Friday, September 25, 2015

"The 100 Year Old Man" - A Felix Herngren Film (2015)

This is a very good film. I’m not quite sure how to review it without taking anything away from the steady stream of surprises which this film holds in store for the viewer. 

I have to confess something here; I am probably the only person on the planet who disliked the film “Forrest Gump.” I have never made it through more than 15 minutes of it. And yet this film is somewhat similar. And that’s all I will tell you. I will give you this much though; here are the notes, right from the back of this exceptionally creative film.

“After a long and explosive life in munitions, involving a multitude of seminal moments from the 20th Century, including the Spanish Revolution, the atomic bomb, and the Cold War, Allean Karlsson finds himself  - on his 100th birthday – stuck in a tranquil Swedish nursing home. Determined to escape the monotony he hops out a window and kicks off a hilarious and unexpected comic-adventure by way of a stolen briefcase, a hardcore biker gang, and an escaped circus elephant named Sonya.”

It’s funny that as I read the liner notes today I think I understand more fully the difference between “Forrest Gump” and Allan Karlsson. While Gump was a somewhat of a bystander caught up in the circumstances around him, Karlsson is more pro-active, inserting himself in the situations which present themselves. And for me, that makes all the difference.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"The Madman and the Assassin" by Scott Martelle (2015)

Boston Corbett once shook Abe Lincoln’s hand. That happened just after Corbett arrived in Maryland as part of a NY regiment after Lincoln called for volunteers when the South seceded from the Union. That this man; who would go on to be remembered for killing John Wilkes Booth 4 years later; met the victim of the man he was destined to kill is just one of the many strange things about this man which the author has chronicled in this carefully researched and thoroughly engaging book.

Boston Corbett was born Thomas Corbett and took the name of the city in which he first accepted Jesus Christ. This decision would inform every part of his life from that moment forward. Put out of your mind everything which you have heard about this enigmatic and mysterious man and get ready for a fascinating read. There is much more to his story than just that singular moment when he shot John Wiles Booth in a tobacco barn.

Scott Martelle does a superb job of bringing to life not only Boston Corbett’s story, but also in chronicling the Second Great Awakening of Religious fervor in the United States. The First Awakening was in the years before the American Revolution, as the colonists stretched the wings of their newly found religious freedom in North America. 

The Second Great Awakening; of which Corbett became a part; occurred just as the Northern half of the country was embracing the new Industrialism and the South was clinging to its own Agricultural and slave based economy. And after the war, Corbett’s travels out West in search of a new life are particularly interesting. He took over an 80 acre homestead which had been abandoned.

Descriptions of Corbett's time in the infamous Andersonville prison camp are remarkable for their description of the conditions, as well as how this man comported himself in a hell on earth. Testimonies from others who were imprisoned there at the same time all speak fairly well of the man who was known to be a religious zealot. He spent much of his time ministering to others and sharing what little he had with those who had even less. This was a very complex individual.

The book also serves as a reminder of a time when a person could be as different as they dared to be without too much interference from either the law, or other people. As you read the book you cannot help but wonder what the fate of this man would have been were he alive today. It’s a very pertinent question, which begs whether or not we have really become more tolerant as a people, or are we now even more restricted in our thoughts than ever before.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Rescue at Los Banos" by Bruce Henderson (2015)

The next time you feel any guilt at all about the internment of Japanese-Americans civilians in America during the Second World War, read this book. Or just look up the history about Los Banos, and then see if you feel the same.

While the American run camps for the Japanese-Americans resembled small towns; complete with high schools, ball teams, elected representatives and even ice cream along with 3 full meals a day; the American civilians in the Philippines were faring far worse; denied access to even the wild fruits and vegetables which grew just outside the fence while the Americans starved, looking at the very food which could have saved their lives.

Fans of prolific non-fiction author Bruce Henderson (count me among them) will dive headfirst into his newest book, which was released this past spring. His style of writing, simple and to the point; coupled with his knack for ferreting out all the smallest minutiae of the topic on which he is writing; serve well to keep the reader riveted.

In this history of the rescue of the American, British and Dutch civilian prisoners (there were actually 7 other nationalities represented in the camps population) he uses both of these skills to tell not only the story of the prisoners and how they got there, but also the story of the formation of the American Paratroopers who rescued them in the end.

In the midst of all the suffering and misery there were stories that need to be remembered; if only to underscore the tenacity of the human spirit. Just as in everyday life, when all is normal, there were individuals who stood out among the rest. Jerry Sams was one of those. He had a knack for mechanics and radios. As a result he lived in comparative “luxury” in the camp. He had a hot plate, a refrigerator and his carpentry skills made it possible for him to transform his small cubicle into a more habitable place.

His saga is also the story of Margaret Sherk, an American woman with a son, whose husband was imprisoned separately from her. She and Jerry Sams fell in love and had a daughter together in the camp. This is one of the most interesting parts of the book, as it sheds light on a subject not often addressed in war memoirs about POW’s. What happens to the relationships between husbands and wives separated for long periods of time; and how do they cope with the unexpected circumstances of that separation?

This is also the story of a group of Paratroopers from the 511th who fought from Thanksgiving to Christmas morning 1944 behind enemy lines. On the way back to camp, after having no regular meals for 31 days, and precious little sleep, they realize its Christmas. After 31 days of non-stop killing someone begins singing “Come All Ye Faithful” in a small voice. Within moments the entire platoon was singing as they trudged through the mud, carrying their wounded. Many of these men would suffer for the rest of their lives with flashbacks and nightmares; which we now call PTSD. One of these men found a unique way to cope with his demons. He wrote short stories. That man was Private Rodman Serling. He would go on to great fame as the creator of the television series “The Twilight Zone.”

And somehow, the author has even managed to recount the history of the advance mission conducted by Paratroopers in retaking the Philippines and fulfilling General MacArthur’s promise of “I shall return.” There are heroes of all shapes and sizes in this quickly read and highly informative book.

For the story of how well we treated our Civilian internees in America you can do no better than to read “Last Train to Crystal City” by Jan Jarboe Russel, but be prepared; the author likens us to the barbarians which the Japanese and Germans really were.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Of Saints and Martyrs - Kim Davis

1. a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.
"saints, martyrs, and witnesses to the faith"

1. kill (someone) because of their beliefs.
"she was martyred for her faith"

An alternate usage is one of a person who displays or exaggerates their discomfort or distress in order to obtain sympathy or admiration, as in "she wanted to play the martyr".

The illustration above is of St. Valentine in prison before being beaten, stoned and beheaded for marrying people. I thought it was an appropriate choice for this post.

There seems to be some confusion about the meaning of the words Martyrs and Saints these days. Kim Davis, the new hero of the Religious Right; who are always right; is currently being hailed as a martyr, in spite of her not having given her life for her beliefs. No one has said Saint as of yet; but give them time.

Ms. Davis was able to endure just 5 days of confinement before her faith caved in. Kind of like those first 3 “Holy Unions” she was in before she got married for the 4th time in a "lifetime commitment" to her current husband.

Ms. Davis has not been asked to die for her beliefs and currently still receives her $80,000 per year salary of tax payer money to perform no work. Oh the horror!

And, as far as Sainthood goes, Ms. Davis has quite a long walk to make before she even comes close to the mark. Here’s a link to the 8 well known Saints and the ways in which they were executed for their beliefs;

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I Always Wondered Why.....

I always wondered why the Weekly Reader; that cool little newspaper we used to get in elementary school; was sometimes confusing to me as a kid. I mean, there was the time when the Weekly Reader was loudly lambasting South Africa for Apartheid at the same time as we were experiencing the events of Selma, Alabama here in the United States. 

But the Weekly Reader had nothing to say about that. Accordingly, I raised my hand and asked what the difference was between South Africa and Alabama. I was told to be quiet and sit down. So I’ve always wondered about that little newspaper.

Well, decades later while reading about the Bush family in Russ Baker’s “Family of Secrets” I came upon the astonishing fact that Allen Dulles; head of the CIA; was on the Board of Directors of the paper, acting as a sort of ghost editor in determining what stories got printed; or not. Kind of makes you want to rethink some of the things you’ve been told…