Friday, October 31, 2014

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn with Robin Williams, Melissa Leo and Mila Kunis (2014)

It’s not easy for a film to be charming, poignant and funny all at once; but that’s exactly what this film is. It is the story of a man so infuriated by the hand that life has dealt him that he can longer see beyond his own anger at; well, everything.

On his way to the doctor’s office one day Henry Altman, played by Robin Williams, has a minor car accident with a cab. This is seemingly the last straw for him. His older son died 2 years ago, leaving him and his wife, played by Melissa Leo, in a loveless marriage filled with blame and dissatisfaction. And when he gets to the doctor’s office, where he will be getting the results of a brain scan, things don’t get much better.

With her life spinning out of control, the doctor he sees is forced to give the bad news of a fatal brain aneurysm to Mr. Altman. He literally forces her to do it by screaming at her and taking out all of his life’s inequities out on her. She cracks and tells him he has 90 minutes to live. Infuriated he leaves the office in search of what he should be doing with only 90 minutes left to live.

During the next 60 minutes or so of this movie he chases a dram of piecing his family back together, wondering how it ever went so wrong. Meantime, everyone is chasing him as he darts about Brooklyn looking for his younger estranged son. Even the doctor; who may be in serious trouble for the way she handled the encounter with Mr. Altman, is searching for him. She desperately wants to get him to a hospital.

This movie is a pleasure to watch. It has 2 of my favorite actresses in it; Mila Kunis, who bears watching as her talents grow from film to film; and Melissa Leo, who I have been following since she did theater at Fell’s Point in Baltimore before landing some of her early TV roles. In this film she takes on a whole new persona as the beleaguered wife of a very angry and self-destructive man. That she is able to blend the comedy with the tragedy of the role so well speaks to her abilities as a true actress. Peter Dinklage, as his loving younger brother, is remarkable; as he is in any film. It's also interesting to note that al  the stars in this film first honed their craft working TV sitcoms.

As for Robin Williams; what can you say about a guy whose lines in this film include, “”1951—2014; that’s what it will say on the headstone. It’s not the numbers that count- it’s the dash in between.”  I wonder what thoughts went through his mind; easily as troubled as his character Mr. Altman’s. I know that I am glad he got to make this film. To see him as a fully matured actor rather than an extension of his stand-up routines, as in “Good Morning Vietnam”, is one of the best tributes an actor could ever hope for.

Excellent direction and a lively story and screenplay make this one hell of an enjoyable experience. And it all happens in Brooklyn; my home town.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes" by James Palmer

I have always considered myself to have a good grasp of contemporary Chinese history, and the 20th Century; particularly the years between the Boxer Rebellion through Mao's Long March; have always held a strange fascination for me. This was a period of struggle in which China sought to throw off the yoke of colonial control and establish a unified nation. This was also the time in which China became the largest Communist nation on earth.

The years after the Communist takeover in 1949 have always been a sort of confusion for most in the West, with its attendant purges and political maneuvering. This is not to say that we are that much different. We did, after all, have our own McCarthy Era to contend with. It may not have been as brutal as the purges in China, but the whole concept of that episode was not all that much different in its aims.

The ten years which spanned 1949-1959 saw many failures in China, both in industry and agriculture. The famine of 1960-1962 still stands as one of the most terrible periods in modern Chinese history, perhaps only eclipsed by the insanity of the Cultural Revolution which began in 1966, and would last almost 10 years. Both of these events would have far reaching consequences, influencing everything from the way buildings were constructed, to the way food was harvested and distributed.

In a largely misguided effort to hold onto power, Mao Tse Tung pit one faction against the other, resulting in stagnation in every part of Chinese life. All of this added to the country's lack of preparation for the year of 1976, which would see changes, both great and tragic, in China.

Just as we in the United States were finishing our Bicentennial celebration, marking 200 years of freedom, China was being tested by both nature and politics. The year began with the death of Premier Zhou Enlai, a leader more beloved than Chairman Mao. When the people attempt to publicly mourn his passing, they are beaten back by the Gang of Four. The tide of bereavement became a tsunami of anger sweltering beneath the surface. And that anger erupted in August, when a massive earthquake shook Tangshan Province, killing a half million people.

In the aftermath, the chaos and lack of preparation of the Chinese government surfaced, exposing the differences between the elite and the poor, ordinary working Chinese people. The result was a loss of confidence in the ability of the government to take care of the people, and highlighted the need for change. This would come to mark the end of the Cultural Revolution.

By the end of the year, Chairman Mao would be dead, and the infamous Gang of Four would be on trial for crimes against the state. These trials would expose a lavish life style among the leaders of what had once been a peasant’s revolution, changing China forever, and setting her on the path to becoming a world economic power.

James Palmer has done a fine job in piecing together both the political history of China from 1949 through 1976; and an even better job at depicting the earthquake and the mass chaos that followed. Drawing on survivor memoirs as well as official government documents, he has managed to write a very reader friendly account of what has become known as China's "Unlucky Year."

There is an old Chinese proverb which states, "When Heaven cracks, the Earth shakes." In this book, the author brilliantly puts across just what that means.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Travel Ban for Ebola - Common Sense

I’m starting this off with my last sentence because otherwise it will be dismissed as politically incorrect. But I am not Ann Coulter, or Rush Limbaugh. I have no political ax to grind. And the slimy politicians who want to politicize this are, well, slimy politicians. I am more interested in the lack of common sense which has prevented a travel ban from being put in place to begin with. It’s a shame that we have come to the point where I must apologize in advance for our opinions; but since it’s my blog, here goes.

"Lastly; but most importantly, think of this; if we are busy fighting Ebola here in the United States; where we never had it before; then how we will be able to help those in Africa? Already tens of millions of dollars have been diverted from that front."

“Medical officials, aid workers and health experts have overwhelmingly condemned calls for a travel ban, not because it will hurt anyone’s self-esteem, but because they fear it will vastly hinder their efforts to contain the virus at the source of the outbreak, which they insist is the most effective way to prevent its spread worldwide. The more restrictions put in place on travel, they argue, the harder it is to get aid in and out of the afflicted countries and to stabilize already teetering governments on the front lines.”

This is a bunch of crap. All it takes to exempt humanitarian aid flights from a travel ban is the signature of the leaders who won’t allow a travel ban in the first place. And the media that report this type of bunk as fact are equally at fault for the lack of a travel ban. If the New York Times said that we should have a travel ban then the leaders of our country would jump through flaming hoops of fire to start one today.

I won’t speculate on the reason why a travel ban was not put into place at the outset of this whole affair. But I will tell you that I will be sticking to my guns on this issue. They said it couldn't happen here, but it is happening. And don’t tell me that there are 450,000 deaths from heart attacks and another however many hundred thousand die from drug overdoses, car accidents etc. The number of people who die from Ebola may be smaller, but the percentage is way higher. 

I have nothing but compassion for the people in Western Africa. We should be doing all that we can to alleviate their suffering. And that can be done with a travel ban. Remember the tsunami a few years back? No one was traveling there for fun at the time. As a matter of fact the only flights allowed in were humanitarian aid flights. Samaritan’ Purse; the United Nations; etc. were all able to fly in under exemptions.

Now, here’s a valid question; and please remember that the argument against a travel ban is incomplete without taking this into consideration. Lastly; but most importantly, think of this; if we are busy fighting Ebola here in the United States; where we have never had it before; then how we will be able to help those in Africa? Already tens of millions of dollars have been diverted from that front.

Note: Sometimes it is necessary to go back and read about the past outbreaks, going back to the first Marburg viruses of the 1960"s, which eventually became the Ebola we know today. For more information go to the Oxford Journal of Infectious Diseases at;

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Cleaning House" - The Captain and the Kids (1938)

Here we go again with the Captain and the Kids. This time the whole family gets in on the action as Mama tries to get the house cleaned up a bit. If she’s expecting any sincere help from either the Captain or the Kids, she’s going to be sorely disappointed.

As the children fool around and try to convince Mama that they are the two little angels she thinks they are, the Captain is busy trying to do as little work as possible. This proves to be harder than “factually” working, and when faced with the 2 choices; working or faking it; he decides to fake a heart attack instead. Mama is beside herself with concern, but the boys are wise to the Captains trick.

Dr. Quack; from Dr. Quack and Stork; is summoned and turns out to be an imitation of W.C. Fields along with a little mannequin who is unmistakably Charlie McCarthy. That’s what I like about these old cartoons; they take license to poke fun at other entertainers of the time. And guess what? Nobody sued one another over it. There was still a sense of humor in the entertainment world.

Anyway, Dr. Quack hurries over and Dr. Stork follows with a Bundle of Joy, thinking a baby is coming. Mama slams the door in Dr. Stork’s face- she doesn't want any more kids, thank you. Meantime the boys have gotten the Captain into bed just in time for Dr. Quack to check him out. What follows is a series of antics all designed to get the Captain to admit his slacking and beg for relief from Dr. Quack.

Dr. Stork gets past Mama and delivers the baby; who turns out to be the Charlie McCarthy mannequin; the Captain is horrified that he has had a child. He confesses all to Mama and she puts him to work doing everyone’s chores. The boys never do get “found out” in this one. The cartoon closes out with everyone but the Captain eating dinner to the strains of “There’s No Place Like Home.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

National Recording Registry - Library of Congress

One of the greatest treasures we possess as Americans is our Library of Congress. Of course I feel that way about all libraries in general, but the Library of Congress is truly special. It’s not just the books; there is art and photography and film; all of which trace the course our cultural history. There is also one fascinating section called the National Recording Registry, which contains the most important sounds recorded since a Frenchman first made a sound recording several decades before Thomas Edison did in 1888.

There are not that many items in the Registry; somewhere around 300 in all. The link to the list is provided at the bottom of this page, and I hope you will peruse it. It is really a journey, beginning in 1853 and continuing on through the present day. There are additions made almost each year. And they run the gamut from the first primitive recordings on wax rolls to today’s digital recordings of Tupac Shakur.

The Registry is not only a technological record of what we have done with the technology of sound in the less than 2 centuries it has been available to us, but also a place where you can take a quick overview of the changing culture of that same period. It’s another window into who we are today and how we got here.

I hope you will take the time to look at the list and; more importantly; when you see something that you are unfamiliar with, you will take the time to google it and learn more about the collective “we”. One of the finest aspects of this registry is that it tells you what was so special about the item listed that led to its inclusion in the Registry; in other words; why it’s important from either a musical, technological or societal point of view.

And, if you have never had a chance to visit the Library of Congress you have been cheating yourself. Even if you have no desire or interest in books, it is one of the most beautiful buildings in Washington. It’s a bit non-descript on the outside, but the inside is truly a work of art; almost a bit on the art deco- psychedelic side.  So, even if you don’t like books, it is worth a visit for that reason alone.

Here is the link to the National Recording Registry;

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Land of the Blind" with Donald Sutherland and Ralph Fiennes (2014)

Ralph Fiennes plays a freedom fighter named Joe in this film about failed revolutions. Joe tells the story of  a man named Thorne; played by Donald Sutherland. Thorne was a terrorist who was jailed and tortured for his crimes against the state, which only served to make him a hero to his countrymen. Joe; who has seen the brutality suffered by Thorne; is recruited by the terrorist for a coup to overthrow the tyrannical government for which Joe actually has been working.

But Thorne proves correct the old adage that violent revolution does little more than to replace the corrupt regime with another corrupt regime. This leads to a cycle in which Joe must now overthrow Thorne.

This was an excellent script, with superb acting. The only thing which could have been better about this film is the direction. The movie seems to drag in spots where it should be getting the audience pumped up; or even angry. There is so much to like about this film; two veteran actors in roles that are deep and meaningful. Perhaps that is what kept me watching the film all the way through.

This film is worth watching; even just to reinforce the lesson that sometimes the devil you know may the same as the devil you wish for. One caution before watching the movie; don’t let it spoil your revolutionary spirit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Brotherly Love - The David Greenglass Story

Last July 1st a man passed quietly away in New Jersey. He was living under an assumed name; and though he insisted that he was not ashamed of what he had done; he still never used his real name again. This is the story of David Greenglass; brother of Ethel, and brother in law to Julius; or more succinctly, the infamous Rosenbergs.

The Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953 at Sing Sing prison in New York for allegedly selling the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Undoubtedly they had something to do with it, but with Mr. Greenglass testifying against his own sister; and then recanting that testimony later in life; you have to wonder just who actually did transfer the documents to the Soviets.

Mr. Greenglass testified that he watched his sister type up the notes detailing the research data which he himself had been privy to while working at Los Alamos in New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project. He was a machinist with access to the working plans for the bomb. His testimony was given in exchange for a lenient sentence. In essence, he did the spying, got his sister and brother in law involved, turned State’s Evidence against them which ensured their conviction for espionage and ultimately the death penalty. 

The Rosenberg’s had two sons; Michael and Robert. Their uncle David was instrumental in sending their parents to their death. The boys were adopted by Abe Meeropol and his wife Anne, both of New York City. Abe Meeropol was the school teacher who wrote the song “Bitter Fruit” in 1937. The song was immortalized by the great Billie Holiday in 1939. 

David Greenglass wrote a book about his life and the trial in 2001. He also gave an interview with CBS in which he stated, “As a spy who turned his family in…. I don’t care. I sleep well.” He also claimed that his sister was “stupid” and “could’ve cut a deal.”  In the 1989 Woody Allen film “Crimes and Misdemeanors” Mr. Allen says this about his arrogant brother in law, “I love him like a brother- David Greenglass.”  Let that be his epitaph.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"The Times of the Sixties" - Edited by John Rockwell (2014)

There is nothing pretentious, or confusing, about this title. Plainly put, this is a book of some of the most emblematic stories which appeared in the New York Times during the 1960’s. I don’t say the most important; although there are a number of those; I say emblematic because that what this book is. It is a wonderful representation of the things which made the 1960’s the memorable decade which it was, and still remains.

Organized into 8 sections covering 317 pages the book begins with the top stories in National news beginning with the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit- ins; which would come to characterize the Civil Rights Movement for much of the decade. That was on February 15, 1960. By November of that year JFK was President and Eisenhower bid us a farewell, warning us against the “military-industrial complex” which he had helped to create. The March on Washington, the Civil Rights demonstrations; and riots; are all covered. This section of the book speaks loudly to the little news junkie I was back then; with my 6 transistor radio always glued to my ear, or under my pillow at night.

In addition to the Civil Rights Movement, the National section also recalls the death of General MacArthur, JFK’s assassination, and just about every other important news item which would have an impact on the rest of the decade. The last article in this section is from August 1969, and is about Charles Manson.

The International section begins with a typo in the article about Francis Gary Powers being shot down over the Soviet Union in a U-2. The heading reads May 9, 1965. It should be 1960. The accompanying photo is dated correctly. From Eichmann’s kidnapping in South America to Krushchev pounding his shoe at the UN, this section is very colorful. The world still had some pretty colorful political leaders left; political correctness had not yet begun in earnest, making it possible for Politicians to still act somewhat candidly. 

The beginnings of our real serious involvement in Vietnam is chronicled; as well as the Communist expansion in just about every corner of the world; including Cuba. The rise of the Berlin Wall, the death of Pope John XXIII, Diem’s assassination only weeks before JFK’s killing, Israel fighting with Palestine, it’s all here. Mandela convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life in South Africa, while our own streets burned with the desire for freedom recall my struggle to make sense of why Apartheid was wrong in South America while it was still being practiced here in the United States. Communist China getting her own bomb, and Ho Chi Minh’s death, close out the International scene.

The Business Section begins with a raise in the minimum wage in the United States. JFK pushed through a bill making the new wage $1.15 per hour. The steel crisis; when Kennedy faced off with the steel producers over a price increase which would have triggered mass inflation; DOW breaking 1,000 points for the first time;  the Bank of America rolling out credit cards; and oil leases in Alaska all show a vibrant and growing economy.

There is a section devoted solely to New York City; which is appropriate, given that this book is about the New York Times coverage of the 1960’s. First up is Casey Stengel being let go by the Yankees for the crime of being 70 years old. The next big story is the collision of 2 airliners in the fog over New York, one landing in Park Slope section of Brooklyn; and then the fire on the aircraft carrier Constellation at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which killed 46 and injured hundreds. Both of these horrific events happened one week before Christmas in 1960 and so always stand out in my memory.TV news broke both of these stories to me. I was just 6 years old. 

The Twist, the folk music scene and a young Bob Dylan at Gerde’s Folk City; the World’s Fair; Shea Stadium; the Verrazano- Narrows Bridge; the theft of the Star of India from the Museum of Natural History; the Blackout of 1965; all of these stories took me back to my days delivering the New York Post by bicycle; reading the headlines as I loaded up for work each day.

Science, Technology and Health is subdivided into 3 shorter categories. Science dwells on the Space Race; which we were losing at first. The Soviets put a man in space before us; orbited the earth before us; even space walked before we did. But we cheered our astronauts on to victory with the first manned landing on the Moon. If you were alive then you will remember that day and how it felt.

Technology concerns itself with portable electric typewriters and battery powered tooth brushes, the advent of the cassette as the wave of the future in music; and the first “jumbo” jet, a Boeing 747. The only thing still relevant is the battery powered toothbrush. All of the other achievements have been surpassed. But my toothbrush is still about the same; only cheaper.

Health covers the first Pacemakers, plastic contact lenses, open heart surgery, Medicare, cigarettes causing cancer; birth control and lung transplants.

Life and Style is one of the more interesting sections as it directly affects us all. From Barbie dolls to Mustangs, skateboarding and marijuana, this section is fairly representative of the way we were back then.

Fashion covers Jackie Kennedy, miniskirts, Audrey Hepburn, big glasses and Twiggy in a highly entertaining way. The articles fairly sing the praises of the subjects they explore.
Food and Drink is another section which is fairly interesting. It’s easy to forget that a microwave once coat about $1,200 in 1955. By 1962 this had dropped to $795, still out of reach of almost all Americans at the time.  The rise of fast food and artificial sweeteners also dominated the news at the time.

Sports is a vivid recollection of the Lakers, Wilt Chamberlain, the Mets, Roger Maris, the first Superbowl, the consolidation of the NFL and the AFL, Cassius Clay becoming Muhammad Ali, and the triumph of the Mets over Baltimore in 1969.

Arts and Entertainment starts off with the architectural achievements in New York at the time. From the new airline terminal at Idewild; with its observation deck; to the opening of the Pan Am Building, and the Whitney in Manhattan, the changing skyline of Manhattan reflected the rapidly changing world.

When the book gets to Music and Art it really showcases the color and dynamics of the 1960’s. From the Beatles to James Baldwin and everything in between, this is one of the most entertaining sections. Andy Warhol and his Chelsea Girls film had me running to the computer and You Tube to see what I missed as a kid. Ava Gardner reading “The Feminine Mystique”, Monty Python, A Clockwork Orange, Tom Wolfe, James Earl Jones, Andy Griffith, Hair and Woodstock are all represented as examples of the culture of the times. The last entry, closing out the section and the book, is the Altamont Concert in California.

It’s always interesting to look back and see how far we have come in certain areas; and how little progress we have made in others. In 1961 the Senate was struggling with the issues of healthcare and equal pay for women; both of which are still unsettled today. It's possible that we have not advanced socially as far as we would sometimes like to believe. Maybe we haven't come "such a long way baby". Inadvertently, perhaps that is the message of this wonderful book.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"The Year That Clayton Delaney Died" - Tom T. Hall (Live)

This is one off my favorite songs by one of America’s finest storytellers. That he happens to tell the stories to music is just an added plus; but the stories would stand on their own, even without the melodies. They’re simply that good.

Bob Dylan is great; abstract poetry and activism. It’s great stuff. John Prine writes about the ironies of life. And I love John Prine. But Tom T. Hall writes about the people he has met and what has happened to him in life; and guess what?  His stories reflect more accurately the everyday struggles and emotions of the average person.

Of course there are just some stories made up for plain fun. Listen to “A Week In a County Jail” sometime to hear what I mean. You can listen here;

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Old Smokey" - The Captain and the Kids (1938)

These cartoons are new to me so I will be posting all 15 of them; one each Saturday as I discover them. I watch one a week and then post it. Hey, don’t knock it - if you were doing this blog every day you’d be strung out for ideas, too!

This week’s episode actually doesn’t feature the kids at all. It’s the story of a man and his horse. When Smokey, the local fire department horse, is replaced by a new fire engine he is heartbroken. He leaves the firehouse with an old man and pulling the old hand pump tuck. His future looks bleak.

The Captain meantime is busy with polishing his new engine, thinking he is the luckiest guy in the world. Then the first fire call comes in. Rushing to the scene the Captain loses control of the rig and the truck is severely damaged.  Smokey; who meanwhile is plodding along with the old man; smells the fire and hauls himself; the old man; and the pump truck to the fire, putting out the blaze with a torrent of water.

The Captain; taking a page from the Little Red Lighthouse, realizes the value of loyalty and service, quickly reuniting with hid old partner. This is only the 3rd of the 15 Captain and the Kids cartoons I have seen. I like them, not only for the fact that they are new to me, but also because of the quality of the animation and the presence of a coherent plot, capped off with a moral lesson.

Friday, October 17, 2014

NC Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony - 2014

Sue and I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Induction Award Ceremony for the NC Music Hall of Fame in Kannapolis last night. The pre-ceremony dinner was at the restaurant Forty Six, which is right adjacent to the Gem Theatre where the Induction Ceremony was held.

The Gem; for those not already familiar with the theater; is one of those rare commodities these days; a stand-alone, honest to goodness movie theater, with a marquee and everything.  Not only do they show the most recent films at a reasonable price; they also showcase local community events, and the theater is also available for rent as a place to hold an occasion; from weddings to graduations.

This year’s ceremony, which followed the dinner, featured an award for Clay Aiken. Although he was not in attendance his presence was easily felt. Raleigh is not so far away that we don’t consider him to be a “local”. His mother accepted the award for him and even gave a little plug to his upcoming election bid for Congress. Nobody seemed to mind. 

Fantasia Barrino, top R&B artist and American Idol Winner in 2004 was on hand to accept an award and gave a truly charming acceptance speech. Although she did not perform she did sing a portion of her remarks acapella, much to everyone's delight. Even Ms. Barrino seemed to enjoy herself. In a form fitting white full length gown she was reminiscent of a younger Aretha Franklin.

Jimmy Capps, whose career has had him playing on so many hits that it’s hard to even list them, was also part of the show. He was truly in great form leading the audience through a series of his hits. He has also been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1958.

The Embers, known for their beach music sound; made for strolling on the boardwalk, were honored and then later performed. These were the original members and they still had it all together; friends for life. And that friendship translated right through to the audience, many of whom were life long fans.

Little Eva; known mostly for “The Loco-motion” & “The Turkey Trot”, was born in Belhaven, NC, and received a long overdue posthumous induction. She also got a extended ovation. The Chairmen of the Board; long known for their beach music and cross over hits such as "Give Me Just a Little More Time" also performed and brought the house down. Everybody loves these guys and they have played at several Hall of Fame events; being early Inductees themselves.  

Lulu Belle & Scotty, two artists from the 1940’s, known as the Sweethearts of Country Music were singled out for their contributions at a time when Charlotte almost replaced Nashville as the center of country music. Not only was Charlotte on the "circuit", it also boasted the most powerful transmitter in the South at the time, bringing acts such as theirs here to the Queen City for radio exposure. One of my favorite recordings of theirs was the 1974 hit "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" That song was highlighted in the tribute film to them, which made me very happy.
Talmadge “Tab” Smith, who played with Jimmy Witherspoon and Johnny Otis was also honored, as was Link Wray, renowned guitarist known for the” power chord”. As an added bonus, Link Wray's grandson's group Band of Tribes shook the theater with a power performance, which although it may have seemed a bit out of place for the program, reflected the myriad sounds which originated here in North Carolina. Their vocalist was also a powerhouse of her own.

All in all it was a fantastic show which lasted over 2 hours before everybody headed over to the museums new headquarters at Curb Motorsports down the road in Concord. The move will afford the museum about twice the space they currently have in the original location at the old Kannapolis Jail. Mike Curb is an old friend of Eddie Ray, who is the Vice-Director of Operations at the museum. You might even say that he is its heart and soul.

The evening really highlighted not only the musical roots of North Carolina, but also what fun local cultural events can be when presented by such local organizations as The NC Music Hall of Fame.
For more about them and what they do, go to their website at;

Also, for more about the remarkable Eddie Ray visit his Wikipedia page at;

And to purchase a copy of his autobiography, “Against All Odds”, go to;

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Sorry, Wrong Number" with Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster (1948)

I caught this movie on television the other night by accident. Well, maybe it wasn’t such an accident because I was clicking around looking for something to watch; which is always easier said than done. And, as often happens to me, I was hit with a black and white screen; bringing an instant halt to my clicking. Black and white really grabs me.

I was only 15 minutes into the 1948 film noir classic “Sorry, Wrong Number” with Barbara Stanwyk and Burt Lancaster. They play the ill-fated couple Henry and Leona Stevenson; she as the hypochondriac bed ridden wife, and he as the henpecked husband driven to despair by his wife’s imagined illness, as well as being a victim of his own demons.

Henry Stevenson is a man with secrets. He lives sort of a double life; caring for his stricken wife; and also as a philandering and a thief. But all of his secrets come tumbling out one night when his wife; who is addicted to her phone, as it is her only link to the outside world; hears 2 men on the line plotting a murder.

At first she tries to contact the police, but since there is no identity to the men she refers to there is little that they can do. During her attempts to trace the call and find the intended victim she becomes privy to her husband’s secret life; including his infidelity with Sally Hunt Lord; played by Ann Richards. She also learns that he has stolen some money and must make good or face some serious consequences.

During the flashbacks, as she recounts her life with her husband, she realizes that there were many clues she chose to ignore. And when she finds out about the money she is ready to forgive him instantly; she really does love him. But by this time it’s too late to stop a series of events already in motion, set to happen at 11:15 PM.

As the film closes; with Henry talking on the phone to a frantic Leona; all of the pieces fall neatly into place and leave you wondering how both of them could have been so stupid so as not to see the beauty in the lives they had; trading them for a guaranteed appointment with a hell of their own making.

Outstanding performances by both Burt Lancaster and Barbara Stanwyck, and superb direction by Anatole Litvak, combined with a screenplay by the original author of the play, Lucille Fletcher, make this a classic you don’t want to overlook.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"The Spy Who Came In From the Cold" with Richard Burton and Claire Bloom (1962)

I am a big fan of the Cold War. It had all the necessary elements for a good spy story on a daily basis. And they were true.

Growing up during the some of the hottest times in the Cold War was kind of exciting. The Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin Wall. All of these real life dramas made interesting fodder for the writers of spy novels and the stories they spun. "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" is one of my all time favorites.

John LeCarre takes a man, a broken and tired man, Alec Leamus, and turns him into a political anti-hero. Here is a man who has been engaged in espionage against the Russians for a decade or more, who knows all the ropes, and yet finds himself caught in a web he inadvertently helps to create.

The book and the movie are almost identical. It is helpful to have read the book first, but not necessary. Alec Leamus is asked by MI5 to leave the agency on the pretext of not having gained promotion due to his drinking. Richard Burton plays the part in the movie and his own public struggles with alcoholism make this role very believable.

As he skids down the path of his affliction he takes a job as a research librarian, filing books in a private collection. There he meets a woman named Liz, played in the movie by Claire Bloom, with whom he forms an instant connection. Two lonely people trapped in their own gray and dreary lives. The film is in black and white. It is an accurate depiction of England at that time, still reeling from the ravages of World War Two. Rationing didn't formally end until 1965. Both the novel and the movie capture this aspect with perfection.

When Alec defects to the Russian side for a price, at the direction of his superiors, a chain of events ensues that brings sharply into focus both the differences and the similarities of what we call Freedom and the other side calls Communism. Both sides have agendas. Both sides resort to unthinkable means in order to obtain their respective goals.

Caught in a struggle between a principled Communist Party member who tries Leamus for espionage, and a ruthless ex-Nazi who may be a British double agent, Leamus finds himself in the grips of a plot that will either reinforce his beliefs or tear them apart, revealing them as the other side of the same coin.

The book is riveting, as is the movie. Richard Burton gives one of his finest performances as the troubled spy. And Claire Bloom is exceptional as a woman torn between her beliefs and the reality with which she finds herself confronted.

Stark and intense writing give the book the feel of the gray and colorless world of Communism in Eastern Europe at the time. Stark and intense direction by Martin Pitt transfer these elements to the screen with perfection.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Roman Vishniac - Photographer (1897-1990)

This artist is new to me. I say artist instead of photographer to call attention to the way he framed his shots.  Born in Russia he moved to Berlin in 1920 to escape the rising tide of anti-Semitism in his native country.  Maybe it wasn't the best of choices but had he not relocated when he did the world would have been cheated out of one of the best collections of photographs chronicling Jewish life in Germany before the Holocaust.

His 1983 book “A Vanished World” gave us only a glimpse of his vast collection of images. But now; through the International Center of Photography, the entity to which these images belong; all of his thousands of photos have been digitized and are available for viewing on line.

The importance of this project cannot be overstated. Millions of Jews were wiped out by the Nazi’s; and along with them all of the personal effects and photographs of a generation disappeared. But for the work of photographers such as Vishniac there would be no record of those lives left at all; which was the aim of the Holocaust in the first place. You could say that without these photographs Hitler would have scored a partial victory of sorts.

This collection encompasses all aspects of life in Germany before the Second World War; not just Jews. But that is the very beauty of the whole collection. The Jews pictured here are represented as having been a part of something larger than being Jews in Germany. They are shown as being an integral part of German culture.

Among the images of Rabbis and traditionally clad Jewish children there are pictures of the Nuns, the churches, the train station, the zoo; and just about everything else which together form a more clear picture of what life was like in the multi-cultural environment which was Germany before the Holocaust. It all looks so normal.

And that’s the point; abnormal horrors are often born quietly amidst the normalcy of daily living. We are often lulled into a state of apathy and unawareness, enjoying our lives without giving thought to the evils which lurk just beneath the surface.

These photos were digitized by Ardon Bar-Hama who was the man tasked with preserving the Dead Sea Scrolls in a like manner. But these photos; the importance of the Scrolls notwithstanding;  may be more relevant to our daily lives.

For more of these amazing photos go to the Roman Vishniac exhibition at;

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Did She Kill Him" by Kate Colquhoun (2014)

This is Kate Colquhoun’s long awaited “next” book. It will be out in bookstores and available on line this Thursday October 16th. Long time readers here will remember her 2011 smash “Murder in the First Class Carriage”, an account of a true life crime which I compared to an Agatha Christie whodunit. Well, get ready to enjoy her latest release “Did She Kill Him”.

This is the story of the case which has become known as the “Maybrick Mystery”. Although the action is set in Liverpool, the Maybrick Mystery was as widely celebrated (an odd term for a possible murder) at the time as the infamous Jack the Ripper case was in London. Both events occurred around the same time; in 1889. But there all similarity between the two ceases.

Not only location, but social circumstances made the two episodes vastly different in nature; each with its own set of characters. The problem for Florence Maybrick was that the characters in her drama were so familiar to most people in Britain at the time, that it was easy for the public to conjure up a villain in her. Class and privilege; and the attendant gulf between the servants and the served; these were just part of the reason why Mrs. Maybrick was found guilty of killing her husband, James Maybrick; a well-known cotton trader from Liverpool; by slowly poisoning him with arsenic.

Mr. Maybrick was about 20 years older than his American born wife; the two met while aboard a ship bound for Britain from America. Encouraged by Florence’s social climbing mother, the Baroness von Roques, the two are soon wed. They were both looking for financial security; he with a seemingly financially stable American; her with a seemingly successful merchant. They were both wrong in their assessment of the other.

Florence was a slightly spoiled young woman; think along the lines of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind” and you wouldn’t be too far off target. She was a spendthrift and soon accumulated a good bit of debt which she kept hidden from her husband. He had life insurance which would have left her well off if he died.

For his part he was not the well to do merchant he appeared to be. A failing crop in America and a bad investment in what amounted to today’s “futures” trading left him strapped for ready cash. And keeping up appearances with a large house and staff only drove him further behind financially. But appearances in Victorian England were important; important enough that to not keep them up could mean financial ruin in business. And, he was also addicted to eating arsenic.

Arsenic eating dates back centuries. Ms. Colquhoun uses the Styrian peoples of what is present day Austria to illustrate the history of this odd; and deadly; practice. Introduced at a young age to arsenic the body will adapt to it; although with some discomfort; but then the problem really first begins. In order to not die from the arsenic already ingested, the user needs more and more to stay alive. To stop would be death. And yet, to continue will eventually do the same.

The servants in the Maybrick home offer a window into the lower end of the social strata at a time when England; along with the rest of the world; was changing. Domestics, who used to have only one way to make a living, now had opportunities in factories, with  jobs made available by the Industrial Revolution; and in trade, at jobs which had been previously been off limits to them by custom. Their loyalty towards their employers was not as solid as it had been in former times. The class system was crumbling.

When James Maybrick took ill his doctors were baffled; yet in spite of knowing about his propensity to take various poisons they did nothing. As a matter of fact they gave him more in the form of the insidious concoctions they prescribed. In essence they were only making things worse.

When Mr. Maybrick dies from his illness, a series of seemingly innocent actions on the part of Florence Maybrick become the basis for the theory that she killed him by poisoning him with arsenic. A bottle of medicine innocently moved from one place to another becomes just one of many apparent “clues” which were all missed until her husband had died and an explanation was needed. After all, it couldn’t have been the doctors fault.

In this atmosphere a love note from Florence to another cotton trader; who was an acquaintance of her husband’s; becomes a log thrown on the fire as Florence finds herself the victim of circumstances that ultimately lead to her being sentenced to prison for her husband’s death. The only real evidence is circumstantial, and yet she is found guilty.

But the real question brought forth by Ms. Colquhoun is this; what was really on trial here? An outmoded society in which respectable women were relegated to lives like Nora’s in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”? Or was it the “New Woman” which Florence may have represented to some?

In the end all the medical evidence pointed against James Maybrick having even died from an overdose of arsenic; accidental or otherwise; in the first place. There simply was not enough arsenic in his body to explain his death. That is, unless someone withheld the drug from him. And even that explanation then leads to the question of whether that deprivation was done by design, or out of caution.

A good mystery is one which can’t be solved. And in this book Ms. Colquhoun has presented us with a timeless parlor game; one which can be played for decades and never be truly solved. It is extensively annotated with a Bibliography and chapter by chapter notes on the sources. There is also a very helpful list of People that serves as a cast of characters. In short, this book was all I expected it to be and more.

And, with her steady style and keen sense of history, Ms. Colquhoun has done a superb job of both chronicling the Maybrick Case; keeping the mystery alive for future generations; while also addressing the social inequities which may have played a part in the whole sordid affair.  This is the mark of a truly gifted writer.

For the Rooftop Review of Ms. Colquhoun’s previous book, “Murder in First Class Carriage”, use this link;

And for more information on the release of "Did She Kill Him" see this link;

And to order any of Ms. Colquhoun’s previous books, go to;

Sunday, October 12, 2014

"Petunia Natural Park" - Captain and the Kids (1939)

Continuing on with another of the Captain and the Kid’s cartoons, in this one we find the entire Katzenjammer family on an outing in Petunia Natural Park. Lots of sight gags and double entendre stuff to laugh at. At one point, when Mama takes a picture of a bear, she ends up on the other end of the camera and then goes on to run afoul of the law when she picks a flower.
Meantime the Captain falls victim to an undercover ranger while feeding a bear. And the boys have their own experiences with the natural geysers when they use it for the car radiator; causing an unexpected reaction; and also give some to the Captain to drink!

This is one of the few color cartoons of the Captain and the Kids series. The artwork is excellent and the story is funny enough to hold the interest of even the most uninterested adult. And, to top it off the humor is timeless.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Picasso from Rocky Mount, N.C.

The following remarks were delivered yesterday by Eddie Ray of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame at the ceremonies honoring Thelonius Monk, which took place in Rocky Mount, N.C. I was privileged to be asked to write a little something befitting of the occasion; and glad to do it.

My original draft was a little bit different in that it included 3 paragraphs which Eddie Ray chose not to speak, thus proving his legendary talents as an accomplished Artists and Repertoire (A&R) man. I have been known to go on tangents and need minding. 

So, here is the text of the remarks as written by me and edited to a fine edge by Eddie Ray, and then spoken at the ceremony. It was an honor for me to write about Thelonius Monk; and although I might not be the number 1 fan as purported in the in the opening remarks; I do recognize the genius of the man.

Introduction by Bobby Monk.

Eddie Ray:

“Thank you Bobby,

When Robert Williams,  a devoted fan of Thelonius  Monk,  heard that I had been honored to participate in Thelonius’  97th  Birthday Celebration in his home town of Rocky Mount, NC, he sent me   some  suggested  comments  about his musical idol  that he would  have liked to share if he were participating in the Celebration.  Robert’s comments were so beautiful and emotionally moving, I decided to share them with you. He entitled his presentation, 

“The leaves would have been turning; just as they are now. Look around outside at the beautiful colors surrounding us; these were the first sights that the boy would ever see.  And though he traveled far; would they ever leave him?  The sounds of his first winter would have been full of the wind as it howled and blew through  the hills;  and when it froze  he would have heard the cracking of the tree limbs as they broke away from the trunks, crashing,  quietly muffled on the snow  covered ground; crashing quietly; just like the struggles evident in his music later on; when discordant notes fought for a place among sweeter melodies. Could his senses have ever really forgotten from where that came?

Surrounded by the colors and SOUNDS of these hills and mountains where he was born had to have helped form the mind of the boy who would someday mesmerize the world with his unique SOUNDS. And although he would leave these hills at an early age; he was only 5 years old when his family moved to New York City; this is where he came from.

After moving to New York, where the people today still claim  him as their own;  it seemed like everybody wanted a piece of him.  A largely self-taught   musician, he did attend Julliard for a while; where it must have been difficult for him to contain his musical visions within the confines of a structured school setting.  But, at age 17 he toured with a gospel band playing the organ for a few years before forming his own ensemble. 

After that, came the legendary years, which produced such classics as “Round Midnight” in 1947. Photos of him at the time; he was 30; show a sharply dressed and focused man. I could go on about all his great achievements in the field of Progressive; and even Advant Garde Jazz, but all of that has been covered elsewhere by others. You didn't come here to hear a biography. You came here to celebrate a great musical SOUND.  

Somewhere, sometime; there was a note, or possibly a melody, which entranced you and drew you in, And then you were hooked on that “SOUND”. Thelonius Monk was that SOUND personified. And his entire life; until his death over 30 years ago; was a continued exploration of just how far he could take that SOUND, from Rocky Mount, NC to New York City and to every city in the world he took his SOUND he refined it each step of the way , adding something he heard here; and a note he heard there; until those combined SOUNDS became the soundtrack of his own life and travels; and the lives of those that traveled the musical path with him.

But in the end it always comes back to the place where it began. Sometimes it takes a while for the SOUND to travel; but travel it does. And this time it has traveled all the way back to Rocky Mount, NC where it began”.    ©Robert Williams

On behalf of the NC Music Hall of Fame,  I am  honored  and grateful  to have  the opportunity to  help  preserve, honor and promote Thelonius  Monk’s extraordinary contributions to the rich musical history of our State of North Carolina and to the entire world.  The memory and enjoyment of his amazing musical contributions to the world of music will live on forever.

For more about both Eddie Ray and the NC Music Hall of Fame in Kannapolis, go to their link at;

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Back to 1942" with Adrien Brody, Tim Robbins and Zhang Guoli (2012)

The period of World War Two and the role China played in winning the war against the Japanese is often misunderstood. Since they became our sworn enemies so soon after the end of the war we never really examine the sacrifices the Chinese made in our common cause during this time. This film will help put much of that into perspective for the average viewer.

Chinese director Feng Xiaogang has created a modern epic film with this sweeping tale of China before the days of Mao; when she was still roiled by internal strife, even as she was assailed from without by the Japanese. As if those two forces were not enough of a challenge to a beleaguered people, there came a famine. And with that famine came all the corruption and greed imaginable as people try to keep their own families alive; often at the expense of their neighbors. Complicate that scenario with an occupying enemy force which demands most of the available food reserves and the situation becomes even more of a nightmare.

The Henan Province is where this film is set; the year is 1942. Tim Robbins plays American Priest Thomas Megan, and Adrien Brody plays a very young Theodore White working as a journalist to uncover the truth in a land where the truth is as great a commodity as food itself. Whose truth do you want? 

Watching this film with test your faith if you have any; and make you long for it if you don’t. But whatever your reaction, this film will give you a clearer understanding of how the China of Mao Tse Tung came to be. And that knowledge will help you to understand the China of today. This is a truly remarkable film.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Happy Birthday John Lennon -"C'est La Vie"

Today would be John Lennon’s 74th birthday. Instead of some weepy tribute thing; or even a Beatles clip; I thought I would run something really cool by the man of whom John Lennon once said, “If you were to try and give Rock and Roll another name it might be called Chuck Berry.” He said that the week he was guest hosting the Mike Douglas Show from Philadelphia with Yoko Ono. Besides; having been born on October 18th; he's a fellow Libra, along with me. So, I figured John would enjoy this performance of one of Mr. Berry’s signature hits “C’est La Vie.” It was recorded in Germany at the Beat Club in Bremen during the 1972 tour.

Now, everybody knows this song but most people have never heard this version. The clarity and the relaxed way in which he handles his guitar make it a rare treat. Most of us are used to the faster paced version which became a hit for Mr. Berry and quite a few other artists. The song is even associated with Uma Thurman and John Travolta in the film “Pulp Fiction.” And Emily Lou Harris had a smash hit with it as well.

But this version tops any which I have heard over the years. The guitar weaving; done by Chuck solo; is creative and varied. He hints at his usual riffs but strays from them in a relaxed and less frenetic fashion than usual. Accompanied by Mike Snow on piano; Jimmy Campbell on guitar; Billy Kinsley on bass; and Dave Harrison on drums; this may be the best band he ever toured with during this period of time. He even has fun with the lyrics, describing the Refrigerator as a "Koolerader". (Something you put Kool-Aide in to make it cold.) If you have ever read his autobiography you already know that he loves to play with words.

His usual practice at the time was to pick up a local amateur band to back him in different towns as he toured the United States. Maybe because this was a European tour he took along one American band for the entire duration. The benefits of performing with the same group of musicians on a regular basis cannot be underestimated. And the results really show in this performance.

For a link to the Rooftop Review of Chuck Berry's 1987 memoir "The Autobiography", go here;

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my 60th Birthday; which means I get to tell this story again. I've only told it once before on here in the last 6 years; but I wish I had a dollar for all the other times! But since it is my birthday; I'll presume your indulgence while I tell it again.

This is me the day I was born. At 3 AM my Mom woke my Dad and they had to get a cab to take them to the hospital. We wouldn't have our first car until I was about 3 years old. 

Upon arrival at the hospital my Dad; having waited on my older brother's arrival for 12 hours; figured he had enough time to go out and get something to eat and pick up a present for my Mom. He got back and fell asleep in the waiting room, waking up at about 10:30 AM and wondering how my Mom was doing.

Approaching a nurse, he asked, in that timid way that only expectant Fathers can, how my Mom was doing. The nurse looked at him as if he were the dumbest thing she had ever laid eyes upon and then informed him that my Mom had given birth to me several hours ago at about 7:47 AM. They would later name a plane after the event.

I know this story to be true; well not the part about the plane; because my Mom told it to me every year for the 30 years of my life that she was here. I never got tired of hearing it and I never get tired of telling it. Hell, I was almost born in the taxi! And to top it off I was a full breech baby- arriving feet first- ready to hit the road. You can see it in the picture, my fists are all balled up and I'm leading with my left, holding back that right until it's needed.

Man, I just love to tell that story...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Jimmy P." with Benicio De Toro and Mathieu Amalric (2013)

This is one amazing story. It will have you engrossed for the entire film. You will feel the frustration and the sadness which accompanies Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. You won’t see only the violent side of this disease as it is so often shown on television and in films. PSTD doesn’t have to be violent or dramatic. It can be silent, but just as destructive. In this true account Jimmy Picard; played by Benicio Del Toro; is a troubled Blackfoot Indian with a severe case of PTSD after serving in the Army overseas, where he saw combat.

There are essentially only 2 players in this drama; Jimmy Picard the patient, and his therapist Dr. Georges Devereux; played by Mathieu Amalric. Dr. Chevereux is the slightly off beat; and broke; French analyst who is consulted by the staff of the hospital where Jimmy is being treated after they cannot find anything wrong with him. Aside from a general feeling of nausea, along with debilitating headaches, there is no real “medical” reason for his problems; hence no cure. He seems destined for a life of unabated hell.

Enter Dr. Devereux, who recognizes that Jimmy has been through one ordeal after another; beginning with some traumatic childhood experiences he has repressed. During the war the relationship between right and wrong; good or bad; became blurred. These events led him back to the suppressed events of his childhood. The collision of those two worlds; and standards of justice; were the root cause of his headaches. Understanding this was the key to his relief.

Initially the doctor is only interested in Jimmy as an extension of his anthropological studies about Native Americans, but he very quickly warms to the man as someone in need. In helping Jimmy the doctor finds something new about himself and his own capacity to give. Through a series of meetings and conversations he essentially performs a complete psychoanalysis of Jimmy as a subject. And with Jimmy so willing; and able; to help, his recovery is soon assured.

This is one of the best of the many wonderful performances we have seen from Benicio Del Toro. And for those unfamiliar with him this is the perfect introduction to Mathieu Amalric. With no special effects; and no real “action”; this film is able to showcase the powerful acting on the part of these two most capable thespians. After watching this powerful film the term “actor” seems inadequate.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Getting Life" by Michael Morton (2014)

In August of 1986 Michael Morton’s wife, Chris, was murdered in their home. He had turned 32 the day before. Shortly afterwards he was tried and convicted of killing her as his son slept in the next room. It would take 25 years and a few very dedicated volunteers to prove his innocence; culminating in his release from prison in 2011 just one day after his 57th birthday on October 3rd. It took 25 years for justice to be done.

This is a book which will set you back in the way you may think about the issues of prisoner’s legal rights to continued appeals; long after conviction. When I began to read this book I felt that most people behind bars are there for a reason. And I still feel that way. But I also felt that most prisoner appeals were just attempts to gain freedom based on legal technicalities. Boy was I ever wrong!

Mr. Morton’s journey will take you on a ride through a complicated and often broken legal system. It’s a system where small minded local Prosecutors and District Attorneys; always vying for re-election; can be led down the path of injustice by local law enforcement to convict the wrong person; sometimes by design, other times by incompetence. In Mr. Morton’s case it seems to have been a willingness on the part of the Prosecutor to allow the Sheriff to suppress and deny the facts of the investigation to the Defense; a clear violation of the Brady Rule. But it would take 25 years to unearth the documents and prove the point.

The author writes plainly and achingly about his ordeal. First as a grieving husband and father; next as a wrongly accused man fighting to keep the remnants of his torn family together as he battles a system seemingly intent on destroying him. And lastly he describes his time behind the walls of Huntsville prison in Texas, introducing the reader to the way of life inside. The rituals, the social mores, the unwritten rules of prison life are a fascinating subject. Much like life aboard a Navy ship, prison is a place where privacy is the most valued commodity; and the inmates have their own unique ways of gaining it.

The most important challenge which Mr. Morton faced was the ability to keep some sort of hope alive at the same time he was forced to accept his current situation. How do you live in perpetual expectation that your nightmare will someday end when reality clearly points to the opposite conclusion? Through books and continuing education he was able to navigate a system which no one ever expects to have to deal with.

At the same time as he is working on his appeals and requests for DNA testing; which should be the norm rather than the exception in all cases; he is also faced with the loss of his son. Eric was 3 years old at the time of the crime and had been living with his maternal grandparents ever since his father’s incarceration. His wife’s family was asked; and agreed; to withhold certain facts which could have had a profound impact on the original trial. Evidence was suppressed; witness statements unshared with the Defense; and crucial leads and clues ignored.

When the court awarded custody of the child to the maternal grandparents, they began a steady barrage of telling the boy that his father had killed his mother. By the time the boy turned 15 he chose to forgo the twice yearly supervised visits. He was not discouraged by the grandparents. Even after Mr. Morton is set free it would take another journey to set things right between himself and his son.

The point of this book is that there are thousands of cases like this, where the evidence exists to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, but the money to prove it is scarce. Thankfully there are volunteers and organizations, such as the Innocence Project, to help free some of the most egregious cases. And luckily for Mr. Morton they chose his case to investigate.

A compelling read; I recommend this book to anyone with any doubts about the issue of the wrongfully convicted. There are more of these cases than we care to admit, and more work to be done than resources to accomplish it. You will ache at the injustice within these pages, and then revel in the author’s vindication after so long a fight.

For more about the Innocence Project go to their website at;

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sunday Shirking

This cover by Norman Rockwell is from May 16th, 1959 is titled "Sunday Morning." I use it as one of my "Gone Fishing" signs. Generally, when you see a Norman Rockwell illustration on my page it means I'm off today. So, that's me hiding behind the newspaper, shirking whatever I am supposed to be doing.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

"Mama's New Hat" with Captain & the Kids (1939)

When the boys buy a new hat for Mother’s Day they don’t expect the problems they are about to have. As they exit the store they trip and the hat ends up in a mud puddle; ruined. Spying a nearby horse they decide to swap the ruined hat with the one on the horse’s head. (This is a cartoon so there is no reason for the horse NOT to be wearing a hat.)

Sensing an opportunity, the boys quickly exchange the muddy hat for the one the horse is wearing. When the horse figures out she has been swindled she gallops after them, only to lose the trail. She is left searching the streets for the scent of the boys, and her hat.

Meantime, back at home, the boys have presented Mama with her Mother’s Day gift. She promptly goes for a stroll to show it off. And then she comes face to face with the horse, who immediately begins to chase her in order to get her hat back. A very frightened Mama leads the horse back to the house, and the horse actually gets inside to search room by room for what is rightfully hers.

The boys; knowing that they caused this whole mess in the first place; decide to do something. So, they sit the horse down and attempt to mollify her by having her try on every piece of headgear in the house; football helmet and lamp shade included. When the horse becomes dizzy with all the hats and mirrors the boys push her into the bathroom, where she finds herself in the tub with a very surprised, and angry Captain.

The chase that begins in the bathroom reaches epic proportions in relation to the size of the hat at stake. At one point; through the magic of cartoon reality; the horse becomes an airplane with the aid of an electric fan and a dining room table. When they snag the electric line they take most of the town’s power lines along with them before crashing onto a laundry “tree” in someone’s backyard with the contested headpiece landing just out of reach.

At this point the fan; which is still stuck to the horse’s ass; turns the laundry “tree” into a merry go round, with the prized hat becoming the “golden ring.”  The Captain and the Kids cartoons grew out of the comic strip of the same name; which grew out of the Katzenjammer Kids series. For a really good article about the history of that series; with links to the Captain and the Kids strip; use this link;

Friday, October 3, 2014

Yom Kippur - 5775

For all of my Jewish readers; myself included; this evening marks the beginning of our holiest day in the year, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. On this day, many Jews the world over, will be fasting until sundown tomorrow in an effort to cleanse ourselves of any sins we have committed in the past year. That’s the part where we apologize to God for any offenses we may have committed against Him.

But Yom Kippur is also about making amends with the individuals you may have offended, and this must be done directly, not through God. Traditionally, after you have asked forgiveness of the offended party 3 times, you are released from your obligation, and the sin of “unforgiveness” then falls upon the one who was originally aggrieved; as they would seem to lack the ability to forgive. 

It is a most interesting concept, and not as easily accomplished as one would think. The perception of just who was responsible for the affront is subjective at best, making this one of the most difficult of the Commandments to fulfill, as it involves pride.

The painting above is called “Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur” and was painted in 1878 by artist Maurycy Gottlieb. To all my readers, regardless of faith, may we come together in the year ahead. The alternative to not doing so is almost unthinkable.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"The Rat Race" with Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds (1960)

This is a remarkable film in so many ways. Tony Curtis plays Pete; a saxophone player who comes to New York with big dreams and little hope. He immediately finds himself sharing an apartment with Peggy; a “taxi dancer” played by Debbie Reynolds. For those who don’t know it, a “taxi dancer” is one of those ten cents a dance girls you rented by the dance. Sometimes you could strike up other “deals” with them for after hours. Sometimes they were just dancers.

Lonely people attract other lonely people; and so it is with Pete and Peggy. Pete doesn’t realize the debt that Peggy is in while he scouts around for a job. She is dancing regularly and paying the bills for both of them. Although Pete is kind of smitten with Peggy, she denies her feelings for him.

When Pete’s saxophone and other belongings are stolen she goes to her boss “Nellie”; a sinister character played by Don Rickles in what has to be the most sleezy role he ever played; for a loan. She is already hjeavily indebted to him, and this “loan” comes with conditions. “Nellie” is the guy who runs the dance hall, ensuring that the girls all fall into debt with him. Then he tries to turn them into “escorts” for out of town businessmen who arrive in New York looking for fun.
Garson Kanin wrote the play and the screenplay for this film, which is searing in it’s portrayal of the dark and predatory side of humanity. In one of the more tender scenes, the bartender, Mac, played by Jack Oakie, waxes poetic, noting that “One half of the world is looking for the other half; we’re all buyers looking for sellers.”

I saw this film on TV the other night. I had never seen it before. It’s an old movie, but the topic of how we treat one another in life never gets dated.