Friday, August 31, 2012

Fixing the Capitol Dome

There are at least 1,300 cracks in the dome of the United States Capitol.  And they will cost approximately $61 million to repair and save the iconic fresco known as the “Apotheosis of Washington.” To date, $100 million dollars have been devoted to security at the 2 Conventions taking place this week and next, as the Republicans and Democrats convene to nominate the two individuals that have already been pre-selected to run in this year’s election. This makes no sense to me, for several reasons.
First off; if the Congress and Senate cannot find the money; or does not have the wisdom; to repair their own office building, it begs the question of how qualified they are to fix America.

Secondly; this is a glaring example of the self-serving, so-called “public servants” we have working for us. In essence they are the superintendents of this Republic in which we live. And they are letting it fall apart.
I cannot understand, nor abide, that we have $100 million dollars available to keep protesters away from the candidates who wish to preside over the very symbol they are willing to neglect; yet are sworn to protect.
It boggles my mind that the Capitol was even allowed to fall into such disrepair in the first place. It brings to mind the misadventures of the Truman administration, which had to move across the street to Blair House in 1947 due to the state of disrepair at the White House. That neglect not only caused the President’s daughter to put a hole in the floor while playing piano, but also caused the electrical fire that forced the First family to move to Blair House in the first place.
Why must “We, the people”, suffer such embarrassment at the same time in which our government is willing to spend more than what is necessary to fix this problem on security for 2 worthless conventions? And, more importantly, why aren’t more people angry about it.
Here is a link to the addresses and phone numbers for all the elected officials who work in that sacred building. I hope that you will take the time to call you representative and voice your disgust with how they handle our money, as well as our national heritage. Don’t expect any real results, but savor the moment. And tell them “Robert at Rooftop” said hello.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Boycott Products from India

Sometimes it is hard to understand the minds of other people. Rajesh Shah, in the city of Ahmedabad, north of Mumbai in India, has opened a store there named after Hitler, claiming that he never heard of the man until a few weeks ago. And then he opened his business. He has a whole story about why he chose that name, but, there can be no logical explanation behind this story other than a love of Adolph Hitler and a hatred for Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Catholics, and the list goes on and on. Doesn’t Rajesh Shah understand that according to Hitler he is inferior? Hitler loved the blonde haired-blue eyed set.
Look at Rajesh Shah, proudly holding the card bearing the name of a man who would have enslaved him. Hitler felt that dark skinned people were mentally deficient, and one has to wonder if Rajesh Shah is proof of that assertion. If that sounds harsh, well, you’ll just have to forgive me; I’m only a Jew. Please take note of the smiling Indian policeman standing at the upper left in the photo. If ignorance is bliss, this is the second most ignorant man in the world, behind Rajesh Shah, of course.
There is a disturbing trend worldwide towards a surge in Anti-Semitism lately. Take this wonderful photo of Hitler Wine in Italy from last week as an example. In complete violation of the law in Italy, which mirrors those in Germany, banning the glorification of Hitler’s name, as well as the use of the swastika, these morons have released a line of wine cleverly marketed as being commemorative. Yes, let‘s all drink some Hitler wine and don our Hitler clothing in honor of the biggest mass murderer in history.
Personally, I have called the Italian and Indian embassies to voice my concern. While the Italian Embassy seemed to take the issue seriously, the Indian Embassy was virtually unreachable except through a laborious process by e-mail. And even then, the message did not go through.

The best I can suggest; if this kind of thing upsets you; is to boycott all goods from these 2 nations until they decide to join the human race again.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blues Legends in Europe

Memphis Slim is one of the great artists of the blues-jazz genre. His piano style is unmistakable, somewhere along the lines of Pinetop Perkins, with only an imperceptible pause between chords separating the two musicians. This footage, from an untitled German TV show, dates from about 1964, and features Memphis Slim on piano, where he belongs, with fellow musicians Matt Murphy on guitar, Bill Stepney on drums, and Sonny Boy Williamson on harmonica.

Memphis Slim was one of the first of the American blues artists to see the value in performing in Europe; which he eventually made his home; appearing on German, French and English TV specials devoted to American Blues. These shows really helped to propel the revival in blues music that had already begun with the so-called “British Invasion” of the 1960’s, when white America was hearing rhythm and blues being beamed back at them from the myriad of English bands, all of whom had been mining the music of black American artists for several years already.
Some of the finest blues recordings of the era were made in Europe, where the African-American artist didn’t have to worry about the Jim Crow laws of the American South. Those restrictions kept them from eating and sleeping properly on the road at home, while in Europe they were free to pursue their passion with vigor. And the results of this relaxed atmosphere; in which they were treated as fellow travelers on the road of life; were sessions like this one, where they felt free to play their standard numbers with abandon. This freedom even allowed them to push the envelope a bit further, experimenting with new sounds and redefining blues and jazz, eventually culminating in a jazz-blues fusion.

A remarkable piece of film courtesy of You Tube, this video represents the entire TV performance. Ideally, you will be able to view it all at once, as it was intended to be. But even if you only listen to a few songs at a time, this performance has definitely stood the test of time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"The Monsters Meet on Court Street" by Batton Lash (2012)

And now for something completely different; I was never much of a fan of comic books as a kid- except for Illustrated Classics and the Human Torch; for some odd reason he really got to me.  But, this latest offering, by veteran comic artist/writer Batton Lash, has a unique and hip premise to it. Monsters, just as people do, sometimes find themselves in need of legal counsel. And where do they go for this type of service? Well, if you’re a New York based monster, particularly if you are indicted in Kings County; or Brooklyn; then Court Street is the logical place. These people; the lawyers as well as the “monsters”; all have the same problems and dramas of us real life folks.

The series concerns the adventures of defense attorneys Jeff Byrd and Alanna Wolff, of the firm Byrd and Wolff, whose specialty is delivering top notch defense for monsters who may find themselves in legal difficulties. Mostly, this is the result of a misunderstanding of the nature of monsters by those other pesky creatures, “human beings.”
In the first case which opens this book, Ms. Wolff is defending a Frankenstein looking fellow named Fritz, who in spite of his legal troubles is overtly concerned with eating lunch. This little twist puts a comical twist on things as the reader wonders just what, or whom, Fritz would like to eat for lunch. His crime was scaring a lab assistant when he suddenly came to life in the laboratory. Ms. Wolff argues; in an almost politically incorrect fashion; that, as the lab assistant was wearing stiletto heels and a revealing blouse, what response did she expect when this dead man came back to life?

While dealing with these types of cases, the two attorney’s assistants, Mavis and Corey, are busy not only providing support for the defense team, but with their own personal lives as well. The cast of characters includes the somewhat mysterious Charles Hawkins, another attorney; of dubious character; who is in love with Ms. Wolff. Their relationship serves as a sideshow to the main adventures as you wonder just what; if anything; he is up to, and how it will affect Ms. Wolff and her partner, not to mention their clients. Hawkins left Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood 25 years ago for the tonier clientele offered by Manhattan’s Park Avenue. To me, he seemed immediately suspect; but of what, I could not say.
The book is composed of a current, or new adventure, and also features some of the past exploits of the Counselors of the Macabre, such as “The Appeal of the 800 Lb., Gorilla.” In this case, the attorneys find themselves at odds with their own client, Nicky Gorillo. He has lost his case and Ms. Wolff is handling his appeal when Nicky goes "ape". In the end he is exposed (literally) for what he really is; a thug with a simian mentality. I really enjoyed the dialogue in this one, as it reminded me of so many of the “mobsters” portrayed on TV and in movies.

This collection is the sixth in “The Supernatural Law” series by Batton Lash and his team of artists and editors, and the first foray by me into the world of illustrated literature. Comic books have a long history of being beneath mainstream literature, but these are not the simple comic books of my youth, and in some respects, can be even more difficult to navigate than your average novel. (I’m a big non-fiction reader, so this was really a pleasant “stretch” for me.) It actually takes a bit more attention to the unwritten details to “get” the whole story. This was a big surprise for me; you don’t have to write like Tolstoy in order to convey a story.
The Supernatural Law series is a unique and fun way to delve into the world of “illustrated literature”; it would seem disrespectful to refer to them as mere “comic books”, as they have a dimension lacking in that genre. As I said, as a veteran, and inveterate, reader, this was something new and different for me, and I have to say it was a pleasurable excursion.

Monday, August 27, 2012

"Two Americans" by William Lee Miller (2012)

On the surface Presidents Truman and Eisenhower would seem to have little in common. One was a former artilleryman who saw combat in World War One, going on to become a failed haberdashery owner, before entering politics and becoming President of the United States. He was the last President to have not attained a college degree. The other was a product of the military academy at West Point who never saw combat, but went on to lead the Allied Powers to victory in the Second World War. Both of their Presidencies were bracketed by Harvard graduates. What makes this book so interesting, and the perfect companion to last week’s selection “Red Scare” by Griffin Fariello, is the time in which both men lived and how they handled some of the same problems in uniquely different ways.

These two men from the Midwest, both faced the challenges of their times in very different ways, yet both were deeply committed to a strong America. The differences in their views on dropping the Atom bomb; at a time when Eisenhower was preparing to move all his equipment to the Pacific for the final push into Japan; is fascinating. We had already had success with firebombing cities like Dresden and Hamburg in Germany, and done the same in Japan. As a matter of fact, with the incendiary bombing of Tokyo, as well as other cities, those bombings killed more people in one night than both of the two atom bombs combined. The real reason behind the decision to drop the bomb was that the Nazi’s were already working on a bomb of their own; making it imperative that we develop, and use, ours first.  Had we not, the whole face of post war Europe would have been changed drastically, with the Soviets taking over much more than just Eastern Europe.
Socially, both men were not that far apart. Although not a “New Deal Democrat” by any means, Eisenhower was concerned with the stability of the middle class in the same way as Truman. On the subject of Civil Rights Eisenhower was not as groundbreaking as Truman was. Although Ike favored the integration of the Armed Forces in 1947, he dragged his feet on the Little Rock integration issue, waiting for it to turn violent rather than use his leadership as a bully pulpit for change.

In an engaging and highly readable fashion, the author charts the course taken by both men, from their earliest days, through to the pinnacle of their careers as the respective leaders of the free world. And though there is much difference between the two men, they were more alike than either would ever admit. Ah, but to have the likes of these two running for office now…

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Into the Abyss" with Charles Richardson and Jason Burkett (2011)

This is a film I was prepared to dislike. I only happened upon it when I saw it laying in the living room. Sue had taken it out of the library after I had passed it up. I am not against the death penalty, and this film by Werner Herzog seemed to; at least by the synopsis on the film’s case; be pandering to a more liberal audience in this regard. It was only by chance that I happened to have a few hours free the other evening to watch this film.  And though my mind concerning the death penalty has remained unchanged by the film, in the hands of a master director such as Werner Herzog, the film did make me think about the need for the ultimate penalty, as well as what drives people to commit horrendous crimes in the first place.
The main focus of the film is on the death of 3 people, Jeremy Richardson and his mother, and a friend, in Conroe, Texas and told through the eyes of both the defendant himself, as well as the victim’s family. The opening scene, or Prologue, is conducted as an interview with the Minister who is in charge of the death house and is the last individual, aside from the guards, with whom the inmate will have contact. He is very moving when he speaks of how he always asks permission to accompany the condemned man until his final moment on the gurney, and actually lays a hand on the foot of the prisoner so that he does not feel abandoned at the moment of death. I found this to be very impressive. But when he goes on to describing his almost having run over a squirrel in a golf cart one day, and then compares that circumstance to people who have gone astray, he kind of loses me. I can’t seem to make that massive leap from accidently killing a squirrel to actually carrying out a murder. But then I have to stop and think; isn’t that what the state does when it applies the death penalty? Aren’t they, themselves, planning a murder?

I had to dispel that assertion by noting the difference between killing and murdering. Killing is something which is borne of necessity; in order to eat, or protect your own life would be the two immediate analogies which spring to mind. Murder, on the other hand, is most often done for greed, or lust, both emotions which can be controlled. So, then doesn’t that make this a mental health issue rather than a criminal one? Should people with obvious mental problems be put to death? Is the ability to kill someone really a mental defect at all, or just a matter of the utmost selfishness? And if that is true, does the state sponsored killing hold any more merit than the crime of murder itself?
The film tackles all of these questions by looking at the case of Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, 2 young men who connived their way into a gated community and then continued to murder 3 people as they robbed the home of the Richardson family. Drawing on interviews with law enforcement officers who were involved in the case, as well as family members from both sides; the accused as well as the victim’s; allows the viewer to analyze the facts as they apply to the questions posed above.
There is much more to this film than I have tackled here. This is a hot button topic which touches on the social disorders which make the death penalty an option, as well as exploring the sometimes arbitrary nature of its application.

Although this film may not shake, or even rattle your belief for, or against the death penalty, it is worth watching, if only because it makes you think. And, in the midst of an election year filled with knee jerk reactionaries; and a few real jerks to boot; thinking is in high demand.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"The Tuba Tooner" with Tom and Jerry (1932)

I did not know that there was a Tom and Jerry cartoon previous to the cat and mouse I grew up with. Hanna-Barbera began their series of Tom and Jerry in the late 1940’s. This cartoon is one of several that were circulated by RKO as part of their Van Bueren series; the cartoons themselves were the work of John Foster and George Stallings.

Much as Max and Dave Fleischer produced and directed the Popeye series, along with Betty Boop, these guys really had something going. The cartoons were very well received in their time, with several becoming cult classics, such as “The Piano Tooners”, which is pretty much a replication of the theme in “The Tuba Tooner”, and “Plane Dumb”.
Black and white cartoons were the first ones I ever saw. The “Farmer Grey” series from the 1920’s used to play on TV early in the morning. They were silent, as they were produced before the advent of sound films. For the most part the soundtracks on TV consisted of classical music, handpicked to fit the tempo, and theme, of the cartoon being shown.  It was kind of a neat way to be indoctrinated to classical music without realizing it.

Pay attention to the detail of the cartoon as it seemingly sways to the music. This was a hallmark of the Fleischer Brothers, as well as the team of Foster and Stallings. Some of it had to do with the process used at the time; drawing the cartoon frame by frame; but a lot more of it was in the expertise of the artists themselves. Enjoy the cartoon and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Chuck Berry in London - 1972

This is a very unusual and clear clip of Chuck Berry in London sometime in 1972. I believe it was filmed for the BBC special. It’s surprisingly crisp sound is what attracted me to this video. Up until Keith Richards made “Hail, Hail, Rock and Rock” in 1987, Chuck Berry usually played with local pickup bands, often not even bothering to rehearse before the show. Sometimes he never met the other musicians until about 5 minutes before show time. When Bruce Springsteen’s band was selected to back him in New Jersey in the early 1970’s, he met Mr. Berry moments before the concert was set to begin, asking him “What kind of music are we going to play?” It was a stupid question, and Mr. Berry answered, “Chuck Berry music, boy!” Springsteen tells that story in the 1987 film.

While this type of arrangement was quick and easy for Mr. Berry, it was hard on the audience, as the band was not always in tune with the star. But, somehow, he always managed to play just loud enough to cover the bands mistakes.
If you have seen “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll”, then you are familiar with the story of how Keith Richards persuaded Chuck Berry to make the film. To accomplish that goal he would have to re-unite Mr. Berry with his old piano player, Johnnie Johnson. Mr. Johnson had founded the band that became known as The Chuck Berry Band, and ultimately just Chuck Berry.

Most of Chuck’s songs were really written on the piano by Johnnie Johnson, and then transposed to guitar by Mr. Berry. In the film “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll”, Keith Richards does an excellent job of explaining the difference in writing songs on guitar and piano, crediting Mr. Johnson with being the spark which gave full bloom to the sound of rock and roll. In other words, without Johnnie, there may not have been a Chuck Berry as we have come to know him.
Johnnie Johnson filed suit in 2001 for back royalties on songs which were co-written by him with Mr. Berry. A very gentle and well-loved man, he passed away in 2005. But for the efforts of Keith Richards, his role in Rock and Roll history would not have been secured.

This second clip is taken from the film “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll”, and unlike the clip above, this one features Johnnie Johnson on piano, where he belongs. You’ll also recognize several other musicians, including Jesse Ed Davis and Keith Richards. Play it loud and enjoy the music!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Me and Sue - Viva la Difference.

Sue and I have been married for a few decades now; and when you explore the differences in our respective childhoods, that’s pretty amazing, since we both could not have been brought up in places which were more different from one another. I’m a city kid, born and raised in Brooklyn; while Sue was born in Scotland, Pennsylvania; a small village outside of Chambersburg; which is just northeast of Gettysburg. That fact alone; having to explain; geographically where Sue is from, serves to underscore the differences; some good, some bad; in the ways in which we were raised.

Just look at Sue, in August of 1958; not yet 4 years old; swinging happily on the edge of the hayfield which bordered her Grandfather’s house. This was definitely a rural area, with an economy to match. Doors were unlocked and crime was relatively rare.

The nearest “town” was Chambersburg, located on Lincoln Highway, Route 30, and was where the residents of Scotland went, for the most part, to shop and run errands. It was an insular world; crossing the street was not something to really worry about; there weren’t all that many cars roaming the streets of Scotland during the day. Most of the residents with automobiles would have been at work until the evening. One set of her grandparents actually had a farm! It was, as they say, a simpler time and place.

Now, here I am, at the same age, in August 1958, mailing a letter. There were 4 different Post Offices within walking distance, but for the sake of efficiency we had mailboxes on each corner. The mail was picked up 3 times a day. Crossing the street was an art to be learned, and not taken for granted. Just look at the width of Kings Highway at Bedford Avenue. It’s got a service lane on each side; for deliveries and parking; bracketed by islands for the bus stops, and in between were two lanes in each direction.
In Scotland, Pennsylvania they got 3 TV stations. And even those were hard to tune in, as Scotland rests in between some mountains, necessitating an aerial “tower” for the TV in order to get a good signal. I remember going up on the roof of our building in Brooklyn with my Dad, this was about 1957, and watching him install our TV antennae by simply pointing it towards the Empire State Building; with its huge broadcast antennae; clearly visible about 10 miles away. And, at night, we even got channels from Philadelphia.

Food was very different in our lives growing up. Where I grew up the constant question was “What do you want to eat?”  Our choices ranged from Chinese to Italian, Jewish, Hungarian, Algerian, French and whatever other nationalities lived in the city. I once counted 30 different ethnic restaurants while walking with my Uncle in Manhattan. Sue shocked me when she revealed that she had not eaten Chinese Food; other than Chung King; until she moved to Baltimore in her late 20’s. I cannot even imagine that. And the first Chinese restaurant finally did arrive in Chambersburg about 1980.  

On the other hand, Sue has no recollection of the Teamster’s strike in 1960; nor should she. She grew up in an area in which they all grew their food locally, and simply trucked it by pickup to the local marketplace. During that same time in New York, we faced a severe shortage of eggs, butter, milk and meat. Sue’s Mom canned vegetables and fruits; mine went to the store and bought them frozen.

Transportation was also a big difference in our upbringings. The bus pulled up right behind where I am standing in this picture. It cost a dime and the driver issued you a “transfer” to connect with other lines which ran perpendicular to the one you were riding. You could literally; as with the subways; travel all day on one dime, connecting to each borough. You could even use your bus transfer to change over to the subway lines at certain points, making the trip even longer. The Boy Scouts used to do this annually, and I remember the record for the subway lines alone was 25 hours on a single 10 cent token. There may have been a bus line connecting York, Pennsylvania to Chambersburg, but I’m not really sure.

Culturally, our two worlds were galaxies away from one another. I grew up in an area where there were all kinds of languages and customs being observed by many different ethnic groups. We had Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic Churches and Jewish synagogues, not to mention a couple of Pagodas. While the United Nations was merely a clip on the evening news in Pennsylvania, it was a center of cultural diversity in New York, spilling out into all 5 boroughs of the city, spawning the myriad of foods and languages to which I was privy.

All differences aside, we did manage to find one another. The big secret? In the photo above I’m actually mailing her a letter, introducing myself, but which never arrived until we were much older.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dubrow's - A Brooklyn Legend

This colorful and bustling portrait of Kings Highway was taken around 1974. It completely captures the hustle of living in Brooklyn at the time. I can almost hear the traffic and the noise of the trains pulling into, or leaving, the elevated train platform visible just above, and to the left of, the Dubrow’s Cafeteria sign.

The double parked van gives evidence to the activity which defined Kings Highway, and still does so today. I was starting to write something about Dubrow’s when I remembered the story of the holdup that took place there is the 1950’s. So, I just decided to re-post the original article below. The first photo, below, of Dubrow’s in the rain, was taken by Michael Held, I think. Of course it may have been taken by John DiStefano; I will have to ask him.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dubrow's - A Brooklyn Legend

Dubrow's was a cafeteria on Kings Highway and East 16th Street in Brooklyn, New York. It sat on the corner by the BMT elevated Subway line - an interesting combination in itself, an elevated subway. But that's Brooklyn for you. Along the BMT line were several stops going from Coney Island to Manhattan. And about every third Avenue was an express stop on the elevated portion of the subway. Kings Highway was one of those avenues and had lots of stores, just as the other express stops did. But it had one thing more. It had Dubrow's Cafeteria.
Dubrow's was a family owned chain of cafeterias, which were once in style all across America. You walked in, and got a ticket which got punched by a guy behind the counter when you got served. This was actually your check and you presented it to the cashier on the way out and paid for what you had eaten.

But really, Dubrow's was a place where people met and talked over coffee and pie in the late evenings, eggs and coffee in the wee hours returning from a concert, or occasionally, dinner. Their halibut was delicious, as was the creamed spinach.

Decorated in Art Deco style from the 1930's, it was the perfect place to hang out and kill time on a rainy night. As the establishment got older the patrons were treated to various activities that precluded food. Roach races were one of these pastimes. This consisted of sitting at your table, preferably next to a wall, and watching two roaches headed to the top of the wall. The stakes were small, usually coffee and pastry. Many a night I lost to Mike Held, who seemed to have a knack for picking the fastest roaches. I never figured out his secret...

It could also be the scene of danger and intrigue. Drugs could be purchased on the opposite corner from some shady and wasted fellows. I was warned very early in the 1960's to avoid "hanging out" on this corner. At that time it was a gathering spot for heroin dealing. This was about 1961. By the time the '60's had ended it was a place to meet your friends before heading to Manhattan for a concert, or just to hang out around the corner near Rainbow Shops and smoke one.

It also served as a place where politicians met the public. Being by a major train stop was great for meeting a lot of voters at about 5 and 6 PM when they came off the train in droves! JFK spoke around the corner on East 16th Street in 1960, opposite the bakery that sat next door to the Waldbaum’s Supermarket. You can see the Bakery sign in the photograph. I also saw RFK there in 1964 when he ran for Senator; Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968 when he ran for President; and John Lindsay both times he ran for Mayor.(He got booed one time for his handling of the transit strike.) There was so much to Dubrow's that it is almost impossible to write it all down.
There was a famous holdup of the Cafeteria on January 7th, 1952.  I wasn't there, but here is the text of the newspaper article from the New York Times describing it;

$14,000 Taken In Hold-up    (New York Times, January 7, 1952)
An apparently intoxicated man staggered up to the manager of crowded Dubrow's Cafeteria, 1521 King's Highway. Brooklyn at 12:45 o'clock this morning, took between $14,000 and $15,000, reeled out, and disappeared.

The victim was Max Tobin, 48 years old, manager and part owner of the restaurant, which is at East Sixteenth Street in the Sheepshead Bay section. He said 450 customers and 50 employees were unaware of the holdup in a balcony office.

Mr. Tobin said he noticed a man reeling along behind him as he went to a balcony but thought he was going to a washroom. However, Mr. Tobin said, as he unlocked the door to the office, the man bumped into him, knocked him inside, then produced a small black pistol and told the manager to sit down.

After taking the money from the safe the robber bound and gagged Mr. Tobin, said "So long" and left.

Dubrow’s was a regular Magical Mystery Tour for watching people. All kinds came and went at all hours. I know - I was there at all hours along with some of my friends. I think we used to go and watch the people who were often there to watch us!
There were several Dubrow's; all owned by the same family. There were two in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan, and even another in Miami Beach for all those retirees who got homesick. Even today, long after the Kings Highway Dubrow's has disappeared (it was initially replaced by a Gap, but I'm not sure what's there now) people remember it with a fondness. Just Google Dubrow's and open your senses to a time and place we will never see again. (They even have a blogspot) I'm glad to have been a part of the tapestry that it was. Memories were made there.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Red Scare" by Griffin Fariello (1995)

This is a very important book to read; especially in this volatile election year. It covers the McCarthy Era, from its beginnings in 1950, until its ultimate demise in the early 1960’s, under the Kennedy Administration. It also explores, in depth, the role played by President Truman, who; for political reasons; instituted the Truman Doctrine in 1946. His Executive Order Number 9865, allowed the administration of loyalty tests and oaths to all federal employees. This was the stepping stone that would provide Senator McCarthy to embark upon his witch-hunts throughout the early 1950’s. It is a perfect example of what happens to a country when the people allow themselves to become so divided by the powers which govern them. And it is happening again; now; here in America.
As World War Two drew to a close there was a deep mistrust between the Soviet Union and the Allied Powers. While we in the U.S. had suffered 400,000 deaths as a result of the war, our economy was booming. Contrasted with that, the Soviet Union had lost 25 million people, both civilian and military, to the war. In addition, their production levels were about 40% of what they had been before the war. With rampant hunger abounding, and thousands of devastated cities and villages in disrepair, the Soviets were deathly afraid of any expansion on the part of Europe into her territories. In the minds of their leaders, they had to expand, or at least hold the line against the Western Powers.
To that end, there were two spots open to the Soviet Union for expansion of Communism in Eastern Europe. The first was in Greece; the second was in Turkey. We (the U.S.) were tasked with keeping Turkey from sliding into Communism, and the British were tasked with the same in Greece, where the local militias; who were mostly Communists; were attempting to block the reinstatement of the King and his autocratic government. The King had the support of Winston Churchill and tacitly, that of the United States.
By 1947 the weight of debt in a war weary England had forced her to hand Greece off to the United States, while Britain attempted to recover from the extensive damage caused by the German air raids, as well as the economic fallout from the expense of 7 years of war. They had been fighting since the 1939 invasion of Poland, while we had stayed out of the fray until the events at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941.
The reasoning behind Truman’s Executive Order was to keep the United States from battling Communism from within. There were some people working in government who had empathy for the Communist causes, but nowhere near enough to justify such Draconian measures as Truman’s “purge” of public servants who may not have agreed with his world views. This pains me deeply, as I have always considered Truman to have been one of our finer Presidents. But the Democrats had taken such a beating in the midterm elections of 1946 that Truman had to appear strong against Communism. Unknowingly, he had opened a Pandora’s Box, which would have grave consequences for our country in the decade to come.
Also, in 1947 the House of Un-American Activities was already subpoenaing the Hollywood crowd; consisting mostly of writers and directors; among them such greats as Ring Lardner and Dalton Trumbo and even Edward Dymytryk; who was the only director named on the infamous list of the Hollywood Ten. The resultant hearings, and trials, would cast a pall over Hollywood which would last until the early 1960’s.
By 1950, when most of the alleged Communists had been “purged” from government offices, Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin was ready to re-invigorate the game of “Red baiting” for his own political ambitions. This was the beginning of the “witch hunt” trials we have all heard about.
The Smith Act of 1940; which carried penalties for belonging to any institution dedicated to the overthrow of the government; contained a clause that carried a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, with up to a $5,000 fine for even being a member of the Communist Party. When the McCarran Act of 1950 was introduced, it instructed anyone who was a Communist to register with the government. This meant that the people involved were essentially abrogating their 5th Amendment Right against Self-Incrimination, which made both laws highly suspect. The only person in the United States to ever serve time for merely being a member of the Party was Junius Scales, who had joined a club in 1939 while a student at UNC Chapel Hill.
The American Communist Party, in reaction to these laws, went deeper and deeper underground, which only made it harder for the government to keep track of them. In the days before satellites and digitized phone calls, the only way to be sure of where a suspect was involved constant surveillance of the suspect’s residence, as well as following their entire families.
Passports were denied if you had signed any kind of petition against the government, no matter how long ago, or why. Reading material was highly suspect, resulting in some trials, as well as almost comical events such as one trial where the accused was faced with the fact that they had read “Darkness at Noon”, which was about Stalin’s brutality; and also the 1950 novel “The God That Failed”, which was about 6 intellectuals who go to Moscow to see Communism in action, only to return home disillusioned.  As far as the House Committee was concerned, if it said Communist, then it was subversive. Thought, by default, was on trial.
Membership in trade unions, or attendance of a labor school run by unions, was on the list. Author Howard Fast was imprisoned for refusing to answer questions about who he had known, and what he had done, 3 decades earlier in college. In Birmingham a man named Sam Hill was tried for vagrancy, even though he was employed as a writer for the Daily Worker. His job was considered to be “disreputable.” After his conviction, the City Council passed an ordinance for all Communists to leave Birmingham within 48 hours, or face imprisonment.
It was always a double bind when you were accused. You were guilty simply because you had been accused, and you were expected to name names of others whom you knew to be Communists. Taking the Fifth Amendment was like pleading guilty, and the accused was now treated as “hostile” by the Congressional Committees investigating them, as well as the courts in which some were tried.
This is a very important book for all Americans to read. It shows what can happen; told in the words of the people it happened to; when fear is allowed to divide us as a people. When all is said and done, our greatest strength is in the things which unite us. Unless we stop the constant politics of division, we will be headed back down the road of the American Inquisition before too long.
With excellent annotation; and edited in such a way which makes the whole topic come together in an understandable way; this is a book for serious students of the time period which lead up to the McCarthy Era, as well as the scars it left upon our country.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"The Ghost and the Darkness" with Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer (1996)

This is an amazing story, and true. The film takes place in Africa in 1896 and tells the story of  an engineer named John Patterson, played by Val Kilmer, who leaves his pregnant wife at home in England in order to build a railroad bridge over Uganda's Tsavo River for the British East African Railway. He has experience with wildlife from his earlier exploits in India, where he was forced to hunt and kill a tiger which was preying upon his workers. Armed with confidence, and a trusted native named Samuel, played by John Kani, he sets forth on one of the wildest adventures he will ever have.

In his first few weeks at the worksite, he is forced to kill a lion that has attacked his men. He is certain that his rifle will always be able to vanquish, if not scare away, all of his opponents. But, within just a few short months in Africa, two more lions, who have been named “Ghost” and “Darkness” by the natives, have killed and eaten several more workers. Clearly, Patterson realizes, he needs some outside assistance.
To that end, American big game hunter Charles Remington, is called upon to help rid the worksite along the river of the two lions; both man eaters who seem to be working in unison. By this point, the lions have  stalked, and killed, a total of 130 workers in just a few short months.

Before calling upon Remington to assist him in killing these two man eaters, Patterson has tried; unsuccessfully; to kill them using some of the methods he used while building bridges in India. But these two lions have a sixth sense, and are able to elude; as well as outwit; the two would be hunters. When Patterson’s wife and newborn child arrive at the camp, they are immediately attacked and killed by the lions. Now the hunt is personal, and soon the two men find themselves to be the hunted, rather than the hunters.
This is an edge of your seat film, punctuated by the beauty of Africa and all of its natural wonders. It is also a very real lesson in how we tend to think of ourselves as being superior to everything in nature, and how quickly our perceptions can be challenged.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Alan Parsons Project - "The Eye In the Sky" (1982)

This seemed like a good post for a Sunday morning; kind of a way to remind us all that we are only here by something we don't fully understand. Some call it God, others science. I have always believed in the compatibility of both. Take some time and follow the lyrics while listening to the song. It may make an impression upon you. If not; then it's just a good song.

The Alan Parsons Project- "Eye in the Sky" (1982)

Don't think sorry's easily said
Don't try turning tables instead
Youv'e taken lots of chances before
But I'm not gonna give anymore
Don't ask me
That's how it goes
Cause part of me knows what youre thinkin

Don't say words youre gonna regret
Don't let the fire rush to your head
Ive heard the accusation before
And I ain't gonna take any more
Believe me
The sun in your eyes
Made some of the lies worth believing

I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind
And I dont need to see any more
To know that
I can read your mind, I can read your mind

Dont leave false illusions behind
Dont cry cause I aint changing my mind
So find another fool like before
Cause I aint gonna live anymore believing
Some of the lies while all of the signs are deceiving

Saturday, August 18, 2012

"The Old Mill Pond" - MGM (1936)

This cartoon is from MGM’s “Merrie Melodies” series, and preceded last week’s post of “Swing Wedding.” This was one of the first cartoon’s which MGM produced. Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising had great success with this cartoon, which won an Oscar for Best Animation in 1937. The basic premise is the fish and frogs gathering at the old mill pond to hear a jazz concert. The performers, as in last week’s cartoon, are all caricatures of some of the best known jazz, and blues, performers of the era.

Most noticeable here are the performances by the Cab Calloway character, as well as Fats Waller and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

As with last week’s cartoon, I will apologize in advance for any offense which this cartoon may cause. I did not have any hate mail, or negative comments, on the “Swing Wedding” post. Again, as with that one, I invite anyone with a negative opinion to either use the comments section below to express your disapproval, or just e-mail me directly. I will post your opinion if you so desire. Meantime, sit back and enjoy this for what it is; a celebration of some of the greatest music ever made.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Reflections at the Vance Hotel

This photo is an optical illusion. I took it the other day while Sue and I were driving through Statesville. We were coming down Route 115, headed south, when we stopped to look at the old Vance Hotel. It has been recently purchased by the City of Statesville, after sitting empty for several years, but I’m not sure what the plans are for its use. I have previously posted about this hotel, about 2 years ago, when they were selling various artifacts from the rooms. Sue and I purchased a vase which had graced the mantel in the Presidential Suite where Ronald Reagan had stayed during his visit in the 1980’s.

The picture was taken from outside, looking in, and the red building you see in the background is actually behind me. It’s the old Statesville City Hall, which now houses the Zoning and Planning Department for the city. I spent many a day in that gothic looking structure, pulling permits for different jobs in Iredell County. I have always loved the way it looked and thought that this was a perfect opportunity to get it in the same photo as the bird. I was surprised that it came out so well.
Here is a picture of that same building, taken simply by turning around, albeit from a slightly different angle.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Midnight - For God and Country

Midnight, the community cat, could have been in the Navy. He is capable of sleeping anywhere, at any time. Here he is, asleep at 5 in the afternoon, after a grueling day of sleeping elsewhere around the yard. Hey, nobody said it would be easy.

Sometimes he sleeps on the concrete for the warmth; and at other times he sleeps there for the coolness of it; as in temperature wise; he already knows he’s cool. This photo is not staged in any way. I did not remove the winde bottle from between his paws, or anything like that. It’s just Midnight doing what he does best.

He began to stay with us about a year ago, and is now pretty much a fixture around our house; though he still does sleep on a neighbor’s porch occasionally, which makes me a bit jealous. I mean, I am the one who feeds him!

Though I’m allergic to him; and don’t generally even like cats; Midnight has grown to be a welcome sight each morning when I go to get the paper. He meows at me, and foolishly, I meow back. We have an understanding, of sorts. I think.

He cowers to the thunder and lightning, taking refuge in my garage where I visit with him every 30 minutes or so, just to let him know it’s going to be okay. Really, I’m looking to him for some reassurance; figuring cats have an extra sense when it comes to impending disasters like floods, etc. I may feed him today, but he just may save me some time in the future. You never can tell.

Well, I had better go check on Midnight, it’s been about an hour since I took that photo, and he’s probably getting ready to go out and wreck some other poor cats home. Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Uncle Irving

This is reprinted from last year's post; although I have changed my Uncle’s age, in keeping with the occasion; but the story is the same as it has always been. My Uncle Irving is simply the only person whom I have ever known that gave his love without any conditions attached. He was mercurial, and in many ways odd. But he was my rock as a kid. He was the quintessential New Yorker from the days of the Lower East Side of the 1900’s; as well as the Damon Runyonesque fellow you might find hanging about Times Square; and I loved him very much. So, each year, I write something for his birthday. Only this year, I have nothing new to write about him! So, I suppose I have arrived at the point where each year I will just add to the beginning of the post, until that becomes; as it probably already has; superfluous.  Uncle I; this one’s for you. (2012)

Today would have been my Uncle Irving's 116th birthday. Maybe. But, then again it might be only his 115th birthday. We'll never know for sure. The Henkins’ were rather secretive about most such things, and so we don't know a whole lot about them. The following has been presented here before, but just in case you haven't read, or heard about my Uncle, I have reprinted his story here, beginning with the story of how his parents, my great grandparents Max and Rebecca, came to America, and how that move eventually affected me through my relationship with this magical man whom I knew as Uncle "I". To leave out the story of his parents would leave his own story incomplete. (2011)

The Henkins’ never were sticklers for the truth- there was no doubt about that. If it was ten men they’d seen, they told it as a hundred; a 20 car freight train was 200 cars long; a five dollar win at the track was fifty. You know the type; they may have been full of it; but they were colorful and fun to be around.

Well, it all started with a horse….

This story had been around for years and then died out for a while- and since I may be the only one left to tell it, here goes;

Max “Pops” Henkin (we think that’s the last name- no proof) had a livery stable in the “old" country. It was a very vague place - somewhere near Kiev in the Ukraine region - Some small shetl that, no doubt that has long been gone. But it would’ve been nice to know the name. It was there that “Pops”; everyone called him that; met and married Rebecca, and it was there that he operated his livery stable.

One day a man came in with a wonderful looking horse, well bred, fed and easily led. This was a mighty steed - 14 hands high, and with a spirited manner. “Pops” could not afford him and so he turned the man away. But this man was persistent, and made Max an offer he could not refuse, and in short order Max became the owner of this prized animal. Accordingly, and expecting a great profit, he put the horse up for sale, advertising it everywhere within a day’s journey of his shetl outside Kiev.

All hell broke loose soon after when he was charged with being in possession of a horse belonging to the Czar. He was released pending a trial in which he would have surely been convicted, and so he took his family out of Russia, through Italy and then to Spain and on to probably Canada, although no records seem to exist to support that. But they don’t show up as entering America either, but nevertheless, they were here.

“Pops” had 3 children in America with Rebecca. They were Nathan, Isaac and Dora. Isaac was my Grand Uncle through my mom. He and “Pops” had lived with my Mom's family through the World War II years while she was growing up in Brooklyn, NY. He was like a Grandfather to me and no words can express the love I had, and still have, for this man.

Isaac was later known as Irving - due to the tall tales he told we sometimes called him Uncle “Lie”- but he was always Uncle “I” as far as I was concerned.

He was born, alternately, depending upon whom you asked, in Vineland New Jersey, Philadelphia, or New York City. Everyone agrees that it was on Aug 15th- but the year varies- 1893, 1895 or 1898 - take your pick. He was old enough to collect Social Security when I was 5 but worked until a year before he died in 1975. And he was too young to serve in World War I- registering in August of 1918, just 3 months before the Armistice. He probably was trying to avoid detection as an illegal for fear of being sent back to the "old" country. His father had crossed the ocean to escape Europe and Irving had no desire to retrace “Pops” steps – he didn’t want to go back - as a deportee or a soldier.

He apparently worked for the American Railway Express Co and later went into the Garment Industry as a buyer of furs. He used to bring me samples and to this day I can tell real from fake chinchilla, mink, sable, rabbit and even lamb. We had raccoon tails by the armload and attached them to the handlebars of our bikes and the backs of our hats, and even flew one from the antenna of the old Plymouth.

When I was younger, he would take me, and later, when I was older, I would meet him at the furriers where he worked on 7th Ave in the Garment District. The cutters, the tailors and sewing operators all treated me royally and I was fascinated by this aspect of my Uncles life.

Although he was already 60 when I was born, for 20 years he took me every Sunday to the beach in the summer, movies in the winter, and ice cream sodas and walks on Friday nights. He always regaled me with the stories of all the people he had met in his business as a furrier and how everyone knew him all over the city.

The Friday night walks were the most special times I spent with Uncle “I”. In spite of his age he never failed to make that 1 hour trip each way to watch the news, eat dinner and "talk" a walk with me. By "talk" a walk- I mean that we would talk and walk. We would go to the candy store on Kings Hwy and 15th Street and he would buy me an ice cream soda and afterwards give me a Standing Liberty or Benjamin Franklin half dollar. And when "magic time" was done I would walk him around the corner to the Quentin Road entrance of the BMT for his 1 hour train ride back to Manhattan. They said that he had nowhere to go, but I know better- he came to see me.

He took me to baseball games at the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium, to the circus at the Old Madison Square Garden, and to Radio City Music Hall for the Christmas Show. He was Jewish to the core, but the blue lit Nativity scene, complete with real Camels on stage - made him weep from the majesty of it. He knew every doorman, every usher, and every cabbie. We would go to the Stage Delicatessen on 7th Avenue and he knew all the comedians, actors and characters there, including the owner, Max.

We would miss parts of first acts trying to get to our seats as he stopped to acknowledge greeting after greeting, mostly from the people that worked in the places we visited, but sometimes people in the audience would call out to him, as if they desired his recognition, as well as to just say hello. He was a shy and gentle man, yet he seemed well liked and commanded some degree of affection and respect wherever we went.

He would go to Las Vegas every year to feed the slots and bring home the old solid silver Morgan Dollars from the 1880’s and the Peace Dollars from the early 1930’s. He never won, but he’d save those last 2 dollars for my brother and I.

Occasionally, he would stay over, especially if a game had gone into extra innings or overtime, depending on the season. He would sleep in my bed and I would take a folding cot in between my bed and my brothers. I would cover it with blankets and sheets and get underneath, pretending that this was my submarine. When I emerged I was always confronted by the sight of his teeth in a glass on my desk.

I still recall how, at least once every summer at Rockaway Beach, he would duck into a bar for a beer to catch the game and a peek at the baseball score. He didn’t smoke or drink but he would order a beer and bum a cigarette. He’d smoke it without inhaling, enjoying a moment of male camaraderie. It always seemed so mysterious to me, this bachelor world he lived in- hotels and restaurants. It was glamorous on the one hand, and lonely on the other.

If I characterize this part of Irving’s’ life as mysterious, it is probably because I never once went up to his hotel room. I suppose he considered it improper or ill advised to take a child up to his room with him. But he gave the most important gift of all to me; his time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Jimi Hendrix - A Brother's Story" by Leon Hendrix with Adam Mitchell (2012)

This will be the closest thing you will ever read to an autobiography of Jimi Hendrix. His brother, Leon, has done a wonderful job of putting into words the experiences of the 2 boys while growing up in Seattle, Washington. Leon and Jimi were born to parents who were so much in love with one another that they couldn’t stand to be together for very long. There were also 3 other children born to the couple; one a stillbirth; along with two boys; one blind and the other clubfooted. They were put up for adoption as a result of financial hardship. His mother was dead by the age of 33, and their father took over from there, doing the best he could.

As a child, Jimi (born James, but called “Buster” by his family after Buster Crabbe of the Flash Gordon Series) was always interested in sounds. Although they lived in a rundown home before being shuttled from foster homes to relatives to live, Jimi had an ear for the magic of music from a very early age. He and Leon used to string wires between the posts of their metal bed, noticing how the sounds changed in pitch according to length.

Alone with Leon, Jimi used to lie on the ground, gazing up at the nighttime sky, telling his brother about the constellations, and making up stories, many of which would become famous as songs later in his life. Songs like “Castles In the Sand” and “The Wind Cried Mary” are autobiographical and were written in his head even before he learned to play guitar. Even “Spanish Magic Castle” is rooted in Jimi Hendrix youth, named, as it is, for the Spanish Castle Ballroom, which was about an hour from his home. In the song it is said to be “half a day away” because that’s how long it took to get there in in the broken down car they used to get there.

Jimi’s first instrument; aside from the bed; was an old ukulele which he was allowed to keep when cleaning out a garage with his father, who did landscaping and odd jobs. It may only have had one string on it, but that was enough to cement young Jimi’s interest in music forever.

His next instrument was an old broken down acoustic guitar which he acquired from a woman down the street. Although it wasn’t much of a guitar, Jimi soon mastered it, playing the melodies to anything he heard on the radio. By this time he had heard electric guitars on the radio and decided he needed to get technical.

He bought a kit to electrify the acoustic guitar, but lacked an amplifier. So, he created one by wiring a cord to the stylus of his father’s record player, which allowed him to play his electrified acoustic guitar. The sound was distorted due to the speaker’s limited capacity, but may have been the catalyst for the sound he was one day to create.

Jim left Seattle to join the Army, serving in the 101st Airborne. While in the service he played with several different buddies at the various service clubs on base.  After being Honorably Discharged he actually went on the road, playing the old Chitling’ Circuit; which was in its last days at the time; and even toured the Northwest, playing wherever he could, even with Tommy Chong in his band Tommy and The Vancouver’s; although it was Tommy Chong on lead guitar. You can listen to those records on You Tube.

He went on to play with Little Richard, but the arrangements were too tight for his agile mind; and as a result of conflicts with Little Richard; he left the band, headed for New York. His connection to Little Richard actually occurred several years before when Little Richard came to Washington to visit his Aunt, which was down the street from the Hendrix brothers and their Dad. Jimi was 17 at the time and still in high school, which he did not complete, withdrawing in his senior year.

By 1966, Chas Chandler, of the Animals, convinced Jimi to go to England with him, where he finally broke through with his innovative sound. It was there in 1967 that he recorded the iconic “Are You Experienced“ album which would catapult him to worldwide fame beyond his wildest dreams. Leon, and his Dad, first heard this album through the walls of their apartment one morning in May 1967. A neighbor was playing the record over and over. Leon, and his father were both dumbstruck. The music was unlike anything they had ever heard before.

After landing a job as an draftsman for Boeing, drawing the same nuts and bolts over and over again, Leon eventually joined his brother on the road in the late 1960’s, getting an education in life which was not available in school. He was also, when not on the road, becoming increasingly involved in the hustler’s lifestyle on the street, soon becoming acquainted with drugs; as well as dealing and stealing. A break in at a pharmaceutical plant landed him in jail with some of his friends. After bonding out, he returned home to accompany his brother on tour, as he awaited his trial for the robbery.

That trial never came when Leon’s lawyer advised him to join the Army in lieu of being sent to prison. It seemed like a good idea and he joined, knowing that he would be going to Vietnam. With his brother’s reputation shadowing him everywhere he went, the Army found him to be more trouble than he was worth. After enduring all the usual humiliations associated with boot camp; plus some extra “special treatment” for the crime of being Jimi Hendrix’ brother; Leon goes AWOL. This mistake eventually has him sent to prison for the violation of his plea agreement. It is while in prison that he learns of his brother’s death from other inmates who had heard it on the radio.

This is a very straight forward book which doesn’t shy away from the author’s own shortcomings, as well as deal with the issue of who was stealing his brother’s money.

Of great interest to me in this book, are the theories and plans which were underway by Jimi Hendrix at the time of his death. He had a theory about music, which was based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. That formula was E=mc squared. Hendrix’ formula for the relationship between light, color and sound was called Energy Sound Color Dynamics, and he expressed it in a formula, similar to Einstein’s; E=sc squared. We will never know where his musical ambitions would have taken us.

The book even delves into the financial struggles over Jimi’s estate, not only with the record companies, but within his own family. This is an excellent book, which shies away from nothing, and dispels many myths about the famed guitarist. Written with a love for his brother that the reader can actually feel, this may be the best and most personable biographies of Jimi Hendrix to date. Well done, Leon!

Monday, August 13, 2012

"Frost/Nixon" with Frank Langella and Michael Sheen (2009)

When President Richard Nixon left office in 1974, he became the first American President to have been forced from the Presidency in our nation’s history. Although he did not have any part in planning the Watergate break-in, he did use the Office of the President to thwart justice and protect those who had committed the crime. Added to that were his numerous transgressions as President, including the secret war in Cambodia, which destabilized that country,  leading to the Pol Pot regime, which slaughtered another million, or more, innocent people. An apology was the last thing anyone thought that they would hear from him. They were wrong.
From almost the moment that Richard Nixon resigned from office, Australian TV show personality David Frost became obsesses with interviewing him. When his original offer was $250,000 the President refused the interview, as he had done with the major networks here in America. But, when Mr. Frost was able to up the ante to $600,000, Mr. Nixon agreed to do the interview. His only condition was that they not discuss Watergate.
This film covers the negotiations, and finally the actual interviews, in which the two men sparred over several sessions, each seeking to take control of the questions and answers. The former President, who had recently been pardoned by the only un-elected president in our nation’s history, tried to keep the interview contained to soft questions by giving long, benign answers to “soft” questions, thus eating up the allotted time for the interview. Mr. Frost, who had to borrow money from his friends to make the show happen, was beginning to play the fool to Mr. Nixon. But, not for long.
By the last session, Mr. Frost was in a tight spot, he owed $600,000 for an interview which was hardly worth selling. So, he did what he had to do; he got tough; tackling Watergate and hitting the President with hard ball questions, allowing him no room to avoid answering to the American people. These last exchanges produced both the President’s assertion that “When the President does it, it’s not illegal”, as well as his final admission that he had let the people of the country down, and disgraced the Office of the Presidency.
The movie is directed tightly, with the tension and anxiety of the times fully palpable to the viewer. Included in the disc are some excerpts from the actual broadcasts. While these were a great addition to the film, they did underscore the fact that the original interviews far eclipsed the dramatic versions portrayed in the film.
For the real interviews, you can do no better than to watch them on You Tube, which has them split into 6 segments of about 10 minutes apiece. This was historical stuff then, and still resonates today, in an election year fraught with lies and liars. Here is the first part of the actual interview;

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cactus and Cotton

Cole Porter once composed a song called “Summertime”, in which he wrote; “the living is easy, the fish are jumping and the cotton is high….” Well, he was right on three out of the four; I don’t have any fish; but my cotton is getting higher. It’s a pity he didn’t mention the cactus though, because mine just keeps on blooming, rain or shine. As a matter of fact, the last two blooms have emerged in the middle of sultry, rainy nights, upending my previous belief that they only bloomed in the hot desert sun. The cactus was a gift from my daughter, and this is the 4th time it has bloomed in the last several months.

Now; let me get back to the cotton. I have only had one previous experience in growing cotton. That was about 10 years ago on the back porch of the house we were living in at the time. I had quite a crop. There were about 6 plants in all, which is like a plantation to someone from Brooklyn. The seeds come up fast, in only a few days, then after a few more weeks the little pink flowers; which soon turn white; appear. These are the harbingers of the cotton bolls which will take their place, eventually becoming hard and wood like husks protecting the precious cotton growing within.

My crop is small. Mostly, I just take a certain joy out of the plant and its little white balls of fluff. It amazes me; as do most things; that there is a code embedded within these tiny seeds which never changes.  It’s eternal.
There is nothing quite like a field of cotton in bloom, it looks like snow has fallen. There are several cotton fields near my house, which is where I got the seeds last fall. I have given some of the cotton balls which I picked then; and contain the seeds; to some of the kids down the street. I hope that they will have success with them.

There is little that can be compared to watching a seed grow into something as majestic as fully grown cotton.  It’s like looking at the history of ancient Egypt; and also like peeking into our own American past, when cotton was king, and human beings were enslaved for the harvest. And, in spite of the beautiful view, if you look at the fields hard enough, you can almost imagine hearing the crack of the whip.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Swing Wedding" - MGM (1937)

This is the cartoon which was released by Hugh Harman/Rudolf Ising Productions following their earlier Oscar nominated cartoon “The Old Mill Pond” in 1936. The big difference between that effort and this one is that this cartoon has a story to it.  Among the African-American celebrities pictured here as frogs are Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Stepin Fetchit, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Bill Robinson and the Boswell Sisters. If there are any I have missed, let me know.
Some people nowadays will find this cartoon to be politically incorrect. My only response to that is that at the time this cartoon was released most African-Americans were simply glad to be portrayed in cartoons at all, let alone as very talented characters. Imagine going to the movies, week after week; and not only do you have to sit in the balcony; but all the film’s stars were white actors and actresses, with African-Americans playing servants. Followed up by white cartoon characters could leave a black person feeling really left out.
There were some really great African-American films at the time, I have reviewed several here. My favorites are “Cabin In the Sky” and “Stormy Weather”, which showcase both the musical and dramatic talents of the black actors and actresses of the era. I hope that you will enjoy this cartoon for what it is and not for what you may perceive it to be. For me, it is 8 minutes of musical, and visual, delight.

If you are African-American; and over 55 years old; I would love to hear your take on this cartoon. The reason I have chosen this age group is that these would be the people who were at least  about 8 years old at the time of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As such, this group would have lived under some form of segregation. In my mind, this gives them a unique perspective on the subject.