Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Is the United States Still a Superpower?

On this 80th commemoration of the bombing of Pearl Harbor that presaged America’s entry into the Second World War from which it emerged as the unchallenged superpower champion of democracy, it is appropriate to ask, “Is the United States still a superpower?” 

Yes, we possess more destructive nuclear arms that any other country, but in this age of cyber warfare and fanatical, religious extremist organizations, is our military sufficiently organized around affirmative responses to today’s challenges?

During World War II we fought the Axis Powers on two fronts. Could we engage on two theaters of operation today, for after all, Russia is threatening to invade Ukraine and China has similar designs on Taiwan? 

Alliances forged after WWII are fraying. Our commitments are subject to political whims. The last administration cozied up to autocrats. America’s aversion to be involved in international conflicts—until our land or citizens are attacked—has centuries-long roots. 

Domestically, we are a nation in transition, so much so that nearly one in four Americans indicated in a survey a “willingness to secede” from the Union. The percentage was markedly higher for Republicans in Southern and Mountain states (https://dailyvoice.com/new-york/whiteplains/politics/new-poll-reveals-percentages-of-americans-who-want-to-secede-by-region/812724/). 

Our politics is no longer the “art of compromise,” but rather a “winner-take-no-prisoners” form of combat. 

And all the while, the infrastructure that empowered our economic strength—railway, air and highway systems, modern telecommunications, power grids, clean water supplies and industrial plants—has atrophied instead of being maintained and upgraded while China has leapfrogged our capacities.

Perhaps a deeper question we should ask is, “What is the true nature of American character?” Is it an E Pluribus Unum ideal or a mythologized Western movie psyche that values the individual over collective responsibility? Has the bifurcated public response to COVID—the wearing of masks and the acceptance of vaccinations—highlighted the fissures in our society?

To be a superpower democracy requires not just the consent of the governed but also an educated public, educated not just to the truths and myths of our nation’s founding but also to the missteps we made along the way, so the faults are not repeated. 

Are we a superpower? The nuclear code black box a presidential aide carries near the president does not by itself answer the question in the affirmative. 

American superpower status comes with responsibilities. It is time we rededicated ourselves to the values our mythology ascribed to the United States.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Short Takes: Wisdom in a Few Words

My voice of partisanship and, yes, reason is not alone. Here are some shared sentiments I culled from Facebook and Twitter postings you might not have seen:

“I don’t like paying higher gas prices either but it’s incredible that people will buy GOP outrage on gas that’s $4 instead of $3.50—but then excuse GOP for keeping the minimum wage at $72.5 instead of $15, insulin at $1200 instead of $35, & paid leave at 0 weeks instead of 12 weeks.”—Qasim Rashid

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”—Desmond Tutu

“If paying a cashier a living wage will make prices go up, why doesn’t replacing cashiers with self checkouts make prices go down?”—Mohamad Safa

“Being an American means reckoning with a history fraught with violence and injustice. Ignoring that reality in favor of mythology is not only wrong but also dangerous. The dark chapters of American history have just as much to teach us, if not more, than the glorious ones, and often the two are intertwined.”—Ken Burns

“When you see your roads being paved and bridges being built, thank a Democrat.”—Left Action

“Companies that complain they can’t find workers because unemployment pays more should realize it’s because they aren’t paying enough.”—The Other 98%

“When you have more than you need, build a long table not a higher wall.”—St. Alban’s Episcopal Church

“This holiday season, if you really want to thank Jesus for your food, then give him and his family a path to citizenship and pay them living wage!”—The Other 98%

“Proud Boys asking for better jail conditions is just another example of them not understanding things until it personally affects them.”—The Other 98%

“You can tell Monopoly is an old game because there’s a luxury tax and rich people can go to jail.”—Left Action

“The Pentagon spends over $2,000,000,000 every single day. Meanwhile, 40,000 veterans experienced homelessness last year. What if ‘support our troops’ meant reinvesting funds to actually provide veterans with basic necessities?”—The Other 98%

“Is there a nicer feeling than being in a room full of people and the dog chooses to come sit next to you?”—Peace, Love and Music

“Apparently, 12 years of tuition free public school isn’t socialism. But add 4 more years and suddenly it’s a communist plot.”—Jeffrey Levin

“White privilege is refusing to get a proven vaccine while millions of Black and brown people around the world still can’t get access.”—Robert Reich

“Likely we will have to live with Covid and its variants for many years. Vaccinating the world regardless of cost will save millions of lives in the US let alone around the world. We don’t need more shut downs, we need more people vaccinated to prevent deaths.”—Maxine Clark

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being, and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government makes that decision for her, she is being treated less than a fully adult human.”—Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Monday, November 29, 2021

Crime Caper Movies Beat Smash & Grab Reality

The recent rash of “smash and grab” robberies made me think of a delightfully charming 80-year-old heist flick starring William Powell and Kay Francis. “Jewel Robbery” had breezy dialogue, no violence and the type of escapism the masses in the midst of the Depression needed to make their lives a little less gray.

For good measure, view another 1932 gem, “Trouble in Paradise,” with Kay Francis as a rich businesswoman preyed upon by tandem swindlers Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins.

Here is my list of crime capers to enjoy:

Jewel Robbery

Trouble in Paradise


How to Steal a Million

Charade (the Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn version)

The Sting

The Lookout

The Asphalt Jungle

They Live by Night

Larceny, Inc.

Double Indemnity

Oceans 11 (all versions)

Raising Arizona



Monday, November 8, 2021

Marathon Musings and Top Racing Movies

I am not a long distance runner. Never was. Though in my youth—by that I mean at least till I turned 50 or so—I could run pretty fast. Short distances. If I hit a ground ball to the second baseman during a weekly softball game I had a better than even chance of beating his throw to first base. 

As a youngster I ran faster than any of my friends. They learned to ride bicycles. I didn’t. I reasoned I could keep up with them by simply running. I was wrong. I never learned to ride a two-wheeler until I was 40, long after my childhood friends and I parted ways. 

Age coupled with some peripheral neuropathy in my feet slowed me down. It mostly manifested itself during daily walks up and down Park Avenue during the last decade of my commute to and from work. Ever the competitive person, I would imagine myself in a speed-walking contest with an unsuspecting pedestrian at least half a block ahead of me. In the morning, upon exiting from Grand Central Terminal, I’d race him or her to my office at 425 Park Avenue midway between East 55th and 56th streets. On the way back home I’d race to the entrance to Metro North. 

My racing reverie was inspired by Sunday’s 50th anniversary of the New York Marathon. Gilda’s brother, Carl, did run marathons, so one Marathon Sunday some four decades ago we decided to brave the chilly weather and cheer him on. We waited behind blue police barricades at the 20-mile point, up in the Bronx. Carl was a good runner. We expected him to pass within an hour of the leaders.

We waited and waited for nearly four hours. No Carl. Numb from the chill and hungry, we headed home, figuring Carl must have pulled up lame before our vantage point. Being pre-cell phone days, we had to wait until we returned home to contact him.

Turned out Carl was not injured, that he indeed had kept to his expected pace. But the stress of the race had so contorted his image that we didn’t recognize him as he loped by. Ah, well…

It’s been many years since Carl ran a marathon. Since then several friends have trained for and run the NYC Marathon. I’m in awe of their discipline and stamina. Congratulations to the 30,000 who participated in Sunday’s race. They were winners even if they came up short of the required 26.2 mile course.

Racing Movies: Before anyone reacts to my list of favorite movies on land, sea or air with a racing theme, or significant scene, be aware I have not seen any of the “Fast and Furious” or “Cars” franchises. Here are my recommended films: 

National Velvet

Chariots of Fire

Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner


Ford vs Ferrari


Grand Prix


A Day at the Races


Days of Thunder

Breaking Away

American Graffiti

Rebel Without a Cause


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

For Democrats the Time To Act Is NOW

I wonder if President Joe Manchin and Vice President Kyrsten Lea Sinema are happy today in light of a Republican gubernatorial win in Virginia and a potential upset victory in New Jersey? Oh, did you think they were just U.S. senators from, respectively West Virginia and Arizona? Not by a long shot. 

For, after all, it has been their repeated intransigence that has left the Democratic Party in disarray, unable to cobble together progressive pocketbook and environmental legislation that Democrats could run on instead of having to defend Republican attacks on culture issues. 

They, not Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and surely not Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, are driving the agenda of the current administration. Yes, Mitch Mcconnell and Kevin McCarthy are Republican stumbling blocks in the Senate and House, respectively, but the true cogs in the Democratic works are Manchin and Sinema. Manchin’s reluctance to accept Biden’s initiatives after repeated entreaties and adjustments validates what I wrote back on February 26, “Which Joe Is President? Biden or Manchin? (https://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2021/02/which-joe-is-president-biden-or-manchin.html).

For sure, there were statewide issues that sunk Terry McAuliffe’s bid to return to the governor’s mansion of Virginia and Philip Murphy’s nailbiting cling to the keys to New Jersey’s residence of power. The failure of Democrats on a national level to coalesce around meat and potato issues that could improve voters’ lives has left them vulnerable to unending local criticisms, and, just as pointedly, to the belief they do not know how to govern, that they just want to appease strident radical interest groups. 

One, if not two, more states could turn the clock back on progress toward equality, environmentalism and health care. Republican Glenn Youngkin’s boast that he would immediately suspend any teaching of critical race theory in Virginia public schools is particularly disheartening because it was in Virginia in 1619 that the first shipload of African slaves arrived on American soil. And nearly 200 years later the slaveholders of Virginia were in the forefront of breaking up African families by selling off individual slaves to cotton plantations in Deep South states. 

How reactionary will Youngkin be? He is on video privately assuring a supporter he will address restricting abortion rights if he won. Will the Robert E. Lee statue recently removed from downtown Richmond be reinstalled on prominent state property? 

It’s a painful exercise contemplating a return to repressive days of yore. On Facebook a posting fondly recalled 1962, with its lower cost of living. 

While everything is ridiculously less expensive (average rent $110/mo., Harvard tuition $1,520/yr., movie ticket $1, gasoline 27 cents/gal.), what is not included in the nostalgic look-back is quality of life: 

Blacks lived under public Jim Crow laws in the South and covert discrimination in the North; women would have to wait another dozen years to obtain the right to get their own credit cards separate from their husbands’; until 1975 in many states women could be barred from serving on a jury; working women had no pregnancy or maternity leave protection; many states outlawed any form of birth control, even for married couples; interracial marriages were illegal in many states until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia the restrictions were unconstitutional (https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/71353/8-things-women-used-be-banned-doing). 

Life may have seen simpler back in 1962, in a “Handmaid’s Tale” dystopian way. There’s no doubt the country is trending toward a more traditional nostalgia. Even in supposedly progressive New York State voters Tuesday harkened to Republican voices and rejected ballot initiatives liberalizing same-day voter registration and allowing anyone to cast an absentee ballot.

An effective, even transformational Biden presidency, rests with Manchin and Sinema finalizing their support of the president’s Build Back Better program. Concurrently, progressive and moderate Democrats in the House must stop their wrangling. 

As the battle over the Affordable Care Act in 2010 showed, compromise legislation is better than no legislation. While they still have majorities in the House and Senate, tenuous as they may be, Democrats must act NOW.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Facebook Language Woes of Its Own Making

Lost in Transliteration: Facebook has many problems, not the least of which is with its translation app. 

An Israeli friend posted a recruitment message in Hebrew for a technology company. Listed were several open positions. All well and good until the final job classification—the Hebrew transliteration of “fashionista.” 


The problem? Facebook translated it as “fascist.” 

Just past midnight Sunday I notified Facebook of the egregious app faux pas, but as of 5 pm Monday no correction had been made. Of course, I’ve also notified my friend.

Lost in Translation: Facebook no longer wants to be known as simply a social media company. So, founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg has changed the corporate name to Meta, signifying a transition to a metaverse, what he says is where the physical and digital worlds come together (please do not expect me to explain it in any deeper way).

Zuckerberg’s Meta has fostered its fair share of ridicule and skepticism, perhaps the most cutting from Israelis, including my friend Karin, who noted, “I think Mark Zuckerberg must have skipped that one Hebrew class when they explained what “Meta” means….Well, for my non Israeli/Jewish friends, “Meta” in Hebrew means - SHE IS DEAD…so good luck with that, Mark    


Original Intent: Many of our Founding Fathers surely led contradictory lives. Chief among them—Thomas Jefferson, whose statue will be removed from the New York City Council chambers because he was a slaveholder of more than 600 humans, who even upon his death failed to free most of them. 

This despite his credited authorship of one of the most famous passages in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent & inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness.” 

Of course, that statement was the result of community editing with other delegates to the Second Continental Congress. 

In Jefferson’s first draft, a handwritten copy of which Gilda and I saw last week in an extraordinary Polonsky Exhibition of “treasures” collected by the New York Public Library (including a first edition Gutenberg Bible and a majestic King James Bible, an original copy of the Bill of Rights and original Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends dolls), the Declaration’s principal author had the following description of the slave trade expunged from the final, adopted transcript: a “cruel war against human nature itself” and “an assemblage of horrors.” 

The Library’s accompanying commentary properly reflects, “Jefferson’s omitted passage allows us a solemn opportunity: to imagine how history might have been different if, from the beginning, the United States had taken a stand against the evils of enslavement.”

Frankensteinian Attack: It being the season of Halloween, it was no surprise that a horde of horror movies, including “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” and “Phantom of the Opera,” found their way onto home television screens (can’t say “small screens” as in the past, as many, including yours truly, enjoy viewing films on 50-inch plus monitors). 

“Young Frankenstein,” the comedic sendup written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, and directed by the former, was shown Saturday night on TCM (Turner Classic Movies). A few days before watching part of the film, I viewed a 2019 documentary TCM aired on Carl Laemmle, the German-Jewish immigrant who founded Universal Studios in the early 20th century and who rescued many Jews from Nazi Germany during the late 1930s. Among its many notable films Universal concentrated on horror flicks—“Frankenstein”, “Dracula,” “The Mummy,” “The Invisible Man” and their many offshoots, to cite a few titles. 

Deep into the documentary, there was a clip from 1974 of Brooks promoting his then new film on “The Tonight Show.” Brooks used the occasion to once again comically malign my given name. “There was a director many years ago by the name of James Whale who made all those wonderful ‘Frankenstein’ movies,” said Brooks. “He made ‘Frankenstein,’ ‘The Bride of Frankenstein,’ ‘The Son of Frankenstein,’ ‘The House of Frankenstein,’ ‘Frankenstein’s Friend, Murray.’”

Brooks never seems to miss an opportunity to verbally assault my given name (https://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2009/11/whats-in-name.html). 


More Westerns: I was admonished for not including some classic Westerns in my list of favorite oaters. Chief among them, “High Noon,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “3:10 to Yuma” (Van Heflin-Glenn Ford version), “The Shootist,” and the recently released “News of the World.”

Guilty on all counts, though to be honest, while I often rewatch “High Noon” I do not think it is among Gary Cooper’s best. As I wrote to a friend in my defense, “Gary Cooper was anti-violence in several movies—“Friendly Persuasion” and “The Hanging Tree,” to name two—so it was not a reach for him in “High Noon.” I like the movie but not as much as his others like “The Westerner” or “Along Came Jones” where he mixed in some humor in his portrayals.”


Monday, October 25, 2021

Western Movies Helped Define America

The mortal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and the wounding of director Joel Souza on the set of “Rust,” an independent western movie, by Alec Baldwin is a tragedy too profound for words.

Westerns have been part of storytelling cinema since “The Great Train Robbery” was filmed in 1903. The 12 minute flick includes a final scene with a revolver pointed toward and directly fired at the camera, much the same way Baldwin enacted the accidental fatal scene the “Rust” company was shooting (https://youtu.be/SqBNHH6KJyI). 

The western genre has been universally accepted as a stand-in for the American experience, both good and bad. 

My father spent his young adult years in Danzig (Gdansk) when it was a heavily German enclave before the Second World War. I have no doubt he saw American westerns there. 

He loved watching westerns, movies or network shows like “Gunsmoke,” on television. As we approached home at the end of a day visiting family or friends he would serenade my brother, sister and me with a hearty rendition of Gene Autry singing, “Home, Home on the Range.”

I’m still a devotee of westerns. Not in any order but here is a list of westerns you should see if you have not already:

Heart of the West

The Westerner


Will Penny

Lonely Are the Brave

My Darling Clementine

Fort Apache

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

The Searchers

Red River

Stagecoach (John Wayne version)

The Rider

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Ox-Bow Incident

Unforgiven (Burt Lancaster version)

Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood version)

Lonely Are the Brave

Will Penny

Drums Along the Mohawk

Last of the Mohicans (Randolph Scott version)

Last of the Mohicans (Daniel Day Lewis version)

The Gunfighter

Destry Rides Again

Friendly Persuasion

Along Came Jones

The Horse Soldiers

The Gold Rush (watch this one with the kids as it is a Charlie Chaplin silent classic)

Blazing Saddles