Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Midnight and the Great Pumpkin

Midnight will be celebrating his second Halloween with us this year. He is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the neighborhood children, dressed as ghosts and goblins. He’s not really sure what it’s all about; and I think all the commotion kind of scares him a bit; but he does take an active interest in the proceedings. He will be found; I’m sure; waiting in the bushes, alternately leaping out to frighten someone, or just to check them out. He is especially partial to Princesses and Pirates.

And, when all the tricksters have retreated from the street, you will find him patiently awaiting the arrival of the Great Pumpkin; who will undoubtedly treat him to a can of salmon as a reward for being so brave on a night when black cats generally make themselves scarce.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"The Color of War" by James Campbell (2012)

By May of 1944 the war in the Pacific had gone from the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor; in December of 1941; to a chain of island invasions, which forced the Japanese to adopt a defensive posture in the face of an ever tightening noose as our Navy and Marines advanced towards Japan itself. But, between that time, and our later victory, 2 events would occur; one, involving African-American sailors would be held up as an immediate example of the freedom lacking here at home, even as we fought for it overseas; while the other event, the explosion of several fully laden LST’s in the West Loch of Pearl Harbor, would be hushed up for 16 years.

On May 21st, 1944 an explosion occurred aboard LST-353, igniting all of its cargo of ammunition, bombs and fuel. The burning shrapnel landed on other fully loaded LST’s causing them to explode as well. Hundreds of lives were lost, along with thousands of tons of supplies bound for Saipan. The continued spread of the disaster actually caused our Navy to sink some of the other vessels before those, too, caught fire.  The battle for Saipan, which would occur on July 18th, was the last major stepping stone in our conquest of the Pacific. In fact, that battle was so decisive a victory for the United States that Tojo; and his entire cabinet; resigned the following day.
Against this backdrop, author James Campbell has juxtaposed the disaster which occurred at Port Chicago, located just 25 miles from San Francisco, as an example of how we were fighting not only Germany and Japan in this war; we were also fighting ourselves here at home. That disaster; on the same day as the Marines were taking Saipan; was the direct result of an Armed Forces which was still racially segregated even as we fought for freedom abroad. And, since the crews loading the ammunition ships were all African-American, someone was going to pay for the accident, even as the events in Hawaii just 8 weeks earlier were being hushed up.

The result of the Port Chicago disaster was the largest mutiny trial in the history of the Armed Forces, as the African-American sailors refused; rightfully so; to resume their work. As would be shown at their trial, these men had been working without any of the specified safety measures outlined in any of the manuals concerning the loading of explosives. Inert explosives are dangerous enough to handle; as are fuses; which are never to be stored in the same space as the explosives. That is, unless you were working at Port Chicago, where the rules simply didn’t apply.

The author follows the lives of several of the men charged with Mutiny; a crime punishable by death; from the days prior to their enlistments, and on through the events at Port Chicago. His coverage of the Court Martial; at which future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall would act as their Chief Counsel, having been supplied by the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund; is one of the most fascinating portions of the book. Charged with Mutiny and facing the Death Penalty, these 50 men, along with their Defense Team, would break new ground in the courtroom, and that victory would ultimately be a part of a greater one, when President Truman finally desegregated the military in 1947. That decision caused a rift in the Democratic Party which would never heal, and those repercussions still affect us today. The story of the Court of Inquiry is equally as fascinating, as its conclusions should have exonerated the men altogether.
All of this is played out against the Battle of Saipan, being fought by primarily white troops, who were winning the war by using the very supplies which were shipped to them via the men loading them at Port Chicago. The vast difference in their experiences, while ostensibly fighting for the same cause, makes for a remarkable contrast.

Backed up by 100 pages of notes arranged chapter by chapter; along with an extensive 20 page bibliography; the author has blown life into every page of this book. It will stand as a true and accurate account of not only the Port Chicago Incident, but also as a reminder of a time when fighting for freedom didn’t always guarantee freedom here at home. And, if the only thing new is the history you don’t know, then this book may also stand as a warning about repeating some of the mistakes of our past.

This Just In - Kings Highway and Hurricane Sandy

This is my old neighborhood in Brooklyn , New York yesterday, before the full force of Hurricane Sandy arrived. Through the magic of you tube I am able to go back and walk the streets, getting a bit of a feel for what is going on there. I'm hoping power stays on for everyone, but pulling especially hard for zip code 11229 where this video was shot. Located less than 1 mile from Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach, the area was on the lip of the mandatory evacuation zones. I hope everyone there is safe, dry and warm.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Recording "Summertime" - Janis Joplin (1968)

The creative process behind the music we listen to has always fascinated me. The interaction between the musical artists; who can hear in their heads the sound they are attempting to create; and the producers/engineers, who are attempting to understand the artists  creative concepts can sometimes be fraught with peril. Witness Phil Spector’s famous shooting of a pistol while working; for the last time; with John Lennon, over some difference of opinion in the studio.

So, I was delighted to run across a piece of video, on You Tube of course, of Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, recording “Summertime” for their upcoming album “Cheap Thrills”, which would be released in the late summer of 1968. This video was shot at CBS Recording Studios in New York City.         
The video; which was too large for the video player here, according to blogspot; runs a little over 10 minutes. In the video, Janis is clearly in control, while at the same time displaying a unique quality to compromise with both the band and the engineer/producer John Simon. The band felt that he did not understand their psychedelic sound. Manager Albert Grossman was in agreement with Mr. Simon, and pressured the band to change some of their arrangements on several songs. Their reaction to this is evident in the video, as they attempt to talk music with a technician and businessman.

As the video begins, the band is rehearsing, sounding like the best garage band on earth, as Janis enters the studio dancing. This would be their first album for Columbia, and the band is clearly excited. The album would not be released until late that summer/ early fall, and so the band worked on the record on their off days.  The “Lenny” who Janis refers to in her story about the “bust” in Vancouver is Henry McCullough, who would later play with “Wings” and Paul McCartney. Janis is clearly pissed about the whole incident, particularly the way in which “Lenny” was being used by his record company, as well as his band mates and manager. But, she is able to put all that aside in an instant to begin recording her iconic rendition of “Summertime” from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”.
The band is summoned into the control room to listen to the playback, and a very technical discussion begins between the band members and Mr. Simon, who is clearly not in touch with the vision the group has for the song. This is one of the most interesting parts of the video, as the band shifts, seamlessly, between the music and some gossip about a party the night before. It seems that James Gurley, the group’s guitarist, had put on quite a load the night before, and his band mates just can’t resist ribbing him about it.

The cover for the album was supposed to be a black and white photo of Janis, alone. This was the suggestion of Mr. Grossman. His working motto was always to conquer and divide the artists with whom he worked. But, Janis would have none of it, opting instead for the brilliant cover art of cartoonist Robert Crumb, who was a staple of the psychedelic scene in San Francisco, where the band was based. He had already done several posters advertising gigs for most of the bands in San Francisco at the time, including Big Brother’s shows at the Avalon Ballroom.
The album, which was to be recorded live; and actually states that on the inside cover; contained only 1 song, which was recorded at Winterland in San Francisco; “Ball and Chain”. And, even that version was altered, with James Gurley overdubbing a new intro.

Originally named “Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills”, Columbia nixed the title, allowing the band to retain only the “Cheap Thrills” portion. It went on to 8 weeks at number one, though not in succession. The biggest hit on the album was “Piece of My Heart”, which went on to become a classic of the era. It’s still played daily on most “classic rock” stations. By October 15th the album had already surpassed $1 million dollars in sales. Shortly after that, the album sold over 1 million “units”, or copies.
I still have my original vinyl copy of the album. The cover is in excellent condition, and I have been thinking of framing it as a way to capture a bit of the past. Here is the link to the You Tube video which prompted me to write this short article;

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Andy Discovers America" - The Andy Griffith Show (1963)

I am an unabashed fan of the Andy Griffith Show. The earlier shows, from the first 3 seasons, contain all that you need to know about living in harmony with your fellow man. Although not overtly religious, these shows are like sermons, espousing a hard work ethic along with self-reliance and responsibility. Andy Taylor, the Sheriff of Mayberry, does all he can to instill these values into his son, Opie, who grew up to be the great film director Ron Howard. But sometimes even Andy speaks out of turn, and without thinking, winds up with his foot in his mouth, just like a politician.

In this episode from the 3rd season, Opie is having a problem with his new teacher, Ms. Crump, and her lessons in history. When Sheriff Taylor agrees with him that history is unimportant, he unknowingly sets off a rebellion in Ms. Crump’s classroom, as the boys refuse to do their history homework. When Ms. Crump confronts Sheriff Taylor, he is at once speechless, and slightly smitten with her. Now, all he has to do is undo the damage he has done, while still saving face with his son and the other boys. And let’s not forget his need to repair his reputation with Opie’s teacher, Ms. Crump.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Blow me Down" with Popeye the Sailor (1933)

This old Popeye cartoon was released 79 years ago today in 1933. It is one of the earlier Popeye cartoons, in black and white, with the animation done by Max and Dave Fleischer associates Willard Bowsky and William Sturm.

The plot is fairly simple. When Popeye arrives at a town on the coast of Mexico he wants nothing more than to see his beloved Olive Oyl, who is working at a bar. When Popeye arrives, with a flower for Olive, he is quickly drawn into a game of one-upmanship with local bandit Bluto. Things escalate to the point where Bluto calls in all of the towns’ thieves and roughnecks to finish Popeye off while he goes upstairs to “visit” with Olive.

But Popeye, after finishing off a can of spinach and soundly trouncing his foes, is quick to come to her rescue; just as he would continue to do for so many years after. True love never dies.

Friday, October 26, 2012

"Bummy" Davis - Brooklyn Legend

I first heard of this Brooklyn born Jewish boxer recently from fellow blogger Glen Slater on his blogsite Foot in the Bucket. Apparently there is a book about “Bummy” Davis; who happens to be related to Mr. Slater; titled “Bummy Davis vs. Murder, Inc.” by Ron Ross. It’s a novel based on the true life experiences of the boxer, who was killed in a barroom fight at age 25. Since the real story is always what intrigues me the most, I decided to go to Wikipedia and see what I could learn about him.

Born Al Davis, in Brownsville in 1920, “Bummy” was raised by his mother and father, who owned a candy store in the neighborhood, which was then one of the toughest sections of Brooklyn. According Wikipedia he was employed by his father as a lookout, hiding the fact that his father sold bootleg whiskey during the days of prohibition. This was “Bummy’s” introduction to the world which lay beyond his own doorstep, and ultimately into contact with the life which would someday claim his own at the age of 25.

Brownsville was known as the home turf of Murder, Inc., and Al’s two older brothers worked as collectors for them. Al, himself, was not part of that lifestyle, and is credited with having once stood up to Abe Reles, the man who would someday become famous for either falling; or being thrown from; the window of the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island, where he was sequestered as a witness against Murder, Inc. It is widely believed that he was thrown from the hotel’s 4th floor by the police assigned to protect him.
He was raised in a typical Jewish home of the time, with his mother referring to him as "Vroomeleh," which is a play on his middle name;  Avrum;  or Abraham. He was often called “Vroomy” for short among his family and friends. The nickname “Bummy” was suggested by his manager when Al was a teenager. It too, is an Americanization of “Vroomy”. For obvious reasons, young Al was not altogether happy with his new moniker, but for the sake of drawing larger crowds to his fights, he accepted it.

“Bummy’s” big break came in 1939 when he defeated former lightweight champion Tony Canzoneri in 3 rounds. He was finally on his way to the big time. By the close of 1939 he would go on to defeat Tippy Larkin, dispatching him with a mighty left hook in the fifth round. That left hook was his trademark, and enabled him to amass the impressive record of 66 wins and 47 knockouts, with only 10 losses and 4 draws. He is still considered one of the greatest punchers of all time for his weight and class.
His career was marred by his utter distaste for the corruption that went along with the sport of boxing, as well as his own quick temper. His penchant for anger caused him to lose a bout with Lightweight Champion Lou Ambers in 1940. Also that year, he fought Fritzie Zivic, who knocked “Bummy” down in the first round, and continued to harass him in the 2nd round, gouging his eye with a thumb. “Bummy” went slightly ballistic in response, peppering his opponent with no fewer than 10 “foul” blows, causing him to be disqualified in New York for life.

By July of 1941, “Bummy” had been re-instated by the Boxing Commission and fought a rematch with Zivic, who scored a TKO against him in the 10th round. For the next 4 years “Bummy” continued to fight in the ring, with his last major victory being won in February of 1944 when he defeated Hall of Famer Bob Montgomery, whom he knocked out in the 1st round. After that it was kind of downhill for him, and he lost to former Champ Beau Jack in March, and went on to be defeated by another former title holder, Henry Armstrong, in June of that same year. His short, but storied, career seemed to be coming to a close when he lost to future Champ Rocky Graziano in May 1945, when Graziano scored a TKO in the 4th round.

In November of that same year, "Bummy" was enjoying an evening in Dudy's, a local bar which he had bought a few years earlier and just sold. Four armed men entered the bar, intent on robbing it. "Bummy" attacked them, knocking one out and taking 3 bullets for his trouble. While bleeding from his wounds he chased the other 3 men, who shot him a fourth, and fatal, time.  This episode landed him on the front page of the New York Times. The date was November 22nd, 1945, and "Bummy" Davis was only 25 years old.

For a great article about "Bummy" Davis, here is a link; provided by Mr. Slater; to a Sports Illustrated article about Mr. Davis. The article is dated October 22, 1962, which is 50 years ago last Monday.

And for more from Glen Slater at Foot in the Bucket, here is his link;      

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Land of Islam" - Morris J. Kandel (1934)

Browsing the internet can be like taking a tour around the world. I can sit here and visit places I have never seen, or re-visit the places I have. And; as an added bonus attraction; I can go back in time to places; both seen and unseen; which, for various reasons, intrigue me. This travelogue from 1934 is like that. It reminds me of my own visit there in the 1970’s, as well as capturing the flavor of the film “Casablanca”, one of my all-time favorite.
As the announcer takes us on a tour of the city, it is interesting to note the many similarities still in evidence in the 21st century world in which we live today. Everywhere on the planet, people still struggle to eat, or seek medical care and a place to live. In many parts of the world, little has changed since this film was made almost 70 years ago. That realization can be an epiphany in itself.

These videos are valuable tools in helping to understand the world around us. Looking at them we can see the similarities of the things we share; as well as the differences which divide us.

Surprisingly; when you break it all down; there are more basic similarities than there are superficial differences. And, in the end, this will be the thing which will unite us all. Apparently there are quite a number of these films available on You Tube. There are brief descriptions of the films at the bottom of all the postings, including how to get in touch with the owners for licensing of the film for commercial use. That link is;

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"The Fish That Ate the Whale" by Rich Cohen (2012)

I had never heard of Samuel Zemurray until I picked up this book. As usual, I chose the book by its cover; which is something I was told never to do, and have done since. I’m glad I did. Samuel Zemurray was arguably the banana “King”. From his first encounter with the fruit sometime around 1893 in Selma, Alabama. He was smitten with everything about the fruit; from its shape, color and size; to what was it worth? Samuel, like most immigrants from Eastern Europe at the time, looked at everything in a different light than others. This was, after all, the land of opportunity, and who knew what that first banana held in store for him? As it turned out, it was quite a lot.

Sam Zemurray is the man who popularized the banana, taking it from the small marketplaces of the southern ports of America, all the way into every grocery store in the nation. By the time Mr. Zemurray was through, bananas were celebrated in song, and had become a staple of American cuisine. In this unusual biography of both the man and the banana, author Rich Cohen has given us both an education in the history of the banana in America, as well as a chronicle of the United Fruit Company. This is a story of American capitalism; in a business started by an immigrant; and the effects his success had on those less fortunate than he in the countries from which he derived his that good fortune. In a way, it is the tale of “Raggedy Dick the Shoeshine Boy”; while in another sense it recalls “The Grapes of Wrath.”
From his most humble beginning as a fruit peddler, with one cart of bananas, Mr. Zemurray rose to become a tycoon. Along the way he wrestled with Unions, politicians, foreign governments, and even the CIA, as he built an empire which proved capable of starting wars and influencing politics.

Just as my great grandfather Max Henkin, who hailed from Russia; and is shown here next to a palm tree; Zemurray was fascinated with this healthy and exotic fruit. In his own turn, the author does everything within his power to convey this fascination to the reader.
Tracing Mr. Zemurray’s history and rise to fortune , the author has taken a life which reads like a fairy tale, and strips away a bit of the veneer, getting at the heart of what drove this man who became the “Banana King”. He also manages to let us understand how he stayed at the top of his industry for 40 years.

Also of interest is the bit of education about the industry which the author manages to squeeze into the narrative. He ably explains the difference between a “stem”, which holds one hundred “bunches” of 9 “hands”; which in turn comprise 15 “fingers”, or bananas each.  This called forth the image of stevedores in tropical ports unloading the bananas by hand; shouldering several hundred pounds at a time; with the danger of scorpions and spiders lurking within each bunch unloaded.

This book covers everything from bananas to foreign coups in “banana republics, as well as corporate and labor disputes. This is a real life tale worthy of a good screenplay; and your time will not be misspent in reading Rich Cohen’s entertaining; and educational; biography of a highly unusual individual.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Secret Ballot - 101

For those who haven’t heard, we here in the United States, have the right to vote a secret ballot. Simply put; that means that no-one can compel you to tell them for whom you have cast your vote. This is a good thing. It safeguards our Democratic Republic in a very basic way. It prevents “gridlock” amongst the populace, and thus prevents “we the people” from coming to loggerheads with one another, thereby giving all power to the elected officials who will them only represent about half of the nation’s views, and needs. This is a bad thing.

But, lately, we have all seem to forgotten that. Each election cycle reveals a further split; right down the middle; of our national spirit. The repercussions of this are that there is a lack of civil discourse in the land. There is a stagnation of solutions to the many problems which we all face, while there is a proliferation of propaganda from both sides, in a further effort to divide us; to conquer us; to keep us powerless to effect any change. And, with the aid of the 24/7 news cycle; as well as the blogosphere; they seem to be doing a damn good job of it, too.
There’s a lot at stake in the coming election. Let’s all take a step back and breathe a bit before pulling that lever, punching the card, or marking your ballot. But, most importantly; let this election be a lesson to us in what not to expect of our elected officials. We do not expect to spend the majority of the next 4 years with a partisan, obstructionist Congress, or Senate.

As usual, I urge you all to wait until after the election and then phone, e-mail, or fax your concerns for America to your Congressional Representative, as well as your Senators. Let them know that you hold them responsible for both the successes; and failures; of the 4 years.
Remember, when you pull that lever on Election Day, you are hiring; or retaining; an employee. That employee has benefits which the average American only dreams of these days. Health Care, paid for by you; a very generous Retirement system, paid for by you; and all the tax loopholes necessary to wash clean the honorariums which they receive in addition to the salary of about $180,000; plus expenses; all at a time when you yourself may be struggling to find employment, or keep your home.

So, instead of screaming at one another, let’s be quiet for the next 2 weeks and ponder one of the most important decisions which we, the people, will probably ever be called upon to make in our lifetimes. And when all is said and done; regardless of who wins the election; we, the people are all we really have to count upon. Let’s never allow ourselves to forget that.
Here is a link to contact all of your Senators and Congressional Representatives;

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis - Uncut (1962)

Today marks 50 years since President John Kennedy spoke to the nation in connection with what would become known as the "Cuban Missile Crisis". Over the years the speech has been whittled down to about 3 minutes in which the President addresses the main point of our Quarantine of Cuba until the Soviets agreed to the removal of those missles. I have decided to post both the complete video of the speech; which runs a bit over 18 minutes; along with the text of the speech. At the end of that I have also posted the actual text of the Proclamation which authorized the blockade under the tenet of the Monroe Doctrine.

Good evening my fellow Citizens,

This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.

Upon receiving the first preliminary hard information of this nature last Tuesday morning at 9A.M., I directed that our surveillance be stepped up. And having now confirmed and completed our evaluation of the evidence and our decision on a course of action, this Government feels obliged to report this new crisis to you in fullest detail.

The characteristics of these new missile sites indicate two distinct types of installations. Several of them include medium range ballistic missiles, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead for a distance of more than 1,000 nautical miles. Each of these missiles, in short, is capable of striking Washington, D. C., the Panama Canal, Cape Canaveral, Mexico City, or any other city in the southeastern part of the United States, in Central America, or in the Caribbean area.

Additional sites not yet completed appear to be designed for intermediate range ballistic missiles—capable of traveling more than twice as far—and thus capable of striking most of the major cities in the Western Hemisphere, ranging as far north as Hudson Bay, Canada, and as far south as Lima, Peru. In addition, jet bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, are now being uncrated and assembled in Cuba, while the necessary air bases are being prepared.

This urgent transformation of Cuba into an important strategic base—by the presence of these large, long-range, and clearly offensive weapons of sudden mass destruction--constitutes an explicit threat to the peace and security of all the Americas, in flagrant and deliberate defiance of the Rio Pact of 1947, the traditions of this Nation and hemisphere, the joint resolution of the 87th Congress, the Charter of the United Nations, and my own public warnings to the Soviets on September 4 and 13. This action also contradicts the repeated assurances of Soviet spokesmen, both publicly and privately delivered, that the arms buildup in Cuba would retain its original defensive character, and that the Soviet Union had no need or desire to station strategic missiles. on the territory of any other nation.

The size of this undertaking makes clear that it has been planned for some months. Yet only last month, after I had made clear the distinction between any introduction of ground-to-ground missiles and the existence of defensive antiaircraft missiles, the Soviet Government publicly stated on September 11 that, and I quote, "the armaments and military equipment sent to Cuba are designed exclusively for defensive purposes," that, and I quote the Soviet Government, "there is no need for the Soviet Government to shift its weapons . . for a retaliatory blow to any other country, for instance Cuba," and that, and I quote their government, "the Soviet Union has so powerful rockets to carry these nuclear warheads that there is no need to search for sites for them beyond the boundaries of the Soviet Union." That statement was false.

Only last Thursday, as evidence of this rapid offensive buildup was already in my hand, Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko told me in my office that he was instructed to make it clear once again, as he said his government had already done, that Soviet assistance to Cuba, and I quote, "pursued solely the purpose of contributing to the defense capabilities of Cuba," that, and I quote him, "training by Soviet specialists of Cuban nationals in handling defensive armaments was by no means offensive, and if it were otherwise," Mr. Gromyko went on, "the Soviet Government would never become involved in rendering such assistance." That statement also was false.

Neither the United States of America nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security to constitute maximum peril. Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift, that any substantially increased possibility of their use or any sudden change in their deployment may well be regarded as a definite threat to peace.

For many years, both the Soviet Union and the United States, recognizing this fact, have deployed strategic nuclear weapons with great care, never upsetting the precarious status quo which insured that these weapons would not be used in the absence of some vital challenge. Our own strategic missiles have never been transferred to the territory of any other nation under a cloak of secrecy and deception; and our history—unlike that of the Soviets since the end of World War II-- demonstrates that we have no desire to dominate or conquer any other nation or impose our system upon its people. Nevertheless, American citizens have become adjusted to living daily on the bull's-eye of Soviet missiles located inside the U.S.S.R. or in submarines.

In that sense, missiles in Cuba add to an already clear and present danger—although it should be noted the nations of Latin America have never previously been subjected to a potential nuclear threat.

But this secret, swift, and extraordinary buildup of Communist missiles—in an area well known to have a special and historical relationship to the United States and the nations of the Western Hemisphere, in violation of Soviet assurances, and in defiance of American and hemispheric policy—this sudden, clandestine decision to station strategic weapons for the first time outside of Soviet soil—is a deliberately provocative and unjustified change in the status quo which cannot be accepted by this country, if our courage and our commitments are ever to be trusted again by either friend or foe.

The 1930's taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked, ultimately leads to war. This nation is opposed to war. We are also true to our word. Our unswerving objective, therefore, must be to prevent the use of these missiles against this or any other country, and to secure their withdrawal or elimination from the Western Hemisphere.

Our policy has been one of patience and restraint, as befits a peaceful and powerful nation, which leads a worldwide alliance. We have been determined not to be diverted from our central concerns by mere irritants and fanatics. But now further action is required-and it is under way; and these actions may only be the beginning. We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth-but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced.

Acting, therefore, in the defense of our own security and of the entire Western Hemisphere, and under the authority entrusted to me by the Constitution as endorsed by the Resolution of the Congress, I have directed that the following initial steps be taken immediately:

First: To halt this offensive buildup, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for Cuba from whatever nation or port will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back. This quarantine will be extended, if needed, to other types of cargo and carriers. We are not at this time, however, denying the necessities of life as the Soviets attempted to do in their Berlin blockade of 1948.

Second: I have directed the continued and increased close surveillance of Cuba and its military buildup. The foreign ministers of the OAS, In their communiqué' of October 6, rejected secrecy on such matters in this hemisphere. Should these offensive military preparations continue, thus increasing the threat to the hemisphere, further action will be justified. I have directed the Armed Forces to prepare for any eventualities; and I trust that in the interest of both the Cuban people and the Soviet technicians at the sites, the hazards to all concerned of continuing this threat will be recognized.

Third: It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.

Fourth: As a necessary military precaution, I have reinforced our base at Guantanamo, evacuated today the dependents of our personnel there, and ordered additional military units to be on a standby alert basis.

Fifth: We are calling tonight for an immediate meeting of the Organ of Consultation under the Organization of American States, to consider this threat to hemispheric security and to invoke articles 6 and 8 of the Rio Treaty in support of all necessary action. The United Nations Charter allows for regional security arrangements-and the nations of this hemisphere decided long ago against the military presence of outside powers. Our other allies around the world have also been alerted.

Sixth: Under the Charter of the United Nations, we are asking tonight that an emergency meeting of the Security Council be convoked without delay to take action against this latest Soviet threat to world peace. Our resolution will call for the prompt dismantling and withdrawal of all offensive weapons in Cuba, under the supervision of U.N. observers, before the quarantine can be lifted.

Seventh and finally: I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our two nations. I call upon him further to abandon this course of world domination, and to join in an historic effort to end the perilous arms race and to transform the history of man. He has an opportunity now to move the world back from the abyss of destruction-by returning to his government's own words that it had no need to station missiles outside its own territory, and withdrawing these weapons from Cuba-by refraining from any action which will widen or deepen the present crisis-and then by participating in a search for peaceful and permanent solutions.

This Nation is prepared to present its case against the Soviet threat to peace, and our own proposals for a peaceful world, at any time and in any forum-in the OAS, in the United Nations, or in any other meeting that could be useful-without limiting our freedom of action. We have in the past made strenuous efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. We have proposed the elimination of all arms and military bases in a fair and effective disarmament treaty. We are prepared to discuss new proposals for the removal of tensions on both sides—including the possibilities of a genuinely independent Cuba, free to determine its own destiny. We have no wish to war with the Soviet Union—for we are a peaceful people who desire to live in peace with all other peoples.

But it is difficult to settle or even discuss these problems in an atmosphere of intimidation. That is why this latest Soviet threat—or any other threat which is made either independently or in response to our actions this week—must and will be met with determination. Any hostile move anywhere in the world against the safety and freedom of peoples to whom we are committed—including in particular the brave people of West Berlin—will be met by whatever action is needed.

Finally, I want to say a few words to the captive people of Cuba, to whom this speech is being directly carried by special radio facilities. I speak to you as a friend, as one who knows of your deep attachment to your fatherland, as one who shares your aspirations for liberty and justice for all. And I have watched and the American people have watched with deep sorrow how your nationalist revolution was betrayed-and how your fatherland fell under foreign domination. Now your leaders are no longer Cuban leaders inspired by Cuban ideals. They are puppets and agents of an international conspiracy which has turned Cuba against your friends and neighbors in the Americas-and turned it into the first Latin American country to become a target for nuclear war—the first Latin American country to have these weapons on its soil.

These new weapons are not in your interest. They contribute nothing to your peace and well-being. They can only undermine it. But this country has no wish to cause you to suffer or to impose any system upon you. We know that your lives and land are being used as pawns by those who deny your freedom. Many times in the past, the Cuban people have risen to throw out tyrants who destroyed their liberty. And I have no doubt that most Cubans today look forward to the time when they will be truly free-free from foreign domination, free to choose their own leaders, free to select their own system, free to own their own land, free to speak and write and worship without fear or degradation. And then shall Cuba be welcomed back to the society of free nations and to the associations of this hemisphere.

My fellow citizens: let no one doubt that this is a difficult and dangerous effort on which we have set out. No one can foresee precisely what course it will take or what costs or casualties will be incurred. Many months of sacrifice and self-discipline lie ahead—months in which both our patience and our will will be tested—months in which many threats and denunciations will keep us aware of our dangers. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.

The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are—but it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world. The cost of freedom is always high-but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.

Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right-not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.

Thank you and good night.



WHEREAS the peace of the world and the security of the United States and of all American states are endangered by reason of the establishment by the Sino-Soviet powers of an offensive military capability in Cuba, including bases for ballistic missiles with a potential range covering most of North and South America;

WHEREAS by a joint resolution passed by the Congress of the United States and approved on October 3, 1962, it was declared that the United States is determined to prevent by whatever means may be necessary, including the use of arms, the Marxist-Leninist regime in Cuba from expanding, by force or the threat of force, its aggressive or subversive activities to any part of this hemisphere, and to prevent in Cuba the creation or use of an externally supported military capability endangering the security of the United States; and

WHEREAS the Organ of Consultation of the American Republics meeting in Washington on October 23, 1962, recommended that the member states, in accordance with Articles 6 and 8 of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, take all measures, individually and collectively, including the use of armed force, which they may deem necessary to insure that the Government of Cuba cannot continue to receive from the Sino-Soviet powers military material and related supplies which may threaten the peace and security of the continent and to prevent the missiles in Cuba with offensive capability from ever becoming an active threat to the peace and security of the continents:

Now, THEREFORE, I, John F. Kennedy, President of the United States of America, acting under and by virtue of the authority conferred upon me by the Constitution and statutes of the United States, in accordance with the aforementioned resolutions of the United States Congress and of the Organ of Consultation of the American Republics, and to defend the security of the United States, do hereby proclaim that the forces under my command are ordered, beginning at 2:00 P.M. Greenwich time October 24, 1962, to interdict, subject to the instructions herein contained, the delivery of offensive weapons and associated material to Cuba.

For the purposes of this proclamation, the following are declared to be prohibited material:

Surface-to-surface missiles; bomber aircraft; bombs; air-to-surface rockets and guided missiles; warheads for any of the above weapons; mechanical or electronic equipment to support or operate the above items; and any other classes of material hereafter designated by the Secretary of Defense for the purpose of effectuating this proclamation.

To enforce this order, the Secretary of Defense shall take appropriate measures to prevent the delivery of prohibited material to Cuba, employing the land, sea and air forces of the United States in cooperation with any forces that may be made available by other American states.

The Secretary of Defense may make such regulations and issue such directives as he deems necessary to ensure the effectiveness of this order, including the designation, within a reasonable distance of Cuba, of prohibited or restricted zones and of prescribed routes.

Any vessel or craft which may be proceeding toward Cuba may be intercepted and may be directed to identify itself, its cargo, equipment, and stores and its ports of call, to stop, to lie to, to submit to visit and search, or to proceed as directed. Any vessel or craft which fails or refuses to respond to or comply with directions shall be subjected to being taken into custody. Any vessel or craft which is believed en route to Cuba and may be carrying prohibited material or may itself constitute such material shall, wherever possible, be directed to proceed to another destination of its own choice and shall be taken Into custody if it fails or refuses to obey such directions. All vessels or craft taken into custody shall be sent into a port of the United States for appropriate disposition.

In carrying out this order, force shall not be used except in case of failure or refusal to comply with directions, or with regulations or directives of the Secretary of Defense issued hereunder, after reasonable efforts have been made to communicate them to the vessel or craft, or in case of self-defense. k any case, force shall be used only to the extent necessary.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

Done in the city of Washington this 23d day of October in the year of Our Lord, 1962, and of the independence of the United States of America the 187th


By the President:

Dean Rusk, Secretary of State

Sunday, October 21, 2012

"The Ox Bow Incident" with Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan (1942)

Henry Fonda has starred in some of the most controversial films in the history of Hollywood. His stellar performance in “The Grapes of Wrath”; in which he plays a migrant worker; is indicative of the many roles he would play in the future. In “The Wrong Man” he plays an ordinary working stiff who is falsely accused of a crime he did not commit. Even in the midst of the McCarthy Era witch hunts he defied the system, making “12 Angry Men” at a time when questioning anything was suspect. So, it is no surprise that he would be the star of William Wellman’s screen adaptation of “The Ox Bow Incident”, which deals with vigilante justice.

What makes this film so daring is that it was filmed and released just after the United States entered the Second World War, and Japanese-Americans were being interred in detention camps, even as their sons were fighting in our armed forces for freedom.

When Gil Carter, played by Henry Fonda, rides into a town plagued by cattle rustling, he and his sidekick Art Croft, played by Harry (Henry) Morgan, become caught up in a lynching of 3 rustlers suspected of murder the town’s most popular resident. The Sheriff is out of town and the Judge is too timid to control the mob. Only Gil and Art, along with the son of the local Militia’s Major, and an old Negro man, are willing to question the execution without trial. The evidence is circumstantial at best, but the dead man must be avenged at all costs.

A posse is formed and the 3 men are captured and hung. As the men proudly head back to town the Sheriff arrives at the scene, informing them that he has captured the real killer. When he hears what the men have done in his absence he is disgusted and heads back to town, vowing that each and every man involved in the unlawful mob action will be prosecuted. The men head back to town and contemplate what they have done while awaiting their own trials for murder. Gil and Art ride out of town, left to wonder about the human condition, and what drives men to do what they do.
This was only one of many daring scripts which Mr. Fonda was willing to tackle during trying times. It is also what sets him apart from so many other actors in his ability to truly portray the common man, and all of the problems encountered when you are willing to stand up for what you believe to be right.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Cartoons Ain't Human" with Popeye the Sailor (1943)

In this 1943 release Popeye tries his hand at drawing a cartoon for his nephews. But, first he needs an idea. Quickly looking about him he comes up with a few, only to have one of his better ideas “censored” by a human hand. This cartoon was made during the war, and there are a few references in it that may puzzle the viewer who is not acquainted with the history of World War Two on the home front here in the United States.
All in all, we had it pretty good; at least that’s what I have been told. I was born in 1954, when the war had been over for several years. Aside from the “censored” part in this cartoon, there are references to “rationing”, such as when Popeye pulls out his trusty can of spinach; the label on it reads “Spinach – 17 points”.

Another unusual approach to this cartoon; which was not produced or directed by Max or Dave Fleischer; is that Popeye draws himself, and the other cast members of his cartoon, as stick figures. (Not much imagination required for that when looking at Olive Oyl.)

While showing the cartoon to his nephews, Popeye acts as a one man band, playing everything imaginable, creating a soundtrack as wild as the cartoon he has drawn. In it, he plays himself, working for Newt’s Zoot Suits, carrying a sandwich board style sign to advertise Newt’s Suits.  Meantime, back at home, Olive is being accosted by the evil landlord, complete with mustache, who wants the rent, or Olive. When Olive literally calls Popeye for help, the usual high jinx occur. The only difference is that this time it’s just a cartoon inside a cartoon; so you don’t have to worry about how it all works out.
Directed by Seymour Kneitel, and animated by Orestes Calpini and Otto Feuer, this may be one of the most unusual Popeye cartoons ever.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Surrender at Yorktown - 1781

Unlike Vietnam; where we won just about every battle, but lost the war; the American Revolution was the complete opposite. We managed to lose almost every battle, and still win the War for Independence. There is a lesson in that. When people fight; on their own soil; for their own freedom; it is virtually impossible to beat them.

John Trumbull’s painting “Surrender at Yorktown” epitomizes the strength inherent in a just cause. Had the Americans lost the war, England would have faced a hostile colony for centuries; much in the same way that Indo-China was a “thorn in the side” to the Koreans, French and eventually the Americans who tried to rule it. But that’s another discussion.
The subject of this post is the surrender of the British at Yorktown in 1781. In spite of a lack of adequate provisions, George Washington was able to lead the Continental Army to a decisive victory over the British forces for the simple reason that they were fighting on “home turf”, for their families as well as their own futures.

In September, Lord Cornwallis had been reinforced with about 7,000 new troops in a last ditch effort to stamp out the revolutionaries. He took these troops to Yorktown, where he established a fort, hoping for relief from the British Navy, which never arrived.  Washington deployed more troops and artillery, with the result that by October; with the help of the French fleet, under the command of Admiral Compte de Grasse; Cornwallis found himself caught between the land forces of the Continental Army, and the French Navy; which had come to our aid through the efforts of Benjamin Franklin in Paris. Those vessels repelled the British fleet, keeping them from rescuing Lord Cornwallis and his men. With all hope of escape gone, he had no choice but to surrender.
The British, and the Germans fighting with them, were eventually forced from their fort under threat of further bombardment, and instructed to bring their colors with them. The British military band played "The World Turned Upside Down"; a popular song of the era; as a way of displaying their disbelief in their loss to the colonies. Cornwallis elected to remain indoors, rather than face his adversary in defeat. Even his second in command, General O’Hara, tried to surrender to the French rather than to the Americans, but he was rebuffed in this effort, leaving him no choice but to surrender to the Continental Army, thus recognizing the new nation it represented. This was the reason which compelled General Washington in his decision to have General O’Hara surrender his sword to General Lincoln instead of himself. He was merely returning the snub by Cornwallis.

So, the painting of the surrender is not exactly what many Americans think of it as being. That is not General Washington mounted on his horse accepting the sword of surrender. It is, rather, General Benjamin Lincoln who is extending his right hand toward that sword, which is not carried by Lord Cornwallis, but is borne by General O’Hara instead.
Depicted in Trumball’s painting, the British troops are in a line which extends into the background. The troops on the left are the French officers, mustered under the banner of the Bourbon family. To the right are the American officers with the flag of their new republic. In that group are the Marquis de Lafayette and Colonel Jonathan Trumbull, who is the brother of the artist who captured it all on canvas. General Washington is in the background, astride a brown horse, keeping an ever watchful eye on the events, just as he had guided the colonies to victory over the course of the war.

But, in spite of these proceedings, the war did not come to a formal end until sometime later, when the British and Americans signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The painting itself was not completed until 1820 and hangs in the Rotunda of the capitol in Washington, D.C. today.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Catch .44" with Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker (2011)

In this multi-layered thriller by writer/director Aaron Harvey, he heas taken the best parts of “Pulp Fiction”; with its plot twists and shifts in sequence; and blended it with a bit of Guy Ritches’ “Snatch”; and the result is a wild, enjoyable adventure.

Bruce Willis plays “Mel”, who is a crime boss; while Forest Whitaker plays a hit man in his employ, who is masquerading as a police officer named Ronny. The 3 women; Tes, played by  Malin Akerman, and her two cohorts Kara , played by Nikki Reed, and Dawn  played by Deborah Ann Woll, are also involved someway with Mel; just as Forest Whitaker is. The connection is vague; but clearly there. When Mel has the women go on an “assignment” 40 miles out of New Orleans to intercept a drug shipment and the money, something is clearly not adding up. Is it retribution for something they did wrong? Or, is it just an easy score to help them get back in the swing of things?
The film is dealt out in sequences, which all return to the fateful moment at the beginning of the film, keeping you guessing at what the real story is. Violence and “adult” language are dealt out appropriately; though gratuitously; in this film. This movie does not come near the level of violence of Quentin Tarentino’s “Kill Bill” series, which were way beyond belief to me. It also rises to the level of the Guy Ritchie film in that it challenges the viewer to think outside of the box in order to understand the plot. This is not an Agatha Christie “whodunit” by any means.

Bit by bit it becomes apparent that things have been pre-ordained. But for what purpose? And by whom? Can anyone trust the affable Ronny, or is he just another “shil” for the mysterious Mel? And why is Tes the only one spared from the initial carnage? Does Mel have special plans for her?
A fantastic musical score rounds out this colorful and exciting send up of today’s action films a la “Pulp Fiction”, while doing nothing to detract from that movie. Rather, this film may be the most coherent of the genre to date.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Missiles In Cuba - 1962

Most historians agree that the Cuban Missile Crisis, which pitted the Soviet Union against the United States during the coldest days of the Cold War, began on October 16th, and lasted 12 days, until the cessation of the American Quarantine of Cuba on October 28th, 1962. While this is true of the time of actual confrontation, Soviet ships had been photographed with missile parts, headed for Cuba, as early as September 25th of that same year. I was just 8 years old, but the events of that period will live with me forever.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was really a test by the Soviets, to ascertain our resolve in keeping West Berlin from falling into their hands, which would have happened had we invaded Cuba; not just for the missiles; even to oust Fidel Castro, as in the failed Bay of Pigs affair in 1961. The Soviet point of view was that if we had our Monroe Doctrine as authority to invade; or even blockade; Cuba, then they had the same authority to act in their own self-interest in their hemisphere. In effect, we were being baited.
The Generals, and the Chiefs of Staff, were all eager to invade. What they didn’t know then, but has been divulged since, is that the Soviets already had tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba. These weapons, which were portable, would have enabled the Cubans to wipe out any full scale invasion by the United States at the time. It was only the resolve of President Kennedy which kept us from providing the air cover that had been promised by his predecessor, and of which the new President had not been informed. Had he given the go-ahead on the Bay of Pigs, the Soviets would have used that as a pretext to invade West Berlin.  The same held true for the Cuban Missile Crisis. Once again, the Joint Chiefs wanted to go in. They either did not understand, or seemingly care about, the results which would have been precipitated by such action.

From the 15th of October until the 28th, the world seemingly stood still, as we all awaited the outcome of the unfolding events. There was no “hot line” or “red phone” between Moscow and Washington yet. That would only come about after the crisis was over, in an attempt to keep this type of thing from ever going so far again.

President Kennedy, along with his brother Robert, took a full week to assess the situation as if it were a chess game. They analyzed each and every move possible, along with the outcomes these moves would provoke. In the end they settled on the Quarantine, announcing it on the evening of October 22nd. From then on the whole world waited; and watched. The photo above is of one of our Neptune aircraft buzzing a Soviet cargo ship en route to Cuba during the Missile Crisis.
In school we had daily “fallout” drills, sitting in the hallways, covering our heads with books. The expected attack never came, and some say that the events of both the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Missile Crisis were factors in the assassination of the president the following year. We will probably never know of there is any truth in that.

Although the compromise reached between the two super powers did end the immediate crisis, it later seemed a bit funny to me that we had accepted a deal in which about 8 non-operational missiles in Cuba were swapped for the withdrawal of the 600 operational Jupiter missiles which we had in Turkey, along the Soviet border. While it is true that those missiles were being replaced with longer range ones based in Western Europe, the swap was so lop-sided that the full details of the deal were withheld from the American people for some time. We were told merely that we had “won”, and that a new phone line was being installed between Moscow and Washington which would allow the leaders of the two countries to have quicker, and more direct, contact with one another.
Next Monday will mark 50 years since the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was going to use a portion of President Kennedy’s speech here today, but I have decided instead to post the entire 18 minute speech on the anniversary of the date on which the President delivered it. I still remember watching it with my parents at home in Brooklyn. It is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood, which is saying a lot, considering that my childhood encompassed several assassinations; including that of President Kennedy himself; and massive civil disobedience over both the War in Vietnam, as well as Civil Rights here at home. It was quite a time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Agatha" with Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman (1978)

The only excuse I can possibly have for having not seen this film before is that I was at sea from 1976 until 1984; consequently, I missed quite a few movies, and this is one of those. The story is set in 1926, the year in which Ms. Christie actually did disappear for a period of 11 days; and her whereabouts never explained. She was married at the time to a Colonel Christie, who was having an affair with his secretary, one Ms. Neele. Two years after the fictitious events in this film, the two divorced, and he married Ms. Neele.

Based solely upon that bit of gossip from the 1920’s, Kathleen Tynan penned this story almost 50 years later, creating a real life Agatha Christie mystery in the process. Assisted in the screenplay by Arthur Hopcraft, the film is tightly woven. The inter play between Ms. Redgrave, as Ms. Christie, and Dustin Hoffman as the sleuthing American journalist Wally Stanton, who uncovers the truth behind her disappearance, is almost palpable in the affection between the two. Although they never get together, the viewer is left wishing they had.

The most important thing to remember when watching this film is that it is fiction, based, though it is, upon a true event. The disappearance of Ms. Christie has never fully been resolved, and the story presented here could actually have been the truth. One never knows. Director Michael Apted does a great job in keeping this film on track, as well as capturing the mixture of fear; and affection; between the two main characters, as Mr. Stanton first attempts to solve the mystery for personal gain, only to abandon those efforts to shield a woman he has come to deeply admire. This film was a very pleasant surprise.

Monday, October 15, 2012

"The Siege of Washington" by John and Charles Lockwood (2011)

The most fascinating thing about this book is the mystery of why the Confederacy did not immediately take possession of Washington, D.C., which would have ended the war; or at least put the South in the driver’s seat concerning a negotiated truce. Indeed, the Southern populace expected no less. They marched off to war, thinking that they would return within months, rather than years. What was the reasoning behind this ill-fated decision on the part of the Confederacy? Why was Washington so lightly defended at a time when it was crawling with rebel sympathizers, and surrounded by the slave holding states; Maryland, to the north; and Virginia, to the south?

In this book by authors John and Charles Lockwood, history comes alive as they explore these crucial questions, as well as the relationship his 2 key aides played during the 12 days between April 15th and April 25th, 1861; a mere 6 weeks after Lincoln had assumed the Presidency in March. These 2 remarkable men; John Nicolay; aged 29, from Springfield, where he had worked as Lincoln’s assistant; and John Hays, aged 22, who was hired as Nicolay’s assistant in Washington; were instrumental throughout Lincoln’s Presidency. But they were never more effective than they were in the crucial first days of the War Between the States, as the new President struggled to come to grips with the enormity of the task before him.

Calling upon General Winfield Scott, the General in Chief of the nation’s Army, plans were immediately put into effect to secure the roads and railways entering the city. Washington was; at that time, and on into my own youth; a decidedly “southern” town. Segregation existed there openly up until the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The threat of hostilities breaking out within the city itself was a real and constant danger that had to be dealt with. To that end, the President called upon 75,000 Union volunteers, each of whom would serve for 3 months. Just as the South expected to crush the North in a short while, the North fully expected the same of themselves.

Also at stake were the territories out west. California talked openly of leaving the Union, and rather than join forces with the far distant Southern states, form a Republic of her own with Oregon and the Pacific Northwest territory which would later become the state of Washington.
Back in New York the same idea was forming. With New York City alone generating 2/3 of the nation’s import taxes on all goods which passed through its port, it was a “no-brainer” to figure out who would be paying the bulk of the cost of a war with the South. Also at stake for the merchants in New York was the 40 cents per dollar which they received from the export of cotton to England. Should the South be successful in establishing her own nation, the middle man in New York would be left with no percentage at all. Added to that was the threat of the “free negro”; 4 million to be exact; who would eventually move to the Northern cities, competing with white immigrant workers for the same jobs. That feeling alone led to the Draft Riots of July 1863, just as the Battle of Gettysburg was raging; causing valuable troops to be diverted to New York to fight in what was almost a “rear guard” action, rather than a mere riot.

Also threatening Washington was the City of Baltimore, with its own peculiar mixture of feelings concerning slavery. The city was also home to the Union Trust Bank, which held considerable reserves for the North. This made it imperative to hold onto Maryland, and after the events of April 18th, during which mobs in the city attacked the Union soldiers as they marched along Pratt Street, the city was under occupation for the remainder of the war. The troops had been marching from the old train station; which stood on President Street, at the Eastern end of today’s Harborplace; to the Camden Street Station, the site of today’s Camden Yards, home to the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. At the intersection of Charles and Pratt Streets the mob had grown to over 2,000 strong, and, armed with clubs and paving stones, attacked the troops.
In this wide ranging account, the author gives new thought to the importance of these 12 most perilous days of the war. Until now, the most engaging story of Lincoln’s assumption of the Presidency has always been the attempted assassination which occurred before he even took office. And, although the story of the Baltimore riot; and the later New York Draft Riot; have been told many times, this is the first book which I have read that puts all of these pieces together. The author has successfully re-created the excitement; and fear; of a time when our nation was at war, and the seat of government surrounded by her enemies.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"The Weight" - Mavis Staples, Nick Lowe and Wilco

Music is magical and can happen anywhere at any time. This video from You Tube was filmed last December in Chicago prior to the Nick Lowe concert with Wilco and Mavis Staples, who sang this iconic song with The Band in the film “The Last Waltz” over 35 years ago. She still has the “chops” to make this song reverberate, and along with veteran performer Nick Lowe and the contemporary band Wilco, the song itself shows no sign of ever “aging.” It’s timeless. Ah, but were that true of us all…

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"The Grasshopper and the Ants" - Silly Symphonies (1934)

Silly Symphonies did some very memorable work during the 1930’s. Some of the things they did consisted of taking the best loved classics and turning them into cartoons. Not only did this save them time; and money; it also provided a platform from which to impart some values to the audience. Today this would be considered to be somehow offensive, but I have always enjoyed these sort of cartoons; in much the same way as I preferred “Illustrated Classics” to the super-hero comic books of my youth.

In this cartoon, the team at Silly Symphonies takes on the old Aesop Fable of the “Grasshopper and the Ant”, giving it a few twists and making it more palpable for a young audience. But in this cartoon, there is room for everyone as the Grasshopper learns a very valuable lesson about compassion, while picking up a work ethic in the process.

Friday, October 12, 2012

"One Short Night" - Grace Potter (2010)

When it comes to music, we all have our private little niches which we enjoy. When I was younger it seemed so much easier to become exposed to newer and different music than it is today. With the advent of satellite radio, and other technologies, it has become easier to not hear a new sound which you might otherwise have been enjoying for a few years. This is the case, for me, with Grace Potter.
Although the name was lingering on the edge of my consciousness, I had never really taken the time to seek out her music. If this were 1967 I would have already heard her music in the eclectic mix which was the signature of AM radio. What made me seek this artist out; several years late; was a short hello to my neighbor, Linda. She had commented that the weather didn’t look too good for an outdoor concert she was set to see that night. When I asked who it was see was going to see, she replied Grace Potter. I knew the name, but not the artist. So, off to You Tube went I.

This was the third video I watched, and immediately grabbed my guitar to try and figure it all out. It’s a very cleverly done video; Ms. Potter at home with her band; rehearsing for a concert. Halfway through the video, the scene shifts to the live concert seamlessly. Now, that’s talent.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"Only Angels Have Wings" with Cary Grant, Thomas Mitchell and Jean Arthur (1939)

“Only Angels have Wings” is almost a blueprint for Howard Hawks’ later classic adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “To Have, and to Have Not”. Even some of the most noteworthy lines are almost identical. The real difference in the two films is not so much the location of the story; a mountain pass in South America versus an island in the Caribbean; but the actors themselves.

In this film, Cary Grant plays cynical Geoff Carter, the leader of a group of cargo planes located in the jungles of South America, where they fly mail, as well as any cargo, anywhere, at any time.
Brooklyn born Bonnie Lee, played by Jean Arthur, puts in by boat to a small airstrip somewhere in South America. To fly out, the pilots must risk great danger as they go through the mountain passage, which is always clouded by fog, and even; at that altitude; sometimes snow.

It is in this environment that Bonnie meets, and falls for Geoff, who is distant and cold towards her. He has seen too much of life to get attached to anyone, or anything; yet there is something between the two that threatens to grow into more. This only makes her more hopeful, even as it repels him further away.

When another pilot, Bat Mac Pherson, played by Richard Barthelmess, shows up with his wife Judy, played by sultry Rita Hayworth, things get complicated. It seems that, at some point in the past, Bat bailed out of a plane ahead of his crew, which included the brother of Geoff’s right hand man, fellow pilot Kid Dabb, played by Thomas Mitchell, causing his death. Bad blood is boiling, and it seems as if only bad can come of it.
Written by Paul Donahue, and directed by the incomparable Howard Hawks, this film sizzles as events unfold and lives are altered. Sig Ruman plays the Dutchman, which is to say that he basically plays himself. You get the same feeling as you watch Noah Beery Jr. play pilot Joe Souther. Though the story takes place in the fictional port of Barranca, I can tell you from experience, that as late as the 1980’s, ports like these still existed. And, films like this one put me on the path to finding them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nick Lowe - "The Old Magic" - In Concert

Last night Sue and I treated ourselves to a mutual birthday gift. We saw Nick Lowe at the McGlothon Theater, which is located in Spirit Square in “uptown” Charlotte. Nick Lowe; for those unfamiliar with him as an artist; is one of the key people who kept rock and roll alive and kicking during the 1970’s disco craze. And when the end of that decade rolled around; with Punk Rock all the rage; Nick Lowe, along with Dave Edmunds, formed “Rockpile”, once again keeping the genre viable and raucous. And, people like me are glad they did. But sometime during the late 1990’s, Mr. Lowe re-invented his approach to some of his older tunes, and at the same time, developed a new way to express his more current thoughts.

For a while I had heard that Mr. Lowe was alive and well, living in Amsterdam for obvious reasons. (You can puzzle that one out for yourselves.) But last year he released a brand new album; on vinyl no less; titled “The Old Magic.” It is aptly named, as Mr. Lowe proved last night here in Charlotte. With a mixture of old songs, along with the new, he beguiled the audience for several hours, performing old favorites solo, and telling stories between numbers.
His performance of some of the new material; including “Sensitive Man” and “Somebody Cares for Me”; which are my two favorites from the new album; was absolutely wonderful, and would have been enough to satisfy me. But, at the audience’s insistence, Mr. Lowe came back for 3 encores. I was thrilled to see him play solo, using only 1 guitar throughout his extraordinary performance, and no capo to boot. His voice is as strong and expressive as ever, and his easy attitude with the audience was a delight to all.

I haven’t been able to find a video that does justice to last night’s solo, acoustic performance, but here he is performing with Wilco, a band which consists of Patrick Sansone, Mikael Jorgensen, Jeff Tweedy , Nels Cline, Glenn Kotche, John Stirratt. While this video may sound lush and full, there is nothing better than seeing your favorite artist striped down to the bare minimum, highlighting just what you love about their work. Seeing Mr. Lowe perform last night reinforced my suspicion that the “old magic” is not only back; but for some of us, it never left in the first place. It was a wonderful concert, in one of our favorite venues. What a great way to celebrate our birthdays together; listening to music which we both love. (And that’s not always easy to find!)

Well, it only took a day for someone to post this video from the concert at McGlothon on October 9th in Charlotte. So, here is Nick Lowe as I saw him from the 6th row.