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H2O Man

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Member since: Mon Dec 29, 2003, 07:49 PM
Number of posts: 50,406

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Ali & Carter

"I ain't got nothing against them Viet Cong. They never called me 'nigger'."
-- Muhammad Ali

{0} Introductions
Perhaps my favorite part of the Democratic Underground is the friends I've met here. In some cases, that involves communicating by way of e-mail; recently, a good friend snail-mailed me copies of some outstanding music he has made, that I am busy distributing to both young and old artists friends, all cultural-political activists; others, I've spoken with on the telephone; and a few I've had the pleasure of meeting in person.

Earlier this week, one of my best friends here asked me to write an essay on the significance of two long-retired boxers. Both Muhammad Ali and Rubin Carter were more than gifted athletes: they challenged the conscience of the American public. Each has had, since the 1960s, both supporters and detractors. Among their "detractors" in the '60s were people in government offices, as well as in law enforcement. Both have enjoyed some support from some in government/ law enforcement, too.

By no coincidence, their lives were intertwined, from the time that Cassius Clay was a young heavyweight contender, and Carter was gaining national exposure on the infamous "Friday Night Fights." In the 1970s, Ali would serve as the #1 supporter of Carter's effort to get a retrial. A few years back, on an ESPN's Friday Night Fights card in Detroit, Rubin tended to Muhammad's needs, as the pair sat ringside.

Friend "panader0" -- being aware of my interest in both men -- suggested an essay on the pair might be of interest, both to "old-timers" who grew up in the 1960s and '70s, and to younger folks, who understand that these men contributed some things that should be as valued today as way back when.

{1} "I am the Greatest!" -- Cassius Clay

A dog-gone lot of hard work is required to become an overnight success, and so it was for a brash contender named Cassius Clay, who was consider too young and fragile to challenge heavyweight champion Charles "Sonny" Liston. Clay, who began boxing amateur at the age of 12, had won the national Golden Gloves title before competing in the 1960 Olympics. There, after the 18-year old won the gold, a reporter from the Soviet Union asked Clay about racial discrimination in the US? "At least we don't have people living in mud huts, wrestling alligators," Clay responded.

As Clay began his early professional career, President John F. Kennedy invited the heavyweight champion, Floyd Patterson, to the White House. JFK told Patterson that, if he opted to defend the title against #1 contender Sonny Liston, it was essential that he win. For Liston, an ex-convict with mafia ties, frightened Americans, both black and white. For younger readers, picture a "thug" who would make Mike Tyson seem like a Boy Scout with an Eagle Badge.

Liston would destroy Patterson twice in one-round knockouts. Despite his sincere attempts to be a good man outside of the ring, the media despised Sonny. They refused to report on his numerous activities to provide support of terminally ill children. Liston was literally trapped in the image the media created for him.

Meanwhile, Clay was defeating the second-tier heavyweight contenders. In fact, the bash young man was predicting what round he would knock them out in -- and he was consistent in doing so. Another important point was that his trainer, Angelo Dundee, would have Clay spar with the light heavyweight champion, and with a former heavyweight champion; Clay easily handled both men.

In his two bouts before signing to challenge Liston, Clay struggled against Doug Jones, then got off the canvas to stop Henry Cooper. Virtually all the "experts" were convinced Liston would flatten Clay in a round or two. No one was more confident of that than Liston himself, who trained for a two-round bout.

Clay released a record album titled, "I Am The Greatest," in which he recited round after round of his poetry, worshipping himself and insulting Sonny Liston. At the time when Cassius was entering his training camp, JFK was murdered in Dallas. A couple months later, the English rock group, The Beatles, invaded America. The Beatles would spend an afternoon at Clay's training camp; they did not, of course, visit the Liston camp.

The press began reporting that another figure was in Clay's camp: Malcolm X. Soon after JFK was killed, Malcolm had been "suspended" from the Nation of Islam. He had become something of a big brother/ mentor to Cassius by that time, and Clay had invited his family to stay in Miami with him. A fight between a mobster champion and a "Black Muslim" would be a promotional nightmare, and so -- under pressure -- Malcolm made himself invisible until the night of the fight. More, Cassius opted to not answer reporters' questions about Malcolm, much less tell them he had actually joined the NOI, and changed his named to Cassius X.

Dundee understood that, despite the media's perception, Cassius had grown in the past year, and when he entered the ring, was actually bigger than Liston. More, from his past experiences managing other top fighters, Angelo knew that a boxer can grow during a bout. Thus, the Cassius who entered the ring to challenge Liston, and who was anxious, even fearful in the first round, was not the the same fighter who left the ring after six rounds, as the new Heavyweight Champion of the World.

After each of his previous ring victories, Clay had celebrated with a dish of ice cream. That is part of the self-discipline that had made him champion. However, after the Liston fight, legend has it that the Champ let loose, and had two dishes of ice cream. He would never smoke, consume alcohol, or any other drugs. Indeed, at this point in his life, he was still very shy around women.

The following day, at a press conference, the Champ announced he had joined the NOI, and changed his name to Cassius X. There was reason to believe he might stick with Malcolm, rather than the NOI, in the anticipated split. NOI leader Elijah Mohammad then bestowed the name "Muhammad Ali" on Cassius, and the fighter would turn his back on Malcolm.

Ali's life would shift into a much higher gear, reflecting the growing tensions in American society. After his re-match with Liston was postponed, due to Ali's suffering from a hernia, Malcolm was gunned down in Harlem. Malcolm's followers set fires in a couple NOI properties, including Ali's home, in retaliation. An FBI plant in the #3 position in the NOI took steps to encourage the violence between the two groups of black Americans, distracting them from their intended purposes.

The WBA -- one of two boxing commissions at the time -- "stripped" Ali of the title for joining the NOI. Uncle Sam suddenly changed his draft status. Ali was forced to go to Canada and Europe for a series of title defenses. Sports writers were more influential back then, and so when Jimmy Cannon wrote that Ali's NOI ties were "the dirtiest thing in American sports since the Nazis were shilling for Max Schmeling as representative of their vile theories of blood," he increased the threat of violence all too common at the time.

"I don't have to be who you want me to be," Ali told reporters. When drafted, Ali refused induction into the military. This was huge -- far more significant at the time than it sounds now. Not only was the civil rights movement reaching a point where many, including the criminally insane FBI director, believed that it could lead to a violent civil war, but the anti-war movement was gaining strength. Uncle Sam needed a steady stream of young black men (and poor white ones) to sacrifice in the jungles of Vietnam.

Having an undefeated, outspoken heavyweight champion model refusal to be drafted was serious business. Hoover, who had direct contract with Army Intelligence through shared staff, had authored his infamous memo, calling for the destruction of the militant black leadership -- in which he included Martin Luther King, Jr. There were no "great white hopes" -- nor any black contenders -- with a prayer of beating Ali in the ring. Thus, the draft was an attempt to put him in check.

Hoover et al knew the NOI was compromised by greed and crime. Malcolm had reported on Elijah's business meetings with the Ku Klux Klan, and other racist groups. The government was aware of other high-ranking NOI officials' ties to the very vices that their aging leader had fought to eliminate in the black community. Officials knew that Elijah was willing to make an acception to God's Laws, and allow Ali to take a cushy position in the military. However, phone taps had recorded Ali speaking with Dr. King, who was beginning to publicly identify the war in Vietnam as racist.

After refusing induction, Ali told reporters that he "would rather face machine guns" than betray his conscience. He had the courage of his convictions: he was stripped of his title; denied a license to box and earn an income; convicted in federal court; and sentenced to prison. For 3.5 years, Ali went from exhiled champion to People's Champion. He toured college campuses, and spoke against the war.

When his case was taken up by the US Supreme Court, the justices were all prepared to rule aggainst him (one recused himself). But an intern had one justice read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X": this literally led to an 8-0 victory for The Champ. Early in the first phase of Part Two of Ali's career, he remained a hated man among the pro-war people, and hero to the left. His first bout with Joe Frazier -- the "Fight of the Century" -- divided Americans based upon war sentiments. Though he lost, Ali's bravery in that fight won him the respect of many of those who had despised him.

{3} "Carter repeatedly spits out words like 'kill' in conversation. They reflect an easily triggered violence that lies barely restrained beneath his malevolent-looking exterior." -- Milton Gross

Rubin Carter had more in common with Sonny Liston, than he did with Cassius Clay/ Muhammad Ali. Like Liston, he was an ex-convict, who had concussive punching power. After escaping from a reform school, Carter had joined the military. Stationed in Germany, Carter learned to box. He was good enough that he might have fought in the Rome Olympics as a welterweight, on the same team as Ali. But an introduction to Islam, combined with pursuing his education, led to Rubin's leaving the military, and returning to New Jersey to do things other than box. Both fate and alcohol led to his being incarcerated in prison.

There, Carter focused exclusively on preparing for a ring career. He engaged in a daily routine of 5,000 push-ups and 5,000 sit-ups, along with hours of shadow-boxing. His activities caught the attention of a guard, who had connections with local boxing. While the guard was a well-intentioned man, he would connect Carter with some of the mob figures who controlled boxing in the northeast.

Carter's extremely muscular upper body made him appear to be a heavyweight. Actually, in today's terms, he would be a junior middleweight. Carter quickly earned the nickname "Hurricane" due to his destruction of opponents in exciting fashion; Carter mastered the ability to literally knock opponents through the ropes, and out of the ring. This made him a favorite on the Friday Night Fights.

Because he appeared so large -- and because of his own stubborn pride -- Rubin served as one of Sonny Liston's sparring partners. The two anti-social loners bonded, at least outside of the gym's ring. However, while sparring, Carter found the 50-pound heavier Liston had vicious punching power. Upon taking off his headgear one afternoon, Rubin found that he was bleeding from both ears.

That experience ended his sparring Sonny. It did teach Carter the value of defense, and his skills in this area were more solid than most of the "experts" recognized. (Years later, as the studio guest on ESPN's FNF, I asked Rubin to tell the audience about his times with Liston. In answering, Rube expanded on memories of Malcolm, as well.)

So long as he fought for mob managers, Carter's career seemed destined for a championship. But his father showed Rubin that he wasn't being paid the money he earned -- certainly not uncommon for boxers back then. His managers were keeping the lion's share. When Rubin terminated his relationship with them, these gentlemen told his father that he would pay a severe price.

Rubin's father thought the mob would shoot his son; Rubin, however, thought that his inability to secure top fights was the retribution. He would be forced to travel to Europe, South America, and South Africa to get fights. His contact with blacks in his first trip to Africa resulted in his bringing two duffle bags of guns with him when he returned.

Carter's new "management" consisted largely of some of his friends who were involved in controlling the bars -- hence, vice -- in Patterson, NJ. It was, of course, through these contacts with the growing organized crime elements in the black community, that Rubin had gotten the unregistered guns he delivered in South Africa. He didn't realize that the police were quite aware of this.

Carter was interested in Islam, but not the NOI. Still, circles in Patterson (and NYC) overlapped. The NOI squad that was tasked with murdering Malcolm, for example, was organized in Paterson. Unlike Ali, Rubin did not live a disciplined life outside the ring. He was a "night owl," who spent too much time in the bars, and pursuing the pleasures of the flesh.

There were some interviews with sports magazines, where Carter came across as intelligent and thoughtful. He was aware that the "thug" image sold tickets to his fights. But he began to find that, partly his own fault, he was unable to separate from that image. There were two incidents where Carter made the headlines as the result of fights in bars. More, when he attempted to speak about the need for black people to control their neighborhoods, and protect their children from police violence, the Saturday Evening Post article quoted a friend as saying Rubin wanted to shoot police.

In June of 1966, Carter spent an evening in Paterson bars, attempting to organize the training camp for what would be his last boxing match. This included talking with his manager-advisors, and a couple of sparring partners. As night turned to the early morning hours, Carter and two friends were pulled over by Paterson police. They were looking two black men in a white car, and allowed the three black men in a white car to continue on its way. About eight minutes later, after dropping off one friend, Rubin and John Artis were again pulled over, and their nightmare began.

Two black men, described by witnesses as "light-skinned," dressed in dark suits, and both about 6' tall, had entered a bar and shot four white people. The assassins had drove off in a white car. Police had chased a vehicle fitting that description out of the city limits, heading to NYC. Upon returning, they first encountered Rubin's car.

Everyone was on edge: earlier, a white man had murdered a black bartender, over an argument about money. This fit the increased tensions between the traditional mob, and the new black organization running the vices from the bars. Although the second incident at first was reported as an attempted robbery, people would soon assume it was in retaliation for the first hit.

The entire story of what happened that night has never been told. Certainly, it never came out in the twenty years of Carter's legal struggles, nor in the magazine articles, books, or movie that came out after a federal court overturned Carter and Artis's conviction. In writing his second book, Rubin told me that he was frustrated by the publisher’s refusal to print the full story, for fear of expensive suits. (Similar suits had caused huge legal fees for the publishers of "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse," and kept the book from being sold in the US for several years. Similarly, a book about Carter's case by friends in Canada was unavailable in the US for years.)

Long story semi-short: two of the shooting victims said it was not Carter and Artis; the pair had over a dozen witnesses to their whereabouts at the time of the murder; several people in the neighborhood, who saw the gunmen, said it was definitely not Rubin and John; and after intense questioning -- including polygraph tests and a search of Rubin's car -- the pair were released.

Carter and Artis volunteered to testify to a grand jury that investigated the crime. The lead detective told the grand jury thatRubin and John "didn't remotely fit the description" of the killers. In fact, one shooting victim was able to tell the investigator the identities of the gunmen -- who were NYC residents. A neighbor had also recognized them. In fact, the following month, police held two suspects in jail for the brutal crime.

It was not so much a problem because pieces of the puzzle were missing, as that there were too many pieces. For example, the police responding to the shooting had interviewed a woman who lived above the bar; she told of finding a young man behind the bar, robbing the dead bodies. He was also questioned. More, he was suspect -- not only because he was stealin money at the scene of the crime, but because he was wanted with others for a string of robberies across the state.

The woman who, after being shot, had identified the actual gunmen died unexpectedly in July. The lead investigator was convinced that Carter, while not a gunman, was the brains behind the crime. He believed that Rubin was the leader of the Mau-Mau-style group that Malcolm X had said would benefit black Americans. Putting Rubin in the electric chair became his primary focus.

Over a three-month period, he worked to get the thug who robbed the dead to say he saw Carter and Artis leaving the bar with guns. The cop who had searched Rubin's car would place two bullets into evidence, claiming he had found them in Carter's car that night. It would be more than a decade before it was discovered he actually filed this "find" the following month. More, the bullets were not the same as used in the crime Carter was accused of; rather, they matched the type used in the earlier murder. And, if there were such a thing as coincidence: that officer had collected the shells at that first murder, and the exact number he claimed to have found in Rubin's car were now mysteriously missing.

Thus, Rubin and John were convicted, and sentenced to triple life in prison.

{4} "Muhammad Ali is a figure transcendental to sports. He's important to the history of this country because his entire life is an index to the bigotry lodged deep in the wellspring of this nation and its people. And Ali had the advantage of coming in the 1960s. Look at what was happening back then: the birth of the drug culture; the birth of the pill; riots in the streets; an ugly unwanted war; assassinations. Then you go into the 1970s. The most ignominious moment in the history of this country, the shootings at Kent State...." -- Howard Cosell

On October 10, 1970, Ali returned to the ring in Atlanta, Georgia. Ali would TKO tough contender Jerry Quarry in three rounds. While the fight itself was important in the context of the sport of boxing, those sitting at ringside reflected a new socio-political reality in America: Julian Bond, Bill Cosby, Ralph Abernathy, Sidney Poitier, Jesse Jackson, Diana Ross, Whitney Young, and Coretta Scott King were there to watch the Champ’s return.

Ali’s phase two became more than merely symbolic of the struggle for social justice in this nation. Senator Ted Kennedy told reporters how his late brother Robert had been influenced by Muhammad’s refusal to be drafted. Ali’s appeal was heading to the US Supreme Court, and documents released through the FOI Act show that the powers-that-be in Washington, DC, were exerting pressure to make sure his conviction led to five years of incarceration. Hence, Ali opted to fight the new undefeated heavyweight champion, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, in March, 1971. This was too early in his comeback, especially after his second bout, in which he absorbed more punishment than he had in the first half of his career.

“The Fight of the Century” was, without question, the biggest sports event ever. It was the first time that two undefeated men with valid claims to the heavyweight title met in the ring. Each fighter was paid an unheard of $2.5 million (they would have made over $9 million, had they accepted an offer that included a percentage of the closed-circuit sales). The fight was broadcast around the globe.

In the US, the bout divided the country. Ali represented the anti-war and civil rights movements; Frazier was cast, incorrectly, as representing the establishment. Ali took part in the perception management – among other things, telling reporters that Nixon would call Joe if he won, but not Ali – by going well beyond the pre-fight insults he had hurled at Liston: not only was Frazier “too ugly” to be champion, but he was stupid, and an Uncle Tom.

The anticipation leading up to the fight was perhaps best measured when a ringside fan was rushed to the hospital moments before the pair entered the ring. Then, during the 15 rounds, two men literally died of heart attacks. When Joe floored Muhammad in the last round, one of the men stood up and shouted, “Allah has fallen!” and collapsed. All of the “beautiful people” that came out to see Ali that night saw a brutal bout that Frazier won.

It is curious to consider how the USSC might have ruled, had Ali won that fight. But there was a shift in sympathy, in large part because of how he lost. He had displayed courage in the fight, and a quiet dignity – at first – in accepting his first defeat. As ex-champion, Ali did not seem as threatening to Washington. Hence, the court ruled 8-0 in his favor, in a decision that really did not pave the way for young black men to join the NOI to avoid the draft. It was as politically motivated a decision as the court would make until the Bush v Gore bout.

It was while he was on the comeback trail that Ali took up Rubin Carter’s case. As noted, the two had some history from earlier in their boxing careers. They had not been friends. In fact, a number of Ali's sparring partners had fought Carter: Jimmy Ellis, Luis Rodriguez, Ernie Buford, Sugar Boy Nando, and Gomeo Brennan among them. So it was not entirely surprising when Ali made plans to box an exhibition against Rubin at Rahway State Prison, to bring attention to his legal struggles. However, shortly before the exhibition could be held, Rubin was “moved” to the Vroom Building, the state’s psychiatric wing for the violent, criminally insane inmates. This move is shown in an opening scene in the movie “The Hurricane.”

No movie can tell the whole story, of course. But Ali had found that Carter was working towards prison reform. This was in the era of Attica, the most famous of a series of prison riots. There had been, in fact, just such a riot that involved Rubin. However, Rubin was credited with saving the lives of the warden and two guards. Carter, who had long been a hermit in Rahway, had been convinced to run for president of the inmates’ council. He won, and then convinced a range of people – including law enforcement, sociologists, and politicians – to listen to his recommendations on reducing violence, and on rehabilitation. Add Ali’s ability to gain the spot-light, and the New Jersey correctional system reacted by labeling Carter criminally insane, a threat to the prison.

A federal judge ordered Carter to be released into general population; eventually, Rubin got a financial settlement against the state for the incident. That money would pay for a private investigator, who was able to follow leads which eventually uncovered much of what happened on the night of the murders, and how two police manipulated the evidence – including planting some, and covering other things up – which resulted in Carter and Artis’s convictions.

Before this information came to light, however, the NJ Supreme Court had vacated the 1967 convictions, and the pair had a re-trial. Artis was offered a deal in which, if he said that Carter had been involved in the planning of the murders, he would not be charged. The prosecutors were going on a new theory, based upon a study conducted on the governor’s behalf, that indicated two men other than Carter and Artis committed the vicious murders. Their key witness would be the fellow caught robbing the dead bodies: a polygraph indicated he was inside the bar at the time of the shootings, and saw Carter and Artis outside the bar. The defense knew he had seen Rubin and John when the police had brought them to the bar in the hour after the shooting – and that he told police they definitely were not the gunmen.

However, early in the retrial, the prosecutor was able to put forth the theory of “racial revenge,” claiming Carter and Artis so hated all white people that the earlier murder of a black bartender – a man neither of them ever met – led them to massacre the people in the “white” bar. The prosecution also focused on the large defense committee, claiming it was a case of Madison Avenue versus the good police of Patterson, NJ.

The defense committee did have some “dirty laundry.” Any time significant amounts of money are involved, such issues arise. Some “supporters” were lining their pockets; others were promoting their own political agenda. There was a group already planning for Carter to run for Congress after the retrial, rather than focusing on winning the case. And there were divides between some black and white supporters: Congressman John Conyers, for example, sought to isolate the whites, who he assumed were attempting to exploit Rubin.

Rubin and John were again convicted, and for the rest of the 1970s, Carter dropped from the public consciousness. Most of his supporters simply walked away from the case. A few, including Ali and Coretta Scott King, continued to support Rubin.

{5} “I had wanted to meet the Dalai Lama for a long time. He is a sweet and humble man who works tirelessly for peace. ….I understand that there are many paths to God, and I believe Islam is the correct path for me. Like the Dalai Lama, I respect people of different religious beliefs and agree that spirituality should be a central focus of our daily lives. …. I have come to understand that there are those who believe in God and those who make God a reality. The Dalai Lama is among those who manifest God in the journey of their everyday lives.” – Muhammad Ali

In the decades that followed the 1960s and ‘70s, Ali and Carter (vindicated by the federal courts) would become the Elder Statesmen of the struggle for social justice and human dignity. The pair continued to bring a powerful message about the need for reconciliation. This is required on a personal level, and community level, if it is to reach the international level.

In 2001, after Rubin introduced me to an audience at SUNY-Binghamton, a professor writing a book on the Power of Forgiveness asked me if I could get Carter to add a chapter to her effort. The following quote comes from that book, and would seem a good way to end this essay.

“Hate can only produce hate. That’s why all these wars are going on, all this insanity. There’s too much anger in the U.S. People are too afraid, too numbed out. We need to wipe out all of this hatred, fear, distrust, and violence. We need to understand, forgive, and love. – Dr. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter

Congress versus CIA (one question)

Which do you think has more power in our society: The US Congress (Senate & House), or the Central Intelligence Agency?

There is no "right" or "wrong" answer here ......I'm merely asking for your opinion.

There is, of course, the potential for a bit of a showdown taking place right now. One might think it's merely a "show," or that the "down" side is that the concern seems to be if the CIA is spying on select members of Congress.

A potential complicating factor is that we have a corporate Congress, and the CIA was born from corporate spy operators, and continues to represent corporate interests.

Another source of confusion is that the Congress is provided certain rights and responsibilities by the US Constitution, while the CIA has limits placed upon it -- in theory, if not practice -- by our federal laws. Add to this that, again at least in theory, the CIA is supposed to work for the Executive Branch. Hence, even if one is convinced that the CIA has equal power to the President, or even that all recent Presidents have served the CIA, it still involves a serious question of constitutional authority.

In a bit, if there's any interest in this discussion, I'll add my opinion. I wonder at times if I'm (relatively) alone in seeing the man's face in this tree.

H2O Man

Voodoo Child

I stand up next to a mountain
And I chop it down with the edge of my hand
Well, I stand up next to a mountain
I chop it down with the edge of my hand
Well, I pick up all the pieces and make an island
Might even raise a little sand
-- Jimi Hendrix; Voodoo Child

I read "Jimi Hendrix: Starting at Zero (His Own Story)" today. Although the book was published in 2013, it was in the "new books" section at the public library. The book is by Alan Douglass and Peter Neal; however, it consists primarily of Jimi's writings from journals, and answers to interviewers' questions.

There are a few good biographies of Hendrix, and his music holds up very strongly to this day. Still, I agree with my librarian friend who recommended this as a "must read" for those who enjoy Jimi's works.

Like many others of my generation, I have an enormous collection of music by Jimi. This includes what he released; some "live" releases that include Jimi, such as Woodstock; a handful of low-quality releases, where he played a tiny role as a backing player in a studio; three LPs that were released shortly after his death; and some very good CDs his family has released in recent years.

It seems clear that Hendrix was an extremely talented musician. Heck of a show-man, too. And he also was obviously a very sensitive soul, who suffered a good deal throughout his brief life. He had an other-worldliness to him, and a gentleness that allowed the music industry to exploit him.

In this book, Jimi tells about his childhood, his teen years, serving in the military, and being an artist living on the streets of American cities. He describes the years of investment needed to become an "overnight success." Then the joy of making it big, followed by the frustrations of having the media portray him as a "wild man," and a public demand for a burning guitar, rather than his music and message.

Towards the end, his writings document his becoming frazzled by the pace of touring, and the demands of the record company executives. He expresses a desire to move into new directions; a great deal of self-doubt about his talent; and a growing alienation from the culture that he had been part of. His thoughts center on death quite often.

It is an amazing and a tragic story, well worth reading. I'm curious if other DUers have had a chance to read it yet?

H2O Man

Carmen Basilio

An old friend called me yesterday; he said he needed to stop by my house. I put a pot of coffee on, and waited. When he got here, he handed me a beautiful framed picture of Carmen Basilio, the great welterweight and middleweight champion. It was autographed, with a nice message from the Champ.

My friend is a retired carpenter, who still does some work from time to time. He had been cleaning out an old house for a friend, and found the photo in a pile of trash. He said he knew I'd like it, as he associates my family with boxing. And he thought there was some connection that he couldn't remember.

My great uncle had trained Carmen in his early career. In fact, Uncle Pat had promoted Carmen's first five professional bouts in Sherburne, although they do not show up on his "official" record. Old copies of Sherburne's newspapers record the bouts, though, and I talked to Carmen about them. Uncle Pat also co-promoted Carmen's early fights in Binghamton, where his recorded career began.

Carmen was a frequent guest at Uncle Pat's house. Basilio would always give Pat tickets to his fights. The family would travel all over to watch Carmen; this included his most important fight, where he took the middleweight crown from Sugar Ray Robinson.

Carmen worked my brother's corner in his pro debut. My brother-in-law twice fought Carmen's last fighter, heavyweight Greg Sorentino. And Carmen came up into the ring to congratulate me after I won a big amateur tournament. Even when he was old, and not in the best condition, Carmen remembered Uncle Pat.

It's funny: last Friday, my son and I met Floyd Mayweather, Jr. On our ride home, we discussed how Floyd would have done against past greats. All speculation, of course, but a fun mental game. I said that Carmen might well have matched up best against Floyd. We pass through Sherburne on our ride, and we have our own little tradition of stopping for a visit to Pat's grave.

On Saturday, before watching the televised card, we continued our discussion of a dream fight between Carmen and Floyd. And we talked about the times I introduced my son to Carmen, who was one of the nicest, funniest people you could hope to meet.

Two days later, I got this autographed picture. It will be a nice addition to my son's collection!

From Here to Internity

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
-- William Shakespeare; Hamlet

This soliloguy from Hamlet was used by Minister Malcolm X in a speech at Harvard University in the last year of his life. It's something that people around the globe are wondering about as violence is breaking out in the Ukraine. And, of course, there's still military conflicts going on within numerous countries.

It brings up tough questions. One of those is, simply, how do we want the United States to respond? The way we answer as a nation is hugely important. Not only that, but how we respond to that question as individuals is mighty significant, too. I include the community at the Democratic Underground, for our individual opinions are as important as any other individual's. (Not as influential as everyone's, of course. And not as politically powerful as those of corporations.)

I'm anti-war. There hasn't been a war in my lifetime that has been in the best interests of American citizens. But I could not say that there has never been a just war. Or that there may not be another, in the future.

A nation's approach is not unlike individuals engaged in, or responding to, threats and other acts of violence. Some national leaders, like Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, act like George Zimmerman in terms of policy. Not that they were ever fighters. Heck, they'd probably want Zimmerman as a body guard
If someone is invading your house, you have the right to stop them. Malcolm used to say that if a robber comes in your house with a gun, and you stop him with a gun, that doesn't make you a robber. In the early years of his adult life, even Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., kept a shotgun in his home.

Why did King eventually get rid of his weapon? A person can believe in non-violent resistance, as a social-political tactic, and still believe in the right to defend one's self and family. Yet King moved beyond this stance. His understanding of the teachings of Jesus and Gandhi led to his change.

My friend Rubin knew both Malcolm and Martin. In the 1960s, he certainly was closer to sharing Malcolm's beliefs, than Martin's. But, in his book "Eye of the Hurricane" (2012), Carter writes that he has come to see that Martin's way was the correct path for reaching that higher ground where violence is rejected in society.

There are, of course, good people who will say that Martin's way is unrealistic, becvause it ignores human nature. This, of course, ignores the example that individuals throughout history have shown ......that it is indeed "human nature" to be peaceful. It is a very real human potential that is available to the world. Yet, it cannot come into being because of "leaders." A Cheney, Bush, or Putin does not have the ability to bring about a peaceful, non-violent resolution to any serious dispute.

This dangerous nonsense in the Ukraine is about the control of resources. It's not because Putin hates us for our freedoms. It is an appeal to the ugliest of human potentials -- and that includes Americans' and well as Russians' -- of greed, fear, and hatred. The "success" of such appeals depends entirely upon the willingness of every day people to be invested in greed, fear, and hatred.

This dangerous nonsense can't be stopped with more negative energy or armies. It can only be ended by people refusing to participate in the negative. The "weapon" of true moral force, as defined by Gandhi and King, offers the only solution. The common folk united, without artificial boundaries.

Is there any other way?

H2O Man


Feb. 28

At Hammond, Ind. (ESPN2/ESPN Deportes): "Boxcino" middleweight tournament quarterfinals (all bouts 6 rounds), Donatas Bondorovas vs. Willie Monroe Jr.; Cerresso Fort vs. Vitalii Kopylenko; Brandon Adams vs. Daniel Edouard; Raymond Gatica vs. Sena Agbeko; Simeon Hardy vs. TBA, 8 rounds, junior middleweights; Donovan Dennis vs. Samuel Coming, 8 rounds, heavyweights; Fidel Navarrete vs. Segio Montes de Oca, 4 rounds, featherweights; Mike Jimenez vs. Jimmy Campbell, 6 rounds, super middleweights; Dimar Ortuz vs. John Moxey, 4 rounds, cruiserweights; Russell Fiore vs. Tim Carrizales, 4 rounds, lightweights

At Verona, N.Y. (Showtime): J'Leon Love vs. Vladine Biosse, 10 rounds, super middleweights; Badou Jack vs. Derek Edwards, 10 rounds, super middleweights; Chris Pearson vs. Lanardo Tyner, 8 rounds, middleweights; Luis Arias vs. Dashon Johnson, 8 rounds, super middleweights; Ronald Gavril vs. Cameron Allen, 8 rounds, junior featherweights; Omontunde Tabiti vs. Dorian Hatcher, 4 rounds, cruiserweights; Ladarius Miller vs. Douglas Rosales, 4 rounds, welterweights; John Franklin vs. Jesus Bayron, 8 rounds, junior featherweights

Good luck to Willie Monroe, Jr., tonight. Willie is a first class gentleman, outside the ring.

I will be at ringside at Verona, with my son Darren. The greatest fighter of this era -- Floyd Mayweather, Jr. -- will be there. It doesn't get any better than that, for this old pug.


Yesterday, my Very Good Friend -- known on this forum as "malaise" from Jamaica -- posted an article about Dr. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. The article told how Carter, the former middleweight boxer who was incarcerated for 20 years for a crime he did not commit, is in the final days of his life. Though battling cancer, Rubin's primary focus remains his attempt to get justice for David McCallum.

In the near future, I will post more about David's case. I hope that some from the DU community will take an interest -- an active interest, at that -- in this case of injustice. Until then, people can either "google," or, better yet, get a copy of Rubin's 2011 book, "Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom." It contains a great deal of information on David's case, as well as a foreword by Nelson Mandela.

When I was a little boy, my two older brothers introduced me to the sport of boxing. The first bout I watched on television was the Hurricane knocking welterweight champion Emile Griffith -- who had just been named "Fighter of the Year" -- out in one round.

My family was dirt poor; we knew poverty in ways that few people in this country actually do. About the only "recreation" we could afford was arguing and fighting. And, as we lived on a small farm, the work we did each and every day prepared us for fighting! Now, being the youngest of five kids (two brothers and two sisters), the hand-me-down hand-me-downs I wore to school made me the target of other children's often cruel jokes. Plus, as a result of being poor, I had lost a lot of teeth to an infection, and couldn't talk right, those few times I did try to speak.

Now, you take a strong kid, wearing worn-out, way out of style clothes, who can't talk, but can fight, and who doesn't like being picked on .....and, you guessed it: in my childhood, I got into lots of fights outside of just boxing.

By the time I was 13, I was good enough that Lee Kerr, a British writer for Boxing Illustrated, did a feature article on me, predicting that I was a sure bet to win a world's title when I was in my twenties. Now, I was still a poor kid, and unable to wash that distinct smell of "farm" from my clothing. And although I got very good grades in school, my anti-social circle of friends were what could best be described as inhabiting the margins. But no one picked on me, at least not to my face.

about Rubin Carter's case always interested me. It just didn't make sense that he would have committed the crimes he had been convicted of. This was, of course, long before the internet -- in fact, it was before he published his first book, "The Sixteenth Round," which would gain the interest and support of Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali, and many other celebrities. Thus, there wasn't a lot of information available on Carter.

So what is a poor farm boy to do? What else: I wrote to Carter, and told him that I thought he was innocent. I figured that I could get him released, and, in return, he could manage my professional boxing career. This made perfect sense to me at the time.

He wrote back. And soon, we were writing to each other frequently. I have all of the letters, cassette tapes, photographs, and documents that he sent me. In time, Rubin convinced to to quit boxing, and go to college. I was a volunteer worker with his defense committee. And since his eventual release, we have remained good friends. I'm proud to say that all four of my children know Rubin.

I've known about the cancer for a long time now. It had been his choice to keep it private. Rubin doesn't want anyone feeling sorry for him -- he's not that way. On one hand, I had hoped that somehow, this most powerful of men would pull through. On the other hand, I know that in order to advance in our knowledge of life, we must learn to die.

Over the 40-plus years I've known Rubin, we've had some amazing experiences. Maybe I'll write some more about them sometime soon. But for now, I'm looking through some of the letters and court documents that I've collected over the years.

H2O Man

We Can Work It Out

"Life is very short
And there's no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend
"I have always thought
That it's a crime
So I will ask you once again
"Try to see it my way
Only time will tell
If I am right or I am wrong"
The Beatles; We Can Work It Out

One area where much of the most intense acrimony between men and women is found is in the family court system. Hence, I have been a bit surprised that this specific topic hasn't been brought up much, if at all, in the DU:GD threads on sexism et al. Indeed, the hostility between men and women ripens within the legal system.

I reside in New York State. For many years, there was nothing approaching a level playing field in cases involving custody and support here. The laws began to change under the leadership of Nelson Rockefeller in the early 1970s. The governorr actually began advocating for such changes, when his top body guard was separating from his wife. I'm familiar with that, because the body guard was my uncle.

In the late 1980s, my first wife sought a divorce. We had two wee-little boys, ages six and three. At first, we had equal, shared custody. She got the house, and the two more expensive of our three vehicles. More, I had to pay her support -- even though I had the boys as much as her, and she had a larger income.

Over a several year period, she brought me to court twelve times. I never filed any case against her. In time, both boys came to live with me full-time. Their mother, on her own and without my asking, had my support ended, and began to pay me what she believed was a fair amount. I think that this went a long way in reducing the hostility between us.

As I write this, I remember something that struck me as odd: the boys' mother called me from her family's farm on the morning her mother died. I had a good relationship with my former mother-in-law; she would at times drop in my home to visit her grandsons and I. Even though my "ex" had re-married, I was the first person she called that morning.( I wouldn't go so far as to call us close friends these days, but we had Thanksgiving together at our sons' house in 2013.)

In my first few years as a single parent, a couple of friends and I organized an informal "support group" for men experiencing separation and divorce. Our focus was two-fold: fathers' rights, and fathers' responsibilities. I kept and handful of journals then, and have been flipping through some of them recently. We had about thirty guys who participated. Most were in their late 20s to early 50s. All of them were working class.

There was a wide spectrum for such a small group, in the context of the opinions on rights and responsibilities. There were guys who really believed that their lives were over, that they simply could not live without their ex-girlfriend or wife. And there were guys who were seething with hatred, intent upon causing as much pain and suffering as they possibly could. There were men who would do anything and everything to enrich their children's lives. And there were males who seemed emotionally unattached to their own children
One fellow, who I had worked with many years before, simply walked out of his children's lives. Even though he lived rather close to them, he simply stopped seeing them at all. Not surprisingly, he frequently "fell behind" on paying support. As it turned out, his father had walked out on his family when he was a youngster. But I have seen other males do that same thing, even though they were raised in intact, seemingly normal, middle-class families.

Likewise, I know a lot of women who have been divorced, who make up an equally wide spectrum as parents. Some are really good, and some are inadequate in character.

It seems to me, both as a human being and as a father of two sons and two daughters, that our society's views and behaviors -- in terms of the opposite sex -- are largely rooted in our experiences in families. Our family of origin, of course, plays a primary role here. Did that family assign rigid roles based upon sex? Was violence used to "settle" disagreements? Were men and women respected?

Considering that a significant percentage of marriages will end in divorce, family court will remain an arena for warfare between the sexes. I suspect that this general arena could provide us with an area where we could -- as the DU Community -- engage in meaningful discussions on topics including parents' rights and responsibilities. I expect that, if such a discussion caught on, there would be a few people that might express bitterness more than insight. But that is okay .....in fact, it can be a good thing, so long as people approach this with open minds.

What do you think? Is it a valid topic for rationale discussion? Thank you for your consideration.

H2O Man

Cassius X & The Beatles

There are times when events in the worlds of music and/or sports have great cultural influence. Last night, for example, I went to a public library to watch a documentary film about The Beatles invading America. The friend who invited me works as a librarian there; I told her that I was curious to see if the film would include The Beatles visit to the Miami training camp of a young man people knew as Cassius Clay. It did not.

Today marks 50 years since Cassius scored one of the biggest upsets in sports' history. I've been reading through an old scrapbook of newspaper and magazine articles leading up to the bout, as well as a mint-condition copy of The Ring magazine published three weeks earlier. Very few members of the boxing community gave Cassius any chance of winning. In fact, the majority of "experts" were sure that Liston would flatten the young challenger in one round.

I still have my copy of an album released by Cassius Clay, titled, "I am the Greatest!" It features 15 "rounds" of Cassius's poetry, which was a big part of his getting the public's attention. I would speculate that this album was likely what caught The Beatles' attention. There are numerous photographs that document the initial meeting between these five young men who would, quite literally, change the world.

My favorite part of this curious encounter came when Cassius was exchanging verbal jabs with The Beatles. Older DUers will remember that, a half-century ago, athletes and musicians were expected to be humble when talking to the press. Especially black athletes. The only exception to this unwritten rule was the man who held the heavyweight title 50 years earlier, the great Jack Johnson.

Cassius had as fast a tongue as he did a jab. Reporters found him fun to interview, because one never knew what this kid might say. After Paul and George traded some good-natured insults with Cassius, he sai, "You ain't as dumb as you look!" John deadpanned: "No, but you are."

The fight was almost called off, when the press began reporting that Malcolm X was hanging out with Clay's camp. What these reporters didn't know was that Cassius was already a member of the Nation of Islam. In fact, he had already taken the name "Cassius X" weeks before the fight. The promoter had struck a deal with Angelo Dundee, Cassius's trainer, to have Malcolm stay fully out of sight.
Malcolm was, of course, suspended from the NOI at that time. This was officially due to Malcolm's comments to reporters after President Kennedy was murdered. Looking back, today we know that there was much more to Malcolm's suspension.
Elijah Mohammad, the leader of the NOI, found Cassius an interesting character, but did not want to be associated with him before the Liston bout. Elijah believed that Sonny would humiliate Cassius in the ring.

Among the very few people who favored Cassius were Malcolm, former heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott, and a young reporter named Howard Cosell. They knew that Sonny had actually reached his peak a couple of years before he won the title. In recent years, Liston had devastated his opponents quickly. While that was impressive enough to have most boxing writers compare him with the great Joe Louis, it meant that he could have difficulties in any bout that went beyond two or three rounds.

Liston was a physically imposing man. He was the biggest heavyweight champion in many years (only Jess Willard and Primo Carnera had been bigger, but neither of them were considered to be great fighters), What people didn't realize was that Cassius was actually larger than Sonny.

At the weigh-in on the morning of the fight, Cassius worked himself into a frenzy. The doctor said Clay's blood pressure was far too high, and wanted to call off the bout. An hour later, the doctor was surprised to find Cassius's bllod pressure had returned to normal. He told Malcolm that he knew the only thing Sonny might be afraid of was a crazy man; hence, he acted crazy.

During the day, away from reporters, Liston was on the phone with 15-year old Timothy Smith. The boy was dying of muscular dystrophy. Although the press rarely reported on this side of "the Bear," Liston loved children, and frequently visited children's hospitals. He had spent a significant amount of money since winning the title, to make sure sick and poor children had good Christmases and birthdays.

Malcolm would sit in seat #7 in the 7th row for the fight. He believed this confirmed that Cassius would win the fight in seven rounds. He would visit the challenger in his dressing room a half-hour before the bout, and tell him that this bout was far bigger than boxing: it was the Cross versus the Crescent, being telecast around the globe.

The fight itself remains one of boxing's greatest. Cassius won by TKO when Sonny failed to come out for round seven. But it so surprised the "experts," that few journalists understood the true significance of what they had just witnessed.

The following morning, the new champion told reporters that he was a member of the NOI. He said his name was now "Cassius X." Within the next 48 hours, Elijah Mohammad would give him the name Muhammad Ali. What is in a name? In this case, it signaled that Ali had decided to stay with the NOI, rather than join Malcolm in the new organization he was planning. Had Ali stuck with Malcolm, his life would have taken a very different course.

Note: the next time that Lennon and Ali would be seen together would be at President Jimmy Carter's inauguration party.

Ali and The Beatles would play significant roles in the decade of the sixties. All five of these men would make the world a better place to live, and their influence on culture went far beyond the ring, the stage, or the recording studio.

H2O Man


My younger son and I just visited my oldest brother. Years ago, he was highly respected in his community. He ran a volunteer program that appealed to "at risk" youth and teens; his program was more successful at preventing these kids having "trouble" at home, in school, and in the community, than any other I've seen as a social worker. He was also a professional boxer, who took too many punches, and caught the Irish Flu after retiring.

Now in his 60s, he is a shut-in, spending most of each day in a wheel chair. There are times when his brain doesn't function very well, and others -- like tonight -- where things click.

My son is a student at SUNY-Binghamton, and works part-time in human services. He is currently taking fascinating courses in sociology, anthropology, and political science. So much of our discussion centered on these topics. Interestingly, at least for me, a large part of our conversation covered some of the topics that divide parts of the DU community on GD.

One of the points he made was that, in his life-time, the only really good politicians have been democrats. And the most corrupt, repulsive politicians have been republicans. In this way he differs from our other brother, who lives on the west coast, and believes there needs to be more third-party, pro-environment candidates.

We also discussed some of the female politicians of the past half-century. He and I are old enough to remember the power of Shirley Chisholm. My brother said that these days, he considers Gabby Giffords to be the most outstanding role model. He noted that in terms of "tough," there is no stronger person in the country. And he made a few jokes that compared this lady's intelligence to that of the leading republicans. His contempt for the "republican elite" remains strong and pure.

It's definitely fun to discuss and debate various issues on DU. I believe that, at times, these internet conversations are important. I'm also convinced that it is equally fun and potentially important to discuss these same issues with othr people in our lives. The chances of us all agreeing on everything are remote; yet it is among people of good will that we are most likely to reach the answers that our society desperately needs.

H2O Man
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