Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" - A Film by Werner Herzog

The sign on the box office window read "No Refunds." Neither Sue, nor I, had ever seen such a sign at a movie theater before, and so we thought nothing of it. But that was before we saw this film. You know how when people come out of a movie and they are usually talking to one another abut the film they have just seen? Not this one. And it wasn't the silence borne of having been awed by the film - it was the silence that comes with the sudden realization that you saw the sign, and went in anyway.

A more pretentious and self aggrandizing film cannot be imagined. One of the most comical moments in the film, and remember, this was a documentary, not a comedy, came when the audience is asked, along with the film crew, to "experience the silence of the cave. Who knows, you may even hear the sound of your own heart beating."

I was really excited at this prospect - we never hear true silence, and the caves were beautiful, so I sat back to really feel the silence of the caves. Then it happened, slowly a thumping sound, growing louder and louder, imitating the beating of a human heart, and then leading into a musical interlude as the cameras panned the cave, took over the entire theater. So much for the silence of the caves experience!

Next came the former circus juggler, now a scientist, who talks of having seen cave paintings in other parts of the world. He describes how the local indigenous peoples "retouch" the paintings to keep them fresh, and avoid their fading. He states that the hands of these men are touched by the spirit of the cave when they paint, so in essence it is not their hands, therefore they are not ruining the original work, merely keeping it alive. I can buy that. I even like the idea.

Then we return to the caves in France, which are shuttered with a steel door. Inside the caves, which are 32,ooo years old, it is a strict no touch policy. This film is one of the rare times that filming has even been allowed. So much for the "spirit of the caves."

This is a very disappointing film, one which would have been better served up as a silent documentary, and would have let the paintings speak for themselves. With just a little background information to indoctrinate the viewer, this could have, and should have, been a wonderful film experience. I want my money back.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Tribute - Michelle Malone

We've all seen some pretty bad performances of the "Star Spangled Banner" over the years. Nobody can ever forget Roseanne Barr's mangling of the song, and there have been others who could not even remember the lyrics, if they ever knew them at all.

So what a pleasure it was, while googling the other day, to come upon this clip of Michelle Malone, doing a flawless rendition of the National Anthem, complete with a military flyover at the end. I can't think of a more fitting item to share with you on Memorial Day. Enjoy the holiday, drive safely, and have a good time. And, if you have a moment, take it upon yourself to remember those who have sacrificed their own freedoms, so that we may continue to enjoy our own.

By the way, this video was taken at the Atlanta Braves game on July 4th, 2008. The Braves hosted the Houston Astros, defeating them 6-2. Hit this link for the complete box scores of that game;


And did I mention that Michelle Malone will be in Charlotte this Friday?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Heinrich Kley - A Mystery Revealed

It was about 30 odd years ago that I had a book of German Sketches go missing. I had clipped and mounted one of the sketches, and I have featured it on this site before, attempting to find out who drew it. I knew it was German, but beyond that had no idea of who the artist was. This is sad, as I did own the book before it disappeared. I should have at least remembered the artists name!

This drawing has graced the walls of every home I have lived in since 1980. Before that it hung on the walls of various staterooms aboard the ships in which I served. It is a comforting image. It speaks to me of something, or someone, larger than ourselves, helping to guide us through our awkwardness. The fact that the something larger is not the elephant, gives thought to the theory that we are not the largest presence in this dance of life. There is something more graceful to guide us, if we only allow it.

I was napping this morning, and when I awoke, this image was the first thing that I saw. It hangs on the wall opposite the foot of my bed. I have googled it, in a vain attempt to find out more about the sketch over the past several years, all to no avail. But something prompted me to search again, and I got it on the second try.

The sketch comes from the works of German artist Heinrich Kley, who lived from 1863-1945. His two volumes of sketches were published in 1909 and 1910, under the names Skizzenbuch and Skizzenbuch II, both of which contained 100 pen drawings. Now, I have to get the book.

Meantime, if you'd like a closer look at some of Mr. Kley's work, here is the link to his world;


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mr. and Mrs. Kincaid

I don't know these people, never met them until this morning while thumbing through the paper. This lone ad stood out amongst all the rest, and reading it was such an uplifting experience that I wanted to share it here.

The tribute is unsigned, but you have to believe that it was placed by some close friends. The references to bridge hands and foxtrots recall a time long past in America today. This was the world of my parents, and countless other baby boomers, like myself, probably have the same memories of card parties and parents who went dancing. Not the dancing that we know today, but the real hold her close and move slowly about the floor type of dancing, gliding silently to the music, or whispering in one another's ears.

When you look at this photo you think of Ozzie and Harriet and post war America in the late 1940's and early 1950's. There was something secure in the air, in spite of the social undercurrents that would soon come to the surface, changing everything, for better or worse.

But Mr. and Mrs. Kincaid have already been through that. They were married, and lived their lives, through thick and thin, for better or worse. And along the way they made some anonymous friends who have never forgotten them, or the era which this photograph represents. These were true friends, for better, or worse.

"Operation Family Secrets" by Frank Calabrese, Jr.

This book, which bills itself as a memoir, is more of a mystery than anything else. Frank Calabrese, Jr. was born into the family of Frank Calabrese Sr., a major player in the Chicago "juice loan" rackets of his time. He taught his son everything he knew. Actually, he probably taught him too well. I say that only because Frank, Sr. continues to serve out a life sentence for the crimes he committed with his son, while the younger Mr. Calabrese walks free.

Frank, Jr., agreed to "wear a wire" while serving time in the same prison with his father. Getting his father to open up and talk about past crimes, as well as the crimes he intended on committing when he was released, gave the FBI everything it needed to shut down the Calabrese crime family, which operated out of the suburbs of Chicago. It also gave them enough to imprison the elder Mr. Calabrese for the rest of his life, and sprung the doors for Frank, Jr.

The book is well written, and has all the elements you have come to expect from Mafia memoirs. There is enough cash, women, drugs, sex, murder and torture to satisfy the most die hard fan of films such as "Goodfellas" and "Casino." As a matter of fact, Mr. Calabrese, Jr. goes into great detail about the murders of the Spilotro brothers, Anthony and Michael. Anthony was played by Joe Pesci in Casino. The murders did not take place in the desert as depicted in the movie. Instead, the two brothers were summoned to Chicago and killed there.

When Frank, Jr. decides to go "legit" he steals, on the pretext of a loan, almost one million dollars which he and his father have stashed away in the walls of their garage. By carefully re-wrapping the money his deed goes undetected as he uses the money to open restaurants and do a little bit of cocaine dealing on the side. This is where the mystery begins for me.

Frank, Jr. and his dad are indicted for crimes they committed together, and sentenced to the same prison. Frank, Jr., wears a wire to turn over his father, whom Frank, Jr. claims is "out of control." This is his way of rationalizing his own actions. Remember, this is after he has been dealing with his father, aiding and abetting him all along the way, in everyting from collections to murder, then stealing almost a million dollars from him. It is also after Frank, Jr. has become a cocaine addict. The mystery, at least for me, is how he can possibly call his Dad "out of control."

The book is entertaining, filled with all the big names, and criminal expoits of, some of the most feared mobsters around. Frank Calabrese, Sr. was a stone cold killer in his day. That's a fact. He was also one of the largest of the "juice loan" racketeers in Chicago. He was a brutal man. But he never stole from his father.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Michelle Malone - "Flagpole"

This is Michelle Malone live @ Blue Ridge Concerts on March 11th. Sue and I just picked up tickets last night to see her here in Charlotte next Friday. An accomplished musician, guitarist and singer, Ms. Malone has been hard at it for over 20 years now. She plays every conceivable venue, from house parties to baseball stadiums. Her guitar abilities are unequalled, and her voice doesn't shatter glass- it's so pure that it passes through it. With a repertoire of songs ranging from folk rock to gut wrenching blues and rock, she is the master of slide guitar, and can make you cry with a simple ballad.

The song above, "Flagpole", is a great example of Ms. Malone's versatility. I have seen her do this with a band, both acoustic and electric. Now here she is doing the same song solo, with a wonderful acoustic break reminiscent of a bass solo!

The last time I saw her live I asked her for a used pick, hoping to tap into her creative DNA. She gave me the pick, and I went home confident that I now had the key to her super powers. It didn't work, and all I got was a sore arm. But my ears are doing great, and I'm ramping up for next Friday night here in Charlotte at the Evening Muse in NoDa. If you have never seen her perform, you need to get on You Tube and check her out. Then you can go to her website and buy some of her albums.

Here is the link;


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Siege of Malta

Today marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Siege of Malta. This battle was pivotal in the war between the Christian and Islamic faiths in their struggle to control the Mediterranean. It was the beginning of the end of a 50 year tug of war between the two cultures, a struggle which continues even now, over half a millennium later.

The island of Malta is literally the point at which the East meets the West. And it was at this place where the two cultures came to a violent confrontation during the final years of a war that waged between the Ottomans and Western Europe from 1521 to about 1571. The Siege of Malta is one of the defining battles of that war. It bears examination if we are to learn anything at all from history.

The Knights Hospitallers of Saint John – who were originally based in Jerusalem, ended up in Malta when they lost Rhodes to the Ottomans in 1522. This was the beginning of a long and brutal period of tension between the East and the West, which remains unresolved, even today.

The island of Malta became a Christian fortress, as well as a barrier against the further spread of Islam. The Knights of Malta, during these years, essentially became bandits and adventurers in their own right. They were also anti-Semitic, disallowing the Maltese from joining their order. At the same time as the Maltese endured these insults from the Knights, they were also mindful of the crimes committed against them in the past by the Turks, regardless of their common Semitic ancestry.

In 1530 the Grand Master Villiers de I’lsle Adam returned from his tour of Europe, during which he had persuaded Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to make a gift to him of the Maltese Islands. (You may recognize this part from the Dashiell Hammett novel “The Maltese Falcon”,or from the Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name, but it is true nonetheless.) Charles granted the gift of the islands, with one stipulation; that each year a falcon would be sent from the island of Malta to the Viceroy of Sicily, and that a mass be held in Charles honor by the Pope on All Saints Day.

Malta's sister island Gozo fell to the Ottomans in 1551, with all of her inhabitants becoming slaves to her conquerors. This was a lesson not lost on the Maltese, who realized that they must ally with the Knights, or suffer the same fate as their fellow brethren on Gozo. In short, the Maltese were caught between a rock, and the proverbial “hard place.”

The Siege itself was the inevitable conclusion, which arose out of decades of conflict between the Christian Alliance and the Ottomans. This conflict was largely about trade, and control of the Mediterranean Sea for that purpose. In the decades leading up to the Siege, Turkish Corsair Turgut Reis led the first, unsuccessful assault on Malta in late 1551.

By 1559 Turgut Reis had reached the shores of Spain, which prompted Philip the Second to assemble the largest fleet of the time, in order to reclaim the conquered territory. With 54 ships, all galleys, and 14,000 men, the fleet set out to confront Turgut off the coast of Tunisia. The battle took place just offshore, at the island of Djerba, where over half of the Christian fleet was lost, or captured.

The Knights, too, were busy during this time. They had become pirates, preying upon non-Christian shipping vessels, while taking over 5,000 Muslim and Jewish slaves in the bargain. In 1564, Romegas, the Order’s most brutal pirate, captured several ships from the Ottomans, taking prisoners of rank, such as the governor of Cairo, as well as the governor of Alexandria. These actions lead to the Ottomans, under the rule of Suleiman, to vow and wipe the face of the earth with the Knights of Malta. The stage for all out war was set, and Peace was a long way off.

The Turks set forth from Istanbul with a fleet 193 vessels carrying 48,000 in all. The Knights numbered all of 6,100, half of whom had to be enscripted from the Maltese population.

To prepare for the battle, Grand Master Vallete ordered all crops to be brought in from the fields, ready or not. There was a twofold purpose to this; the first was to ensure there was enough food for the siege; secondly, anything outside of the walls could be used to aid the invaders. With no crops left growing on the island, the invaders would have much less time to conquer Malta. In addition to this precaution, all wells were poisoned in order to deprive the enemy of drinking water.

The Turks arrived on about May 18th, but did not begin the siege immediately. A disagreement between commanders would keep the Ottomans aboard their ships for another week, while the commanders decided upon a strategy. Had they attacked Malta, the battle would have been shortened. Instead the Turks decided to split their troops 3 ways, with the first force attacking the fortifications at St. Elmo, which guarded the harbor at Malta. The other plan was to attack the old and undefended capital Mdina, in the center of the island, and then branch out from there.

The plan to take Fort St. Elmo first was the beginning of the end for the Ottomans, as they were unable to place their guns effectively, relying instead on a bombardment by sea. But, by the end of June, Fort Elmo was in Ottoman hands, though much time had been lost, and supplies were growing short for the invaders, while the Christian forces had resupplied their remaining garrisons.

The brutality of the invaders was matched by the Knights in every regard. When Mustafa Pasha captured Fort Elmo, he decapitated the bodies, floating them across the bay on wooden crucifixes. Not to be outdone, the Maltese Commander, de Valette, decapitated all of the Ottoman prisoners and fired their heads into the Turkish camp using cannon.

The fighting went on through August, when the Christians were ready to retreat. But, by September they had been reinforced by Don Garcia from Spain, with 8,000 men and supplies, allowing them to continue the battle. By this time, and due to the timely intervention of the Spanish, the Turks packed up and left, leaving one third of their men dead on the field. By September 11th, that’s right, September 11th, the Turks had fled the island, and the Siege of Malta would turn out to be the last epic battle of the Crusades, which finally came to a halt in 1571.

The victory was so important, that money began to pour into Malta from all corners of Europe, in order that a more secure and fortified garrison be constructed. The aim was to deny, for all eternity, the island of Malta to any future enemies. Had Malta fallen, the Ottoman Empire would have penetrated the underbelly of Europe, forever changing the world in which we find ourselves today.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Westmoreland Road - Private Dining

This is where I eat dinner almost every night. It's bucolic, pastoral qualities give me great pleasure. It's a living painting which changes with the seasons. I first ran into this road while taking a short cut several months ago, trying to skirt a minor traffic tie-up on my way home. I have gone there every day since, usually at about 5 PM to eat my fried chicken. There is a place nearby that sells fresh, fried chicken, as well as beautiful salads. My favorite is their blueberry vinaigrette, with cranberries, walnuts, mushrooms and a whole bunch of other stuff, tossed with fresh, hot, fried chicken.

The Watson's live on the corner, and at first I think they were a bit annoyed at the sight of my old 1996 Mitsubishi sitting along the side of their field each evening. But the unknown is always just that, unknown, until you get to know it. The elder Mr. Watson and I have now become acquainted, and he comes out to chat on ocassion while I eat. The field on the immediate right was graded for drainage, but there will be no crop there this year, due to some health problems that have prevented the owner from planting it. I'll miss that, a farm field is like a calendar, you can tell how early, or late, it is in the season by following the progress of the crops. From the moment they emerge as sprouts, until the moment they are ripe and ready for harvesting, the clock ticks, unheard by the human ear. But time, as it passes, cannot hide from our view, and shortly the young crops will grow mature, and then, lest they are harvested, they wither and die.

To a city born kid like myself, this is as rural as one can imagine. I can see no housing developments, though my own home sits in one only 4 miles away. There are no plans to develop any of this land. It's a page taken right from the past, here in the present, where I can sit and listen. Except for the approach and passing of the ocassional car, I hear only the sounds of nature; insects, birds, and the rustling of the trees in a light wind are the only sounds to interupt my reverie.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Huguette Clark - Peace at Last

Huguette Clark, the copper heiress who became the center of a media frenzy, and who's estate came under state investigation last year, has died. I was going to take the day off from posting, though I do have something about the Battle of Malta, which took place 500 years ago this week. It was a pivotal battle, one which has had repercussions that last to this very day. But I'll get to that tomorrow.

I became aware of Ms. Clark, who has not been photographed for the last 70 years, like everyone else, when she became the object of a media investigation into her whereabouts. There was also some question as to whether she was really alive at all, and allegations that her death had been covered up for the benefit of her accountant's and attorney's. I couldn't keep my eyes off of the story. It had that Howard Hughes aura about it.

Here was a young woman, born into financial wealth and luxury on the scale of today's biggest media stars, who simply disappeared. Known to be extremely shy, she avoided the media, and a social life, for the sake of that privacy. She actually died under a phony name, in a room that didn't officially exist. What drove her to such an extreme way of living; pardon me, what made her choose to not live at all?

Her last days were reportedly marked by failed eyesight, poor hearing, and at times a disinterest in eating. She was 104- and would've been 105 on June 9th. I don't feel sorry for her, but I do for that little girl in the photo, who would never go on to live the dreams that you can see in her young eyes...

See also;


Monday, May 23, 2011

"Get Low" with Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray

This is a very moving film, one which explores the issues of guilt and redemption, along with forgiveness and faith. Powerful performances by Robert Duvall and Sisssy Spacek, set against the more laid back characters played by Bill Murray, as a Funeral Director, and Lucas Black, as the preacher, make this a slick production , while still maintaining the grit necessary to tell the story.

Robert Duvall gives a very deep, and moving, performance in this drama about an old man, Felix Bush, in the hills of Kentucky, who is ready to die. But he wants to do it his way. He has virtually locked himself in a prison of his own making since the tragedy of 40 years ago. Rumors abound about his actions concerning some unspoken events that drove him to live the life of a hermit, while being shunned by a community that really has no idea why they are shunning him in the first place.

The preacher wants him to make his peace with Jesus, but Felix insists upon taking his plea to the people he may have harmed, including Mattie, Sissy Spacek, who is the sister of someone he loved so long ago, and whose love for her still burns.

There is so much symbolism in this film that it is possible to watch it on several levels. On the first level, it's a wonderful story. On the next level, it is a tale of a man tormented by his own demons, looking for forgiveness. When he cannot find it, he looks to those whom he has directly hurt to gain it.

Planning for a "living" funeral, at which he will be present, he asks that people come to tell the stories, true or otherwise, which they have heard about him. Then he tells them the truth of what happened that night so long ago, asking them to forgive him.

A film that strikes at the heart, and makes you think about the power of forgiveness, and whether it is divine, and gained through faith; or whether it is something to be earned, by doing penance, and then asking for true release from those whom you have hurt. This is a very moving film, showcasing the ever increasing acting abilities of veteran actors Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek. With superb screen writing, and the absence of special effects, this movie is a winner.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Is It Wrong to be Angry with God?

The Following was published in the Saturday Charlotte Observer as part of an article titled "Voices of Faith", which is a weekly column dealing with issues of religion. Sometimes they can be very insightful, as in this answer to the question posed in the title. It more closely resembles the outlook of the Jewish faith, than the Catholic viewpoint. I found it interesting that it comes from a Catholic Minister, and so, being Sunday, I thought I would share it here.

This is the face of God, as depicted by Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.When trying to select a suitable illustration, I decided to use this stern depiction in order to evoke the image of an Old Testament "fire and brimstone" sort of God. The text below is very consistent with my own beliefs, though I usually refer to Noah arguing about how much wine to take aboard the Ark, as well as the haggling betwen Lot and God concerning how many righteous people he needed to find in order to spare Sodom, as evidence of man's ongoing battle with his Creator.

The Rev. Pat Rush, Pastor, Visitation Catholic Church, Kansas City, Missouri:

In the Bible, it seems that God’s people of the First Covenant are more comfortable arguing with God and complaining about God’s perceived lapses in duty than most Christians are. The prophets Jeremiah and Habakkuk, as well as the Book of Job, are prime examples of this.

Those writings evidence the presumption that even a divinely made covenant is a two-way street and the sense that sometimes God forgets about God’s end of the bargain. Habakkuk complained that God was not listening, because God had promised to be a rock of safety for his people, and, when their enemies attacked and defeated them, God failed to intervene.

People influenced by this tradition are not afraid to argue with God and complain when it feels that the Lord is neglecting them. This attitude is not rooted in a shallowness of faith.

Rather, it is usually rooted in a faith relationship so strong that an honest exchange is acceptable and in no way damaging. It is rooted in a faith conviction that God’s commitment to us is so deep that God can handle our disappointment and anger.

God did respond to those biblical heroes who brought their complaints to him. God said, “stay faithful because good things will come, just not now and not as you expect.” God said they, and we must live in patient trust.

God’s love is steadfast in the face of anger.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's Okay to Be Takei!

I'm not that involved in the Gay Rights issue, and although I realize that it is an important one, I'm just tired and don't want to debate with anyone, about anything, anymore. I just want to read, listen to music, and share it on my blog. Ocassionally, I do get off on a tangent, and I hope you forgive me when I do.

This video was on the news this morning and I had it figured for another politically correct bunch of crap. I didn't even watch it until I was going to make fun of it, without watching it first. So, you can imagine my surprise when Sue and I were watching this video, and I realized just how good it is. It's really funny, and clever. Sometimes it takes a bit of humor to put a point across more effectively. And, did I mention that, I just love it when I'm wrong?

Sue's Trees

Basically speaking I am a somewhat self absorbed person. I say this without pride, or shame, it's just the way I am. I'm kind of at the center of my own universe, and while I recognize the existence of the other planets and stars as they twirl and sparkle around me, if a few of them went missing I probably won't take notice. At least not right away.

So, you can imagine my surprise when a man and woman showed up at our door yesterday morning with this 20 foot tall Pin Oak tree. Sue had told me about it, but I had totally forgotten. Not an unusual thing.

It's a beautiful tree, one that will grow quickly and provide shade from the summer sun, and then give us leaves for composting in the fall. Sue is the gardener, I would probably never have done much to the outside of any of the homes we have lived in. It's always been Sue, digging and planting, that has made all of our homes look so nice.

We're not sure how long we plan on staying in our current home, but the trees and landscaping Sue has done, has made it all the more beautiful to live here while we explore our options. And, when the patio is done, we can sit under the tree and think about them.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Swan Peak" by James Lee Burke

Whenever reality begins to bite too deeply I find myself looking for an escape. The search often leads to James Lee Burke. His novels, based as they are on the sociological mess that we call civilization, don't remove me from reality, they simply confirm for me what is happening in the real world. So, I guess I don't get to escape at all. But the beauty of Mr. Burke's writing is in what you take away from any of his books.

I'm a fan of the Dave Robicheaux series of novels, which primarily take place in New Orleans and involve mob figures, hookers and pimps. Having been raised in a city, I can relate to most of what is happening in the street. But when Dave Robicheaux goes on vacation to Montana, taking along his old sidekick Clete Purcell, I can get lost in the unfamiliar terrain.

When Clete decides to go fishing and accidentally takes the wrong fork in the road, the scene is set, and the race is on. Two men who work for the Wellstone family come out to visit Clete, ordering him from the land. Two college kids are murdered sadistically behind the home of Dave's friend, Albert Hollister, a noted historian and author. The murders set off a chain of events that lead back to the Wellstone family, an evangical, and odd, collection of misfits who feed off of one anothers needs.

What is the secret which is being kept from everyone. What role is Wellstone Ministries really playing? And what are the stakes? Hang on as Mr. Burke tests your patience, and intelligence in this wide ranging mystery.

One of the best things about Mr. Burke's books are the mixture of fact, fiction, and history thrown in. I have never come away from one his books without adding some new music to my ipod. In this book, the character J.D. Gribble, an escapee from a contract prison road gang, serves as the vehicle for the music. He is a dobro player, and leans toward Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Elmore James and Leon McAuliffe. When I get to these parts I always hit You Tube to see what I have missed, or in this case just to re-visit some old music with which I am already familiar.

Want some history with your fiction? Mr. Burke provides that, too. Shedding light on some of the lesser known events which shaped our nation is something that comes naturally to Mr. Burke. Working such notables as John Wesley Hardin into the narrative, along with the Sutton-Taylor Fued will send you scurrying to the history books, as well as educate you a bit.

Do you have a bent for sociological issues? Explore the world of "contract" prisons, those cement modules which have replaced the standard state institutions, bringing with them a whole new set of troubling after effects. The guards who staff these contract prisons are often culled from the ranks of returning veterans form Iraq and Afghanistan. These men have seen some brutal things, and often take them to work with them, keeping the cycle of violence and degradation in motion for another generation.

What are the Wellstones hiding, and why is Troyce Nix after J.D. Gribble? What bond connects us all in our global dance to an unknown tune?

The story becomes almost incidental when you read a James Lee Burke novel. The character development, along with a current relevancy, make his books so much more than fiction. When Mr. Burke writes about the lost and damaged people who inhabit his world, we recognize them from the things we have seen in our own lives. Their weaknesses are our own. Their problems are universal. In short, they serve as windows into the good, and evil, which comprise ourselves.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Eddie Ray - A National Treasure

One of the best things about doing this blog has been the people I've gotten to know, and correspond with, from the things I post. But the oddest, and most unlikely, of friendships I have made from doing this, is with Eddie Ray. That's his story in the video above. With a 3 decades head start, you wouldn't think we'd have much in common. But then again, there's the music.

I met Eddie Ray about 2 years ago, when I was first doing this blog. I wasn't writing every day, mostly confining myself to a post, or two, a week. I had intended to just do movie and book reviews. It was my wife, Sue, who broadened my horizons.

Sue works out of our home, while I don't work at all. She works upstairs in her office, while I piddle about downstairs in another, smaller room which we call the "computer room." I don't bother her too much during the day, but this one particular day I must have been annoying her enough that she "found" something for me to do.

Handing me an article from a local paper, I think it was the Huntersville Times, she pointed out the http://northcarolinamusichalloffame.org/ which is about 20 minutes from our home. I love music, and North Carolina is the birthplace of so many musical artists, that I figured what can I lose? I had heard of Eddie Ray, but knew very little about him beyond some background stuff I had read in biographies of various rhythm and blues artists.

When I arrived at the Museum I was greeted by a man, a little older than myself, and as we were walking around, looking at the exhibits, it came to me that this was Eddie Ray.

I have always been amazed at people who manage to carve out a niche for themselves, and then leave a mark upon the world in which they have lived. I'm still trying to find the secret. But Ed is one those rare individuals. Five minutes in his presence is all it takes to feel as if you have known this man your entire life. And in a way, you have.

So much of the music you listen to today, although it probably would have come to the surface anyway, came through the actions of Mr. Ray. From the late 1940's, and on through the 1970's, Eddie Ray was behind the scenes, a triple threat. He doesn't play anything, but he does write lyrics, and has a terrific ear for what is good. He has traveled the road from rhythm and blues to Pink Floyd and back again, covering every genre in between. And along the way he even helped to set the standards for artists royalties in a world of ever changing technology. In 1980 Eddie Ray was selected, and appointed, by President Reagan, as a Commissioner on the US Copyright Tribunal. Eddie served on that Tribunal for eight years, chairing it for 4 of them.

Hopefully we will see a book from Eddie soon. His life, in and out of the record business, is one of the most interesting of all the stories to come out of the world of entertainment. And did I mention he doesn't play any instrument? Unless you count his ever young and agile mind.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"The Book of Eli" with Denzel Washington, Gary Oldham and Mila Kunis

In a world destroyed by the "big flash" everything has value. Eli, played by Denzel Washington, is a survivor. He roams the post-apocalyptic world of 2043. Scavenging for anything he can find to survive is a full time job. But he also has a mission.

Wandering westward is not easy. Finding food is as difficult a prospect as avoiding the bands of survivors, who will kill for a pair of shoes, or an extra shirt. Water is a tremendous problem. When Eli stumbles upon an abandoned house, he searches it for food and stumbles upon an i-pod, which he charges from an old car battery.

As he continues on his travels he meets a woman with a broken down shopping cart, apparently in need of his assistance. But he can smell the trap before it is sprung, and fighting for his life he prevails, takes what he needs, and then continues on his journey West. He doesn't get far before witnessing an attack on a man and woman from his perch on a highway overpass. The bikers kill the man, assault the woman, and for some unknown reason take all of the books the couple had in their possession.

When he arrives at the next town he recognizes some of the men there as the bikers who asssaulted the couple out on the road. He also meets their leader, Carnegie, played by Gary Oldham, who is obsessed with books. He is searching for a special book, one that sets the rules for their behavoir. Little does he know that Eli has the very book he is looking for. The last copy of the Bible. With this book he hopes to re-establish the world. He also plans to use the book to set himself up as the leader.

Pay attention to the guy who owns the town "store." The part is played by Tom Waits, who recharges Eli's i-pod for a Zippo lighter and some KFC wet naps. Eli then crosses the street to fill his canteen at the bar. He trades an arab scarf and a pair of gloves for the precious liquid. A young woman, Solara, played by Mila Kunis of TV's "That 70's Show", goes to fill his canteen. By the time she returns Eli has gotten into a major fight with the bikers. Though he is winning, he stops at Solara's insistence, and taken to meet Carnegie.

Carnegie recognizes that Eli is an educated man who is well versed in his scripture. He wants Eli to stay and help him control the town, but Eli refuses. Carnegie insists. He sends his blind woman, Claudia, to bring Eli food. He also sends Claudia's daughter, Solara, to sleep with him.

Eli refuses her advances, but allows her to stay the night in order to avoid her being punished by Carnegie for having been unworthy of her assignment. So the two stay up that night as he recites beautiful words, ones which Solara has never heard before. They talk about the last days before the war and Eli shows her how to say Grace before eating. She is clearly enthralled with her newfound spiritual knowledge. She wants to know more about the book that Eli keeps hidden.

When the morning arrives and Solara returns to Claudia and Carnegie, she recites Grace before the meal. Carnegie now knows that Eli has the Book. He approaches him and begs him to stay. When Eli refuses a violent confrontation takes place, and Eli winds up leaving. Eli dreams of finding a town where the people will use the book for good, rather than evil. At this point in the movie you find out that the last war, which destroyed civilization as we know it, all began because of the Book. Carnegie wants to use the words in the Book to control the world, while Eli dreams of using the Book to free the human soul.

Solara has followed Eli out of town, and after a series of mishaps, finally catches up to him, begging him to take her with him. He refuses, locking her in a cave, from which she escapes and catches up to him. They are now united. He explains to her that his is the only copy left of the Bible. All of the others were destroyed after the war, as they were perceived to be the root cause of the conflict.

As the two travel further West, they encounter many obstacles, including an old couple, George and Martha, living in a house out in the desert. There seems to be no food, yet the couple are healthy looking. Realizing that he and Solara might just be the next meal, they decide to leave. But before they can make their escape they see Carnegie's group approaching, and so retreat back to the old couples home. George and Martha have quite the collection of weapons, and eagerly await the arrival of Carnegie and his men.

During the resulting gunfight, George and Martha are killed, and Eli and Solara captured. When Carnegie takes the book, he shoots Eli, and places Solara in a van with another of the bikers in charge. Solara manages to strangle the driver and finds Eli, alive, still walking West, and they continue the journey together.

Arriving in San Francisco, Eli decides that he must begin to put the lessons he learned from the Book to use. Rowing across to Alcatraz Island, he calls out to a guard that he has a King James Bible. He is taken to the curator, Lombardi, played by Malcolm McDowell, who is gathering all that he can from the pre-war years in order to re-establish civilization. The only thing they don't have is a Bible. Eli has memorized the entire Bible and starts to recite it as the scribes take it all down and begin to print it on an old copying machine.

Meantime, when Carnegie unlocks the Bible he has taken from Eli, he is shocked to find that it is written in Braille. He asks his blind woman, Claudia, to read it to him. She lies and tells him that she has forgotten how to read Braille. As a result of this failure, Carnegie loses control of his men, who then turn on him, and one another.

Back on Alcatraz Island, Eli has completed his task and dies from the earlier gunshot wound. Placing a copy of the Bible on his tombstone, Solara takes Eli's machete and iPod, heading down the road, presumably to further spread the light of the "word."

This film is not my usual fare. However, it is so well written and acted, that it draws you in. Each character is symbolic. Each action has a meaning rooted in the despair of today's world. In short, it's not that difficult to imagine the world as it is portrayed in this film. Outstanding performances by all, with the biggest surprise coming from Mila Kunis, known mainly for her role as the zany "Jackie" on TV's "That 70's Show." This is the first real film role that I have seen her in. And I think we will be seeing much more of her down the road.

This film was an unexpected pleasure to watch.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"The Kennedy Detail" by Gerald Blaine

I am a big fan of the Kennedy assassination. It's the greatest parlor game to ever come down the pike and will doubtlessly entertain folks for generations to come. It seems as if there are a score of different theories floating about, all concerning either the identity of the assassins, or the "why" of the deed itself. These theories range from Big Oil, President Johnson, the CIA, the Mafia, or a combination of all of those, plus the military. But all of the books have one thing in common; they each float a hypothesis of what happened in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963. They each offer a theory, or put forth an explanation as to what happened, and why. This book does neither.

By leaving out certain facts, as well as by slanting certain information, the author seems more intent on exonerating the Secret Service for the loss of the "client", than he is about how, and why, they were simply left out of the loop. The explanations concerning the route change are not credible.

Most of the book seems to concern itself with Agent Clint Hill's role as the bodyguard for Mrs. Kennedy. The weeks, and sometimes even months, he was required to stay away from his own family, often seem exaggerated.

Still, there were portions of the book which offered a new and unique insight into some events. The planned Presidential trip to Frank Sinatra's home, arranged through the President's brother in law, Peter Lawford, was very interesting. I never knew who made the decision to move the President, absent Jackie, to Bing Crosby's house, after all the preparations that Mr. Sinatra had made, including pouring a helicopter pad and state of the art phone bank. The story of how this news was broken to Mr. Sinatra by 2 of the agents, accompanying Mr. Lawford, is very interesting. But, it also almost lead to Sam Giancana having Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. being killed, and that's the kind of "grit" lacking in this book.

Some of the stories of life at the Virginia retreats of both Glen Ora, and later on, Atoka, where Jackie liked to spend weekends horseback riding, are really good. John John learning to salute at Camp David just 2 weeks before his Dad's unexpected murder is a good example of all the things "right" in this book. As the agents in charge of the First Family's security, they had an unprecedented look at their daily lives.

Another chapter worth reading is the one concerning Mrs. Kennedy's miscarriage in August of 1963, just 12 weeks prior to her husbands death. After the baby dies, the author describes the Presidential couple as "growing closer", even as she takes off on a 2 month trip to Europe with Aristotle Onassis, who would later, of course, become her husband.

An entertaining book if you're a Kennedy fan, but a disappointment if you are an assassination buff, the book is worth reading nonetheless. Each perspective is a piece of the larger puzzle that marks the so-called era of "Camelot" in Washington. The lack of candor on the author's part concerning the numerous affairs that the President was having, right under the very nose of the Secret Service, either serves to highlight their incompetence, which I do not believe to be the case, or else it points to the conclusion that this book is less than forthcoming in all of the details relevant to the assassination.

At times this book seems to be a refutation of "The Echo From Dealey Plaza", which I reviewed here a few years ago. That book concerns itself with Abraham Bolden and his removal as the first African-American member of the White House Detail. That removal was the result of his having complained of both complacecy on the part of his fellow agents, as well as his allegations of drinking and drug use by agents on duty. Mr. Blaine seems to deliberately go out of his way to discredit him, leaving the reader to wonder why, while at the same time, lending creedence to Mr. Bolden's account.

For a better read concerning the President's assassination, you can do no better than Russ Baker's "Family of Secrets", which I also reviewed here about 2 years ago. That book is the last word on the Kennedy assassination, tying together all of the conflicting data with documentation of all the purported facts. That book then goes on to tie the Bay of Pigs, along with President's murder, to the Watergate Affair and beyond.

But one fact remains; the Kennedy assassination still remains one of the best unsolved mysteries of my lifetime. And I hope it stays that way.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mayan Calendar 2012 - The Beginning of the End.

My morning routine usually consists of waking up, brushing my teeth and sitting down for breakfast with the newspaper. I am accustomed to doing the crossword puzzle, reading Ask Amy, and then I move on to Billy Graham and the Horoscope. You can imagine my surprise today when I found that I did not exist!

The crossword went well, and some 49 year old guy was lamenting the loss of his true love in Ask Amy. Billy Graham and I had our usual sparring match concerning religion, and then it was time to see how innaccurate my Horoscope would be.

I looked up and down the row of astrological signs in vain for myself. My wife was there in Virgo, and my kids were all in their respective spots, but I was nowhere to be found! Removing myself quickly from the dining room, where I had last spotted myself, I went upstairs to see Sue in her office. It's a good thing she was in and I was able to validate my existence!

I'm 56, going on 57, and over the years I have had five star days, four star days, even a one star day. But I have never had a day where I was totally missing! I had plans today, and I will go forward with them, the lack of direction from the Horoscope notwithstanding. I only read them for fun anyway, but first I just had to comment on this strange and unusual event.

They say that the world might end next year in 2012; you know, when the Mayan calendar runs out? But I think it's already started, with Libra, and me.

Daveste’ Vineyards - Troutman, North Carolina

Sue and I went to the Davesta' Vineyards, located about 25 miles north of us in Troutman yesterday. North Carolina has some very good local wines, a resource that dates back to colonial days in the area, and has recently enjoyed a revival. Daveste' Vineyards is the first one to open in Iredell County, just north of Mooresville. With 52 acres of grapes, this little vineyard puts out some fine wine.

The grounds are beautifully kept, the white building to the right in the photograph houses the actual winery, where tours are available twice a day. There is also a "Tastery" where you can sample the various wines, or, if you prefer, order a glass of your favorite locally grown wine. I chose a Merlot, which had been aged for 14 months in a wooden cask. Full bodied and smooth, it was a fine change from the more "thin" tasting Merlots that one usually encounters in more expensive wines.

The Daveste' Vineyards is also a wonderful place to simply stroll around, looking at the pond and the animals is both soothing and educational. Luckily, we arrived on an "educational" day.

The tree at the edge of the pond is home to a large birdhouse. Two black snakes, probably looking for food, were in the birdhouse, and having already eaten the eggs, were trying to make good their escape from the scene of the crime. But every time they got about 3, or 4 feet of themselves out of the birdhouse, someone was there to take a picture, forcing them to retreat back inside.

It went on in this manner for some time, as people came and went, taking pictures as they did. To complicate matters there was a tree across the pond, upon which sat a huge hawk, watching and waiting out the two snakes. I don't know what happened after we left, but my money was on the hawk.

A great local excursion for a cloudy Sunday afternoon. And the glass of Merlot made it just that much better.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Etta James

This mornings paper brought me the sad news that Etta James is in the hospital again. The 73 year old singer, who has influenced scores of stars, from Janis Joplin to Beyonce, is battling a blood disorder, along with dementia and lukemia. This incredible woman was born on January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles. She was considered somewhat of a child prodigy, singing solo in church at the age of 5. By age 12 she was living in San Francisco, where she formed her first band, a trio. Soon after that, she was working with Johnny Otis and his band.

The year I was born (1954) Ms. James moved back to Los Angeles, where she recorded the slightly off color "Roll With Me Henry" under the title of "The Wallflower" with Johnny Otis. This was also the year in which she changed her name from Jamesetta Hawkins to Etta James. Her nickname at the time was "Peaches." Her first recording as Etta James was the 1955 release of "Good Rockin' Daddy."

By 1960 she had signed with Chess Records out of Chicago and gave us a string of hits that will never be forgotten. From the soulful "At Last", "All I Could Do Was Cry" and "Trust In Me", her sound got bigger and better. By 1967 Leonard Chess had her working at Fame Studios, where she would record the album "Tell Mama" with the Muscle Shoals house band.

Active as a performer all the way through the 1990's, Ms. James continued to give it her all; from live concerts to TV specials on PBS, she just kept on comin'. Her wit and sass are evident in every performance and recording. She won her third Grammy in 2004 for "Blues to the Bone." Her last album to date was the 2006 release of "All the Way", on which she performed cover versions of her favorite songs. The artists she covered included Frank Sinatra, Prince, Marvin Gaye and James Brown.

Things don't look that great right now for Ms. James. And short of wishing her a speedy recovery, a longshot at best, I can only thank her for the soundtrack she provided to my chidhood on a 6 volt transistor radio. Here's a link to "All I Could Do Was Cry."


Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Made In Dagenham" with Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson

This is a long overdue film. While American women were busy burning their bras in Atlantic City, the women of Dagenham, England were working in theirs. The Ford plant in which they made a living, sewing leather strips together for seats, was so hot and lacking in ventilation, that it was de riguer for the women to strip to the waist while working. Whenever a male supervisor entered the work area, the cry went up - "Man in the room!" as everyone scrambled to cover up. It's hard to say who was the more embarrassed, the men or the women.

Coupled with the deplorable working conditions was the fact that women were paid half of what men did for the same work. Economically, the late 1960's were a turbulent time in England; as taxes rose, jobs fled. In order to keep the Ford plants open, the Unions were actually allowing management to pay these women less than their male counterparts. If forced to pay the women equally, Ford announced it would leave England for another country. The Union bosses, eager to preserve their own high paying positions, did everything to sell the women out, keeping the men's wages intact.

Rita O'Grady, played by Sally Hawkins, is one of the 187 women working in a plant of 55,000 men, and she decides that she has had enough. Organizing the other women into a work slowdown is not that hard to do. And so, she does. But when the Union Steward and the Management lackey's conspire to delay her efforts, she ups the ante. Nothing less than equal pay for women will stop the slowdown, which has now become a strike. But don't cheer yet, as the strike brings on many complications.

As the strike winds on, the stockpile of seats dwindles, until there are none left. With no seats to install in the cars, the men are faced with a massive layoff. Rita O'Grady goes quickly from being a media celebrity to pariah. But she holds fast to her position. Equal pay for equal work.

Meantime, in London, the Minister of Labor, who happens to be a woman, is trying to mediate the dispute. But when she realizes that both the Union and Management are conspiring to thwart Rita and her co-workers of their just dues, she calls herself to account. After being told to stay out of the dispute by the Prime Minister, she summons Rita to meet with her. Her intentions are to get the women to wait until all the men's issues are ironed out at the Ford plant. But Rita, acting with the consent of her fellow workers, won't budge.

The Minister of Labor offers a compromise, an immediate raise to 75% of the men's wages, and a promise to discuss the issue further, if the women will just return to work. Rita settles for 90% immediately, with an Equal Pay Act to be put before the House of Commons by that August. Within the next 18 months the Equal Pay Act would be passed. Within the next few years almost all of the European countries would adopt the same types of laws. Equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex.

This is a fantastic movie, with a great 1960's soundtrack that really makes you feel the energy of that era all over again. It also calls into question just how effective the women's movement was in the United States. After Roe vs. Wade was settled, giving women the Right to Choose, the Equal Rights Ammendment was passed by Congress, but never ratified by the Senate. And to this very day it languishes, ignored by all, as American women still work for about 75% of what their male counterparts earn.

I'm hoping that enough women will see this film to make this issue a central theme in the upcoming 2012 Presidential Campaign. There is no good reason that the ERA has not been Ratified by the Senate in the past 38 years. There is also no valid excuse as to why the women of America have let this issue lie dormant for so long.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Shelton High - The School That Tried to Kill Love.

I suppose that by now you have all heard about Shelton High School in Connecticut, where a senior named James Tate asked fellow student Sonali Rodriguez, if she would attend the prom with him in June. The good news is that she said yes, but the sad news is that Shelton High School is not allowing the young Mr. Tate to attend the event, citing his violation of school policy in the way in which he asked Ms. Rodriguez to attend the prom.

If you haven't heard the story, then briefly, this is it. In the dark od night, Mr. Tate, along with 2 friends and a 12 foot ladder, posted 12 foot high letters over the entrance to the school, spelling out "Sonali Rodriguez Will you go to the prom with me? HMU Tate." The HMU, I'm informed, means "hit me up." The letters were easily removed, with no damage to the building, or any students.

I called Shelton High today, hoping to speak with someone about this issue. It seems so heavy handed a response to young love. After making 4 separate calls to the school I was unable to reach a single live human being, Security included! This prompted me to google about a bit, to se what I might learn about Shelton High School.

What I have come up with is a question. Why did Shelton High School allow a teacher to resign, without penalty, after a report of "inappropriate contact" with a student this past March? And then why, a mere 8 weeks later, are they so eager to summarily dismiss young Mr. Tate from the prom, a young man with no prior history of disruption, for this minor infraction?

Below is the story of the earlier incident involving a teacher in march. Read it, and then decide for yourself if the lack of punishment concerning the teacher, is in proportion to the punishment meted out to the young Mr. Tate. As a matter of fact, one might infer, from the lack of discipline concerning the teacher for such a serious offense, that anything else is permissable.

Here is the phone number to Shelto High School, for those who wish to weigh in on both of these issues. (203) 922-3004.

Shelton High announced yesterday that they were sticking by their guns on this, in spite of public pressure from around the world, as well as local politicians, who have even introduced a bill in the legislature concerning this isue. Read the article below, and then decide for yourself if Shelton High Schools real problems dwarf the 12 foot high letters posted by young Mr. Tate.

From the New Haven Register, March 24th, 2011;

SHELTON — A Shelton High School teacher who is the subject of a police investigation has resigned, the school district’s human resources department confirmed Thursday.

“We have had a resignation and it is being treated as a police matter,” said Jim Brant, director of human resources for the district.

Police on Wednesday issued a statement indicating that they are investigating a complaint from the school system regarding a high school teacher.

The complaint involves alleged “inappropriate conduct,” according to police, who said no charges have been filed. Police received the complaint this past weekend, after school officials received information from outside sources about the conduct of a male high school teacher.

The alleged misconduct involved students, police said. Police are not releasing the name of the teacher.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Conundrum of Tolerance

I wasn’t going to weigh in on this one until my intelligence was insulted by the drivel in the media concerning the recent events surrounding the “Imams” being denied service aboard a major airline. The insult to my "limited" intelligence, having been pre-determined by the media and many of the “knee-jerk” crowd, consists of telling me that I am politically incorrect in showing concern about Muslim clerics aboard a plane. These transgressions are based on “facts”, as reported by the media, and then regurgitated as gospel by those who place such trust in the “news.”

The first thing I’m told is that none of the 9/11 hijackers were dressed in Islamic garb. This is true. And I want you to remember that.

Now, throwing all politically, and apolitically views aside, let us examine the situation concerning tolerance. When I was a boy I frequently went to church with my Dad, and on occasion, with my Aunt and Uncle. I am Jewish and when in the presence of God, or in his house, I am commanded to cover my head in respect to God. But in church, I removed my hat.

When my Dad would go to temple with me, he would, likewise, cover his head, with either a yarmulke, a hat, or on occasion, his hand. So, this is my frame of reference concerning tolerance.

Tolerance doesn’t have anything to do with who’s right or wrong, or what the other fellow’s belief system might be. It all comes down to being sensitive to the feelings of others. That is what should guide us all in our daily actions.

But this latest complication, where Muslim clerics wearing their traditional garments, and through no fault of their own, have the ability to frighten other passengers, is a true conundrum.

Now remember, NONE of the 9/11 hijackers were wearing traditional Islamic dress. This, as I’ve said, is true. They were disguised as one of us. That’s why we get searched.

So, remember, that ALL Islamic’s who dress traditionally are not plotting to kill us. But, by the same token, never forget that the man who sent out the disguised radicals to kill us WAS.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Josh Ritter - "Harrisburg"

Romero got married on the fifth of July,
In our Lady of Immaculate Dawn.
He could've got married in the revival man's tent,
But there ain't no reviving what's gone.

He slipped like a shadow from the family he made
In a little white house by the woods.
Dropped the kids at the mission, with a rose for the virgin,
And she knew he was gone for good.

It's a long way to Heaven, it's closer to Harrisburg,
And that's still a long way from the place where we are.
And if evil exists, its a pair of train tracks,
And the devil is a railroad car.

Could have stayed somewhere but the train tracks kept going,
And it seems like they always left soon.
and the wolves that he ran with they moaned low and painful,
And sang sad miseries to the moon.

It's a long way to Heaven, it's closer to Harrisburg,
And that's still a long way from the place where we are.
And if evil exists, its a pair of train tracks,
And the devil is a railroad car.

A rose at the altar, withered and wilted,
Romero sank into a dream.
He didn't make Heaven, and he didn't make Harrisburg,
He died in a hole in between.

Now some say that man is the root of all evil,
While others say God's a drunkard for pain.
Me, I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train.

It's a long way to Heaven, it's closer to Harrisburg,
And that's still a long way from the place where we are.
And if evil exists, its a pair of train tracks,
And the devil is a railroad car.

This is a link to the original studio recording of the song "Harrisburg";


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"The Language of Science and Faith" by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins

"Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes." When Pope John Paul II spoke these words he crystalized an argument that, for me, had been ongoing since I was about 11 years old and first became acquainted with the debate which continues to surround us today.

For me, it has always been easy to reconcile religion with science. I just figured science was invented by God. For an 11 year old, that was pretty deep thinking. And really, over the years, my views on that have not changed much. It's kind of like this; God created us, watched us screw things up and hopes we can straighten it all out ourselves without his Intervention. We, too, can only hope. This belief system is commonly known as "Deism."

In the famous Scopes "Monkey" Trial of 1925, in which a schoolteacher was charged with teaching evolution against the state law prohibiting it, the prosecution argues that Evolution, as a theory, has no creedence in religion. William Jennings Bryan, the 3 time candidate for President, and noted attorney, actually argued against science. His opponent, the brilliant, and somewhat unpredictable Clarence Darrow, argued for the defense that the Bible, particularly Genesis, was "pleasant poetry." I have never been comfortable with either of these dismissals of the two divergent points of view. Nothing is ever that simple.

This book will set what you think you believe in, on it's head. I thought I was a believer in Deism, that is, one who believes in a God who created the Universe, then stepped back to let us run our course. This book postulates the belief in BioLogos, which is a form of Theism, a belief that there is a God who acts in conjunction with his Creation. I'll have to think about this concept.

This is a book which will require more than one reading, as well as an examination of some of my core beliefs regarding religion. My own relationship with God is a very personal one. I speak, He listens; sometimes. At other times, He roars, and I begin to rethink my position. We are engaged in a tug of war for my soul, and at age 56, I'm not all that sure who is winning.

Enter this book with an open mind. It was not written to destroy any religious beliefs you might already have. Rather, this book explores the things we all have in common, with the design of reconciling the science interwoven within our individual beliefs.

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Chinaberry Streets" by Rodney Crowell

Rodney Crowell writes prose just as he does songs, there is a lyrical quality to his writing and phrasing. His words come out as fluidly as the scores of songs he has written in his 4 decades of making music. From his early years in 1975’s “Heartworn Highways” and touring with Emmylou Harris’ “Hot Band”, through the 1980’s and the heady days of “The Cherry Bombs”, not to mention his tempestuous marriage to Roseanne Cash, he has been inspirational in shaping the direction of authentic American folk/rock, as well as gospel music. His friendship with Johnny Cash is legendary. But if you are looking for tales of the life of a star, look elsewhere.

One of the most remarkable things about this book is that Mr. Crowell has managed to avoid telling the time worn story of a poor boy turned star. Rather, he has carefully crafted this as the story of his life, beginning as a poor kid in East Texas, with a dysfunctional family that is at once scary, and yet at the same time, hilarious. His affection for, as well as his puzzlement of, both his mother and father, are at times heartbreaking, yet in the same breath you can’t help but laugh with him.

If you have listened to Mr. Crowell’s albums, particularly “The Houston Kid”, and “Fate’s Right Hand”, then you are already familiar with many of the characters and places that you will encounter in this book.

Mr. Crowell begins by telling us of New Year’s Eve 1955, when he was 5 years old. His parents were having a party and with alcohol flowing freely, things were getting out of hand quickly. Tired of playing nursemaid to a group of drunks, the young Rodney Crowell went and got his father’s shot gun, blasting a hole in the ceiling. This sobered things up quite quickly.

His earliest memory is of sitting on his Dad’s shoulder’s in 1952 and seeing Hank Williams, Sr., play. He doesn’t remember Hank Williams as much as he does his father’s reaction to seeing his hero in person. From there to book goes back to 1955 and forward, chronicling the event’s typical of a 1950’s childhood. Life was mainly concerned with playing “war”, TV and just generally getting into mischief.

The chapter concerning Hurricane Carla in 1961 is of particular interest. The author’s family rode it out in the home of a family friend, until alcohol and freely roaming hands sent the family packing at the height of the storm, back to their own shack, with it’s leaking roof and dirt floor.

Fans of Mr. Crowell’s music will recognize some of the places and terms used in the book. Telephone Road is just as I pictured it, with the bar ditch and DDT spray trucks each evening. The book reads like a sepia toned photo of the era in which the author was raised.

The real universal appeal to this book is the story of the struggle we all face in coming to terms with our parent’s demons. And often, when we finally do come to understand them, and why they were the way they were, it's too late. Sadly, by that time we have taken these flaws out on our own children.

This is a wonderfully written book, giving even more insight into a truly unique American artist.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

Here are two clasic poems for Mother's Day. The first is by Christina Rossetti. If it seems to be a bit lacking in her usual polish, you need to know that this was her first poem, written in 1842, to her mother. Ms. Rossetti was 11 at the time.

To My Mother

To-day’s your natal day,
Sweet flowers I bring;
Mother, accept, I pray,
My offering.

And may you happy live,
And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
Great happiness.

This next poem was written by another of my favorite English poets of the 19th century, Rudyard Kipling. He did it all; journalist, poet, master of any genre he chose, this was the introduction to his novel, "The Light That Failed", which was released in 1891. This introduction came to stand on it's own, especially amongst the British forces up to and through the Second World War.

Mother o’ Mine

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, 0 mother o’ mine!

My own Mom passed away in 1984. That's her on the left, with me standing behind her. The photo was taken aboard the USS Milwaukee in 1978. Though she has been gone for almost 3 decades, we still speak often, and she has interceded on my behalf several times over the years. It's the only explanation I have for having now lived to be older than she was when she left!

So, to all Mothers everywhere, you have the hardest job on the planet. Thanks for doing it well. It's often said that the hope of the world lies in today's children. But it is equally true, to a great extent, that the future of those children lies in the hands of their Mothers. Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pianos for Patriots

Pianos for Patriots is an organization just recently founded by a crewmember from my old ship the USS Milwaukee. Ed Rothacker, an accomplished pianist himself, is teaching piano, for free, to as many children of deployed service members as he can handle. He then recruits them, and others, to teach another kid for free. He's working with his VFW Post, the USO and Congressman Steve Stivers office. He is also asking for donations of musical instruments from various sources. So far, with limited coverage, they are doing suprisingly well!

Ed has filed for incorporation and 501C3 status this week. The above logo was produced by Rick Isbell who works in The Office of Veterans Affairs for the Mayor, City of Columbus.

Eventually there will be a website where families and teachers can request to participate in the program. There will also be a link for donations of musical instruments, music store gift cards and cash. (This might still be a number of months down the road.)In the meantime, you can e-mail Ed with any ideas, or help, at;

edrothacker@sbcglobal.net or, you can contact him by phone at the following numbers;

614-876-9606 (Home) or at 614-325-8680 (Cell)

Thanks Ed, for spreading the gift of music! It's one of the few things which unite us all.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Eye's Have it / Here's Looking at You!

That's not Mars pictured above. It's an image of my left eye, taken yesterday, during my first "real" eye exam in decades. It was a simple, routine exam to make sure I'm wearing the appropriate strength "cheaters", which by my standard is about 2.5 magnification. Well, I was right about what I need, but the glasses I have been using were too weak at 2.0 strength. I keep about 6 pairs strewn about, in all the places where I will likely need them. And even then, I have several pairs of the older/lesser strength glasses lying about as spares, just in case. Weak glasses are better than no glasses at all!

Anyway, this eye exam was really interesting, as I've said, it's been decades since I have had a real one, so I was surprised at all the gadgets and gizmos available to conduct an examination with. In my mind, an eye exam consisted of simply looking at a chart, one usually mounted on the wall. I always read the bottom line as "Made in Philadelphia- Local 400." Freaks the Examiner out at DMV when you're right. And if you're wrong, it doesn't count anyway...

So, like I said, I was very impressed with the examination, as well as the technology. The results were good. I can see 20/15 or so, long distance, and for reading I need 2.5 reading glasses, which, as I've explained, I already have. Not bad for an old guy!

The most impresive thing to me was the image above, which is of my left eye, from the rear. That circle you see, which I initially thought was my iris, is actually the rear of my eye, and the main "disc" where all of the nerves in the eye come together and form the entire "Optic" nerve, which leads to the brain. So, in essence this is a picture of how we see what we see. I find it fascinating.

We all take our eyes for granted, until the day when we suddenly can't see. Take a little time today and think, if even just for a moment, about not being able to see the world around you, or the faces of those whom you love. And the thought of never being able to read! That's a sobering thought, especially for me.

Thanks, Dr. Crawford for such a patient, and educational experience, though I do hope not to see you in the near future!

(Click on the above to enlarge it for Dr. Crawford's contact information.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

George Formby

I'm a big You Tube fan. Whenever I think of something from the past, in the way of movies or music, I head straight to You Tube. It's like a time machine, allowing you to step back and re-watch, or listen to, anything that pops into your memory.

George Formby was always one of those shadowy memories to me. Like so many other of my early childhood film reminisces, George Formby dates back to WOR-TV Channel 9 in New York City. They showed all low budget, copyright expired stuff. Among the films I used to watch were some cheesy old British comedies. With their slightly different approach to humor I found these films to be intriquing. They were also very influential in the types of music I would eventually grow to enjoy. In the case of George Formby, that venue would be the British Music Hall variety of what we have always called "vaudeville."

George Formby was born George Hoy Booth on May 26th, 1904 in Lancashire, England. Although born blind, a violent coughing fit unclogged his vision when he was only 2 months old. It was the first act in what would be a charmed life, in which he would go on to become one of Britain's most beloved and entertaining performers. He adopted the last name Formby for the town of the same name, located just outside his native Lancashire.

Although apprenticed as a jockey when he was 7 years old, as a child he clearly was drawn to entertainment. Upon the death of his father, who was somewhat of an entertainer himself, George embarked, at age 17, upon his musical career, which would carry him through the next 40 years, establishing himself as one of the world's most beloved musical acts. (There is even a snippet of his banjo playing on a Beatle record- but I'll let you figure out which one.)

His "schtick", or gimmick, was in his lyrics. Bordering on the bawdry, and always infused with double entendre, his songs are at once self effacing, as well as pointedly satirical. He played a 5 string banjo, sometimes called a banjo ukulele or banjolele.

Although he was signed by Columbia Pictures, his films were never released here in America, and were it not for WOR-TV I might never have been aware of his talent. But through the magic of You Tube, I am able to enjoy George Formby anytime I want to. I even have his songs converted into MP3 so that I can listen to him in the car.

Although his first record was released in 1926, his humor didn't catch on until about 1932 when he recorded "Chinese Laundry Blues." He followed this up with a series of records concerning the life of "Mr. Wu", the ficticous owner of the Chinese laundry. In various recordings, Mr. Formby has him working as an Air Raid Warden in "Mr. Wu's an Air Raid Warden Now", as well as a window cleaner in "Mr. Wu's a Window Cleaner Now." These recordings, along with his later records of the 1940's earned him an eternal place in the hearts of most of his countrymen. His songs, along with Vera Lynn's, were sung in the air raid shelters during the German "Blitz" of London during the Battle of Britain.

If you've never listened to George Formby before, then you are missing out on a real treat. The songs may seem a little corny in today's high tech, 24/7 world. The lyrics may even seem tame in comparison to today's standards. But the genius of his word play, along with his stacatto style of playing, make him a unique and wonderful part of British Music Hall History, as well as an icon of the indomitable British spirit.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"The Savage City" by T.J. English

When I was about 11 years old, my family took a trip down South from New York City. We went as far as North Carolina, which is where I live today. At the time, while passing through Lumberton, I had my first upclose look at the last vestiges of the Jim Crow era, which had just come to an end with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964. But that didn't stop the sweet, and pretty, young cashier at the Howard Johnson's from calling the little black kid, who worked there, "nigger." I was so glad to have come from the North, where this type of thing did not occur. Or, at least that's what I thought.

I grew up in New York City, in the borough of Brooklyn, at a time when the whole country was undergoing a radical shift in race relations. The TV was filled with images of police dogs being loosed upon non violent protesters; women and children included. I was proud of the fact that we were so different in our handling of race issues in the North.

Of course, as I got older, I realized that the only difference between the North and the South was the way in which we were racist. In the South, it was overt. In the North, it was covert, and swept under the rug, where no one could see it.

"The Savage City" is a good, hard look at what was under that rug. And it's not a very pretty sight. Institutionalized racism was as rampant in the North as it was in the South. The author, T.J. English, has given us an insightful, and revealing look at the way things were done in New York City during the 1950's through the 1970's. And along the way he provides the historical background necessary to understand both the differences, and the similarities, of both systems.

Using 3 individuals as examples, the author expertly weaves their lives, and their troubles, into a tapestry of officially sanctioned racism, as insipid and evil as that of the South. Beginning with the social history of the great movement of blacks, and Puerto Ricans, to the North, looking for jobs during the Second World War, he traces the seeds of a different kind of racism, one that would eventually boil over in the hot summer months of the mid-sixties, leaving our cities burnt and scarred for decades to come.

The book kicks off with the attempted murder of Martin Luther King in Blumstein's, a Harlem Department store where he had gone to promote his book "Stride Toward Freedom." A black woman plunged a letter opener into his chest, just missing his aorta. She had been stalking him for several years, believing that his work in the Civil Rights Movement was Communist influenced. This incident exposed the divisions between the various African-American factions of the time in regards to the expolsive issue of Civil Rights. Some thought we were moving too fast, while others believed that we were not moving fast enough.

Three individuals are explored in this book. First, and foremost, is the real victim, George Whitmore, Jr., a young black man from Wildwood, New Jersey. He decides to leave the junkyard where he grew up for the opportunities that he believes await him in Brooklyn. His decision will change his life forever when he is falsely accused, and then imprisoned for the notorious "Career Girls" murder in Manhattan, a crime which took place while he was still living in New Jersey! Tried and convicted, he wins an appeal, only to be retried 2 more times for the same crime. Remember, this is happening in New York, not Alabama! He is also charged with 2 other crimes which he did not commit, just to be sure they "get him." Along the way, evidence is lost, destroyed and tampered with, all in the name of convicting Mr. Whitmore rather than admit to a mistake on the part of the police.

The second story here is that of Police Detective Bill Phillips, one of the most notorious of the "crooked" cops who so brazenly extorted, and shook down, everyone in his path. His criminal activities eventually landed him back in uniform, pounding a beat, where his corrupt methods of law and order served as one of the openings for the Knapp Commision hearings in the late 1960's. His story is one of avarice, greed and violence. The racism he adhered to was considered to be just a routine part of his job.

Dhoruba Bin Wahad was a kid from the Bronx, who was serving time for robbery when he became a Muslim. Released in time for the long hot summers of 1967 and 1968, he is trying to turn his life around during the social revolution sweeping the land in the form of Black Power, and the Black Panthers. In short order, the streets of New York would be awash in the blood of slain officers. Some were shot while on patrol, ambushed with phony calls for police, while others were injured in the rioting which scorched whole neighborhoods, leaving the urban landscape forever changed.

This is an unflinching look at the racial disparities, and attitudes, which combined to destroy our cities, and portions of African-American culture during the post-war years in New York. For a kid from Brooklyn, who grew up in the midst of all of this, the book is an eye opener to what was really happening all around me in the city where I grew up.

Well written, historically accurate, and compelling in it's scope, this book proves the old adage, that sometimes "you can't see the forest for the trees."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rooftop Reviews - Society News

In an effort to remain current,we dispatched our correspondent, Stacey Redgrave, who happens to be my cousin and works cheaply, to London to cover the Royal Wedding. This postcard arrived yesterday. Notice the date and postmark. We will have to get all the details from her when she returns. The groom was an unemployed fellow by the name of William. Actually, I'm told that he is from a wealthy family. He married the elder Milligan daughter, Kate. We wish them all the best. Co-incidentally, these were the first names of my great-grandparents, William and Kate Williams. Meantime, on the local social scene, we have the following to report;

Our frog, has returned from his winter vacation home. It only took a couple of weeks, but he now comes willingly when called. He gained a bit of weight over the winter, but that's to be expected when you just lay about all day for several months. We're looking for a frog family, preferably in the area, with a young frog of their own, one who has not been in any significant trouble, to meet our frog. Who knows? They just might hit it off and make some beautiful frog music together.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Brattonsville - Stepping Back In Time.

Sue and I took a trip to Brattonsville, South Carolina yesterday. We have been meaning to visit this 38 structure town for quite awhile, but never seem to have gotten around to it. The town is a unique collection of buildings, most of which once belonged to the Bratton family. The 5 Bratton brothers came to America from Ulster in Northern Ireland sometime around 1730, first settling in the Pennsylvania area and then Virginia, before William Bratton and his wife Matha, purchased these 770 acres in present day York County in 1766. They immediately began to build for their growing family, which would eventually number 14 children. Not to mention William's 4 brothers.

The first home reflected the urgency of building something for a dwelling. It is a simple log cabin with a hearth on the first floor and an upstairs loft area for the kids to sleep. The most unusual part of this building is the latch on the OUTSIDE of the doorway leading to the children's sleeping area in the loft. I suppose that when Momma and Papa wanted to have some time alone, they just latched the kids in upstairs. Not a bad system when you think about it!

Eventually William and Martha needed a larger home, and so, they built one right next door. When that one grew cramped, they built an annex to it. After awhile, with all of the outbuildings, and dwellings, along with a store run by the family, there were 38 structures in all!

Historically, the property is significant, in that it played a key role on the road to Yorktown and the British surrender there. Brattonsville was the site of what is known as the "Battle of Huck's Defeat", which was fought on July 12th, 1780. William Bratton's slave, Watt, chanced upon the British troops under Huck's command. He was able to get back to William Bratton in time to summom all the local militia and defeat Huck, who was on his way to re-inforce Cornwallis in Virginia. A victory for him at Brattonsville might have changed the outcome of the war. There is a marker to Watt erected on the site of the Visitor's Center.

The real pleasure of this visit was the unhurried, and unescorted, pace. There were no tour guides moving groups of people about. It was a relaxing way to tour an historical site, an approach which allows the visitor to really absorb the novelty of living in the woods, far from the main roads. The property is still home to some goats, and I heard some chickens roosting about in one of the outbuildings.

But, the lizards were the best. Sue spotted them first, and I was lucky enough to become friendly with this red headed lizard, who allowed me to take numerous photos of him. Of course, I expected him to speak in an Australian accent and sell me insurance, but I would be a liar if I were to tell you that is what happened.

This little village really was self sufficent. Along with the hen house, the pastures for the sheep and cattle, alongside of the vegetable and herb gardens, and the smokehouse, was the most important building of all- the gin house, which allowed them to gin their own cotton, resulting in a larger profit from the cotton crop, which was the mainstay of the village. They even had a loom house, where they spun their own cotton into cloth.

This is a wonderful place to visit for a look back at what life was really like in the last days of the 18th Century. With it's lack of regimentation, it is the perfect way to spend a spring afternoon in the past.

For more about this historical village visit the website at;