Author Archive for

25
May
15

nothing serious

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I had a serious post prepared for today, but yesterday I went back into town to do the errands that I was prevented from completing by Friday’s storm, and I became all swept up in the prevailing holiday mood.

The town is filled up with tourists who have flocked here for the scenery and hiking—it is the long Memorial Day holiday, isn’t it? (Seems so early this year!)—the kids in the school had their prom this weekend, the breakfast buffet at the Motor Lodge was crowded, and I’ve realized that no one wants to read a serious post. This is the holiday, after all, that traditionally marks the beginning of summer vacation in America.

Thanks to our recent rains, the pond is full and my water tank is topped off. This morning the batteries of my electrical system were fully charged by 8:30 am. The refrigerator is full of food, too. It is a glorious, clear day. I haven’t got a care in the world.

Last night I talked for a long time with Henry. We spoke extensively about the instability of the outer world, and how Estrella Vista could provide him with a safe haven if needed. He would have to eschew his reliance on air conditioning, but the move would solve all the other issues which presently bother him. Unlike our previous discussions, I am left with the impression that he is seriously considering the option. It made me think of how Mark Twain’s father must have felt: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Henry is 35, so by now I must be brilliant.

As if to remind me that all the crap I normally deal with is still there in the background, last night I heard from Chris Brown (Jordan’s dad), who vented his anger and frustration at Judge Hodge’s decision, and made me realize that a valuable function I still provide is to offer a patient and receptive ear to people with real problems. That, too, left me with a certain self-satisfaction.

The only regret I have today is that last night I lost an auction for an advertising sign that I really wanted for my collection. I was outbid in the last second of bidding by some wily competitor. But I really couldn’t afford it, anyway. This morning I awoke thankful to that unknown bidder. He had paid top dollar and saved me from months of financial sacrifice.

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This is the one that got away.

Some of the best things in life are free—or nearly so. Yesterday as I was returning home from town, I heard an early Bob Dylan song on the radio with which I was unfamiliar, and I immediately downloaded several versions of it. My total cost? $0.99. Bob Dylan doesn’t need more money, anyway.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Bob Dylan performing “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”

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Weather Report

88° and Clear

24
May
15

richard avedon

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It is amazing, really, the things we take for granted in our lives. For example, when I was a boy growing up in South Bend IN, I had a friend whose parents were much more exceptional people than I’d realized at the time. My friend’s father was an executive with Mercedes-Benz of North America, so I was of course impressed with the occasional rides in the limousines and sports cars he brought home from work. I am the only person I know (except my friends’ parents) who has ever gone for a ride in the legendary 300-SL gull wing car.

But of more lasting influence was having access to a portfolio, bound in black leather, of the famous photographer Richard Avedon (1923—2004). Before they transplanted to the “sticks” of Northern Indiana from New York, my friend’s mother had been a sales representative for Avedon, and the portfolio of Avedon photography samples was ever-present in their living room. I remember at least a couple times when I had spent the night at my friend’s, and I awoke before the rest of the household and occupied myself poring over the great man’s photographs alone.

For a young boy of 12 or 13, it was a very formative experience. It instilled in me an appreciation for Avedon’s sophisticated sense of style and approach to his craft, and it created the lasting impression that no one (no matter how famous or celebrated) is beyond one’s reach—if not directly, then at least one step removed.

Between 1945 and 1965, Richard Avedon worked primarily as a fashion photographer, revolutionizing the craft even as he honed his aesthetic. This is the period of his career that was represented by the bulk of his portfolio which I knew. Later, he moved into journalism and the art world, though some of these images had begun to work their way into the portfolio I knew as a boy.

Little did I then appreciate how, by capturing American ideals of celebrity, fashion, and beauty in the 20th and early 21st centuries, Richard Avedon would help establish photography as a contemporary art form.

From the late 1940s, he began providing images for magazines including Vogue, Life, and Graphis and soon became the chief photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. When Diana Vreeland left Harper’s for Vogue magazine in 1962, Avedon joined her as a staff (and then lead) photographer. In 1957, Hollywood presented a fictional account of his early career in the musical Funny Face, starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire (as the fashion photographer “Dick Avery”). In 1992, he became the first staff photographer for The New Yorker. He was also employed by some of the leading fashion advertisers of the time including Versace, Calvin Klein, Christian Dior, and Revlon.

Avedon did not conform to the standard technique of taking studio fashion photographs, where models stood emotionless and seemingly indifferent to the camera. Instead, he showed models full of emotion, smiling, laughing, and, many times, in action in outdoor settings which was revolutionary at the time. However, towards the end of the 1950s he became dissatisfied with daylight photography and open air locations and so turned to studio photography, using strobe lighting.

As his reputation as a photographer became widely known, he brought in many famous faces to his studio and photographed them with a large-format 8×10 view camera. Avedon’s distinct style of portrait photography is nothing short of iconic. While the portraiture of his contemporaries focused on single moments or composed formal images, his stark lighting and minimalist white backdrops drew the viewer to the intimate, emotive power of his subjects’ expressions. By the 1960s Avedon had turned his energies toward making studio portraits of pop icons, models, musicians, writers, artists, workers, political activists, soldiers, Vietnam War victims, politicians, and his family. He began to branch out and photographed patients of mental hospitals, the Civil Rights Movement, protesters of the Vietnam War, and later the fall of the Berlin Wall.

More than anyone, Richard Avedon and his images epitomize for me high-style American culture in an era fissured by rapid change, discord, and violence.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire performing “I Love Your Funny Face

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Weather Report

87° and Clear

23
May
15

so many cookies

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Cookies For C
by Dave Thomas
A few weeks ago, a friend came up to my wife and asked, “Can I bake some cookies and send them to C?”
Before long church members, friends and others who have been concerned with C’s predicament began to send cookies (biscuits for our UK friends) and treats his way. We suggested they be store-bought and commercially packaged to negate that as a reason for not letting him have them once the cookies arrived.
It is, of course, a jail and not a shelter. We didn’t want staff that oversee the inmates to be concerned that a file or a shank was making its way in.
The outside of all the boxes were marked “COOKIES FOR C.”  Many thanks to all who participated.
The staff at Krause Youth Center, Lawrence County, PA was overwhelmed with the volume that kept arriving. They ran out of space to store the cookies and wanted to know if it would be okay to freeze some of them to keep them fresh! The staff said they had never seen anything like it and really didn’t know how to deal with it.
They told C’s father they have never seen so much love directed at one of their charges, and the obvious support he has.
C was really surprised and grateful. He sends his thanks to you all and is pleased so many showed their love and support for him!
The other evening was the first any were opened as they finally made their way to the detention building and to C. Cookies and treats were shared with everyone in the facility—including staff. C told his father that many of the juveniles incarcerated with him seldom, if ever, get mail or visits from anyone; so they really enjoyed in sharing the treats.
Thank you to all!  You not only made some good days for C to look forward to by having many more cookie and treat days, but also a remembrance for a bunch of God’s kids who have apparently been written off and forgotten.
A simple idea to foster for others.
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Dave Thomas is a retired electric utility operations manager, has been married for over 50 years to a woman who has served as a church secretary for over two decades. They presently live in Florida after living in same Pennsylvania community for 33 years. He is a former member of the Rotary International, Chamber of Commerce, and various state and national professional organizations.

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Previous installments of this unfolding story can be read here (1), here (2), here (3) and here (4).


Although it is not a part of the story of C, this is another story about the corrupt courts of Lawrence County.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Sugar & the Hi-Lows performing “Sugar Cookie”

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Weather Report

72° Rain and Cloudy

22
May
15

no surprise

25.

4e386b27d237a.preview-100Lawrence County PA Judge John Hodge—who this blogsite has repeatedly shown has a demonstrable pattern of NOT being fair and impartial—on Wednesday said he won’t grant a new trial for Jordan Brown, who Hodge had previously ruled as being delinquent (that is, guilty) of killing his father’s pregnant fiancee when he was just 11.

Jordan has always insisted he is innocent, and his defense attorneys have argued for years that Jordan’s conviction should be thrown out on the grounds that the evidence used to convict him at trial was insufficient.

The defense asked that Jordan, now 17, be given a new trial. In a 50-page ruling issued Wednesday,  Judge John Hodge—the same judge that initially found Jordan guilty in April 2012—denied that request.

Brown’s lawyers have said they will appeal.

Jordan was accused in 2009 at the age of 11 of fatally shooting his father’s pregnant fiancee, 26-year-old Kenzie Houk, in the Wampum PA home where she lived with the boy, his father, and her two young daughters. He was arrested less than 24 hours after the crime and was initially charged as an adult with two counts of first-degree murder. Kenzie’s unborn child also did not survive the shooting.

The case attracted national attention—if tried and convicted, Jordan would have become the youngest person in United States history to face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

After years of legal wrangling, Jordan’s defense attorneys successfully argued to transfer the case to juvenile court, where Hodge adjudicated him delinquent following a bench trial, and ordered him to live in a juvenile residential treatment facility until the age of 21.

Jordan and his attorneys ultimately appealed the conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court and in May 2013, his conviction was overturned on the grounds that “the juvenile court committed a palpable abuse of discretion in rendering a ruling that is plainly contrary to the evidence.”

The prosecution then appealed the Superior Court’s ruling, and the case eventually made it to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In December 2014, the state’s high court vacated the ruling that had overturned Jordan’s conviction. However, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to juvenile court and Judge Hodge—where Jordan was given the opportunity to argue for a new trial and/or acquittal.

Dennis Elisco, one of Jordan’s defense attorneys, has said that he was displeased that Judge Hodge was tasked with the decision as to whether Jordan should be granted a new trial. He worried there would be a conflict of interest since Hodge initially found the boy guilty and that decision was the one under appeal, and he was correct.

Jordan has always maintained his innocence, but police and prosecutors have been adamant that the boy took his 20-guage “youth-sized shotgun,” which he used to go hunting with his father, and killed Kenzie moments before he calmly got on the bus and went to school. I have repeatedly demonstrated that the physical evidence suggests that a handgun, not Jordan’s shotgun, was used by somebody else to commit the murders.

Prosecutors suggested at trial that Brown was jealous of Kemzie’s unborn son, who died of oxygen deprivation after she was shot execution-style. She was more than eight months pregnant at the time.

Jordan was arrested less than 24 hours after the murder, but appellate court rulings have raised doubts  as to whether it was an open-and-shut case. In its own way, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania endorsed those doubts.

In arrogantly refusing to allow his 2012 decision to be questioned, Hodge is admitting that a second court would not necessarily come to the same conclusion as he did. He is admitting that the same evidence presented under the warped lens of Lawrence County politics and influence wouldn’t prove up the state’s case.

In refusing to recognize the judgment and authority of the Superior and Supreme courts, Hodge is proving that his own judgment and authority are illegitimate and unworthy of being respected.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Ace performing “How Long”

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Weather Report

81° Fog in the morning, then Clearing, then Hail, Hellacious Downpour and Downed Power Lines

21
May
15

“in” crowd

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Fifty years ago, Ramsey Lewis’ album The In Crowd was recorded live at the Bohemian Caverns nightclub in Washington DC. I went to the Bohemian Caverns two or three times in early 1968, just months before it closed in September of that year.

The place was located at 11th Street and U Street NW, which was known for many years as the “Black Broadway.” The neighborhood began to decline following the April ’68 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The intersection of 14th Street and U Street was, in fact, the epicenter of violence and destruction during the riots. As blighted as it became, I still remember walking through that old Victorian neighborhood at night (even after the riots), dressed in a suit, oblivious of my safety. But it was a different time then.

The album provided Lewis with his biggest hit reaching the top position on the Billboard R&B Chart and No. 2 on their top 200 albums chart in 1965. The single, “The ‘In’ Crowd” reached No. 2 on the R&B Chart and No. 5 on the Hot 100 singles chart in the same year. The album also received a Grammy Award in 1966 for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance by an Individual or Group. The single was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2009.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to the Ramsey Lewis Trio performing “The ‘In’ Crowd”

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Weather Report

67° Cloudy and Rain

20
May
15

swing heil

Swing-Kids.

The other night I watched one of Roger Ebert’s most hated films: the 1993 Swing Kids, directed by Thomas Carter, and starring Christian Bale, Robert Sean Leonard, and Frank Whaley as the rebellious kids and Kenneth Branagh as an SS-Sturmbannführer authority figure. It is the story of how, in pre-World War II Germany, two high school students attempt to be Swingjugend by night and Hitlerjugend by day—two very different and incompatible aesthetics.

Cafe HeinzeThe film takes place in the city of Hamburg, where the swing scene was huge. The Swingjugend of Hamburg danced in private quarters, clubs, rented halls, and most notably, the Café Heinze. They dressed differently from the others who were opposed to swing. For example, boys added a little British flair to their style by wearing homberg hats, growing their hair long, carrying umbrellas, and attaching a Union Jack pin to their lapels. They were considered “effete” by their Nazi contemporaries and the authorities as well. Girls wore short skirts, applied lipstick and fingernail polish, and wore their hair in curled Hollywood styles rather than traditional German styles like braids.

This group consisted mostly of teens between 14 and 19 from middle- and, especially in Hamburg, upper-class families. In these upper-class homes, it was common for the youth to have had ballroom dance lessons, to know a little English, and perhaps to even have had the opportunity to travel abroad to England or America. Hamburg youth especially were the children of cultured intellectuals with generally liberal views. They were privileged with wealth and spent their money on black market records, expensive clothing, and liquor. In the early years of the war, the authorities seemed to be less alarmed by the Negro/Jewish influences of American swing music and more concerned by the kids’ Anglophile affectations.

The film was panned by most critics but has a significant underground following among fans. The reason Ebert so hated this film is summed up in this quote from his review: “At a time when civilization was crashing down around their ears and Hitler was planning the Holocaust, it doesn’t make them particularly noble that they’d rather listen to big bands than enlist in the military. Who wouldn’t?” He seems to object to director Thomas Carter’s attempt to spin the Swingjugends’ apolitical self-indulgence into some sort of nascent heroism. Carter has taken an isolated event—the roundup of over 300 Swingjugend in Hamburg on August 18, 1941 in a brutal police operation—and reinvented it as a significant political event.

swingtanzenverbotenIt wasn’t. Contrary to popular myth, the Nazis never specifically outlawed swing dancing in Germany; they merely discouraged it. (The well-known “Swingtanzen verboten” sign is a 1970s fake invented for an album cover.) Hamburg was the only city in the Reich where raids on the Swingjugend ever took place (and that seems to be because a particularly ambitious police official was stationed there).

The measures taken against the Hamburg Swingjugend who were arrested ranged from cutting their hair and sending them back to school under close monitoring, to their conscription into the military and deployment to the front lines where they were generally allowed to perish, to the deportation of 40-70 of their leaders to Jugendschutzlager (youth prisons), where they were badly treated.

The Hamburg Swingjugend had contacts at some point with the Weiße Rose, a famous but ineffectual youth resistance movement, when three members of the Weiße Rose developed a sympathy for the Swingjugend. However, no formal cooperation arose, though these contacts were later used by the Volksgerichtshof to accuse some Swingjugend of anarchist propaganda and sabotage of the armed forces. The consequent trial, death sentences, and executions were averted by the end of the war.

The Swingjugend were at their heart a group of teenagers. Like most teenagers, their lives were mostly just about being teenagers. There is a desire, I think, to imagine they were being brazenly political in what they were doing. But if the original Swingjugend were political at all, it was mostly an unconscious choice, or something attributed to them that they did not attribute to themselves. Certainly their love of American swing music was probably an inherent expression of individuality, freedom, and tolerance; their defiance of the Hitlerjugend was an inherent defiance of Nazi philosophy. But it wasn’t something they talked about with each other, or planned actions for. Almost every Swingjugend interviewed has said that they simply were not politically motivated. When the swing kids did rebel, it was often in the spirit of being overly-confident and obnoxious. They greeted one another with a “Swing Heil” or “Heil Hotler” and swaggered their lifestyle around town.

nazi records“We were going to tell these dumb bastards that we were different, that was all,” said one grown-up Swingjugend. From his words, it’s clear that most of the Swingjugend were simply playing a game that they unfortunately didn’t grasp. Yet as the 1930s grew darker it’s hard to imagine that there weren’t at least a few of them who realized that they were a part of something much greater than just a teenage rebellious fad. With the post-war everything-the-Nazis-did-was-evil mentality, it’s natural to wonder how teenagers could go around so blatantly breaking the rules of the Reich.

Apparently, the reality is that they weren’t actually breaking as many rules as we are led to believe.

Despite the fact that the Swingjugend didn’t fully understand the danger around them, I believe it still took a lot of courage to flaunt their lifestyle in a culture which emphasized conformity above all else—even if many of them were just privileged, naive kids.

Last week I watched a video of 16-year-old Amos Yee Pang Sang, who has called Singapore’s now-deceased first minister “malicious” and as a result could face up to three years in prison. I cringed—not because of his views, but because of the immoderate way he expressed them, despite an authoritarian regime. He is obviously a bright, well-educated kid, but Singapore’s repressive judiciary is unlikely to cut the kid much slack. He will likely be hammered simply because he is young and obnoxious. The judges will probably think it is their mission to have the System knock some sense and respect into his smart-ass.

Some adults including Roger Ebert expect the young to stand up for what is right, but then the kids are punished when they do stand up—and then the adults are nowhere to help them deal with the consequences. Why can’t we lighten up be more understanding of kids’ natural desire to be kids and sometimes revolt and be revolting?

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Heinz Wehner performing “Delphi-Fox

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Weather Report

89° and Partly Cloudy, then Clear

19
May
15

pando

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Last week I received an unexpected visit from my friend “Hat.” Although I had seen him in passing several times at the general store, we had not visited for any length of time since the Grub Shack closed 2½ years ago.  It has been my loss.

Hat reminds me why I live out here. He is a very kind, generous, and non-judgmental man, and very much a person who is committed to his principles—one of the most important being that he a sovereign person, not controlled by some external authority. He preaches each week at the local Christian church, and if it were not for the fact that my personal beliefs are my own, I would have no problem whatsoever being a member of his flock. He has the moral authority to guide others. He has the spiritual maturity to transcend doctrine or dogma.

An example (our visit didn’t involve much small-talk): One of the things that Hat asserted is the notion that it is an illusion that we are all separate people; we are actually all one and connected in profound ways, and Christ’s admonishment to ‘love others as ourselves’ is simply a reflection of this truth. I immediately thought of how aspen trees typically grow in large clonal colonies, and spread by means of root suckers. Above the ground, one sees individual trees (which is illusion), but below the ground is a single, long-lived root system (the reality). Each individual tree is actually a stem or sprout growing off the ancient root system.

1 OpwaANLEjsCKwfIoyOxhsgOne such colony is in Utah and is given the nickname of “Pando” (Latin for “I spread”). It covers 106 acres, weighs nearly 6 tons, and has over 40,000 stems (trunks), which die individually and are replaced by new stems growing from its roots. The average age of Pando’s stems is 130 years, as determined by tree rings. The roots though are 80,000 years old, making it possibly the oldest living colony of aspens. Aspens are able to survive forest fires, because the roots are below the heat of the fire, with new sprouts growing after the fire burns out.

In fact, fire indirectly benefits aspen trees, since it allows the saplings to flourish in open sunlight in the burned-out landscape. By analogy, how might we benefit as human beings if we were to realize that we are united by our humanity, and not separate as the various religions, states, corporations, etc. would have us believe? How much more successful might we be at facing the tribulations of life if we were to be more conscious that we are not in this life alone?

I seek to protect my autonomy by keeping to myself and not mixing with many people. The Kentucky couple who had their children stolen from them by the state say that their troubles began when they “unfriended” somebody on Facebook. I ran into trouble with one of my neighbors when I refused to choose sides in a feud that he was carrying on with one of his other neighbors, so I can understand how things have a way of spinning out of control when other people are involved. Yet I still haven’t decided.

However, I’m glad my stand-offishness didn’t work with Hat. I wouldn’t have started to think about aspens if he hadn’t visited.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Stevie Wonder performing “The Secret Life Of Plants”

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Weather Report

87° and Clear




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