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February 25 2014
A couple weeks ago, The Normalite printed a poem by Ralph Bellas Sr. titled “Remembrance.” This was about his visit to a military cemetery in Cambridge, England. The poem said that “crosses stood row on row” resembling a muster where soldiers stood at rigid attention for roll call. The image “row on row” recalled to me a famous poem from World War One.
In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row.
”The Poppies Grow in Flanders Fields” was written by Colonel John McCrae, a medical professor at McGill University, Toronto. He wrote the poem in April 1915 during the terrible battle at Ypres, Belgium. He had just buried his friend Alexis Helmer and he noticed how quickly poppies had grown around the graves of those who had died in battle. McCrae became consulting physician to the British armies in France. He died of pneumonia in January 1918.
I forget if the soldiers in the Bellas’ poem were British or American. I saw the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg where 5076 are interred. Many of these perished in the Battle of the Bulge at Christmas 1945. There are many Stars of David for the Jewish fallen.
The 82 Airborne Division had become entrapped by a surprise German attack but was able to hold out until relieved by Gen. Patton’s Third Army, who chased the Germans back across the Rhine. Although Gen. Patton is buried in the cemetery, he did not die in the battle but in an accident shortly after the war.
I saw the battlefield eleven years afterwards. All I remember are the white crosses of Italian marble row on row and lucent green grass and trees behind. No red poppies.
Apparently the Battle of the Bulge is a popular one for reenactment by grown men who still like to play soldier. In fact, there is one going on in Pennsylvania right now from Jan. 27 to Feb. 1, 2015.
Another cemetery in memory is the one for Union dead at Shiloh, Tennessee. The Union Army of 45,000 under General U.S. Grant engaged a like number of Confederates led by General Albert Sydney Johnston. Grant’s numbers would be swelled to 65,000 on the second day of the battle (April 7, 1862) when joined by General Don Carlos Buell’s army.
General Johnston was killed on the second day and command shifted to General Pierre Beauregard who in face of superior numbers withdrew on April 8. Many historians have criticized Beauregard for not attacking Grant’s lines. But his troops were exhausted and he was lacking both food and ammunition. Total casualties both sides—25,000. Shiloh is Hebrew for “place of peace.”
One hundred thirteen years after the battle, son Rick and I filmed the scene. It was the first week in April and dogwood and redbuds were in bloom. Also blooming was the peach tree under where General Johnston died. The cemetery contained headstones for 3584 Union dead, including 2 Confederates. The Confederate cemetery was a mound covering some 800 bodies.
I told Rick that we could sure tell who won the battle. The winner in war is the side which gets to bury their own dead.
February 25 2014
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They Call Me Spence
by Brad Spencer
Award winning journalist
September 25 2014
The power of song
Words and music, a delicious combination.
I would hear the music, sure, but I always figured it was the words that float down from a song that stayed with me the most. Then I began to ponder this notion and determined it must be a combination of the two, words and music, which make an everlasting impression on our souls. It also has to do with timing.
You have them, soundtracks of the different periods in your life. It’s not about when the songs came out. It’s when you heard them at a particular moment. They were there when you triumphed, when you failed, when you were perfect, when you made mistakes, when you loved, when you hurt, when everything seemed good, when everything seemed bad, and when everything seemed balanced. Certain songs were the markers for moments in your life.
Some of those songs gave you hope. Some inspired you. Some made you feel you weren’t the only one suffering. Some made you dance a little crazy. Some made you dance a little closer.
It’s usually a flood of nostalgia every time you hear an old song. Could be a tune from a band you never cared for, or the actual song was never particularly one of your favorites, but it has relevance to your life, makes you recall something endearing or, unfortunately, unpleasant.
Whether it was Elvis, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Bon Jovi, Tom Petty, or U2, everyone can name at least a dozen artists that created songs that touched their lives in one way or another. When drums go “crash, boom, bang,” or guitar notes introduce a sing-along-song well before the chorus does, it’s enough to run chills down your spine.
But back to the words. I may be bias here, being a writer, but the words to a song are the central piece of the formula. The music is the butter, the milk, the eggs, the sugar, the flour. The words are the icing—the scrumptious frosting—on the cake, what makes the cake so delectable in the first place.
Here are random lyrics to seven songs that for some reason stand out in my mind today. If you listen real hard, you can hear the music in the background.
“Spider Murphy played the tenor saxophone/Little Joe was blowin’ on the slide trombone/The drummer boy from Illinois went crash, boom, bang/the whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang/Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock/Everybody in the whole cell block was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock.”—Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock.
“Down in the shadows of the penitentiary/Out by the gas fires of the refinery/I’m ten years burning down the road/Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go.”—Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA.
“I want to run/I want to hide/I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.”—U2, Where The Streets Have No Name.
“Sittin’ in the morning sun/I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes/Watching the ships roll in/Then I watch them roll away again/I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay.”—Ottis Redding, Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay.
“Standing in the sunlight laughin/Hiding behind a rainbow’s wall/Slipping and a-sliding/all along the waterfall/with you, my brown-eyed girl.”—Van Morrison, Brown Eyed Girl.
“Well, there’s people and more people/What do they know, know, know/Go to work in some high-rise/and vacation down at the Gulf of Mexico/Ooh, yeah.”—John Mellencamp, Pink Houses.
“Don’t worry about a thing/cause every little thing/gonna be all right.”—Bob Marley, Three Little Birds.
Yep, words and music, a tasty combination.
Brad Spencer can be reached at Brad.E.Spencer@gmail.com
February 25 2014A 72 for ‘American Sniper’
OF THE eight movies nominated for best picture of the year, the only one I saw was American Sniper. As everyone knows by now, it didn’t win the Oscar. That honor went to Birdman.
But Sniper was the peoples’ choice by far. In a poll of more than 1,000 moviegoers who had seen all eight of the nominated films, it earned 36%, while Birdman was the choice of 10%. The Theory of Everything polled at 6%.
At the box office, Sniper earned more money than the other seven nominees combined. This gulf is not unusual; for example, in 2010, Avatar, one of the nominees for best picture earned more than $750 million but lost out to The Hurt Locker, which earned out at barely $17 million.
IN ANY CASE, American Sniper disappointed my wife and me. One reason was the ending. In the final scene, we see the celebrated U.S. war hero Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) kissing his children goodbye just before leaving the house for a session on the shooting range.
That trip to the shooting range, as most everybody knows, was Kyle’s date with death. He was shot several times by a fellow veteran. This scene was included in the original version of the film, but later removed at the request of Kyle’s wife, for the sake of their children.
I’m not sure the scene would have provided an utterly satisfying conclusion, but the manner of his death was (is) a crucial and compelling piece of Chris Kyle’s narrative.
But my disappointment with the film went well beyond its final scene. Clint Eastwood and Jason Hall’s screenplay give the audience too much war and not enough peace. In short, too much combat footage and not enough character development.
THE LENGTHY combat scenes (shot in Morocco) have that Eastwood edge of authenticity and grit, but the character of the sniper himself is underdeveloped. We see a deadly marksman and a war hero, but not much of a complex human being (which Kyle was).
Kyle served four tours of duty in Iraq, during which time he established himself as the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history, with 255 kills, 160 of which were confirmed by the Defense Department.
But he also had inner demons. I have not read his autobiography, but enough articles about the man himself to know he suffered post traumatic stress (PTS) and had to work his way through a recovery after his years of service. One of the ways he did so was by working with fellow wounded warriors in veterans’ hospitals and other locations (including that infamous shooting range).
The movie misses the boat by glossing over this aspect of Kyle the man, showing us only a few brief, superficial instances of detachment and distraction from family life when he returns home between tours. Eastwood’s movie would have been much stronger had the audience seen more of Kyle’s descent into PTS and his process of recovery.
The character of Kyle’s wife, played by Sienna Miller, is flat as a pancake; we see little more than a pretty face longing for her husband to come home.
ALTHOUGH the movie made trainloads of money and earned all those Oscar nominations, critics were by and large underwhelmed. Metacritic, the Internet site for gathering and scoring movie reviews, provides 48 reviews by newspaper, periodical, and online critics.
Sniper received 36 positive reviews, 12 mixed reviews, and no negatives. The average score was 72 (of a possible 100). That sounds about right to me. One reviewer, Richard Corliss of Time magazine, rated it at a perfect 100, saying, “Directing 34 films over 44 years, Eastwood has honed his craft to its essentials: make it seem as if the story is telling itself.”
Boston Globe critic Ty Burr also gave the movie a glowing tribute with a score of 88. He wrote, “American Sniper maybe be the hardest, truest movie ever made about the experience of men in war. Why? Because there’s no glory in it.” I would argue this point; it wouldn’t be hard to name other quality war movies that are essentially glory-less.
Many other reviewers were much more equivocal. Some of them felt, as I did, that actual character development was lost along the way. Others called it a “sanitized version” of Kyle’s life. They may have had in mind the PTS factor, as well as Kyle’s well-documented bar brawling behavior before he ever became a Navy SEAL.
There’s also the story, documented by some sources but denied by others of Kyle shooting to death two would-be carjackers in Texas shortly after his return to civilian life. This event, as it’s often described, has a Hollywood flavor; Kyle duping the two bad guys and using a hand gun while shooting under his armpit with his back mostly turned away.
Finally, one disappointed reviewer said the movie was essentially the movie Kyle would have made about himself. Maybe that’s the problem.
February 25 2014We Are All Ready To Get Outside And Garden
After the long, cold months, we are all ready to get outside and do something in the yard. Remember, not to walk a lot on the grass when it is really wet. The freezing and thawing of winter has loosened the soil and we don’t want to pack it down. Pick up the sticks and trash on the lawn. If the leaves have piled up on a pile, fluff it with a rake so air can get thru it. We will have more cold air, so don’t clear it off yet.
In one of the pretty parks in Chicago, they did not remove any of the annuals or perennials in the fall. In the spring, they cut the tall plants with a weed eater and then mowed everything with a lawnmower. That broke up the spent plants into small pieces into mulch. That way, they did not have to haul off the “trash”, and then go buy new mulch.
When the new plants started to come up, they could pull the mulch back so they could get light and air to grow. As the soil warmed, the earthworms, grubs, etc. started working to make good soil for the plant roots to grow and they did not have to apply synthetic fertilizer. It also left more insects to feed the birds so they could get their needed protein.
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The Rest is Still Unrwritten
by John Colclasure of Lexington
February 25 2014
Print, Copy & Scan
We’ve come a long way baby! Whether it was called the “Zuse 23” or the “Colossus,” or just simply called “Baby” the computer has increased our capacity to retrieve, send and store information. You might say that the last 70 years or so have “fueled the public’s imagination about how science and computers could revolutionize the world.”
Even as far back as the year of my birth, 1945, devices were being built to speed up the mechanical calculators used by the military in World War II. But, “by the time ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was completed in November of 1945, the war was over. But ENIAC could do what it was supposed to.” ENIAC was a mammoth machine and completely filled a 30 X 50 foot room. “Little did they realize how different that early computer was from the ones that would be built a mere fifty year later.” PBS Online’s “A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries”
Thus the home computers of today are much different today than they were seven decades ago and considerably less expensive. Some of those early ones exceeding 20 million dollars (2014 dollars) and my IPad, costing less than $500.00 in 2015. A huge advancement in technology thanks to IBM and Microsoft and of course Apple.
But with each advancement in mainframe computers, praise and thanksgiving have been fraught with gripe and complaint about speed, settings and applications among a multitude of technical issues. Count me in that group of gripers and complainers.
All I want is a computer that one can turn off and on. The monitor lights up without telling me that something needs to be updated or it will be canceled in 14 days or some other such command that even a search of the product brochure doesn’t address and no answer can be found on any of the support web sites. Thus in the last six months, we have a printer that talks to the computer, but the computer won’t talk to the printer. And our back-up printer said that we were out of blue ink. Replaced blue ink and then were told out of yellow ink. Replaced yellow ink. Then out of pink or red, I forget, replaced both when told to do so. Then, you guessed it, out of black ink, the double size. Replaced it and then we were able to print out blank pages!!! As a result we were instructed to clean or swipe the print cycle and we did as we were instructed and were told that a lot of ink would be used. Three cycles of cleaning were completed and a single sheet was printed correctly and then wouldn’t you know it, out of ink!
Therefore, last week I went and purchased a new printer! Black ink only! I didn’t want to scan, copy or fax only print and black only. Found what I wanted that only used black toner. Will copy 1200 pages before a replacement cartridge is needed. Wonderful, I thought until I checked and a toner cartridge replacement for 2600 pages will cost more than the printer. What happened next? Installed the new printer, as directed and it prints fine. But now, the Facebook on my IPAD has disappeared. Yep, we come a long way baby!
Till next time…john
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