Can Luke Skywalker help Joe Biden?

Mark Hamill is a well-known Biden fanboy. He seemed genuinely pleased by his opportunity to visit his Uncle Joe at work today. 

I was nine years old in 1977, when Hamill first appeared as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars pilot film. That was almost fifty years ago. 

Today Hamill is a 72-year-old former actor. He will always be respected for his work in the first three Star Wars movies. (He’s received decidedly mixed reviews on the more recent ones.) But in the late 1970s, Star Wars was a cultural phenomenon, and Mark Hamill was Taylor Swift-level famous. Trust me, I was there.

Like many fading Hollywood stars of the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations, Hamill has turned his attention to politics. And like most of Hollywood, he’s a shill for the Democratic Party.

Hamill is not, from what I can tell, a far-left radical. He’s a boilerplate, establishment Democrat. Nor is he as obnoxious as Alyssa Milano.

But Hamill is cringeworthy at times. For example, in the run-up to the 2020 election, he said that “the Force is with Joe Biden.” Today he called Joe Biden “Joe B Wan Kenobi”.  

A “Skywalker effect” in 2024?

Readers who are pleased with Joe Biden’s performance will think that all of this cheerleading from Hamill (and his fellow celebrities) is grand stuff. But will Mark Hamill persuade any voters who are on the fence? 

My guess is: voters who are willing to take political advice from celebrities have already decided to vote for Joe Biden. It’s doubtful that any Hollywood celebrity can ever do more than preach to the Democratic choir.

The rest of us may have fond memories of Luke Skywalker. But Joe Biden reminds us of Grand Moff Tarkin on sleeping pills. 

Donuts and World War II

You have to love the nutritional rationalizations of the early to mid-20th century. The above poster exhorts us to eat more donuts in order that we may do more to support the war effort. But don’t forget to buy war stamps, while you’re at it!

In the 1940s, few Americans were alert to the risks of heart disease or diabetes.

Of course, our obesity rates were also much, much lower. While sweets were eaten without guilt, they were eaten in small quantities. And most people were far more physically active, even though no one had a Planet Fitness membership.

-ET

 

Brian Cox on the Bible

Brian Cox is a 77-year-old British actor whom I’ve never heard of, though I have seen some of the movies that Wikipedia tells me he’s appeared in. Cox has had character roles in scores of films since the early 1970s.

For some reason, Cox thought it was necessary to tell an interviewer recently that the Bible is “one of the worst books ever”, and that “only stupid people believe it.”

Okay, I’ll bite.

I hate to turn this into yet another “Okay, Boomer,” moment. But Brian Cox is apparently living in 1966. In its April 8, 1966 issue, Time magazine famously asked the question, “Is God Dead?”

Cox would have been twenty at the time. I was a little more than two years from the day of my birth.

My point here being: it is no longer edgy for a self-assessed Western intellectual to declare his disdain for Christianity. In fact, a declaration of atheism has become rather trite, or at the very least, ho-hum. On the contrary, it is edgy for one of our Western cultural elites to declare that she is a Christian believer.

Western Europe’s march toward secularism and atheism did not begin in the benighted 1960s, although the 1960s accelerated it. Western Europe’s slide toward nonbelief began in the nihilism that followed the devastation of the First World War.

The American author Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) was a European by interest and temperament. Hemingway always felt most at home in Europe, and it was in Europe that he got his start as a writer.

Read Ernest Hemingway’s post-World War I European novel, The Sun Also Rises. It is a story of soulless, uninspired people making their way through a bleak, amoral universe.

The Sun Also Rises, 1926 first edition

Hemingway was an atheist—or at least an agnostic. In his 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, he coined the phrase, “All thinking men are atheists.”

Hemingway died by his own hand at the age of 62. He killed himself with a shotgun.

Western Europe, too, is committing a sort of slow suicide. Having forsaken both faith and tradition, this is a culture that can no longer be troubled to reproduce itself. Practically every European country is aging, shrinking, withering, a shadow of its former (and mostly Christian) self.

The only positive population growth in Europe nowadays comes from Muslim immigration. Europe’s Muslim immigrants haven’t gotten the memo on atheism yet. More on this in a moment.

As Europeans have grown increasingly secular over the past one hundred years, Islam has become the fastest-growing religion in Europe. Europe’s old cathedrals draw the tourists. But it is the mosques that draw the transplanted faithful.

If Brian Cox wanted to say something edgy about faith and atheism, then, he took the coward’s way out. Why pick on a religion that is dying out in Europe, anyway? Why not target the one that some of Europe’s residents still actually believe in?

But Brian Cox, being a coward (or possibly just an out-of-touch codger) did not say that the Quran is a bad book that only imbeciles follow. He picked an easy target, a religion whose remaining followers will only shake their heads at him, rather than murder him for blasphemy.

On second thought, maybe Brian Cox just wanted to say something dismissive about religion—something that would have been edgy in 1966—while making sure that he celebrates as many remaining birthdays as possible. An atheist, after all, has nothing to be hopeful about in the hereafter.

-ET

Note to Kristi Noem: never kill the dog

In the writing of fiction, there is one ironclad rule: don’t kill the dog.

Author Stephen King once related how he received dozens of angry letters from readers who were irate over Greg Stillson—the villain of The Dead Zone—killing a dog in that novel.

King replied to some of them: reminding them that The Dead Zone was fiction.

King’s defense was likely to no avail. A large percentage of the population has an intense, and (I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to, anyway) irrational attachment to dogs.

Why is this? Dogs serve as an object of projection for all ideal human virtues. Therefore, the dog is idealized.

Dogs cannot talk. Therefore, they can’t say unkind things to you. And a dog won’t reject you, so long as you feed it.

This attachment to dogs goes way back, all the way to prehistoric times. Canines and people have a long, evolutionary history together, a fascinating subject in its own right.

More recently, the author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894) wrote:

“You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.”

The love of dogs crosses political, economic, and generational lines. My grandfather, a World War II combat veteran, told me about the grief he endured when Rusty, the family dog, died at some point in the 1960s. My grandfather (pictured below with my mom, grandmother, and the aforementioned Rusty) loved dogs.

As for me, I neither love dogs nor hate them. I’m not an “animal” person, even though my mother and my grandfather certainly were. Nor am I going to pick an argument with you if you have what I would regard as an excessive attachment to canines. There are some arguments that simply aren’t worth picking; and that’s one of them.

Kristi Noem, however, apparently never got that memo. In her soon-to-be-published memoir, No Going Back: The Truth on What’s Wrong with Politics and How We Move America Forward, she relates how she killed a hunting dog that was intractably aggressive around both humans and other dogs.

Noem has since been skewered by commentators on both the left and the right. It’s now generally agreed that her “murder” of the aggressive dog will make her too toxic and controversial as a potential running mate for Donald Trump.

I have a friend who keeps hunting dogs. He has told me that especially aggressive dogs are sometimes destroyed when all else fails. People who maintain animals for utilitarian purposes—whether as livestock or as beasts of burden—tend to view them differently than people who keep them as pets. You’re unlikely to find a farmer who names his cattle, even if he primarily keeps them for milking rather than beef. It’s just a different mindset about animals on the farm.

But don’t expect people to be rational where dogs are concerned, any more than they are rational about much of anything else of late. While intense affection for dogs does go way back, it seems to be exacerbated nowadays, as many of us are less connected to other humans.

I’ve also noticed a trend of single middle-aged women and childless couples heaping parental affection on dogs (and in some cases, cats). The expressions “dog dad” and “dog mom” entered our lexicon a few years ago. Not everyone uses such terms in a tongue-in-cheek manner. We now have a National Dog Mom’s Day. Yet another example of twenty-first-century America taking everything to ridiculous extremes.

That said, I make no plea here for a defense of Kristi Noem. She should have known better. As a politician, she is uniquely positioned to know how unhinged America has become.

-ET

A turning point for America’s universities?

You’ve probably noticed that many of America’s college campuses have turned into dysfunctional protest camps of late. With the weather turning warmer, the protests that began at Columbia University have spread to campuses throughout the country.

This comes at a time when three things are happening:

  1. Overall university enrollment is declining
  2. Employers are putting less emphasis on expensive college degrees
  3. The Ivy League universities, in particular, are losing their cachet
  4. Student debt has become a divisive political issue
  5. University presidents are hauling down CEO-level salaries

Public opinion is turning against our universities, especially those in the so-called Ivy League. This is a big shift from a generation ago.

“But wait!” some of you will shout. “Those college students are protesting what’s happening in Gaza! Certainly that gives them the right to skip class and take over public spaces! What’s wrong with you? You must be out of touch!”

Let me ask you this: Do I have a right to stage a noisy, disruptive demonstration at my local McDonald’s or Applebees in protest of world hunger? Do I have a right to harass you, as you leave Wendy’s with your 20-piece Chicken Nugget Combo?

What? I don’t? That’s ridiculous, you say?

But wait…isn’t world hunger an important issue?

I am not making light of the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes back a century. There are legitimate grievances on both sides. There are, moreover, Americans of sincere goodwill on both sides of this debate.

That’s one thing. Suburban white kids cosplaying as Hamas militants on the campus of Columbia University is another. If the students want to help the Palestinians, let them spend this summer serving meals and washing laundry in a refugee camp. I’d have them scrub a few toilets, too.

It isn’t as if this is the first time campus chaos has erupted in recent years. And most of the students’ “issues” are not all that weighty.

Not so long ago, Yale students were protesting…Halloween costumes. Cultural appropriation, or pronouns, or some such nonsense.

Students at Princeton University pressured university officials to change the name of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Why? They didn’t like something that Woodrow Wilson had said or written more than a century ago. So they screeched and bellyached and shouted until university officials toed their line.

One cannot blame the students entirely. The universities were already becoming leftwing monocultures when I was a college undergrad in the late 1980s.

Even that was not the very beginning. The problem began in the 1960s, twenty years before I stepped on campus.

What we are seeing now on university campuses is the result of a half-century of rot from the inside out. The present condition did not develop overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight.

But at least the public is now starting to pay attention to the problem: the sorry state of our overpriced and increasingly unproductive universities.

That, ironically, is the one positive development likely to result from the latest wave of student protest tomfoolery.

-ET

She said “Do svidaniya” to the USA

I’m a lifelong language learner, and I’ve long had an interest in Russia. Russian is one of the languages I study.

And no—before you ask—the present situation doesn’t change that. I grew up during the Cold War. Ambivalent feelings toward Moscow have always been a part of my psyche. That doesn’t make Russia and its ancient civilization any less interesting as a field of study.

I follow a handful of Russia-based YouTubers. Among these is Sasha (Alexandra) of the YouTube channel Sasha Meets Russia.

In the video below, Sasha explains why she has decided to say “do svidaniya” (goodbye) to the USA, and stake her future in Russia.

As an American, Sasha is uniquely prepared to emigrate to Russia. Though she spent most of her life in the United States, she is of mixed Russian-American heritage. She speaks fluent Russian, along with native English and fluent French.

Nevertheless, her dissatisfaction with what the USA has become in recent decades will resonate with many Americans who don’t speak Russian. She refers, wistfully, to what America was in the 1950s and 1960s. One need not go back that far. I would settle for what America was in the 1980s or 1990s.

Especially notable is Sasha’s account of confronting “woke culture” as a teenager and public school student in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts about ten years ago. I’m grateful that I missed all that nonsense, as a student of an earlier era.

Why am I bringing her to your attention? Partly because of her youth. There has never been a shortage of 50- and 60-year-olds who are convinced that the society around them is going to hell. But this is the assessment of an educated, physically attractive Gen Z woman who would have plenty of prospects wherever she went.

Yet she doesn’t choose to stay here. She chooses the country that our mainstream media and political elites constantly denounce as evil.

-ET

P.S.: And Sasha, I should note, is not alone:

Molly Ringwald’s diverse anxieties

Molly Ringwald was born the same year I was, and her movies were part of the teen culture in which I came of age.

I don’t think I would have ever described myself as a Molly Ringwald “fan”, exactly, but nor was I a detractor. Like most Gen Xers, I saw her movies, in the same spirit that I watched MTV and listened to bands like Journey and Bon Jovi. Pop culture was more monolithic in those pre-Internet times, and you kind of took what they gave you.

I enjoyed Ringwald’s performance in The Breakfast Club (1985), a movie that almost all people my age have seen at least once.

Ringwald was a gifted teen actress. She was also a gifted twentysomething adult actress in the 1994 television miniseries, The Stand. She starred as Frannie Goldsmith, the heroine of Stephen King’s beloved apocalyptic horror novel.

So I have no qualms with Molly Ringwald the thespian. I have been far less impressed with Molly Ringwald the public person. In recent years, she’s become a fashionably left-leaning celebrity gadfly, mouthing all the familiar slogans when goaded by journalists and interviewers.

Most particularly, Ringwald seems to feel a compulsive need to apologize for the John Hughes teen movies that made her famous. Bashing the creations of the late Hughes (1950 – 2009) has become a peculiar obsession of hers.

Case-in-point: during a recent interview, Ringwald declared:

“Those [John Hughes] movies are very white and they don’t really represent what it is to be a teenager in a school in America today.”

“Very white”? Did she really just say that?

I’ll overlook the obvious non sequitur here: John Hughes was a Baby Boomer who made movies about teenage life in the mid-1980s. Although he technically wrote about Gen Xers, he was probably thinking about Baby Boomers most of the time. At any rate, Hughes never aspired to depict teen life in the mid-2020s. The mid-2020s were still forty years in the future, and many of those yet unborn teens’ parents hadn’t even met yet.

But that isn’t what Ringwald is really getting at. She is implying that because Hughes’s movies did not feature racially diverse casts, there was somehow something retrograde, or even racist about them.

Pop culture in the 1980s actually was quite diverse. Yes, it was the decade of Molly Ringwald, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna. But it was also the decade of Michael Jackson, Prince, Whitney Houston, and Billy Ocean. We all watched The Cosby Show on television. Eddie Murphy was on everyone’s list of favorite comedians, both in stand-up and in film.

(In many ways, the music scene was far more diverse in the 1980s than it is now. Black artists got proportionately more mainstream attention, whereas nowadays everything in the pop music space is maniacally focused on blonde, vapid Taylor Swift.)

But what about those movies of John Hughes? It isn’t technically inaccurate to say that they were “white”, if we must call them that. There is no evidence that John Hughes was specifically opposed to racial or cultural diversity, but racial and cultural diversity clearly weren’t his focus.

And…so what? Diversity, in the best sense of that word, doesn’t mean—or shouldn’t mean—that every film, TV series, novel, and toothpaste commercial is suspect if it doesn’t contain a box-checked, racially diverse cast of characters. If everything is box-checked to death, then that becomes the norm, and nothing is truly diverse. Diversity, when carried to ideological extremes, can become monochromatic, predictable, and boring.

I don’t remember ever watching The Cosby Show, and saying, “Where the heck are all the Asian Americans and Native American characters? Where are the Jewish and Muslim characters?”

Real life itself, moreover, is not always diverse. During the 1980s, I attended a suburban high school not unlike the one depicted in The Breakfast Club. There were a handful of Filipino students, and a few kids with partial Japanese heritage. Other than that, my high school was as white as Wonder Bread. I make no apology for this. The degree of racial and ethnic diversity in one’s environment has always depended on where one lives.

Molly Ringwald is old enough—and smart enough, I suspect—to realize her own folly. Her hand-wringing about her 40-year-old movies being “white” seems to be her way of keeping herself “relevant” in a chaotic twenty-first-century culture that is neurotically obsessed with identity politics.

I would have a lot more respect for Ringwald if she would simply own her past performances (which were quite good, on the whole) rather than pandering to the diverse but intolerant present. Not even Claire Standish was such an abject conformist.

-ET

Molly Ringwald as Claire Standish in The Breakfast Club (1985)

The Greatest American Hero: actually, not as bad as you might imagine

The Greatest American Hero was a comedy-drama superhero series that ran for three seasons, from 1981 to 1983.

Here’s the premise: Ralph Hinkley, (later Hanley—I’ll explain why in a moment) is a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles public school system. Extraterrestrials bestow on him a suit that gives him superhero powers.

After that, Ralph (played by William Katt) works with his FBI sidekick, Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) to thwart criminals, and accomplish the usual superhero endeavors.

Ralph is also aided by his divorce lawyer, Pam Davidson (played by Connie Sellecca).

The show premiered on March 18, 1981. On March 30, 1981, a whackjob named John Hinkley Jr. shot then-President Reagan and three other individuals. This was an association that the show’s producers obviously wanted to avoid. So Ralph Hinkley became Ralph Hanley.

Was The Greatest American Hero great TV? Oh, heavens no—not even by the modest standards of the early 1980s. But I would submit that this was not bad TV, either.

I watched The Greatest American Hero on occasion. It was light entertainment, with a bit of light action, and tolerably likable characters who were lightly drawn.

The Greatest American Hero was also responsible for giving a generation of adolescent boys a crush on Connie Sellecca.

A personal note here, on the international reach of this show and the aforementioned actress. In the mid-1990s, I worked with a Taiwanese man who was about my age. We were discussing American pop culture one day, and he went out of his way to express an appreciation for both The Greatest American Hero and Connie Sellecca. Make of that what you will.

-ET

War fever in Washington, and foreign policy issues in the 2024 election

The United States House of Representatives has just passed a bloated foreign aid package that will send $25 billion to Israel and a whopping $60 billion to Ukraine. The House also approved legislation that could potentially ban TikTok, the Chinese-made app that is so beloved among members of Generation Z.

We haven’t had a foreign policy election since 2004, when the US was embroiled in the war in Iraq. (2008 probably should have been a foreign policy election; but at least half the country was so punch-drunk on the ascension of Barack Obama, that not much else mattered.)

In recent election cycles, foreign policy has hardly been a factor. We’ve been obsessed with abortion, and LGBTQ this and that, and the personality of a certain Republican candidate.

This election might be different. The Biden Administration has involved the United States in two major conflicts. One is a bottomless quagmire in the former Soviet Union. The other is an apparent fight to the death between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United States is generally seen to be on the “right” side of the Ukraine conflict. But what’s our bottom line? How far are we willing to go, over the question of whether the Russian flag or the Ukrainian flag flies over the Crimean peninsula, and a few oblasts between Ukraine and Russia? How many more billions of taxpayer dollars—and Ukrainian and Russian lives—is it worth? Is it worth the very real risk of World War III?

And then there’s Israel and Palestine. My attitude toward the two sides could best be summed up by Mercutio’s line in Romeo and Juliet: “A plague o’ both your houses! I am sped.” I’m not a Zionist. I’m not a pro-Palestinian. I’m sick to the gills of them both, and their bloody, childish conflict.

The wars in the former USSR and the Middle East could come back to bite us in any number of ways—and I’m not only talking about the taxpayer dollars that could better be spent elsewhere. (But think, for a moment, about all that could be done with that $85 billion: all the highways and bridges, all the medical care, all the education.)

The conventional wisdom used to be: fight them over there, so we don’t have to fight them over here. That old chestnut predates the ICBM and the suicide bomber.

Our entanglements in Ukraine and the Middle East endanger us because by picking sides, the Biden administration has picked two fights. Our government has made each of us a proxy combatant in two wars. If you’re an American citizen, you are now indirectly at war with the Russian Federation and Palestine.

Are those wars in your best interest? That’s a question you should be asking yourself as an American citizen—and as a voter—as Election Day approaches.

-ET

Reading John Jakes, again

I discovered the books of historical novelist John Jakes (1932 – 2023) as a high school student during the 1980s. The television miniseries adaptation of his Civil War epic, North and South, aired in 1985.

North and South was extremely well-done for a network (ABC) television production of the mid-1980s. The cast included Patrick Swayze, Kirstie Alley, David Carradine, Lesley-Anne Down, and Parker Stevenson. The sets were realistic and the production values were high.

After watching that, I decided to give John Jakes’s books a try. I read North and South (1982), plus the subsequent two books in the North and South trilogy, Love and War (1984) and Heaven and Hell (1987).

Then I delved into The Kent Family Chronicles. The books in this long family saga were published between 1974 and 1979. These are the books that really put Jakes on the map as an author of commercial historical fiction.

I emphasize commercial. John Jakes never strove for the painstaking historical accuracy of Jeff Shaara, or his approximate contemporary, James Michener. Jakes’s first objective was always to entertain. If the reader learned something about the American Revolution or the Civil War along the way, that was icing on the cake.

As a result, John Jakes’s novels lie somewhere along the spectrum between literary fiction and potboilers. His characters are memorable and he imparts a sense of time and place. But these are plot-driven stories.

At the same time, Jakes’s plots have a way of being simultaneously difficult to believe and predictable. Almost all of his books have a Forrest Gump aspect. His characters are ordinary men and women, but they all seem to rub shoulders with figures from your high school history classes.

That said, Jakes is one of the few authors whose books pleased both the teenage me and the fiftysomething me. This past year, I started rereading The Kent Family Chronicles, and catching up on the few installments I missed back in the 1980s. I have changed as much as any person changes between the ages of 17 and 55, but I still find these books to be page-turners.

This past week, I started listening to the audiobook version of California Gold. This one was published in 1989, after Jakes’s long run of success with The Kent Family Chronicles and the North and South trilogy.

California Gold is the story of Mack Chance, a Pennsylvania coal miner’s son who walks to California to seek his fortune in the 1880s.

I will be honest with the reader: I don’t like California Gold as much as Jakes’s earlier bestsellers. California Gold is episodic in structure, and the main character is far less likable than some of Jakes’s earlier creations. In California Gold, Jakes indulges his tendency to pay lip service to the issues of the day (in this case: the budding American labor movement and early feminism) through the voices of his characters. Most of these pronouncements are politically correct and clichéd.

Worst of all, California Gold employs sex scenes as spice for low points in the plot. This is always a sign that a writer is struggling for ideas, or boring himself as he writes. When Jakes wrote California Gold, he may have been a little burned out, after writing The Kent Family Chronicles and the North and South trilogy.

California Gold, though, won’t be tossed aside on my did-not-finish (DNF) pile. This is still a good novel. Just not the caliber of novel I’d come to expect from John Jakes. No novelist, unfortunately, can hit one out of the park every time.

-ET

**Quick link to John Jakes’s titles on Amazon

Alex Garland’s ‘Civil War’

This is an election year. Given the two candidates and the mood of the country, the 2024 election will almost certainly entail controversy. Whoever wins, millions of Americans will be angry and disappointed by the result. There will be accusations of cheating, or voter suppression, or something.

British filmmaker Alex Garland has therefore chosen an auspicious year for the release of Civil War, a movie about a hypothetical Civil War II in the United States.

But perhaps he has made a movie that is just a little too timely. More on that shortly.

Civil War is “deliberately vague” about the exact causes and instigators of its hypothetical conflict. The movie posits four different factions, each comprised of various states.

This is where things get hinky. Garland doesn’t follow the Red-Blue formula that most of us would expect. For example, the movie portrays Texas and California in an alliance. We can all agree that this is something that would never happen in real life.

This unrealistic scenario is, I suspect, deliberate, too. Garland did not want to make a movie that blatantly picks sides in the American culture wars. Making the alliances unrealistic would be one way to do that.

Reviews and…buzz?

Reviews of Civil War are mixed. I’m not the first person to observe that the political alliances depicted in the film don’t mirror our current political divisions.

Some reviewers seem to have taken issue with that. Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post put it this way:

“Civil War’s shtick is that it’s not specifically political. For instance, as the US devolves into enemy groups of secessionist states, Texas and California have banded together to form the Western Forces. That such an alliance could ever occur is about as likely as Sweetgreen/Kentucky Fried Chicken combo restaurant.”

Oleksinski called Civil War “a torturous, overrated movie without a point”. We may conclude that he didn’t like it.

But what “point” was Oleksinski looking for, exactly? Alex Garland faced an obvious marketing dilemma here. If he had made a movie about the Evil Libs, he would have alienated half his potential audience. If he had made a movie about the Evil MAGAs, he would have alienated half his potential audience.

There is really no way to please everyone with a movie like this. Except by remaining vague. And then you irritate people because you didn’t take a stand.

I haven’t heard a lot of buzz about this movie in my own social circle, nor in my personal Facebook feed. Civil War is not exactly a movie that most people will want to see with their kids. Nor is it likely to become a date night favorite.

Civil War’s topic, and the clips I have seen of it, make the movie seem too similar to the news stories we have seen in recent years: the BLM riots of the summer and fall of 2020, and the J6 riot of January 6, 2021. The current war between two former Soviet Republics: Ukraine and Russia.

How many people want to pay good money to see a movie about something like that at the cinema?

Good question. I suspect that Civil War will find a wider audience once it moves to streaming/cable.

Could another Civil War really happen?

Alex Garland is not alone in his speculations about a Civil War II. Frankly, I have my doubts.

The First Civil War (1861 – 1865) was actually about something. Southerners were fighting to preserve their entire economic system. White Northerners were fighting to preserve the Union.

(Contrary to what many people believe, the Union did not initially wage the Civil War with the goal of ending slavery. The sainted Lincoln, moreover, would have let the Confederate states keep their slaves, if only they had not seceded.)

Blacks had the biggest stake of all, with their freedom on the line.

Whichever side you were on, there was something worthwhile to fight about.

But what about now? Are we really going to go to war over transgender bathrooms and idiotic pronoun rules? Over the self-evident question of what a woman is? Over abortion? Over the annual Pride Month spectacles? Over whether or not President Biden will force Americans to buy uneconomical and unwanted electric vehicles?

The issues that divide us now, as divisive and tiresome as they are, seem trivial by comparison.

A civil war, over all that nonsense? Hopefully, the country has not become that stupid. But you never know.

-ET

Was ‘Caress of Steel’ underrated?

Nearly half a century after Rush’s third album tanked in the marketplace, I’ve seen this case made on the Internet. The argument is especially prevalent in the YouTube comments where the album’s two enduring songs (“Bastille Day” and “Lakeside Park”) appear in video form.

The idea here is that Caress of Steel was given short shrift by both music fans and critics in 1975.

“This album was underrated!” one YouTube commenter opined.

“Actually one of the best Rush albums ever,” declared another.

I can see two motivations for the above arguments. The first is the underdog spirit that tends to appeal to all diehard Rush fans. Rush fans tend to be reflexive contrarians. If the audience and critics didn’t “get” something, isn’t that resounding proof of how good it actually was?

The second motivation may be diehard fandom itself. Older Rush fans like me have been devoted to the band’s music for decades (since 1982, in my case). We don’t want to believe that Rush ever made a song—let alone an entire album—that wasn’t absolutely brilliant.

But in this instance, I have to agree with the consensus view. (And yes, this pains me as yet another reflexively contrarian Rush fan.) Caress of Steel was Rush’s least listenable album. I was first exposed to it in the early 1980s, and I still don’t quite “get” it myself. I’ve given the album 40 years, and I’ve listened to it as a teen, a young adult, and a middle-aged man. Isn’t that enough time?

There are only really two completely satisfactory songs on the album, the aforementioned “Bastille Day” and “Lakeside Park”. (I will grant you the merits of “I Think I’m Going Bald” if you want to push for that one.)

I never warmed up to “The Necromancer”. “The Fountain of Lamneth” has a few good musical moments. But the idea behind the song simply doesn’t support the twenty-minute composition. And it’s very hard to follow, or even understand.

Caress of Steel goes down in history as the Rush album that nearly sunk the band as a going concern. The album was marked by poor record store sales, low concert turnout, and threats by Mercury to pull the plug on Rush—which had yet to really prove itself in the marketplace.

Caress of Steel is best remembered as a transitional effort. It was not a good album, as Rush albums go.

It was, however, the album that enabled the band to work out its kinks in the difficult endeavor of the progressive concept album. After the Caress of Steel misstep, Rush produced its three great concept albums of the 1970s: 2112, A Farewell to Kings, and Hemispheres.

These albums would be commercial successes, and they would prove that Rush’s brand of progressive rock could succeed in the marketplace…until the band changed its style yet again, in the early 1980s.

-ET

**View RUSH CDs and vinyl on Amazon**

O.J. Simpson (1947 – 2024)

In 1994, O.J. Simpson probably killed Nicole Brown and her male friend, waiter Ron Goldman. But he got off scot-free.

The O.J. Simpson case had heavy racial overtones, at a time when America was going through yet another hand-wringing, navel-gaving moment over race.

Two years prior, the white LAPD officers who beat black suspect Rodney King in 1991 were acquitted of the charges against them. The Los Angeles Riots of 1992 were one result of that misguided decision. But not the last result.

At least one O.J. Simpson juror has speculated that the majority-black Simpson jury decided to acquit the former football player as “payback” for Rodney King. One juror, a man named Lionel Cryer, gave Simpson a Black Power salute in the courtroom after the verdict was read.

That’s all I’m going to say about the O.J. Simpson murder case of 1994, and the trial that finally ended in 1995. It was a long time ago. Everything that possibly can be said about it has probably been said in the intervening years.

I was 26 years old in 1994, the same age as Nicole Brown Simpson’s male friend, Ron Goldman. I watched Simpson’s slow-speed run from the LAPD. I watched his surrender on television. I followed his drawn-out trial sporadically throughout 1994 and 1995.

The 1990s were a peaceful time, at least compared to the 2020s. That was an era when a celebrity murder trial could become the top item on the news, and remain so for a stretch of months.

Nowadays, I suspect, we would have far less bandwidth for the O.J. Simpson murder trial. We have much more to worry about.

Orenthal James Simpson is now beyond earthly justice. Did he kill Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Perlman in 1994? Like many people old enough to remember it all, I believe that he did.

But I don’t know for sure. I will therefore fall back on those lines from Romans 12:19: “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

O.J. Simpson, 76, R.I.P.

-ET

My first Atari, Christmas 1981

Atari 2600 (1980 – 1982)

There really was something special about growing up in an era when video games were not old hat, but something brand-new and on the cutting edge of the technology of that time.

I suppose I like my 21st-century iPhone and my MacBook as much as the next person, but they are tools for me, not objects of indulgence. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed anything quite as much as that first Atari console I received for Christmas in 1981.

Did I have a favorite game? Of course I did. Space Invaders, hands down. Missile Command came in a close second, though.

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The eclipse that wasn’t

Today’s solar eclipse was a bit anticlimactic here in Cincinnati. The local news channels all predicted a 99.2 percent eclipse in my area just outside the city. 

That didn’t happen, not by a long shot:

Me, eagerly awaiting the full eclipse as the shadows start to lengthen
This is going to get good any minute now! I tell myself. But I am already growing skeptical.
The high point of the eclipse, at around 3:20 p.m. EST. The sun has been noticeably dimmed, but it’s a long way from dark.

What can I say? Here in Cincinnati, the local weather forecasts are right only about 50 percent of the time. Why should the eclipse forecast be any different?

This was worth walking outside for, but I’m glad I didn’t make a day of it. 

I hope the eclipse was better for you, if you live in an area that was forecast to experience it. 

-ET