Tuesday, August 31, 2021

My A-List of School-based Movies

 Facebook has exploded with pictures of kids physically, not virtually, going back to school, or in many instances starting school for the first time.

Here’s my list of favorite movies I have seen with education as a central theme or important school scene:

To Sir with Love


The Way We Were

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

The Winslow Boy (1948 and 1999)



The Children’s Hour

The History Boys

Freaky Friday

The Blue Angel

13 Going on 30

Dead Poets Society

Blackboard Jungle

How Green Was My Valley

Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939)

Horse Feathers

Animal House

Back to School

The Breakfast Club

Hairspray (musical and non musical)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

The Paper Chase

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Pretty in Pink

All of the Indiana Jones movies

Legally Blonde

Back to the Future

The Absent-Minded Professor


Good Will Hunting


Mr. Holland’s Opus


Spider-man (2002)

The Last Picture Show

Monday, August 30, 2021

COVID Concern Is Sapping My Tolerance

Am I getting old, lazy or both?

Chronologically, of course I am aging. Almost 72-1/2.

Mobility-wise, it’s not a question of getting lazy. Rather, I should have written, lazier.

Bursts of energy for activities that interest me remain part of my makeup. But fewer activities seem to capture a place on my To Do list (for the record, I do not have a bucket list).

Take, for example, what had been an annual chore for the last decade or more—collecting leaves to turn into mulch for Gilda’s garden. Each fall I would roam nearby streets searching for piles of leaves before city public works trucks scooped them up. Several times each autumn I’d stuff into the back of Gilda’s Ford C-Max a dozen or so big black garbage bags full of the fallen treasure, retreat to my yard and spend hours feeding the leaves into the bowel of my electric leaf shredder/mulcher. When the motor overheated I’d plug in my second shredder.

All that activity is in my past. I cleaned out the storage shed Sunday, tested each shredder, took pictures of them and posted separate offers on Freecycle.org. Within minutes members claimed each one, disappointing other would be mulchers. The winning claimants picked them up Monday.

Lest you think I am teetering on the brink of doddering, let me assure you I am not. But I will admit to BOREDOM. The never ending COVID catastrophe has robbed me, Gilda and millions of others, of a liberating, invigorating retirement (I’ve been retired for 12 years, but Gilda hung up her stethoscope in 2019 and was just hitting her stride when the pandemic kneecapped her—our—plans. In the last 12 months we cancelled trips to Portugal, Colorado, Omaha, Switzerland, and couldn’t entertain any other ventures we might have desired). There’s just so much Netflix one can watch, or material to read. 

I’m not usually a vindictive person, but when I see or read reports about anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, especially from the ranks of healthcare and public safety professionals, I silently, okay, maybe softly say out loud, that if they get COVID they should not be permitted to burden the already stressed and stretched out hospital system. Some of the antis say they trust God will take care of them, discounting the argument that God gave humans the intelligence and means to produce vaccines and pandemic-protective masks. 

Some companies have instituted higher health insurance premiums for those who have not been vaccinated. I’m all for it. Make the surcharge high enough to sway recalcitrants to roll up their sleeves. 

As a nation we have had a rough half century. Divisions over civil rights, economic and tax policies, income inequality, immigration, reproductive rights, gender discrimination, climate change, the environment, conflicts and wars in Vietnam, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Nicaragua, North Korea and other hot spots, distinguish political allegiances. 

But with COVID we have passed into a region previously sacrosanct to all but society’s fringe. Our universal belief in science and medicine has been shattered. 

A nation that defeated or contained the scourges of polio, measles, smallpox, diphtheria, typhoid, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases has resisted in dramatic fashion the miraculous development of COVID-19 vaccines. 

People, who for years have adhered to merchant and restaurant rules to wear shoes and shirts if they want service, vocally and forcefully have challenged mask wearing in private and public enterprises. 

No one likes wearing a mask (except maybe Batman, other superheroes, and Mexican Lucha libre wrestlers). Rather than suppressing individual freedoms, as the anti-maskers contend, wearing a mask embellishes one’s freedom, as it allows people to associate with reduced anxiety of transmitting or receiving the dangerous Delta variant.

Okay. Enough preaching for one blog from an old man. Obviously, I am not getting lazier when it comes to blogging. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

An American Tragedy in Afghanistan

The American tragedy of Afghanistan is deeper than the 12 U.S. servicemen and 60 Afghans who perished Thursday in twin suicide bombing attacks at the Kabul airport, site of a desperate evacuation drama.  

The tragedy is that after 20 years fighting religious extremists we remain unable to understand, much less quash, their ideology or devotion to indifference to the pain and suffering of their victims. 

As sad and as tragic the loss of life was for our troops, they died fulfilling their mission. Military life is inherently dangerous. We had been warned a suicide bombing was possible. It is almost impossible to thwart such an endeavor by a lone, dedicated practitioner. 

The tragedy is that even after America and our allies leave Afghanistan there will be more such atrocities, be they from ISIS or Taliban or other ideologues with a grievance against schools, women, ex-government employees, or religious sects not to their liking. 

The tragedy is that partisan politics permeates every reaction to events however positive or negative. Republican calls for Joe Biden’s resignation ring hollow from a party that dismissed multiple unconstitutional actions by Donald Trump. 

The tragedy is that another U.S. president with a domestic agenda intended to enhance the lives of millions of needy, less fortunate Americans may have his legacy tainted by an international foe. Lyndon Johnson stayed put in Vietnam, sapping his ability to fully implement his Great Society initiative. Biden sought a hasty departure from Afghanistan even as Democrats try with the slimmest of margins to enact groundbreaking civil rights and social benefit programs. 

The tragedy is that the political storm over the bombings will shift attention away from tragedies at home—COVID with its impact on health, the economy and education; devastating fires; hurricane and flood damage; drought; voting rights suppression; home foreclosures; unchecked immigration along the Southern border. 

The tragedy is that Biden will forever be blamed for Thursday’s deaths while his predecessors—Bush II, Obama, Trump—will get off lighter even though they were commanders-in-chief during an unwinnable, prolonged war that claimed the lives of some 2,300-2,500 Americans. 

According to Reuters, “Thursday’s U.S. military casualties were the first in Afghanistan since February 2020 and represented the deadliest day for American troops there in a decade.” 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Robespierre to Trump: Watch Out When the Mob Turns on You. And a Progressive Fantasy

Donald Trump is no student of history, which explains but does not excuse, his Robespierre moment over the weekend. 

During a rally last weekend in Cullman, Ala., Trump mildly advised his throng of supporters to get the COVID-19 vaccine. To which they replied with jeers, not cheers (https://mol.im/a/9916429).

Turns out, like Robespierre discovered during the French Revolution, it is difficult to control an unleashed mob. The masses will turn against you even if you are, for once, telling them what they should hear and follow. Robespierre wound up a victim of the guillotine he eagerly sent royalty loyalists to. 

It will be most enlightening to observe whether Trump will include a plea for vaccinations during his next rally, or will he retreat to following the anti-vaxx mob mentality in fear of losing his hold on his core constituency.

Trump supporters are the mainstay of the unvaccinated who have fallen victim to the Delta variant. They’ve been overwhelming hospitals throughout the South, Southwest and Plains states. Trump territory. 

Even though Trump can rightfully claim he husbanded the development of the vaccines, his cultivation of conspiracy theories, a disbelief in and denigration of federal authorities, and the presumption that masks and vaccines deprive people of their individual liberties are more powerful messages to his supporters. 

Coupled with his frequent statements that the coronavirus was a temporary blip on the nation’s health, Trump contributed to the ultimate spread of the initial waves of the pandemic, the subsequent loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and a shattered economy and educational system. Even now he abstains from forcefully and repeatedly urging vaccinations and mask wearing.

What he does promote is the absurdly false claim of his “reinstatement” to the presidency. At that same Cullman rally, MyPillow guy Mike Lindell explained away the non-reinstatement he forecast for Friday, the 13th of August, by saying it would happen later this year or sometime in 2022.

There is, among the anti-Trump crowd, a sense of dread that he will seek the presidency again in 2024. A deeper dread that he might actually win. 

There is, however, a simple solution to this possibility—acknowledge Trump’s election victory in 2020, but not his right to be sworn in now that Joe Biden has been president since January 20, 2021.

The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution states, “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice.” So, if Trump is said to the the winner of the elections in 2016 and 2020, he would be constitutionally barred from winning an election for president in 2024. 

Problem solved! Okay, I know this is an absurd idea. But then, so is “reinstatement,” and yet millions of Americans think it could legally happen. Aren’t progressives allowed to share fantasies, as well? 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

A Whipped Up Crisis Revealed

 COVID-19 Delta variant consumes the unvaccinated, mostly in Southern states. Wild fires torch the West. Floods swamp the Eastern seaboard. Undocumenteds stream across the Southwestern border. Half a world away the Taliban triumphed, traumatizing our allies in Afghanistan.

We desperately need a soothing moment, but I’m here to tell you another crisis exists you might not even be aware of—there is a canned whipped cream shortage.

Trust me on this. As someone who intakes whipped cream several times a day, who models his trips to Costco based on his home inventory of Land O’Lakes cans sitting in his refrigerator, I can tell you that this ambrosia of the gods is in short supply for all brands but Reddi-wip.

Now, the red and white Reddi-wip canister is the gold standard to many. It was the whipped cream of my childhood, enjoyed on ice cream and My-T-Fine chocolate pudding that my mother prepared on our stovetop (licking the chocolate streaks left on the inside of the pot was an added treat). 

But as I grew older, I rarely enjoyed whipped cream. Until 1998. As Gilda and I were flying to Prague in  late January for a speech I was to deliver to a conference produced by the Economics Department of the University of Prague, she informed me we would immediately begin adhering to the Atkins high protein, no carbohydrates diet as a means of controlling my high cholesterol and triglycerides. 

We would abstain from bread, pasta, potatoes and especially cakes and cookies. Instead I would eat nuts, eggs, cheese, chicken, fish and meat. 

Now, Prague is known for its pastry delights. I would be less than honest if I related we did not partake of some local delicacies during our week in the Czech Republic. Once home, however, we followed Atkins in earnest, at least as far as cakes, bread and pastries went. As I wasn’t on the diet to lose weight, I soon added fruit and vegetables to my diet. 

My breakfast for the last near quarter century consists of a  piece of cheese or hard boiled egg along with a mixture of nuts and fruit slathered in gobs and gobs of whipped cream, one of the few indulgences Atkins permits. Costco’s three-pack of Land O’Lakes whipped cream became a staple of my purchases.

Until a month ago. On repeated trips to several Costco units the refrigerator cases were devoid of whipped cream. When I sought an alternative in local supermarkets, no private label brand was available, only the higher priced Reddi-wip. 

The reporter in me smelled a story here. I googled if there was a whipped cream shortage. Nothing current, but several articles from 2016 popped up when a shortage in the supply of nitrous oxide caused an industrywide production cutback (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/12/21/the-real-reason-you-cant-buy-whipped-cream-this-christmas/).

Late Friday afternoon I sent an inquiry directly to Land O’Lakes, asking if their sourcing to Costco had been ended. To my surprise, a response came back just before 6 pm Central time: “Land O’ Lakes Whipped Cream has not been discontinued, but due to production delays, we have not been able to deliver this item to your local retailers recently. However, this item will be back in stores sometime soon.”

Unspecified “production delays,” which I suspect can be traced to nitrous oxide supply problems not just at Land O’Lakes but at other producers except industry leader Reddi-wip. 

If you’ve read this far in my whipped cream saga you should by now fully appreciate, and perhaps deprecate, my obsession with whipped cream. But keep this in mind—whipped cream has helped me reduce my cholesterol and triglyceride levels to acceptable, I might even say, excellent levels. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Tornado Alert Prompts Scary Movie List

Early Thursday morning, just before 4:40 am, as I was working The New York Times daily Spelling Bee puzzle—yes, I often do that after waking up in the middle of the night—my iPhone rang out with a tornado alert, waking Gilda and advising us that for the next 30 minutes we should take “PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS... TAKE COVER NOW! Move to a basement or an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. Avoid windows. If you are outdoors, in a mobile home, or in a vehicle, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris.”

Surprisingly, Gilda’s phone did not ring with the alert. But better safe than sorry, we grabbed our phones, flashlights and some water before retreating to our basement. We’ve seen enough news reports of tornado devastation to take the warning seriously.

When I was young, “The Wizard of Oz” was an annual television event on CBS. I can remember watching most of the movie, but around the time the Wicked Witch of the West ordered her winged monkeys to capture Dorothy I would become too scared to keep my eyes glued to the TV screen. I would return to viewing after water thrown on the witch reduced her to a puddle.

I am not a devotee of scary movies, though I generally do like thrillers, mysteries. What continues to unsettle me are psychological thrillers I reasonably presume could be played out in real life.

I never saw “The Shining” for that reason. Even the promo of Jack Nicholson carving through the doorway chuckling, “Here’s Johnny,” sends me aflutter.

Over the years I have seen some stomach churners. Here’s my short list of movies that scared me, movies I care not to see again:

Play Misty for Me


Fatal Attraction


Silence of the Lambs

Cape Fear

Reservoir Dogs

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

History Repeats Itself: Dedicated Ragtag Militants Defeat Larger, Corrupt Foes

 The world was startled by how swiftly the Taliban overran Afghan government forces, stunning even the most pessimistic of forecasts about the insurgents’ ability to quickly depose a larger, better equipped, diligently trained military. 

Yet, history is replete with examples of ragtag militants defeating ostensibly well-organized, better-equipped armies.

Our own American Revolution is a prime example. The British and their hired hands failed to subdue motivated colonists. Yes, the French provided us naval support, and several European military men professionalized the Continental Army. But a colonial victory was anything but expected, at least at the outset of the War of Independence.

There are numerous other pre-Taliban examples of might being upended by the slight.

Take the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Seleucid Empire in the second century B.C.E. Or the assaults on Rome by Germanic, barbaric tribes. Establishments were pushed aside.

Too ancient for you? How about the Haitian Revolution of 1791 that ultimately led in 1804 to the casting off of French colonial rule by self-liberated slaves. Spanish and Portuguese colonies in South America threw off their colonial yokes in the early 19th century. 

Lawrence of Arabia tapped into Arab pride and nationalism to confound the Ottoman Turks during World War I; the Bolsheviks defeated Czarist forces and those opposed to their takeover of Russia. 

Following the Second World War, Mao Zedong succeeded in his decades-long crusade to oust the Nationalist Chinese; the French and later American forces succumbed to the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese; vastly outnumbered Jews not only beat back larger Arab armies but also expanded the post-mandate territory controlled by Israel.  

Closer to home, Fidel Castro and his guerrillas supplanted the United States-backed Cuban dictatorship with a Communist dictatorship. A similar fate befell U.S. interests in Iran in 1980, producing our first exposure to a nation-state based on anti-American Islamic extremism.  

So it is no surprise that committed comrades routed trained Afghan army regulars who had little skin in the game, save saving their own hides once the fighting became too uncomfortable.

A common trait of all these conflicts was their longevity, the years-long commitment of “liberators” to challenge oppressive and/or corrupt regimes despite the latters’ vastly superior firepower and superpower support.

What will emerge in Afghanistan surely will not be pretty, at least to our Western sensitivities. Females of all ages will be consigned to second class citizenship, most probably bereft of any institutionalized educational or professional options. Surely that is their fate in the hinterlands of country. In Kabul or other large cities, perhaps they might retain some benefits enjoyed over the last 20 years.

Sharia law will be enforced. In Saudi Arabia it used to be common for repeat offender thieves to have a right hand amputated. How tolerant of a first offender the Taliban will be is an open question. 

Expect to be repulsed by executions of “collaborators” the Taliban will kill if for no other reason than to instill fear among the populace that opposition is fruitless and dangerous. 

While the overthrow of the government in Kabul was their main objective, the Taliban were a mostly united compact. Throughout its history, however, Afghanistan was a land chiseled up into warlord fiefdoms. How effective Taliban leaders will be in maintaining discipline throughout their ranks is among their most pressing concerns.

Will they allow their country to renew its status as a haven for murderous Islamic extremists bent on territorial expansion and attacks on American soil? Too soon to say.

Barring any unforeseen developments, our involvement in Afghanistan will shortly end. But the lesson to be learned is that our support for any government must be linked to the values we share. If our clients are corrupt, oppressive, dictatorial, we should expect a groundswell of opposition to form that could take months, years, or decades to topple the status quo and with it America’s standing in the world.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Afghanistan, Redux. The Blame Game Begins

The fall of Afghanistan to medieval-thinking Taliban extremists has sprouted another round of “The Blame Game.” No self-respecting Westerner wants to shoulder any guilt for the debacle, but the inevitable outcome should be equally shared by Democratic and Republican presidents. The futility of our investment in Afghanistan was plainly in sight more than a decade ago when I wrote on September 22, 2009, “Déjà vu, Afghanistan.”

“During my lifetime I never thought the U.S. would replay the Vietnam War.

“It was reported in the last two days that the top military commander in Afghanistan has warned that without more troops our involvement there ‘will likely result in failure.’

“With each military escalation and request for more troops to fight in Afghanistan, with each revelation that the regime we are propping up is corrupt, with each ruthless act of terrorism against their own people perpetrated by a seemingly vigilante group of extremists clad in turbans and loose-fitting clothes instead of black pajamas, with each description of a terrain of combat not receptive to the type of war our military can easily fight and win, where our air power is potent yet ultimately impotent and occasionally even heartbreakingly catastrophic to innocent civilians, with each passing day that a Democratic president fears he will be accused of losing a war he didn’t start and so feels compelled to send in more soldiers, I fear, I fear for the soul of our nation and for the lives of our youth…

“As difficult as it is to admit, let’s confront the fact that our nation has more pressing needs at home. We need to save millions of lives by investing in better medical care. We need to improve millions of lives by investing in better education. We need more and better trained policemen. Firemen. Teachers. Social workers. We need to spend more money on our citizens, not on Afghanis who don’t want our way of life.”

If you’re having a hard time grasping how we could have gone so astray in Afghanistan, let me recommend to you a 1963 novel by James A. Michener, “Caravans.” Though fiction, “Caravans” provides an insightful view of the patchwork loyalties of Afghani war lords and the failure of the country’s leaders and populace to embrace modern, Western, principles and advancements. (FYI, “Caravans” is available as an audio book.) 

If you’re of a more visually oriented mind, catch a screening of “The Man Who Would Be King.” Based on a story by Rudyard Kipling, set during the late 1800s in what is purported to be a remote section of Afghanistan, the 1975 movie starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery is a romp that peels back layers of warlord warfare and the arrogance of Westerners who believe they could rule this mountainous, tribal country.

Few Westerners could have imagined the Afghan army, trained and supplied by America for 20 years at a cost of more than $2 trillion and 2,400 lives of U.S. servicemen, would disintegrate as quickly as it did over the last week. But then, few fully appreciated how transient the loyalty of the average Afghani trooper and his commander was. 

They cared more about surviving than the fate of their country or their fellow countrymen, especially the women who will be forced to return to living in a 21st century Dark Ages.  

Sunday, August 15, 2021

A-Sailing We Will Go: Favorite Sailing Films

Sea shanties enjoyed a revival of interest during the year of COVID confinement. Why, I cannot say. But if you find enjoyment from hearing sailor voices soar together you’d be hard pressed to find any better examples of sea shanty singing than in “Moby Dick,” the 1956 adaptation of Herman Melville’s whaling classic.

Inspired Saturday by watching for the umpteenth time Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab take on the great white whale, here is my list of notable movies about ships transported across the seas under sail, though some also used manpower, usually slaves or prisoners, to propel them forward.

Billy Budd

Moby Dick

The Sea Wolf

Captain Courageous

Ben-Hur (1925 and 1959)

The Old Man and the Sea

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935 Clark Gable, Charles Laughton version)

Captain Blood

Pirates of the Caribbean

The Sea Hawk


Master and Commander

Two Years Before the Mast

The Vikings

All is Lost

Down to the Sea in Ships (1949)

Monday, August 9, 2021

Our Family Vacation Over, Here Are Favorite Time-off Flicks

 Having just returned from a wonderful week on Cape Cod with our children and grandchildren, here are favorite vacation-themed movies:

What About Bob

Harry and the Hendersons

Honeymoon in Vegas

The Great Outdoors

The River Wild

The Hangover

The Flamingo Kid

A Cry in the Dark

The Heartbreak Kid


Promising Young Woman


127 Hours


On Golden Pond

National Lampoon’s Vacation

The Man Who Knew Too Much

The Long Long Trailer

The Proposal

Home Alone

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

Little Miss Sunshine


On the Town

The lady Vanishes

Dirty Dancing

Walk on the Moon

Sweet Lorraine


Jurassic Park

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

The Parent Trap (1961)

Man Hunt