Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Birmingham Revolution

Dr. King, “was called to lead an unlikely movement, at a particular moment in time, against an immense system of social injustice.”

~ Birmingham Revolution ~

It was 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, ground zero in a seminal year of United States history and the Civil Rights movement. Dated April 16, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is considered a 20th century epistle, and one of the most important historical documents of the century. Yet I had never heard of it.

With Letter from Birmingham Jail at it’s center, the book Birmingham Revolution by Edward Gilbreath is two things; first a concise description of the struggle for Civil Rights in the 1950’s and early 60’s, leading up to and focusing on Birmingham in 1963. Second, it takes an honest look at the issue of race relations and the Christian church, from the 1960’s up to the present day.

Researching both fiction and non-fiction books very carefully, I enjoy reading biographies every once in a while. It’s because I desire to find the best books, always wanting it to be worth my time. As Frank Zappa said, “So many books, so little time.”

Thankfully, Gilbreath’s Birmingham Revolution was brought to my attention through a review on a blog I follow, Bob on Books (check out his review here). Interested in finding a good biography on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this sounded like a good starting place. I made note of the book on my “to read” list. It took me two and a half years to finally get a copy of the book and read it.

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Even better than I had hoped, this is one of the best, and most important books I’ve ever read. Prior to reading the book, my remedial knowledge of this time in history included some general facts, and an awareness of the evils of racism and how it was expressed, especially in the South.

Gilbreath’s succinct narration of the events and characters bring a clear understanding of the immense importance of these moments in history.

But it’s his presentation of the culture at large, and most importantly the white Evangelical church, and it’s lack of understanding, much more then, but still even now, that really hit home. The civil rights movement was very clearly a church movement. It was birthed in prayer meetings, and led by pastors, of whom of course Dr. King became most prominent.

Nothing but a “Guilty” plea can be entered on my behalf when it comes to what at best can be called my disinterest in what living in the U.S. is like for African-Americans in the 21st century.

Believing as Dr. King said in his “I have a dream” speech, that no one should “be judged by the color of their skin,” I affirmed that sentiment, yet have done little else. But I’ve come to face the fact that I’ve sorely fallen short, having avoided addressing the deep roots of racial tension that continues in our country.

My thinking was, things have gotten better in the last 50 years,  haven’t they? To be an African-American today is nothing like it was back then, is it? An African-American, President Barack Obama was elected to two terms as the most powerful man in the world.

Still I admit, I have for the most part worn blinders to the vestiges of racism that for so many, is still very much a part of their daily lives.

As is pointed out in the book, “the civil rights movement was grounded in the church and the holistic gospel of Jesus Christ.” There is the scripture that speaks of all Christians being the body of Christ, and when one part hurts, we all hurt. But I took too little notice of that hurt.

On his website, Gilbreath states that he, “hope[s] to build bridges of understanding across the racial, cultural, and ideological divides in our society.”

It all goes back to the basic teaching of Jesus – Love Your Neighbor.

Gilbreath challenges the church, and therefore me personally, to put this part of the Gospel into action. His book Birmingham Revolution has been a real call to action for me.

There’s so much work to be done, so much healing that needs to take place. In whatever way I can I want, I need, to be part of the change. To build “bridges of understanding” between Black and White, and all races.

~ ~ ~

“The thing that is often overlooked is that the civil rights movement was a church movement. The leaders were pastors, and the mass meetings were church services, with prayers, hymns, sermons, and offerings.”
~ Robert Graetz, a local white Alabama pastor of the all-black Trinity Lutheran Church ~ Birmingham Revolution

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A to Z (+ 1) – A list of Favorite Films

“Story is the breath of human connection.”

~ Stephanie Joy Russell Grable ~

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Films – Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Suspense, Thriller, Superhero, Action Adventure – they all have one main thing in common (hopefully), and that is “story.” This list is more than favorites, it’s really many cherished stories with themes of courage, sacrifice, inspiration, mentors, family, responsibility, heroes, Father/Son, Male/Female, and self-discovery.

When I read a Blog Post with the same type of list from OnTheScreenReviews, I knew I would be doing a list soon. Here is my list of favorite films, from A to Z, and starting with a film whose name begins with a number

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
# – 12 Angry Men (1957)
Great cast. Great film. A lesson in doing the right thing, this courtroom drama, or rather Jury Room story presents the idea in the U.S. court system that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Still considered a classic, first-rate film.
  
   
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A – The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) 
I loved this film from the first time I saw it as a kid on Saturday afternoon TV. It’s still as good as ever. Some actors are completely identified with one character that they have played. Errol Flynn will always be fondly remembered as Robin Hood.
  
B – The Bourne Identity (2002) 
The Bourne films with Matt Damon are the best Action films of the last 15 years. It’s hard to pick, but for me the first in the series just beats the others as my favorite.
  
C – Casablanca (1942)
Although my favorite Humphrey Bogart film is actually The Big Sleep, what’s not to like about the movie that often tops the best of all time lists. Funny, I watched When Harry Met Sally several times, with it’s references to Casablanca, before I finally saw, and loved it. Thus, my favorite film that begins with a “C” is Casablanca.
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D – Die Hard (1988) 
As is most often the case, the first in a series is the movie I like the most. Bruce Willis, perfect as off-duty detective John McClane, and Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, he’s one of my favorite bad guys.
  
E – Ed Wood (1994)
I really like Tim Burton and his off beat view of things as presented in his films. And when you put him together with Johnny Depp you get something as oddly different and wonderful as this film. Not to mention the well deserved Academy Award winning performance of Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi.
  
F – Fiddler on the Roof (1971) 
I amaze myself. A musical on my Favorites list. But I was hooked from the opening song “Tradition.” I so admire Tevye, his resilience, devotion to family, faith in God, and remarkable sense of humor, as he struggles to adapt to change. He’s always been like a father figure to me.
  
G – Groundhog Day (1993) 
I’ve always loved movies where there’s movement toward redemption. Here, the transformation isn’t forced, and makes total sense because Phil just get’s tired of being a jerk. Combine that with a movie that’s laugh out loud funny, clever, and at times a little bizarre – It’s pure comedy at it’s best.
  
H – His Girl Friday (1940) 
In this great romantic comedy Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell share some of the best movie dialogue ever and deliver every line with delicious precision. Cary Grant, one of my favorites, at his best.
  
I – It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) 
The movie is summed up by George Bailey’s guarding angel, Clarence, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” The movie is a reminder of the power of one life, the impact one person can have.
  
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J – Jaws (1975) 
The movie that defined the word “Blockbuster.” The screen isn’t cluttered with hundreds of space ships dodging and blasting each other or thousands of CGI warriors in battle – not that there’s anything wrong with those things. If you get to see this film in a theater, with its images of a single boat (called the Orca), or a close-up of one of the characters, police chief Brody, shark hunter Quint, or oceanographer Matt Hooper filling up the screen – along with the groans, cheers and laughter of the audience – it’s simply movie heaven.
  
K – Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
A great story, wonderful soundtrack, and just a visually stunning stop-motion animated film. One of the very best non-Disney/Pixar animated movies ever made. It was a close choice as I do really like Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2 (2003-2004), the original King Kong (1933), and a first-rate foreign film, Kung Fu Hustle (2004). Still, Kubo slips ahead of the others for my letter “K” spot.
  
L – The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 
It’s a story of friendship, loyalty, courage, honor, and sacrifice. The friendship of Frodo and Sam shines in the movie. As Sam says, “I made a promise, Mr Frodo. A promise. ‘Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee.’ And I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.”
  
M –  The Matrix (1999)
Keanu Reeves is great as Neo in this visually stunning Sci-Fi Action film. The film that had a big impact on many films to follow, especially it’s very cool “bullet time” visual effect.
  
N – North by Northwest (1959)
Alfred Hitchcock, whose more than 50 films are as a whole arguably matchless for an overall body of work. In this classic thriller, Cary Grant’s character is mistaken for a spy. So many iconic scenes. Simply wonderful.
  
O – October Sky (1999)
A movie of hopes and dreams, a father and son relationship (that’s a choice theme for me), and . . . it’s got rockets! What more could you ask for.
  
P –  The Princess Bride (1987) 
Bridging the gap between generations, a grandfather shares a story with his reluctant grandson. It’s a fable packed with adventure, courage, friendship, romance and a whole lot of laughter.
  
Q – Quantum of Solace (2008)
A terrific James Bond movie. I almost feel guilty for liking Daniel Craig so much when Sean Connery has always been my favorite Bond.
  
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R – Rear Window (1954) 
A wonderful thriller, it’s hard to hit upon a better combination than what you find here. One of the cinema’s greatest directors, Alfred Hitchcock, an all-time favorite leading man, Jimmy Stewart, and not only a stunning actress, but one of the most beautiful women to ever walk the face of the earth, Grace Kelly. (Essential Note: Ms. Kelly is second only to my dazzling wife).
  
S – Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) 
I just call it “Star Wars.” George Lucas, at the top of his game, delivered the perfect story. He really didn’t need to go back and mess with little bits here and there, along with the title change. But, no matter – I still love the film.
  
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T – Toy Story 1 & 2 (1995 & 1999) 
Forgetting that they’re animated, these are two amazing films. I’m unable to rate one above the other. Giving life and personality to toys – pure fantasy that makes me believe it’s actually true.
  
U – Unbreakable (2000) 
The Sixth Sense is a great movie but I love M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable more. An awesome story of a superhero unaware of his power and dealing with his family. A sequel could be great.
  
V – Vertigo (1958)
Another Alfred Hitchcock film, again with Jimmy Stewart. All Hitchcock’s protagonists are flawed yet  likeable characters. They are people we can identify with. Kim Novak, another of Hitchcock’s “blondes” is excellent as Madeleine, and Jimmy Stewart is amazing as Scottie Ferguson who’s obsessed with her.
  
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W – When Harry Met Sally (1989) 
Easily my favorite Romantic Comedy. The insights into male/female relationships continue to ring true and are delivered with such comic delight.
  
X – The X-Files (1998)
The movie captures the heart of the TV series, a groundbreaking Sci-fi drama. Agents Mulder and Scully involved in a larger scale version of a TV episode, that I felt was pulled off with great style .
  
Y – You’ve Got Mail (1998) 
Two likeable actors playing two likeable characters, though Tom Hanks’ character Joe Fox starts off a bit arrogant. And I still love the setting stated by the title that captures the beginning of our dependence on the email age. Can’t believe that was only 1998.
  
Z – Zelig (1983) 
Woody Allen is another director with a bountiful body of work, although unlike Alfred Hitchcock, Allen is hit and miss. But when he’s on the mark, which many of his films are, he can come up with a creative and hugely entertaining film, like Zelig. Nearly all his films he writes, directs, and even stars in. This “mockumentary” is almost believeable, and so much fun. 
  
 ~ ~
  
My hobby’s are reading books and watching movies. I just love stories. I learn a lot about other people, and about myself through stories, fiction and non-fiction.
   
There are so many wonderful films out there, but it wasn’t too hard for me to make up the list. I’ve made lists of “Favorite Movies” before. One letter I found interesting was “S.” I realized I have a whole lot of films that I really, really like that begin with that letter. Some of those that fell just short of taking their place on the list include; Saving Private Ryan (1998), Shawn of the Dead (2004), Seven Samurai (1954), Secondhand Lions (2003), Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and The Sixth Sense (1999).
  
 The quote at the top of the post:
“Story is the breath of human connection.”
  
I love that quote.
And I love the person whom I am quoting.
  
It happens to be my daughter, Stephanie. Being a parent, and especially having her in my life has taught me so many things. Shes grown now and married.
   
I’ve always loved films, but it was my daughter Stephanie, who has taught me a lot about story. As an only child she has always loved reading, and she inspired me to become an avid reader. And discussions with her have contributed to my understanding of how important story has been for me in my life.
  
Thank you Stephanie. I love you!
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Space, The Final Frontier

“Even before Apollo 11 — the first lunar landing in July 1969 — the government had already axed the program’s loftier ambitions. Planners had envisioned Apollo leading to a lunar base, for instance, and a manned mission to Mars was entering the conversation.”
~ Adam Hadhazy, SPACE.com ~

I grew up watching NASA’s race to put men on the moon. That goal was first achieved in July of 1969.

Now we’re finally on our way to Mars! . . It’s about time!

When I was a kid we had a small room/storage space under the stairs of our home with the entrance from outside. This was one of my play areas. The original Star Trek series with Captain Kirk and the Star Ship Enterprise was a favorite. In this storage room I made my own little spaceship control panel with flashing lights using peg board and a string of blinking Christmas lights poking through from the back.

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For the boys in my neighborhood, instead of video games, there was something with far more of a WOW factor. And that was model kits, of almost everything you can imagine – jet planes, cars of every shape and style, monster dioramas . . . and then there were Rocket Ships! We could actually build scale models of the Apollo Saturn V Rocket with the Lunar Module for landing on the Moon’s surface.

To build this model would make a kid feel like he was connected to the space program, even experiencing a part of history. The Apollo rocket model I built was produced by Revell, I think. When completed it stood over three fee tall.

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I never really thought I would be an astronaut, but I was sure it would not be long following those first landings on the moon, that we would be building a lunar base, and then it would be on to Mars.

But, that was not to be. At least, not for a long while.

Fast forward 40 years.

Over the last few months I’ve read a couple of books with Mars as the subject. First, H.G. Wells classic War of the Worlds – I was only vaguely aware of the plot. I enjoyed the story as it moved here and there, in directions I hadn’t expected.

Still, the book that really caught my interest was The Martian by Andy Weir. This near future, almost “Historical Fiction” made the idea that we would soon have manned flights to Mars seem to be a given. The ‘title’ character, astronaut Mark Watney is a very resourceful guy with a somewhat wacky sense of humor.

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We humans really can accomplish amazing things. It was incredible that we walked on the moon almost 50 years ago. And now, with Elon Musk and SpaceX taking the lead, we may have folks heading to Mars in the next decade. NASA has its plans to send astronauts to Mars, but at the moment, Musk seems to be the one to place your bet on getting there first. There’s also Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) and Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, and others setting their sites on space flight.

Not many years ago I think maybe I just gave up on seeing mankind make a bold move towards space. I was encouraged by those 1970’s and 1980’s Star Trek and Star Wars sci-fi movies. But they were just science fiction, right? Well, childhood dreams, those things that inspired us as kids – they sometimes do come true.

 

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~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Also, I have duct tape. Ordinary duct tape, like you buy at a hardware store. Turns out even NASA can’t improve on duct tape.”

“Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped.”

~ Andy Weir, The Martian

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My Dad – a Book – and ‘Connection’

It’s been just about 9 years now since my dad passed away.  I had never been very close to him, my parents having divorced when I was 6 years old.

This post is about a bit of extra connection coming through books.

When my dad retired, he moved 1,000 miles away to the state of Washington. One of the last times I went up to see him in the weeks before he passed away I noticed several paperback ‘Western’ novels around the house. I never thought of my dad as much of a reader. The genre would probably be one of the last I would be interested in, so it never came up in conversation. Later I found out these were books that he enjoyed reading in his last few years as his health declined.

After my stepmother passed away this year I remembered the books. I asked her family about them, wanting to know if there were any of those Western paperbacks of dad’s that I could have. Alas, I was too late. Evidently they had been given away or thrown out.

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Doing a little research, I picked up one of those little Bantam paperbacks for $2 at a used book store. The book by Louis L’Amour is called Shalako, first published in 1962. I found out that L’Amour is possibly the most popular writer of western fiction.

Surprise, surprise, I really enjoyed it. Yes, ‘Cowboy and Indian’ stories are no longer the rage, considered pretty much politically incorrect now these days I guess. Still, this story of the old west, and the loner, Shalako, captured my imagination. He is a man comfortable with himself and his environment – a man very close to the ‘land.’

Reading this book help to lead me to a bit of reconnection with my dad. I’d forgotten that there were a couple of times I saw him that he’d be wearing a western type shirt, and once or twice he wore a cowboy hat. And I remembered that there were a few pictures where he sported that ‘Western’ look. I hadn’t really thought about it before but he did seem at times to have an affinity with the cowboy archetype – that independent, self-sufficient spirit.

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Maybe Louis L’Amour’s, Shalako, was one of the books dad had read. Maybe it was one he had enjoyed as much as I did. Maybe we had a common interest in stories, especially stories about men, responsibility, sacrifice, honor, and self-discovery.

It could be my dad was in some ways like me, finding in stories, in books and their characters, a bit of understanding and insight into himself.

Yes, I was looking for a bit of connection when I picked up that book. Yet I found a little more than I expected. Maybe a bit of speculation on my part, but I think that’s okay.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Why did you come back?” she asked suddenly.

If there was an answer to that he did not know what it was, nor was he a man given to self-analysis or worry about his motives. . . Knowing no logical answer, he did not attempt to make one, but walked beside her in silence.

 ~ From Louis L’Amour’s, Shalako

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Forgiveness + Love = Freedom

Here is a post about St. Patrick by Mitch Teemley. His blog is one of my favorites, and this post is excellent!

Mitch Teemley

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Even the Romans feared them.For centuries they avoided the Irish Celts, whom Julius Caesar had called “more savage than any other race.” When the newly Christianized Roman monks finally arrived in the 5th century, they looked down on the these barbarians. And in turn, these barbarians looked down on them, while continuing to live in fear of their own vengeful gods.

Then a Roman-British boy of 16 was capturedand came to live among them. During his six years as a slave, he learned their language and their character. In slavery he found freedom, finally turning his heart toward God.

Patrick escaped, but then wandered restlessly. In his Confession he writes of a vision in which “the Voice of the Irish” cried out to him, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, come (back) and walk among us.”

After his ordination, the young bishop returned to “walk among”…

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Favorite Movie Monologues – Duvall, Hanks, Jones, Stewart, and More

There was a blog I read maybe six months ago that inspired me to put this post together.  I wish I could remember who that blogger is. It was a woman. Anyway thank you whoever you are. There are maybe one or two references she mentioned in her post listed below, but basically they are just a few of the monologues/speeches from some of my favorite movies and most beloved film characters.

Their are many, oh so many, but here I present just a few. They’re the scenes that put a smile on my face, lift my spirits – and they inspire me.

They are why I go to the movies.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

First up, my all time number one favorite movie, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). This little speech is delivered by George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart. His father has died and the family business, Bailey Brothers’ Building and Loan, seems ready to close it’s doors. This will give the towns richest man, Henry Potter just what he wants, no competition in his efforts to get a tighter grasp on the town of Bedford Falls.

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Just a minute… just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… why, in the 25 years since he and his brother, Uncle Billy, started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry away to college, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why… here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You… you said… what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Spring Training for the next Baseball season is about to start and one of the all time great sports movies is Field of Dreams (1989) – James Earl Jones, as Terence Mann delivers the monologue that speaks to the very heart of the film.

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Ray. People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn into your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door, as innocent as children, longing for the past. “Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,” you’ll say, “It’s only twenty dollars per person.” And they’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children. And cheer their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now the movie that in my humble opinion should have won the Best Picture Oscar at the 71st Academy Awards is 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. Following the battle at Omaha Beach during WWII, Tom Hanks is terrific as Captain Miller, in charge of a squad sent to find Private James Ryan.

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I’m a schoolteacher. I teach English composition… in this little town called Adley, Pennsylvania. The last eleven years, I’ve been at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was a coach of the baseball team in the springtime. Back home, I tell people what I do for a living and they think well, now that figures. But over here, it’s a big, a big mystery. So, I guess I’ve changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me, whenever it is that I get back to her. And how I’ll ever be able to tell her about days like today. Ah, Ryan. I don’t know anything about Ryan. I don’t care. The man means nothing to me. It’s just a name. But if… You know if going to Rumelle and finding him so that he can go home. If that earns me the right to get back to my wife, then that’s my mission.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Easily my favorite Romantic Comedy is When Harry Met Sally (1989). The insights into male/female relationships continue to ring true and are delivered with such comic delight. Here Harry, played so wonderfully by Billy Crystal is again telling Sally (Meg Ryan) why men and women can’t just be friends.

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No, no, no, I never said that… Yes, that’s right, they can’t be friends. Unless both of them are involved with other people, then they can… This is an amendment to the earlier rule. If the two people are in relationships, the pressure of possible involvement is lifted… That doesn’t work either, because what happens then is, the person you’re involved with can’t understand why you need to be friends with the person you’re just friends with. Like it means something is missing from the relationship and why do you have to go outside to get it? And when you say “No, no, no it’s not true, nothing is missing from the relationship,” the person you’re involved with then accuses you of being secretly attracted to the person you’re just friends with, which you probably are. I mean, come on, who the hell are we kidding, let’s face it. Which brings us back to the earlier rule before the amendment, which is men and women can’t be friends.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’ve read a couple of Shakespeare plays. And I’ve seen a few movies, all directed by and starring staring Kenneth Branagh. The language is often hard for me to process but it’s still such an amazing experience to follow his characters and stories and the insight Shakespeare presents.

One of the great high points in all of them is the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Henry V (1989). There is a feeling of awe at the inspiring emotional impact this speech carries.

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This day is called the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day and comes safe home will stand a tip-toe when this day is named and rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall see this day and live old age will yearly on the vigil, feast his neighbors and say: ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispin’s’. Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, and say: ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s Day.’ Old men forget yet all shall be forgot but he’ll remember with advantages what feats he did that day. Then shall our names familiar in their mouths as household words: Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester, be in their flowing cups freshly remembered. This story shall the good man teach his son. And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remember’d.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother, be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon St. Crispin’s Day.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Robert Duvall is one the actors I most admire. Anything and everything he’s done is pure film magic. But you might be surprised at my choice of monologues he has given among his many great performances.

This is from Secondhand Lions (2003), a wonderful film where he plays crusty old Uncle Hub to the teenage Walter (Haley Joel Osment). It maybe a bit silly and sentimental, but when Duvall delivers it, I accept it as plain, old fashioned wisdom.

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Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.

~ ~ ~

As a bonus, in the same film, Duvall’s character shows a few young hoodlums a thing or two when they challenge him, not realizing what they are up against.

(Grabbing the Hood by the throat)

I’m Hub McCann. I’ve fought in two World Wars and countless smaller ones on three continents. I led thousands of men into battle with everything from horses and swords to artillery and tanks. I’ve seen the headwaters of the Nile, and tribes of natives no white man had ever seen before. I’ve won and lost a dozen fortunes, KILLED MANY MEN and loved only one woman with a passion a FLEA like you could never begin to understand. That’s who I am. NOW, GO HOME, BOY!

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Lastly but probably one of the most amazing speeches in all of film. Providing the motivation for Robert Shaw’s ‘driven’ Shark Hunter Quint in the 1975 movie, Jaws, the speech is one of the great moments in film.

Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen-footer. You know how you know that when you’re in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know… was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. Heh.

They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. Y’know, it’s… kinda like ol’ squares in a battle like, uh, you see in a calendar, like the Battle of Waterloo, and the idea was, shark comes to the nearest man and that man, he’d start poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’, and sometimes the shark’d go away… sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. Y’know the thing about a shark, he’s got… lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’… until he bites ya. And those black eyes roll over white, and then… oh, then you hear that terrible high-pitch screamin’, the ocean turns red, and spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’, they all come in and they… rip you to pieces.

Y’know, by the end of that first dawn… lost a hundred men. I dunno how many sharks. Maybe a thousand. I dunno how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin’, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Bosun’s mate. I thought he was asleep. Reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well… he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. Young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and come in low and three hours later, a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. Y’know, that was the time I was most frightened, waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a life jacket again. So, eleven hundred men went into the water, three hundred sixteen men come out, and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.

(pause)

Anyway… we delivered the bomb.

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2016 Reading – My Favorite – ‘The Wright Brothers’

“If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”

– Wilbur Wright

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The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, published in 2015, was my favorite book of 2016. I read other fine books this past year including a couple of Fiction Classics, Sir Arther Conan Doyle’s first novel about Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet, and G. K. Chesterton‘s metaphysical thriller, The Man Who Was Thursday.

I ended 2015 began 2016 reading another excellent non-fiction book, one few have heard of. It’s Kenneth Strickfaden, Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician by Harry Goldman, a very good biography on a fascinating man. Ken Strickfaden made a huge impact on Sci-Fi and Horror films with his special effects, starting with the classic 1931 Frankenstein.

Still, David McCullough, my favorite non-fiction writer, and his most recent work tops my list of the years reading.

Mr. McCullough begins, as usual,  bringing delightful insight into his subjects, detailing the differences between the brothers. Then he goes into how close the Wright brothers were, living together (having never left home), working together, spending nearly all their time together. McCullough says,

“What the two had in common above all was unity of of purpose and unyielding determination. They had set themselves on a ‘mission’.”

On May 30, 1899, “Wilbur seated himself at [his sister] Katharine’s small, slant-top desk in the front parlor to write what would be one of the most important letters of his life. Indeed, given all it set in motion, it was one of the most important letters in history. Addressed to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington…,” he asked for a list of works published on human flight, looking for information and experiments published on the subject.

As I read about this event, and several other passages throughout the book, I got this feeling of excitement over this particular moment in time – much thanks to how McCullough artfully paints a picture on the page. At times reading The Wright Brothers I even got tears in my eyes, such is the emotional impact on me when reading McCullough’s words about great dates in history.

As I’ve said before about watching some of my favorite movies, I still get emotionally involved and closely sympathize with characters, just as the filmmaker intends, capturing our hearts. It’s a sign of getting older I guess, that I let down my guard, and allow myself to be ‘touched’ by special moments in stories, whether films or books.

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And then there is the emotionally historic moment – Orville was at the controls and Wilbur on the right side of the Flyer, holding the wing to steady it. One of the Kitty Hawk locals, John T. Daniels, who greatly admired the Wrights work ethic and assisted the brothers with various tasks, was asked by Orville to ‘man’ a camera, an essential part of their experiments. On December 17, 1903, “At exactly 10:35, Orville slipped the rope restraining the Flyer and it headed forward . . . At the end of the track the Flyer lifted into the air and Daniels, who had never operated a camera until now, snapped the shutter to take what would be one of the most historic photographs of the century.”

The story that brings the Wright brothers to this point, and the events that follow are beautifully presented in what is one of David McCullough’s shorter biography’s, coming in at less than 300 pages.

The book touches on the several people who helped in a number of ways to support and encourage the Wright brothers in their efforts to create their Flying Machine. These included Octave Chanute, a notable American civil engineer, William Tate, a former Kitty Hawk postmaster, and Charlie Taylor, a mechanic, and their bicycle shop employee, who working with the Wrights, built their first airplane engine. And, their sister Katharine, to whom Orville was especially close, was also a huge support in countless ways throughout their lives.

McCullough shares briefly about what an exciting time in history this turn of the century was. Inventions around the same time included the Kodak camera, the electric Singer sewing machine, the first safety razor, and the first New York office building elevator.

The book is a complete delight. David McCullough is not only one of America’s great Historians, he simply one of Americas great Story Tellers.

As it should be when reading a book, any story, fiction or non-fiction, the subjects become real people, they become our friends.

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“Nothing ever invented provides such sustenance, such infinite reward for time spent, as a good book.”
― David McCullough

 

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