Are you watching “Casablanca” again? – a reprise post

This repeat blog from 2012 flows from a conversation between Roger, our British blogging friend, and me the other day. It was nice to add to our blogging friendship that he also likes “Casablanca.”

When my wife has caught me stopping while channel surfing on a showing of “Casablanca” as I did Friday night, she invariably asks “How many times have you seen that?” I usually answer “Not enough” depending on her mood. I was encouraged to write about my favorite movie when I stopped by a blog yesterday where the blogger did a wonderful job of talking about her favorite book and movie “Pride and Prejudice.” I should note my wife will do the same with “Somewhere in Time,” but since I appreciate the story and seeing Jane Seymour’s classic beauty it is a more than a fair trade – she of course has a thing for Christopher Reeve, but that is another story.

To me, Casablanca takes me to another place in time. It is a great story told well, set at a crucial time with a backdrop of Nazi antagonism, and played by great actors under great direction. You can go to Wikipedia and see the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay Academy Awards and the numerous nominations, so it is acknowledged for its surprisingly unexpected brilliance. Also, the fact that the movie is included as one of the all-time best movies confirms it is a classic. Yet, to me it is the dialogue and interaction between the starring roles, supporting roles and the many smaller roles, that make it worthwhile.

I enjoy the banter between Carl and Sasha, the head waiter and bartender, and their patrons as much as the dialogue between the lead roles. And, the most moving part of the movie includes only the third star – Paul Heinreid as Victor Lazlo with a brief nod from Humphrey Bogart as Rick – as Lazlo directs the band to play “La Marseillaise” to drown out the Nazi sing along in Rick’s Americain Cafe. This scene never ceases to give me chills as it shows what a heroic figure Lazlo is and why people look to him to lead and why the Nazis are so wary of him.

Setting aside this emphatic moment, it is the dialogue and story that deserve the credit more so than anything. The movie is a compilation of conversations leading us to the inevitable climax. You have little reason to like Rick at first, so the dialogue helps paint a better picture of this gray character – why he is bitter and how he was not always this way. At the same time, we see the grayness of Claude Rains’ Captain Louis Renault’s character evolve into someone who gives a damn at the end. Even Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund is not perfect, as she is torn between Rick and her devotional love to Victor Lazlo. So, the grayness of these characters and others (such as Sydney Greenstreet’s Ferrari) shows how imperfect we all are in our daily struggles between survival and doing the right thing. In fact, the only true hero and villain are Victor Lazlo and Major Strasser with others having many shades of gray in-between.

The writers, primarily Julius and Phillip Epstein with help from Howard Koch, deserve the Best Screenplay award. The dialogue reveals the characters in this struggle. The movie is remembered for its six classic quotes being included among the 100 Best Movie Quotes, but those quotes should not overshadow the dialogue that give them meaning. The classic “round-up the usual suspects” after Major Strasser has been shot is based on earlier dialogue. It has extra meaning to me as the writers initially did not know how the movie should end even after filming began. When one of the Epsteins blurted out “round-up the usual suspects” they knew Strasser had to be killed and that led them to Lazlo getting on the plane with Ilsa as Rick had to be the one who shot him.

Greenstreet, Dooley Wilson as Sam, Peter Lorre as Ugarte and Conradt Veidt as the villainous Strasser all are ideally cast in their roles. Plus, the many dialogues and scenes expose us to Rick’s handling of the essential sub-story of the Bulgarian couple trying to win their way to America while the young wife considers sleeping with Renault and Rick’s relationship with his casino boss, Sam, Sasha, Carl, Ferrari and Ugarte among others.

Yet, we should not forget the role of Michael Curtiz and his other directors who helped him when the Academy Award (he was not the only director used on the film). Focusing on the sadness and beauty of Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa shows that much can be said without a word even in this movie of words. And, it doesn’t stop with her as the facial expressions of the people listening to other people is very telling. There is a brief moment when the guitar playing female singer cannot hide a glimpse of her disgust over Major Strasser; note it is not overtly apparent, as in real life, he may have noticed it and said something to her. There are also classic scenes where the camera catches the silhouette of one of the actors in a dialogue, to let us see the other party. There are some very effective scenes like this in Rick’s office.

So, I watch again and again. Note, I do not stop every time, but I do enjoy parts of the movie so much, that I will at least catch a taste before I move on. If you have not seen it, I would encourage you to do so. I have seen it in a theatre and it is even more special as you can see more facial expressions than on a TV screen.  If you have not watched it in a while, please check it out again and look at the facial expressions and listen to the dialogue. And, if you love it like I do, “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Please feel free to share your favorite moments, characters, etc.

A real action hero died today

A real action hero died today. The following article caught my eye this morning, “Chuck Yeager, pilot who broke the sound barrier, dies at 97” by Pete Muntean, Hollie Silverman and Joe Sutton, CNN. Here are two brief paragraphs, that only provide a glimpse at Yeager’s heroics.

“US Air Force officer and test pilot Chuck Yeager, known as ‘the fastest man alive,’ has died at the age of 97. Yeager broke the sound barrier when he tested the X-1 in October 1947, although the feat was not announced to the public until 1948.

‘This is a sad day for America,’ John Nicoletti, Yeager’s friend and ground crew chief, told CNN Monday night. ‘After he broke the sound barrier, we all now have permission to break barriers.'”

Yeager’s heroics are captured in the book and movie “The Right Stuff” and his biography, which I also read. The Right Stuff is a quiet bravery to do something that you know is dangerous, but in so doing, you test both yourself and the development of the aircraft you are flying. Many who did what Yeager died doing their job. Yet, Yeager revealed a calmness to the radio tower which belied his stress in doing his job.

A couple of stories will give you a greater glimpse of this man over the more known stories. While not college educated, he was an astute student of flying and aerodynamics. His lack of college degree meant he was passed over for the first astronaut team. But, those who made it give him high regards as the best pilot they ever saw.

During World War II, he was an ace pilot, that often trained against other American pilots in captured German planes. The story goes Yeager would beat you flying the German plane, then switch planes and beat you in the American plane.

Yet, the story that I like best, when he was flying as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force base, a plane was causing the death of many a pilot. He investigated it and went to the manufacturer and found out that one mechanic was not following the diagrams and putting the bolts in the wings the wrong way, insisting they must be down, not up. This slight change was causing the plane to wobble at very high speeds leading to the crash.

Let me finish with the story captured in the movie, which I like to think was true as Yeager had a cameo part in the movie. Yeager (played by Sam Shephard) would bum a stick of gum called Beeman’s (made out of cloves) from his ground engineer before he flew. This request of “Hey Ridley, you got any Beemans?” showed he was ready to fly.

Chuck Yeager, pilot who broke the sound barrier, dies at 97 (msn.com)

And, the beat goes on – more Republican defections

I have written several pieces about the groups of and individual Republicans who have come out against Donald Trump in support of Joe Biden. The Lincoln Project, Republicans for the Rule of Law, and Republican Voters against Trump are a key few.

Per a CNN report by Chris Cillizza called “There’s a historic insurrection against Donald Trump happening within the GOP,” the following few paragraphs reveal a few more Republican voices are speaking out. The full article can be linked to below.

“The latest sign came Sunday, when former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge penned an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer making clear his intent to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden over President Donald Trump in November.

‘He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead,’ Ridge, who also served as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration, wrote of Trump.

Ridge joins fellow Bush Cabinet secretaries Christine Todd Whitman (EPA), Ann Veneman (Agriculture), Carlos Gutierrez (Commerce) and Colin Powell (State) as Biden endorsers. Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, and Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska Republican senator, both of whom served in the Obama Cabinet, have also backed Biden.

And that’s just Republicans who served in a presidential Cabinet! There are a slew of other prominent GOP elected officials — from former Ohio Gov. John Kasich to former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman to 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina to former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder — who are on record as either planning to vote for Biden or leaning in that direction.

Then there are the staffers. That group includes the former chiefs of staff at the Department of Education and Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration! More than 70 national security officials from various Republican administrations are backing Biden. As are more than 150 alums of the George W. Bush White House.”

The incumbent and his supporters downplay these Republican voices. The president, of course, labels these critics as “losers” a favorite name calling rebuttal. I read a piece from a Trump supporting pundit who dismissed these folks as being played up by Democrats.

Yet, neither the president or pundit have addressed why these folks are risking backlash from a vindictive person. The same “why” question can be asked of the president’s firing or transferring of the inspectors general who were critical and folks who testified under oath over concerns about the president’s actions

Why indeed?

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/there-s-a-historic-insurrection-against-donald-trump-happening-within-the-gop/ar-BB19vw1b?ocid=msedgdhp

Really, Tucker Carlson?

I am not a fan of labels or name-calling. I find them to be lazy shortcuts used by the labeler to make people avoid actually looking at the argument of the labeled person. Sometimes, they are used to generalize a demographic group or time period. Often, they are used to denigrate someone or some group.

Fox News opinion host, Tucker Carlson, already being criticized for insensitive Black Lives Matter remarks last month, has made more offensive remarks. This time he is targeting Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth calling her a “moron,” a “fraud,” and a “coward” adding “she hates the country.” Per Carlson, she had the audacity to say we should have discussions around the continued veracity of various monuments.

Let’s focus on the last two labels – the coward one and hating our country, although the first two labels are inappropriate, as well. He called a wheel chair bound Purple Heart veteran a “coward” and said she “hates the country.” So, how did Duckworth earn that Purple Heart?

Per Wikipedia, Duckworth “lost her right leg near the hip and the left leg below the knee from injuries sustained on November 12, 2004 when the UH 60 Blackhawk helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents. She was the first American female double amputee from the Iraqi War.”

Some coward. A helicopter pilot is often in harm’s way flying close to the ground to transport troops. From Carlson’s Wikipedia summary, I did not find any military service, although it notes his application was turned down by the CIA.

Carlson is entitled to disagree with Duckworth’s position. That is what America is all about, civil discourse over differences of opinion. Those are some of the freedoms our veterans fought for. Yet, calling Senator Duckworth a moron and fraud is bad enough and does not paint Carlson in a good light. It does nothing for his argument and makes me want to consider her argument more.

But, to call a double amputee helicopter pilot who won the Purple Heart a “coward” or question her love of country is beyond the pale. It is highly offensive to Duckworth or any veteran who served, regardless of whether they were injured. It is akin to the president’s horrible insult of Senator John McCain not being a war hero because he was captured.

In my view, Carlson owes Duckworth and other veterans a sincere apology. He was already losing advertisers over his insensitive Black Lives Matter remarks, but this may cause a few more to leave, as well. To be frank, Carlson brought this on himself.

Propaganda then and now

In 1861, let’s suppose you were a small plot farmer in South Carolina trying to grow enough to feed your family and maybe trade with a local merchant. The plantation and slave owner nearby seeks your help.

The owner asks you and your teen boys to fight for the right for him to own slaves. You would likely tell him that is not your fight. Instead, if he said we don’t want those northerners telling us how to run things. We want you to fight for our state’s right to govern itself, then you would be more inclined to risk your and your boys’ lives.

That is precisely what happened. It is called propaganda. Ironically, this propaganda version was taught in southern schools even when I attended. Some even called it “the war of Northern Aggression.” Yet, the states’ rights arguments continue even today, as people try to remember a more favorable history.

From the American Battlefields website (see link below), here is excerpted language from early on in the secession documents from Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia:

Georgia: “The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”

Mississippi: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”

Texas: “She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”

Virginia: “…and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.”

Note the particular racist references in the Mississippi document, saying “none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.”

I raise these issues as these states seceded from the United States of America, primarily because their assets were threatened – the slaves. The states’ rights touted as the issue was so that slave owners could keep owning slaves. Note the references to commerce in the Mississippi document, as well. The commerce was heightened by not having to pay for labor.

As a result, divided Americans died. How did they die? “Approximately 620,000 soldiers died from combat, accident, starvation, and disease during the Civil War. This number comes from an 1889 study of the war performed by William F. Fox and Thomas Leonard Livermore.” Yet, I have also seen numbers as high as 750,000.

So, Confederate monuments that honor Civil War commanders need to be questioned and likely removed, as they honor people who rebelled against America. Many were erected long after the Civil War. Some were raised during the heyday of the KKK and their heinous racist movie “A Birth of a Nation.” The same goes for the Confederate battle flag which was used by the KKK during the Jim Crow era. To African-Americans, that flag means hanging, beating, denigration, and disrespect.

When I see a Confederate flag flying, I hate to tell the owner, but I am biased toward thinking the owner is a racist. I am hard pressed to see it any other way. When I see a Confederate flag being flown or displayed next to an American flag, my reaction is “you know that flag represent folks who betrayed the folks flying the other flag.”

But, the monuments, flag and whitewashing of history, all are an affront to our great country and our African-American citizens. From his final book, “A Restless Wave,” Senator John McCain went back to South Carolina after his first failed presidential attempt in 2000 and apologized. Why? He said when he was asked during the campaign about whether the Confederate flag should be flown on state capitol grounds, he answered politically, not what was in his heart. He said with his apology, if a flag is so highly offensive to a portion of your citizens, then you should not fly it.

Senator McCain, who is a war hero, said it well. Finally, others are starting to feel the same.

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/declaration-causes-seceding-states

We must applaud political courage

Earlier this week, two Republican Senators, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, said the briefing by the White House on the assassination of the Iranian Soleimani, was not just poor, but the worst of briefings. I applaud their political courage to push back on the president for less than satisfactory explanation. I have called each Senator to share my thank you as an Independent and former Republican voter.

I had the same type of kudos for the parade of diplomats and other public servants who testified under oath and at great risk to the House Intelligence committee about their concerns over the shadow diplomacy being used by the president in Ukraine to strong arm action for his personal benefit. I watched these witnesses speak under oath about how we should be doing our best to nurture and protect the young democracy in Ukraine. On the flip side, I saw a president, not under oath, berate these public servants for being less than truthful, without really addressing the need to protect the interests of Ukraine.

Political courage seems to be in short supply these days. At the same time the two Senators were sharing their concerns, a US Congressman was being questioned for the release of a doctored photograph. The intent of the photograph which showed the preceding president shaking hands with the current Irani president, whom he has never physically met, seems to be less than meritorious. Yet, when questioned, the Congressman was flippant and disdainful of the reporter.

Unlike the two Senators’ political courage, the act and the response by the Congressman is poor form. We need our legislators to be among our better Angels, not our worst demons. With it so easy to disinform these days, we need our legislators to avoid such temptation, and to condemn it even when it is done on their behalf. We all must be truth seekers.

I am reminded of the late Senator John McCain, when running for president in 2008, correcting a woman when she attacked the character of Barack Obama. He told her that Obama was a fine person, but he and Obama just disagreed on issues and policies. I miss the Senator and his political (and military courage). We need to emulate him and the recent actions of Senator Lee and Paul.

Are we safer? – not so per The Washington Post editorial

The following editorial by Joe Scarborough called “Trumps ignorance has created an international crisis” appeared in The Washington Post. It is not an isolated opinion, as variations of concerns can be found in other publications. Yet, this is the first one where reference to the president’s “ignorance” of history and the gravity of the situation is not reassuring to us or our allies.

My concern is the assassination has galvanized hatred toward the US in the martyred Soleimani. Instead of more reasonable relations with Iran via the Nuclear Agreement, by going against the wishes of our five allies who co-signed the agreement, we are escalating tensions with “no off ramp” per former Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mike Mullens. And, we have destabilized our relations with Iraq as well.

Yet, what troubles as much is how we have harmed our relationships with our allies. The US is not trusted because our president is untrustworthy. How does this make us safer? Coupled with the national security risk following the Ukraine shadow diplomacy and strong-arming and the answer is we are not safer under this president.

Please read the attached brief editorial. It will not be reassuring.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/opinion/opinions-trumps-ignorance-has-created-an-international-crisis/ar-BBYGezL?ocid=spartandhp

Our Republic is under attack by its president says a retired admiral

An increasing number of people with gravitas are going on record to heighten concerns over the abuse of powers and attempts to obstruct such from view by the US president. Thomas Friedman has penned an excellent editorial along these lines (below is a link to a blog which includes Friedman’s piece). He contrasts the political courage and heroic words under oath of Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch to the words at various rallies by the US president calling those who criticize him as enemies of the state.

Also, below is a link to a summary of an editorial by retired Admiral William McRaven, who led the raid on Osama Bin Laden among other career accomplishments. He has penned a piece that is simply called “Our republic is under attack from the president.” As he notes, this is not just McRaven’s opinion as an unnamed General took him aside and said the president is a threat and has to go. The summary starts out with the following statement:

“Former Adm. William McRaven (Ret.) argued in an op-ed Thursday that President Trump is ‘destroying’ the United States, warning that the future of the country is ‘in peril if Trump is not removed from office.'”

As more reasoned voices who mitigated Trump’s worst instincts and impulses have left the building, the nation should be concerned. We have an unshackled president who prides himself on not doing any homework. As conservative pundit David Brooks said yesterday – the score after the Kurds were abandoned is Erdogan 56, Trump 0. GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said the following in a editorial in The Washington Post about the grave mistake to withdraw support from the Kurds:

“Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria is a grave strategic mistake. It will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies, and weaken important alliances. Sadly, the recently announced pullout risks repeating the Obama administration’s reckless withdrawal from Iraq, which facilitated the rise of the Islamic State in the first place.”

I have long believed the US president is a clear and present danger to our democracy, to our planet and to the Republican party. The latter group is beginning to realize that fact. I hope it is not too late. They need to call upon a dose of that political courage of Ms. Yovanovitch and others who are telling the truth knowing a vindictive president will react.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/ex-special-ops-commander-our-republic-is-under-attack-from-the-president/ar-AAIWxE8?ocid=spartandhp

The Words Of A Wise Man

The only woman in the room – a novel about the amazing true story of Hedy Lamarr

Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler was born in Austria and would later become a famous and beautiful actress known as Hedy Lamarr. But, her story is far more compelling and complicated than that. Marie Benedict penned a novel based on Lamarr’s incredible true life story called “The only woman in the room.” Not only was she an iconic actress, she was a scientist and was in the room when her domineering husband, a munitions manufacturer in Austria, hosted Austrian, Nazi and Italian leaders.

I will stop short of giving the story away, but this fast-paced novel told in first person, provides a narrative of a woman frightened by her first husband and the plans she overheard. Staying only with the teaser written on the back cover, she would eventually flee to London where she met a movie mogul who was recruiting actors and actresses leaving Europe as Hitler expanded his evil reach.

Yet, she would lament what was transpiring in her homeland, as a Jew and as an transplanted Austrian. So, based on what she heard in these many meetings back in Austria, she would work with a talented avante garde pianist and composer to devise an electronic communication system for the war effort that laid a foundation that is used today. I will stop there at this strange point, so as not to say too much. I will leave you thinking the obvious – an actress and a pianist did this?

The book found its way to The New York Times best seller list. It is a quick and compelling read. I highly recommend this book as it is far more than an unknown history lesson.

Summer of ’69 – a few things to remember

While 1968 was a year of significant occurrences, we are now reflecting on the events of fifity years ago in 1969. Bryan Adams sang of this year from a personal standpoint in “Summer of ’69,” so it is a great way to kick off:

“I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it till my fingers bled
It was the summer of ’69
Me and some guys from school
Had a band and we tried real hard
Jimmy quit and Jody got married
I should’ve known we’d never get far
Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life”

This song was penned by Adams and James Douglas Vallance and reveals how the band was so important to the life of the singer. Yet, I find of interest how he interjects how life rears its head and alters the dreams. I do not know how autobiographical the song is, but I am glad Adams stuck with it, as he has crafted and performed many memorable songs.

Fifty years ago, we saw the final straw that caused action to occur on environmental protection. Following the reaction to Rachel Carson’s push with ‘Silent Spring,” the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire as it was so polluted by chemical dumping. Seeing this in retrospect, it amazes me that companies would dump or drain chemical run-off into a river and be surprised by the result. Within six months, President Nixon inked the law to create the Environmental Protection Agency, one of his two greatest accomplishments (opening dialogue with China was the other).

Later this summer, we will reflect on Neil Armstrong taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he is the first human to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin would soon join him for a lunar walkabout. These actions opened up science as a possible career for many young people and it also showed us that we are mere occupants on our planet. So, it is crucial we take care of where we live for our children and grandchildren. Maybe this helped provide additional context for enacting the EPA.

In August, will be the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock where 300,000 or so people ventured to a farm in upstate New York for a three day concert. This event still amazes me and I am intrigued by a friend’s recounting of what happened as he was there as a young college student. From his view, he remembers there were so many people, things like food, water and restrooms were dear. He recalls making food runs for people. The music and atmosphere were wonderful, but the challenges are overlooked in memory.

Finally, people who do not follow baseball or football will yawn, but this was the year of two huge upsets, which in actuality, should not have been as surprising. In January, Broadway Joe Namath led the New York Jets over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. Namath had bragged that they would win the game the preceding week, but what many failed to realize, Namath had a terrific set of receivers and two of the best running backs in the game. This win led to the merger of two rival football leagues.

In October, the New York Mets easily won the baseball World Series over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles (it was a tough year for Baltimore fans). For the first part of the decade, the new Mets were the worst team in baseball. What was underestimated by the Orioles is the Mets had two future Hall of Fame pitchers – Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and another excellent one in Jerry Koosman. Good pitching will beat good hitting almost every time. I mention these two events as when you look under the hood, the outcomes are less surprising, even though they were at the time.

The decade ended with two eventful years. Unfortunately, the US remained in Vietnam fighting a war which, we learned later, we knew we could not win. Many Americans and Vietnamese died, as a result fighting a war that would last several more years. We should remember people die in wars, before we go out and fight another one. As a Vietnamese soldier said in Ken Burns’ documentary on the war, people who feel they can win a war, have never fought in one.