Friday, December 31, 2010

and wishes for a very happy 2011!

From all of us here at The Shelf- we wish you a very happy New Year!
And just to kick things off just right: a festive Debbie Reynolds is just the thing to bring in the new year I think! (And yes we do know it's not 1953.)

Have a fun, but safe, New Year's Eve- but may it be a bit more lively than Nick Charles' evening with Nora's family on New Years Eve:

See you in 2011!

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

What a way to start a new year. Tomorrow night, millions of people will be going to parties and dressing up. Some are even ready a day ahead of time!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

you're a mean one...

Shelfers- indulge me for a moment. This post isn't necessarily for you. You can read on, of course, but just know that the target of this post is not our readers- but really this is for "that person." Maybe you know one, hopefully you haven't run into one and your holiday season is much brighter for it. But if you have- let them read the following special message.

Times are tough for a lot of people; there is no denying that. However, I have noticed a good deal less good cheer and kindness out there this year. Usually, the collective we do a pretty good job of trying to get past all the bad stuff, but this year has been difficult to really see any of that. Perhaps that's a reflective statement, I grant you, but I have been looking. There is evil out there, and there are people who do bad things to others- but that should not dampen what this time of year should symbolize.

Don't get me started on traditions and Christmas not really being what we think it is and Roman feast days and such- I am a history teacher, I know all about that stuff. I knew it before many smart pants college freshmen eating Cheetos read about it on a website somewhere. I've read books about the holidays- remember those? Books? Anyway, I digress.... What I am getting at is that in the long run, none of that stuff matters. A holiday to foster good will to others, to bring back a little selflessness in the world, to bring some light into others lives? You could call it Starlight Day and I would still think it was an awesome idea. Some people can't handle the religious connection, and others can't get past their own ego and their own imperfections to allow something like Christmas to try and actually foster goodness in the world. Are you one of those people?

Yes, it's way too commercial, but that isn't always the people's fault. Yes, it is based on a celebration marking the birth of Jesus Christ and people who believe and worship him are marking a religious occasion in a supposedly religiously tolerant country- which means it is a religious holiday (don't get me started on the supposed "tolerance" part). And yes there a bajillion other traditions and stories and myths associated with the holiday that have blended, changed and fused themselves into our modern day holiday. So what? No- I mean it- so what? If someone has a problem with that, or Hanukkah, or Ramadan or Kwanza or Festivus for that matter, why do they have to set out to ruin, insult and generally poop on everyone else's special time? If you are that someone and are reading this, I ask you- what is your deal? Are you really gonna be "that person"? Stop being an ass about things. There is enough crap in the world the rest of the year; lets try and bridge the gap between goodness and needing goodness in your life. If it promotes peace and goodwill- let it be. If it fosters love and hope- let it be. If it helps people understand and to try and grow into better people- for goodness sakes, let it be. In other words, get over yourself, smile and let people have this one. You have a whole other 11 months or so to be a jerk, maybe just for this one month you can restrain your self-important, smug self and allow some more hope and peace into the world. Thank you.

OK, Shelfers, we're back. Sorry about that - had to get that off of my chest. Please go on about your Yuletide doings. Whatever holiday you celebrate this season, we wish you and your families much peace and happiness.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink, stank, stunk!

Friday, December 17, 2010

christmas cartoon time 2010

There are so many holiday specials, old and relatively new that are available on DVD or Blu-Ray, which wasn't the case even 5 years when we started the Shelf. Back then we were making the case that these shows should be available on DVD, or at least shown again on television. Other than Cartoon Network, ABC Family, and the big Nets showing the very few standards, you wouldn't find many on television either. In recent years I've discovered more being shown, newer holiday specials being created and even more cable channels getting into the act. So it almost seems somewhat difficult to find something to share with you that you couldn't easily find on DVD or television. Almost.

The Story of the First Christmas Snow is part of Rankin/Bass' holiday cannon that doesn't get much airtime, other than the occasional afternoon viewing on ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas. It stars the voices of Angela Landsbury and Cyril Richards. While it was available on VHS back in the day, it is not available on DVD- one of a handful of Rankin Bass Classics that aren't available for some reason or another (The Mouse and the Mayflower is another classic not available). It's a sweet story that is beautifully animated in the classic Rankin/ Bass style. Perhaps the Nets don't air it because of the overt religious tone or sentiment (imagine that- at Christmas time no less!). I don't know- but that's OK. The magic of the interwebs have saved the day. It's available in parts on YouTube. So for today's Christmas Cartoon Time we present to you The Story of the First Christmas Snow, with bonus Christmas time commercials from the 1980s (AKA the good "old" days according to my son).

Part 1:

Commercial Break:

Part 2:

Commercial Break 2:

Part 3:


Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

The most beautiful snow is the snow that falls on Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

on this day in 1773...

...the protest and event that became known as The Boston Tea Party occurred. Perhaps many may think the event is now insignificant, and you might be surprised by how many people know very little about it and the story behind it, if they recognize it at all. A quick overview is in order.

In the 17th century, the European market for Tea had increased greatly and in 1698 English Parliament gave a commercial Tea importer, the East India Company, a monopoly on the importation of tea. Commerce to the Colonies was also popular, but had to legally be done through middlemen. British law required that colonists buy their tea only from the Mother country. Wholesale buyers in London purchased the tea from East India Company, and then sold it to British merchants and companies who sold to merchants in the colonies.

However several circumstances caused a shift and financial problems. Dutch tea merchants could afford to undercut prices, because of no such restrictions in their country. Therefore the smuggling of Dutch tea to the colonies became a growing venture. Also the East India Company was paying a large scale import duty to the crown on its tea, which was further taxed all along the process down to selling it to consumers. East India Company was losing a lot of money. Efforts to eliminate the duty on the East India Company and some of the other "tea taxes" along the way in England ratcheted up. Then, the perfect storm occurred. The financial difficulties due to the recent Seven Years War, as well as monies owed in the colonies, caused Parliament to take harder measures to shore up the financial situation. Parliament, for the first time, had begun to levy direct taxes on the colonies to raise and stabilize revenue. In the effort to shore up the East India Company and the tea trade, Parliament refunded the Import Duty to the East India Company and repealed the taxes on Teas in England. In order to help make up for this lost revenue, a tax on Tea in the colonies was included in a series of Acts, known as the Townsend Acts, and directly levied against the colonies in 1767.

The Acts lead to many protests and boycotts in the colonies, and colonial officials sending agents to officially protest in front of Parliament (one such agent was Benjamin Franklin), arguing that the lack of direct representation of the colonies in Parliament made the "taxes enacted without consent of those taxed", a violation of British constitutional law (all the way back to the Magna Carta). Eventually the Townsend Acts were all repealed, except for the tax on Tea. This was a principle of Parliament to not completely concede the taxation argument. The boycotts and protests subsided for the most part in the colonies.

Several years later, the refund and tax relief enacted by Parliament in 1767 expired and the tax and import burden renewed. The price of tea began to skyrocket to make up for this renewed expense, and consequently sales began to sink. Complete elimination of the tax by Parliament was sought by East India representatives. Eventually Parliament did so and further eliminated the middlemen in an effort to change the process and make it more financially sound. The price of tea was then lowered in the colonies as well, because Parliament allowed the bypassing of London auction buyers, allowing instead the East India Co. to deal directly with colonial agents (called consignees) who then sold to merchants for a commission. The big mistake Lord North and Parliament made was continuing to allow and try and enforce the Townsend Duty on the tea (the lone holdover from the otherwise repealed Townsend Acts). Despite the streamlining and trimming of the overall tax burden in England on the Tea market, the Tax was still imposed as this money went mostly to paying government officials and agents, including Royal officals in the colonies. The East India Co and several members of Parliament argued for a final repeal of the Tea Tax and argued it was unnecessarily provocative.

The East India Co. and the government agents tried to conceal the tax within the price or through charges to merchants, but they were unsuccessful. The four consignees were based in Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Charleston. None of the four ports ever accepted shipment. The Consignees were forced or compelled to resign in Philly, NY and eventually in Charleston, where the tea either was sent back or seized by customs officals. Acceptance of the Tea shipments would necessarily provided legal precedence and possible legal acceptance of the tax itself. By outright forbidding the agents of the East India Company and the crown from accepting shipment- the colonies refused the authority of the Parliament from further encroachment into the commerce of the colonies.

In Boston, the Sons of Liberty tried to do the same and organized a protest. The situation was more fluid there, than in the other 3 ports. Governor Hutchinson's two sons were the consignees and he was determined to get the tea in the harbor, unloaded and the duty paid. British law required the ships to unload and pay the duties within 20 days or the cargo could be confiscated by customs (which is what happened in Charleston). While the Sons of Liberty and local officials prevented the tea from being unloaded, the Royal Governor prevented the three ships from leaving the harbor without paying the duty. It was rather a stalemate.The last night of the deadline Samuel Adams, the Sons of Liberty and supporters held a meeting where they learned that the Gov issued one final refusal for the ships to leave. The group left the meeting, and later that evening a group of people, some vaguely disguised as Indians, came to the wharf and dumped all of the shipment into the water. In his book, "The Shoemaker and the Tea Party", author Alfred Young details the first hand account of George Hewes, a Boston shoemaker, which was recorded some 60 years after the event:

"It was now evening, and I immediately dressed myself in the costume of an Indian, equipped with a small hatchet, which I and my associates denominated the tomahawk, with which, and a club, after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith, I repaired to Griffin's wharf, where the ships lay that contained the tea. When I first appeared in the street after being thus disguised, I fell in with many who were dressed, equipped and painted as I was, and who fell in with me and marched in order to the place of our destination. When we arrived at the wharf, there were three of our number who assumed an authority to direct our operations, to which we readily submitted. They divided us into three parties, for the purpose of boarding the three ships which contained the tea at the same time. The name of him who commanded the division to which I was assigned was Leonard Pitt. The names of the other commanders I never knew.
We were immediately ordered by the respective commanders to board all the ships at the same time, which we promptly obeyed. The commander of the division to which I belonged, as soon as we were on board the ship appointed me boatswain, and ordered me to go to the captain and demand of him the keys to the hatches and a dozen candles. I made the demand accordingly, and the captain promptly replied, and delivered the articles; but requested me at the same time to do no damage to the ship or rigging. We then were ordered by our commander to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard, and we immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water.
In about three hours from the time we went on board, we had thus broken and thrown overboard every tea chest to be found in the ship, while those in the other ships were disposing of the tea in the same way, at the same time. We were surrounded by British armed ships, but no attempt was made to resist us.

We then quietly retired to our several places of residence, without having any conversation with each other, or taking any measures to discover who were our associates; nor do I recollect of our having had the knowledge of the name of a single individual concerned in that affair, except that of Leonard Pitt, the commander of my division, whom I have mentioned. There appeared to be an understanding that each individual should volunteer his services, keep his own secret, and risk the consequence for himself. No disorder took place during that transaction, and it was observed at that time that the stillest night ensued that Boston had enjoyed for many months.
During the time we were throwing the tea overboard, there were several attempts made by some of the citizens of Boston and its vicinity to carry off small quantities of it for their family use. To effect that object, they would watch their opportunity to snatch up a handful from the deck, where it became plentifully scattered, and put it into their pockets.
One Captain O'Connor, whom I well knew, came on board for that purpose, and when he supposed he was not noticed, filled his pockets, and also the lining of his coat. But I had detected him and gave information to the captain of what he was doing. We were ordered to take him into custody, and just as he was stepping from the vessel, I seized him by the skirt of his coat, and in attempting to pull him back, I tore it off; but, springing forward, by a rapid effort he made his escape. He had, however, to run a gauntlet through the crowd upon the wharf nine each one, as he passed, giving him a kick or a stroke.
Another attempt was made to save a little tea from the ruins of the cargo by a tall, aged man who wore a large cocked hat and white wig, which was fashionable at that time. He had sleightly slipped a little into his pocket, but being detected, they seized him and, taking his hat and wig from his head, threw them, together with the tea, of which they had emptied his pockets, into the water. In consideration of his advanced age, he was permitted to escape, with now and then a slight kick.
The next morning, after we had cleared the ships of the tea, it was discovered that very considerable quantities of it were floating upon the surface of the water; and to prevent the possibility of any of its being saved for use, a number of small boats were manned by sailors and citizens, who rowed them into those parts of the harbor wherever the tea was visible, and by beating it with oars and paddles so thoroughly drenched it as to render its entire destruction inevitable."

George Hewes as quoted in Alfred Young, "The Shoemaker and the Tea Party")

Reaction in government and commercial circles back in London was fierce. Repayment for the lost shipment was demanded and members of Parliament began to urge punishment. The Coercive Acts were thusly born and Boston Harbor was closed for a time. Aside from further uniting the Colonies together, the Coercive Acts was one of the reasons for the convening of the First Continental Congress; to official and unitedly petition the King to redress the Acts and other grievous acts by Parliament. The protest, which only later came to be known by its now popular nickname, was one of the incendiary events on the road to Revolution.

The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum in (where else?) Boston has a very nice website with good information, although they are closed for renovation until Summer of 2011. Maybe by then, the Loophole family will be able to take a long desired trip to visit many of the history and museum spots in New England.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

tcm remembers 2010 edition

Every year TCM does a usually classy job of releasing an "in memoriam" video of stars, directors, technicians, etc who have passed away during the year. Here is this years version, newly released. You can also see it at

(Hat tip to Laura for the heads up that TCM had released this)

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Being rich is like being ten feet tall. Good for some things, bad for others.

Friday, December 10, 2010

little christmas gangsters

We here at the Foreign Correspondent household have once again been listening to Christmas music since a few days before Halloween. (Despite my appreciation of The Nightmare Before Christmas, I typically argue that Halloween doesn't play as nice with Christmas as Thanksgiving does, but since I'm gone most of the day, my arguments mean nothing.) Suffice it to say, we FC's love Christmas music. It is the best represented genre in our collection. And, in case you're wondering, we prefer the classics. And The Manhattan Transfer album.

On to the point. As I was Christmas caroling with a youth group I work with, I was once again puzzled by the song "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas." For those of you unfamiliar, here are the lyrics to the first verse:

Jolly old St. Nicholas
Lean your ear this way
Don't you tell a single soul
What I'm going to say

Christmas Eve is coming soon
Now you dear old man
Tell me what you'll bring to me
Tell me if you can.

(That is how I learned it, at least. I don't want to start a you-sing-it-wrong war here.)

This is supposed to be a lovely little song, representing the joy and innocence of childhood as a caring little moppet sits upon his/her hero's knee in joyful seasonal congress. But that is not how it ever sounded to me. I am writing this post so that I can finally get this off my chest.

The whole "tell me what you'll bring to me, tell me if you can," part sounds like a challenge to me. It is as if the kid is saying, look, Santa, I don't buy it. If you're really making these Christmas Eve deliveries, prove it. And that has sort of soured the whole carol for me. That line morphs the rest of it into a slightly menacing stream of insults.

Here, let me provide a translation:

Jolly old Saint Nicholas
Lean your ear this way

>"Jolly" is obviously code for "fat," here, and the whole "lean your ear this way" is an ageist comment intended to insult "old" Saint Nick.

Don't you tell a single soul
What I'm going to say

>Its a threat. The "or what" portion of the threat is left intentionally vague to increase the menace.

Christmas Eve is coming soon
Now you dear old man

>This is like the thugs sent by a bookie to whom you owe money pretending to be nice and civilized. What is really being said here is that time is running out, and I like you, Santa, and it would be an awful shame to have to hurt you.

Tell me what you'll bring to me
Tell me, if you can

>Okay, I inserted the implied comma in the last line this time.

Do you see it? All the following verses are just like a Bond villain's monologue. The threat has been made in the fist verse. The little monster knows what Santa's done for everyone else. Santa is being warned that if he doesn't bring his A game, he, and likely the people he loves, is going to get it.

Here is a quick re-write of verse one, with all the euphemisms removed. Here is what the little sociopath is actually saying:

Listen up, fatty. You talk a good game, but you've only got until the 24th to make good. So what are ya gonna do for me?

And Santa. Keep you're mouth shut. Or someone's gonna get hurt.

Where is the holiday cheer there?

This isn't just a story you're covering - it's a revolution. This is the greatest yarn in journalism since Livingstone discovered Stanley.

Look, Charlie, let's face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

late to the party

About a month and half ago, I was doing my daily read of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings and read a delightful post which was her answers to a "Cinema Survey" that was originally started by blogger Amanda of A Noodle in a Haystack. A pretty cool, and difficult, set of questions bound to intrigue any classic film fan. I saved the questions in a file, meaning to do the thing myself, but never got back to it. You see, this would require consideration, time and honesty and, heck- I'll admit it. I just forgot to do it.
However, I saw it on my "To Do" list several times, and finally this week, I was determined to finish it. So for what it's worth- and I know it's late, here are my answers to the survey. Maybe some of my answers will surprise you. Please be sure to go back and check out Laura's responses as well as the original post at A Noodle in a Haystack.

1. What is your favorite movie starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, excluding all of The Thin Man films?
That would have to be a draw between Libeled Lady and the highly underrated I Love You Again, although I am a fan of all their pairings.

2. Name a screen team that appeared in only one film together but are still noteworthy for how well they complimented each other.
Hmm, there are several, put how about Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in His Girl Friday. It was like lightning in a bottle. Cary Grant really complimented so many of his costars so well, and made the pairings seem so natural.

3. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' best film together?
Shall We Dance would be my favorite.

4. Your favorite actor named "Robert"?
This will throw you- Robert Duvall. I like Montgomery and Taylor of course, but my hats off to Mr. Duvall in a tight contest. But if I were keeping this to older films, I would perhaps say Robert Montgomery.

5. An actor/actress who, when you see one of their movies, you always wish that someone else was in his/her role?
This is hard but I would have to say…Burt Lancaster, I just can’t stand him sometimes. A more current pick would have to be Renee Zellweger, (but again I have liked at least one of her movies).

6. An actor/actress that someone close to you really loves that you can't stand or vice versa?
An easy one- I love the Marx Brothers, my wife just doesn’t get them and she can’t stand the Three Stooges. She isn’t much of a classic film fan to begin with, but she loves musicals.

7. An actor/actress that you both agree on completely?
That would probably be Jane Powell for classic movies and currently, Sandra Bullock.

8. Complete this sentence: Virginia O'Brien is to Ethel Merman as...
…Freddie Bartholomew is to Mickey Rooney? Good gravy what kind of sentence is that?

9. What is your favorite film starring Ray Milland?
I love The Big Clock!

10. You had to have seen this one coming: what is your favorite movie of the 1960s?
This is impossible for me to answer, because I have really found there are so many from this time period that I love- everything from Goldfinger to Charade or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. However, I find that I keep revisiting In the Heat of the Night and find myself using it in my film and humanities class more and more. It’s a wonderful, wonderful film with so many nuances and great performances and themes. I just love it.

11. An actor/actress that you would take out of one film and put into a different movie that was released the same year?
I don’t know- this is a hard one to think about, or recall over so many I’ve seen but I would think it would be interesting to take Sean Connery out of 1969’s little known The Red Tent and plug him back into Her Majesty’s Secret Service, just to see the difference, if any, in the tone of the film (which I’ve actually grown to appreciate more over the years- strong words for a Uber-Bond fan).

12. Who was your favorite of Robert Montgomery's leading ladies?
Norma Shearer. But then, I absolutely adore Norma Shearer.

13. You think it would have been a disaster if what movie starred the actor/actress who was originally asked to star in it?
Well, given recent revelations- Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in Back to the Future

14. An actor/actress who you will watch in any or almost any movie?
Too many to choose from really, but I will pick one of each: Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. And did I tell you that I adore Norma Shearer? I think I did.

15. Your favorite Leslie Howard film and role?
Well…strictly speaking Leslie Howard isn’t one of my favorites, but I do like him an awful lot in It’s Love I’m After, a great little film, and find him insufferable in Gone With the Wind.

16. You have been asked to host a marathon of four Barbara Stanwyck films. Which ones do you choose?
Oh my, more like can I add some more to that list. Let’s see: The Lady Eve, Double Indemnity, Remember the Night and Ball of Fire. NO- wait! How about, Clash by Night, The Furies, Meet John Doe and Sorry, Wrong Number. Dang. See what I mean?

17. What is, in your mind, the nearest to perfect comedy you have ever seen? Why? Now this is hard, because in a way, no movie is perfect, and even my favorite comedies have some weak points. However, the closest I’ve seen would have to be…A Night at the Opera. Blazing Saddles for a more modern pick.

18. You will brook no criticism of what film?
I will generally concede that not every film will completely win over every single person. Impossible. But if you have something bad to say about my favorite holiday film of all time, A Christmas Story- well, let’s just say you’d better not do it when I’m in the room. You can even criticize Casablanca in my face- I’ll control myself. But don’t talk bad about my boy Ralphie.

19. Who is your favorite Irish actress?
Maureen O’Hara. Is there any doubt.

20. Your favorite 1940s movie starring Ginger Rogers?
The Major and the Minor

21. Do you enjoy silent movies?
Oh yes, very much so. I would venture to say more so in the last 10 years, but I’ve always loved them. I think one of the barriers for modern audiences is beyond the silence itself is how modern venues (DVD, VHS, etc) doesn’t always get the frame rate correct which makes it seem hurried, choppy or even static. But get the speed of the film right (which can be difficult to do) and a good preservation and remastering can make all the difference in the world. I show clips of several films in one of my Humanities class and the one they beg to see more of the most is Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid.

22. What is your favorite Bette Davis film?
You must never speak of this again in the presence of other males, but I am a sucker for All This and Heaven Too.

23. Your favorite onscreen Hollywood couple?
So many I love, but I have been going out of my way to try and see every single film Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn did together. And that’s just because I’ve seen all of the William Powell and Myrna Loy films. Several times. So tie between those two couples.

24. This one is for the girls, but, of course, the guys are welcome to answer, too: who is your favorite Hollywood costume designer?

25. To even things out a bit, here's something the boys will enjoy: what is your favorite tough action film?
Man! How do I choose. Sort of unfair because it could encompass many different genres – but I will play ball and say: Rio Bravo.

26. You are currently gaining a greater appreciation for which actor(s)/actress(es)?
Actor: Richard Widmark Actress: Joan Crawford

27. Franchot Tone: yes or no? Sure, in small doses.
28. Which actors and/or actresses do you think are underrated?
Mae Clarke- her soulful, subtle performance in the original Waterloo Bridge won my heart and admiration forever. I think she was talented and not only underrated, but underutilized in her films and is unjustly forgotten today. Even though a leading lady in the 1930s, she only went on to small or bit parts in films in the 40s, 50s and 60s. She was in some important films in Hollywood History, and yet is treated almost like a footnote- like "the girl who got smashed with the grapefruit." She deserves better.

29. Which actors and/or actresses do you think are overrated?
James Dean, hands down. Really. Three films and - to me - a one note performance in each of them.

30. Favorite actor?
I really have a hard time with “favorites” because I love so many different performers and for different reasons. So I don’t have one favorite. But I will say I will watch almost anything with James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, and William Powell.

31. Favorite actress?
See above: Barbara Stanwyck, Norma Shearer, Myrna Loy…OK, just see this list.

32. Of those listed, who is the coolest: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, or Patrick Stewart?
Steve McQueen.

33. What is your favorite movie from each of these genres:

A Night at the Opera
Robin Hood (1938-natch)
Film noir:
The Big Sleep
Tie between Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Singing in the Rain
A Christmas Story
North By Northwest

As the pig says, "that's all folks." I tried to be as honest as possible, shooting from the hip in some cases. What do you think? Anything I missed or didn't consider? Got a point to argue with me? Go ahead and sound off in the comments thread.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I don't mind if you don't like my manners, I don't like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings. I don't mind your ritzing me drinking your lunch out of a bottle. But don't waste your time trying to cross-examine me.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

day of infamy

May those who gave all rest in peace, and may those who survived find peace and feel the arms of a grateful nation. Let us not forget, and let us honor our veterans on this day and all days.
"Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God."

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

Friday, December 03, 2010

repost: i heard the bells...

I've been very interested, in the last year or so, in the stories behind our Christmas music traditions. Who wrote our carols and why? What motivated them? Some songs seem to be motivated by just the holiday season itself, but with some songs, the motivations seem to be deeper, more personal. Last year, I wrote this post concerning the story behind Longfellow's poem Christmas Bells, that became our beloved hymn, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. I will try to continue this series this year as well, with the origins of other Christmas songs. In the meantime please enjoy this repost, the first in a planned series...

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of our nation’s most beloved poets, in addition to the many poems that have become engrained in our country’s conscience, also gave us the words to one of our most beloved Christmas carols. Longfellow’s poem, Christmas Bells was written in December of 1863, during not only one of the darkest periods of Longfellow’s life, but that of the nation as well; The Civil War. As with many literary works, the inspiration and circumstances which led to Longfellow taking up the pen began sometime before that dark, yet in the end, hopeful, December…

Longfellow married Frances Appleton on July 13th 1843, and they began to raise their family in Cambridge, Massachusetts. First came a son, Charles in 1844. Then over the years the Longfellows added four more children to their growing family: Ernest, Alice, Edith, and Allegra. In 1861, the Civil War had begun, and tragedy struck the Longfellow household. Frances was fatally burned in the library of their house in July of 1861. Henry was dumbstruck with grief. He has his children, but the joy was out of his life. When the holidays arrived, Longfellow wrote: “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” The following year when Christmas arrived, he wrote in his journal: “A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me.”

The war continued to cast a grim pallor upon families in the North and the South in 1863. Charles Appleton Longfellow was now 17 and eager to make his mark by joining the military. His father disapproved, but Charles ran away from home and petitioned Captain W.H. McCartney, commanding Battery A of the 1st Massachusetts Artillery to enlist. Captain McCartney, familiar with Charles and his family, wrote to get his permission. By this time, perhaps knowing Charles wouldn’t give in, Henry reluctantly agreed.

Charles turned out to be quite adept as a soldier, and a skilled leader. In fact, when Henry thought he might help his son by seeking the aid of some famous friends, including a US Senator, to secure a commission, he was pleased to learn Charles had earned his commission and advancement on his own merits. Now a Second Lieutenant, Charles saw action at Chancellorsville, Culpepper and many other skirmishes. In November, during the New Hope Church campaign in Virginia, Charles was shot in the left shoulder. The bullet nicked his spine and exited his right shoulder, barely missing paralyzing him. Charles was taken in with the other wounded into the church. After the battle, Charles was sent with other wounded back to Washington DC.

On December 1st, Henry received word about Charles and rushed to Washington DC, and then brought Charles back to Cambridge to recover. It has barely been two years since the loss of his wife, the loss of his first born son seemed to be too much to comptemplate. But his son had survived thus far, and was recuperating. In the midst of still grieving for his wife, Longfellow found hope anew in the survival and return of his son to his home. It was during that time in December of 1863, while nursing his son back to health, Longfellow penned the words to the poem, Christmas Bells:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!

Charles was unable to recover sufficiently to rejoin his unit, but did survive his wounds. He was discharged from the Union Army in 1864. Longfellow’s poem not only expresses his previous despair, but then it also bears witness of his newfound hope. The Bells that often rang out during the holidays had for two years did nothing but remind him of loss, and did nothing to lift his spirits. And, as he wrote in several stanzas, the War also paralleled his feelings of despair- that the Bells did nothing but mock those who had lost – that there was no chance for that old hominy of Peace on Earth Good Will to Men. And yet, Longfellow was able to find hope, through the survival of his son, and realized that God did not sleep- despite the war, the destruction and the loss. God was not dead, and that the Bells seemed to ring louder in the war- to bring more hope to mankind- that one day “The Wrong shall fail/ The Right prevail/ With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Eventually Longfellow’s poem was set to music, initially in 1872 by John Baptiste Calkin, which provided the traditionally known hymn. It has been rearranged several more times, but the best known of these is the famous arrangement by Johnny Marks, who also wrote Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Marks’ arrangement seems to be the more popular modern version as it has been recorded by many artists from Bing Crosby Kate Smith and Frank Sinatra to Sarah McLachlan and Johnny Cash. It’s popularity as a Christmas Carol is only matched by its profound attachment to our National heritage and culture.

The stanzas specifically referring to the War were removed for the music arrangements and some of the lines were rearranged, but the message of newfound hope and faith in God, and a desire for goodwill towards all men, even in the midst of our darkest days, still comes through. Longfellow’s story of tragedy and loss, and newfound hope is one that should resonate with anyone who has experienced loss, or has been lost, and question the purpose of their lives or how anyone could wish another Merry Christmas. Stop for a moment and look for the hope and listen for the faint peels of the Bells as they try hard to ring out their message to all. If we stop looking, we will never find it. But if we recognize it when it brought to us, like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, we can also realize that God is not dead, nor doth he sleep, and that hope is there and His arm is outstretched to us. And more than anything else, perhaps we need to realize that peace on earth, goodwill towards men starts with us. Goodwill doesn’t stop and start with Government, leaders, Actors, Celebrities or anyone else. It’s everyone’s own responsibility. We need to find that peace within us first, and then impart that peace, in the form of goodwill, towards all others. It is my fondest wish that we will all remember Longfellow’s story and his words from the carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. For the true message of the carol is to share with others- I also was once without hope, but I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day- and I heard the message of hope and peace – for all. And it filled my heart.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep/
God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

happy hanukkah 2010

To all of our friends and their families who celebrate, we at the Shelf would like to wish you a very peaceful and happy Hanukkah. Some interesting video and history about Hanukkah can be found at

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

musical family trees

The following is a repost of a Shelf classic from the week after Thanksgiving in 2005. A recent discussion in my Humanities class discussing Media in American Culture, spurred me to give students a project based on this post- to create a Music Family Tree, taking a current artist and tracing their musical influences into the past and tracking the roots of those various influences and genres. It was a very successful experiment and they seemed to enjoy it- as far as I can tell that is, they are all bucking for great grades at this point - buttering up the crusty old instructor seems to be a popular M.O. around the holidays.
Either way, enjoy this Shelf classic before we dive headlong in Christmas!

I love music. Different kinds of music. With me - it's not so easy to describe who or what I like. It's more - I know what I like when I hear it. So to speak. OK - I am a big band, jazz, blues, croonin' junkie -but at the same time I love Sting, INXS, Queen, Barenaked ladies, Aaron Copeland, Beethoven, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Rosemary Clooney- do you see what I am getting at? Eclectic doesn't begin to describe my collection. I like me some Brazilian Bossa Nova, and am just as likely to put Celtic harmonies, the Boston Pops, or the Beatles on my playlist. Again I know what I like. I love discovering new music- even though it just may be new to me. A couple of years ago I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou, and - like many other Americans - bought the soundtrack. That led to discovering and loving the music of Allison Krauss and Union Station (one of the most beautiful voices in music today) - even though I don't consider myself a Bluegrass gourmet. Soon after I wandered into the realm of Ralph Stanley, and for a reason I don't remember, Johnny Cash. That led me to rediscover Lynard Skynard. Maybe unrelated links, but a thread nonetheless.

I enjoy something which has been dubbed- "The Great American Songbook." Thanks to Rod Stewart, a Scot, many have started to discover or rediscover great "American" songs - stuff sung by Sinatra, Martin, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Nat King Cole, and others. You probably know most of the songs, or at least heard of them. They are American classics like "As Time Goes By", "Over the Rainbow", "That Old Black Magic", and one of my personal favorites, "Stardust." The thing about these songs is that they evoke some of the common culture, influences, and spirit of our country. And that's nothing to be ashamed of. Why did it take a Scot to make us remember that this stuff is great? Don't know - but thanks anyway. I've been enjoying this music for many years- but it's great to see so many others discovering it now.

Now if someone where to ask- "Do you love Bluegrass? or Do you love Country?" I would probably answer "Not really." However, were they to ask about certain artists or play certain songs within those genres - I might answer differently. I don't know why. I know what I like - and I don't always identify or like an entire genre of music. I don't really know anyone who could honestly claim they like every performance, every performer within a genre of music. We are too human, too rooted in our own life journey for that. But that doesn't mean we can't discover music, artists, or performances. I think the very act of discovery - the discovery of knowledge, music, art, film, words, and ideas - keeps us young and alive, no matter what our age. When we stop discovering, we stop living.

Music, to me, is a journey. I particularly think that our culture, our history, and our identity as a nation of peoples is so beautifully expressed in music, as much as in words or pictures. So its a wonderful thing to make discoveries and to return to old favorites. I have always enjoyed taking an artist I like and then making a journey of discovery through them. For example, I enjoy the work of Harry Connick, Jr. So - who influenced him- who does he influence? Who has a similar sound and what do they do differently with it. Potentially one could start with Harry- and then discover one of his influences- Thelonious Monk. It's then possible to go from Monk to John Coltrane, or one of his influences, Duke Ellington. Duke could lead you to Fats Waller and then, you could study Jazz during the Harlem Renaissance and then the roots of Jazz and Blues in the Mississippi Delta and the South. It is then possible to go from there to traditional Southern Mountain music and even the African influences of music in the Gullah areas of the Charleston coast. Could you then go from the mountain music and it's parentage in Scotland and Ireland and then pull back into traditional Gaelic music in the present? Sure. Or even go to Africa and discover the drums of West Africa.
See - a journey. One that all started with a Harry Connick Jr. CD that you popped in and listened to one afternoon. Music has such potential. We can take a wonderful journey, if we just act on our curiosity and impulse to learn. We are truly only limited by our curiosity and imagination.

Take a little trip before we are truly inundated with Holiday music. Not that I don't love Holiday music- in fact, I do love it. But the wait will make it all the more enjoyable- trust me. In fact, once we roll into December you can also add Holiday music to Pandora and see what it comes up with. Enjoy.

OK- back to present- Try out this project for yourself. You can use Pandora to find artists with similar styles to artists with whom you are already familiar. Then research the artist on the internet and discover who their influences were, and the genres of music that influenced them most. Trace the musical styles back and back and you can see that even artists as different as Michael Buble, Cree-Lo, Sade or The Beatles have some similar roots up the line somewhere- sometimes closer than you think.

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.

I don't care what you call me, man, just as long as my name is on the record.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

thanksgiving 1789

"WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our sasety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine."

(signed) G. Washington

This is a nation founded through divine inspiration. Let us all take time today to give thanks and remember from whence we came that we may control what we become.

Feel free to comment if the need strikes you.

The time is near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves.
George Washington

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

thanksgiving childhood memories...

Our final entry for our Thanksgiving playlist should come as no surprise- The Thanksgiving animated specials. These days they only really play A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, but back in the day specials like A Garfield Thanksgiving, Bugs Bunny's Thanks-for-giving Special, The Mouse and the Mayflower and others received regular rotations. Every once in a while an oddball special like B.C.'s The First Thanksgiving or The Thanksgiving that Almost Wasn't would air on the weekend before Thanksgiving day itself. Occasionally you can catch an airing of one or two of these specials on Cartoon Network, and the Garfield special has hit DVD, but most of them seem to relegated to old VHS copies and the memories of childhood days gone by. Sad, isn't it?
Some clips exist here and there-and they serve to remind one that they weren't always great, but nonetheless they contributed to the spirit of the season and are a part of our holiday childhood memories. Here are a couple of clips, and then a full special itself for our Thanksgiving rotation- a trip back to years gone by...

First up: The Mouse and the Mayflower- it's sad that this special isn't on DVD considering the huge library of Rankin/Bass specials that exist out there on DVD. Tennessee Ernie Ford sings and narrates this tale about a mouse named Willum who is there to witness the Pilgrim's voyage across the sea and first year in a new world.

Here's an odd that's only available on Youtube: B.C.'s The First Thanksgiving. The characters from the long running comic strip B.C. pursue a turkey to try add some actual flavor to their regular Rock Soup, resulting in the "First" Thanksgiving. It's a little strange and has a slow pace, but different and has some funny moments. You can watch it on YouTube in three parts, and for the sake of space we won't embed it, but rather link to it here. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Sometimes Disney and of course, Looney Tunes, compiled clips of their holiday-themed shorts and threw them together for a Primetime special. The Bugs Bunny Thanks-for-Giving special is a perfect example of this, but many times only edited portions of the shorts were shown. I like actually finding many of the Looney Tunes, Disney, and MGM studios shorts and watch them in the entirety instead of watching the special. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Jerky Turkey:

Holiday for Drumsticks:

Finally, Pilgrim Popeye

And of course, my personal favorite, which you probably have on DVD and/or have seen on TV already - A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Hulu has the entire special posted, and case you haven't seen it- check it out there.

That's all for today's installment, folks- on behalf of everyone here at The Shelf we wish to you and your family a very safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I haven't even finished eating all of my Halloween candy!

Monday, November 22, 2010

when a meme goes rogue...

For the past few years, we've done a fun "meme" for the holidays- just something to do to have fun with our blogging friends. Some people don't like them and others live for them. With me, I'm sort of in between: I enjoy doing certain ones, but I can also get irritated by others. Recently, I actually happened upon an interesting meme that has made the rounds on the web and is currently making the rounds on Facebook. A friend tagged me on a note about a list of books created by the BBC, wherein the BBC also claimed that out of those hundred books, the average person has only read six.
Looking over the list I counted that I had read somewhere in the vicinity of 40 of them, but the titles on the list began to bother me. For the sake of brevity, I won't include the entire list here, but here is a link to the list so you can examine it for yourself. Here is the top ten:
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

Now over the entire list Austen appears many times, as do other Victorian novelists. While Austen's works are listed separately on the list, other authors find themselves condensed to a single "Works" listing. Admittedly, I am not a Jane Austen fan, but I am also not the intended audience perhaps. Still, the list is very odd. No Hemingway, Poe, or Twain - no Greek classics, very few early novelist, etc. And also included are some very recent novels, that while popular today, may not really endure to achieve "classic" status. How can this list be a true "classic works" list. It seems more arbitrary, than something deliberated and thought out.

Being the natural skeptic I am (it's inherited), I began to poke around. Come to find out- not only is the list truly arbitrary- the BBC connection is at best, confused, and at worst, intentionally bogus. Here is the back story: In 2003, the BBC did a poll of Britons asking them to nominate their favorite novel to determine what the nation’s best loved novel was. The poll was called The Big Read. The result was a list- but not this one. The list from the original poll is somewhat different, but similar enough. It included many books that appear on our meme/Facebook list, some different ones and in different order. What gives? A little more digging reveals that in 2007 the UK paper, The Guardian did a new poll in honor of World Book Day. The resulting list was entitled Books You Can't Live without. Now take a gander at that list-does that look familiar? It should- it's our same list.
This list has actually made the rounds on Facebook last year and around the net as well. This is where the trail goes a little cold, but it seems that someone had taken this list and turned into a "meme" two years ago, confusing the BBC as the source or deciding to attribute the BBC for credibility's sake. Again, at best a connection made in confusion or inflated as it was passed around; and at worst, a bogus attribution to conflate the credibility of the list. Further inquiry has resulted in zero news stories or online articles that actually mention the BBC ever claiming that most people have only read 6 of the books on any type of list; much less their own.

Is this just a fanciful addition by an Internet blogger or Facebook conspirator to have fun? Perhaps. But what it does accomplish is what any good meme or "greatest whatever" list does- turn up the conversation. It's as simple as 1-2-3.
1. Interest/Connection: "A list about books- I like books. I wonder which ones are on the list that I've read?"
2. Resentment/Controversy: "What? Lemme see that list. The BBC said what? That's malarkey!"
3. Competition:"I bet I have read more than six of these! I'll pass that around. We'll show them." Thereby resulting in a sure-fire meme for people to pass around and argue about books. Yes, it is kind of false advertising- and the BBC is unfairly maligned. Do I have to really tell you that you should always take what you read on the Internet with a grain of salt? I didn't think so- but still we shouldn't be so blind as to buy into the BBC claim without doing at least a little fact checking. However it has people talking about books and perhaps inspired others to read more. And in and of itself, that is not a bad thing.

Let's take the opportunity to scratch beneath the surface of this list and look a little further into what lists like this, that result from polling, can reveal about ourselves and our culture. The characteristic about this list that initially started my digging around was the lack of many literary classics on the list, and an over-representation of recent books. Even that the list singles out so much Jane Austen was interesting. During the last decade or so, many of these books were made into movies or television adaptations. Does that mean people are associating having seen the movie with having read the book? ("Well, I saw the movie, so I know what it's about.") Or are more people reading the books after being introduced to them by the movie version? Certainly there is a popularity association between books and movie adaptations- sales of both feed one another. A cursory glance at the list and I can see several book series that have been hugely popular movie series in the last decade: The Harry Potter Series, the Lord of the Rings series and the Chronicles of Narnia just to name a few.

Then again- recent studies also show that perhaps we tend to *ahem* shall we say, exaggerate how much and what we read. It's something that plays into perceived status and social standings, and in western democracies, aside from money, the thing people use to signify social status is education. In 2009, The Guardian conducted another poll for World Book day, this time asked people to fess up about their reading habits. The results were interesting: roughly 65% of people asked admitted to lying about the classic books they have read. The book most have lied about reading: George Orwell's 1984. I wonder if people were thinking of that time in school when their teacher asked if they had read for the test...? While some of the results are interesting and some worrisome, Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust is quoted in the article as finding the overall results as reassuring: "It shows that reading has a huge cultural value in terms of the way we present ourselves as intelligent and engaged people."

The question we have to ask, however, is this really demonstrating that reading has a true cultural value or does the appearance of being well -read have the true value? Over the past several decades many short-hand books, such as Cultural Literacy, have shown that perhaps our modern culture is short changing the cultural pillars of our past. Past generations have often demonstrated at least a reverence and in some cases, a intimacy, with history, literature, art, etc- the cultural artifacts and cornerstones of civilization. While a large portion of society was more concerned with tilling the earth and earning their daily bread, a respect for education and at least a familiarity with books and history, was embedded within. My great grandmother, for example, was raised on a North Carolina Tobacco farm, and raised her children on her own farm as well. But that did not stop her from becoming a voracious reader and intimately familiar with history and developing a lifelong passion for learning. She was not alone either: in 1910, when my grandmother was a child, the average illiteracy rate among children was about 2.2%. Total average, including adults was roughly 7%. However, consider several circumstances that may give some interesting context for that number: formal school enrollment was fairly low (lower among poor whites, immigrant families newly come to the country and blacks). Also the average drop out rate past elementary school years increases with each successive year. It was not uncommon for people, especially in rural areas, to not go beyond their 5th or 6th year of formal education. Yet the average illiteracy rate among school-age children was still just 2.2%.
Flash forward to the present. The adult illiteracy rate in the US in 2009 was estimated to be 1%-meaning 99% of the adult population is functionally literate. Sounds good right? However, that only makes us tied for 21st place among the nations of the world. Many of those in 21 place with us are first world and developing nations. But these incorporate only the very basic reading and writing levels. When degrees of literacy are incorporated, the results are even worse. Consider this information from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) and the US Department of Education: "One measure of literacy is the percentage of adults who perform at four achievement levels: Below Basic, Basic, Intermediate, and Proficient. In each type of literacy, 13 percent of adults were at or above Proficient (indicating they possess the skills necessary to perform complex and challenging literacy activities) in 2003. Twenty-two percent of adults were Below Basic (indicating they possess no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills) in quantitative literacy, compared with 14 percent in prose literacy and 12 percent in document literacy."

Considering that average enrollments are much, much higher and drop out rates are much lower compared to 100 years ago, and that the literacy gap between whites and minorities have narrowed dramatically, why is illiteracy such an increasingly large problem. Why are current generations of students increasingly culturally illiterate? Is there a connect also to recent studies that demonstrate a dramatic decline in historical, economic and civic literacy as well? 100 years ago, my grandmother's father was a farmer, but he, like many others, had an intimate familiarity with US history, was at worst functionally literate, a working knowledge with matters of economics and civics. These things, especially as evidence as shown, were weighed heavily in our society and considered important for each and every citizen to know. A similar feeling of responsibility to know and learn these things can be seen among new citizens and immigrants seeking full citizenship, but not so much among our current generation of students.

Even in my own personal experiences with my students, I note a disinterest and devaluing of cultural literacy and even just reading in general. In one of my humanities classes that I teach when we discuss traditional forms of media like books, I see a very clear gap when it comes to readers and those who use the library for anything other than the Internet. One of my colleagues from the Sociology dept might be able to interpret what I see more precisely, but one thing that stands out is that a majority of average people in their early 20s and younger are become less and less of traditional readers. We know newspaper readership is virtually nil among this age group- but so are "book habits." On average they are less familiar with current books than previous generations and even less so with literature and works, other than what they might have had to encounter in school. When I informally poll my students (these are college age students, but the age range is fairly diverse as they are in an atypical college situation leaning towards adult learning) a majority of them have never read and in most case completely unfamiliar with: mythology, American 19th century literature, early 20th century British or American books, British Victorian lit- and quite frankly had never even heard of any classical literature or plays.

Some familiarity is expressed for books they remember assigned to them in school: To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, and something along the lines of The Red Badge of Courage- but most cannot recall the plot or main themes of the books. At best, they remember the title, and this is despite the fact that I know there are good teachers out there who are trying to introduce these works to their students. In some ways students are doing what they can to get by- using the Internet, etc for help with papers, but I think our culture is also somewhat to blame as it has increasingly devalued anything from our past, western civilization in general, and devalued anything that takes a good deal of time to digest and process. If it can't be encapsulated into a sound bite or hyped on the latest entertainment news site- they don't really care.

For me the unintended consequence of it all is that while Technology has made so much of the past, of literature, of information more and more accessible to so many more people- many more members of the "technology generation" are becoming less and less consumers of said information. Studies have shown that third world countries that are now beginning to have greater access to technology and overall have improved more technologically, young students in these countries are not only becoming more exposed to information from around the world, they are also becoming better readers, retaining more knowledge and becoming more interested in learning. In our society, where technology is so abundant - we actually see a decline among younger demographics in terms of active reading and cultural literacy.

What does this all mean- I'm not completely sure, other than to note parents and teachers have an uphill battle- but I think one that needs to be fought? I look back at when I was a teenager and had someone told me that one day I could affordably own a small, thin and portable device that could store a vast library of books that I could read anywhere, anytime - or that I could own a device that would store many movies and play them back- I would've been incredulous that that could happen in my lifetime. And yet - here we are; and I am still amazed sometimes that I can own a library of my favorite classic movies to watch when I want or store tons of books on an eReader.

Where does that leave us? Well, remember that this rambling examination all began with looking at a little Internet meme that went rogue. It's fun to discuss what books we may or may have not read, but we also need to find ways as a society to place more value on reading, on great books, on classics, on history and civics. We need to reverse the decline of cultural, historical, economic, and civic literacy. If we don't, all the Internet sites, Tech gadgets and webisodes in the world won't stop the freefall that is occurring in Western civilization. Familiarity with these things not only promotes a cohesiveness to the citizens in our nation, it also serves to instruct, teach or remind us that our Nation is unique and that our freedoms are not only precious, but the "Grand Experiment" our Founders set us upon hundreds of years ago, is worth continuing and defending. So next time you happen to have conversation with someone about an old movie or classic book, and they dismissively tell you "Who cares about that old stuff?" Tell them you do- and that they should. And tell 'em why.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read.


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