Monday, December 31, 2012

"I Only Have Eyes for You" from "Dames" (1934)

It just wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without watching an old Busby Berkeley film. When I was about 11 years old, I “discovered” these old musicals on late night TV, and they came to highlight my New Year’s Eves for the next couple of years. At least until I was old enough to go out for the occasion. And even after I was, I always came home to watch whatever was on the Late, Late Show. Consequently, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler became my late night/early morning friends, inhabiting a secret world where everything always ended happily. I’m still like that; I prefer it when things work out right in the end.
In this scene from “Dames”; the 1934 Busby Berkeley film written by Robert Lord, with a screenplay by Delmer Daves; our two stars find themselves alone late at night on a train. When Dick Powell begins to croon his love for Ruby Keeler, the magic begins as Busby Berkeley seems to pull out all the stops in this wonderful musical number about love. The best part of the whole number occurs at about 4 minutes into the scene, when Ruby Keeler is falling asleep on Dick Powell’s shoulder as he gazes at a beautiful woman in the advertisement opposite him. With his true love asleep in his arms, and the train rocking along, he is caught up in a reverie consisting of Ms. Keeler’s face, which seems to float about in various formations. This is Busby Berkeley at his best.

With the help of co-stars Joan Blondell, Zasu Pitts and Guy Kibbee, this is a perfect film to end 2012 and ring in 2013. It has an actual plot concerning a morality crusader who wants to put an end to Broadway shows, but; as with almost all of Busby Berkeley’s musicals; the real focus is on the elaborate sets and gowns, as well as the perfect endings. And, with the recent weather related events in the northeast; capping off a grueling election year; this film is a like a breath of fresh air which holds all the promise of better days ahead. Happy New Years to all.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Prohibition Ends - Looking Back to See Forward

They say the only thing new is the history that you don’t know. Well, here’s a bit of history which will serve to jog the memories of even the most die-hard defenders of this country’s draconian and useless War on Drugs. Within the first minute of this video, then Governor of New York; Al Smith; sums it up dramatically when he states  his hopes,  that in the future generations, “no such matter as this is ever again made the subject of federal constitutional law.” That’s a pretty strong statement, and begs the question of how did we let it happen again with reference to marijuana?
Most Americans think that the Volstead Act ended on New Year’s Eve of 1933 going on ‘34.  But the repeal of the 18th Amendment by the 21st, was actually signed by President Roosevelt on March 22, 1933 with a stated date of December 5, 1933 for the repeal to actually take effect. People were looking forward to a very legal Happy New Year for the first time in more than a decade.

But what happened to marijuana? Up until the Food and Drug Act of 1933; which came along just as alcohol was coming back; marijuana was legal. It was the staple of musicians everywhere, and had been openly smoked for years during the 1920’s. But, just as the Volstead Act came to a close, the new Prohibition began. And replacing the gangsters of old; with their drive by shootings and gambling casinos; we were ushered into a new age of Prohibition on marijuana.
There were no more drive by shootings; that didn’t happen until the cocaine and heroin epidemic hit the country in the late 20th Century. Those two drugs were the original target of the Food and Drug Act. They are narcotics; that is, they produce narcoleptic effects in the user. Marijuana works in a totally different way on the mind and body, and should never have been included in the Food and Drug Act in the first place. So, why was it?
The answer to that can also be found in the first minute of this film as they speak of the half a million jobs which will be created by the repeal of the Volstead Act. Nobody wanted to put a dent into creating any jobs in the alcohol industry. We were in the midst of a Great Depression, and every job counted. The incorrect perception of marijuana smokers sitting around idly; without buying any liquor; was a threat to the plan to put America back to work.

Fast forward almost 80 years later and what do we see? We see the same history repeating itself over again. The War on Drugs clearly does not work. The country needs jobs. All of the same ingredients which went into repealing the 18th Amendment are in place once more. With so many states taking up the issue of legalization, it is my hope that 2013 will show some progress towards removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances nation-wide. Aside from the jobs which will be created from the smoking of marijuana, think of all of the other uses for the by-products of the plant. They range from plastics and epoxies, to clothing and even bio-fuels. And the taxes alone would amount to a tidy sum that could be ear-marked to reduce our staggering $16 trillion debt. Think of it – puffing patriotically on the 4th of July to save America. Ah, pipe dreams…..

Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Stalag 17" with William Holden (1953)

This is another re-post from last year as I wind down for the New Year ahead. It is one of my favorite Christmas movies simply because of the time and place in which it takes place; a German POW camp in the few days leading up to Christmas; a time when “good will towards men” is the usual watchword. This film is very different than the traditional, and yet it packs a powerful punch every-time I watch it.

This is a film that I associate with Christmas. It's not the warm and fuzzy type of Christmas movie you would normally expect. I prefer the more unusual Christmas movies, the ones which explore the human condition more than the tinsel on the tree.
In this film the entire story takes place around the time of the holidays, only this time in a German POW Camp, Stalag 17. The time is less than 4 days before Christmas of 1944. In this 1953 film directed by Billy Wilder, fellow Director Otto Preminger plays the Commandant  of Stalag 17; a POW Camp located somewhere in Germany. He is pure Nazi, right to the bone. They couldn't have picked a better actor. The film is based entirely upon the Broadway play of the same name, in which Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck, who play the roles of Harry Shapiro and "Animal", appeared. They are both excellent in this screen adaptation.

Someone in the barracks at Stalag 17 is a stoolie. Several men have already died attempting escapes. No one knows who it is, but everyone suspects it to be Sgt. Sefton, played by William Holden, a shrewd black market trader who has fresh eggs for breakfast while his fellow prisoners subsist on gruel. He is not very well liked. He flouts his wealth, mocking the others as "saps."
Overseeing the entire barracks is Sgt. Schultz, (if you're thinking of "Hogan's Hero's", forget it. In this film, Klink and Schultz are both real Nazi's, with no shred of honor, or humor. This is a drama.) He is a cruel and calculating man who masquerades as the men's "friend", but his real purposes are sinister and without merit.

When the men in the barracks gang up on Sefton, and beat him, thinking he is the stoolie, they set off a chain of events which leads to the discovery of the real mole, on Christmas Eve, just in time for a planned escape by several of the prisoners. With the holiday only hours away, someone is about to pay for those who have died, while others are on their way to freedom.
A real surprise twist at the end makes this an excellent film at any time of the year. But now, as Christmas approaches,, the film is somehow more poignant, as we watch these men struggle with their burdens, each one bearing their individual cross, during a time of year which normally holds joy for most.

The film won the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in 1954 for William Holden, who initially refused the part. In addition it also won Nominations for Best Supporting Actor for Robert Strauss, as well as a Nomination for Best Director for Billy Wilder. If you've never seen this one, check it out. Here is a clip from the film;


Friday, December 28, 2012

"Taking a Cab" - Steven Parker

The following was in my e-mail the other day, placed there by none other than the inimitable Steven Parker, an old school mate from long ago. Well, maybe not that long ago! All things are relative; to me, music from the 1980’s is new; so, you must be the judge. Anyway, here is his story. True; or not; it is sure to make you smile. Thanks, Steve!

At this time of the year, when the roadblocks come up with great regularity, I would like to share a personal experience with my friends about drinking and driving. As you well know, some have been known to have had brushes with the authorities on the way home from an occasional social session over the years.
A couple of nights ago, I was out for an evening with friends and had a couple of cocktails and some rather nice wine. Knowing full well I may have been slightly over the limit, I did something I've never done before ~ I took a cab home. Sure enough, I passed a police road block but, since it was a cab, they waved it past.

I arrived home safely without incident, which was a real surprise; as I have never driven a cab before and am not sure where I got it or what to do with it now that it's in my garage.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"50 Dead Men Walking" with Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess (2008)

Between 1968 and 1988 there were two factions; actually illegal armies; vying for control of Northern Ireland. The hatred and violence ran so deep that there was no way to contain it except to maintain the separation of the country into northern and southern provinces. One was Irish Catholic and deeply opposed to the British occupation bought on by the violence between themselves and the Protestants. Much of the discord between the two stemmed not from their religious beliefs, but more accurately was due to their competition economically and politically. At the time the IRA was the biggest terrorist organization in the country, and this movie is based on a true case. It is, in a way, chilling. It shows the ease with which people can be divided by forces that have agendas of their own, and how hard it is to break free of their bonds, even if you have helped them to shackle you in the first place. This is the dilemma in which a low level street hustler named Martin McGartland, played by Jim Sturgess, finds himself.

A nameless British agent, played coldly by Ben Kingsley, convinces Martin that he can help with the problems in Ireland by infiltrating the IRA. At the time, Martin is selling stolen goods door to door, and the offer of a free car; not to mention real money; is too much for him to resist. Consequently, his role in organizations rise, but he begins to question his own motives. Caught between the motivations of both his British “handler”, and his IRA “colleagues”, he is increasingly confused as to his own loyalties. And, with a pregnant girlfriend, he needs to start thinking beyond the divisions in order to support his new family.
Tautly directed by  Kari Skogland the film is eerily reminiscent of the dilemma faced by James Mason’s character in Carol Reed’s 1947 film, “Odd Man Out.”  The Irish “troubles” date way back; even prior to the events of 1916. This film focuses solely on the violence, and the struggle to contain it, which was waged during the 1980’s. It is a sorrowful look at man’s inability to get along with his fellow, and as such, deserves to be looked at with a keen eye. It is only by an understanding of what went wrong that we can prevent it from happening again. Outstanding performances by all make this thriller a “keeper.” 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The World Almanac - 2012

This is the book; accept no substitutes. When the power goes out, and the computers don’t work, this handy book is the place to be. Great for settling disagreements on almost any topic imaginable, it also contains copies of the text of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, a full color World Atlas, biographies of every President since George Washington, a complete list of every nation in the world; with vital statistics on each one; population of the world by countries, population of the United States by cities and counties, a brief overview of the world’s major religions, records of every Presidential election in our history, a full color review of the highlights from 2012, playing card and dice odds, ancient measurements such as the cubit, conversion charts for temperature, wind chill, heat index, metric system, extensive alphabetical listing of noted personalities living, noted personalities of the past, Broadway show records, economics, music, a section on aerospace, astronomy, calendars of all types, computers and telecommunications information, distances between cities, air traffic routes, median prices of existing homes by location, Income Tax information, zip codes, area codes, Morse code, marital status by households, a history of the United States, a short history of the world, a list of colleges and universities, acronyms, eponyms, foreign words and phrases, origins of names, sign language, buildings, bridges and tunnels, and about 200 pages of sports records organized by sport, date, feat accomplished, and records broken; like this one for one of the longest sentences.

This book, which is not necessary to update each year, is a good solid addition to any personal library. I even keep an old one in the car for the rare times I am caught without something to read. The biographies of the Presidents never get old, and there is always something new to be learned; even from an old almanac.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An American Christmas - Kilroy Was Here!

I first posted this piece of “Americana” 2 years ago to great response. It’s the true story behind “Kilroy Was Here”, as well as a story about the Christmas spirit. I hope you enjoy it…
“Kilroy Was Here” has been a part of the American vocabulary ever since World War Two. And the story behind it is not often told. In a way, it involves Christmas, so I figured this was a good time to tell the story behind the words.
During the Second World War, when the United States was turning out ships and planes at a rapid rate, "checkers" were required to make the rounds of the shipyards and factories, inspecting the work. When they were done they placed a mark, with chalk, on the item to show that it had passed inspection. The appropriate riveter/welder would then get credit for the work, and hence, paid accordingly.

Soldiers began to see these marks, along with the words "Kilroy Was Here", wherever they went during the war. Wherever they went, they assumed they were the first, only to be greeted by the words that had become a slogan. There were now several Kilroy’s from coast to coast. But only one was the original.

There is even a story about the Potsdam Conference in 1945 which concerns “Kilroy.” A modern outhouse had been built for the exclusive use of Truman, Stalin, and Churchill. The first person to use it was Stalin. When he finished and came out he asked his aide, "Who is this Kilroy?"
At any rate, fast forward a bit to the end of 1946. The Second World War was over and the shipyards were shuttered. James Kilroy was facing a bleak Christmas, with no toys for the kids. That's when he first heard of the search for the real Kilroy!
The photo above, from the Boston American, dated December 23, 1946 shows the Kilroy family with a trolley car in their front yard. They had won the trolley in a radio contest put forth by The Transit Company of America, offering the trolley as a prize to the individual who could prove that they were the "real" Kilroy. Of the forty odd men who made that claim, only James Kilroy was able to produce officials from the shipyard, and even some of his fellow riveters, to prove his claim. Having won the prize, he now had to get it home! And there was a blizzard coming! So, the real story involves how it almost didn't make it on time.

But, with the help of the Transit Company of America, and a local railroad spur, along with a truck and a crane, the trolley was delivered on time, where it served many years as a playhouse for James Kilroy's children. It was a Christmas they would never forget. And that, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Hope your day is filled with miracles!

Monday, December 24, 2012

"The Night Before Christmas" - Silly Symphonies (1933)

When Clement C. Moore wrote the poem “Twas the night before Christmas”, or,“A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1822 he could hardly have envisioned the impact which his poem would have upon the world for years to come. This year marks the 190th Christmas since the poem was first published anonymously in the New York Sentinel. It wasn’t until 1844 that Mr. Moore allowed his name to be associated with his creation. And I wonder what he would have thought of this animated adaptation of his poem? We’ll never know, so let’s just say, “Thanks, Mr. Moore!” and hope that he would have enjoyed it. Watch this with a grandkid and then read them the poem. Neither one of you will ever forget the experience.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mel Torme and Judy Garland - "The Christmas Song" (1963)

Everyone knows the version of “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole. You might have to jog people’s memories with the first line, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…..” but for the most part, everybody knows the rest of the song. That’s why I chose this version to post. It’s from a 1963 television special, but it is performed by its composer, the marvelous Mel Torme. And, as if that weren’t enough of an attraction, he is joined by the legendary Judy Garland in delivering one of the most beautiful versions of this iconic song.
I’m not doing much between now and New Year’s. Playing guitar, reading, blogging, blogging and listening to music. It can be a pleasant rut, especially in the winter time. But every now and again, something comes along and grabs your attention. That’s what this video did to me; it grabbed my attention and made me want to share it.

Mel Torme was 19 years old when he wrote this song; others would follow; but had he never written another, it’s almost enough to say that that song alone would have fulfilled his destiny. Not to mention the pile of money it generated for Nat King Cole…

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" - A Max Fleischer Cartoon (1948)

If you’re a baby-boomer, then you’ll remember this adaptation of the classic Christmas tale of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer". It was done by Max Fleischer, with the help of Johnny Marks and Paul Wing, in 1944, but for some reason; perhaps the war; it seems to have been released in 1948. I don’t know the whole story behind that, but I’m looking…
Meantime, the story of Rudolph is familiar to us all, and if you haven’t seen this one before, you’re missing out on a real treat. Share it with the little ones in your life, or just watch it yourself. Rudolph gets to save the day, and the story serves to remind us that we are all capable of more. Sometimes we just need a reason.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Miracle on Kings Highway - Angelo's Story

I first posted this Christmas piece 3 years ago. The events which took place in my life while working at H and A Foods on Kings Highway in Brooklyn all took place at a time in my life when I was very fortunate to be working for 2 people; Harry and Al; who were willing to put people first in their hearts and deeds. While complete opposites on most things, they were in unison when it came to helping people to help themselves. I have never worked for 2 more colorful, and generous, human beings. And there is never a Christmas which passes by that I don’t think about them and tell this story. It speaks to the humanity within us all.

This is a story of the Christmas Spirit. Every word is true – I know - I was there. These events happened 35 years ago this evening (1974) and still warm my soul each time I relive them. It is what Christmas is all about.
The neighborhood of Kings Highway in Brooklyn was a world of its own. We had the same assortment of shops, delicatessens and candy stores as all the other main shopping avenues, only bigger. H and A Foods, as it was known, catered to the upper crust of the neighborhood. We delivered; which none of the big chains did; and that’s where our story begins…

Angelo was the youngest brother of Milton, who, along with his brother Leo worked for Harry and Al. Milton delivered the groceries in a station wagon bought for him by Harry and Al every 2 years. It was in his name and Harry and Al paid all expenses on it. Milton delivered the groceries and as the store grew he brought his 2 brothers over to help. Leo was the floor manager and Angelo was a “stocker”. Of the 3 brothers’ only Angelo still had family behind in Mexico - a wife and 5 children. His dream was to save enough money to bring them here.
Angelo could ape a few words of English and taught me several foul words and phrases in Spanish. He was a hard worker- about 40 years old. He sent his pay home and lived in a furnished room around the corner from the store. He never got to go home and visit his family while saving to bring them here. He was an illegal and this was 1974. They still upheld the immigration laws back then so it was a risky business sneaking in and out.

First a few words are in order concerning Harry and Al. They were partners; 2 Jews perfectly mismatched. While Harry was short, Al was tall. Harry was an optimist, Al was a pessimist. Harry was a doer, Al was a dreamer. You get the point. Anyway, they operated on a system of checks and balances, not unlike our government. They had been in business for 20 years as partners after having failed on their own. It was only after they got together that they achieved any success.
There had been a slight recession in 1973 going into 1974. The Vietnam War had just wound down and Watergate was about to give us our first unelected President in Jerry Ford. There had been talk of some cutback in hours or possibly some layoffs in the store during the fall months leading up to the holidays. Harry had been in and out at all odd hours compared with his usual schedule, which was etched in stone like the Tablets on Sinai. We assumed he had been meeting with bankers to negotiate some financing.

The holidays approached and with them all the excitement that is generated by the prospect of the “Christmas Bonus.” This boiled down to two very basic questions- how much and when? The tradition at Harry and Al’s had always been a week’s gross pay in cash on Christmas Eve just before closing. We were all paid on the basis of 15 hours per week on the books at minimum wage ($2.50 an hour) and then the balance of our pay was in cash at a higher rate. This ensured that we made enough cash to live on and also that our Social Security Accounts would not be bare. It also helped when the Labor Dept. Inspector dropped in to make sure we were all on the books.
Christmas Eve finally arrived and we rushed through all the last minute tasks before closing early for the holiday. Harry and Al were still busy counting the days receipts as the rest of us pretended to work, waiting for the “moment”.

Al and Harry stood behind the counter and we were all gathered on the customer side exchanging best wishes etc as Harry handed out the envelopes with our bonus. There was one for Milton, Izzie, Leo, Steve, Bob, Paul and myself. Angelo’s name was not called.
Meekly coming forward with hand outstretched Angelo spoke; “Me, dinero?” he implored, eyes showing the shame of asking. He was here illegally and there was no guarantee of a bonus for anyone, let alone this poor fellow. He continued, “Me mucho trabajo- no dinero?” Al held his hand up, arm outstretched, palm facing Angelo and said, “You no work bueno- you no dinero.” And then he turned away. The silence, as they say, was deafening. Angelo turned and ran to the basement to be alone with his disappointment and probably anger.

Suddenly from the basement we heard the sounds of laughter and tears. Seeing Harry and Al as they exchanged satisfied glances we knew things were not as they appeared to be. Milton and Leo seemed unusually calm as the rest of us herded toward the basement steps to investigate the cacophony of sounds.
There was Angelo, surrounded by his wife and five children, tears streaming down their faces as they embraced the greatest Christmas gift imaginable- one another.

And then we realized, Harry hadn’t been going to the bankers as we all thought. He had been going to Immigration arranging the visas and job commitment necessary to re-unite Angelo with his family.
There was not a dry eye as we left the store that night. We filed out under the caring gaze of 2 of the wisest men I have ever known - and I believe we had seen the true Spirit of Christmas.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"The Shop Around The Corner" with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan (1940)

This is another reposting of a review from a couple of years ago; I never let the holiday pass by without watching this one;

This 1940 film by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Jimmy Stewart and Magaret Sullavan is one of the most beautifully crafted films ever made, and is based on the play by Miklós László. The story is simple, in the weeks leading up to Christmas in Budapest, the department store of Matuschek and Company, is gearing up for the holiday season. The owner, Hugo Matuschek is played brilliantly by Frank Morgan, known to millions worldwide as the Wizard of Oz. His right hand man, Alfred Kralik, is played by Jimmy Stewart. The two are very close, Mr. Matuschek values the opinions of his manager. Things are going very smoothly, with Kralik expecting a promotion by Christmas. Enter Margaret Sullavan as Klara Novak, an unemployed, and high strung young woman. Through a bit of trickery she lands a job at Matuschek and Company, which in turn drives a wedge between Mr. Matuschek and Kralik.

While Kralik has been exchanging letters with an unknown "friend" through the classified ads, Ms. Novak has been doing the same. Without knowing, they have been exchanging letters with one another, stretching the truth a bit where necessary. So, neither one has any idea that their co-worker is the object of their affections. In fact, the opposite is true, as they grate on one anothers nerves, and the Christmas holiday approaches. And to top it all off, they are both thinking about marriage to their prospective "pen pals", although they have never met.

At the same time, a subplot is taking place as the shops "dandy", Ferencz Vadas, played exceptionally by Joseph Schildkraut, does all he can to make life unbearable for his fellow employees.

With a cast of character actors such as Felix Bressart, who plays Kraliks friend and fellow employee Pirovitch, and William Tracy as Pepi, the stores delivery boy, this movie will easily call you back year after year for a look at Christmas in Hungary in the days before all the madness began.

The movie has at least 3 endings. By that I mean there are 3 seperate times when the movie could end, leaving the audience happy, but Ernst Lubitsch, being Ernst Lubitsch, has so many tricks up his sleeve, that you will find yourself enjoying 3 endings, each one wrapping up a portion of the film that you may have forgotten about. This is the art of Ernst Lubitsch. Just when you think it's over - it's not.

One of the all time great Christmas movies, this film was remade in the 1990's with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as "You've Got Mail." I have never been able to sit through that entire film. Simply because this 1940 version by Ernst Lubitsch captured my heart so many years ago.

Here is a scene from the beginning of the movie;

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Uncle Irving and the Tree

I have always had a Christmas tree. My parents were a "mixed" marraige- my Dad was Irish Catholic and my Mom was Russian Jewish. I was raised in a home that had both a Christmas tree and Chanukah candles. Each year we would light the candles and place our spare change in a dish before it. On the eighth day we would count it up and write a check to the WOR Childrens Christmas Fund. This didn't seem strange to us- money from a Jewish hoilday going to the Christmas Fund. Actually it made a lot of sense. It exemplified what the season is all about. We also exchanged gifts on Christmas Day. And in our house there was no bigger fan of Christmas than my Uncle Irving.

Each year he took my brother and I to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmmas Show. If you have never seen it you have been cheated. It is completely religous in it's scope with the Three Wise Men crossing the stage following a star to Bethlehem, including real Camels and Donkeys on the stage! And the Manger- bathed in blue light-was always sure to make my Uncle cry. It was that beautiful. But it wasn't always like that with him.
My parents were married in 1950. They lived with my Grandma Marcus and her brother Irving, my Uncle I, in an apartment on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn until 1952. That’s when they got their first apartment together. It was in the same building on the 4th floor.

My Dad had always had a Christmas tree except for the last 2 years while living with my Mom and Grandma. This was going to be my Mom's first Christmas tree. Naturally, she was very excited and went downstairs to Apartment 3-B to invite Grandma, Uncle Irving and their maid, Mary, up to apartment 4-A to see it.

Irving wouldn’t go. Wouldn’t budge. One flight up was one too many for him to stand before that “symbol of goyim idolatry.”
The following year saw the birth of my brother Mark. This was going to be his first Christmas and the excitement my parents felt was enormous. And contagious.
As Christmas Eve approached Uncle Irving had still not come up to see the tree. That night Grandma and Mary went up to my parents to exchange gifts. Uncle Irving went reluctantly and at the insistence of my Grandmother.

The door opened and there stood the tree. There it was- the “goyim symbol” in all of its splendor. With big outdoor lights and a star at the top, dripping with tinsel and beckoning with its beauty, it mesmerized him. He drew near and felt the warmth and love of my parents coming from that tree. He saw the joy on my brother’s infant face. He turned away and walked out!
An hour or so later he came back, arms laden with toys for my brother and gifts for everyone. After that year- and for every year after until the end of his life- he was the first to ask, “When are we putting up the tree?”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Christmas Eve" with George Raft and Randolph Scott (1947)

Another of my favorite Christmas movies is this little gem which I posted last year. If it seems like I’m taking it easy these past few weeks with some re-postings, you’re right, I am. Hope you are all almost “shopped out” and decorated. If not, don’t worry, Christmas is coming anyway!

This is one of the all-time greatest of Christmas movies, and also one of the most overlooked. It involves a wealthy widow who lives in Manhattan during the late 1940's, which is when the film was made. Aunt Matilda Reid's nephew is seeking to have her judged incompetent in order to become the sole trustee of her wealth. Her three wayward adopted sons have been gone for years, with not a word from any of them. One is a bankrupt playboy (George Brent), the other a rodeo rider (Randolph Scott), and the third son (George Raft), is a very mysterious man involved with hunting Nazi war criminals in South America.

Aunt Matilda has drawn just one concession from the lawyers and judge who are administering her case; if her sons show up before midnight on Christmas Eve, she wins. If not, she becomes the ward of her greedy nephew.
The film received tepid reviews in 1947 when it was released in late October. It was eventually re-released as "Sinner's Holiday", in an effort to attract a wider audience. I first ran across this gem in 1961, or so, while watching WOR-TV, Channel 9, in New York City. All the good old movies were on that channel.

As a matter of fact, "It's A Wonderful Life", with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, got it's second life from that station. That film was originally released in 1942, at a time when we were not winning the war. The film flopped. And then, around 1960, WOR-TV was looking for something to throw on the air Christmas Eve that wouldn't cost them anything. So they turned to "It's A Wonderful Life", a film whose copyright had just run out, enabling them to air the film for nothing. The switchboards lit up and another classic Christmas film was "discovered."

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Chronicles" by Bob Dylan (2004)

When I was about 5, or 6 years old, my parents used to take me to the Village; as in Greenwich Village in New York City. It was the thing to do then, back around 1960. The Beatniks were still in presence, and with their goatees and bohemian clothes, made quite an impression on me. These people were exciting in a mysterious, yet non-threatening way. There was a current of change in the air which was almost palpable. I didn’t know it then, but I was sharing the same streets with Bob Dylan as he explored this new world. He was 19 years old and the village would become his home for many years.

Writing in pastel tones, sometimes giving only the flavor of a particular encounter with another musician, Mr. Dylan writes of a time when singers and songwriters, the likes of The Clancy Brothers, Brownie McGhee, the Monk and everyone you can possibly think of, even Tiny Tim, who was working the Village scene as a novelty act, singing 1920’s songs with his ukulele.
He writes vividly of the frigid winters I remember in the city as a child, using phrases that evoke the chill and recall the brilliant starlit nights. In almost poetic fashion he recreates the sordid New York of better years, before the corporations took over, and art was still in the very air.

Moondog; the landmark street poet who roamed the city; usually to be found further uptown from the Village; was present in Mr. Dylan’s world. Dylan; the name. Where did he get it? We all know it came from Dylan Thomas, but what was the creative thinking that changed Robert Zimmerman into Bob Dylan? In an age of Bobby Vee, and Bobby Vinton, what made the author chose his new cognomen? Who was he when he arrived in New York and what was he trying to achieve? All valid questions concerning one of the most influential artists to emerge from the tail end of the “beat” scene.
Drawing on his memories of Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and even the revered Woody Guthrie himself, Mr. Dylan paints a living literary portrait of one of the most creative eras of the 20th century. He weaves back and forth through the decades of his life in poetic fashion, drawing no attention to the shifts in the narrative from one era to another. He moves ethereally, just as with the visions he created in his own songs.

Unabashedly candid in his recollections; and not always casting himself in the best light; the author lays bare his true sentiments concerning what constitutes “art”, folk music and reality in general. Pushing the boundaries of folk lyrics; while helping to create “folk-rock” music in the bargain; would have been enough for most. With this book, he has established himself as a true craftsman of the memoir as a genre. I should have read this 8 years ago.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Andy Griffith Show - "The Christmas Story (1960)

When Andy and Barney decide to release their prisoners for Christmas so that they can all be with their families, things seem to be going according to plan for a wonderful Christmas. That is, until local liquor store owner Ben Weaver takes umbrage. He has caught Sam, a hard working family man, making a bit of moonshine for Christmas and wants him arrested. And he wants him arrested now. Andy and Barney try to reason with him, but Sam won’t budge. The law’s the law, and like Inspector Javert of the classic “Les Miserables”, in Sam’s eyes there is no room for mercy.
But we can always count on Sherriff Taylor to think outside of the box to find a solution that fits everyone involved. And so, if the prisoner can’t be let out for the holiday, why then there is just one thing left to do; bring the holiday to the jail. And when he does, Sam, the embittered and lonely old man sees the beauty of Christmas for the first time. Now all he has to do is find a way to become part of a holiday which he has always abhorred, while still maintaining his pride; not to mention his unwavering support for the law.

Ben is part Inspector Javert, mixed in with a bit of Charles Dickens “Scrooge”, and the rest of the cast are the spirits of Christmas itself. In the end, things work out; as they always do in Mayberry; but if you have never seen this wonderful show before, you owe it to yourself to watch it. It will melt the coldest of hearts. And you know who you are!

This episode was first aired on December 19, 1960 and was episode 11 of the first season.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"The Ducktators" - Looney Tunes (1942)

In the immediate aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor the United States found itself involved in a war with Italy and Germany, as well as the Japanese, who had attacked us at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. By early 1942 the propaganda machine was in full gear, and children’s cartoons were an ideal place to begin.
In this cartoon, producer Leon Schlesinger has pulled out all the stops in an effort to identify, and ridicule, the three dictators we were facing on the battlefield. Melvin Millar wrote the script for this one with a very deft hand and a wry sense of humor. He has pretty much captured the personalities and quirks of the leaders of the Axis Powers in this funny; yet somehow sad; depiction of human beings at their worst. Sometimes; and I hate to say it; propaganda can be a good thing.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Brooklyn Navy Yard - December 1941

This photograph, released by Life magazine for the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, was taken at the Brooklyn Navy Yard within a week of the attack. Probably December 14th, 1941. It wasn’t a spontaneous demonstration in the immediate wake of the attack that Sunday afternoon; the banners are too well done to have been so hastily prepared.
Several things “pop” out at me in this photo, the first being that the buildings are still there. Fulton Avenue is in the extreme background; with the “dry docks” and the river behind the photographer.

The next thing I noticed was the complete absence of women in the workforce. This was something which was about to change drastically. Within a few more months Rosie the Riveter would make her appearance in every shipyard, aircraft manufacturing plant, and ammunition factory in the country. And, this would have a profound effect on the nation once the war was over.
Women would never again settle for less than they had previously been limited to, although it would take decades to overcome discrimination in the workplace. And, even today, aside from the toothless Lillie Ledbetter Act; women in the private sector still remain paid less than their male counterparts. But, that aside, women were now; for the first time, able to build upon their basis of experience; which brought on by the war, helped them to achieve a future for themselves and their daughters. Fields that were formerly closed to them were now wide open.
Some may say that I am misguided in my belief that many social changes have been achieved only as a by-product of war. But, history bears me out, as in the case of African-Americans proving their worth in battle. Although the change in their status was not instantaneous, their service was a stepping stone on the long path to equality.

So, when I look at this photo I see the harbinger of change. I see the determined faces of men who would largely go off to war; but I also see the future of equality in the workplace for women and blacks. War, as such, is the most terrible dysfunction of mankind. It illustrates a complete lack of understanding and communication. It represents; on the one hand; the breakdown of all social order. Yet; on the other hand; it also represents change. And when that change is for the better, you have to wonder about the nature of mankind, and why it takes a war to recognize that. That’s what this photo says to me.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Royal Guardsmen - "Snoopy's Christmas" (1967)

I was about 13 years old when this recording was released. The country had been in a Snoopy craze for about a year and a half when the Royal Guardsmen released their first hit “Snoopy and the Red Baron”, which gave many kids my age their first taste of the legendary World War One flying ace Baron Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen. Snoopy had been fighting him for several years from atop his doghouse, which served as his plane. Snoopy made it through the war; the Baron did not. He was shot down over France on April 21, 1918 after having had his picture taken pre-flight with a stray dog. The pilot’s wisdom back then was to not have your photo taken before a mission. It was considered to be a bad omen, and for the Baron, it was.

For me, the record brings back a vivid memory each year when I hear the song played on the radio at Christmas time. (The video above is not "Snoopy’s Christmas", but their earlier record, “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron”, from 1966. The video player would not allow me to upload “Snoopy’s Christmas”.) I had saved up all of my money from the paper route I worked after schools to buy Christmas gifts for my parents , Uncle and brother, as well as a few friends. So, with my money bulging in my pockets; I had about $30, which may seem small now, but was a tidy sum for a 13 year old back then; I boarded the “D” train at Kings Highway in Brooklyn, headed for “the city”;which is Brooklynese for the Borough of Manhattan.

Adding to the mystique of my trip was the “local”, which made stops at every station along the way. I can still remember, as anyone who grew up in Brooklyn can, each of the stops along the entire “D” line from Brighton Beach to 59th Street and Central Park, at the very least. The “local” which I was on was one of the older subway cars which dated back to the 1930’s. They had lacquered straw seats and overhead fan blades which resembled the old fashioned ice cream parlors from the turn of the century. They also had the smell from almost 40 years of commuters making their way to and from work each day.

This was not an unpleasant odor, and I believe most of the smell was comprised of the automobile exhaust which drifted down into the subway cars in Manhattan. Even the long, open, elevated section of the line, where I lived, couldn’t air those cars out.
I arrived at the 34th Street station and made my way up to the street and into Macy’s. I had in mind a scarf which my mother had indicated a desire for, and a pipe for my father. He had just quit smoking cigarettes again, taking up pipe smoking as a way to cope with the ordeal. That reasoning didn’t make sense to me then, and still doesn’t now. I also bought something for my Uncle Irving; it was a tie which I bought from a street vendor right outside of Macy’s. I think the guy selling the ties used to go in and steal them before setting up shop outside, where he would re-sell them at a fraction of the cost. Working without a roof, you might say that his “overhead” was less.
My $30 went quite a long way, as I managed to find the scarf for something like $3, and the pipe set me back about $8, leaving me with plenty of money to spend on my day shopping. I ate lunch at the Nedick’s on the corner. Next to Nathan’s, they had the best hotdogs around, and also their famous Orange Drink. I felt very grown up standing at the counter and eating my “dog” with all the adults.
When all was finished and my shopping done, I went back down into the subway, inhaling deeply of the aroma which still, to this day, reminds me of growing up. I don’t remember much else from that Christmas; mainly because my trip into the city was the highlight of the holiday for me that year. I was growing up.
There’s no point to this story; it’s just an old Christmas memory from long ago and far away.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Late Fall in the Piedmont

North Carolina stretches from the shores of Cape Hatteras to Mount Mitchell in the Appalachian Mountains, which peaks at 6,684 feet. That’s quite a change from sea level! In between there is a flat, transitional area known as the Piedmont. That is where I live. It was once an area rich in farms, with barns such as these almost everywhere you turned. Of course, that has changed drastically, which is why we photograph the ones which are still standing, and in operation. This is Bost Grist Mill in Eastern Cabarrus County.
The early settlers came to the region by land and sea. In the Piedmont area there aren’t many ocean going vessels to be seen; that is unless you count this old “prairie schooner.” But without a team of oxen to take you over the deeply rutted roadways, and up the steep inclines of the mountains, let’s just say that you weren’t going too far in one day. About 20 miles per day on flat prairie land was top speed for this baby.
Eventually technology came to the area and brought new machinery with it. This is what I want for my next vehicle - a steam driven, energy efficient tractor. I would love to pull up next to somebody at the light while driving this baby! It even has a steam whistle in case someone doesn’t notice you.

And, finally, as you get further up in elevation, the ground of Central North Carolina boasts the first large scale gold find in the United States. We even had a U.S. Mint here during the 1800’s. Much of the gold came from Reed’s Gold Mine in Cabarrus County; which is where I live today.  We also boast the largest emeralds in the world, some of which have been dug up as recently as last year. As for me, the only thing of value I have picked up in the area  was a gold hoop earring which sold for $50 as scrap.

Late fall is a wonderful time for taking a drive and watching the seasons change right before your eyes; sometimes several times in one day! We have a joke here in North Carolina; we maintain that we have 4 seasons, just like everywhere else; Summer, winter, summer, winter. These beautiful days in between are just a mistake.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"The Fire of Freedom" by David S. Cecelski (2012)

The story of Abraham Galloway is not one which we were taught as kids. It is the true tale of a man who wanted his freedom badly, and went to extraordinary lengths to acquire it. With a deft hand, author David Cecelski takes the reader along on a journey which begins with Abraham’s birth in 1837 as a slave in Smithville; near the mouth of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina; and through his younger years apprenticed for a time as a brick layer.

It is fitting; in a way; that he was named Abraham, for he too would lead his people to freedom, just as Abraham had led them from Ur to Canaan in the Old Testament. In a way, this is the story of two Abrahams; one a slave; the other the President of the United States. That the two would meet in person, at the White House, in the midst of the Civil War is not surprising, as they were both exceptional men, and both would die far too young.

Abraham Galloway was a firebrand for freedom. He breathed it, spoke it and fought for it. He took his grievances all the way to the White House in 1864; and in between he organized African-American troops who would fight the Confederate army in the slave state of North Carolina. And when the war was through, he embarked upon a political career, becoming one of the first black men ever elected to the Legislature in North Carolina.

Most of the story takes place in the area of New Bern, North Carolina and the battles in the area of Wilmington. But the book goes far beyond the simple story of Mr. Galloway’s quest for freedom. In the spring of 1864 it became apparent that the Confederate troops were being massacred in the field when captured. For Galloway, these reports hit very close to home. At the Battle of Plymouth in early 1864, Confederate General Ransom’s brigade had taken no prisoners after encountering African-American troops in the field. They even killed the women and children hiding in the woods. This was the catalyst for Galloway’s meeting with the President.
After meeting with Lincoln, Galloway embarked on a tour of the North to raise money to supply the African-American brigades. A soldier, statesman and a spy for the North, Abraham Galloway’s story is a must read for anyone who is seriously interested in the history of the Civil War. The sheer determination, and will to persevere, against overwhelming odds; all while facing the loss of his own life to further what he saw as justice; will forever stand tall among the stories of war and those who gave more than was expected of them.

Mr. Galloway passed away at the age of 40 in 1870, just as the Ku Klux Klan began their 100 year denial of South's defeat. Had Galloway lived there is no telling what else he might have contributed to the advancement of Civil Rights in an era which begat Jim Crow Laws and institutional segregation.
With a skilled eye for detail, as well as the politics of the era, Mr. Cecelski has given us a piece of history long forgotten. And, in doing so, he has underscored the importance of the role which African-Americans played in taking their first steps toward obtaining their own freedom.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"A Christmas Tree Grows In Brooklyn" by Betty Smith (1943)

If you can read this portion of a chapter from Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” without choking up, then you are probably not living. One of the most poignant portions of a book filled with such moments, this is a tale that should be read each Christmas. To me it is the equivalent of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens; only shorter; as most things are.

In this brief glimpse into the lives of the Nolan family on Christmas Eve are all of the same lessons contained in Dicken’s classic holiday tale. The realities which we live are largely of our own making. And, just as Jacob Marley forged each link of his own damnation in “A Christmas Carol”, we are all capable of undoing those links as well. As you read this, remember that about the tree-seller.

There was a cruel custom in the neighborhood. It was about the trees still unsold when midnight of Christmas Eve approached. There was a saying that if you waited until then, you wouldn’t have to buy a tree; that “they’d chuck ‘em at you.” This was literally true.

At midnight on the Eve of our dear Saviour's birth, the kids gathered where there were unsold trees. The man threw each tree in turn, starting with the biggest. Kids volunteered to stand up against the throwing. If a boy didn’t fall down under the impact, the tree was his. If he fell, he forfeited his chance at winning a tree. Only the roughest boys and some of the young men elected to be hit by the big trees. The others waited shrewdly until a tree came up that they could stand against. The littlest kids waited for the tiny, foot-high trees and shrieked in delight when they won one.
On the Christmas Eve when Francie was ten and Neely nine, mama consented to let them go down and have their first try for a tree. Francie had picked out her tree earlier in the day. She had stood near it all afternoon and evening praying that no one would buy it. To her joy it was still there at midnight. It was the biggest tree in the neighborhood and its price was so high that no one could afford to buy it. It was ten feet high. Its branches were bound with new white rope and it came to a sure pure point at the top.

The man took this tree out first. Before Francie could speak up, a neighborhood bully, a boy of eighteen known as Punky Perkins, stepped forward and ordered the man to chuck the tree at him. The man hated the the way Punky was so confident. He looked around and asked;
”Anybody else wanna take a chanct on it?”

Francie stepped forward. “Me, Mister.”
A spurt of derisive laughter came from the tree man. The kids snickered. A few adults who had gathered to watch the fun, guffawed.

“Aw g’wan. You’re too little,” the tree man objected.
“Me and my brother — we’re not too little together.”

She pulled Neely forward. The man looked at them — a thin girl of ten with starveling hollows in her cheeks but with the chin still baby-round. He looked at the little boy with his fair hair and round blue eyes - Neeley Nolan, all innocence and trust.

"Two ain't fair," yelped Punky.
"Shut your lousy trap," advised the man who held all the power in that hour. “These here kids is got nerve. Stand back, the rest of youse. These kids is goin’ to have a show at this tree.”

The others made a wavering lane. Francie and Neeley stood at one end of it and the big man with the big tree at the other. It was a human funnel with Francie and her brother making the small end of it. The man flexed his great arms to throw the great tree. He noticed how tiny the children looked at the end of the short lane. For the split part of a moment, the tree thrower went through a kind of Gethsemane.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” his soul agonized, “why don’t I just give ‘em the tree, say Merry Christmas and let ‘em go. What’s the tree to me? I can’t sell it no more this year and it won’t keep till next year." The kids watched him solemnly as he stood there in his moment of thought. "But then," he rationalized, if I did that, all the others would expect to get 'em handed to 'em. And next year nobody a-tall would buy a tree off of me. They’d all wait to get ‘em handed to ‘em on a silver plate. I ain’t a big enough man to give this tree away for nothin’. No, I ain't big enough. I ain't big enough to do a thing like that. I gotta think of myself and my own kids." He finally came to his conclusion. "Oh, what the hell! Them two kids is gotta live is this world. They got to get used to it. They got to learn to give and take punishment. And by Jesus, it ain’t give but take, take, take all the time in this God-damned world.” As he threw the tree with all his strength, his heart wailed out, “It’s a God-damned, rotten, lousy world!”

Francie saw the tree leave his hands. There was a split bit of being when time and space had no meaning. The whole world stood dark and still as something dark and monstrous came through the air. The tree came towards her blotting out all memory of her having lived. There was nothing – nothing but pungent darkness and something that grew and grew as it rushed at her. She staggered as the tree hit them. Neeley went down to his knees but she pulled him up fiercely before he could go down. There was a mighty swishing sound as the tree settled. Everything was dark, green and prickly. Then she felt a sharp pain at the side of her head where the trunk of the tree had hit her. She felt Neeley trembling.
When some of the older boys pulled the tree away, they found Francie and her brother standing upright, hand in hand. Blood was coming from scratches on Neeley’s face. He looked more like a baby than ever with his bewildered blue eyes and the fairness of his skin made more noticeable because of the clear red blood. But they were smiling. Had they not won the biggest tree in the neighborhood? Some of the boys hollered “Hooray!” A few adults clapped. The tree man eulogized them by screaming;

“And now get the hell out of here with your tree, you lousy bastards.”
Francie had heard swearing since she had heard words. Obscenity and profanity had no meaning as such among those people. They were emotional expressions of inarticulate people with small vocabularies; they made a kind of dialect. The phrases could mean many things according to the expression and tone used in saying them. So now, when Francie heard themselves called lousy bastards, she smiled tremulously at the kind man. She knew that he was really saying, Goodbye – God bless you.”

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy Chanukah 5773!

Last night marked the beginning of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. I ran this piece last year for Chanukah and have decided to re-post it again this year. Partly because it’s a really good encapsulation of the holiday’s history, and partly because it gives me a day off. Hey, it is a holiday! May your dreidels keep spinning! (Note: The photograph above is of the 8th night of Chanukah last year. I wanted to show the candles in all their glory.)

Happy Chanukah! Tonight is the first of eight nights of celebration commemorating the Miracle of the Lights. Literally, Chanukah means a re-dedication. This always takes place on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. The story behind the holiday is, of course, like Christmas, biblical in it's origins. The actual events took place over 2,000 years ago in Judea amongst the Hebrew people of the time.

The Jews were the first mono-theists, that is, they were the first to believe in one God. To honor him they built a temple on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. Inside were the scrolls of the Torah, which were housed in an Ark. That Ark stood on an Altar which also held a lamp of oil burning in God's honor. This was a symbol of the special relationship the Jews felt with their Creator.
At the same time as the Hebrew people were worshipping their God, Alexander the Great was busy conquering the entire Persian Empire, an area that includes present day Iran, Iraq and the surrounding states. Wherever Alexander the Great went he erected huge statues of the Greek idols. He also placed statues of himself in every important place to show that these countries were under his rule.

At first Alexander allowed the Jews to worship their God with little interference, but that soon came to an end. When the Jews were ordered to place a statue of Alexander the Great on Mt. Moriah, they were horrified! Alexander understood this and allowed the Jews an exemption to this rule, and grateful Jews everywhere named their first born sons Alexander in his honor.
When Alexander died, Antiochus came into power. He was an unforgiving and determined man, hell bent on putting the Jews in their place. He forbid the Jews to worship in their own way and outlawed the Sabbath. Things might have gone on in this way for a while longer had Antiochus not made one crucial mistake.

On the 25th of Kislev, he ordered his troops to bring a statue of Zeus to Mt. Moriah for placement inside of the temple. And then he did the unthinkable - he slaughtered a pig on the Altar, spraying the Torah with the blood of the animal as he did. He then set out in the countryside, erecting more statues and demanding that the people worship them. This was not to be.
A local villager named Mattathias, knocked the statues down and formed his 5 sons into a band of rebels he named the "Maccabees", which means hammer in Hebrew. Soon, more Jews joined Mattathias and his sons, attacking the soldiers and destroying the idols. Antiochus was in a full blown rage at this affront to his supremacy and gathered his army outside of Jerusalem, intent on destroying the Jews once and for all.

At dawn his troops attacked, and were ambushed by the waiting "Maccabees." The people took refuge in the Temple atop Mt. Moriah and repaired all the damage that Antiochus had done to the Altar. Three years later, on the same date, the 25th of Kislev, the Temple was re-dedicated to God. The only problem was, of course, a shortage of oil for the lamp. With a prayer, the Holy Priest poured one days oil into the lamp, and then prayed for the light to last until new oil could be obtained.
That one day's worth of oil burned for 8 days, sustaining the faith of a battered people. And that is why we commemorate this event every 25th of Kislev. There is miracle in light, as well as light in every miracle. Happy Chanukah to all!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Toy Tinkers" - Donald Duck with Chip and Dale (1949)

When Chip and Dale are rudely awakened from their winter nap by Donald Duck cutting down a nearby tree for Christmas, they follow him home to see what all the fuss is about.  Peering inside the frosted windows they spot all kinds of goodies. So, naturally, they find their way inside and begin to play with the things they encounter, infuriating Donald Duck, who just doesn’t seem to understand the Spirit of Christmas. Naturally, a battle of wits ensues, with Donald looking like he will be the “Grinch” for Christmas.

But, never underestimate Chip and Dale, who wage an all-out war to bring Peace on Earth to Donald Duck.

Friday, December 7, 2012

"The Guard" with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle (2011)

When Irish police Sergeant Gerry Boyle, played by Brendan Gleeson, is teamed with FBI agent Wendell Everett in an investigation of a drug smuggling ring, neither man is sure of what he has gotten into. With Sgt. Boyle displaying every stereotypical trait of a bigoted Irishman; and Agent Everett being overly sensitive to racism; the investigation quickly morphs into high gear as it alternates between a very good plot line and some politically incorrect humor.

Sergeant Boyle is the type who loves confrontation, lives with his dying mother and has a penchant for prostitutes. He could care less about the International drug smugglers. Paired with the very professional and uptight FBI Agent produces some very funny moments as the two learn to accept the fact that they have been thrown together. For better, or worse, the two begin to know each other a bit better as they tray their best to identify and ensnare all the players in this rapid fire comedy.

This film was the Official Selection at both the Sundance and Los Angeles Film Festivals for 2011. Director Michael McDonagh keeps the film on pace, delivering one of the most unusual comedies since “Saving Grace.”

 Pearl Harbor - Too Much Negotiation

This is the USS West Virginia on the morning of December 7, 1941. Negotiations for peace with Japan were underway in New York with the Japanese at the time of the attack. Remember this as you read today’s newspaper; sometimes there can be too much negotiating. The attack on Pearl Harbor is proof of the old adage that “the only thing new is the history we don’t know.”