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It's a long story -- hardly worth going into here -- but after this place was declared a Brownfield Site, we abandoned it for the NEW! IMPROVED!! Not Now Silly Newsroom.

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Happy Birthday Maurice "Rocket" Richard ► The Hockey Sweater

Happy Birthday, Maurice "Rocket" Richard, still considered one of the best hockey players that ever played the game.

This Canadian National Film Board cartoon is fondly remembered by Canadians of all ages.

A Musical Appreciation ► Louis Armstrong

Dateline August 4, 1901 - A Black boy is born into a world of extreme poverty and Jim Crow laws in New Orleans, Louisiana. By the time Louis Armstrong died in 1971, in Queens, New York, he was one of the most recognizable musicians on the planet. Along the way he entertained millions and became one of the greatest performers in all of Jazz. However, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

While I've been a fan of Louis Armstrong for many years, I became a huge fan all over again by what Jazz historian Gary Giddins said in Ken Burns' (amazing multi-part) Jazz documentary. Giddins was asked whether Armstrong was a genius. Giddins replied (paraphrasing), "We tend to throw the word 'genius' around. However, if by 'genius' you mean that after him nothing was ever the same again, then by that measure Louis Armstrong was a genius."
"You can't play anything on a horn that Louis hasn't played"
~~~~~Miles Davis

It was Louis Armstrong's praise of Bing Crosby talents that made me reassess everything I ever thought about Der Bingle. Here they are together in one of my favourite Louis Armstrong clips, a terrific Cole Porter tune from the movie High Society:

"What was the greatest band of the 20th century? Forget the Beatles - it was Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and its subsequent incarnation, the Hot Seven... these bands altered the course of popular music."
~~~~~Playboy magazine
 There are two things that have always impressed me about Louis Armstrong and neither have to do with his music.

Armstrong being fitted by Toronto's world famous hatter Sam Taft
1). In the mid-'40s, when he was just starting to make some really good money, he bought a house on 107th Street in Corona, Queens, NYC. He lived there the rest of his life, long after he could have afforded to move to better and more expensive digs. When he wasn't touring he was known for sitting on his porch and greeting the neighbourhood kids, who all called him Pops, and giving them apples and unconditional love. That house was made a National Historical Landmark in 1977 and is now the Louis Armstrong House and Museum.

2). During his lifetime Armstrong was criticized for being an Uncle Tom for playing to segregated audiences, accepting the title "King of the Zulus" in the 1949 Mardi Gras parade, and not doing more for 'his people.' Billie Holliday was even quoted as saying, "Of course Pops toms, but he toms from the heart." Aside from the fact that being named King of the Zulus was a singular New Orleans honour misunderstood elsehwre in the country, when Louis Armstrong made his views on race relations known, the entire world listened.

In 1957, during the desegregation controversy in Little Rock, Arkansas, Arstrong sppoke out loud and clear. He called President Eisenhower "gutless" and "two-faced" for sitting on his hands and doing nothing. And, to put his money where his mouth was, Armstrong cancelled a tour of the Soviet Union he was about to do on behalf of the State Department. Uncle Tom would never have said, "The way they're treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell."

"Louis Armstrong is the master of the jazz solo. He became the beacon, the light in the tower, that helped the rest of us navigate the tricky waters of jazz improvisation."
~~~~~Ellis Marsalis

Louis  Armstrong also helped change Jazz singing. He wasn't the first to Scat, but he helped popularize the genre with his joyful Scat singing, which was as revolutionary as is trumpet playing.

As for honous: 
  • When his version of "Hello Dolly" knocked The Beatles off the top of the charts in 1964, he became the oldest person to have a #1 hit on the Billboard charts; 
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed his 1928 version of "West End Blues" as one of 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll;
  • On what would have been his 100th birthday New Orleans renamed its airport Louis Armstrong International Airport
  • Also on his centenery the United States Postal Service put Armstrong on a First Class stamp;
  • He was given a postumous Lifetime Grammy Award in 1972;
  • Eleven of his songs have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame;
  • President Richard Nixon released a statement upon Armstrong's death calling him Mr. Jazz. 
"I'm proud to acknowledge my debt to the 'Reverend Satchelmouth' ... He is the beginning and the end of music in America"
~~~~~Bing Crosby

However, it's always been about the music. Louis Armstrong recorded hundreds, maybe thousands, of sides in his lifetime. Here is just a small sample of what made Louis Armstrong one of the greatest musicians ever.

"If you don't like Louis Armstrong, you don't know how to love"
~~~~~Mahalia Jackson



Friday, August 3, 2012

Is Toussaint L'Overture Packing Heat? Again?

Anyone who has studied the history of Haiti will know the name Fran├žois-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture, sometimes known as the Black Napoleon. L'ouverture led the only successful slave revolt in the western world, back in 1791. Rather than go into the long and complex history of Haiti here, I suggest you visit the Toussaint Louverture Historical Society, and these other links, for a much fuller explanation of his life and the times he lived in than I can give here.

The City of Miami has seen fit to honour L'Ouverture with a stature in a rough little parkette at the corner of NW 62nd Street and N. Miami Avenue. The park is not very big, occupying an irregular wedge of land that would have been difficult to develop. However, the stature of Toussaint L'Ouverture is impressive. His pose is similar to the painting at left, showing L'Ouverture dressed in western refinery after the revolt. It wouldn't surprise me at all to find out that sculptor James Mastin used the painting as a source for his larger-than-life sculpture. There are only so many images of L'Ouverture.

However, if one views the statue from one particular angle it looks as if L'Ouverture is holding a handgun, ready to go into battle all over again:

Optical illusion of Toussaint L'Ouverture packing heat.

While presumably accidental, it seems entirely appropriate that L'Ouverture appears to be holding a weapon. When news of the revolution in Haiti reached the shores of 'Merka it had slave owners quaking in their boots. The news was kept from slaves, lest they get the idea that they could throw off the yoke of slavery and free themselves.

And, while L'Ouverture may have won the war, Haiti lost the battle. Eventually, the island was split in two, with Haiti occupying the western half and the Dominican Republic the eastern half. Forced reparations, international isolation, and years of 'Merkin occupation explain why the western half of Hispaniola has languished to this very day.



Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Watergate ► The Beginning of the End

It hardly seems like 40 years. However, four decades ago today the Washington Post published the first article by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on what was to become known as Watergate. The White House tried to dismiss the break in at the Watergate Hotel as a "third rate burglary." However, this would roil the country for more than 2 years, until President Nixon could no longer run from the cover-up in which he participated. He resigned the presidency on August 9, 1974.

No evidence has ever surfaced that Nixon knew of the break in beforehand. However, his loyalty to his staff, and blindness to what was the right thing to do, enmeshed him in the greatest political scandal 'Merka has ever known. Once it was learned he participated in the cover up it was just a matter of time before he resigned, which he did as Articles of Impeachment had already been passed by the House of Representatives.

By 1972 I was already a long-time Nixonophile. Nixon had become Vice President to President Eisenhower in 1952, the year of my birth. From that moment on he was a presence in my life, whether I was aware of him or not. It seemed stunning to me that he won the '68 election, especially after his defiant "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" speech after he lost the race to become Governor of California in 1962.

Just some of my books about and by Richard Nixon
My fascination never really ended. I collected books and read as much as I could about Watergate and Richard Nixon in order to better understand what made him tick. That turned out to be an impossible task. Nixon is a knot of contradictions which no author has completely unraveled.

James Rosen of Fox "News"
Nor have all the secrets of Watergate been unraveled. It's that grey area that allows revisionist authors like Fox "News" reporter James Rosen to muddy the waters on who was responsible for Watergate and who bears no responsibility for Watergate. In his book "The Strong Man" about John Mitchell, Nixon's chief law man, and the head of Nixon's re-election campaign (with the ironic acronym CREeP), Rosen pins Watergate on everybody BUT John  Mitchell, who was such a misunderstood individual. I've written about my fight with Rosen, and it wouldn't hurt you to take a look.

However, it was "Woodstein," as they were sometimes known, the two dogged reporters who kept at the scandal until the whole house of cards came falling down. There's been a lot of Watergate navel-gazing this year. However, if you only read one recent article take a look at Woodward and Bernstein: 40 years after Watergate, Nixon was far worse than we thought.

Woodward and Bernstein donated their Watergate papers to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. If you're as obsessed as I, or just a casual reader, this is a fascinating look at a unique moment in 'Merkin history.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Unpacking Coconut Grove ► Part Three ► Who Controls What On Charles Avenue

East side of the E.W.F. Stirrup House, still undergoing Demolition by
Neglect with the Garden Grove Condominiums in the background.
Some good news came in over the transom this past week. Miami's Historical and Environmental Preservation Board [HEP cats?] voted unanimously to make Charles Avenue an Historic Designation Roadway, whatever the heck that means. This seems to have no practical effect: no money will be spent and no signs will be placed. However, signs need not be placed because there are several informational signs along Charles Avenue. In an upcoming chapter of Uncovering Coconut Grove I will talk about all the Charles Avenue signage.

Meanwhile, how will this Historic Designation Roadway thangie affect my campaign to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House? It's hard to tell. The designation did not appear to mention the Stirrup House, nor did it delve into the survival of the Coconut Grove Playhouse, or the Mariah Brown house, said to be the first home owned by a Black person in south Florida. These three structures are empty and have been empty for years now.

Yet, as my initial research began informing me, the E.W.F. Stirrup House dates back to a unique time and place in 'Merka. In later chapters of this series I will explore what makes Charles Avenue, and the Black enclave that grew up around it, totally unique to all other Black neighbourhoods in 'Merka.

The historical marker that started it all.
The vacant lot is behind this sign.
I first started my campaign to save the Stirrup House several years ago when I just happened to run across the historical marker on Charles Avenue. The marker had seen better days, but there was just enough on the sign to pique my interest. However, it was when I looked across the street did I see the gem of the neighbourhood, the historical Stirrup House, built in 1898. Buildings of any age are a rarity in south Florida, a state that appears to have no sense of history, no sense of of place, and no indigenous architectural style. Florida buildings present a pastiche of other architectural elements, but nothing Floridian.

On that first visit to Charles Avenue I noticed an empty lot immediately across the street from the Stirrup House. Later that day, while using Google Street View, I was surprised to see a house on what had been a vacant lot when I was there. That became the first mystery to solve: Where did that house go, and why?

That mystery was solved pretty quickly. While there had been a house on that lot as late as 2007, it was knocked down to create a marshaling yard for equipment and materials needed to build the Grove Gardens Condominium complex.

I started keeping a paper map on which I added what I had learned interviewing neighbours up and down Charles Avenue. There were many crossoffs on that map. Some of the early information turned out to be bogus, but some of the rumours have actually led to hard information, or additional areas of solid inquiry. Eventually I had to throw out that paper map and have created a new, 21st century, electronic version of the Charles Avenue map as I delve into who controls what on the east end of Charles Avenue.

Like any good reporter, I will continue to follow the money. Right now all the threads I am pulling seems to lead to the same place: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, of all places.

Meanwhile, here's my current map of the area on which I have added information on who controls what on Charles Avenue. Click around on the map. Each shaded area and marker has a small explination of what I have been able to confirm so far, along with some of the rumours.

This map will change as I learn new information.