Birding: life list

 

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Yesterday  afternoon I saw an unusual bird at our feeder.   Called Diane who immediately identified it as a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  I was excited; “think it’s a new bird for me.”  I looked him up in my Stokes Field Guide where I keep my life list. No entry about a  Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  A new beautiful bird.  The distinctive red triangle on his breast is hard to miss.   In flight he shows white patches on the wings; rose-red “armpits;” and a white rump.

Stokes mentioned that he eats tree foliage, insects, and some fruit but will also come to a feeder for sunflower seeds.  It ranges in the northeast to the Midwest.  Both male and female sing with a distinctive squeak.  I think I heard it later in the day.

I’ve notations on 136 birds in Stokes.  Usually I have a date and where I saw the bird. Maybe this will be the stimulus to get out birding more frequently.  This coming week on the Outer Banks may offer some opportunity.

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History and Trump

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I recently finished reading E.H. Gombrich’s best selling “A Little History of the World.”  Gombrich is primarily known for his history of art, his world history is aimed at young kids.   Much of it is familiar from high school and college history classes.  At the same time, there are events, wars, and personalities that I don’t remember.  But it’s  good friendly, easy read overview of world history.

As I read, I frequently wondered how history will evaluate the American Trump administration.   Will Trump be viewed as a “champion” of the middle working class?  A President who “Made American Great Again.”  Or will he be viewed as a sick, self-serving President who appointed a cabinet and advisors that twisted government, no matter how it effected the average American?

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Will Trump be applauded for limiting government, slashing budgets for departments like the Environment Protection Agency and Department of Education; eliminating regulations that protect clean water,  shifting public education funds to private schools?  Will  Trump be seen as a force that cut unnecessary government regulation and spending?

Or will Trump will be held accountable for dismantling many important and or compassionate government programs. Will history record that many of Trump’s cabinet appointments were chosen to dismantle the agency or Department they would lead?   As the federal military budget increased, did Trump cut funding for the Arts, Public Broadcasting, and as many as 19 other social programs, even Meals on Wheels — a few million to help volunteers deliver meals to poor seniors.

Did Trump build a wall on the Mexican border that provided increased immigrant security?  How will history view cutting the Coast Guard or putting a surcharge on flood insurance to help fund the Mexican wall  — or was it paid for by Mexicans as Trump consistently promised.  Or was the wall never build because it wasn’t necessary or cost effective — just a crazy campaign promise?

Will Trump be seen as a hero challenging federal courts that stopped his immigration bans and funding cuts to sanctuary cities?  Or will the courts be seen as stopping Trumps extreme, unconstitutional executive orders?

Will Trump and the Republicans in Congress come up with an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that doesn’t strip millions of the poor from coverage and provide rebates for the wealthy?  Or will the repeal and replace “Obamacare” rhetoric ultimately be seen as political absurdity?

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Did the Russians interfere in the 2016 election– supporting Trump?   Did President Obama “wire tap” Trump Towers as twittered by President Trump?  Or has the liberal media made this up?  Will history see Trump as a hero or a crazy scroundel? Did the Russian question end the Trump administration or did the issue turn into a historical footnote?

Did Trump protect us from a crazy North Korea armed with neclear weapons; or did a crazy Trump lead the country into an unnecessary, possible nuclear war?

Did Trump reform and make the tax code better or did he provide major tax cuts for millionaires and corporations; cutting many of the tax deductions that benefited the middle class?  Did the national debt shrink or balloon to unprecedented numbers?

Did Trump make America Great or did he and his family use government to advance and advertise Trump interests, making Trump great?    Why did he refuse to share his tax returns?

Will Trump be seen as a leader that united  the Republican Party, the country or will he be seen as a destructive force that destroyed the Republican Party and exasperated divisions in the country?

Will  Trump be known for telling it like it is, telling the truth? Or will he b remembered as the most consistently lying President in history?

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Today we approach the 100 day mark of the Trump Presidency.  How has he done?  What has Trump accomplished?  He got an appointment to Supreme Court by having Congress change the rules — no filibusters on Supreme Court appointments.  He’s changed some labor and environmental regulations, by executive orders.  He’s made strong foreign policy announcements and a few actions in the Middle East and Korean peninsula. Otherwise he has a string of failures. Not much of all he promised in the first 100 days has happened.  He claims 28 bills signed; nothing major in any of them.

How will Trump’s 100 days be viewed by historians?  How will his administration be viewed historically?

Will Trump and his administration be seen as “Making America Great Again.”  Or will it be seen as a lying, tweeting, alternative truth, cabal of phonies?

 

 

 

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Film books

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For years, I taught a film course at Holy Ghost Prep.  Of course I bought film books.  It’s amazing but when I took several film courses at Boston College in the 1960s, there were few film books available.  A decade later, film was art, taught in colleges, scholarship and film books proliferated.  But now it’s time to sell my film book collection.  But as I did with my photography collection, I will reread before I sell.

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“American Cinema: 1950s; themes and variations,” edited by Murray Pomerance was the the first book I reread.  There is a chapter for each decade, with a historical overview, and a short review of major films, followed by analysis of films that represent the decade.

As I read, I list films on Netflix — some I’ve never seen; some I think I should see again.  Films of the 50s bridge the traditional Hollywood studio films of the 1940s with the more open 1960s. Male roles were changing — Montgomery Cliff, Marlon Brando, and James Dean were not your typical Hollywood male star.  They were hard but also soft; they were nonconformists.   Women ranged from Doris Day to Marilyn Monroe. Movies competed with television, so widescreen processes like CinemaScope and VistaVision were developed.  There was more location shootings; and rear projection brought locations into the studio. The films and the industry were poised for change.

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Films then as now were influenced by current events like the growing black-white tensions of the Civil Rights movement and the Cold War with the Soviet Union, Senator Joe McCarthy’s anti-communism crusade, HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings that blacklisted movie people — all found a way into the movies. As mentioned above, there was no film scholarship and criticism — university programs, film journals, film as art would come in the 1960s.  Filmmakers, like  Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawkes, Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray were not lionized as film auteurs. Not yet.  The Hollywood Studio star system was still cranking out “movies.”  The Production Code continued to put limits on what could be shown.

“American Cinema of the 1950s” is a collection of essays.  Representative of film scholarship some of the writing is overly academic, too pedantic for me.  But it’s interesting to review the films made during the decade. From 1950, “All About Eve,” “Harvey'” and “King Soloman’s Mines” caught my attention. “Sunset Blvd” a Hollywood story demands attention.

In 1951 there was “An American in Paris” (Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dancing and searching for love in post-war Paris.    We recently saw the play produced at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.  The DVD is currently in the mail from Netflix.   “A Place in the Sun” (Montgomery Cliff and Elizabeth Taylor)  and “A Streetcar Names Desire” (Brando, masculine issues, Production Code) are both on my list to view again.  The year also had Bogart and Hepburn in “African Queen.” The only semester I lived in a campus dorm room at Boston College, I shared it with a Bogart fan.  We watched all Bogart’s through the night.

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The classic Gary Cooper western, “High Noon” was made in 1952.  Who can forget the shoot out. The big movie in 1953  was “From Here to Eternity.”  WWII, Hawaii, Pearl Harbor, intrigue, love and passio, the classic Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster beach scene.  Also in ’53 was “Roman Holiday.”  It was written by Dalton Trumbo (on the blacklist) so an Oscar was given to Ian McLellan Hunter.  Trumbo was finally awarded an Oscar in 1993.  “Trumbo” (2015) tells the story.

The ground breaking movie in 1954 was Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront.” Dockworker Terry Malloy (Brando) was an up and coming boxer. But Mob-union Dock boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) has Terry throw a fight, and then tries to get him to not testify about Friendly’s control of the waterfront and his responsibility for the death of a longshoreman. The dead man’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) and a local priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden), convince Terry to testify against the Mob. Terry squeals, he is a “stool pigeon.” This is the 1950s, Kazan had testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). And Kazan had named names. Critics have written many pages about “On the Waterfront,” Terry, Kazan, and HUAC — you can decide, front page news and how it influenced a film story.

“Marty” (1955) was a romantic drama I remember liking. Marty (Ernest Borgnine) was a mother’s boy, socially awkward, Bronx butcher who falls for Clara (Betsy Blair) at the Stardust ballroom. Marty is forced to chose between Clara and a family that wants to keep him for themselves. It’s Hollywood, Marty chooses Clara. I remember being touched by this movie which won several academy awards. Probably saw it on television.

I did see “Around the World in 80 Days”(1956) in the Bristol Theatre on Radcliffe street. Around the same time, as a 9 years old, I would have been reading Jules Verne novels. Here was one on the big screen — Technicolor, Todd-AO 70 mm cinematography. Hollywood was fighting TV for an audience.

Another feel good film in 1956 was “The King and I.” An adaptation of a Rogers and Hammerstein musical, but also a real story. Anna Loenowens (Deborah Kerr) travels to Siam (Thailand) to teach the children (dozens of them) of King Mongkut (Yul Brynner). The King was determined to westernize his country, but Anna was a bit too liberated, too much. They frequently clashed but of course developed a loving relationship. In real life and in the film it was a love not to be fulfilled. The King would die and Anna would return to England. Last month we saw, “The King and I” at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. It was a great production but I knew the strutting, majestic, arrogance, of Yul Brynner as the King could not be matched.  So I watched the movie.  Somewhere we have a vinyl recording of the original cast — I need to find it. The music has been swirling in my mind — “You Whistle a Happy Tune,” “My Lord, My Master,” ” Hello, Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You,” “I have Dreamed,” “Shall We Dance, “and “Something Wonderful,”

1956 also brought us George Stevens’s “Giant.” Nick Benedict (Rock Hudson) — the past — tangles with Jett Rink (James Dean) — the future — over Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) and the Benedict family fortune and legacy. This is not typical Hollywood like “The King and I.”

They are whistling. It’s a prisioner of war camp. 1957. It’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” It’s British and American pride, a spirit to win. Another film of the period that I saw in the theatre; another academy best picture. A tune and film you can’t forget.

 

1958 saw “Gigi” and “The Defiant Ones.” I have a good memory of “Gigi” directed by Vincent Minnelli. Paris, love, a bit of intrigue, Lerner & Loewe music, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” — and then Louis Jourdan, Leslie Caron and the hard to forget Maurice Chevalier. It was another Academy winner for best picture and considered by some to be MGMs last great musical. You can read the plot summary on line.

The same year brought us Stanley Kubrick’s “The Defiant Ones.” It’s the 1950s, in the South. Members of a chain gang escape when their truck crashes. John “Joker” Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier) are chained together; Jackson is white, Cullen is black. Their distrust and hate turns to friendship as they flee across the country. Ten years later Kramer would direct Poitier and Katherine Hepburn in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Black-White friendship, interracial marriage, films were exploring new territory.

William Wyler’s “Ben Hur” with Carlton Heston was MGMs block buster for the year. I only saw it once in the theatre but scenes are etched in my memory. Who could forget the chariot races?  Smaller scale but an important story was George Steven’s “The Diary of Anne Frank.” This may have been my first introduction to the Holocaust. I would see the movie and read the book. And then in contrast there was “Pillow Talk,” a cute romantic comedy with Rock Hudson (didn’t know he was gay then) and Doris Day. I didn’t like either Hudson or Day, would have thought the film silly which it was. But I can enjoy it today in its historical context.

I added about 15 movies from the decade to my Netflix account. Some I’ve seen; others will be a new experience. The first to arrive was “King Solomon’s Mines.” I thought I saw it but had no memory as I watched.  It was adapted from a book by Henry Rider Haggard. At times it looked like a National Geographic special — amazing photography of the African landscape, safari wildlife, tribal villages and native dances. Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) hires an experienced, maybe legendary hunter and guide,  Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger) to find her brother lost in the African interior while searching fot a diamond mine.

Skeptical of a journey with a woman into unfamiliar territory, inhabitated by a savage tribe, Allan agrees because of a huge salary that will help him send his son to school in England. They endure all the hardships Africa can offer, wild animals, snakes, deserts and mountains, and of course, unfriendly natives. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness?”  Their bearers desert them; they fall in love. They met a wandering Watusi who turns out to be a King traveling to reclaim his homeland. Close to the mines they meet a renegade Englishman, living with a canabalistic tribe. Shades of Brando’s Kurtz in the jungles of Vietnam, check out  “Apocalypse Now (1979). They escape and find the tribe, diamonds, the mine, and skeleton of Curtis, but briefly they are trapped in the mine. Think Indiana Jones and ” Raiders of the Lost Ark”(1981). I’m pretty certain Spielberg was familiar with “King Solomon’s Mines.” King Umbopa regains control of the tribe and helps our explorers on the road home. But did they get to take some diamonds, get married, settle down, or keep exploring?

Lot of great films from the 1950s; lots of film books to reread.  It’s a good thing I’m retired.

 

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“From Here to Eternity,” 1953

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Children’s books and local history

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I can’t resist buying local history books.  If they are for children, all the better.  A few years back I discovered  “Skippack School” by Marguerite de Angeli.  The author- illustrator of several dozen books lived and died in the Philadelphia area.  “Skippack School” is Eli’s story.  As a young German Memonnite, he moves with his family to a farm outside of German Town, Philadelphia on the Skippack Creek.  Family and neighbors help construct the family’s log house.  Within months, crops, cows, chickens, pigs; they have a working farm.  And Eli has responsibilities.

There is a lot of detail about Colonial life in “Skippack School” — spider cooking pots like we recently used in Deerfield’s Open Hearth cooking class; split cedar shingles similar to those I made in Montpelier two years ago; processing flax into linen for clothing cloth.  There are references to local foods – cornbread, wild turkey, sauerkraut, and soft pretzels. Settled in, Eli begins to construct a bench with elaborate carvings for his mother.  But it’s also time for school.

Eli goes it’s to, well it’s the book’s title, Skippack School.  It is run by the Mennonite Christopher Dock.  In the 1970s, when I began teaching at Holy Ghost Prep, we played basketball against Christopher Dock, it had emerged into a local Prep school.  Eli was surprised that Master Christopher applied the rod much less than his German teachers.  At the same time he was more interested in creating things and being outdoors than classroom learning.  This could lead to trouble.

“Skippack School” references the Leni Lenape, local Indians treated fairly by William Penn.  Eli will take a trip to German Town with its market, shops, Meetinghouse, the Green Tree Inn, Rittenhouse Paper Mill and the office of Christopher Sauer’s printing press — all local history.  His spirit will get him in trouble but it will also save him as he grows into a responsible young man.

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The Skippack School

My grandson, Eli, put this in the “to sell” pile of children’s books.  I’m not sure he’s read it.  Grandpop may put it into the reread pile before selling.  And it might be interesting to visit the Christopher Dock School and other sites in German Town.

 

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Traveling with children

Can you find Tibet on a map?  Have you ever heard of Alexandra David-Neel?  Answers can be found by reading “Far Beyond the Garden Gate” by Don Brown.  The children’s author-illustrator has written several books about little known historical characters in interesting settings, check out “Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa,” “Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and her remarkable discoveries,” or  “Ann Ramsey’s Grand Adventure.”

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Alexandra David was born in Paris in 1868.  She had a wanderlust fed by reading travel books and looking at maps, including railroad lines, “fancying the many lands toward which they led.”  In 1904 she settled in Tunis, North Africa, and married Philip Neel.  But her craving for travel and curiosity about Buddhism led her to set out for India in 1911.  For 14 years she traveled in Asia, many years, with a young boy, later man, Yongden, whom she adopted.

Don Brown’s “Far Beyond the Garden Gate” takes us with Alexandra to Japan, Korea, and the Gobi Desert.  We learn about her study of Buddhist texts in the Kim Bum Monestary and her trek with Yongden to Lhasa, the Tibetian capital where she interviews the Dali Lama.   She was the first non-Asian woman in Lhasa.

What a fantastic story.  So many children’s books transport us to  little known areas of the world and introduce us to amazing, frequently real, characters.  I sometimes think, just read children’s literature.

 

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Children’s books to sell

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While rereading books that I plan to sell I temporarily list them on Amazon. Eventually those that don’t sell on Amazon are taken to a bookstore.  Recently I have been selling to Labyrinth Books in Princeton.  Today my first children’s book listed on Amazon sold,  “Angelo” by David Macaulay ($10).  Many children’s books in my collection, “Angelo” included, would be described as multi-cultural.  “The Secret Seder” I wrote about also fits this catagory.  Literature can introduce us and our children to different cultures, religions, and traditions.

“Angelo” is set in Italy, probably Rome.  I may have bought it due to the Italian connection or because I love Macaulay’s illustrations.   I have a nephew Angelo, named after his grandfather and a distant relative, Angelo Rago, a carpenter.  Angelo Rago was a craftsman, proud of his work, as is the Angelo in the story.  Angie Rago as he was known built a watchermakers bench for my father.  A piece of family history. I was pleased that my nephew Vincent preserved it when my father died.

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Our fictional Angelo is a older stonemason/plasterer working on refurbishing the stucco and sculpture in a church.  He discovers a wounded pigeon and despite his dislike for the birds that ruin his work, takes the bird home. Angelo lives alone and he soon becomes attached to the pigeon that he names Sylvia.  They work together, spend time in the countryside and he introduces her to his music.  But Sylvia decides to fly away only to return to his side, cooing encouragement, when she sees him slowing down. For years Sylvia will be at Angelo’s side as he works, always slower, to finish the repairs to the church.

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Over a bowl of linguini one evening, Angelo tells Sylvia, “Plasterers don’t live forever you know.”  He worries for her safety when he is gone.  Where will she live? Angelo is inspired, grabs his coat and a flashlight.  When he returns in the morning, he dies and is found in bed by other workers, amid sticks and feathers.  But high up in the church, he has constructed a stucco nest overlooking the city — a permanate and safe home for Sylvia.

“Angelo” is about growing old, friendship, even with someone we may not initially like, and of course death.  It is about craftsmanship, hard work and pride in work.  For me there is no question that it is an Italian story.  I have seen “Angelos” in Italy in my grandfather’s hometown.  I have seen them in Bristol with its Italian immigrant population.  Macaulay’s illustrations are fantastic, filled with detail, architecture, and humor.  Angelo with his large gray mustache, strong hands, old hat and painter’s smock is classic.

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Most of Macaulay’s  books are about architecture and how things are constructed — “Pyramid,” “City,” “Castle,” “Cathrdral,” and “Underground.”  All are extremely detailed as in his “The Way ThingsWork.”

I was sad when Angelo died and I will be sad that the book is gone from my collection.  Hopefully it’s next owner will enjoy the story as much as I did.

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Through Children’s Eyes

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About a week ago, I presented Eli and Viv with a stack of children’s books.  I asked, “What do you want to keep; what should I sell.”  Interestingly the “keep” pile was higher than the “sell” pile.  Jenny and Diane added a few keeps from the kids sell.  Last year I reread about 100 photograph books before offering most for sale.  This is the beginning of a program to reread and sell children’s books.

Most of the children’s books I have were bought when I taught social studies education.  One class was always devoted to children’s literature.  After years of borrowing books from Phyllis Gallagher, I decided to buy.    By the time Eli and Viv were born, I had quite a collection.

Before I put them in the sell pile, I will read- reread them.

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I started with “The Secret Seder” by Doreen Rappaport.  A small boy, Jacques, travels with his father to a secret Passover Seder dinner in a small village in France.  Although the family pretends to be Catholic, they maintain their beliefs and Jacques is determined to celebrate the holiday, commemorating the Israelites journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom.

Jacques and his father pass through the village frightened by the clicking on the cobblestone of the black-booted Nazi soldiers.  Eventually in a mountain cottage they celebrate a Passover Seder with other locals.  Jacques “puts Mama’s roasted egg on the table.”  There are cups of wine, matzah, and the four questions.  “Why is this night different from all other nights?”   An old man tells the story of Passover as recorded in the Haggadah.  There are prayers and quiet singing.  The Seder ends; Jacques and his father make their way home.

IMG_2277As with many history orientated children’s books, the author has several pages explaining the context of the book.  From 1939 to 1945 more than six million Jews and three million other Europeans were murdered, died or starved in concentration camps.  “We call this terrible time in history the Holocaust, or Shoah.”  Pesach or Passover celebrates liberation and rebirth; it lasts for eight days and eight nights.  The Seder commemorates the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom.

“The Secret Seder” was based on real events.  Like most good children’s books, the illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully add a beautiful visual dimension.  Children’s books sometimes give us a fantastic introduction to a topic.  For me Passover, a Jewish holiday, happens about the same time as the Christian Easter.  The story through children’s eyes, is a great introduction to Passover.

 

 

 

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