Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Jack Benny's Golden Memories of Radio - (1966)

For decades I have had this album and been meaning to convert it to mp3 so that I can listen to it in the car. Somehow, I just never got around to it. This album is a six LP collection which was designed to be played on an old hi-fi with a spindle. For those too young to know what that is I’ll explain.

Each of the records are numbered from 1-6, but the sides are numbered in accordance with the they will be heard when you placed them; all six at one time; on the “spindle”, which gently dropped the next LP into place when the previous one had finished playing. I’ll bet you didn't know we had something like that back in the old days. When you finished with the first 6 sides, you simply flipped the whole stack over and finished the last 6. In this fashion you were able to listen to about 3 hours of music uninterrupted,

This collection was recorded on “virgin” vinyl, which was a grade superior to the material used for pop records put out by the commercial record companies. Those were “hit” recordings which might last a year or two in the minds of the public before being forgotten. So, the extra expense went into the making of “classical” records, and “jazz”, both of which were considered to be of more importance than popular music.

The reminiscing begins with George Burns and Gracie Allen, and continues with highlights from every show imaginable in radio history. Then the  action shifts to the radios emergence as a means of communicating the news, with the results of the first Presidential Election being broadcast, to the Hindenburg disaster and even Pearl Harbor, as evidence of the world’s growing reliance on the radio to keep them informed.

This album is a unique audio way of looking back on the history of the times in which the broadcasts were made. There is the abdication of King Edward, the Coronation of King George VI, and even the last broadcast from Corregidor, which was sent by a fellow from Brooklyn who lived near Flatbush Avenue. He says goodbye to his mother and wishes he had a Hershey bar just before the line goes dead. He survived the war and is even interviewed on the record about those last moments.

The world of sports is not ignored in either. There is the Dempsey-Tunney fight; or Schemling defeating Joe Louis; and then the return match, where the “Brown Bomber” wins the match and the hearts of his fellow countrymen. Jesse Owens at the Olympics and even Lou Gehrig’s famous goodbye are also included here.

From news to entertainment, this album delivers. There’s a lot of history, and hence education involved in listening to this collection of the Golden Years of Radio. One of the best things is that you can listen to it; or even download it; for free in about 7 minutes. I don’t know the who; or the why; behind this, but I am happy to share the link with you, in the hope that you will actually listen to this fantastic collection of radio history.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

M-E-S-S-I-N-G with the NSA

Here’s a way to have a little fun at your own expense. And, I mean that literally. After all,  you are paying the people at NSA to spy on you; even read your e-mails and listen in on your phone conversations; so why not have a bit of fun with your employees. After all, it’s your dime. And that building shown above belongs to you as well. So, let’s have a little fun with our “toys.”

Code everything; no matter how insignificant it is, no matter how innocuous it may seem; code it. If you are meeting the wife in a certain place, use map coordinates in lieu of an address and then turn off your phone until you get there. If they are concerned, they will have to wait for your phone to come back on until they can find you. And of course, you can always not really go to begin with. Then, suddenly, turn your phone back on and go somewhere, anywhere, and then back home, making sure to shut the phone down at intervals.

Take different routes each time you go out; they’ll spend an inordinate amount of time in trying to figure out a pattern to your movements. I’m retired, so I can go anywhere at any time, making me extremely dangerous, in spite of my being ill.

Just the title of this piece can give them pause to think. Does it really mean what it says, or is it an acronym for something more sinister? It could mean Multi Ethnic Socialists Sympathizers in National Groups. Man; that even sounds dangerous!

Of course I’m just being tongue in cheek here; or am I? Yes could mean no. Depends on the code we’re using today. And, also the person interpreting it. Here's a real cool idea - walk in backwards at every entrance you encounter which has a security camera. Walk up to your ATM backwards and then make your transaction. It'll either drive them nuts, or make you dizzy. Either way, it's a victory over the "norm".

There used to be whole books about this kind of stuff; like "Steal This Book" by Abbie Hoffman, and "1,001 Ways to Avoid the Draft" by I Don't Remember Who; which were both hysterically funny. But then again, they didn't have to deal with the cameras.

Word Just In - Private Manning
Just saw that the Army has acquitted PFC Manning for aiding the enemy, but convicted him on 120 other accounts of leaking classified information and disobeying orders. I wasn't aware that he had asked permission to leak the stuff in the first place, so you have to wonder what order he disobeyed. 

Most likely Article 134 of the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) which states that any item not prohibited by any other Order in the UCMJ is covered under Article 134. It was the charge most levied against me in the Navy for things like smoking in unauthorized areas; or smoking something un-authorized in any area.

Meantime, with the world in utter chaos from having too many secrets to cover up, this poor bastard is facing 154 years in prison, assuring that, even with parole etc., he will never see the light of day again. Maybe it's just my imagination, but when I was in the service we were only supposed to obey "lawful orders." Again, I wonder; verbatim; just what orders PFC Manning dis-obeyed which could ever justify the prospect of a prison sentence of 154 years. Let Freedom Ring!

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Shockwave - Countdown to Hiroshima" by Stephen Walker (2005)

Leo Szilard, a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant, sat stopped at a London traffic signal one day in 1933. It was there, as the light changed, that he first conceived of the idea for a nuclear bomb. He was horrified by the thought of the destruction it could cause to life as we know it.
That thought, just as with an atomic explosion, had a chain reaction which, by 1939, would have Germany trying to build an atomic weapon of her own, and Mr. Szilard lobbying the United States to build one first. After all, there was no doubt that Hitler would use it should he attain it first; while we could always make one and choose not to. At least, that was the plan.

This whole extraordinary set of events were the beginnings of what eventually became the Cold War, with its policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, which would last for decades. The shadow of that policy; along with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s; has been that there are now more nuclear weapons in the hands of more governments than could possibly be deemed “healthy” for the world’s future survival. But all that came later. First came “Trinity”; the test of the first atomic bomb; in the desert of New Mexico on July 16, 1945.

It seemed of little consequence at the time that the weapon designed for use against the Nazi’s in Europe, would now be used to end the war in the Pacific, which began, for the United States, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Japanese had been at war in the Pacific since 1933 and the invasion of China and the Rape of Nanking, while the Germans had been taking over countries in Europe beginning in 1938. It was only after they invaded Poland in September of 1939 that the English went to war with her. We would not join in that effort until after the Pearl Harbor attack.

This is the most informative book I have ever read on the first atomic bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima on August 5, 1945. Where other books have focused either on the effects of the bomb on the ground; such as “Hiroshima” by John Hersey; or the myriad of books which talk of the morality of the event; and even the workings of the Manhattan Project; this book delves into the beginnings of the search for the technology to build the bomb, as well as the training of the men who would drop it. 

The book also covers the negotiations which the Japanese were seeking to hold with Russia as a way of suing for peace and an end to the war. The stalling by the Soviets, while pretending that they had no knowledge of the bomb’s existence, would be instrumental in the success of the Americans to end the war in the Pacific. It would also trigger a nuclear arms race which would color our lives forever after
The author also explores the origins of the 509th Bomber Group and their unusual makeup, which included a few felons with false names. They were given their criminal files and a match after the mission was over.

For all of the planning of the bomb’s construction and use, nobody was quite sure if it would work. On the other hand, there were some among the group of scientists, including Leo Szilard, who saw the possibility of igniting the entire atmosphere of the planet, killing us all. Up until the very last moment these men would lobby the President to discontinue the plan to use the bomb. The story of how their message was delayed, before it was relayed, will raise questions in your own mind as to the purpose of using the bomb at all. There was still the fear that the Germans would get one first.

Ironically, the Germans had all but given up on the development of a nuclear bomb by the close of the war. And the Russians had no interest in one unless we proved one could be made to work. And of course, both the United States and the Soviets would benefit greatly from the acquisition of the German rocket scientists at the close of the war with Germany in May 1945. At that point we were too close to finishing work on the Manhattan Project to stop.

The author has spared no subject in this comprehensive history of the final countdown to the actual dropping of the bomb, and an examination of the effects of that mission in the first 24 hours after it was accomplished. The book also examines the lives of the men who first conceived of, and then made happen, the single most important event which would change the nature of warfare in general, and the geo-politics that surround it.

With the countdown towards the final assembly and shipment of the bomb, part of which encompasses the story of the USS Indianapolis on its voyage to Tinian, the book also recounts the Japanese effort to start peace talks through the Soviets. At the same time as she was talking peace, Japan was also preparing to turn Japan into a veritable fortress which would cost almost a million American lives to invade. This was the same duplicitous process which she had used to buy time for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. However, by this point, there was no turning back on the plan to use the bomb.

As a result of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there has not been a declared war since the end of World War Two. It’s almost as if declared wars, rather than police actions, could possibly escalate into full blown nuclear confrontation between “super-powers.” This was exactly what happened in Vietnam; the United States and the Soviet Union fought a war by proxy; using the Vietnamese as pawns in a game which can only have one ending; with both sides looking to avoid a direct confrontation with the other.

If you think you have learned all that you need to know about the history of the world’s first atomic bomb, then this book will quickly disabuse you of that notion, while providing the reader a ringside seat to one of the most important developments of the 20th century. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Surfer Girl" - The Beach Boys, Dad and Me - (1964)

Summertime always brings me memories of “beach music”, and naturally, that leads me to the Beach Boys. Just listening to the sound of “Surfer Girl” I can feel the air conditioning as it washes over me in the bar on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, located at the “Junction”, where Nostrand Avenue crosses Flatbush and Brooklyn College sits right nearby. My Dad had done some air conditioning work at the bar and this was one of the popular records of the day.  It was not only an insight into the “California” sound of music; but also an education in economics every time we went there.

The bar was owned by the local mob, and they weren't going to pay my Dad’s company for the work at all; which may seem strange; but at the time that was the practice in certain sections of Brooklyn. And you didn't complain. You simply licked your wounds and moved on. That is, unless you were; like my Dad; somewhat enterprising.

He informed his boss of the situation they were facing and then went back to the owners of the bar and explained that if he couldn't collect something, he’d be fired. He took me along; I suppose; as his protection, after all, these guys weren't going to kick the shit out of my Dad in front of his kid. These were legitimate businessmen, and gentlemen. They’d find him when I wasn't with him; and then kick the shit out of him. So, my Dad had a plan.

He told that them  his boss was willing to give them a discount- say 25%. They immediately countered with 50%, which my Dad gratefully accepted. He then told his boss they were getting the 25%, which delighted him no end. Then my Dad kept the difference.

The owners paid my Dad directly out of the jukebox; in coins; the same jukebox which played “Surfer Girl” so many times that summer whenever we went to “collect”. The best part was going for an ice cream soda afterwards. I always thought of that as my "payment" for being his “protection” while engaging in this activity. At any rate, I can never hear this record without feeling a rush of cool air wash over me. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

"I Heard" with Betty Boop" - Dave Fleischer (1932)

In this 1932 classic from Dave Fleischer, Betty is the waitress at a mining camp. The cartoon begins with real life band leader Don Redman and His Orchestra performing the soundtrack for this entirely musical cartoon. 

Great animation, as always with a Fleischer production, make the machinations of the mine almost life like. And, at the end of the shift, the workers all repair to Betty Boop’s Saloon for some food and entertainment.

Through the dumbwaiter, Betty finds herself down in the mine where she sees not only the workers in action, but runs across some other worldly creatures in the process. With the assistance of Ko Ko and Bimbo, along with some dynamite, she is able to escape the mine, while at the same time planting these other wordly characters back where they truly belong; in the grave and not just underground.

The delightful soundtrack of this cartoon is pure swing, with that big band sound, lending even more fluidity to Mr. Fleischer’s visual efforts. These cartoons are like gems. There is really nothing like them around anymore. That’s why I love You Tube.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sweethearts of the Rodeo - 2011

One of the best country groups to come out of the late 1980’s were the Sweethearts of the Rodeo, who take their name from the Gram Parson’s inspired album title “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” which was recorded when Gram was a member of The Byrds in the late 1960’s. Parsons left The Byrds in England en-route to a segregated concert in South Africa. When he found that out; from Keith Richards; he quit the band and spent the next few years living with him. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were among the first of the rock bands who refused to play there. That’s the story behind the name of this band.

Sisters Janice and Kristin Oliver formed the band when they were in their teens, playing under the name The Oliver Sisters, and performing bluegrass music in their native California. Emmylou Harris is credited with “discovering” the two sisters and getting them work with other artists. Through Emmylou Harris, Janis Oliver met Vince Gill in 1977 when he was 19 years old and she was 23. Vince Gill was a member of The Pure Prairie League at the time. They were married and later divorced. Kristine married Leonard Arnold of the band Blue Steel and soon after the turn of the decade stopped touring while raising kids.

My favorite album of theirs was the least popular one at the time of its release, but has become somewhat of a legend in country circles. “Buffalo Zone” was the next to the last album they recorded for Columbia in 1990. Although none of the songs became smash hits, the album is still held in high regard. Of the 4 albums and twelve singles they recorded for Columbia between 1986 and 1991, they reached the Top Ten on the Country charts seven times in the 1980s. Their two landmark singles peaked at No. 4 on the charts. Those recordings were "Midnight Girl/Sunset Town" and "Chains of Gold," which were both recorded in 1987. At the time they had 7 singles in the Top Ten on the Hot Country Songs charts.

In the mid 1990’s they began to tour and record again for Sugar Hill Records, releasing 2 albums before they seemingly disappeared for a while. They owned a clothing store in Franklin, Tennessee called “Gill and Arnold.”

This video was taken around 1992 and contains some of their best work, including the song “Como Se Dice” which has become a signature song they still perform today. It’s the 5th song in the video and well worth the wait if you have never heard it. The story revolves around a woman who roams the barrios asking  how to say I love you in Spanish. The title actually translates as “How Do You Say” in English, with the phrase “I Love You” in parenthesis. Her lover has been talking Spanish in his sleep and she is desperate to find out what he has been saying, suggesting that he has taken a lover.

Here is a list of the 6 songs in this video;

1) Wake Me Up
2) Blue to the Bone
3) Uphill All The Way
4) This Heart
5) Como Se Dice (I Love You)
6) Satisfy You

Beneath the video there is some French writing which compares the sisters to the Everly Brothers, due mostly to their tightly knit high harmonies, often referred to as a “high lonesome sound.” Apparently this video is from a television show called Country Box. The last line seems to lament, or perhaps deny, the death of true country music, citing the two women as staving off the death of true country music. At least that’s what I think it says.

I could use the translator option, but that takes all the fun out of guessing. Plus, if I’m wrong, I get more e-mails. Everyone loves to tell you when you’re wrong about something. But no matter what, I’m right about these two truly talented women and their contribution in keeping country music alive.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"My Shadow" by Robert Louis Stevenson

The book of poetry which my Mom gave me for my 8th birthday still inspires me over 50 years later. No matter where I have lived, this book has always been with me. Some of my favorite poems from my childhood rest between its covers, and from time to time I post one here. Today is one of those times.

I’ve been having a rough time of it lately for various reasons, and it amazes me at the comfort I can still derive form this old and battered book of children’s poetry. Perhaps I am just immature, or maybe the book is so much a part of who I am, that it is always able to make me smile.

So, without further delay, or comment on my part, here is “My Shadow”; both literally, and figuratively .

“My Shadow” by Robert Louis Stevenson

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there's none of him at all.

He hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me; he's a coward you can see;
I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an errant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Zero Dark Thirty" with Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke (2012)

This is a gripping account of the 10 year hunt for Osama Bin Laden which ended in Pakistan. All of the tedium and stress involved in hunting down the mastermind of 9/11 comes through in this film. The tension is high and the stakes astronomical as the hunt goes forward, first by water boarding and torture, until each link in the chain has been unmasked, leading to Bin Laden himself.

As a matter of fact, after all of the tension involved in a decade of locating him, it is almost anti-climactic when he is discovered and killed. The myriad of secret retention facilities located around the world for use by our CIA is staggering. The amount of money spent in fighting both the war in Iraq and later in Afghanistan is simply mind boggling.

But more than any one thing which stands out in this film is the toll the hunt for Bin Laden took upon us, his enemies, both societally and emotionally. We were forced to face ourselves as well as the enemy, and we became almost as vicious and ruthless in our pursuit of this one man. It reeks of Ahab and Moby Dick, where the question is always whether good triumphs over evil, or simply becomes a victim itself.

If you have not seen this film it will astound you. Based upon true accounts the story highlights one woman’s belief in herself and the intelligence she was analyzing in the effort to find Bin Laden. Faced with the doubt of her senior analysts at the CIA’s Langley headquarters, she pushes on, losing something of herself in the hunt to bring down the world’s most wanted man. A must see film for many reasons.

Fantastic performances by Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke; along with tight direction and swift camera shifts; it is no wonder that this film garnered 5 Academy Award Nominations. It is simply that good. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac - Live - (1968 and 1969)

If you have only  listened to Fleetwood Mac with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who joined the band in the mid 1970's, then you have never really heard Fleetwood Mac before. This band, more than any other I can recall, underwent a huge change in the 1970's, transforming themselves from one of the most raw blues bands into a "pop music formula factory", cranking out hit after hit. But none of their later recordings has ever come close to the magic which was the so evident in the original band. 

The above performance is of the classic number "Oh Well", which is kind of a conversation about morality, people and God. Compare that to anything this band has done since 1975 and you will find that the newer stuff doesn't even come close in edginess to the bands original format.

The original lineup consisted of founding members John McVie on bass guitar, Mick Fleetwood on drums, Peter Green on lead guitar and vocals, Jeremy Spencer on slide guitar and sometimes piano, with Danny Kirwan filling all the spaces in between on his guitar. McVie and Fleetwood had come from the John Mayall Bluesbreaker band. That band spawned almost all of the British bands of importance at the time. Mayall was himself a genius musically, and had a knack for picking raw talent, including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and even Mick Taylor, who did a few years with the Rolling Stones before semi- retiring.

This color film from New Years Eve in Paris 1968 features Peter Green leading the band in "My Baby." Notice how tightly knit they are, weaving guitar riffs back and forth while McVie and Fleetwood keep that steady backbeat going. audience is kind of a hip version of American Bandstand, but wearing the latest in Paris fashion for the time. 

This clip is like a time capsule of the prevailing music scene at the close of 1968. Everything was changing, France had just gone through the worst of the student-labor strikes which paralyzed the country that summer, even as our own streets were awash in violence during the Democratic Convention. The year had been so traumatic and bloody, with the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in the U.S. Watching the audience dance is interesting, as some are doing slow versions of the twist, while others are just moving in place. It was really like nobody knew what to expect next. They seem a bit lost, waiting for the next blow.

And nothing can compare with the guitar work of Peter Green; who is by the way Jewish; on "Need Your Love So Bad." His vocals, as well as his guitar, both cry out in pain, searching for the love that has been lost. Somewhere along the line Peter Green lost his "calling" and his desire to be a musician, and he retired from the band by 1971, which is when John McVie had his wife Christine, join the lineup. They had a few good albums before the big change over to "pop" music. Those albums, "Bare Trees" and "Kiln House", are both great examples of the change that was taking place within the band at the time.

After those two albums it was all down hill for me, as the band became the purveyor of what I like to call "formula rock", which is to say that the format of almost all of their subsequent hits were arranged in much the same fashion as the last one, until they all became almost indistinguishable from one another.

When Fleetwood Mac came to New York they played the Fillmore East regularly, often doing a late show which ran from about midnight to almost 6 AM, when the acid wore off, and the music began to lose some of its punch. If you were at any of those concerts you know what I mean.

As for Peter Green, he became quite reclusive for several years, with the most prevalent rumor being that he had become a grave digger somewhere in Scotland. I don't know that this is true for a fact, but it's a great story; right up there with Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads. Sometimes it's best to just believe the story and not dig any further, for fear of losing the mystique.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Constitutional Myths" by Ray Raphael (2013)

The Conservatives would have you believe that our Constitution is flawed, and that the Federalist Papers represent the framer’s original intent. Indeed, conservative radio talk show jock Jason Lewis once called for the removal of the Bill of Rights from the Constitution on his afternoon talk radio show in Charlotte, where he was working at WBT-AM, calling them unnecessary. 

The fact that he said this at the same time as he was signing off for the day, over his bumper music; allowing no time for rebuttals; infuriated me to the point that I phoned the radio station and finally the news director at their television station demanding that Mr. Lewis phone me ASAP. Much to their credit, his bosses made that happen, and I was able to remind Mr. Lewis that even God had found it necessary to write the corollary to the Bill of Rights with a finger of fire on a tablet of stone.

This book also takes the same tact as Mr. Lewis, claiming that the Federalist Papers are the real basis for the Constitution, which was written after the debate over the Federalist Papers, making them irrelevant after the Constitution became the law of the land. That Conservatives; who decry “big government”; would try to re-establish our country based upon the Federalist Papers; which, after all were merely opinion pieces exploring the type of government we should have;  shines a light on their true agenda. They want to roll back your Constitution.

Smaller Federal Government means larger local control with less oversight. Guess what? That makes people victims of local tyrannies. Imagine a country without a Bill of Rights to go along with the Responsibilities outlined in the Constitution, and then question the true purpose of placing the Federalist Papers before the Constitution as law. And, in a time when even Chief Justice Roberts states that “he looks to the Federalist Paper’s” when deciding Constitutional law in order to ascertain the framers “original intent”, you have legitimate cause for concern. Looking outside of the Constitution is decried when the Liberal Justices look to European Law, or even the biblical law; upon which Conservatives themselves claim we are founded; so why should I allow them now to look to something other than the Constitution themselves when deciding cases?

The author sites President Reagan as a proponent of "originalism" and quotes him on what were remarks made concerning the original intent of the Constitution itself, not the preceding Federalist Papers. He then goes on to use the case of United States v. Lopez as an example of justices looking only to the Constitution, rather than outside of it, when deciding a case. He quotes Justice Thomas' own agreement with the Court's decision, all the while issuing a separate opinion on the meaning of "Commerce", citing dictionaries from the 1790's as an example of what the founding fathers meant; or he thinks they meant.

The book is filled with facts, and first drafts of the “original” Constitution; all of which were later rejected in favor of the Constitution we have lived with for more than 200 years. Our Constitution allows the document to be amended from time to time, and this seems to be a source of irritation to the author, and most Neo-Conservatives in general.

When reading the Federalist Papers you have to realize that they were the first draft of what would become the Constitution. The kinks needed to be ironed out for our fledgling nation. And, due to the efforts of men like Hancock, Jefferson, Madison et al; they were. The result was the Constitution of the United States of America, which allows the document to be Amended as society deems necessary to meet the needs of a changing nation, and time in general. The doctrine espoused in this book calls for what has become known as “originalism”. This doctrine would have the nation eviscerate the Constitution, throwing us back to the days before we were even united by one. Remember, in the original drafts, only land holders had the right to vote, and servants were worth a fraction of a vote, only to be exercised by the servant's owner. I think they called it slavery; I mean state's rights.

The author states what the founding fathers thought and meant, but I take the attitude that what they thought and meant was written down in the Constitution. And that includes the Bill of Rights, which were the first of the planned Amendments and are the rock on which we, as a nation, stand.

Using one of my Constitutional Rights; which the author seems to wish to deprive me of; I have to tell you that, in my opinion, this is one of the most misleading books of non-fiction I have ever read. 

Ironically; that makes it an important book to read. Just be sure to have a copy of the actual Constitution handy, as the author has seen fit to write a 300 book about a document he doesn't want you to see in it's entirety. Although he does include the Articles of the Constitution, he does not ever show the Bill of Rights as a part of the Constitution, instead electing to show the reader Madison's draft of an additional twelve; and, in some cases altered, proposed amendments. It is a first draft version of what would become the Bill of Rights; which are the first ten Amendments to this sacred document.

The author then cleverly moves on to show the later Amendments; numbers XI through XXVII; all of which I presume he disagrees with. You need look no further than this "arrangement" to see that this book represents his own “original intent”, and as such, this author has an agenda.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

"Hello Walls" - Faron Young (1961)

Willie Nelson wrote this song, and his jazz like version is wonderful in so many different ways; from the melody he plays so well, to the slightly deeper voice than that used here by Faron Young. But I would imagine that Willie Nelson still listens to this version, too. It has a certain purity about it, which eludes even Mr. Nelson’s talented fingers. And that’s hard to do!

The song went #1 on the Country and Western charts and eventually hit the Pop charts as well, where it enjoyed 13 week run before petering out. The following year saw the emergence of Mr. Nelson as a recording artist in his own right, and to no one’s surprise he included this song on his first album “And Then I Wrote” in 1962. It is still a staple of his performances and I believe it’s also the same guitar as well! That thing has more holes in it than there are craters on the moon.

I think what I like about this version is that it gives me a peek into the world which I knew I was missing out on as a kid in Brooklyn. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my childhood in Brooklyn for anything. It was a great training ground for many of the problems which come our way later in life. I often feel sorry for those who were not raised there.

But, at the same time, I am cognizant of the fact that there was this whole other way of living to which I was not privy, even though I was aware of its existence. My little 6 transistor made in Japan radio gave me a taste of it every night in the darkness of my bedroom, where I listened to anything coming over the dial. The goal was, of course, to get the Grand Ol’ Opry, but that was rarely possible. Wheeling, West Virginia was a long way off, and to get it well, you really needed to go to the roof of the 7 story apartment building we lived in at 1310 Avenue R and East 14th Street.

Now, going to the roof at night to listen to the radio was not the best idea, as my parents were very strict and our apartment was kind of like a prison camp. This was great training for my later adventures in the Navy, as I was used to regimentation and discipline. But there’s always more than one way to skin a cat, so I took a coil of thin copper wire which I got a the Hobby Shop on Avenue S, and ran up to the roof where I dropped the coil to right outside our second floor, rear window, which faced due South. Going back downstairs I took the wire in and hid it along the window jamb, where it was virtually invisible. At night I took the excess wire and attached it to my radio by winding it around the whole body and then connecting the loose end to the wire at the window.

This all sounds simple but had to be done after my brother was asleep. He was the type who would constantly run to my parents about anything I did at all which might be prohibited. Again, this was great training for the military and even jail, where snitches abound. You have to learn to work around them in order not get caught doing something wrong.

At any rate, these precautions were worth their weight in gold, as they opened up the whole world to me. Even today I keep 2 shortwave radios. And when the night is just right; preferably a cold, starlit one; I turn it on and listen to the static as it  gives way to news from the BBC, or the weather out of Belgium, along with a million voices speaking in tongues which I may not even recognize, but love hearing anyway. It reminds me that we are all connected, even if only by the the airwaves.

Hey, can you believe that this started out to be about Faron Young? 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Popeye Meets Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" - (1937)

In this 1937 release Popeye continues fighting the good fight against classical villains such as Sinbad in 1936. This story has him in the Middle East where he meets up with Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves. The battle is on for our intrepid hero, as he seemingly waltzes his way through the swords and knives, armed with only his can of spinach and a wry sense of humor. They always seem to save the day for him, so he must have known something we don’t. Or maybe it wasn’t really spinach? Just athought…

So many of the early cartoons, as well as films, were based upon classical literature, which is not as common these days. The box office demands something new each week, devouring millions, but imparting very little of really classical variety; the occasional “Merchant of Venice” with Al Pacino excepted. But, those films are rare these days.

Even the earliest of the silent cartoons were set to classical music when we were kids. TV had to have soundtracks, so they largely used classical recordings without copyrights. No matter, they gave so many of us kids in the 1950’s an ear for music. No point to this post, just more ramblings from the past for consumption by others in the future. Enjoy the cartoon, and listen to Popeye closely. He says some funny stuff.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Old Adages and Schoolmates - Courtesy of Steven Parker

I get lots of e-mails, and with them come a lot of forwards, most of which are political, and some even offensive. But there are some gems out there which I share from time to time on this blog. This gem comes; once again; from my old Junior High School classmate, Steven Parker, who got it from Marlyn. the two of them seem to have access to an unlimited variety of these things, all of which are several cuts above the usual stuff people forward. This one explains the origins of some very common idiomatic expressions. Hope you enjoy it. All thanks due to Steve for sending it!

Where did the expression "Piss Poor" come from? Well, it's an interesting history.

They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot.

And then once it was full it was taken and sold to the tannery...if you had to do this to survive you were "Piss Poor" But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to buy a pot...

They "didn't have a pot to piss in" and were the lowest of the low.

The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature Isn't  just how you like it, think about how things used to be.

Here are some facts about the 1500's:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor.

Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children.

Last of all the babies.

By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.
Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!"

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof.

When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof.
 Hence the saying, "It's raining cats and dogs."

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house.

This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings
could mess up your nice clean bed.

Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection.

That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt.

Hence the saying, "Dirt poor."

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery. In the winter when wet, they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing.  As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way.

Hence: a “thresh hold.”

(Getting quite an education, aren't you?)

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire.

Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while.

Hence the rhyme: “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "bring home the bacon."  

They would cut off a little to share with their guests. And then they would all sit around and “chew the fat.”

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the “upper crust.”

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up.

Hence the custom “Holding a wake."

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave.

When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell.

Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, “saved by the bell" or was "considered a dead ringer."

And that's the truth.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Flypaper" with Ashley Judd and Patrick Dempsey (2011)

Get ready for an unusual comedy-drama with this unlikely tale of one bank being robbed simultaneously by two very different sets of criminals. From the high tech, to the low brow, two gangs of would be bank robbers attempt to pull off a heist at the same time, and what happens after they confront one another is likely to be anyone’s guess.

The low rednecks just want the ATM machines for some quick money. With their tattoos and lack of any disguise, they are sure to be caught. The other set of robbers are high tech; using computers to gain entry to the vaults, where the real valuables are kept. They all have masks on and act professionally, with careful co-ordination. That is, until everything goes wrong. And I mean really wrong.

Are there two sets of bank robbers? Or are they really one team of patsies being used by someone higher up to accomplish something else? Added to the mix is a man, played by Patrick Dempsey, who tries to protect the teller, played by Ashley Judd,  with whom he's secretly in love. She is engaged to someone very wealthy and is initially repulsed by this odd character inserting herself into her life through an ordinary bank transaction. Or is it?

Twists and turns make this movie a very unusual, and highly unbelievable, tale of love and larceny with a surprise ending. Great acting by veteran character actors Tim Blake Nelson and Pruitt Taylor Vince as the redneck bandits who call themselves “Peanut Butter” and “Jelly” because they go together so well. A great script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, along with careful direction by Rob Minkoff, make this film work well as a comedy drama that you will enjoy from the very opening scene until the last credits roll.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Hatfields and McCoys" with Kevin Costner (2012)

I don’t think that there is anyone born in America who has not heard of the infamous feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys; the iconic clan which had been fighting since the Civil War and well beyond into the last years of the 19th century. But, what most folks don’t know about; including me; is the history of the feud; that is, what started it all in the first place?

In this film; starring Kevin Costner as Devil Anse Hatfield; and Bill Paxton as Randall McCoy; will explain it all. In a three part series that is part truth and part drama, the cause is fixed at that point in the Civil War when Anse Hatfield decides to quit the battlefield and return home to the West Virginia border near Kentucky. He just can’t see the sense in fighting any longer. Little did he realize at the time that this decision would affect him, and his family, for decades to come.

The action begins on the battlefield when Anse leaves, infuriating Randall, who maintains that they have sworn an oath to fight to the death for the cause which is dying all around them. Anse wishes him luck, and at the point of a pistol, gallops off for home under the cover of night. When the war finally ends Randall comes home and rebuffs the entreaties of Anse, who has been making money selling timber. A simple encounter in the local bar between ignites the simmering feud, when two members of one clan murder the member of the other family over a slight stemming from that encounter.

Judge Valentine 'Wall' Hatfield, played by Powers Boothe, is the law in the hill country, and the feud between the two families begins to draw him into a confrontation which he knows will bring nothing but more heartbreak to an area which has suffered greatly during the War Between the States. The West Virginia border with Kentucky was a hotbed of disagreement over which side to support in the war, and of course, is why the Western part of Virginia broke away from Virginia when she seceded from the Union. A secessionist state within a secessionist state is never an easy place to live.

Thrown in with the history and fighting between the two families are the two young lovers, Johnse Hatfield, played by Matt Barr; and Roseanna McCoy, played with extra sweetness by Lindsay Pulsipher. Just as in Romeo and Juliet, these two youngsters are in love with one another and want to be married, against all the wishes of their respective families.

Tersely written and keenly directed, this film delivers on several fronts, including set design and costumes. Everything is in perfect order, with the characters all cast in a believable fashion.  At times it can be a bit confusing sorting out who is fighting whom, and for what, but overall that only adds to the insanity of a blood feud in the first place. And, for those who find this type of film unbelievable, just pick up the newspaper sometime and read about some of the “honor killings” which still go on today. It will make you scratch your head in bewilderment at how such things can still be in the 21st century.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"I Still Miss Someone" - The Story of a Song.

A lot of people associate this song with Carl Perkins and he is often perceived to be the songwriter on it. But actually, it was written by his close buddy, and one of the “Million Dollar Quartet”, Johnny Cash. The "Million Dollar Quartet" was composed of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. In 1956 these 4 guys changed the course of music; leading to the fusion of Country/Gospel and Rhythm and Blues which became known as Rock and Roll.

Working out of Sun Studios in Memphis, they pumped out a steady stream of musical hits which earned them their nickname. This song, “I Still Miss Someone” is mostly thought to be a Carl Perkins composition; probably because he got the biggest hit with it. But the song is actually written by Johnny Cash and his brother Roy Cash, Jr. and was released as the flip side of “Don’t Take Your Gun to Town” in 1958.

It didn't really move until it was included on “Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash” in 1963. After that, the song became so popular that it is included on just about all of Johnny Cash’s live albums throughout the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.

The song has been recorded by Flatt and Scruggs, Martina McBride with Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks and Ben King; all of whom placed the song in the top 100. It’s that kind of song. It appeals to almost everyone because we all have someone special whom we still miss, even after a long period of time. There are people in all of our lives we may never see, or hear from, again. But that doesn't mean you don’t carry them in your heart just the same.

There isn't a live version on You Tube, so I used Loretta Lynn’s TV version instead. But below is the link to the actual recording by Carl Perkins. He really manages to make the song his own, and it’s no wonder he is often associated with having written it. My friend Glen Slater e-mailed this song to me recently, reminding me that while Carl may still be missing someone, I still miss Carl Perkins.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"The Great Pearl Heist" by Molly Caldwell Crosby (2012)

100 years ago today a string of the world’s most valuable pearls, arranged in a necklace, left Paris for an overnight journey to London. It was sent by Solomans, one of the world’s leading jewelers of the day, to a jeweler named Max Meyer. The pearls never arrived at their destination.

The story of the heist; and the men who pulled it off; is set like a gemstone by the author in a narrative that depicts the final years of the Victorian Era just as the Edwardian Era dawns. Europe was in an upheaval which would lead to world war, and the old aristocracy was beginning to crumble. In many ways, it was the beginning of the end for the British Empire.

Joseph Grizzard, also known as “Cammi” in the criminal underworld, was the mastermind of the whole affair. From humble beginnings in the East End of London, he rose to be a respected gentleman. He had but one flaw; he was a thief of the first order. He had been involved in some of the most notorious crimes of the era; never violent crimes; this man was no Jack the Ripper. He was a jewel thief, and now he had his sights set on the biggest prize of his lifetime.

With a very skilled hand, Ms. Crosby guides the reader through the London known to many as a labyrinth of criminal characters, while at the same time drawing upon the history of crime in the city. So much of this book will remind the reader of “Oliver Twist”, as it takes place in the same crowded quarter of the city as that story did. Indeed, Dickens used to walk these streets in search of inspiration for his books. All of this only serves to make the book more enjoyable, as it lends a familiarity to the locations, drawing the reader further in.

The book is not only the story of this one particular crime, but also a history of crime detection techniques and their rise in use during the early years of the last century. From fingerprints to profiling, this was the era in which it all began. New York already had its Rogues Gallery of mug shots, and Scotland Yard had fingerprints. They also had a cadre of undercover policemen, dressed as tramps, thieves, even prostitutes, in an attempt to penetrate the criminal underworld of the day.

In addition, the author takes the time to develop the histories of each of the principal characters, giving them a depth which makes them more “real” to the reader. In turn, that knowledge is translated into admiration, or pity, for the people involved in the story itself. It may sound easy to do; but it’s not.

As to the case itself; Joseph Grizzard was caught; albeit by other thieves looking to cash in on the reward; but the double crosses and deceits come quickly in this book, so you need to pay attention. To that end, Ms. Crosby has prefaced the book with a wonderfully arranged list of principal characters, as well as a short introduction of the necklace itself.

Also included, in the very first chapter, is a breathtaking description of just how pearls were harvested by natives who would attach themselves to heavy stones and then plunge 100 feet below the surface, holding their breath while they gathered as many of the oyster shells as they could hold, before cutting themselves loose for the sudden ascent to the surface. Some made it, others did not. And, with only 1 of about every 200 shells likely to yield a pearl, they were just as rare; and more perfect than diamonds. Even the best diamonds need to be cut. Pearls are perfect as is.

Grizzard was eventually charged and convicted of the heist; mostly due to the work of Chief Inspector Alfred Ward of Scotland Yard, with a bit of help from some seedy characters looking for the reward. And after he was released from prison in 1920, he went on to do one more heist, this time using a front man with whom he provided the cash necessary to gain the confidence of a local jeweler. Then, after several cash purchases,  when that confidence was secure, he had his front man purchase a necklace worth more than he had already spent in cash, paying for that final purchase with a bogus check.

Sick and weak from diabetes, Grizzard was convicted of this last crime and  allowed to serve his sentence at home, dying there from the effects of diabetes. He passed away on September 11, 1923, the exact day; as the author points out; when insulin first became available to fight the disease that killed him.

Only one pearl; the largest; was ever recovered from the Great Pearl Heist. It was the centerpiece which hung at the bottom of the necklace. It had originally belonged to a Royal family from Portugal before making it's way to Max Mayer's necklace.

If you love true crime stories, seedy characters right out of Charles Dickens, along with foggy London streets and overnight train trips to Paris; this book is everything you could hope for.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

George Carlin - On Religion

If you are very serious about your religion, then do not hit start on this George Carlin bit, it will only offend you. I usually post a religious piece on Sunday; music or something at least family related. This routine by Mr. Carlin in no way reflects my own religious views at all; but I like to think of this as sort of a variety day on my blog. At any rate, God is probably strong enough to take this in good humor, if not; then George Carlin; and possibly myself; are both in trouble!

I’m posting this because I think it’s funny and illustrates the difference between our American culture and that of the Middle East. If George Carlin had ever done a bit like this about Islam, his head would've been on a pike. I’m probably going do a couple of these posts, featuring comedians such as ex-pastor Sam Kinnison with his hysterical piece about why Jesus was never married and why he’s not coming back. I don’t necessarily agree with these performers in every aspect; actually I am an ardent believer in God; but I do find this sort of humor to be funny. And, once again, if you don't, then please do not hit that start button!

In addition, I felt that since I have posted so much religious themed stuff on Sundays, it was time to give the pagans a shot. If anyone is offended by this type of humor, please do not watch this; I would hate to lose anyone of the people who drop in here. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"$21 a Day (Once a Month)" - A Walter Lantz Cartoon (1941)

Just after the first peace time draft got under way, shortly before we were drawn into the Second World War, there was a plethora of movies and music which swept the land, all of which chronicled the adventures/misadventures of the new recruits. Abbott and Costello immediately come to mind with their series of movies, “In the Army” and “In the Navy.” Like all good entertainment of the time, these films featured lots of swing music and dancing. So it goes with this cartoon from 1941, produced by Walter Lantz.

With his usual deft hand, Mr. Lantz created a wonderful record of how America viewed the idea of a draft, as well as the coming war in the months before Pearl Harbor. Poking fun at the regimentation required of Army life, the cartoon lampoons the highly regimented life of the average draftee as he is pushed, prodded and prepped for battle with the enemy. The beauty of it all is that he did it using animated toys rather than real draftees. It kind of underscores the feeling unreality which usually precedes the coming of miltary conflict. The part which makes it look like fun.

This was one of the last of the cartoons concerning the war which were designed to make us laugh at ourselves. In just a few short months after the release of this cartoon the attack on Pearl Harbor would affect everything about the American way of life; even the cartoons. They, too, were casualties of the war as they became tools of propaganda, designed to inflame passions and beat the enemy.

Art can be used for good, and it can be used for evil. And it’s not always the artist who creates the evil. Sometimes, art is merely a reflection of who we are at the time. In this cartoon, we were still innocents. Wouldn't it be nice if that it were still so?

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Sip A Little Tea with Goldie" - Smothers Brothers Show (1968)

One of the most forgotten segments of the Smother’s Brothers Comedy Hour was the weekly “Sip a Little Tea with Goldie” skit. This short video explains just how the chance encounter between an audience member, “Goldie O’Keefe”, occurred and how it affected the show as well as comedy in general. Some of her double entendre weather reports actually pre-date George Carlin’s “Hippie Dippie Weatherman” bit by almost a year.

Not much to explain about this video- its humor is self-evident and the topics are all relevant to the times when the skit was done, during the height of the “Summer of Love” and the War in Vietnam. The Smothers Brothers were only on for a few years, battling the CBS censors the entire time. 

The Smother's Brothers; along with the edgy artists they presented; pushed the boundaries of “acceptable” television, paving the way for shows such as “Saturday Night Live” in the 1970’s. Even contemporary comedians Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert owe a huge debt to these two brothers and the debt they paid to pave the way for more open political humor and satirical art.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Getting it Right in Egypt

Ever since the “Arab Spring” uprising in Egypt there has been great confusion over whether it was a good or bad thing. Much of this confusion has been fostered by both an ill-informed press and an ignorant body of our own lawmakers. You know the type; the same ones who bought into the War in Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein; and basically have mismanaged the Middle East for decades. This includes both Republicans and Democrats.

To understand what has happened in Egypt, it is necessary to look back at the history of Turkey; most notably at the reign of Ataturk; real name Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; who was instrumental in the establishment of a secular government in Turkey after the end of the First World War and the demise of the Ottoman Empire. In the past 12 years; since 9/11 and our misguided war in Iraq; we have been instrumental in restoring the Ottoman Empire, from Afghanistan to the border of Turkey. This bodes ill for the West, as it is a step backwards in time and progress, not to mention freedom.

Basically, pure democracy can be a dangerous thing. We ourselves have an Electoral College to safe guard our democracy against being hijacked by various extremists groups. The founding fathers were very wise in this respect. They saw the potential of the people to make mistakes. And, to safeguard the republic from itself, the Electoral College was formed. It has served us well for over 200 years. It is a restraint which has served as the buffer against our country falling too far to the right, or to the left.

In Turkey, when Ataturk took down the last of the Caliphate in the mid 1920’s, he took a cue from our secular democracy; seeing to it that Turkey’s military would be tasked with upholding a secular government. He also outlawed the Fez and the Veil, seeing them as roadblocks to joining the 20th Century, as well as signs of division among her own people.

As a result of that foresight, Turkey has enjoyed almost a century of stable governance. There have been a few occasions in which the Turkish people have elected an Islamic fundamentalist to the Presidency, only to have the military take over the government until the tide of extremism has ebbed. When that happens, the military returns the government to the people for free elections. I had the privilege to see this system in action while traveling through Turkey in the 1970’s, when extremism was on the rise; and the military took control; and then again in 1984 when they returned the government to the people.

The current leader of Turkey is walking fine line. He was elected on an Islamist platform, and the military did not attend his swearing in; although they vowed to back him so long as he maintained a secular government. Recently, in the wake of the fallout from the Arab Spring, he has tried to take Turkey back a few steps toward Islamic Fundamentalism, but with the military looking on closely, he has not been able to do so.

This brings us to Egypt; which although it has a different constitution; the dynamics are about the same. The people ousted Mubarak; much as the Iraqi’s did to Hussein; and the results of both are plain to see. The power vacuum in both countries was quickly filled by extremists, such as Mursi in Egypt, and the still fractured sects vying for control in Iraq. This is the same dilemma which President Assad of Syria faces in the current troubles in his country. Although he has vowed to destroy Israel, Syria remains more of a pipeline for the supplies and weapons required by the Palestinians than an actual military threat. In his own way, he may still be considered to be a roadblock against the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.

On the other hand, we have helped to restore a portion of the Ottoman Empire, unbroken, from Afghanistan to the border of Turkey, which is home to the Kurds. The Kurds are Islamic Fundamentalists who, if they had the chance, would have taken Iraq and Turkey long ago. And remember, that Turkey is the dividing line between the East and West. It was only the repressive policies of Hussein, along with the secular government in Turkey which has prevented them from crossing that line.

When the Arab Spring rolled around, the news media and ill-informed people the world over rejoiced. There was going to be democracy in Egypt! That didn’t last long, as evidenced by the recent overthrow of President Mursi. That the military has stepped in and put a halt to the Islamization of Egypt is a welcome event, but it is easily misunderstood by most Americans, who see it only as a military coup and an affront to freedom.

The truth of the matter is that Egypt has taken a leaf from the pages of Turkey’s history and revoked the powers of the President, setting a respected Judge in place to run the courts, while at the same time planning for free and responsible elections next year. This is actually good news for those who can understand it. It means that Egypt’s military has taken the necessary steps to stop the slide of her country into Islamic Fundamentalism. You can almost feel the sigh of relief coming from Israel, who would soon have found itself surrounded on all sides; once again; by enemies bent on her destruction.

I wish the Egyptian people luck in their effort to maintain a secular government in the face of both the terrorists, as well as the ill-informed people who are clamoring about a military coup thwarting the so-called Arab Spring in that country.

For more about the Ataturk and the formation of the modern Turkish government you can go to; and apply the lessons learned there to the situation now taking place in Egypt.

The photo above is of the Egyptian military helicopters flying over the protesters in a show of support for the ouster of President Mursi last week.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Forgotten Hero - William Shone Williams

I was researching my Grandfather William’s journey the other day and was struck by the remarkable course of events that shaped his too short life. I never met the man, he passed away before I was born, making him larger than life to me ever since I can remember. So, this is for the Grandfather I never knew, but have always been so curious about.

My grandpa had a metal plate
He won it in the war.
He wore it deep inside his head
And it sometimes made him sore.
My grandpa was a hero,
though no one could see.
He may not have liked the Germans much
But I’m sure that he’d like me.

Came home from the war
They said that he had changed.
I guess a war will do that;
Kind of make you strange.
Every night he went to bed
With the metal plate he wore.
Each time he got to fall asleep
He fought the war once more.

I never met my grandpa
He was gone ‘fore I was born.
He was only 43,
All tired out and worn.
He was only living;
that’s not to say alive;
I’d have really liked to know him
But the man did not survive.

Concord, NC
July 2, 2013

For Pvt. William Shone Williams (1903-1946)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"Carlito's Way" with Al Pacino and Sean Penn (1993)

There are no friends in the drug game. That’s something you learn real young. And Carlito, played by Al Pacino, learned his lesson well. But did it stick? After 5 years in prison for trafficking in drugs; mostly heroin; he intends to go straight. But, when Carlito accompanies his cousin on a drug buy, things change.

His attorney, David Kleinfeld; played brilliantly by Sean Penn; has changed in the 5 years his client has been in jail. He has become a lawyer for the mob, with a cocaine habit to boot. When his mob bosses discover that he has stolen $1 million dollars from them, he turns to the newly released Carlito to help him stay alive. Feeling that he owes his lawyer a favor for getting his 30 year sentence commuted, he lends a hand in breaking one of the mobsters out of jail; in this case, a Rikers Island prison barge in New York. When Carlito discovers that his lawyer is nothing but a gangster himself; all the rules change.

As Carlito strives to become a legitimate nightclub owner, he finds himself more and more involved in his attorney’s problems. All of this drama puts a strain on his relationship with his old girlfriend, Gail; played by the always lovely Penelope Ann Miller; who is pregnant with his child. Still, Carlito feels obligated to do one this last favor for his lawyer and then move to the Bahamas, taking Gail with him. But once again, circumstances arise which make this goal impossible.

The film is also a good snapshot of the disco era and the cocaine epidemic which swept the nation during the 1970's. And, with great character acting by Luiz Guzman, as Carlito’s bodyguard; and John Leguizamo,  as Benny Blanco of the Bronx;  this film has a raw edge which will even have you forgiving Al Pacino’s less than perfect Hispanic accent. A very fast paced movie directed by Brian De Palma, from David Koepp’s screenplay of Edwin Torres novel, make this film one you will want to revisit from time to time.

Monday, July 8, 2013

"Eighty Days" by Matthew Goodman (2013)

To really understand this book, and what this journey meant at the time, the reader must be made aware of Jules Verne; the first “science-romance” author; and his fabulous writings in the 1870’s, including “Around the World in 80 Days”; and how that book came about. Though the story itself is fantastic; that book involves only technologies which had already been invented; unlike his other works “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, which both relied upon new inventions which were still decades away. His hero, Phileas Fogg, embarks upon his journey as the result of a dare, or wager, made at the local club where he plays whist.

Much to the author’s credit; not only does he supply that background, but he also provides ample background to the story of Ms. Bly, working for the New York World and her race around the world with Elizabeth Bisland, working for Cosmopolitan Magazine. This information really gives an extra dimension to the book, as well as offering a glimpse of what the times were like for women in the days when these two daredevils made their separate journey’s, each traveling around the world in opposite directions.

The feat had been accomplished before, by men who were working their way around the globe. But this was the first trip to be made by a woman, traveling alone, and for the express purpose of traveling, rather than working; though both women were employed in their separate endeavors by their respective publishers.

Embarking from New York; Ms. Bly by steamship to England; and Ms. Bisland by train to San Francisco; the two set off on a journey that each hopes will beat the 80 day’s envisioned in the Jules Verne novel. Filled with all of the charm and mystique of the era, along with wonderful descriptions of what each women saw on her journey, make this book both a history and a travelogue. Some of the countries that these women visited would be erased by the First World War, and some even came back into being after the Cold War. At any rate, the book is crafted in such a way that it would be impossible for any reader to come away from this book without having gained something from the experience.

With women’s rights on the run in the present, sometimes it’s enlightening to look back and relearn the obstacles, and struggles, which women once faced in almost every walk of life. Just ask Nelly Bly; all she wanted to be was a news reporter. If you want to know who won the race you’ll have to read the book, or look it up. I may be many things; but a spoiler is not one of them.