Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Jerry Lewis Telethon - 1964

This was posted in 2010 during the Labor Day Weekend, which has always made me think of Jerry Lewis and his Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy. I’m probably not alone in this, as most of us baby boomers were raised with the TV on and our families tuning in to the show; if only to see how much money was coming in.

So, this is my memory of the telethon’s history and the tear my family actually participated; collected money and brought it to the hotel in Manhattan where the telethon was being held. It was pretty exciting stuff to a 10 year old.

I remember when the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon was a local, one station affair broadcast from the Americana Hotel in New York City. This year is being touted as the 45th Annual Telethon, but I can tell you that this is incorrect.

The telethon began in 1956, with Jerry Lewis and his partner, Dean Martin, hosting a show on WNEW-TV in New York. They raised $600,000 to benefit the newly found Muscular Dystrophy Association of America. Again in 1957 and 1959, Jerry did two more shows, which he began calling “telethons.” These were the days when TV actually went off the air at about 1 or 2 in the morning, so the telethon was a huge event. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to see if it was really still on! And upon waking in the morning it was the first thing I checked.

Another aspect of those early telethons, which I found fascinating, was that at night pledges came in from faraway places such as Connecticut and even Philadelphia! The TV signal during the daylight hours was very short range, but at night I could pick up Channel 3 in Philadelphia. I suppose they had discovered the same thing about signals from New York.

When I was 10; and this would be 1964; my parents, along with my brother and I, collected for MDA and then went to the Americana to join in the long line waiting to dump their donations in the big carts that were set up inside the hotel hallway on the ground floor. I believe it was just outside the doors to the space that was being used for the Telethon. The 1966 Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon was the first to be held on Labor Day weekend and the first to raise more than $1 million.

The Telethon has grown larger over the years. I believe the 1966 date for today's so-called 45th Telethon represents the date of the first broadcast from New York that was linked to other cities, like Philadelphia. Eventually the Telethon left WNEW in New York for WOR-TV and then finally moved to Las Vegas. But nothing will ever compare to the close knit feeling of those first few years when one little station in New York gave birth to this annual event.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Niagara Suspension Bridge Shell

I found this interesting shell about 25 years ago in Burtonsville, Md. while working as an assistant to a surveyor. I would compute the formulas in the field in order to get a quick “traverse” of the properties we surveyed. This was before the computer stuff took over. I was good at it due to my experience as a Quartermaster in the Navy and later as a Navigators Assistant while serving as Third Mate in the Merchant Marine.

Anyway, there was an old mobile home on one property and I went in to look around; maybe see what treasures might have been left behind; expecting nothing. I found this in the kitchen area and it evoked in me the scene from “Grapes of Wrath” where Jane Darwell is going through her old memory chest and finds the pin from the St. Louis Exposition of 1903. It must have meant a great deal to someone a long time ago.

At the time internet was still in its infancy and I couldn't find out too much about this bridge, which of course was long gone. While reading a book today I came across an item mentioning that James Roebling had built a suspension bridge over the Niagara in 1855. I Googled it and came up with a wonderful Wikipedia article on it. I wondered where the shell was and happily found it in our china closet, way in the rear where it could not be seen.

The bridge was taken down in 1897 which finally gives me an age for the shell. It is from the 1890’s or older. And the illustration is so much like the one etched in the shell that I wanted to share it. For more on this brige and it’s remarkable history hit the link;

Meantime the shell is now out of the closet so to speak, and occupies a prominent place on the piano.

Friday, August 29, 2014

"The Kings of Summer" with (2013)

This is the “new” coming of age film. It is a bit different than the innocence depicted in films such as “Stand by Me”, but in spite of that, the film is a pretty accurate reflection of today’s teenage perception of what it means to “become a man.”

The film depicts the reasons behind the decision by 3 teenagers to leave home and set up on their own over the summer. The three all have different issues with their families and the lure to be on their own is very strong. So, when 15 year old Joe; played by Nick Robinson; approaches his 2 buddies with his idea about building a home of their own in a clearing in the woods, they are ready to listen.

Joe lost his mother to illness a few years earlier and his relationship with his Dad is adversarial at best. Complicating things is the presence of a new woman in his Dad’s life; a relationship he refuses to acknowledge.

Joe has a severe crush on Kelly; played by Elin Moriarty; who is already in a relationship with some guy named Paul. After seeing her at school and being humiliated by her boyfriend Joe heads for home accompanied by his strange friend Biaggio; played by Moises Arias. Biaggio claims to be asexual. When the two cut through the woods on the way home they discover the spot where Joe decides that they should build a house. Joe wants his friend Patrick; played by Gabriel Basso; to join them.

Patrick has an array of survivalist books from which the trio makes plans to build their home. They pilfer materials wherever they can find them, dragging everything into the woods and actually building their home. Shortly after it is finished the three boys move in to begin their new lives.

Thinking that the boys have been kidnapped the town is searching for them frantically. The police know better; since the boys took money and tools from their parent’s homes when they left. It’s just a question of where they went.

The boys are learning that living off the land; while sounding appetizing; is not as easy as it appears. They find a small grocery store from which they are able to count on fresh meat each day, and so that becomes their main source of food. Hunting, fishing and cooking have proven too difficult for them.

As the days go by Joe misses Kelly more and more, and so makes arrangements for her to come visit them in the woods. She brings a friend along. Kelly has broken up with her boyfriend and Joe is still smitten with her. He is hoping that when she sees all that he has accomplished she will become his girlfriend. But instead she is attracted to Patrick and the two slip away together. This event causes Joe to have a sort of meltdown, which breaks down the bond between the 2 friends. Patrick destroys a portion of the house he helped to build and leaves. Biaggio wants to stay but Joe sends him away also. Now he is truly alone.

The police question Biaggio and Patrick; with Biaggio turning out to be the strongest of the two. He tells the police nothing. Joe, meantime, has run out of money to buy chickens at the food store and begins to actually hunt. He captures and kills a rabbit, but feels so badly about it that he cannot eat it. It has now been over a month since the boys left home, and Joe is the only one unaccounted for.

At this point Kelly tells Joe’s father about the secret location of the house and they head there to get Joe. The ending of the film involves a poisonous snake and a heroic act by Joe, which earns him the respect of his father. And although Kelly and Joe remain only friends, he comes away with a new understanding of himself, his father and life in general.

A very ethereal film in some respects, with intense acting on the part of all the principal players, this film illuminates the never changing angst of growing up.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Christmas in July" with Dick Powell and Ellen Drew (1940)

I always watch a Christmas movie sometime in August. Maybe it’s just being tired of the heat; or that old wishing it was winter in the summer and vice versa thing. We humans are rarely ever fully satisfied with our current lots in life; always looking for what we don’t have rather than fully enjoying what we do have at the time. It’s just who we are.

This is one of the quirkiest Christmas movies ever made; as it takes place in July. Preston Sturges; arguably one of the greatest film directors ever; is in rare form in this film. Dick Powell and Ellen Drew, two young lovers, play a couple with no money but with big dreams.

When Jimmy MacDonald enters a contest for an advertising slogan he has high hopes. And when he is notified that he has won, and can now marry his true love Betty Casey, all should end well. But, this is a Preston Sturges movie, and it’s never that simple; ever.

Jimmy enters the contest with the Maxford Coffee Company and his co-workers decide to have a bit of fun with him. They send him a telegram that says he has won the prize of $25,000. He now believes he has enough to marry his girlfriend; as well as buy extravagant gifts for his friends and neighbors.

In reality though the coffee company is deadlocked on their selection and as Jimmy goes deeper and deeper into debt; with no money forthcoming; what will become of all his hopes and dreams? Will he be branded as a fraud in the heat of the summer; or will he bask in the warmth of a Christmas like miracle in July? 

I simply will not reveal the ending of this film, which is one of Preston Sturges best cinematic creations. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Quran's Greatest Hits

The flag above is the ISIS flag shown in the English translation.

Why is everyone so surprised at the recent beheadings by the radical group Isis in Iraq? And where are the so-called Moderate Islamics we hear so much about? I see them busily protesting the mistreatment of the Hamas group; whose foolish tactics in firing rockets at Israel, leading to the retaliation which they knew would cause the deaths of their own people; but I don’t see or hear them condemning the beheading and mass killing of people who are unwilling to convert to Islam, pay the tax, or die.

Those are the choices. They are in the Quran. They are requirements for the faithful. I have run these quotes here before. I got a few complaints but no denials that these are the prayers that are said 5 times a day in the Arab countries. I have been there; awakened at dusk to the call to prayer from the minaret. It was so picturesque; so cool; until I found out what they were saying.

Here are some of the Quran’s greatest “hits” for you to ponder. And for those who would counter that there are similar passages in the Old and new Testaments of the Judo-Christian religion; read your Bible more carefully. There are many judgmental things in it; to be sure. And I have my own “problems” with organized religions in general; even my own. But nowhere does the Bible call for enslaving anyone who does not agree with our concept of God. Islam is the only religion in the world that does that.

I welcome all civilized feedback. Those who contact me calling for my death and a Fatwa will not receive the dignity of a reply; the same rules as the last couple of times we did this here. You can view these quotes in context several places online. The Quran is also available at your local library for verification. I invite scrutiny.

Qur'an:4:78 "Wherever you are, death will find you, even if you are in towers strong and high! So what is wrong with these people, that they fail to understand these simple words?"

Qur'an:9:88 "The Messenger and those who believe with him, strive hard and fight with their wealth and lives in Allah's Cause."

Qur'an:9:5 "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war."

Qur'an:9:29 "Fight those who do not believe until they all surrender, paying the protective tax in submission."

Qur'an:8:39 "Fight them until all opposition ends and all submit to Allah."

Qur'an:8:39 "So fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief [non-Muslims]) and all submit to the religion of Allah alone (in the whole world)."

Ishaq:324 "He said, 'Fight them so that there is no more rebellion, and religion, all of it, is for Allah only. Allah must have no rivals.'"

Qur'an:9:14 "Fight them and Allah will punish them by your hands, lay them low, and cover them with shame. He will help you over them."

Ishaq:300 "I am fighting in Allah's service. This is piety and a good deed. In Allah's war I do not fear as others should. For this fighting is righteous, true, and good."

Ishaq:587 "Our onslaught will not be a weak faltering affair. We shall fight as long as we live. We will fight until you turn to Islam, humbly seeking refuge. We will fight not caring whom we meet. We will fight whether we destroy ancient holdings or newly gotten gains. We have mutilated every opponent. We have driven them violently before us at the command of Allah and Islam. We will fight until our religion is established. And we will plunder them, for they must suffer disgrace."

Qur'an:8:65 "O Prophet, urge the faithful to fight. If there are twenty among you with determination they will vanquish two hundred; if there are a hundred then they will slaughter a thousand unbelievers, for the infidels are a people devoid of understanding."

Ishaq:326 "Prophet exhort the believers to fight. If there are twenty good fighters they will defeat two hundred for they are a senseless people. They do not fight with good intentions nor for truth."

Bukhari:V4B52N63 "A man whose face was covered with an iron mask came to the Prophet and said, 'Allah's Apostle! Shall I fight or embrace Islam first?' The Prophet said, 'Embrace Islam first and then fight.' So he embraced Islam, and was martyred. Allah's Apostle said, 'A Little work, but a great reward.'"

Bukhari:V4B53N386 "Our Prophet, the Messenger of our Lord, ordered us to fight you till you worship Allah alone or pay us the Jizyah tribute tax in submission. Our Prophet has informed us that our Lord says: 'Whoever amongst us is killed as a martyr shall go to Paradise to lead such a luxurious life as he has never seen, and whoever survives shall become your master.'"

Muslim:C34B20N4668 "The Messenger said: 'Anybody who equips a warrior going to fight in the Way of Allah is like one who actually fights. And anybody who looks after his family in his absence is also like one who actually fights."

Qur'an:9:38 "Believers, what is the matter with you, that when you are asked to go forth and fight in Allah's Cause you cling to the earth? Do you prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter? Unless you go forth, He will afflict and punish you with a painful doom, and put others in your place."

Qur'an:9:123 "Fight the unbelievers around you, and let them find harshness in you."

Qur'an:8:72 "Those who accepted Islam and left their homes to fight in Allah's Cause with their possessions and persons, and those who gave (them) asylum, aid, and shelter, those who harbored them - these are allies of one another. You are not responsible for protecting those who embraced Islam but did not leave their homes [to fight] until they do so." [Another translation reads:] "You are only called to protect Muslims who fight."

Muslim:C9B1N31 "I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and believe in me (that) I am the Messenger and in all that I have brought."

Qur'an:8:73 "The unbelieving infidels are allies. Unless you (Muslims) aid each other (fighting as one united block to make Allah's religion victorious), there will be confusion and mischief. Those who accepted Islam, left their homes to fight in Allah's Cause (al-Jihad), as well as those who give them asylum, shelter, and aid - these are (all) Believers: for them is pardon and bountiful provision (in Paradise)."

Tabari IX:69 "Arabs are the most noble people in lineage, the most prominent, and the best in deeds. We were the first to respond to the call of the Prophet. We are Allah's helpers and the viziers of His Messenger. We fight people until they believe in Allah. He who believes in Allah and His Messenger has protected his life and possessions from us. As for one who disbelieves, we will fight him forever in the Cause of Allah. Killing him is a small matter to us."

Qur'an:48:16 "Say (Muhammad) to the wandering desert Arabs who lagged behind: 'You shall be invited to fight against a people given to war with mighty prowess. You shall fight them until they surrender and submit. If you obey, Allah will grant you a reward, but if you turn back, as you did before, He will punish you with a grievous torture."

Qur'an:48:22 "If the unbelieving infidels fight against you, they will retreat. (Such has been) the practice (approved) of Allah in the past: no change will you find in the ways of Allah."

Qur'an:47:4 "When you clash with the unbelieving Infidels in battle (fighting Jihad in Allah's Cause), smite their necks until you overpower them, killing and wounding many of them. At length, when you have thoroughly subdued them, bind them firmly, making (them) captives. Thereafter either generosity or ransom (them based upon what benefits Islam) until the war lays down its burdens. Thus are you commanded by Allah to continue carrying out Jihad against the unbelieving infidels until they submit to Islam."

Tabari VI:138 "Those present at the oath of Aqabah had sworn an allegiance to Muhammad. It was a pledge of war against all men. Allah had permitted fighting."

Tabari VI:139 "Allah had given his Messenger permission to fight by revealing the verse 'And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah.'"

Qur'an:9:19 "Do you make the giving of drink to pilgrims, or the maintenance of the Mosque, equal to those who fight in the Cause of Allah? They are not comparable in the sight of Allah. Those who believe, and left their homes, striving with might, fighting in Allah's Cause with their goods and their lives, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah."

Ishaq:550 "The Muslims met them with their swords. They cut through many arms and skulls. Only confused cries and groans could be heard over our battle roars and snarling."

Ishaq:578 "Crushing the heads of the infidels and splitting their skulls with sharp swords, we continually thrust and cut at the enemy. Blood gushed from their deep wounds as the battle wore them down. We conquered bearing the Prophet's fluttering war banner. Our cavalry was submerged in rising dust, and our spears quivered, but by us the Prophet gained victory."

Tabari IX:25 "By Allah, I did not come to fight for nothing. I wanted a victory over Ta'if so that I might obtain a slave girl from them and make her pregnant."

Tabari IX:82 "The Messenger sent Khalid with an army of 400 to Harith [a South Arabian tribe] and ordered him to invite them to Islam for three days before he fought them. If they were to respond and submit, he was to teach them the Book of Allah, the Sunnah of His Prophet, and the requirements of Islam. If they should decline, then he was to fight them."

Ishaq:530 "Get out of his way, you infidel unbelievers. Every good thing goes with the Apostle. Lord, I believe in his word. We will fight you about its interpretations as we have fought you about its revelation with strokes that will remove heads from shoulders and make enemies of friends."

Muslim:C9B1N33 "The Prophet said: 'I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and they establish prostration prayer, and pay Zakat. If they do it, their blood and property are protected.'"

Muslim:C10B1N176 "Muhammad (may peace be upon him) sent us in a raiding party. We raided Huraqat in the morning. I caught hold of a man and he said: 'There is no god but Allah,' but I attacked him with a spear anyway. It once occurred to me that I should ask the Apostle about this. The Messenger said: 'Did he profess "There is no god but Allah," and even then you killed him?' I said: 'He made a profession out of the fear of the weapon I was threatening him with.' The Prophet said: 'Did you tear out his heart in order to find out whether it had professed truly or not?'"

Muslim:C53B20N4717 "The Prophet said: 'This religion will continue to exist, and a group of people from the Muslims will continue to fight for its protection until the Hour is established.'"

Qur'an:2:193 "Fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief) and religion is only for Allah. But if they cease/desist, let there be no hostility except against infidel disbelievers."

Ishaq:470 "We attacked them fully armed, swords in hand, cutting through heads and skulls."

Qur'an:4:74 "Let those who fight in Allah's Cause sell this world's life for the hereafter. To him who fights in Allah's Cause, whether he is slain or victorious, We shall give him a reward."

Qur'an:4:94 "Believers, when you go abroad to fight wars in Allah's Cause, investigate carefully, and say not to anyone who greets you: 'You are not a believer!' Coveting the chance profits of this life (so that you may despoil him). With Allah are plenteous spoils and booty."

Qur'an:4:104 "And do not relent in pursuing the enemy."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Charles Fort - A Most Peculiar Man

Charles Hoy Fort was a most unusual man; some might even say peculiar. Either way; he made quite an impression, leaving over 60,000 written articles to the New York Public Library upon his death in 1932. He may not have been correct in most of the things he wrote about, but he was prolific!

Born in August 1874 in Albany, New York he is considered to be an American writer and researcher of anomalous phenomena. Although he was controversial; to say the least; his books are still in print and there adherents to his philosophies; even if they have largely been discredited by science. He is somewhat of an American oddity; indeed, I am writing about here, over 80 years after his death in May of 1932.

Some might say that Mr. Fort was the father of the modern American conspiracy theorists; those who believe that the government lies to the people about everything. Hmmm, there might be something to that. But Mr. Fort’s distrust seems to have originated with his stern father, who was a grocer by trade. In his autobiography he recalls several “harsh” physical punishments at the hands of his father.

As weird as some of his theories may have been, the man was literally driven, by his teen years he was already a collector of sea shells, birds, rocks, insects and anything else he could amass. And he became totally immersed in whatever he was interested in at the time. So, it is no surprise that when he turned of age he set off to see more of the world which he was so curious about.

In 1892 he left on a tour of the world, in order he claimed, to "put some capital in the bank of experience". He crossed the United States, went through Scotland and England before setting off to Africa. It was there that fate made its appearance and he took ill, forcing him to return home.

But even that turned to his advantage when he reconnected with Anna Filing, a woman whom he had known previously and was now engaged as his nurse. They were married in 1896 and the couple set off for England shortly after that. It is of particular note that she was 4 years his senior and not very well read. Her chief interests seem to have been silent films and parakeets! While in London they lived a rocky life financially as he struggled with writing short stories to fund his research into just about anything which interested him.

His chief bit of renown came from his investigation in “spontaneous eruptions” of people bursting into flames. Although they were burned to a crisp, their clothes were always unharmed; which ruled out lightning. In the 1890’s and on through the early 20th century this was a common occurrence; which has never really been explained beyond the fact that science wasn’t able to answer the question at the time. So, you have to wonder…

His Uncle died in 1916, leaving him enough money to quit working; if you can call what he did working; and devote his time to writing full time. The efforts produced 10 books, one of which actually got published. It was a story about life in the tenements. It was not very well received. He then turned to science.

He was mainly concerned with two questions; the first was about Martians. He believed that we were puppets of the Martians and that they were actually controlling us from space. His other big thing was the existence of a lost civilization that lived at the South Pole. He believed that there was an opening there which allowed them to exit the interior of the earth. He believed that they were plotting to take over. It’s interesting to note that there are some UFO buffs who believe that flying saucers come from that location; thus combining Fort’s two theories into one.

From this theory he was encouraged by writer Theodore Dreiser, to write “The Book of the Damned” in 1919, which would cement his name into literary history. If not for that work I would probably not be writing of him now. The book is a compendium of all his unproven research. Unproven is used here in two ways. The first is obvious; he never proved any of his theories to be true. The second meaning is better; science had never actually proven him to be wrong.  

Aside from a return visit to London, where he lived from 1924 to 1926, he spent most of the rest of his life in the Bronx. He was a lively and witty character, and sought out by literary contemporaries such as Dreiser. This group of friends rotated meeting at one another’s apartments for coffee and robust discussions about everything under the Sun. When their spouses tired of the meetings night after night, they would adjourn to local neighborhood taverns.

During this period he found himself to have an actual following of people who admired him for any number of reasons. Some believed his theories; while others merely found him to be engaging company. Although he suffered from poor health he had a routine of sorts. Each day he would take the subway to the New York Public Library. He would buy a bunch of newspapers and clip articles from them, writing notes about them all. He needled anything which claimed to be scientific, and then gave his own explanation. These articles comprise much of the 60,000 items he left to the library upon his death.

Say what you will about the guy, he had the courage of his convictions; eschewing doctors and the medicines which might have alleviated some of his suffering. He collapsed on May 3, 1932 and was taken to the hospital. His publisher came to visit him and let him know that his latest book was to be published shortly. He died a few hours later from what was probably a form of leukemia. He was a most peculiar man.

Monday, August 25, 2014

"Rise of the Warrior Cop" by Radley Balko (2013)

There can be no timelier book than this. With the recent troubles in Ferguson, Mo., the issue of police “over reach” has come to the forefront of conversation. Particularly alarming to most people is the militaristic buildup of the local police forces with the use of cast off military gear.

For instance, I live in a small town in Huntersville. We have a tank; maybe two. We also have body armor and riot gear that is more than sufficient for the unrest which will undoubtedly accompany the Second Coming of Christ. The question is whether or not we really need it. And if not; what danger does having it pose to the average citizen?

In this book by Radley Balko you will find enough information to come to your own conclusion. From the Magna Carta on through our own Constitution, Mr. Balko has explored the path of the “Castle Doctrine” through an ever changing world. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, this book will give you more than enough information to think things through on your own. To my mind that is the definition of a good book.

The author charts the course of the Castle Doctrine; which simply put states that your home is your castle and you have the right to defend it. It was the cornerstone of English law, and became the corner stone of our own Constitution, enshrined in the 3rd and 4th Amendments by implication, if not design. He also charts the rapid decline of those rights as interpreted by an increasingly conservative Supreme Court. And it’s not a pretty picture.

Beginning as early as the 19th century our rights under the Castle Doctrine were already being displaced by an increasingly large Police Force. To some extent this development has been necessary to meet the problems of growth. In colonial times there were almost no rapes, robberies were rare because you couldn’t sell stuff locally; making it unprofitable; and murder was not commonplace. That all changed as we changed; bigger cities, bigger problems.

In the 1950’s Los Angeles Chief of Police Parker ushered in a new age of policing; basing his tactics on military strategy and firepower. By the Watts Riots of 1965 he saw the need for more militaristic policing and formed a squad of snipers and assault men. These were the first SWAT team. The term was invented after the fact by Parker himself.

With the advent of the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror, the government has gained even more power and arms. The cast offs from the Patriot Act funding alone have armed most small towns and large cities in America to alarming levels.

For the most part I agree with the author’s assessment of things. There is too much emphasis on military tactics rather than “Protect and Serve.” But at the same time these SWAT teams would never have happened had there not been a clear threat to law and order; as in the Watts Riots. And now, with homegrown terror groups openly advertising for the citizenry to arm, I have to start thinking of which gang I want to be part of.

There’s Nazi’s and Aryans; they won’t do as I am Jewish. Then there’s the Right Wing Fascists; but they are Christian; again the Jewish thing prevents me from joining up with them. The Leftists are too far left and would muzzle me with politically correct speech; I talk too much and would never fit in there. The other various and sundry groups are all too small to make a difference and; for one reason or another; they won’t have me either.

So, I’m left with the over militarized Police and Armed Forces. I guess I will have to take my chances with them for now. The one thing which bothered me about this book; which has a lot to offer; is that when covering the 1960’s and 1970’s the author never once mentioned the assassination of scores of officers; at least 4 in New York City alone; who were gunned down from rooftops while walking their beats. There was an epidemic of these shootings across the nation at the time.

People in those neighborhoods mourned their loss. For a balanced account of how the militarization of the police occurred, these events must be taken into account. To leave them out calls into question the agenda of the author. There are abuses; to be sure; but to place the blame wholesale upon the police is a bit much. It took 2 to dance this waltz. At least some of the heavy handed tactics came about after the rise of the drive by shooting in the wake of the crack epidemic. It would have been nice to at least see this fact acknowledged by the author. 

To see a list of the police who were assassinated in New York City during 1971-1972, use this link to the NYPD Roll of Honor. These men were walking the street, armed with .38 revolvers; in their holsters at the time of their murders; by killers armed with high powered rifles shooting from rooftops in broad daylight. Some helicopters and automatic weapons would have been of great help in stemming the tide of these tragic murders, but the militarization of the police had not yet begun in earnest.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Plowing Your Furrows Crooked"

They just don’t make films like they used to; and some people are probably very happy about that. Count me in the minority. I love the old films; all of them. War films; romances; musicals; biographies; dramas; historical dramas; westerns; it makes no difference. They all seemed to have something to say and were a lot less noisy in saying it.

True story; I went to see the film “Pearl Harbor” a number of years ago when it came out. I was with my daughter. As we exited I heard an old guy with a Pearl Harbor Survivors cap on his head say to his wife, “I was there and it wasn't that loud!”

Well, it’s Sunday so I thought I’d post something spiritual; Walter Brennan pitching the Lord to Gary Cooper. Check out how Gary Cooper tries to get away as soon as Walter Brennan starts to talk about religion. I think we all do that to some extent. Shy away from things which threaten our “comfort zones.”

In this 3 minute scene, Walter Brennan; as the Pastor; tackles the questions which plague us all throughout life; Can we fight the evil within ourselves? Will God actually help us? (Love it when Gary Cooper says he sure wishes the Lord would “throw in” with him.) And are we too weak to overcome ourselves and our own shortcomings; let alone Satan? Big questions, all. This is what I love about old films.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

"County Hospital" - Laurel and Hardy (1932)

What can you say about Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy that hasn’t already been said? They’re icons of comedy. Sometimes they can be a bit tedious to watch; after all we are used to a much faster paced style of entertainment today; but the roots of contemporary comedy can be found in these old shorts.

The plots are simple; much like the later sitcoms would be. The big difference is in the amount of time when there is no dialogue. Talkies had only been around for about 5 years at the time this film was made, and Laurel and Hardy were still drawing largely on the skills they had honed in silent films for almost 20 years at this point.

Stan Laurel was in the same vaudeville troupe as Charlie Chaplin when they both came over to America and stayed. Chaplin later left; but Laurel remained in America until his death in the early 1960’s. Oliver Hardy had been a football player at Georgia State; I could look it up but I’m being lazy. He was also a skillful ballroom dancer; sought after at many Hollywood functions.

Well, it’s all been written before. Sit down and try to watch this all the way through; if only to see that you are still able to concentrate on something for 19 minutes.

Friday, August 22, 2014

"Rob the Mob" with Ray Romano and Nina Arianda (2013)

This is the incredible but true story of Thomas Uva and his girlfriend Rose Marie De Toma, who infamously held up several Mafia social clubs in New York City during the trial of mobster John Gotti. In a deliciously written style, and directed with exuberance, this film takes you on the the journey with 2 young lovers who have a whole lot of love, but not too much sense. Still, you can’t help but be drawn to them; if only for their innocence.

Thomas and Rose are crackheads who steal to support their habits. When a robbery goes bad and they are both sentenced to prison terms, Rose makes a big change in her life. When she is released from prison she gets a job working at a collection agency, scaring payments from people who owe money. She is ruthless and the boss thinks she’s great. So, when Thomas comes out of jail the boss hires him as well.

But Thomas spends more time on the phone telling people how to avoid paying than he does collecting. And he often disappears for hours, looking for something more exciting to do. He finds it when he attends a session of the infamous John Gotti trial.

During testimony Sammy the Bull states the address and name of one of the Mafia’s social clubs in Queens. He also states that no guns are allowed in these clubs because “guns and wise guys don’t mix.” This is all that Thomas has been waiting for. He has a plan.

Approaching Rose with his idea to rob these clubs he is met with anger as Rose does not want either of them to return to their former ways, which will surely lead them back to jail; or worse. But she is an adrenalin junkie, just like Thomas; high on the fear and excitement that comes with it.

The first robbery goes well; and so does the second. But as the mob is under surveillance at all the social clubs the Feds have them on film by the 3rd job.  A reporter who is also covering the John Gotti trial becomes involved and conducts an interview with Rose, during which she divulges enough information about herself and Thomas that the mob is now able to find them if they chose to.

But Thomas has found something of real value in the last holdup. He now has a list showing all the members of the Gambino family and their positions in the mob. Armed with this Rose and Thomas actually call the mobsters up and tell them that if anything happens to either one of them the list will be given to the FBI. They have now signed their own death warrants.

The reporter asks the Feds to protect them, but to the FBI the two lovers are casualties; just collateral damage. The reporter offers them airline tickets to Mexico, but the two refuse, actually believing they are invincible. They were killed on December 24, 1992.

Featuring excellent acting by everyone; with Ray Romano as the reporter; Cathy Moriarty as Thomas’ beleaguered Mom, Michael Pitt as Tommy Uva; and  Nina Arianda as Rose; the film also sports a sharply written script by Jonathan Fernandez.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"The Education of George Washington" by Austin Washington (2014)

I have been unable to see the episode of "Between the Lines" with Barry Kibrick in which he interviews the author of this book, Austin Washington. Mr. Washington is the great great great etc grand-nephew of George Washington; as in the Father of Our Country. As such, he has a unique perspective on the story of the man and how he really willed himself to be what he became. 

If you haven't seen the interview then I would suggest taking a look at the book. In lieu of reviewing "Between the Lines" and Mr. Kibrick's interview with Austin Washington I offer a re-posting of my review of the book from February 22nd;

Get ready for the best book ever written about the Father of Our Country. What makes this book so special? It was written by his great nephew several times removed, Austin Washington. He is the direct descendant of one of George Washington’s brothers. He was even raised in one of the homes owned by the Washington family since colonial times. It was in the kitchen of that house where he first encountered the great man’s portrait; noticeably smaller than that of his 2 brothers; in the kitchen. The other 2 portraits were displayed more prominently elsewhere.

The premise of this book stems from an old miniature biography of Frederick, Duke of Schonberg; called a Panegyrick; that was published in 1690 and fell into young George’s hands sometime during his early years.

Most people assume that Washington was at least as educated as his colleagues Jefferson and Adams. But that would be wrong. Although his 2 brothers received the benefits of his father’s relative wealth; both received classical educations; young George was unable to take advantage of this attribute due to his father having passed away when the boy was only 11 years old. He would have to study at a local school, which would not afford him the same type of education as his peers in later life possessed. 

Washington did not quote the Greek scholars so highly thought of by men like Adams and Jefferson. To him Greek was; well, Greek. But the biography of Schonberg was a book which he studied and took to heart; and whose subject he tried to emulate in every way possible. Some might say he surpassed his idol in all respects; after all, until I read the man’s name, I had never heard of him. And I doubt you have either.

Drawing upon family history; as well as some of Washington’s lesser known writings; the author successfully debunks the myth busters on several of the most apocryphal stories about Washington; stories we were told about in Kindergarten, and then later on debunked by our high school teachers.

Some of the stories in this book are so wonderful in their original, true versions that you have to wonder why Reverend Weems; Washington’s local pastor; found a need to embellish them in the first place.

The Cherry Tree – it really did happen, but not like you heard. Little George did kill the tree, he just didn’t chop it down. This is the only case in which I will tell you what the book says. I want you to read the book on your own. Besides, I’m no spoiler.

George’s father had a favorite cherry tree; it was his pride. George was about 6 years old at the time and his father presented him with a hatchet. He took that hatchet and chipped away at everything he could find. When it came to the fabled cherry tree he merely skinned it of its bark. When the tree began to fail and the elder Washington noticed the bark skinned from the trunk, he inquired of the whole family as to who had done it; knowing all the while that it was George. The boy actually did say he could not lie to his father and owned up to the deed. His father expressed that he would not trade 100 trees for his son’s integrity. That’s the true story.

The silver dollar across the Potomac is a similar circumstance. Washington was a very strong and athletic young man. His feats of strength almost rival those of Abraham Lincoln’s.  Young George had an arm which rivaled that of famed Washington Senator’s pitcher Walter Johnson; who in 1936 actually did pitch a silver dollar across the 272 foot width of the Rappahannock, clearing it by an additional 42 feet beyond the far bank. If you want to know how this relates to the Potomac story; read the book.

His father was a very big influence upon young George; but you have to wonder how he would have developed had his father not passed away when he was so young. Most likely he would have gone on to the better schools over in England; as was the family plan. Had that occurred he would have been in a much different situation when it comes to any revolutionary ambitions.

Religion wise Washington was a Deist; meaning that he believed in a higher power, but not necessarily Jesus Christ as his deliverer. When he went to church as President he never took communion. When it was pointed out to him that this was a cause of dismay among the other congregants, he merely skipped church on the Sundays when Communion was offered. This was the type of man he was; tolerant and at the same time respectful of the sensibilities of others. Responsibility held more meaning for him than his “rights.”

This is a long overdue book which will hopefully set the record straight once and for all about the Father of Our Country. The timing couldn’t be better; it was just released late in January and it is already in the library in time for Washington’s traditional birthday; which is of course today.

The change in the calendar from the old style to the new in the 1740’s make Washington’s Birthday even more complicated than the ubiquitous “President’s Day holiday, which changes every year to accommodate convenience. Washington was actually born on February 11th on the old calendar. When the change to the calendar came it added 11 days to his date of birth.

Don’t discount this fascinating book by George Washington’s great grand-nephew. It is filled with wit and wisdom, displaying a keen sense of humor as it sets about to correct the record concerning the most well-known; and some not so; stories about his life. It also illustrates how one little book; which is reprinted in the back of this one; can alter a person's life, and affect millions in the bargain. Very well done.

For more about the change in the calendar, see the post at;

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Secret Ballot - Saving Democracy

The relationship between all the political noise out there and the dysfunctional government we have as a result of that division is something which needs to be spoken about more. But the person who risks saying anything about the polarization gripping the nation is sure to be labelled by one side or the other as a fascist, a communist or a number of other non-politically correct names.

The secret ballot is the underpinning of our system of government. No one can compel you to divulge for whom you cast your vote. At the same time you have freedom of speech which gives you the right to broadcast your political views, and choices, as much as you want to. These are both great principles.

But examine the situation more closely and you will find that when everyone exercises their rights to the utmost in regards to the freedom of speech, it can get so noisy out there that it becomes hard to filter out the noise from the real facts. Division grows among the populace and the elected officials; who are your employees; rejoice. If we can’t agree on how to run the government we sure won’t be firing anyone too soon.

George Washington got it. He spoke about in his farewell address in 1796. We would all due well to read it and heed his words as the increasingly early election season heats up to a fever pitch. The secret ballot is the surest way to quell the noise, and with it the division, in time for some common sense choices in the coming political contests. Don’t ask me for whom I am voting. And don’t call me for any polls; as a patriotic American I won’t be answering.

Here is the pertinent portion of Washington’s Farewell Address;

20 I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

21 This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

22 The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

23 Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

And here is a link to the entire address, which is still worth reading over 200 years later. If you have never read it you may consider yourself at a loss;

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Midnight Tail

I live in a development. We have a home Owner’s Association. Along with all of the usual rules there is one that makes no sense to me at all. It is the rule which forbids screens in the front windows of the houses, as well as barring any screen doors.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I like a bit of fresh air on those rare North Carolina days when the sky is blue and cloudless. More so on the days when there is a nice breeze going. These are the days I like to “air out” the house, placing fans in open windows and letting the breeze course through.

The other day was one of those beautiful days I have just described. I opened every window I could and even one of the front ones without a screen.  Our resident stray, Midnight, was quick to exploit the opening; coming in through the window next to the chair he likes to occupy on our front porch.

I was a bit surprised, as he is not a “house cat” by any means. Also I have severe allergies, so I was a little worried about the effect on me from having him inside. But with such a nice breeze going I thought I’d take a chance and let him stay for a while. He immediately began exploring the premises.

It was about 10 minutes later when I noticed Midnight’s friend “Ghost” had elected to come in through that same window, looking for him. She was shortly joined by her “significant other”; at least when she is not “catting” around with Midnight; “Lucky”, who lives down the street.

Well, before too long I had about 4 cats roaming all over the place, happily purring as I watched them explore every nook and cranny of the house. It was a nice sight, but I had decided; only Midnight would be staying. The others would have to go. After all, they have homes; unlike Midnight; who lives on my porch or in the garage, depending upon the weather.

To this end, Midnight was already marking territory in the living room near the fireplace. I guess even on such a nice, balmy day he was thinking of where he would be spending his winter. I hustled the other cats outside and closed the windows after them. Now it was just me and Midnight. I was ecstatic.

But I was suddenly seized with panic as I realized that he simply could not stay due to my allergies.  Already my asthma was kicking in big time. Accordingly, I went to pick him up and place him outside. This was getting to be like a bad dream; he had to go! And when I awoke, I was already reaching for my inhaler…

Midnight "went away" for the last time last weekend- this draft was written just a few days before he had to go. I really miss him.

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Mayor For Life" by Marion Barry (2014)

Marion Barry will forever be remembered as the disgraced Mayor of Washington, D.C. The images of him taken during an FBI sting will long outlive anything else about the man. And that’s a shame, because before the fall came Marion Barry was one of the people manning the front lines in the battle for Civil Right.

Born in Itta Bena, Mississippi he was one of 10 kids. His father died when he was 4 years old and his Mom moved the family to Memphis, Tennessee looking for work.  It was as a paperboy that he first encountered racial prejudice, and the incident became a defining point in his life. As a young man he picked cotton, bagged groceries, and worked as a waiter. He was also a Boy Scout, earning the ultimate rank of Eagle Scout.

It was while working as a paperboy that he first became involved in a Civil Rights issue. He had entered the contest to win a trip New Orleans for getting a certain number of new customers on a route. He won, but was denied the prize on the grounds that New Orleans was segregated and it would necessitate the rental of a separate bus to transport the African-American paperboys who had won. The young Marion Barry boycotted his route in the black neighborhood, and convinced the other African-American carriers to do the same. The result was that the paper hired a bus and took them to St. Louis, which was integrated. Barry resumed his route. Remember that this was before Rosa Parks and the bus boycott.

BY the late 1950’s he was a graduate of LeMoyne College. While there he and his friends wanted to go to the fair in Memphis; which was segregated. They were denied admission to the Science exhibit. Though they left without incident this is what prompted Barry to join the NAACP and begin his long road as an activist for Civil Rights and the Right to Vote.

He also attained a Master’s degree in Organic Chemistry from Fisk in 1960. During this time he was arrested several times for his involvement in sit-ins and other demonstrations. He was soon involved in the Freedom Riders campaign to desegregate the bus stations in Interstate travel. After a long and protracted battle they were successful. Their accomplishment in getting the Voting Rights Act passed is something which is currently under fire as some folks advocate its repeal.

He went on to become the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and organized the voting registration drive in McComb, Mississippi. He lived with the local residents so he would have a better feel for what their lives were like.

In 1965 he came to Washington, D.C. to open a local chapter for SNCC. The bus fare increase was his first political action in D.C. He wouldn’t call it a “boycott” - he termed it a “mancott” instead.  This was really the first step in his journey to becoming the second Mayor in the city’s history. He quit SNCC when H. Rapp Brown became chairman in 1967.

I could go on and on in summarizing the accomplishments and career of this ultimately flawed politician. But I would be remiss if I were to only concentrate on the failures of his later life. His work in the aftermath of the shooting of Martin Luther King, when D.C. was literally in flames, helped to set up food banks and early education programs for the poor. His positive impacts cannot be overlooked when assessing the man as a whole.

His slide down the slippery slope of drug addiction; and recovery; as well as his re-emergence as a politician again after the fall; will ultimately be what this man is remembered for. And that’s a shame. For the legacy he amassed prior to that is far more important.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jesus and the Fig Tree - A Parable

The parable in the New Testament concerning Jesus and his encounter with the fig tree just before overturning the money changers tables in the temple has always been a source of contention for many people; Christian and Jewish alike.

As a child; and being Jewish; I took this as simply being proof that Jesus was not the spiritual, healing person he claimed to be. That was before I knew about analogies; and also before I had actually read the New Testament for myself. (I got that opportunity while serving 3 days on bread and water in a Navy brig in Norfolk.  They only had New Testaments, and as I had no previous engagements, over the next 3 days I read it.)

This was the first time I ever heard of the book of Romans, which to my mind is the key to the larger meaning of the New Testament. It explains; in the form of an olive tree; the relationship between the Jewish faith and the Christians.

This past weekend I was reading the Religious Viewpoints column in the newspaper. I find it to be informative; and sometimes infuriating; but I enjoy reading it as both an intellectual exercise and also due to the possibility of learning something new. In this case I was pleasingly surprised to see that some of my suppositions concerning the larger meaning of the New Testament were possibly shared by another person; and a Reverend to boot!

Here is what the Reverend Eugene Curry, pastor of Park Hill Baptist Church wrote about the Parable of Jesus and the Fig Tree:

The incident with the fig tree troubles many people when they first encounter it. Stripped of context, it can make Jesus seem petty and impulsive.

But Jesus wasn't just being an unreasonable jerk to a plant. Instead, he was making a point.

The Israelites believed that they had a special relationship with God. And in the Hebrew Bible, this idea was commonly presented through agricultural metaphors: God was a farmer, and Israel was his much-beloved plant that he tended. Sometimes Israel was described as a grapevine, sometimes as a fig tree (Hosea 9:10).

Well, like any farmer, farmer-God hoped that the fig tree that was Israel would produce good fruit, things like justice and faithfulness.

But time and again, the prophets warned their countrymen that Israel wasn't being particularly fruitful in the virtues that God expected of them. And Jesus took up this motif of prophetic warnings in his own ministry.

So, in the Gospel of Mark, we're given a little sandwich of stories in Chapter 11.

Jesus approaches the fig tree, sees that it has produced no fruit, and curses it. Then, right after that, he marches into the temple and condemns the rank commercialism he finds there.

Again, Jesus finds no fruit, this time on the metaphorical fig tree that was Israel.

With that done, Jesus and his entourage leave the temple and Peter notices that the literal fig tree has withered, just as Jesus said. The moral of the stories is that Israel needed to finally shape up, that continued fruitlessness would not be tolerated much longer.

Tragically, Israel didn't heed this warning, and terrible consequences followed. The temple was destroyed. The nation was scattered. The figurative fig tree withered.

Now it's on us. We're called to produce the "fruits of the Spirit," things like love, goodness and self-control. Will we now heed God's call? Or will we be just another bunch of fig trees that refuse to produce fruit?

And here is my note to Reverend Curry;

Good Morning,

This message is for Pastor Eugene Curry. I just finished reading your wonderful viewpoint in "Voices of Faith" in the Charlotte Observer. I couldn't help but to try and find you to say thanks.

I am Jewish. My father was Catholic and my Mom was Jewish. I chose the Jewish faith as an adult. I read the New Testament while in my early 20's. My favorite portion was Romans. I especially enjoyed Romans 11; and the part about the Olive tree. Once again; a tree; just as in the parable referenced in your column.

In this section of Romans the Christians are warned about becoming too haughty over the original branches of the tree (Hebrew) being broken off- it says that if the original branches can be lopped off by God then what of the newer Christian branches if they displease him.

Reading your interpretation of the parable of the fig tree and Jesus brought Romans 11 to my mind in an instant! How wonderful that you can see the imperfection in us all- and that we do fall short- and so must try even harder to avoid being fruitless.

Your column was a breath of fresh air to someone like me who has a hard time with "organized" religion.

May you continue to do your work in Peace.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"The Pawnbroker" with Rod Steiger (1965)

Very few actors ever hone their craft to the knife’s edge the way Rod Steiger did. Bogart, DeNiro, even Denzel Washington are all recognizable as themselves in most films. Steiger was on a par with Frederic March, another actor with that chameleon like quality which enabled the viewer to suddenly go, “Hey, isn’t that (insert name here)?” half way through a film, and still not be sure it was until the final credits rolled. Walter Huston had that same magic. He was tall, about 6’2”, yet he is always remembered as the wizened little miner in “Treasure of the Sierra Madres.” A giant of an actor, he just played it small.

Rod Steiger’s credits include the corrupt union boss in “On the Waterfront”, the Police Chief in “In the Heat of the Night” (it took him a year to stop chewing gum after that film), the disgruntled juror forced to face his own prejudice in “Twelve Angry Men” and a score of other roles. But more than any other role, his performance in “The Pawnbroker” was possibly his most searing as he portrays a man who has lost his wife and children to the the Nazi’s, along with the ability to love or even feel.

His assistant in the shop wants to learn to be a businessman, just like his boss. He even asks the Pawnbroker to teach him how to be a Jew- to make money- to share his secrets. The Pawnbrokers scathing reply is in the clip below.

There is always a steady succession of people who are down on their luck who come to the shop to pawn the most trivial of their possessions in order to survive. The Pawnbroker dispassionately serves their needs, all the while cursing his own past and the misery of the world about him. He has a partnership with the local crime boss, who used the pawnshop to “launder” the profits he makes from dealing drugs and pimping prostitutes. The Pawnbroker seems indifferent to the misey which supplies the money he lives upon.

Constantly plagued by memories of the concentration camp, he inhabits a world filled with flashbacks to the most horrifying moments of his wartime ordeal. One of those memories involves being forced to look into the building where the female prisoners are forced to work as sex slaves. One of the women he sees is his own wife. When one of the local working girls comes to him with something to pawn she offers him sex in addition to the trade as a way of getting more money.

The Pawnbroker finds himself in a moral dilemma; haunted by the memory of his wife’s ordeal and at the same time facilitating the misery of others in his present day world. He goes to see the crime boss, stating that he did not know where the money came from. The boss just laughs at him and asks him the same question Jews the world over posed to the German people at the end of the war. “How could you not have known?”

In the meantime his assistant has taken the Pawnbroker at his word that money is all that matters if you want to get ahead in the world. You must have it at any cost. So, he decides to help some local hoods rob the pawnshop, where the Pawnbroker keeps some of the laundered money from the crime boss. There is to be no killing. That’s the plan.

But in the end there is always killing. Nobody gets out alive, even if they sometimes are still walking and breathing. This is an intense and moving drama about the human condition and the lines we draw to identify ourselves; and others; as good or evil. And, sometimes we find that they are both just different sides of the same coin.

With a great script from a great book, directed by Sidney Pollack and filmed in a gritty New York City, this film makes good use of the soundtrack by Quincy Jones as it navigates the question of morality which we all must face at one time or another; “Am I a good person; or a bad one?”

Friday, August 15, 2014

Happy Birthday Uncle Irving!

Uncle Irving was probably one of the most influential people in my life growing up. His Friday night visits were a welcome break from the daily drudgery of living with 2 over controlling parents. Friday nights were a time when I could go for a walk with him without fear of being questioned when I returned home. He was an oasis to me. 

In the summer we used to go to the beach at Rockaway every Sunday. In the winter he used to come over and watch football. I have written about all this before; and posted it here. But I can never let his birthday pass without telling his story again. In many ways his was the only unconditional love I have ever known. So, with apologies to those who have read this before, here’s his story.

Today would have been my Uncle Irving's 119th birthday; maybe. It might be only his 117th birthday. We'll never know for sure. The Henkins’ were rather secretive about most such things, and so we don't know a whole lot about them. The following is his story as best as we can tell; beginning with how his parents; my great grandparents; Max and Rebecca came to America. It is also the story of how that move eventually affected me through my relationship with their son, a  magical man whom I knew as Uncle "I". To leave out the story of his parents would be to leave his own story incomplete; as well as my own.

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

Well, it all started with this horse….

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

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

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

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

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

Isaac was later known as Irving – Uncle “I” to my brother and me. Due to the tall tales he told we sometimes called him Uncle “Lie”- but he was always Uncle “I” in my heart.

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

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

When I was younger, he would take me to; and later, when I was older I would meet him at; the furriers where he worked on 7th Avenue in Manhattan. The cutters, the tailors and sewing operators all treated me royally and I was fascinated by this aspect of my Uncle’s life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Paradise Lost - Pitcairn's Island (2004)

Everyone has heard of Pitcairn's Island. Even if you have never read the book "Mutiny on the Bounty" the name of the Island itself evokes the image of tranquility and seclusion. But there is a story behind that story; and it's not always pretty.

The residents of Pitcairn's Island came to the place by way of an illegal act; the mutiny of Her Majesty's ship Bounty by Lt. Fletcher Christian, who forcibly relieved Captain Bligh of his command. The reason oft stated; and enshrined in the book by Nordoff and Hall; has always been that Bligh was a terribly cruel Captain. And that impression has survived the facts, and probably always will.

The truth is that Bligh was pretty much an enlightened Captain for his time; floggings on the Bounty's outbound voyage were actually fewer than on any other ships at the time. Bligh's biggest mistake was in letting his crew grow attached to the people of the island, making them very unhappy at the prospect of a return voyage home to England. Christian had married a native woman, for all intents and purposes, and was emotionally shattered at the prospect of leaving her. This was the real genesis for the mutiny. You can read the transcripts from the trial, rather than the fictional account if you have any doubts.

Pitcairn's Island was uncharted at the time, and Christian chose it for just that purpose. It lies halfway between New Zealand and South America. But troubles beset the newly freed mutineers almost from the very beginning in 1790. It all began with the women. There were fewer women than men in the original party, and some of the men were not willing to accept their situation of celibacy. Friction arose between some of the men over the issue; someone violated someone's honor; and then came the murders.

The island has existed in its own little niche for over 200 years, with the population reaching 233 in 1937 according to this article, and plummeting to 47 at the time this story surfaced in 2004. I have always been a fan of the book and apparently I cut the article out and left it in the book. While re-reading one of my favorite chapters the other day (I do that) I found it nestled comfortably between the pages where I last saw it 10 years ago.

Apparently there was some hank-panky on the island in the 1980's involving some of the children, who were sexually used; abused or molested; by 7 men living on the island; including the great great great etc grandson of Fletcher Christian; Steve Christian; who was also the Mayor at the time this article appeared. His son, Randy, was also charged with the same criminal acts.

According to the article the case began in 199 when a British police officer Gail Cox, who was visiting the island for an undisclosed purpose, heard that men on the island were having sex with girls as young as 12 years old. It took a 3 year investigation to gather enough evidence to charge 15 men; 8 of whom did not live on the island; with multiple counts of rape and unlawful intercourse with a minor.

The trial was conducted by a team of 2 dozen judges, prosecutors and defense attorney who came from French Polynesia to do their jobs. A court had to be built for the trail and a jail had to be erected for the defendants. With a population of about 47 people the defendants were actually enlisted in the endeavor. I can't help but think that this would be illegal in the States; kind of like giving the hangman the rope to string you up with. It's just not done.

By September 30, 2004 the trial had begun and the 7 residents of the island were found guilty and sentenced on October 24th all but one of them was found guilty of some of the 55 charges they faced. The other men; who all lived off the island; were convicted in a separate trial held in Auckland, New Zealand the following year.

The trial was a source of contention and disagreement among the residents of the island; particularly the women; some of whom had to have been aware of what was going on with their daughters. The full story of this aspect of the trial can be further explored in this article on Wikipedia;

At any rate, this is a sad story. It's beginnings held such promise. The inhabitants truly thought they had found freedom in a world of paradise. But, in the end; through their own actions and infighting; Pitcairn's Island became just another Paradise Lost.