Wednesday, May 26, 2021

History, Shmistory, Culture Wars Invade Education

Growing up in Brooklyn, I did not learn in primary school that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Though my elementary school years spanned from the fall of 1954 through the spring of 1962, turbulent times for the civil rights movement, I was not instructed in news of the day and its historical origins. I recall no lessons on racial equality.

I didn’t learn how Columbus and his contemporary colonizers mistreated Indigenous people in the Americas and the Caribbean. We learned a smidgeon about the social structure and the longhouses built by the Iroquois tribes in New York, but I can recall not a word about the skill and advanced technologies used by Aztecs, Mayans and Incas south of what is now the border with Mexico. Nor about the tribal organizations of Native Americans.

Former Republican senator Rick Santorum possibly was caught up in elementary school “wisdom” when he said at a conservative political event, “We birthed as a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here.” As someone who wanted to be president, Santorum should have known better, both as fact and as appropriate political speech. For his dumbfoundedness, CNN dropped him as a political commentator.

My education was Euro-centric, dominantly Anglo-centric, as if Spain’s contribution to America ended when it sold Florida to the United States in 1819. Hardly a mention of Spain’s, and later Mexico’s, series of missions in California and the Southwest. The few Spanish mentions revolved around quixotic quests—Ponce de Leon’s for the Fountain of Youth in Florida, Coronado’s for the Seven Golden Cities of Cebola in the Southwest, DeSoto’s Southeastern mission to find riches.

The Alamo was a symbol of pride, not just in Texas. We youngsters gobbled up Disney’s artificial version of events, never countenancing that Davy Crockett and the band of Texans he joined in San Antonio were what modern day onlookers would call insurrectionists trying to usurp territory recognized by our government as belonging to another country.

I’m not against building patriotism in the young through sugar-coated, perhaps incomplete, histories that build toward truth as students mature. But I am against outright deceits.

Take, for example, the just published yearbook of a junior high school in Bentonville, Ark., home town, you should know, of Walmart. For an as yet unexplained reason other than negligence (okay, maybe right wing politics had something to do with it), the school principal had to apologize for “political inaccuracies” that stated Donald Trump was not impeached “and that last year’s racial protests in the US were “Black Lives Matter riots” (

It is not enough that Lincoln JHS said students could get their money back if they purchased a yearbook. Irreversible damage to the truth has been done.

Of course, disassociating the truth from reality has been a central part of the Republican playbook since Trump glided down that escalator in 2015. During the early stages of his campaign Republicans dismissed many of his falsehoods. Since his nomination and election in 2016 it is a rare Republican who calls out his lies and those of his sycophants and enablers.

Alternate realities are cultivated little by little, small lies followed by big lies.

A teacher at Bartram Trails high school in St. John’s, Fla., near Jacksonville and St. Augustine, photoshopped pictures of 80 girls in the school yearbook because, in her opinion, they were dressed inappropriately—they hinted too much at cleavage. A digital alteration lifted their apparels’ chest line to the teacher’s comfort level. It’s a judgment call, but one that should not have been made without prior notification.

It is a small reality check that pictures no longer can be trusted. Soviet-era photo manipulation is now available to anyone with a computer.

More troubling is the dismissal by many Republicans of the 1619 Project that attempts to put into context the racial history of our country that has contributed to the disadvantages faced by Blacks and other people of color. The University of North Carolina refused to offer tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, who oversaw publication of the 1619 Project in The New York Times (

State legislatures, often gerrymandered bodies designed to elect Republican majorities, have passed or are passing laws banning the instruction of critical race theory, even in states where a majority of voters have elected Democratic governors who support the concept.

Barring classroom discussion is reminiscent of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Tennessee tried to muzzle the teaching of human evolution. Religious fundamentalism vs. scientific theory.

In removing Liz Cheney from GOP House leadership, and in actions at state level to make voting harder for citizens and easier for GOP officials to overturn the will of the people, we are sliding away from democracy toward a future of autocracy based on lies. 

Unless our schools remain oases of truth, our future is bleak. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Legal Battles Worth Viewing

Two of my all-time favorite movies will be aired Wednesday on Turner Classic Movies—“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Inherit the Wind.” Scenes in their courtroom sequences mesmerize me by the brilliance of the dialogue and skill of the actors to dominate the screen.

Interestingly, both films deal with life in small Southern communities during the first third of the 20th century. For the most part, residents of neither community could be held up as models for what American values should be, except those displayed by the protagonists, Atticus Finch fighting racial injustice in Mockingbird, Henry Drummond battling religious fundamentalism’s crusade against science, specifically evolution versus the Bible, in Inherit the Wind.

Watch them, or record them for later viewing, if you can. In addition, here are films with legal or courtroom scenes worthy of your time and attention (send me any additions, or subtractions, you deem appropriate):

Anatomy of a Murder


A Few Good Men

The Verdict

Judgement at Nuremberg


Adam’s Rib

A Man for All Seasons

Witness for the Prosecution

12 Angry Men

Erin Brockovich

Dark Waters

Kramer vs. Kramer

My Cousin Vinny

Legally Blonde


The Trial of the Chicago Seven

Sergeant Rutledge

Breaker Morant

Paths of Glory

A Tale of Two Cities

The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell

Friday, May 14, 2021

Spending Time on the Rails, a Tribute to Jim Mixter

Two Fridays ago Jim Mixter passed away after a brief, aggressive cancer sapped him of life just weeks after his 70th birthday. Jim was multi-dimensional, a career executive with ExxonMobil, a leader and choir member in his church, a neighborhood organizer, a bird watcher, a loving husband, father and grandfather. He was our daughter-in-law Allison’s father, granddad to Finley and Dagny. Jim also was an avid railroad man, hardly ever missing an opportunity to ride the rails across the land, rarely missing an opportunity to photograph and speak about trains. 

With that last facet of his life in mind, here are my favorite movies with trains as a central or significant plot detail. From time to time I will post other theme-based movie lists. 

If you have a favorite not on my list, let me know. My randomly listed movies apply only to films I have seen. 

3:10 to Yuma (the original starring Van Heflin and Glenn Ford)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

The Train

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

Throw Momma from the Train

Von Ryan’s Express

Strangers on a Train

The Lady Vanishes

Girl on a Train


Murder on the Orient Express (I prefer the 1974 version with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot)

North by Northwest

Union Pacific

Twentieth Century (1934 version starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard)

The General (Buster Keaton silent film)

The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (either version, though the original with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw is better)

Shanghai Express

The Narrow Margin

The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Knight Without Armor

Sliding Doors


Dr. Zhivago

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Thursday, May 13, 2021

To Combat Lies, Silence Is Not Golden, It Is an Enabler

With few exceptions throughout the land, Republican officials have turned a deaf ear to anyone speaking truth. Hiding their identities behind a voice vote, GOP members of Congress shouted their expulsion of Liz Cheney from her House Leadership position Wednesday because she refused to accept an alternate Bizarro reality, because she refused to be complicit in Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud, because she preferred a party of ideas and principles over cult membership, because she put allegiance to country and Constitution above loyalty to a flawed leader. Because she refused to remain silent. 

We can fulminate forever on the evolution of the Republican Party and the masses of voters who have hitched their futures to a false god. 

All of that doesn’t explain why, why so many are caught up in Trump mania. What does it take for a lie to take hold as “truth?” Perhaps this Facebook posting originally from Jane Crosby Swanson, and reposted by Molly Brauer, an ex-colleague, offers some insight into herd mentality:

“When I was in seventh grade, our teacher put on a video and told us to take notes. Ten minutes in, she threw the lights on and shouted at Steven Webb Sladki, telling him he wasn’t taking notes and he should have been. But the thing was, Steve was taking notes. I saw it. We all saw it. The teacher asked if anyone wanted to stand up for Steve. A few of us choked out some words of defense but were immediately squashed. Quickly, we were all very silent. Steve was sent to the principal’s office. The teacher came back in the room and said something like, “See how easy that was?” We were reading “Anne Frank.” I started to understand. I just thought now was a good time to share this story. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you see with your own eyes isn’t happening.”

With our own eyes we saw, and with our own ears we heard:

Trump praise those who attacked the Capital; 

Trump refuse to accept the validity of the 2020 election despite repeated court decisions, many from judges he appointed; 

Trump refuse to publicly warn us about the severity and danger of COVID-19 even though he received private briefings about its devastating potential;

Trump accept the word of Putin over the findings of our intelligence agencies;

Trump order the evacuation of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Biden simply delayed it by several months;

Trump impose inhumane treatment on asylum-seeking families, the separation of young children, even those less than a year old and still breastfeeding, from their parents at the southern border;

Trump repeatedly call for infrastructure investment but never propose any concrete program;

Trump verbally abuse judges and elected officials who disagreed with him;

Trump plead with election officials in Georgia to “find” enough ballots to give him victory in their state;

Trump try to coerce the president of Ukraine to find political dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter in return for releasing financial support already voted by Congress. 

For all this and more too many Americans are conveniently forgetting or, just as bad, tolerating. Too many, especially Republican politicians, are remaining silent.

It is well and good that we remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller whose searing, emotional poem is one of the last exhibits at the U.S. National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC (

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Onward to the Past

With each passing day we are confronted with the reality that sizable numbers of the world’s population prefer to live in the past. At one time it was easy for Westerners to strut their elitism by mocking the Taliban’s rejection of modern ethos, by being abhorred at the fundamentalism of a movement that blew up statues and schools that taught girls, often with youngsters inside. 

But Western airs of superiority have been blown away by events decades old and as fresh as today’s news. 

When one wonders how a civilized, educated society such as Germany of the 1920s and 1930s could have fallen so rapidly, so completely, into the barbarism and depravity of the Third Reich, one need only contemplate the transformation of the Republican Party that once stood up for human rights, international relations, free markets and the rule of law.

Despite yeoman efforts to repulse any resurgence of fascism, Germany, as well as other European countries, have been confronted with anti-Semitism and strong leader extremism. 

The United States has not been shielded from the same ethical scourge. 

Each news cycle brings additional evidence we have definitively passed into the realm of the absurd, the criminally negligent, the Dark Ages. 

An expensive Florida private school has decreed it would not employ any teachers who have been vaccinated with anti-COVID-19 serums. Without any authoritative, scientific evidence, it fears coming into contact with the vaccinated could actually spread the disease. 

An ultra Orthodox Jewish group has proposed a summer camp with similar COVID vaccination restrictions on its staff and campers. 

Even as many universities and businesses are requiring their students and employees, respectively, to be vaccinated before returning to school and work, and vaccines are now being made available to those 12 and older, the anti-vaxxer movement remains strong, as antagonistic as Middle Age clerics were to scientific advances that transcended religious doctrine. 

Many of the anti-mask and anti-vaccine crowd are Donald Trump supporters. Yet, Trump brags that he husbanded development of the COVID-19 vaccines and while he has been inoculated, he did so in private, not publicly to serve as an example as all living ex-presidents have. 

Still, one wonders why if Trump is a god-like figure to so many, why has he not been able to influence them to take the shot? No doubt, it is partly because he cultivated an atmosphere of suspicion in federal policy and office holders, except in him, of course.  

Devotion to a political or social leader is not a new phenomenon in America. Presidents from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to John Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could do no wrong in the eyes of their believers. But each of them was restrained by devotion to the rule of law and by their respective party’s legislative leaders who swore allegiance not to them but rather to the Constitution. 

Perhaps even more troubling is the crumbling of the wall between the military and civilian control of it. More than 120 retired generals and admirals are questioning Joe Biden’s mental and physical condition, his fitness to be commander in chief and president. They are echoing Trump’s claims the 2020 election was not legitimate  ( 

Trump has upended the dynamic between politicians and the military. He has upended the dynamic between politicians and the judiciary, between politicians and career civil service employees. 

Because he has acknowledged vote-getting power, Republican politicians fear that dismissing him from their national stage would undermine efforts to regain control of the House, Senate and the White House. Keep in mind, the first job of any politician is to get elected. The second job is to get re-elected.

Across the country Republican controlled legislatures are rewriting election laws to not only make it more difficult for minorities to vote but also for the results to be certified only if they favor GOP candidates and to alter them if they don’t. Republicans fear repeats of 2020 Democratic wins in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan. To them it’s a democratic/Democratic virus more virulent and toxic than COVID-19. 

The Republican Party professes to be a party of ideas, with a tent large enough to accommodate divergent views. But the saga of Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming has exposed Republicans as short-sighted, cult-worshipping opportunists interested only in power and themselves. 

Take a few minutes to read the remarks Cheney delivered on the floor of the House Tuesday night, the eve before her removal Wednesday as part of the House Republican Leadership:

“Madam Speaker, I rise tonight to discuss freedom and our constitutional duty to protect it.

I have been privileged to see first-hand how powerful and how fragile freedom is. 28 years ago, I stood outside a polling place, a schoolhouse in western Kenya. Soldiers had chased away people lined up to vote. A few hours later, the people began streaming back in, risking further attack, undaunted in their determination to exercise their right to vote.

In 1992, I sat across a table from a young mayor in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia and listened to him talk of his dream of liberating his nation from communism. Years later, for his dedication to the cause of freedom, Boris Nemtsov would be assassinated by Vladimir Putin’s thugs.

In Warsaw, in 1990, I listened to a young Polish woman tell me that her greatest fear was that people would forget what it was like to live under communist domination, that they would forget the price of freedom.

Three men -- an immigrant who escaped Castro’s totalitarian regime; a young man who grew up behind the Iron Curtain and became his country’s minister of defense; and a dissident who spent years in the Soviet gulag have all told me it was the miracle of America captured in the words of President Ronald Reagan that inspired them to seek freedom.

I have seen the power of faith and freedom. I listened to Pope John Paul II speak to thousands in Nairobi in 1985, and 19 years later I watched that same pope take my father’s hand, look in his eyes, and say, ‘God Bless America.’

God has blessed America, but our freedom only survives if we protect it, if we honor our oath, taken before God in this chamber, to support and defend the Constitution, if we recognize threats to freedom when they arise.

Today we face a threat America has never seen before. A former president, who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence.

Millions of Americans have been misled by the former President. They have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.

I am a conservative Republican and the most conservative of conservative principles is reverence for the rule of law. The Electoral College has voted. More than sixty state and federal courts, including multiple judges he appointed, have rejected the former president’s claims. The Department of Justice in his administration investigated the former president’s claims of widespread fraud and found no evidence to support them. The election is over. That is the rule of law. That is our constitutional process.

Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution.

Our duty is clear. Every one of us who has sworn the oath must act to prevent the unraveling of our democracy. This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans. Remaining silent, and ignoring the lie, emboldens the liar.

I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.

As the party of Reagan, Republicans championed democracy, won the Cold War, and defeated the Soviet Communists. As we speak, America is on the cusp of another Cold War -- this time with communist China. Attacks against our democratic process and the rule of law empower our adversaries and feed Communist propaganda that American democracy is a failure. We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen, and America has not failed.

I received a message last week from a Gold Star father who said, ‘Standing up for the truth honors all who gave all.’ We must all strive to be worthy of the sacrifice of those who have died for our freedom. They are the patriots Katherine Lee Bates described in the words of America the Beautiful: ‘Oh beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life.’

Ultimately, this is at the heart of what our oath requires -- that we love our country more. That we love her so much we will stand above politics to defend her. That we will do everything in our power to protect our Constitution and our freedom -- paid for by the blood of so many.

We must love her so much we will never yield in her defense.

That is our duty. Thank you.”

Sunday, May 2, 2021

More Pain With and Without Novocaine

It seems I struck a nerve with my last blog’s dental tales, especially the administration of novocaine to ease suffering. Apparently, while I withstood the trauma of dental work as best I could with the administration of novocaine, lots of people are more fearful or indifferent to the drug than they are to the pain inflicted by their dentist. 

Gilda, for example, disdains the use of novocaine. Putting up with me for a half century no doubt has inured her to physical pain. 

“My childhood dentist didn’t use novocaine,” Hank reported

My sister Lee said, “I remember when he (Dr. Turetsky) would give me a novocaine shot. His nurse would cover my eyes so I wouldn’t see the gigantic apparatus (needle). 

“Well, one day she did not do a good job of blocking my view and I saw ‘it.’ Today, I can still feel the fear of seeing it. Each time I close my eyes when I need novocaine that fear returns.”

“Oh, to have had the benefit of fluoride!,” moaned Michael. “Like you I had lots of cavities as a child. Our family dentist in Omaha was a member of our shul. A big, tall man—with drills to match. 

“And, as I remember all too well, a novocaine syringe that was at least 2 feet long. I was so traumatized by that torture device that for years I forswore novocaine and just endured the drilling.”

Arguably, avoidance is a tactic many take, though I personally do not recommend it. Nor do I endorse repeated exposure to pain. 

I’m always cautious when a dentist advises a procedure would entail little or no pain. I’m reminded of an experience one of my executive editors had back in the early 1980s. 

After returning to America from years abroad in Singapore, Peter needed a root canal treatment. Having no regular dentist, he made an appointment with a father-son practice based on the recommendation of a friend. 

The friend advised him to pick the son. He didn’t listen.

The septuagenarian dentist asked Peter if he believed in new-fangled treatments, you know, things like novocaine. Ever the traditionalist, Peter said no, that whatever the dentist thought necessary was okay by him.

Now, anyone who’s ever had a root canal knows it’s one of the more painful procedures you will undergo in a dentist’s chair. Think  the movie Marathon Man. It’s definitely not safe. Many times over. Peter came back to the office lamenting his dual decisions to sit for the elderly dentist and to believe him when he said it wouldn’t hurt.

What always amazed me is when Peter returned for the required second and third treatments, he continued to allow the senior dentist to work on his mouth—without novocaine!!!

As quickly as I could I arranged his transfer to another publication. No way I wanted someone with that amount of judgment working for me.