and Religion. From the first time I read "April Morning", in 5th grade, the story of a young boy on the morning that the American Revolution began at Lexington and Concord, I was a fan. And over the years, although I have drifted almost entirely into non-fiction, his books have continued to draw me back as he explores new topics and interests. Hey, this is the guy who wrote "Spartacus."

This book, "Redemption", was written in 1999, just a few years before his death in March of 2003, at age 89. It is remarkably candid in it's exploration of the accidental relationship of Ike Goldman, a professor emeritus at Columbia University, and Elizabeth Hopper, a woman whom he meets while driving across the George Washington Bridge at about 3 AM. She is standing at the rail on the walkway, ready to jump. He, a widower of several years, is returning from a gathering of old cronies, talking law, politics, and smoking cigars. She is the battered and abused wife of a Wall Street tycoon, who will be found murdered very shortly after they meet. And the murder is committed with Ike's long forgotten pistol, which he hasn't seen in years.

This leaves two obvious suspects, both with ample motive, opportunity and time to commit the murder of the late Mr. Hopper. But is circumstancial evidence ever enough to be sure? Especially when it is a capital crime? As a professor of contract law, Ike must learn, with the aid of a former student turned defense counsel, to navigate the pathways of the justice system rather than the board room.

Mr. Fast did not just write simple novels. They can be taken at "face" value and make great reading. But the secret to his long and varied suceess as a writer has always been his ability to educate the reader along the way. The story is just a vehicle. The plot here encompasses Womens Right's, Faith, and the possibilities of fate accidently taking hold in one's life.

With a wedding between 79 year old Ike, and 47 year old Liz in the balance, the story takes on a whole new dimension, as Ike struggles with the seeming absurdity of love with a younger woman. Will his judgement, and integrity, be tempered by his emotions? Or will the simple logic of truth, which he has always taught, hold sway?

With supreme character development, as expected of Mr. Fast, the book takes on an urgency that will keep you turning pages. The court trial and jury summations are spot on to real life, leaving the reader just as unsure as in an actual courtroom, when the jury is really out.

Mr. Fast passed away in 2003, at age 89. He wrote until the end. I wish I had had the opportunity to thank him for the treasure of literature he has left behind.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"The Reader" with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes

With powerful and moving performances by both Ms. Winslet and Mr. Fiennes, this movie tackles some very tough, and sensitive questions.

After the Second World War, there were all sorts of trials in Germany, ranging from Nuremberg to the smaller "truth" type commissions. Germany, as a nation, was re-inventing herself, under the dubious guise that "nobody knew anything" about what was going on.

Caught in this post war web of political re-structure are Hanna Schmitz, a streetcar conductress, played incredibly by Kate Winslet, and a young boy of 16, Michael, who becomes Hanna's lover. He is in high school. But there is something about Hanna that he cannot penetrate, and as a result of this, and their disparity in ages, they drift apart. He becomes a law student.

When, 8 years later, in 1966, his class is involved in one of the "commission" trials, Michael learns that Hanna was a guard at Auschwitz, selecting, along with 6 other guards, who was to die each month, as more women arrived and there was no room.

This is an intense movie that calls to question where the line is drawn between individual responsibilty, and the madness of the society around that individual. The age old question of just who is responsible for not only giving the orders, but at what point we, as individuals, are willing to pay the price for standing upon our principles is explored.

When the grown Michael, Ralph Fiennes, becomes a Prosecutor, years later, in 1988, Hanna becomes eligible for release after 22 years in prison. Her only link to the outside world, and her freedom, is Michael. He, at first, refuses her letters, setting off an emotional crisis within himself, calling upon him to answer some very difficult questions, about his own motivations. By this time he is married and has a daughter of his own.

This is a difficult film to watch on certain levels, but an important one. In order to understand the future, we must all face our pasts. In the final analysis, we are all our own judges, and in many cases, our own juries as well, as we attempt to escape from our pasts. Sometimes, we are even our own executioners, unwilling, or unable to pardon the things that we have done. And although others can see us as human, there are times when we cannot see ourselves fully.

Excellent direction, staging and acting make this a film worth watching.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"B.B. King - Live By Request" (2003)

If you have never seen BB King live, then this is as good as it gets!

The nickname "B.B.",which is short for "Blues Boy" was first bestowed upon him in Memphis on Beale Street. It stuck. And the sound that he created has spawned a generation of guitarists, some equal to, and some even surpassing, this legendary musician.

This is a very personal performance, one in which B.B. seems a little nervous as he gets ready to field requests for any one of the hundreds of songs he has written and recorded over the past 60 years. And aside from the music, the stories he relates between phone calls and requests, are gems, some of which appeared in his autobiography, and some that didn't.

The story of his guitar, named Lucille (he is currently on Licille 18, though this film from 2003 has him playing Lucille 16) began in 1949 in a town called Twist, Arkansas. It was in a "juke joint", with a 55 gallon drum filled halfway with kerosene for heat. Two guys fighting over a woman knocked it over, burning the place down. BB ran back to get his guitar,(he claims to have been the first one out the door)and almost got killed. The next day he found out the 2 guys were fighting over a woman named Lucille, and so he named his guitar for her, as a reminder to never do that again!

Between each number he explores the impact that his music has had upon 3 generations, with particular emphasis on "The Thrill Is Gone" in 1969, which was on my first B.B. King album. That was the song that opened up the whole world to him, thanks in part to the "British Invasion", which had it's roots in American rhythm and blues. Due to that influence, he went on his first world tour in 1970. And he hasn't stopped since.

Jeff Beck takes stage with B.B. for 2 numbers, "Rock Me Baby" and "Key to the Highway", and also helps him close the show with "The Cost to Be the Boss." With his inimitable style of playing, he is proof of the impact that B.B. King has had on so many musicians over the years, and by extension, us.

Calls for requests came from everywhere! All over America, North and South, even as far away as Argentina. One man called, relating how he met his wife 25 years ago at a B.B. King concert. In between playing and taking requests, B.B. also offered his advice on going to school, graduating, majoring in something that you like to do, while learning something you can make a living at. He also advises that young folks stay single until they're 40.

B.B. even had a story to tell about meeting Pope John Paul II, he gave him a guitar as a gift. Though you are never to directly touch the Pope, instead of handing the guitar to the Pope's aides, he offered it directly to the Pope, who took it. He was strumming it when B.B. left.

Packed with some of the best songs he has ever done, and playing with his long time band, B.B., who had a real problem playing during the '90's due to the constant pricking of his fingers to monitor his diabetes, has never sounded better.

This DVD came to me through the courtesy of George Peterson, one of the librarians at the Cornelius branch of the Mecklenburg County Public Library. We are both Buddy Guy fans and he bought this DVD in from his personal collection for me to see. That's what I love about the libraries, not only are they are a refuge for the soul, but also a place where ideas are exchanged, and friendships are formed.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Luis Posada Carriles (or) Why the World Hates Us: An Editorial.

This short article appeared inside the Charlotte Observer on Saturday, April 9th. It was on page 2A, but should have been front page news, rather than the story of the "last minute" agreement that will keep our Government afloat until Thursday. That was a no-brainer. This little article is so much more important. Why? Let me tell you.

The article is important because it goes a long way in explaining why so many people dislike us around the world. Don't get me wrong, they like our lifestyle, fashions and entertainment, but they don't like our government, or it's policies. And they have good reason to feel that way.

This article informs us that for DECADES, one Luis Posada Carriles, an 83 year old Cuban, has been destabilizing governments, while employed by the CIA, in Latin America. He is also wanted for the bombing of several hotels and the downing of at least one passenger airliner. Cuba and Venezuela are both trying to get him extradited to their respective countries in order to try him for acts of terrorism. And they should have that right. The man is a monster, 83 years old notwithstanding.

The United States has taken a very odd position in this affair. On the one hand they have been trying to deport him for 4 years, in an effort to show that we fight terrorism. On the other hand, the court has acquitted him of all charges related to the Immigration Violation, meaning that he can stay here in the United States for as long as he wishes.

What all this amounts to is that terrorism seems to be okay if it's our side inflicting the terror. Ask yourself, what is the difference between the actions of this man, who acted upon the orders of our own government, and those of Islamic terrorists, who are acting upon the orders of their governments? Quick answer, none.

Is it any wonder that so many people hate us for our duplicity in fighting a war on terror when we employ people to blow up airliners and hotels for DECADES? We support men like Mr. Carriles to do our "dirty" work, then put them on mock trial for some minor violation, in order to appease our critics, then we acquit them. Who are the terrorists here? In my opinion, Mr. Carriles should be returned to Cuba, but not to the Cubans. Put him in Gitmo with all the other terrorists. Clearly, that is where he belongs.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Frog is Back in Town

We're not exactly sure where he spends the winter, but we are happy to report that the Frog is back in town. He's a bit bigger than last year, and faster, too. Either that, or maybe I'm just slowing down. Whatever, he's back, which is what really counts.

This was the first time I was not able to just swoop down and scoop him up in one shot. I owe this to one of two factors; either I am getting older, or his legs are getting longer. No matter, the season is young, and sooner, or later, he will be in my hands again. I hope he remembers me from last year!

"Young Al Capone" by William and John Balsamo

Al Capone, long portrayed as the King of Chicago, grew up in Brooklyn, New York. It was there that he made his beginning in the local crime syndicates. At the time, there were two "mobs", one Irish, known as the White Hand; and a second, up and coming "mob" of Italians, known as the "Black Hand." These two groups would battle for control of the 60 odd piers in the Borough of Brooklyn in the days before Prohibition came in. When the Volstead Act came, the piers would become less of an attraction than booze.

The authors, William and John Balsamo, have a wealth of information on the subject of both Al Capone, as well as the beginnings of Organized Crime in Brooklyn. Their father's brother was Batista Balsamo. He was born in Sicily in 1868, and although he is pictured here as a "low key gangster extraordinaire",(those are the author's words) he is considered by some to have been the first "Godfather" of Brooklyn.

Salvatore and Domenico Balsamo, Batista's sons, were the author's Grand Uncle and Father, respectively. So, these guys have some pretty good stories to relate.

August 1917 was a month so hot, that I still remember my Uncle Irving telling me about sleeping in Coney Island and sometimes on Brighton Beach. The trip was 5 cents, and the relief was priceless. 278 people and 272 horses perished that month. In my old neighborhood, people slept along Ocean Parkway, some on the benches, others on the ground. In this muggy and steamy month, and year, Al Capone would receive both the nickname, and the scars behind the ubiquitous moniker "Scarface."

It happened at the Harvard Inn on Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Al Capone walked into the club, which was owned by his boss, Frank Torrio, and noticed a group sitting near the rear doors. This caused extra work for the waitress, as well as arouse the suspicions of Capone. The only reason he could think of for their being seated so close to the entrance was that they either expected, or would be responsible for, some sort of violence. It didn't take long to happen.

Capone, always on the look out for a woman, lost no time in offending the sister of one Frank Gallucio, who jumped on Capone, trying to cut his throat. Instead, he created a legend. Scarface.

The incident caused a "sit down" to be held between the two men. "Lucky" Luciano and Frankie Yale, the first of the two "modern" mobsters, and the bosses of both parties involved, mitigated the dispute. Luciano "lent" $1,500 to Gallucio for him to pay "damages" to Capone. It was also a way of putting Gallucio in his "pocket", as the man now owed him a large sum of money. This was fortunate for Gallucio, as it guaranteed that the "bosses" would find him a lucrative position so that he could pay them back.

The author's take the reader on a very deliberate, step by step journey in the career of one of the most notorious gangsters ever known. With his bulging eye and withering stare, he was quite formidable. At least until the IRS got a hold of him.

The book follows Capone's rise from the streets of Brooklyn, to his "exile", and new home in Chicago. In Brooklyn, before Prohibition, there were three primary ways of making money in the "mob." They were gambling, loan sharking in support of the gambling, and prostitution. Al Capone was involved in each of these vices as he climbed the ladder, rung by rung, to his eventual success.

The authors follow Capone as he makes the transition from Brooklyn to Chicago. A situation occurred in which it was best than Capone leave Brooklyn for awhile, and he needed to go far. So, he "removed" himself to Chicago. And once there, the rest is, as they say, history. But this book, which chronicles Capone's early years, his roots and beginnings in Brooklyn, is a story often overlooked. You will be amazed at the mentality that drove the hoodlum of the early 20th century, and then be doubly amazed when you realize that this same mentality drives the gang wars of today!

In the words of Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." This book is proof of that assertion.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Trains, they've always been there, on the periphery of my life, whistling in the night, chugging through my past and present, fueling my imagination. I've watched them, and counted the cars as they lumbered past, some over a mile long! I've never minded waiting for a freight train to pass. It's an opportunity to let my imagination go.

Ever since I was a kid, I've walked the tracks, flattened coins on the rails, collected spikes, felt the rush of the air as the train passed within inches of me, rattling the earth beneath my feet as they did. My reaction has always been the same, I stand silently, wrapped in the fading sound, lost in the vibrations emanating from the rails, and up through my body, like some surreal electrical charge.

What is this fascination with trains? I'm not the only one. There are museums, train rides, songs about great train wrecks, and the stories of the hobo's who rode the rails during the Great Depression. These two photos are of some trains a few miles from our house. The Caboose is my favorite.

This is a typical caboose, an icon of American railroads. It's a home on wheels, wheels that are bound to the tracks, making them seem permanent, a fixture in our collective minds. This is home to the signalman as he travels at the rear of the train, the last person to see where the train has been. It's a backwards journey, you can't see anything in front of you. Just a fading landscape, growing smaller and smaller as the wheels go clickity clack, clickity clack, on their journey across America.

And sometimes, when I'm waiting for the train to pass, I find myself wishing I were a bit younger. I just might hop on board...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"The Wreck of the William Brown" by Tom Koch

In the early spring of 1841, just 71 years before the RMS Titanic would be sunk by an iceberg while crossing the Atlantic, another, similar tragedy occurred. The William Brown, a passenger vessel bound for Philadelphia, with her sails rigged for full speed, hit an ice field and sank. The Brown, like the later Titanic, was woefully unprepared for the disaster, which resulted in an unnecessary loss of life. But, in spite of these similarities, there was one big difference in these two events.

For the most part, aboard the Titanic, chivalry was evident at every turn, as crew members, and passengers alike, held fast to the code of the sea. Women and children were first, and husbands parted with great honor from their spouses, giving up their own chance at survival so that others might live. As I said, this story is quite different.

It is the story of people, gripped in fear, and the lengths with which they will go, in order to save themselves, at the expense of others. When the ship, loaded with newly bound immigrants for America, was about to sink, the longboat, and another small craft, were both launched. The one with the captain aboard was adequately manned and loaded to it's near capacity. The other boat, a longboat with no rudder to steer with, was overcrowded and staffed with the first mate and some deck hands. The passengers consisted of able bodied men, as well as women and children.

The captain left them in the charge of the first mate, with orders to "do what must be done" in order to save his boat. The captain then set course for Newfoundland, leaving the smaller stricken vessel to it's fate. And what a fate it was!

This chart shows the close proximity in which the Titanic would sink 71 years later, almost to the day, and only 8 and a half miles apart. And in the ensuing years, nothing had changed much in the way of passenger safety,and traveling the North Atlantic in early spring was still a treacherous journey, at best. Though much had changed regarding the way men and women interacted, thanks largely to the Victorian Era, this journey took place before that, and so had a much different conclusion.

During the very first night adrift, in full view of the other passengers, crew members, acting upon the "orders" of the first mate, selected men to throw overboard into the frigid waters in an effort to "lighten the load." When two women cried out that they "didn't know if we can go on without our dear brother", they were summarily tossed in after the hapless man. All the while, the other passengers tried to "look small", and "attract no notice", lest they be next.

When the morning came and a ship appeared on the horizon, the killing continued, with at least two more men being thrown overboard. This was at a time when, not only was rescue imminent, but the boat was stable and in no danger.

A French Court found the actions justifiable, while the American Court found the actions of the crew, and notably the first mate, to be unworthy of seamen. He was tried in Philadelphia for Murder Upon the High Seas.

This book was a chilling look at, not only a failed social order, but a justice system more concerned with the profits of international trade than passenger safety. Their lack of oversight and initiative would come back to haunt us all, in the form of the Titanic tragedy, 71 years and 8 miles later.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Monopoly, Jesus and Islam

This card was from my Mom's old Monopoly set, the original one, copyright 1936, look at it closely. It promises me that I can use this card, within the confines of the game, of course, to get out of jail without paying any further penalty. It is forthright, and honest in touting it's limited powers.

This card was given to me at a rest stop in South Carolina the other day. I suppose alot of folks shop for religion at rest stops, though I'm not sure why. Anyway, pay attention to the writing. Now, I know what the card is supposed to mean, but being the type who likes to parse words, this one gives me a problem. It says that if I meet you and forget you, I lose nothing. True enough. It then goes on to say that when I die, at which point I presumably lose all, and then meet Jesus, and then turn away from him, I will lose everything. Now, maybe it's just me, but, in theory, having already died there is not much else that I would have to lose. I think I will stick with my Mom's card for the present.

Now, you all know this is tongue in cheek, and not meant to offend anybody, either Christian, or Monopolists. But, considering the recent events in the Middle East, with specific regards to the violence attending any humorists depictions of Prophets, as well as the burning of a Quran, I do feel the need to say thank you for your indulgence, as well as having a sense a humor.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Whatever Works" with Evan Rachel Wood, Larry David, and Ed Begley, Jr.

Genius writing, along with genius acting, make for a wonderful film experience in this 2009 Woody Allen comedy. This is one of his best films ever, stepping back behind the camera to write and direct, which is what he has always done best. And using Larry David in the role which Mr. Allen had originally intended for Zero Mostel, makes the movie all that much better.(The script was begun with Mostel in mind, but shelved after Mr. Mostel's death in 1977.)

The character of Boris Yellinkoff, played by Larry David, is the main vehicle for this story, and employing the old technique of having him talk directly to the audience, even as the "live" action of the film continues to roll, makes this a very comical, and unusual, film experience.

Boris begins his tale of Doom and Gloom, meeting daily with his friends for coffee, after having failed at a suicide attempt, and losing his wife to divorce. He has given up on everything. He is a bitter old man. That is, until he comes home one evening and finds Melodie St. Ann Celestine, played by Evan Rachel Wood, sitting in the alley by his stairwell.

Boris is kind of like many middle aged men, ranting at the changes in society, and bemoaning the lost years of his earlier life. He is cynical to a fault, and finds himself at odds with those who cannot see the truth, as defined by Boris. Basically, he believes in nothing. We know all of this because Boris never stops talking, even to the audience, as he narrates the story.

Here is a typical quote, "My father committed suicide because the morning newspapers depressed him. And could you blame him? With the horror, and corruption, and ignorance, and poverty, and genocide, and AIDS, and global warming, and terrorism, and the family value morons, and the gun morons. "The horror," Kurtz said at the end of Heart of Darkness; "the horror." Lucky Kurtz didn't have the Times delivered in the jungle."

Prior to the arrival of Melodie in his life, Boris had been a Professor of Quantum Mechanics at Columbia University. He was an expert in the "string" theory. At one point he attempted suicide by jumping out the window of his apartment, only to land on the front lobby canopy, resulting in a permanent limp. He then divorces his wife, quits his job, gives up their beautiful apartment, and takes a back alley dive as his residence.

So, when Melodie Ann shows up, he is immediately skeptical of her motives, and her story. But, a human being is a human being, so Boris takes her in, setting off an intellectual dilemma as he begins to turn her world views into his own cynical interpretation of life. Will that cynicism take root? Or will young Melodie's air of confidence serve to help them both find their individual ways?

When Melodie's eccentric and strange mother, Marietta, played by Patricia Clarkson, shows up, things get even stranger. And Boris' friends can't believe the change in Boris.

But complications arise, as they always do, and Boris, formerly a difficult and misunderstood man, seems to change. I won't tell you what happens between him and Melodie. You need to watch the film to find out. But here are two lines, including the last one from the film, that I hope will inspire you to see this movie.

Boris Yellnikoff: Love, despite what they tell you, does not conquer all, nor does it even usually last. In the end the romantic aspirations of our youth are reduced to, whatever works.

Boris Yellnikoff: See, I'm the only one who sees the whole picture. That's what they mean by genius.