Monday, April 30, 2012

"Greedy Bastards!" by Dylan Ratigan (2012)

When “they” say “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, it’s probably because “they” don’t want you to read this one. Beneath its flashy cover, author Dylan Ratigan takes on the most complex issues which are currently ripping apart our economic system, and taking the middle class with it. From the deregulation of the banking system in 1999, and on through the “burst” of the housing bubble in 2007, he leaves no stone unturned as he explores the interconnection between nutrition, education and health care. And along the way he exposes the mismanagement of them all.

This is not just a book which gripes about where we are, and laments about how we got here. In this highly readable work the author gives the history behind each of the problems he notes. And then he offers real solutions to the problems, highlighting how things could be managed differently, and with better results. The problem really lies with the “Greedy Bastards” to whom he refers in the title. They are the insider traders, the Futures market, the banking system, and, of course, the politicians who all allow this to happen because they are, basically, greedy bastards.
With the book organized into 8 chapters; each with its own inflammatory title; the author takes on the government bailout of the banks, showing how we all have been saddled with a debt that is truly not ours to pay, and benefits only those at the top.
With incredible skill he draws the comparison between the “capitalists who make”, and the “capitalists who take”.  As an example he offers the distinction between Venture Capitalist who lends money to a firm developing a new cure for a disease. If he makes money doing that, he is a “capitalist who makes”, that is, one who benefits society. But if you use that same money to lobby for changes in government regulations, in such a way that allows other groups to invest in something that you know to be flawed in the first place, then you have crossed the line into becoming a “capitalist who takes”. Or, in other words, you are a greedy bastard.
Building upon this simple hypothesis, the author is able to extend that logic and reasoning into almost every area of our failing economy. Along the way he shows us how our elected officials continue to feed at the public trough, essentially devouring your money and work ethic. Filled with diagrams showing the failed cycles in which we find ourselves trapped, Mr. Ratigan is able to show us how changing direction in certain areas would have a positive effect on most of the ills which plague us.
Delving into the field of manufacturing, he takes the reader back to our own Revolutionary War to illustrate the importance of nurturing industry here at home, versus being reliant upon importation of the things we need. Alexander Hamilton saw this clearly over 200 years ago. Why can’t our politicians, and bankers, see it today? Is it possible that they really are the Greedy Bastards which the author makes them out to be? This is a thought provoking, and well researched, book which will make you think. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rock and Roll - Bill Haley and the Comets (1955)

I’m not sure what show this is from, but it’s Bill Haley and His Comets from about 1955 or so. It’s not “American Band Stand”; there were so many local TV dance shows it’s almost impossible to tell you where this one came from. But the dancers are really giving it their all! The fashions are as sharp as the dance moves. Not all of the young folks who appeared on these shows were amateurs, there were quite a few “ringers” thrown in, usually placed in the front of the crowd. Funny thing is, I can watch these old shows and really enjoy them. But today’s shows, ones like “Dancing with the Stars”, leave me cold. Maybe it’s the styles, the music, or just the black and white memories of the years past.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Out on a Limb" with Donald Duck and Chip 'n Dale (1950)

I chose this cartoon because it is one of the few which feature the Donald Duck theme song. Many people are unaware that he even had one. I especially like the harmonies, which are indicative of the late 1940’s and 1950’s style, performed tightly, almost as if they were one voice. Also, this is one of a series of Donald Duck cartoons featuring Chip and Dale.

Cartoons are a distinct memory for me as a child. We got our first TV in 1957. I remember getting up early each morning about 6:30 and turning the TV on. My brother and I would sit through about 5 minutes of the “Test Pattern” before the National Anthem was played. It was accompanied by film of the National Monuments in Washington and a flyover of some Air Force jets. It may seem hokey now, but to a little kid during the Cold War, that short film made me feel as if we were the top dogs in the world.  Enjoy the cartoon!

Friday, April 27, 2012

"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" with Everyone (1963)

This is one of those movies from when I was 8 years old that has lingered on the edge of my consciousness for years. It was written by William and Tania Rose, and directed by Stanley Kramer. The movie is a bit longer than I’d remembered, and of course it’s dated. There are a couple of scenes where I was expecting someone to pull out a cell phone, but then I regained my senses.

Briefly, the plot of the movie is simple. Several cars, traveling a winding road along the coast in Southern California, witness a car speeding. The car, driven by Jimmy Durante, goes over the cliff, ejecting Mr. Durante as it does. The drivers of the other cars,  played by the likes of Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman, Sid Caesar, and Carl Reiner scramble down the cliff to render whatever assistance they can to the mortally injured Durante.
Just as he is drawing his last breath he relates the existence of $350,000 dollars (actually he says “G’s”) which are buried under the big “W” just South of San Diego in Mexico. After he dies two men arrive on the scene to investigate the accident. The inference is that they are the police. The two men seem overly concerned about what information the dying man passed on to the witnesses. For reasons of their own, the witnesses all deny knowing anything. They then seem anxious to resume their individual journeys, each going their own way.
But, before too long, it becomes apparent that they are all on a separate quest to recover the 350,000 “G’s” buried under the “big W”. Alliances form, and are broken, as each vie to be the first to win the race which they believe will make them rich.
Surprises abound in this comedy classic, which features almost everyone in Hollywood.  Spencer Tracy, Ethel Merman, Phil Silvers, the Three Stooges, Jack Benny, Don Knotts, Edward Everett Horton, William Demarest, Andy Devine, and even Eddie “Rochester” Andersen all make appearances in this wild tribute to the mad cap comedies of the 1930’s. If you have never seen this film, it is worth the time simply to see all of these legends on the screen together. Even Jerry Lewis makes an uncredited appearance as a cab driver in this delightful farce.  

The drumming for all of the music in this film is by Earl Palmer, the steady beat behind; and sometimes around; almost everything you have ever listened to. Mr. Palmer was a studio drummer for the likes of everyone you can imagine, such as  The Monkees, Fats Domino, Neil Young,  Frank Sinatra, and too many others to mention here. His career as a professional drummer lasted over 6 decades.  This review is for him, and by the way, Eddie Ray says "hello." I'll be reading up about, and have more to write about  this incredibly talented musician in the weeks to come.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Grace and Grit" by Lilly Ledbetter (2012)

I have been waiting for this book. I recently wrote about the dichotomy between the Lily Ledbetter Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2009, and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Wal-Mart versus Doris Duke case last year. To my mind, that decision flew in the face of reason. Having heard about Ms. Ledbetter's fight for equal pay at Goodyear, I was more than interested to read her story. And, as usual, the local library came through with this up front, and gutsy book about Ms. Ledbetter, and her fight on behalf of all people, not just women.
With a keen ear for telling her story, Ms. Ledbetter begins at the beginning, in the small town of Possum Trot, Alabama. Growing up in the 1940’s was not easy in many small towns around America. Ms. Ledbetter’s father worked at the Army Depot after his discharge from the Navy at the close of the Second World War. But the real good jobs were over in the next town, New Liberty, which was home to most of the workforce at Goodyear Tire. This, to Ms. Ledbetter’s thinking, was upward mobility, and she aspired to be a part of that circle. To have a store bought dress was a luxury for her; in New Liberty it was the norm.

Picking cotton and corn were a way of life for her, and her family, as they struggled to make ends meet. When the 1950’s rolled in, although her family was among the first in their area to have a TV, Ms. Ledbetter wanted access to the American Dream. Excelling in school was a natural for her, having been instilled to a life of hard work at an early age. But, without money, Jacksonville State, just 8 miles down the road, was out of the question. So, as was customary at the time, she got married. With the arrival of two children, life should have been complete. But, her narrow and restricted life drove her to want more. Eventually, after working at General Electric; where she made filaments for bulbs; she landed a job at the very University where she had wanted to study. She even took courses in her spare time. But money remained an obstacle to be overcome, month by month. And that’s what brought her to Goodyear. With a hard work ethic and a desire to succeed; that’s what all it would take to win the dream, right? Not really.

Although Goodyear had many women working in their plants during the Second World War, by the time Ms. Ledbetter arrived, there were only a handful of women working among the thousands of men at the Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Alabama. This was around 1979, and though many things were changing for women, many doors were, and still are, shuttered for them. The author does an excellent job in describing the harassment endured by women in the more industrialized jobs at that time. The Unions were largely unsympathetic to the problems faced by their female members. Ms. Ledbetter describes in detail some of the more blatant abuses suffered by the women who dared to work there. One of these involved the threat of being “picked”, which is a practice in which the other men would strip, and then pluck the pubic hairs of a fellow employee. This was something that had been done to men in the past, and they were supposed to just endure it. It was like a rite of passage. When some of the women are threatened in this manner one brave woman simply dropped her pants and dared them to do it. No one ever bothered her again.

Throughout the book, Ms. Ledbetter does a wonderful job of relating the unique challenges suffered by all true trailblazers. And as she forges ahead, she also is busy raising her 2 children, while dealing with a loving, but unsympathetic husband. Mired; as he is; in his belief in the Bible, he wants his wife to be an appendage to him. This does nothing for her self-esteem. Added to this mix is the illness of her son, Phillip, who suffered from chronic allergies requiring health care which was simply not affordable. Eventually she brings her son to a very sympathetic woman pediatrician who helps her navigate through some of these difficulties.

But by far the most important, and far reaching decision she would make, involved working at Goodyear. There was no way around it, the Goodyear plant, with its higher than average wages, was the logical choice.  Against the wishes of her husband, she applies for work at, and is hired by Goodyear. And, ironically; in her quest to better herself and help her family; this is where her struggles really begin.

One morning, after arriving at work, she finds a slip of paper in her mail at work. This piece of paper lists the salaries of the men and women who are doing the same work, the only difference being that the men are being paid a lot more. After working at the plant for 19 years she was stunned to learn of the disparity in pay being doled out to the women. And, as a female area manager, she was a valued employee. This was like rubbing sand in the wound. She was rewarded with the promotions for her excellent work, but denied the financial reward of all her efforts.

With the salaries so skewed; she was making $44,724 per year versus $59,028 for the same work being done by men; Ms. Ledbetter sought  the counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Their investigation would take some time, while she continued to work at the plant knowing how underpaid she was. Just reading this part of the book had me seething. I cannot imagine how she endured the next few years while waiting for the EEOC to finish its investigation, and prepare for a trial.

Through layoffs, and continued harassment, the author finally makes it to the trial in January of 2003, which took place in the Anniston County Courthouse. The trial was a farce, with Goodyear’s lawyers attempting to make her look like a fool. They had picked the wrong woman for such tactics. After all she had been through; they should have realized that she wasn’t going to be intimidated.

When the jury awards her $3.8 million dollars in damages and back pay, she is stunned. But, she would never see that money. Even if Goodyear lost the appeal, the law capped off damage awards at $360,000, which is just about the sum of back pay she was owed.  According to the laws in place at the time, under Title VII, Compensatory and Punitive damages were dictated by the company’s size. In addition,  race claims were not subject to this cap. Had Ms. Ledbetter been African-American, and able to prove discrimination, she would have been eligible to receive the original amount determined by the jury. But, as a white woman, she was only entitled to the lesser amount. This is one of many reasons why the ERA, which was never ratified by the Senate, is such an important issue for women to tackle.
The case reached the Supreme Court in 2007. She lost. The court struck the case down on a technicality; if a worker is being paid less than another for equal work, then that complaint must be filed within 180 days; or else the applicant is stuck with the unequal pay for the remainder of their employment. That, in itself, is ridiculous on its face, considering it could be years before the employee learns of the discrimination. But the firestorm ignited by her attempts would lead to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, spearheaded by Senators Steny Hoyer and Ted Kennedy. Senate Bill 1843 would take until April of 2008 to come up for a vote in the Senate. With both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; who does receive equal pay as a government employee; and then Senator Obama pulling for her, the bill would eventually become law. It had been a hard battle by one courageous woman that hopefully would have a real impact on the question of Equal Pay for Equal Work.

And therein is the dichotomy I spoke of earlier. How can the President sign into law something that the Supreme Court had denied? And to top it off, how could the Supreme Court, only one year later, side with Wal-Mart on the issue of pay disparity within its  ranks? I have no real answer to these questions.
This is an engaging read, which raises many questions as it tells the story of one woman’s struggle to make a better life for herself, and her family. I only hope that many women will read this book and be inspired to make this issue of Equal Pay a hallmark of the coming election. We are one of the only industrialized nations in the world today without such protection for women. The Lilly Ledbetter Act is a nice piece of paper, but the Supreme Court is the final arbitrator of the issue. And with the courts recent Wal-Mart decision, we all have reason to be angry and ashamed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sammy Davis, Jr. as "The Music Man"

This is an undated clip from You Tube highlighting the uncanny ability of Sammy Davis, Jr. to lyp-sync. In addition to his many other talents, Mr. Davis was one of the world's greatest mimes, on the level of Charlie Chaplin and Marcel Marceau. The first 4 minutes here actually relate to Monday's post reviewing "The Music Man" with Robert Preston. I was unable to embed the code for the signature song from that film, “Trouble in River City”, during which Mr. Preston excoriates the townsfolk into ridding themselves of the potential menace of a pool table. In this video, Mr. Davis clearly has the patter down pat,  with his mouth perfectly forming every word  sung by Robert Preston.  This was a real surprise that I wanted to share.  

Mr. Davis' formidable dancing skills are also on display here, as he goes through the entire 4 minute number. He actually could have stood in for Robert Preston if the need arose.  It’s no great wonder that he was billed as one of the world’s greatest entertainers. Good things come in small packages, and Sammy Davis, Jr. is proof positive of that old adage.   

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Concord Fire Station #10

When I awoke early yesterday morning, in my usual amount of pain, the last thing I expected was the Concord Fire Department to be making an early morning visit. But, fate, having its own designs, intervened, and due to the early hour, I was obliged to call the non-emergency number for the fire department. The problem was a simple one, and I felt decidedly stupid in having to call upon their help for something so trivial, but, as I said, fate usually has its own designs.

I was just sitting down to eat breakfast when one of our smoke detectors went off. Now, I eat a very light breakfast of soup and toast, and had burned neither. So, figuring that a battery had gone bad I attempted to change it.  I got a ladder from the garage and climbed up to change the battery, all the while mourning the loss of a hot breakfast.

As I disconnected the unit, there were other “chirping" noises coming from throughout the house. The problem was now compounded, and my hot breakfast merely a foregone dream. As I continued lugging this ladder about, bones began to crack and it was becoming a very painful situation. It was still too early to call a contractor, and I was getting increasingly annoyed with myself at not being able to fix this seemingly simple problem. So, with a foolish feeling in my soul, I called the Concord City non-emergency number, seeking some advice or direction from the officer on duty. But I wound up getting a whole lot more than that.

The Officer who took my call understood my inability to tackle the problem, and against my wishes, dispatched a fire truck to my house, which arrived in less than 3 minutes. Manned by 4 of the nicest guys you could hope to meet, they proceeded to explain my fire detection system to me; which is something my builder should have done. And then they fixed the problem, as well as inspecting every one of the units on both floors.

I couldn’t help but tell them that I was a graduate of the National Firefighting School in Monmouth, New Jersey, and had fought a few fires at sea. This really cheered them up and so they took me outside to see their brand new fire truck. And you know what? This was its first call.  And I hope that all of their calls are as trouble free, and safe, as this one was.

As I said, firemen are special people. They don’t ask the color, or religion, of the person inside the burning building. They don’t look at the bumper sticker on your car before deciding to cut you out. They rush in while others stream out. And they do it for one reason; to fight a common enemy.

Sue and I dropped off some cookies and a note later in the day as a way of saying thanks. These guys did not have to anything for us. They wanted to. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Monday, April 23, 2012

"The Music Man" with Robert Preston, Shirley Jones and Buddy Hackett (1961)

This is a timeless film which never grows old. With Robert Preston reprising the Broadway role he performed 1,375 times, and teamed with veteran Shirley Jones, this film is still a sure fire piece of entertainment. From the opening scene with the salesmen on the train until the final moments of the story, you can count on feeling the lure of a nation once made up of the small towns, and the equally small hustlers who traversed the country in search of that most desirable gem; “the rube.”

When Professor Harold Hill, played by Robert Preston, arrives in River City, Iowa, he is there for one purpose only; to scam the townsfolk into forming a band for the boys, purely out of concern for their well-being. At least that’s his rap. What he really wants is to get as many orders as possible for the band outfits and instruments necessary for the band before he leaves town, intent on never returning. He is, in short, a con artist.

But, even the most well laid plans of mice and men; it is said; often go astray. And that’s exactly how it goes for Professor Hill. After stepping off the train he meets his old cohort, Marcellus Washburn, played by Buddy Hackett, who has settled happily into small town life working at the local livery stable. Professor Hill is appalled at this, and quickly moves to enlist his old friends help in getting the town excited about having a Boy’s Band. It will, he tells them, elevate their town above all others in the state. But to accomplish this ruse he must win over the town’s icily cold widowed librarian, Marian Paroo, played by Shirley Jones. And as he attempts to do that, he finds himself falling in love with the librarian, as well as the town.

Ron Howard plays the librarian’s son Winthrop, who lives with Marion and her mother, Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn, played by Hermione Gingold. The elder woman is much taken by Professor Hill, while her daughter is more than indifferent to him. Indeed, she is hostile towards him, displaying her distrust of his motives from the very first time they meet. But the salesman in Professor Hill has a need to win at all costs, even if it means an end to his wayward profession.

This film was released just as Ron Howard was making his television debut on the Andy Griffith Show, where he played Sherriff Taylor’s son Opie. Watching him in this film is really interesting. It’s a tribute to the people surrounding him in this film; as well as the Andy Griffith Show; that he grew up to become one of the most beloved, and respected of Hollywood filmmakers.

Filled with great musical numbers; my favorite being “You’ve Got Trouble”, and also the moving “Til There Was You”, which was even a hit for The Beatles in 1963; this movie is a sheer delight to watch.  The embedding codes were disabled for "You've Got Trouble"; but here is the link to that wonderfully exciting number. With words and music by Meredith Wilson, the song is tailor made to highlight Robert Preston’s unique talents;

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Dinosaur In a Changing World

I'm not very keen on "changes"; I tend to like things to remain sort of "static". Friday night, when I went to post for Saturday, I was confronted by the new “blogspot” changes, which are not at all welcome by me. For a few brief moments I considered the possibility of quitting. But that's not really my style, so I'm going to shoulder on; hopefully with some success as I navigate the unknown. Bear with me as I play the part of “dinosaur" in this brave new world. Today I will be toying with the "whistles and bells" as I learn the new ropes. Of course, if I were to watch the tutorial on the site it may be of some help. But I hate doing that. I have never been one for following the instructions; instead I curse my way through to the finish. It's sort of like On the Job Training, that old euphemism for being thrown into the fire, hoping to escape getting burned in the process.  And we all know how that works out! So, bear with me as I get used to these changes.

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Nixon's Darkest Secrets" by Don Fulsom

If you skip reading just one book this year, this is the one I'd recommend most. I picked it up at the library, naturally, because the whole era of the 1960's, when I was growing up, is always of keen interest to me. And that interest leaves me open to reading about the greatest news events of my life at the time. Through my reading, I have come to see the links between the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy Assassination, and later, the botched Watergate burglary. I expected this book to affirm some of my own beliefs; which it does to a certain extent; as well as to be a re-hashing of some of the things that have already been written about former President Nixon, including his own autobiographies.

So, I picked it up eagerly, only to be sorely disappointed at the narrow scope of the book, which seems more concerned with character assassination, rather than an confirming, or even opening up new areas of one of our most complex Presidents.

The author, Don Fulsom, is a self-described White House reporter, former UPI Washington Bureau Chief, and currently an adjunct professor at American University, where he teaches a course on "Watergate: A Constitutional Crisis." That information all comes from the inside of the book jacket, and I have no reason to doubt any of it.

This book is perplexing in many ways. First off, for an individual who professes to be an expert on Watergate, he spends an inordinate amount of time exploring Nixon's connection with Bebe Rebozo, the Mafia related "bagman" who supplied Nixon with untold funds over the course of the President's political career. The two men first met in Florida in 1947. Rebozo seems to have been sort of a "knock about" guy at the time. He had already been a flight steward for Pan Am, a gas station owner, and a coin laundry operator. From these humble beginnings, Rebozo was able to forge a friendship with Congressman Nixon, a friendship which would last until the final days of Nixon's failed Presidency.

The most bizarre aspect of this book are the allegations that President Nixon and Bebe Rebozo were homosexual lovers for decades. Indeed the author takes 26 pages of this 260 page book to explore that unsubstantiated allegation; which I have never heard before reading this book; to prove his point. Using quotes from "unnamed" sources, as well as speculation by various individuals, he paints a picture of the Presidents relationship with Rebozo as "sexual". Some of the "proofs" of these allegations come from Bonnie Angelo, the correspondent for Time magazine, who swears she observed Nixon and Rebozo holding hands at a Miami restaurant. She further claims that she had never seen two men holding hands "as long and as fondly as Nixon and Rebozo." The author spends several pages on this alone.

Also high on the list as proof that Nixon was "gay", are the observations of his longtime secretary Evlyn Dorn, who claims that she only saw Nixon touch his wife once, to steady her in the back of a limo as they were standing, presumably during a campaign motorcade.

During Nixon's White House years, Rebozo was at the Presidents side almost continuously, logging in a visit about every ten days or so. These meetings took place at the White House, or at San Clemente, often without his wife and daughters being present. The author offers this as proof of their relationship being sexual.

One of the more bizarre tales of the alleged homosexual relationship involves the two men playing "King of the Pool" late at night. This is a game that all young men have played at one time or another; it involves one of the men floating on a raft while the other tries to turn it over. When that has been accomplished the roles are reversed, and the other guy attempts to regain the raft as his own. This allegation, which is used by the author as "proof" that President Nixon was homosexual, can only be described as strange, on its face alone. In other instances, the author has called forth "experts" on Nixon's "thinking." My only conclusion on that score is that both the author, and the anonymous "top psychiatrist", believe in ESP, or at least reading the minds of two men who are both deceased.

The biggest question I have about this book is this, the author; who is seemingly "hell bent on election" to prove that the President was gay; also accuses him of being a homophobe. I don't see the connection, or rather; I do see the disconnection in this thinking. And, on another level, how can someone who is presumably of moderate to liberal persuasion, use these unfounded accusations to defame an already tainted President? And why bother?

Nixon was far from my favorite President. He extended the War in Vietnam for political gain; which caused an estimated 25,000 additional combat deaths; and allowed his involvement in the Bay of Pigs affair to be used against him as blackmail in the Watergate scandal. His excessive abuse of power is widely known. There is nothing new in this book at all, aside from the bizarre allegations I have already mentioned.

There is one highlight to this book; at the end, after the Index; there is a one page biography of the author. There is no mention of his being married. That, in itself, is of little consequence. But the photo the author uses to show his "inside" connection to the Nixon White House is of him holding hands tightly with the President; and they are both smiling...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Ace In the Hole" with Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling (1951)

This film was originally released under the title "The Big Carnival", and is loosely based on the true story of Floyd Collins, who became trapped in the Sand Caves in the Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky on January 30, 1925. His misfortune became a media circus, as hundreds of radio broadcasters, and newspapermen, raced to the scene. The story was updated for the film, which was directed by Billy Wilder, who also wrote the screenplay with Lesser Samuels. The story concerns a former big city reporter, Chuck Tatum, played by Kirk Douglas, who finds himself in a small town in New Mexico when a mine collapse strands a local miner, Leo Minosa, played by Richard Benedict, inside. His wife, Lorraine Minosa, played by Jan Sterling, is the struggling owner of the local restaurant, who soon finds herself at the center of a sensational news story.

The reporter, who has found a rear way into the mine, keeps that information to himself, as he seeks to exploit the story for all that it is worth. Tired of working for a small paper in Albuquerque, he dreams of making it back to the top of his profession; even at the cost of the trapped man's life.

The film is almost a harbinger of things to come in relation to today's 24/7 news cycle, where the ratings become more important than the story, overshadowing the importance of our own humanity.

Tight direction by Billy Wilder, amid the sparse desert landscape make this film a winner, as the media descends on the small town, setting up a death watch that will sell papers, and maybe even re-launch a news career.

For more background on the true story of Floyd Collins and the Sands Cave tragedy, here is a link to Wikipedia;

Yom HaShoah - lo nishkach - לא נשכח

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dick Clark, Mom and Me.

I suppose everyone on the planet knows by now that Dick Clark has passed away at age 82. The iconic TV host was a rare act. He was the man who integrated television with his show "American Bandstand", which showcased the latest pop music acts as the studio of teenagers danced. His show highlighted acts such as James Brown and Chubby Checker. This was a very risky thing to do in the 1950's. The country was still struggling with Jim Crow, and whole communities refused to air his syndicated show, which featured "Negro" artists, as well as African-American teens dancing alongside white teenagers. This was considered by some to be "race-mixing", but was of no concern to Dick Clark. With him, it was all about the music.

In his later years he hosted a TV show, and was also a mainstay on ABC's "Rockin’ New Year’s Eve". And when he was stricken by a stroke, he came back to host the show again, with his speech improving every year. That was his finest hour, and ABC really went out of its way to show how much they valued him as a true "American Idol", when they continued to have him emcee the “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” show with Ryan Seacrest. It was a passing of the torch played out in front of an annual audience of millions each year. And through it all, he even managed to stay perpetually young looking, almost like Dorian Gray, but without the malice or evil qualities.

Now; as for the connection with my Mom and Dick Clark; I have very early memories, even of my crib, as well as my playpen. My mother used to iron in front of the television, usually in the late afternoons. The first shows I actually recall on TV are “American Bandstand”, “The Art Linkletter Show”, and “The Gale Storm Show”. But "Bandstand" stood out among all of the others; and for good reason. This was only about 3 years before my mother was stricken with severe medical problems which would plaque her until her death in 1984. But, when I was 3 years old, she was still animated and joyous. And that is where Dick Clark comes in.

“American Bandstand”; with my Mom dancing to the music as she ironed; is one of the last memories I have of my Mom before she became ill. So, the two will forever be entwined in my memory. Coincidentally they were both the same age, although my Mom passed away several years ago, in 1984.

So, whenever I watched Dick Clark on "Rockin' New Year’s Eve", I was instantly transported back to a time; and place; when all was right in my little world. The photo posted at the top is how I remember Dick Clark looking in 1957. He was 28 years old at the time. It is also the face I saw last New Year’s Eve, when he was 82. The man was; simply put; young at heart. I can think of no better tribute than that.

Here is what I saw from my playpen in 1957 as my Mom ironed;

"Time" - A Poem

I hear the ticking of the clock
hung on the kitchen wall.
I hear the beating of my heart,
as time, it slowly crawls.

Days drag on, with no relief
to help me cope with all the grief
I've stored up. It's my belief,
we all suffer much the same.

My own footsteps, when I walk,
going nowhere - silence talks.
While all about me darkness stalks,
In the end - it's just a game.

The illustration is Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory" - 1931

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"The One" by R.J. Smith (2012)

Author R.J. Smith has done a superb job in this stunning biography of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. As a matter of fact, he almost eclipses James Brown's "I Feel Good" in this painstakingly researched analysis of one of the most remarkable show business careers.

The author begins the book with a brief, but compelling, introduction, which he uses to explain the historical background of slavery in the Charlestown area of South Carolina. He further extends this introduction as a means of explaining the origins of Rhythm and Blues, as well as Soul Music. It's all in the Upbeat, not the downbeat. James Brown called it "The One", from which the title of this book is taken.

Born in Barnwell, South Carolina; a cotton growing area that was pretty much played out when James Brown was born; the roots of oppression were still palpable in the Jim Crow South of his youth. These roots would have a profound effect on his life, and later, his career. This background is where he got his toughness from, and that quality would serve him well for his entire life.

Born on May 3rd, 1933, Mr. Brown described his birth as "stillborn". His mother wept, while the midwife blew the breath of life into him, taking precious minutes to bring life to the motionless body that had emerged from his mother's womb. Technically, the term "stillborn" describes a baby that is already dead in its mother’s uterus, but the implications to Mr. Brown were the same; he was born dead; and perhaps that is why he worked so hard to live his life to the fullest.

Variously, Brown claimed to be Cherokee, Japanese, and even believed himself to be descended from Geronimo. By the time he passed away, he was undoubtedly related, in some way, to everyman. His music cut across boundaries and created new sounds, with his inimitable style fostering the Soul music of the 70's, along with ushering in Funk, the precursor of today's Rap/Hip Hop music.

James Brown was undoubtedly one of the most complex of individuals. His thoughts, and beliefs, are all given great scrutiny by the author, while not falling prey to the over examination which can turn a good book into a boring one. But, then again, how can James Brown ever be described as boring. This man was on the road for months at a time, working about 300 days a year for decades. His travels took him from the Chitlin' Circuit of his native America, to the jungles of Vietnam; and later to the jungles of Africa with Muhammad Ali; and near the end of his life to the great opera house in Milan, where he sang with Luciano Pavarotti in a stirring combination of musical styles.

His politics, like the man himself, were a puzzle in many ways. He was patriotic, during a time when that emotion could cost a star some of his fan base. He supported the War in Vietnam, even as he realized that the draft affected the black community in a disproportionate way.

This is the man who took a young Harlem preacher named Al Sharpton under his wing, teaching the younger man how to talk, walk, and even how to wear his hair.

When Martin Luther King was killed in April 1968, it was James Brown who kept the peace in Boston. In a scheduled concert, which was also aired on local TV as a way to keep the younger people off the streets, his fans took to the stage, causing the Police to make an attempt to protect him. He waved them off, while at the same time scolding the audience not to embarrass him, or their own race. There was no trouble in Boston that night.

During the 1968 Presidential primaries; after the assassination of Robert Kennedy; he gave his endorsement to Hubert Humphrey, a man who had been spearheading Civil Rights in Congress, and the Senate, for almost 20 years before attaining the office of Vice President. But even as Brown endorsed the man, he challenged him to deliver on his promises.

Creatively, James Brown opened the doors for much of the music we hear today. His landmark live recording, "James Brown Live at the Apollo", recorded in 1962 with the singer's own money, is still one of the best live recordings ever made. The story of how it almost didn't get recorded is a tribute to the guts that defined the life of this musical giant.

Long known for his excesses with women and drugs, this book is a more accurate look at the man beneath the hype. Carefully researched, and filled with the words of those who knew him best; as well as his own; the author has drawn the most complete portrait of James Brown written to date. Future biographers will undoubtedly be quoting from Mr. Smith's extraordinarily researched work in order to tell the story of James Brown's life in a fair and balanced way.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Don't Look Back" with Bob Dylan - (1967) D.A. Pennebaker

This is the original, and best film, about Bob Dylan. It was directed by D. A. Pennebaker during the 1965 tour of England and Scotland. The film provides a very raw and realistic look at the artist as he performs, hangs out in the hotel room between concerts, and holds nightly court with the likes of Donovan and other various would be poets and hangers on. My favorite scene in this movie takes place in the hotel room. Dylan is haggling with someone over who the greatest contemporary poets are. Dylan rejects the other man's assertion about Dominic Behan being one of the greats; countering with his own admiration of Allen Ginsberg. Donovan, looking a bit embarrassed at Dylan's semi-drunken tirade, picks up his guitar and plays a song, immediately captivating all present. He then asks Dylan to play "It's All Over Now Baby Blue", which had just come out. Dylan obliges with a truncated, but very powerful, version of the song.

Dylan is constantly plagued by reporters asking really inane questions, and the film shows him as alternately drunken; and sharp witted; as he counters some of the most meaningless questions ever asked of an artist. "Do you care about your music?" is one such perfect example. His answer is at once rambling, sarcastic and biting.

The film also features Joan Baez in some of the performances, as well as in conversation, with Dylan. A rare look inside the world of Bob Dylan circa 1965, the film shows him in a near meltdown when someone tosses a beer bottle out of the hotel window, bringing the management, as well as the police, to the door of his hotel room. He is obnoxious, and bullying in his treatment of many of the people surrounding him. But, at other times his intellect shines brightly, underscoring the genius of his writing.

The movie sometimes appears in its entirety on You Tube, only to be taken down after a day or so, leaving only small bits from the film. It's been a while since I have seen it in the library, or even in the stores. So, you may have to order a copy if you really want to see this extraordinary film. Here is the 4 minute scene of Dylan arguing about poets, with Donovan breaking up the discussion by picking up his guitar to sing; which leads Dylan into "It's All Over Now Baby Blue";

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Joan Osborne - "One of Us" (Live-1996)

This is the hit song "One of Us" from Joan Osborne's 1995 album "Relish". I have always contended that if God were to walk amongst us today; or if Jesus Christ walked into a church; both would be carted away as lunatics. Ms. Osborne was in town a few nights ago, performing at the Visulite Theatre in Charlotte. A small venue, which holds about 600 people at the most, this would have been the ideal place to see and hear her.

I have always enjoyed this song. It poses questions, which we have all asked ourselves at one time or another, concerning religion, faith and what I like to term "the human condition." The lyrics were not meant to offend, but rather to make us examine our own faith in whatever we believe. It also pointedly asks how much effort we are willing to put into our beliefs, no matter what they are. This acoustic version may lack the bite of the lead guitar on the studio track, but the message is still clear. "I am he, as you are he, as you are me, and we are all together." That about sums it up.

One Of Us by Joan Osborne

If God had a name, what would it be
And would you call it to his face
If you were faced with him in all his glory
What would you ask if you had just one question

And yeah yeah God is great yeah yeah God is good
yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

If God had a face what would it look like
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like heaven and in jesus and the saints and all the prophets

And yeah yeah god is great yeah yeah god is good
yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home
He's trying to make his way home
Back up to heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone
Except for the pope maybe in rome

And yeah yeah God is great yeah yeah God is good
yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

What if god was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home
Just trying to make his way home
Like a holy rolling stone
Back up to heaven all alone
Just trying to make his way home
Nobody calling on the phone
Except for the pope maybe in rome

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"A Day At the Zoo" - Merrie Melodies (1939)

This cartoon is a delightful series of puns, with a bit of social satire thrown in. The cartoons of the 1930's and 40's still fascinate me. They are, at once, entertainment for children, even as they address some of the larger social issues. Look close enough and you may even find yourself!

Friday, April 13, 2012

James Brown and the Rolling Stones on the T.A.M.I. Show (1964)

The T.A.M.I. show was the brainchild of director Steve Binder, who put it all together in late 1964 as a way of gathering all of the greatest current "pop" acts in one show. The acronym stood for Teenage Music International, or Teenage Awards Music International, depending on where you look it up. It was a genius move, staged at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in October and filmed in Electronovision, a technology which enabled the TV footage to be transferred onto the big screen. The line-up allowed the audience to experience a variety of performers, such as the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Lesley Gore, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, James Brown and his Famous Flames, along with the Rolling Stones. As a matter of fact, the Rolling Stones had to follow James Brown as the closing act.

Just before they were to step on stage the Stones were watching this performance of James Brown, with his Famous Flames, from the wings. They were very worried, with Mick Jagger wondering how the band would ever be able to follow the act they were witnessing. Clearly, James Brown should have been the closing act. Additionally, during the 4 days of rehearsals for the show, James Brown did not rehearse. He had a unique act, and coming fresh off the road, he felt no need to. Consequently, the Stones, like so many others at the time, had never seen James Brown perform; they had only heard his records.

With Jagger worried about his dance moves, and Keith Richard concerned about following one of the greatest R and B bands of all time, they wound up pouring everything they had into their act, which included the newly released "Time Is On My Side." Watch Jagger dance. Although no real match for the Godfather of Soul, he really does a lot more than he ever had before during this performance.

Music crosses all boundaries, and the T.A.M.I. show was a landmark concert which brought together white and black music in the middle of some of the most racially charged times in the nation's history. And that music had an extraordinary effect on some of the biggest social issues of the time.

Here are the Rolling Stones, immediately following James Brown and his Famous Flames;

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jamie Brockett - "The Legend of the Titanic" (1970)

This is the full version of a song which I haven't heard since it's re-release on Capitol Records in 1970. It was originally recorded for Oracle Records. I was going to do a serious post on the Titanic, the sinking of which, coupled with my father's service in the Navy, lead me to go to sea. I first heard this song on a late night FM station. I believe it was on Alison Steele's show, "The Night Bird", which aired on WNEW-FM from 2 AM until 6 AM daily. When the station found out that she was the #1 late night DJ, they switched her hours. She left the station in 1979. Ms. Steele is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

The song is a totally re-invented version of the events concerning the Titanic. The song has the Titanic sailing from New York to London, which is, of course, incorrect. The reference to the Wright Brothers having not been to Kitty Hawk yet is also wrong, although no one had yet flown across the Atlantic. But the song is really a social protest song about class distinction, something which was very real aboard the Titanic on the night she went down. Listen to the verse about the color of the tickets and you will see what I mean. Also, pay attention for the hemp factory in Mexico and the 497 feet of rope which the First Mate takes aboard for his journey to England.

Jamie Brockett's career as a folk artist was most likely destroyed by this song. We have all heard of "one hit" artists before, but surely Mr. Brockett's 13 minute rendition of this song takes the prize for the longest of the genre. It was the only song on his debut album to chart, and he was forever plagued to perform this song wherever he went.

The cultural references in the song are abundant and colorful. The whole story centers on the world champion boxer Jack Johnson, who wants to travel to England for a fight, and attempts to board the Titanic for his journey. His ticket is the wrong "color", and so he is left behind, on the pier, fishing. Although some may find this ballad to be "politically incorrect" by today's standards, I still find this song entertaining, with much to say about social values. Ironically, this song about the "unsinkable" Titanic may have "torpedoed" Jamie Brockett's career as a more serious singer/songwriter.

"The Legend of the Titanic" by Jamie Brockett

It was back around the turn of the centuries, back around nineteen hundred and thirteen. There was a negro pugilist his name was Jack Johnson.

Now old Jack Johnson he was the toughest man in the whole wide world. He used walk around whoppin' people up side the head 'n makin' all sorts of money.

Like I say ol' Jack Johnson he was a pugilist. He was a pugilist by preference and by profession. And one day ol' Jack came walkin' on down by the pierside. He's just walkin on down. His manager come walkin' on down by the pierside. He says, "Uh, hi, Jack!"
He says, "Hi, manager!"
He says, "Whatcha doin'?"
He says, "I'm just walkin' on down by the pierside."

He says, "What's up?"
He says, "I gotta gig for ya."
He says, "Ya gotta gig for me?"
He says, "That's right."
He says, "Where abouts?"
He says, "Over in England."
He says, "Hmm... what'm I gonna do over there?"
He says, "Well, you goin' up n' whop this guy up side the head n' make all sorts of money."

Ol' Jack says, "That's groovy, baby! That's really groovy! You give me a ticket on the next flight out!"

He said, "Ticket on the next flight out?!? This is nineteen hundred n' thirteen. Why, the Wright brothers haven't even started foolin' around with Kitty Hawk yet!"

He said, "Uhh...who's she?"

It was midnight on the sea
the band was playing "Nearer My God To Thee".
Fare thee well, Titanic, fare thee well.

Ol' Jack says, "Well, how'm I gonna get there baby?"
N' he says "Ohhh, I'm gonna show ya" and he whips open a newspaper n' shows him a picture of the USS Titanic, folks. She's the world's biggest ship. She's made outta good wood and good iron. They said she'd never go down.

He says, "You mean I'm goin' over on the boat!"

N' he says, "That's right, baby; you're goin on the boat!"

N' he says, "Well, let's go get some tickets!" So they head on down to the ticket taker's place.

He walks on up to the ticket taker. He walks on in n' he says, "Hey, man, I wanna buy me some tickets!"

He said, "Gotta red ticket, green ticket, yellow ticket, blue ticket...what kinda ticket you want?"

He says, "I wanna red one!"

He gave him some loot n' he laid it on him.

So here's ol' Jack, he's got his ticket now. He takes everything he owns, he wraps it on up in a diaper n' he hangs it on a stick over his back n' goes headin' on down by the pierside.

He gettin' on down by the pierside, his manager's down there by the pierside, n' here she is folks - the USS Titanic! She's lined up beside two hundred n' fifty parkin' meters n' the Captain's gettin' done ready to split 'cause he run outta dimes.

Now around this time there was an Italian senator n' the state house n'...all Italian senators done got brothers own construction companies n'...this one had a brother he owned a construction company n'...the Titanic she was made outta good Italian wood, good Italian iron. They said she'd never go down.

So there's ol' Jack standin' on the bottom, got everything he owns wrapped on up in that diaper hangin' on a stick over his back. He shakes hands with his manager, goes walkin' on up the gangplank. The Captain standin' on the top. He get up onto the top n' the Captain, he look at the ticket...

He look at the ticket, he look at Jack, he look at the ticket, he look at Jack, he look at the ticket, he look at Jack, he look at the ticket, he look at Jack, lookita...

He says, "Sorry, baby, wrong color!"

He says, "Me or the ticket?!"

N' he says, "You!"

Now he wouldn't let Jack Johnson on board
They said "This ship don't haul no coal!"
Fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well.

It was midnight on the sea,
The band was playin' "Nearer My God To Thee"
Fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well.

So Jack says, "It's all right baby. It's all right. I'm gonna sit right here on the pier and watch you go right on down!"

(brief guitar solo)

So the Titanic, she sails on out into the North sea. She's out there floatin' around in and out between the icebergs n' ol' Jack's standin' on the pier.

I'm gonna tell ya 'bout the people on the Titanic now.

First of all there's a whole bunch of Jewish people from Miami. They're jumpin' up n' down, they're laughin', they're drinkin' booze, they're tradin' wives n' Cadillacs n' diamonds n' havin' all sorts of good clean party fun.

Then there was the people that run the boat. Now the people that run the boat, they know all about runnin' boats. They know all about hoistin' up land lubbers n' battenin' down hatches n' doin' all sorts of other good things like..."all good sailors do in the far away at sea".

Then there was the Captain. Now the Captain, he knows how to walk like a captain, write like a captain, walk like a captain, talk like a captain, smell like a captain, eat like a captain, do all sorts of captain things.

Then there was the first mate. Now I gotta tell ya bout the first mate. Now the first mate, he don't know nothin' about Jewish parties. He don't know nothing about hoistin' up land lubbers. He don't know nothin' about captains. He, uh, he wants to go on over to England he wants to play his guitar. He wanna run around n' chase women n' have all sorts of good...times.

Anyways this fella', his sideburns they're just a little too long. He giving way, see. He...he been down in Mexico. He been down in Mexico. He been workin' in this rope factory down in Mexico now. Down in Mexico they make rope outta this funny little hemp plant that grows wild in the ground (some of you people... grow it in flower pots under your bed)...ehh, anyways, he's down there and he's...he's makin' rope outta this funny marijuana plant. One day the rope factory, she catch fire n' he runs back on in to save his lunch - he's got two sardine sandwiches - runnin' back on in to save his lunch. He gets inside n' there's all this funny smoke floatin' around up inside n'...he gets some of this funny smoke up inside his head n'...he sit down in the middle o' de' fire n' he say,

"Shhhhhhhhhhh*t, baby, I ain't gonna make rope no more!!!"

So he takes everything he owns. He wraps it up on into a diaper and a knapsack too n' he...he headin' on to the Titanic he gets to the Titanic. He standin' on the bottom walkin' on up the gang plank n' the Captain's standin' on the top n' the Captain says, "What you got boy?"

He says, "I'm comin' on!"

He says, "WHAT YOU GOT!"

He says, "Well, I got me two changes of BVD's. I got me my guitar. I got me my address book, a... pair of socks, four Masked Marvel comic books, a tennis racquet...and four hundred n' ninety-seven n' a half feet o' rope."

He says, "Four hundred n' ninety seven n' a half feet o' rope! Whadaya got that for?"

He says, "I just carry it."

So he says, "it's all right. Go on board, go on board." And he did.

It was midnight on the sea,
The band was playin' "Nearer My God To Thee"
Fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well.

Now he wouldn't let Jack Johnson on board
They said "This ship don't haul no coal!"
Fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well.

That brings us up to what's happenin' now. The Titanic, she's floatin' around in and out between the icebergs, the Jewish people they partyin', they tradin' wives n' Cadillacs n' diamonds, they drinkin' booze n' havin' all sorts of party fun...

Everybody else is hoistin' up land lubbers n' battenin' down hatches...the First Mate he's hangin' over the rail, he's havin' himself a little smoke... he's diggin' the icebergs. Havin' himself a little smoke n' it's the Captain's time to do his thing. The Captain comes on out (remember I told you about the captain - he knows how to walk like captain, write like captain, talk like... all sorts of captain things). He comes on out n' he's standin' now. His thing right now is that he's gotta go out n' test the wind. So he casts his nose up into the north wind n' he goes...

(sniffs several times)

He walks on over to the First Mate. He says, "Hey, First Mate, what's that you smokin'?!"

He says, "That ain't nothin' but a little ol' cigarette, Captain."

N' he says, "I don't believe it! Gimme a puff!"

n' he says, "Alright...."

So the captain takes himself a little puff. Nothin' happened right away. He says, "It's alright, it's alright. It's just a cigarette. I'm goin' for a walk." And that's what he did, folks. He went for a walk. He went...he went out walkin' around the boat, he went walkin' toward the wheelhouse he...he walked around.

(tempo slows severely)

He walked around the wheelhouse once.......

He walked around the wheelhouse twice.......

On the third time around the wheelhouse.......

The First Mate he looked on over at the Captain n'.......

N' he say,.......

"You wanna 'nother toke, Captain?"......

And the Captain, he say,.......


(tempo returns to normal)

So, this time, he's gonna tell the captain a little bit about this smoke that he's smokin'. He says, "Now the idea, Captain, the idea is to get this smoke way down deep inside your tummy n' hold it there just as long as you can! It'll make you head feel good all inside."

So the Captain says, "Alright."

He takes himself three big tokes off that funny little brown weed n' he says, "I am commencing to hold it in!!"

He walked around the wheelhouse. He went downstairs. He laid down. He get up. He ran in the other room. He sent a radiogram. He came on back in. He took a shower. He come out. He shaved. He laid down. He got up again. He turned on the television. He turned off the radio. He played a game of cribbage. He read his Masked Marvel comic book. He walked thru the kitchen, made a cup of tea, made a cup of coffee, sat down, ate a piece of pie, went upstairs, played another game of cribbage, went back in, finished his other Masked Marvel comic book, Laid down, he had the television, the radio, the egg beater, the air conditioner n'everything's all goin' at once.
He walks up on deck and this is fifty-two minutes later n' this cat ain't breathed yet!!

So the First Mate see him standin' up there on the rail. He's all puffed up like a balloon! He says, "Ya gotta let it out, Captain!

So the Captain he let it all out at once.

Fallin' right down on the wheelhouse floor. He's out cold.

O-h-h-h, this just brings us up to what's happenin' again, folks. The Titanic, she's sailin' around in between the icebergs. Everybody else is havin' parties. The Jewish people they jumpin' up n' down, they tradin' wives n' Cadillacs n' diamonds n' drinkin' booze. Everybody else is hoistin' up land lubbers, battenin' down hatches n' doin' sail things. The First Mate's hangin' over there on the rail havin' himself a little smoke n' diggin' icebergs. And the Captain's out cold on the wheelhouse floor!

It was midnight on the sea,
The band was playin' "Nearer My God To Thee"
Fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well.

Now he wouldn't let Jack Johnson on board
They said "This ship don't haul no coal!"
Fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well.

All of a sudden.... the Captain's eyes popped wi-i-i-i-i-i-i-ide open.
He stood right up straight.....
Grabs a hold o' de wheel....
Looks on out at the bow o' dat boat n' he say,

And he did, right on into an iceberg n' she went right on down!

It was midnight on the sea,
The band was playin' "Nearer My God To Thee"
Fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well.

Now he wouldn't let Jack Johnson on board
They said "This ship don't haul no coal!"
Fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well.

That's the true story of the Titanic, folks. She went right to the bottom. She took with her all the Jewish people, all the First Mates. She took with him the Captain. She took with him the land lubbers. She took with him the Masked Marvel comic books, the tennis racquet and four hundred n' ninety-seven n' a half feet o' rope!

Meanwhile back on the stateside, ol' Jack Johnson...why, he's standin' up on the pier he's fishin' away; he's got himself a little stick n' a line n' he gets a tug. He pulls it on up n' it's a big, wet, blue soggy mess n' on the inside on the lining written in big gold letters it says "USS Titanic" and stuck right above it was a wet roach!

That boy was so happy, he started doin' the eagle rock up n' down that pier like it's goin' outta style! He go...he gonna do the eagle rock now! Everybody in for the eagle rock!

Oh rock!

It was midnight on the sea,
The band was playin' "Nearer My God To Thee"
Fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well.

Now he wouldn't let Jack Johnson on board
They said "This ship don't haul no coal!"
Fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well.
Fare thee well Titanic goin down!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"The Whistleblower" with Rachel Weisz,David Strathairn, and Vanessa Redgrave (2011)

This is a very difficult film to watch. That difficulty is not due to anything on the part of the filmmaker, nor is it the fault of any of the actors in this searing look at the underbelly of the United Nations in the aftermath of the tragedy of the War in Bosnia. The discomfort comes, instead, from having to acknowledge the reality of "man's inhumanity to man." In this case, that inhumanity takes the form of "sex trafficking", and the inability, and in some cases unwillingness, to do anything to stop it.

When we send United Nations forces to the most troubled spots on Earth; places like the Sudan, Beirut, etc., we all seem to slip into what I call "the comfort zone." In other words, the problem is being handled. But that isn't always the case, as this film so scathingly points out.

When local Police Officer Kathryn Bolkovac, played with real grit by Rachel Weisz, leaves her ex-husband and daughters behind in Nebraska, she thinks she is going to be helping to rebuild a war torn country which is teeming with religious strife. She is eager to help restore the country. She is also very happy to accept the $100,000 paycheck that goes along with the 6 month assignment. But almost immediately upon arrival in Bosnia, she is appalled at the level of apathy she encounters at every turn as she tries to make a difference.

When she stumbles upon a "sex-trafficking" ring, and attempts to help the victims, she is reminded that her status "in country" prohibits her from making any real difference. She is merely an "observer". As she delves deeper into the truth, getting closer and closer to the real story of what happens to these victims, she places herself in some very real danger.

Her colleagues; some of whom are involved with the women, as well as the trafficking; and her bosses, all distance themselves from her, knowing that to try and make any difference is both futile, and dangerous. As for the victims she is trying to help, they are so terrified that they are reluctant to make any statements, or file any charges, realizing that to do so would mean certain death.

The real tragedy of this film is that it is based on true events. Doubling that tragedy is the fact that the business of "sex-trafficking" goes on, unabated, almost 20 years after the events in Bosnia. With special features, including a short biopic on the real life Kathy Bolkovac, this film will leave you somewhat worried over the "human condition" in the 21st century. With so much knowledge, and a dearth of technology, one has to ask how, and why, these crimes still continue today.

Absolutely flawless direction by Larysa Kondracki makes this a tightly wound film, which will have you riveted, from the opening scene until the last credits roll. In between, you will be wondering about how the world seems to remain so indifferent to this subject. And when it is over, you will be saddened, as you realize that no one seems to care.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Devil In the Grove" by Gilbert King (2012)

Gilbert King has written a wonderful account of Thurgood Marshall's most active years in the Civil Rights Movement. From the early 1940's, and on into the early 1950's, Thurgood Marshall traversed the back roads of the Deep South, searching for, and rooting out Jim Crow, root by root. Although the book is centered on the "Groveland Boys" Case in 1949, the book is all encompassing in its scope.

Thurgood Marshall was the victim of a kidnap plot in 1949, just at the height of his fight against the Jim Crow laws in the South. While working with the NAACP on the broader issues concerning educational opportunities, and preparing a defense against the Supreme Courts stated policy of Separate but Equal (Plessy V. Ferguson), Mr. Marshall became involved in a case in Florida, not twenty miles, and only twenty three years removed from the infamous Rosewood massacre of the 1920's. It was about to happen all over again.

Briefly, the case involved a young married white couple. Norma and Willie Padgett had been married the year before, but had been separated for a few months; she was 17 and he was 23 at the time of the "incident". On a hot night in July of 1949, the Padgett’s were out together, drinking, when their old car became stuck in the sand. They flagged down the first car which passed. That car contained two young African-American men, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, both veterans of the Second World War. They got behind the Padgett's car and attempted to free it. The car would not budge, sinking instead, further into the sand. Willie Padgett became enraged with the two men and berated them in the most vile of racial terms. Norma offered the men a swig from the whiskey bottle as a way to ease the tension. She then made the mistake of offering it back to her husband, who said, "Do you think that I'm gonna drink behind a nigger?"

That was the straw which broke the camel’s back. Samuel Shepherd became angry at Willie Padgett's outburst, and grabbing him by the front of his shirt, a struggle ensued. Soon, Willie Padgett was lying unconscious in the road. The two would be Good Samaritans fled the scene. Norma was found wandering the road several hours later, strangely composed for someone who had just been raped and thought her husband had been killed.

The die had been cast; and there was trouble coming. By mid-morning the entire county was up in arms over the "white girl who was raped". The fact that there was no physical evidence of the crime did not stop the white population from rising up, along with the aid of the Ku Klux Klan, who came from as far away as Georgia. For several days, and nights, after the incident, Lake County was in flames, just as Rosewood had been only a few decades earlier.

With great skill, the author takes you through the history of segregation in Florida, and the labor shortages engendered by the Second World War. That labor shortage helped to keep in place a system so closely resembling slavery, that it rattles the mind.

Just as after the First World War, many African-Americans believed that once they got back home, things would be different. They had fought, and died, along with white Americans, and expected to be afforded the elusive equality which they had sought for so long. But some things never change, and that included the laws, and attitudes, of the people in Florida. After beating "confessions" from the two defendants, and adding two other names to the indictment, one of whom was deceased, and another who was not even present at the crime, the trial was scheduled for September 2nd, 1949; less than 8 weeks away.

The jury was all white, and the judge was Truman Futch, known as the "Whittlin' Judge" for the cedar sticks he whittled while listening to the case. You might say that the defendants never had a chance.

The NAACP argued cases in the lower courts with the expectation of losing the trials. This was a strategy designed to have the case overturned by the Supreme Court. Therefore, the prosecutor did not enter the coerced "confessions" into evidence, and the defense did not dwell on those documents. If the prosecution had entered them as evidence, they could be challenged. And of course, the defense did not want the "confessions" admitted at all. The Florida trial, as expected, was lost. The defense appealed the conviction in the Supreme Court, where it ws heard two years later, and the convictions overturned.

This is an all-encompassing read, which explores the racial attitudes and customs of the state of Florida at the time these events took place. The author does a superb job in describing the racial tensions which permeated the Jim Crow South of the time. The fear in which the African-American population was forced to live is palpable in his hands. He also gives some interesting background on the labor-convict system which was in place at the time. These arrangements allowed the Sheriffs, and the Counties, to make serious money by conscripting prisoners for work, with the proceeds going into the pockets of the officials involved, as well as creating increased profits for the companies which made use of the system.

More than just a book about the "Groveland Boys", this is also a very insightful biography of Thurgood Marshall's years as a Civil Rights attorney in the days leading up to the landmark "Little Rock" school desegregation case in 1954. The history of Jim Crow laws in America is a shameful one, which makes it all the more important to read about it, and hopefully understand its lessons.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Landsford Canal State Park, S.C.

The Landsford Canal, located in the Lansford State Park, just outside of Lancaster, in South Carolina, is about an hour south of our house. After having eaten the requisite amount of chocolate to fulfill our annual obligations to the Chocolate God, we were left with nothing much to do on a beautiful Easter Sunday. So, we did what we usually do; hopped in the car and headed out. Sue had a desire to see the old Landsford Canal, and, as I had no real objection, having a love of old canals myself, we set forth.

It was everything it was purported to be; historic, idyllic, inspiring and also there were turtles everywhere! On the rocks midstream, and all along the banks, were turtles, some small, some large, sunning themselves. Absolutely oblivious; or perhaps somewhat immune to the presence of humans; they lay all about.

The Catawba River, at that point, is choked off into rapids by the fallen, aged trees which block the normal gentle, and somewhat smooth flow of the river. In the early portion of the 19th century, the Catawba was a main inland commercial route, used for shipping cotton and tobacco from up north, as well as to bring goods back up river from the ports in Charleston, and also Norfolk. But the rapids were a problem, often the cause of financial loss, as well as the toll it took in human lives.

Still, it is an idyllic place. There is something in the air which makes you feel younger, and more vital. Here I am trying to walk out on this limb over the water; it looks simple, but to tell the truth, it was not that easy coming back! And to boot, Sue went much further than I did! But, in spite of some limited mobility, I still insist on climbing things that I know will do me absolutely no good. Oh well, you can't teach an old dog new tricks, so I'll take the aches.

Sometime around 1810, the canal was hand dug to by-pass the rapids. The dirt was loaded into carts and used in creating the embankments for the locks, which raised, or lowered, accordingly, the barges which traversed the canal. The canal was also a safer way to navigate the river during times of flooding, allowing the bargemen to have more control over their movements.

It's a beautiful area, also known for its annual explosion of water lilies, which usually occurs in May. Judging by the mild weather and early spring, it may happen sooner, rather than later. At any rate, we will be back for that event. The lilies are said to spread from bank to bank on the Catawba, and is one of the few places in the world where this happens.

For more on this beautiful place to spend an afternoon, visit their site at;

Sunday, April 8, 2012


This is Hieronymous Bosch's 16th Century painting of "Christ Carrying the Cross." He was not a very prolific artist, and this painting represents one of only 24 paintings he is known to have done. It stands today in the Voor Schone Museum in Ghent.

What I find most fascinating about the painting is that it almost resembles the Modernist, and even some aspects of the Cubic form, found in some contemporary artists, such as Picasso, and also Bermudez. The use of vibrant colors, along with distinct lines to the figures, help bring to life the story being told.

Examining the painting, along with a bit of reading, reveals the story of Saint Veronica, who carries the veil bearing the imprint of Christ's face on the way to his Crucifixion. She is a woman of faith, and as such, appears to be calm. The other figure is that of Simon of Cirene, who, under orders from the Romans, is helping to bear the burden of the cross. He is clearly distressed. The crowd surrounding them as they struggle with their burden, is a hostile one, and painted in an exaggerated fashion in order to emphasize the hostility of man towards that in which he has no faith. Their own lack of faith makes them part of the problems they all face. Yet, they lack the courage of the condemned man, and so they revile him.

The only peaceful face is that of Jesus, who knows his fate and accepts it. Indeed, he has no choice. Accompanying Christ are the two thieves, on their way to their own executions, both fearful of the fate which awaits them. Their courage is not lacking, only their faith in something better which may lie ahead to redeem them.

The religious theme aside, the message in this classic painting is one which still rings true today. We are all complicit in the ills of the world. There is a faith which is lacking in us all. And that lack of faith is not a faith in Christ, or Moses, nor is it in something material. It is, instead, a lack of faith in ourselves to tackle the problems facing us, which troubles us the most.

And, by the way, Sarah and I both wish you a Happy Passover, too!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Confederate Honey" with Bugs Bunny (1940)

This little cartoon was released a year after "Gone With the Wind" hit the silver screen. It is very much simplified and plays lose with the characters and the events, but it's easy to see that this is a satire of the film. I've been getting into looking at these type of cartoons, ones which are takeoffs of films and books. Some of them are very clever. This is one of the not so clever ones.

And of course, here is the trailer for the movie "Gone With the Wind", from which the plot of the cartoon was taken;

Friday, April 6, 2012

"April Flowers" - Al Jolson ( Live 1949)

It's raining in North Carolina. We always need it, and so we're glad when it comes. April is the time for it anyway. When I was a kid, my Uncle Irving used to sing Al Jolson songs to himself. He had a terrible voice, and never knew the words, so he kind of mumbled along to the melody. That was my introduction to Al Jolson, who was arguably one of the major entertainers of the first half of the 20th Century.

So I thought I'd celebrate today's rainy weather with his iconic (I like that word) version of "April Showers", performed live at Chicago's Soldier's Field in 1949. Here are the lyrics written by B. G. De Sylva. The music was written by his partner Louis Silvers and first published in 1921. It became one of Al Jolson's signature songs for decades to come. And Uncle Irving used to hum it under it his breath every April when it rained. That still goes for me, too.

April Showers

Though April showers may come your way,
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.
So if it's raining, have no regrets,
Because it isn't raining rain, you know, it's raining violets.

And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird, And listening for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird, And listening for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Midnight's Blues"

“Midnight’s Blues”

I got a cat named Midnight
He just loves to roam
I got a cat named Midnight
He just loves to roam
But it’s past 12:30
And he still ain’t home.

I got your can of tuna
Waiting by the door.
I got your can of tuna
Waiting by the door.
I’d gladly feed you baby
If you’d come home once more.

Seen you in the moonlight slinking around
Seen you in daytime sleeping so sound.
Seen you in the sunshine and out in the rain
I just wish you’d come home again.

I seen you down the street
With the big white cat
I seen you down the street
With the big white cat.
I don't care who you been with,
I just want you to come back.

I got a cat named Midnight
He just loves to roam
I got a cat named Midnight
He just loves to roam
But it’s past 12:30
And he still ain’t home.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Lawrence Thayer (1888)

The 2012 Major League Baseball opens today with the Cardinals and Marlins facing off at the new stadium in Florida. The season runs through October 3rd and will, as usual, galvanize millions of Americans, as it always has. In 1888 Ernest Lawrence Thayer's classic American poem "Casey At the Bat" was published to much acclaim in the San Francisco Examiner.

There are actually 3 versions of the poem, each one only slightly different. I have used the standard version, which I have posted here before. It has stood the test of time, and has actually been sung by various artists throughout the years. Even James Earl Jones has done a musical version of the piece. But nothing, and I mean nothing, can ever replace the inner voice when reading this poem. The tension, anger and disappointment all come through in the words themselves. With its simplistic rhyme scheme and cadence, this is always a sure winner with younger children, and a great way to introduce them to the joys of winning, as well as the necessity of sometimes coming up short. Now; "Play Ball!"

"Casey At the Bat" by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
And its likely they'd a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike two."

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.