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Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss

This is the third and latest short film that I’ve either written or co-written with Juan Carlos Hernandez for his production company, Popcorn Sky Productions. It’s a comedy about a politically-divided family in New York City during the Trump era.

As Denise Longrie says in her review:

This amusing and enjoyable short depicts the fireworks that erupt when the Ronderos’ son Jerry (Anthony James Hernandez) comes home from college for a visit. Mom Veronica (“Ronnie”), played by Adria K. Woomer-Hernandez, lays down the law to her husband Guillermo (Juan Carlos Hernandez): no talking, not even whispering, about politics.

Although Juan was gracious enough to give me the sole writing credit for Ronnie, the truth is that much of the finished film was based on on-the-spot rewrites by the cast and crew in New York. I was asked to go to the Big Apple to be on hand, but I couldn’t afford the cost of an airline ticket plus a long extended stay at a hotel. So even though I was consulted, Juan, Adria, and Anthony had to rework the story and script to make Ronnie work well as a comedy with some serious commentary about the divisiveness in Trump-era America.

The film is 22 minutes long, but it’s a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. I think it’s both hilarious and relevant.

If you have not watched it yet, here it is, in all its YouTube glory.

‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) Action Figure

Photo Credit: Hasbro via Target (C) 2019 Habro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“A Little Too Short for a Stormtrooper” –  Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape)

In a brave attempt to rescue Princess Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker disguises himself as an Imperial Stormtrooper and infiltrates the detention center of the Death Star. –  Packaging blurb, Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape)


In May of 2019, Hasbro released its 6-inch scale action figure. Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) as a Target exclusive. The Pawtucket, Rhode Island toy and game manufacturer unveiled the figure at that year’s New York Comic-Con, then shipped it to Target’s warehouses and/or department stores. By Summer 2019, the figure was sold out; if you went to the now-gone Target product page for Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) on the retailer’s official webpage, you’d see a Sold Out advisory at the foot of the page.

Interestingly, Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) was an updated reboot of the Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker in Stormtrooper Disguise from one of “waves” released in 2015. It used many elements of the older figure – which has a shorter torso than the Star Wars The Black Series Imperial Stormtrooper – and some from the Stormtrooper figure itself. However, Luke Skywalker’s head is now sculpted and painted so that the figure’s “hair” looks wet to give the young Rebel that “just out of the water in the Death Star trash compactor” look.

Additionally, the Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) figure’s Imperial stormtrooper armor has realistic-looking “smudges” that simulate the dirty water in the aforementioned trash compactor. So does the stormtrooper helmet that is one of the five accessories that come with the figure.

What’s in the Box?

The Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) comes with a removable helmet, an Imperial-issue E-11 blaster, a comlink, a new utility belt, and a display stand. Photo Credit: Hasbro via Target (C) 2019 Habro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Because Hasbro produced Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) as a retail partner exclusive, the Star Wars The Black Series package does not have a figure number assigned. (Non-exclusive releases have numbers based on the order of release, e.g. 2019’s Jannah from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is packaged as #90.) As a result, the figure bears only a small assortment numeral code on the packaging.

In the box, you’ll get:

  • Luke Skywalker Action Figure
  • Stormtrooper Helmet
  • BlasTech E-11 Blaster
  • Comlink
  • Display Base

My Take

Kids and fans alike can imagine the biggest battles and missions in the Star Wars saga with figures from Star Wars The Black Series! with exquisite features and decoration, this series embodies the quality and realism that Star Wars devotees love. Star Wars The Black Series includes figures, vehicles, and roleplay items from the 40-plus-year legacy of the Star Wars galaxy that includes the Star Wars comics, Star Wars movies, and Star Wars animated series. – Hasbro promotional blurb

I have been collecting Star Wars action figures since I received my first two Kenner Star Wars figures – See Threepio (C-3PO) and Artoo Detoo (R2-D2) –and the Landspeeder vehicle for my 15th birthday a long time ago in a neighborhood far, far away.[1] For practicality’s sake, I only collected figures, vehicles, and “action playsets’ in the 3.75-inch scale; I believe that by the time Kenner closed its original 1978-1985 production run, I had acquired 85% of the action figures, 60% of the vehicles, and 50% of the action playsets.

One of the figures I never acquired from the original Kenner collection was Luke Skywalker (Stormtrooper Disguise). That figure was released late in Kenner’s 1985 Star Wars: The Power of the Force line and was hard to find in stores. I only learned of its existence after I started attending college in early 1985, and by then I was too focused on my studies that I rarely went to stores to look for new additions to my collection. The last item I remember purchasing was the Rebel Transport, and that was during a last visit to a toy store during the Spring Term of the 1984-1985 academic year.

I eventually received a Luke Skywalker (Stormtrooper Disguise) figure as a gift from a friend when Hasbro bought Kenner (and its valuable Star Wars license and re-introduced Star Wars action figures in a revamped Power of the Force collection in the mid-1990s.  It was given to me loose – i.e. unpackaged and without an E-11 blaster – but the figure came with a removable helmet. I am not sure where that figure is, but I do have a carded specimen from the same line that I bought many years ago on eBay from a private seller.

I also have two other 3.75-inch Luke Skywalker in Stormtrooper Disguise figures; one comes in a late 1990s Cinema Scene three-figure set called Death Star Escape (the other two are Chewbacca (as Prisoner) and Han Solo in Stormtrooper Disguise; the other one is inside a Star Wars Saga three-figure set from 2002 called Death Star Trash Compactor.

Although Hasbro released this as a “Target Exclusive” in May of 2019, many specimens of Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) were bought purely for the online resale market by third party resellers with online stores hosted by Amazon and Walmart. I found my figure on Amazon when I searched for one last summer and saw that Target did not have more in stock.  

I don’t have the original 6-inch scale figure – the 2015 #12 Luke Skywalker (Stormtrooper Disguise) – that this 2019 Star Wars The Black Series collectible is based on, so I can’t compare the two. From my online research for this review, though, I checked out Rebelscum.com, and this is what the respected collectors’ website has to say about it:

When Hasbro designed the…Luke Skywalker (Stormtrooper Disguise), they had planned to release it with both the released head and the wet head featured on the (Luke Skywalker Death Star Escape figure). Lucasfilm licensing shot the idea down.

Overall, I have to give Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) four stars out of five; the amount of detail on the figure – including the inclusion of “dirty water stains” on Luke’s purloined stormtrooper gear and wet-looking hair – is astounding. The sculpt and paint job give the figure’s face a strong – if perhaps not exactly flattering – resemblance to the then-24-year-old Mark Hamill’s, and though I suspect that the figure’s arms were borrowed from an existing Imperial Stormtrooper figure and are perhaps a tad longer, Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) looks good.

Photo Credit: Hasbro via Target (C) 2019 Habro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

You can even put the Stormtrooper helmet accessory on the figure’s head to make the farmboy-turned-Rebel from Tatooine look like a menacing – if perhaps a bit messy – Soldier of the Empire as he helps the captive Princess Leia Organa escape from the Empire’s planet-killing battle station, the Death Star.

MOVIE-BASED CHARACTER-INSPIRED ACCESSORY – This Star Wars The Black Series action figure comes with a blaster accessory like the one Luke fires off in the trash chute scene in Star Wars: A New Hope! – Hasbro promotional blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape)

Hasbro also did a magnificent job by adding many points of articulation (POAs) to this figure; the company has always strived to make action figures more lifelike ever since it acquired Kenner in the 1990s and with it, the product license to manufacture Star Wars toys and collectibles. The larger 6-inch figures benefit greatly from the addition of more POAs. Cleverly added to look like the segments of the Imperial battle armor, these multiple points of articulation allow collectors of all ages to pose Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape)  in more life-like positions.

I also appreciate that the figure comes with a transparent plastic display stand for additional support. I plan keep my Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) figure in its original packaging indefinitely. However, it’s nice to know that the display stand is there in case I change my mind and decide to pose the figure on a shelf in my study.

I’ve owned my Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) for well over a year, and I do not regret buying it, even though the third-party seller added $10 to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for shipping and to make a modest profit. I would have preferred getting it from Target.com, but as I pointed out earlier, I did not have that option. I sometimes take the red-and-black box to peer at the figure from the “window” on the packaging’s obverse side; I think it looks good there, plus I won’t lose any of the small accessories!

Well, Dear Reader, this brings us to the close of another Star Wars Collectibles & Toys Review. I enjoyed writing it, and I sincerely hope you found it both informative and entertaining. So, until next time, May the Force be with you always, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.


[1] March 1978, actually.

Musings & Thoughts for Friday, September 25, 2020, or: Of Wi-Fi Issues, Upcoming Reviews, and (Star) Trekkin’ On

Photo by Fabian Wiktor on Pexels.com

 Hi there, Dear Reader, and welcome to another edition of Musings & Thoughts. It’s Friday, September 25, 2020, and as I write this it’s late morning in my corner of Florida. The current temperature is 79˚F under mostly sunny skies; with humidity at a whopping 89% and a 3 MPH breeze blowing from the east-northeast, the feels-like temperature is 91˚F. Per my phone’s AccuWeather app, we don’t expect any rain here over the next few hours, although the long-range forecast suggests that we’ll have thunderstorm activity on Monday.

(C) 2019 Oxford University Press

 I spent most of my morning reading from Peter Caddick-Adams’ massive Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France. I would rather have been writing a review of Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Death Star Escape) for this blog, but even though I have the actual figure – still in its box, by the way – I often need to be online to get information as to when it was produced/released. But if I am offline, I can’t look anything up on my PC; I have to use my phone, and sometimes that’s harder for me to do.

Here’s the problem: We have connectivity issues if too many people try to connect to the house’s Wi-Fi at the same time, and because the owner of the house is working from her home office, she needs 100% connectivity from 8 AM to just a bit past 5 PM during her work days, I’m not sure how many of us are online simultaneously; I do know that the Wi-Fi signal strength varies from room to room, and I have noticed that if three of us (out of five individuals) try to connect to the Internet at the same time, the connection is just awful.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

Because of this, I really don’t have a lot of options as far as keeping entertained or productive. I have to read out in the living room or write on my computer in silence since I can’t work online or watch TV anywhere. My study is located between two occupied bedrooms, and one of them is occupied by a college freshman who needs a tranquil environment in which the student can attend virtual class or work on assignments. The other room is also the realm of the homeowner’s oldest, who is currently unemployed – he quit his job due to fears about getting COVID-19 – and stays up all night gaming and sleeps during the day. So I can’t watch my TV here, and I can’t go watch TV out in the Florida room because its adjacent to my hostess’ home office.

If I had my way, I would be looking for a nice two-bedroom house or apartment where I could live independently or at least semi-independently. However, even after the sale of my townhouse, I don’t have enough money to buy a decent, solidly-built, no-remodeling, no-renovations-needed property…at least not one which would comfortably hold me and my belongings.

(C) 1999 Legacy Records
(C) 1999 Columbia Records

Anyway, today I’m expecting another package from Amazon: the 2-CD Star Trek: The Motion Picture 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition with legendary film composer Jerry Goldsmith’s score on Disc 1 and an updated version of  Inside Star Trek, a 1976 recording that Gene Roddenberry and several guests – including William Shatner – made for Columbia Records at what I believe was a Star Trek convention on Disc 2.

I have not owned the musical score prior to my recent purchase of this 2-CD set, but I did have the original 1976 version of Inside Star Trek on eight-track tape back in the late 1970s. The one on the 1999 CD is different; it features many of the tracks from the original 1976 edition, but it also has a new intro and a closing  by actress-singer Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant – and later Commander – Nyota Uhura from the original Star Trek TV series and the first six feature films).

From what I see on my Amazon Orders – on my phone, natch – the soundtrack album has 18 tracks, and so does Inside Star Trek. I have never heard the former – just the score in the movie – but I did listen to Inside Star Trek many times when I was in high school, and many of the track titles are familiar.

Right now my order is in the same metro area where I live, and it’s currently Out for Delivery.

It looks like my one-hour window to use the Wi-Fi will open soon (it was 9:30 AM when I started writing this post, now it’s almost 11) so I’ll close for now. If I can dig up the info I need for that Star Wars The Black Series figure review, I’ll be working on that from 12 to 5 PM and post it as soon as I can reconnect to the ‘net. If all goes well, I’ll see you later.

More Thoughts, More Musings on a Quiet September Afternoon, or: Memories of Sevilla 1988

Image by Raw2Jpeg from Pixabay

When I was 25 years old and studying journalism at what was then the South Campus of Miami-Dade Community College,[1] I decided to participate in the Foreign Language Department’s Semester in Spain study-abroad program in Sevilla (Seville) for the Fall Term of the 1988-1989 school year. At the time I had a plethora of reasons, the main ones being:

  • I had never been to Europe before
  • I might not get a better chance to go to Spain later in life
  • I liked the idea of broadening my intellectual horizons and learning more about the country from which all Hispanics derive their culture
  • I needed to finish my foreign language requirement for graduation
  • As a journalism major, it was my chance to try my hand at being a foreign correspondent
  • I wanted a little bit of adventure and boldly go where I had not gone before

See, when I was taking my first Spanish class with Dr. Ofelia Hudson at Miami-Dade the previous Fall (I eventually took four Spanish-language courses; two at Miami-Dade and two in Sevilla), I had expressed interest in participating in a similar program that was going to take place in March of 1988 in Salamanca. I don’t remember if that was a program run by the College Consortium for International Studies (CCIS) which Miami-Dade College and Broward College were members of, or if it was under the auspices of another organization.

I do remember that when Dr. Hudson first mentioned it in class after one of our late-semester class sessions I was less than enthusiastic initially. But by the time I got home from school – after a 90-minutes-long series of bus rides from South Campus – I was intrigued. So much so, in fact, that I asked my mom if we had the money in the bank for such a project.

To make a long story short, the Salamanca sojourn did not take place. Not enough students had signed up by the deadline to apply for a spot, so the Semester in Salamanca project was canceled. I was disappointed, but, hey. What could I do? It was beyond my control.

There the matter rested until the Winter Term (January to April) of the 1987-1988 academic year drew to a close. I had signed up for a mix of journalism and social studies classes, as well as Spanish II with another professor whose name I can’t recall now. I passed all of them with As and Bs, and as I signed up to take my required physical education course – which I had assiduously avoided up to that time – for the upcoming Spring Term (May-July), I kept noticing signs on campus that said something like this:

CCIS Semester in Spain in Seville Program Now Accepting Applications for the Fall 1988 Term! See Dr. Vitale in the Foreign Language Department For Details

Back in December of 1987, when I was told that the Salamanca study-abroad program was off due to lack of student interest, I figured the notion of my going to Spain was laid to rest. So at first my interest in the CCIS program was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic. I had gotten my mom and me excited about one trip to España already; what if I got all excited again and ended up disappointed again?

But I kept on seeing the posters all over campus, so one day close to the end of the Winter Term, I went to the Foreign Language Department office in Building Six and asked Dr. Vitale’s assistant (whose name I also don’t remember) if I could apply for the Semester in Spain program for the Fall Term.

Image by Eveline de Bruin from Pixabay

“Sure,” the professor or executive assistant (I’m not sure what his job title was) said. “Have a seat and I’ll bring you an application.”

Again, I’ll cut to the chase – lest I turn this blog post into a novel the size of Stephen King’s It – and get to the point. I answered a bunch of questions – Can you walk for long distances unassisted? Are you self-motivated? Do you have two professors who will write letters of recommendation? Are you capable of handling finances on your own? What level of Spanish instruction have you taken? Have you filled out a FASF for a Pell Grant or Student Loan? And so on and so forth. Finally, when I told the guy that I consistently made the Dean’s List and that I qualified for a Pell Grant, he took out a red-and-white course selection sheet and filled it out with a full 15-credits course load.

As I recall, the courses I chose were:

  • Survey of Spanish Government
  • History of Spain I
  • History of Spain II
  • Advanced Spanish I
  • Advanced Spanish II[2]

 I got two of my professors (Dr. Hudson and my journalism instructor, Prof. Peter Townsend) to write letters of recommendation. A few days later, I received a letter in the mail informing me that I was accepted into the Semester in Spain Program. There was also a long list of things I needed to do, such as getting a student visa from the Spanish Consulate, buying airfare and travelers’ insurance, and a lot of other things that I needed to do before September 21, the scheduled departure date for our group of CCIS students.[3]

This was in late April of 1988. Between then and September 21, 1988, I took my physical education (which was called Survey of Health and Nutrition) during the Summer Term, and over the next few months I either shopped for the clothes and the portable typewriter I would need for a long stay overseas or veered from feelings of excitement over going to Spain to occasional panic attacks about terrorists, the possibility that my mom would get sick or even die while I was overseas, or that something awful would happen to me while I was in Spain.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened, and I had a wonderful learning experience that I shall never forget.  As I wrote in one of the articles that I sent back to the student newspaper from Sevilla in December of 1988:



Study abroad is more than educational: it’s an experience

Alex Diaz-Granados
Columnist


(Originally published in the December 1, 1988 issue of Catalyst)

SEVILLE, Spain (CCIS Program)

Over the past six weeks of my stay here in Seville as a participant in the College Consortium for International Studies’ Semester in Spain program, I have come to understand how challenging studying abroad really is. Several other students from this campus are also taking part in this program.

In many respects, studying abroad is no different from studying at our home college or university. We have our schedule set up much like we do in the U.S. with lectures and reading assignments.

We have midterms and finals, of course, although in some classes final exams are given at the director’s discretion. Unlike studying in the U.S., we’re learning about a different country’s history, culture, government and economic system, not by reading about these in a textbook, but by living in it.

“It’s been a great experience for me,” said sophomore Wendy Page, who will be graduating from South Campus in the Winter Term. “I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish and to be more knowledgeable about life in other countries. This program has really been a great step in that direction.”

I, too, have also wanted to come to Spain to experience European culture and history first-hand, having been inspired by all those humanities and history courses I have taken at Miami-Dade.

In addition to the thrill of reporting from abroad, I’ve found what I came looking for, and perhaps more. As I mentioned earlier, studying abroad is challenging in every sense of the word.

I am not just talking about the academic program here, although I have found it to be one of the most difficult yet satisfying ones in my college experience.

There is a great deal more involved here, classes, tests, and term papers aside.

In addition to the basic problems of living in a country with a different language, history, culture and political system, a student abroad can expect to face the following challenges:

Homesickness. This can be overcome with a positive outlook and support from fellow students and the home front. There have been days when most of us here have felt depressed, when we have mailed post cards and letters to everyone we know and no one except parents have bothered to write back.

Culture shock. Believe me, when you first travel to a foreign country, you will be hit by the oh-my-God-how-weird-this-place-is syndrome. I still get impatient with the “let’s close everything down between 2 and 5 p.m. and go home for lunch” system.

Meeting new people. A very universal challenge anywhere, but if you’re going to study-travel abroad, you must make friends both with your fellow students and the natives you come in contact with. One of the nice things about the program is that I’ve met students not only from my home campus but also from colleges and universities from all over the U.S.

Anti-Americanism. Whenever a major power like the U.S. gets to be a country with wealth and influence and the military muscle to back it, all the other nations tend to get resentful.

Thankfully, all of these things can be overcome with a little patience and a lot of determination.

Another thing that I’ve learned about the program is how to rely upon myself. Basically, I’m responsible for everything; I have to pay for my rent, my books and school supplies, monitor my own progress and so on.

It takes a lot of self-discipline to keep yourself from turning a study-abroad experience into a mere tourist excursion. It isn’t really that hard, it just takes a little readjustment of your priorities.

“I’d recommend the program to anyone who really wants to learn Spanish and get acquainted with Spain itself,” said Greg Norell, a student from Texas. “I think it’s the best way to get a feeling for the language and culture.”

The way the program itself is set up is really the key to a student’s enjoyment of the Seville experience. The mixture of academics and extracurricular activities makes studying abroad challenging yet fun, too.


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

© 1988, 2020 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved


[1] Now it’s Miami-Dade College, Kendall Campus.

[2] Though the two language classes had different catalog code numbers and course titles, I found out that they would be taught by the same professor over a 12-week semester, which meant that while the other courses were 50-minute-long class sessions, taught at the original CCIS Center location, the Spanish language courses would be 100-minute-long double sessions at the main campus of the Universidad de Sevilla.  Since Miami-Dade was one of the core members of the CCIS Program, all of those credits counted as M-DCC credits and had to be paid for before going overseas.

[3] The Miami-Dade Community College contingent was small, only four students in total. Three (Wendy Page, Sandra Langlois, and I) were from South Campus, while the fourth, a 26-year-old from the Dominican Republic, was from the Wolfson (Downtown) Campus. In all, though, there were 42 students from various colleges and universities across the U.S.

Musings & Thoughts for September 24, 2020: If Time Travel Were Possible….

Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

Thoughts & Musings for Thursday, September 24, 2020

Hello again, Dear Reader. In my neck of Florida it is mid-morning on a humid and hot day in the early fall of 2020. According to my phone’s AccuWeather app, the temperature outside is 75˚ F under partly cloudy skies, but with 86% humidity and an east-southeasterly breeze barely blowing at 3 MPH (with occasional 7 MPH gusts), the “feels like” temperature is 84˚ F in the open and 79˚F in the shade. The house I live in is cool because the owner likes to set the air conditioner at 74˚F or slightly less; that’s colder than I would set it (my preferred thermostat setting was 78˚F), but I don’t have much – or any – say in the matter.

Photo by Amy Burry on Pexels.com

If time travel were possible, I would like to make a backward jump to where and when I was 32 years ago today – in Sevilla (Seville) Spain. I don’t know if I would want to retain my memories of 2020 in order to do so, because then the temptation would be for me to simply stay in 1988 and live out the rest of my days without knowing how things are in 2020. In every time travel story I have read or seen in films or TV, the traveler goes backward in time and retains knowledge of his or her “present” day and tries to manipulate events to change the “future.” I have yet to see any story in which the protagonist awakes in the “past” with his or her mind as a tabula rasa.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

History will not remember 2020 kindly, I think. For humanity in general, while the year is not as bad as, say, 1942 – the year in which the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan had reached their apogee – it has been one of the worst in my lifetime. We have been subjected to a global pandemic at a time when the schism between conservatives and liberals (or progressives and reactionaries if you prefer) is wider and deeper than ever. In many countries, starting with the U.S. but also including Great Britain, the Philippines, Brazil, and Hungary, democracy is under pressure, if not outright attack. Ugly, dark forces, such as nationalism, nativism, isolationism, and racism have been unleashed upon the world, aided by those two double-edged swords of high technology and business, the Internet and social media.

I live in the United States of America. I was born here almost 60 years ago (I’ll be 58 next March, so my next milestone birthday will be the big Six-Oh) and, unless I write a bestselling book or pen a blockbuster film that will result in a payday big enough to allow me to emigrate to, say, Spain, I will more than likely die here.

Until November of 2016, that prospect did not bother me much. I am, after all, a first-generation American citizen, born in Miami, Florida to two legal immigrants and residents of the U.S. from Colombia. Except for a six-year period when my mom, older half-sister, and I lived in Bogota (Colombia’s capital) to be near my mom’s family, I have lived in the “good old U.S.A.” all of my life. And I deeply love the land of my birth.

Photo by Life Matters on Pexels.com

But considering how bad things have gotten ever since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, I look at my country with horrified and sorrow-filled eyes and see:

  • A President whose rhetoric and policies are divisive
  • A President who only cares about himself and his family
  • A President who “governs” only for a certain constituency instead of the entirety of the American people
  • A President whose conscious decisions to downplay the COVID-19 pandemic for political purposes resulted in the deaths of 201,959 men, women, and children
  • A political party that has been co-opted by a cabal of wealthy billionaires who don’t like paying taxes, white supremacists, isolationists, and nationalists, and a subset of fundamentalist Christians who rail about their Muslim counterparts yet want to impose their version of Sharia on a nation founded on a secular social order based on freedom of speech and thought (religious and non-religious)
  • A deeply divided citizenry
  • Toxic rhetoric from extremists on both the right and the left
  • The sure and steady undoing of the institutions that promote and protect democracy
  • The rise of American-style fascism, branded simply as Trumpism

Ugh.

So, yes, if I could travel back in time, it would be to when I was 25 years old, studying journalism, and participating in a college study-abroad program in the beautiful Spanish city of Seville.  Again, since the physics of time travel are fictional and thus impossible, I am not sure if I’d be 57-going-on-58 and emerge in 1988 as such, or if I’d physically vanish, as Douglas Adams would say, “in a puff of logic” and re-enter, Palpatine-like, my 25-year-old body and overwrite my 1988 “self.”

And if I could do so without any memory – or foreknowledge, as it were – of 2020, COVID-19, Donald Trump, and a divided America, so much the better.

Life in the Time of COVID-19: Who is Responsible for 200,000-plus Dead Americans? I’ll Give You One Guess….

Photo by Matthias Groeneveld on Pexels.com

Thoughts & Musings for Wednesday, September 23, 2020

200,893.

As expected, the United States of America – “the greatest nation on Earth” – has reached and surpassed the 200,000 COVID-19 deaths mark this week. Per the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University, 200,893 men, women, and children of every race, ethnic group, social ranking, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation have died in this country as a result of the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus that emerged late last year in China and reached North America in early 2020.

Graphic Credit: CSSE at Johns Hopkins University

Globally, we are well on track to reach the 1-milliion COVID-19 deaths mark; as of 10:23 AM Eastern, there are 31,666,012 known cases and 972,100 deaths worldwide[1].. I emphasize the word “known” because the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aka North Korea, claims it has 0 COVID-19 infections or deaths. That’s bull excrement, of course, but that’s what Donald Trump’s bosom buddy Kim Jung Un is saying. Thus, the COVID-19 Dashboard’s figures seem to be an undercount rather than an overcount of cases/deaths.

In the U.S. – which Trump supporters insist is led by the “best President ever” – we have 6,899,272 COVID-19  cases and 200,893 deaths.

There is no denying the U.S. government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis has been abysmal, and the buck, as President Harry S Truman famously said in the 1940s, stops at the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, which is currently being used by a con man named Donald J. Trump. Those 200,893 deaths – and those yet to come – occurred under his watch, and although not every fatality would have been prevented by a more mature, responsible, and proactive Commander in Chief, his deliberate politicizing of the pandemic – he called it “the Democrats’ new hoax” – and  his even worse decision to downplay it in his public utterances on TV and at his “love me” rallies are only a small part of why we are where we are in this global pandemic.

Photo by KEVIN MACH on Pexels.com

And yet, his supporters still stand by Trump, no matter how awful the news about COVID-19 are or how well other nations with better, smarter leaders, such as Germany’s Angela Merkel and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, have dealt with the.pandemic. Many countries – even former hotspot Italy – have done a bang-up job with their handling of the pandemic; however, the U.S. continues to flail about because its populace is politically and ideologically divided, and its President eggs on the divisiveness instead of using what Theodore Roosevelt called the bully pulpit of his elected office.

Not only does Donald Trump downplay the effects of the virus or tries to pin the blame on others – Cult 45 members often attack New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for his alleged mishandling of the crisis and cheer the deaths in blue states – but he also picks at the scabs of other wounds in the American psyche.

You haven’t earned the right to say anything bad about America. Go back to your birthplace and clean it up. You left it a MESS and now you are complaining about the USA. What good are you to your country of birth (NONE), and now all you do about (OUR) COUNTRY is complain. You’re not needed user. So, go to THE OTHER COUNTRIES that you brag are SO MUCH BETTER THAN OUR COUNTRY. TAKE YOUR BUTT AND LEAVE.

Trump Supporter, on Facebook

Chief among these unhealed sores in the American body politic is the issue of race relations in 21st Century America. A large number of Trump supporters identify as white Protestants – many of them from the Evangelical Christian movement that thrives in the South and Midwest – and they viscerally hate people of color. Oh, they pretend they don’t, and they often point out that they support prominent African-American Republicans and “conservatives” such as HUD Secretary Ben Carson, the incendiary former liberal-turned-rabid right wing commentator Candace Owens, and the late Herman Cain, whose refusal to wear a mask at this summer’s pro-Trump rally in Tulsa, OK cost him his life; he died of COVID-19 not too long ago. But that’s just window-dressing. Many Trump supporters hate Black Americans, especially prominent ones such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who is also a Muslim Somali-born U.S. citizen.

Here are some selected comments from a story – Trump attacks Omar for criticizing US: ‘How did you do where you come from? posted on Facebook by the news site The Hill.

Under the article’s “thumbnail” which bears this summary – JUST IN: President Trump complained that Rep. Ilhan Omar, who arrived in the United States with her family as a child after fleeing war-torn Somalia, should not be giving input on how to run the country, asking “how is your country doing,” despite her being a U.S. citizen. – a Latina Facebook member commented thusly:

I can answer how is my country doing, we are a divided country that everyone is laughing at us. Where other countries have a better education system. Where our constitution states that that we are all created equal is a complete lie and has been a lie for decades.

And no I will not leave because this is my country, but I will use my right of the First Amendment to express myself.

Many other Facebook members replied in support of this commenter. Others, who support Trump, reacted predictably:

Trump Supporter #1: WRONG! The USA is off Obama’s apology tour. We are respected around the world!

Trump Supporter #2: Don’t let the boot hit you in the ass on the way out.

Trump Supporter #3: Are you legal? If not, leave if you hate it so much here.

Trump Supporter #4: You haven’t earned the right to say anything bad about America. Go back to your birthplace and clean it up. You left it a MESS and now you are complaining about the USA. What good are you to your country of birth (NONE), and now all you do about (OUR) COUNTRY is complain. You’re not needed user. So, go to THE OTHER COUNTRIES that you brag are SO MUCH BETTER THAN OUR COUNTRY. TAKE YOUR BUTT AND LEAVE.

Trump Supporter #5:This is what the Dems allow..

They do not support the Constitution…

The responsibility of the individual…to work and not riot, burn buildings, murder, rob, plunder….

The Dems have Sanctuary cities…feces, rats, needles, illegals given what citizens do not even get, Sodomy of children and Brown lowering the sentence to a misdemeanor, gangs butchering victims….

This particular comment thread contained at least 82 replies. Some of them were supportive of the original comment-writer; most were not.

The same folks who espouse anti-immigrant, racist, and anti-Muslim views also include men and women who rail against the wearing of masks in public places, protest to “reopen” their states’ economies, and post misleading comments, memes, and right-wing propaganda that calls COVID-19 a “plandemic” and that the virus will disappear on or after Election Day in November.

I have stated this in some of my comments on Facebook and on this blog, but I will reiterate it again to pound the message home:

Donald Trump did not create the coronavirus known as COVID-19. No one did. Not the Chinese. Not some mad scientist or terrorist group. Viruses mutate in nature. The influenza virus mutates. So does the virus that causes SARS, which is closely related to the one that is currently running amok across the planet.

However, Trump and many of his Cabinet members, including Vice President Mike Pence, have totally fumbled the federal government’s response. Trump deliberately downplayed the then-new crisis because he didn’t want a public health disaster to blemish his track record of alleged accomplishments, especially those related to the economy and the health of the stock market.

And because Trump was elected and not appointed or crowned as royalty, those people who voted for him in 2016 and say  “Trump 2020” even after his pitiful performance as President since he took the Oath of Office on January 20, 2017 are personally on the hook for the 200,818 – and counting – deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic.

QED. End of story.


[1] In Colombia, my late parents’ country of origin and where most of my family still lives, the number of known COVID-19 cases is 777,537 (fifth place), with 24,570 recorded fatalities (eighth place).  

Book Review: ‘Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France’

This promotional photo of the book cover has a typo that is not on the actual book cover. Photo Credit and (C) 2019 Oxford University Press

A Plethora of D-Day Books

I have an obsession with D-Day.

Don’t ask me why. I couldn’t begin to give you a rational answer.

As a first-generation American citizen born to two immigrants from Colombia, I don’t have any personal connection to the Second World War. Yes, Colombia joined the Allies (then called the United Nations) in 1943, and it made its own contribution to the war effort against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and militarist Japan. However, unlike Brazil or Mexico, my parents’ homeland did not send an expeditionary force to either the European theater or the Pacific, and my dad, who in 1944 was a 25-year-old pilot learning how to fly transport and passenger aircraft for what eventually would be called Avianca, never saw combat even though he had a commission in the Colombian Air Force Reserves.

(On my mom’s side, I have to point out that my Uncle Octavio was also a young man and could have been drafted into the Colombian military. But my grandfather – like many patriarchs of the wealthy class that ran the country – simply paid a bribe to keep his middle child from serving in the armed forces.)

And yet, as the only U.S.-born member of my Colombian-American family (my mom and older half-sister became naturalized U.S. citizens in 1996), I have long been drawn to books, films, and documentaries about the events of June 6, 1944 and the liberation of France.

In my Ikea-bought Billy bookshelves there are  books that either focus exclusively on D-Day itself or go further and examine the 77-day campaign from June 6 to August 25, 1944 (the day Paris was liberated). They are:

U,S. GIs are pulled out of the cold waters of the English Channel and onto the shingle at Omaha Beach. U,S. Army photo/National Archives
  • The Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan (1959)
  • Overlord: D-Day & The Battle for Normandy, by Max Hastings(1984)
  • D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, by Stephen E. Ambrose (1994)
  • D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, by Antony Beevor (2009)
  • Normandy ’44: D-Day and the Epic 77-Day Battle for France, by James Holland (2019)
  • Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France, by Peter Caddick-Adams (2019)

These books were written in a 60-year span of time. The best-known title, The Longest Day, is also the oldest; its Irish-American author, former war correspondent Cornelius Ryan, conceived the idea of telling the story of Operation Overlord’s first 24 hours shortly after the war and spent nearly a decade working on it. It was a best-selling popular history book when Simon & Schuster published it in 1959 – fifteen years after the events it chronicles, and it was adapted into a popular 1962 war movie by Darryl F. Zanuck. Considered to be a classic work in the genre of popular history, The Longest Day has never been out of print and is available in most formats, including audiobooks and e-books.

The Longest Day is well-written and exhaustively researched, yet it is hobbled by at least two factors. The biggest one, of course, is that at the time that Ryan and other historians (academic or otherwise) authored books about World War II, the U.S. and British governments had not yet revealed that Allied codebreakers had been able to unlock the codes to Germany’s Enigma encrypting system, thus giving the Allied senior military commanders a better idea of German orders of battle and upcoming military operations than they would have had if the Enigma codes had not been broken.

Due to this restriction, many authors who wrote books about the war, including Charles B. MacDonald, one of the Army’s chief official historians, had to leave out quite a few details about what the Allies knew (or didn’t know) about German, Italian, or Japanese moves in the European and Pacific theaters. And, of course, what readers got as a result of all this secrecy was a somewhat distorted view of the war, one that was carried over into the many documentaries made for TV between the early 1950s to 1974, which is the year in which the British and American governments declassified what was known as the “Ultra Secret.”

Another issue I have with The Longest Day is that Ryan sometimes changed a few things in the narrative for dramatic impact or to clean up some of the participants’ reputations. For instance, Ryan, who was a devout Catholic, did not like Private Arthur “Dutch” Schultz’s version of why he gambled away $2,500 ($36,920.17 in 2020 dollars, adjusted for inflation) that he had won in a craps game. So he made it look like Schultz felt guilty about gambling and deliberately played craps until he lost.

Of course, Ryan wasn’t the only historian who wasn’t affected by the “Ultra secret.” Every historian in the world who wrote about the war was, and so was every documentary filmmaker; even the world-famous The World at War was affected because the secret was revealed after the 26-part series had completed production in Great Britain.

Consequently, most World War II history books written since the revelation of Ultra have been, by necessity, revisionist works that add previously classified or untapped sources of information, including memoirs, interviews with veterans and their descendants, personal diaries, letters, and government records that were previously off-limits or simply forgotten by archivists in the former belligerent countries. That’s why there are so many new books about D-Day (and World War II) being written and published, especially around landmark dates such as 2019’s 75th Anniversary.

Sand and Steel

This is perhaps one of the most iconic D-Day photographs. It is known as “Into the Jaws of Death” and shows U,S. infantrymen wading ashore from a U.S. Coast Guard Higgins boat (LCVP) at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard/National Archives

On May 20, 2019, the Oxford University Press published Peter Caddick-Adams’ massive (998 pages) book Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France, a comprehensive account of the various phases of the D-Day invasion from the perspectives of the Allies, the Germans, and the French that is based on many years of painstaking research – including personal visits to the many battlefields in Normandy – and interviews of surviving D-Day veterans  by Caddick-Adams.

 “Tuesday 6 June 1944 was a day like no other.” So begins this history of D-Day, published on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. It was a day like no other for good reason. The invasion of Normandy by Allied forces was perhaps the greatest and most consequential military operation of modern times, heralding the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe. Its hold on the imagination remains no less commanding than when news of it first broke.

Yet despite the extensive number of books and films on D-Day across the decades, doing justice even to the events of that one day poses huge challenges. Most have viewed it through either too mythic or too narrow a lens – focusing too narrowly on a particular operation, nationality, outfit, or individual. American, British, and Canadian troops were dropped from the air or landed from thousands of vessels on five beaches that were Operation Neptune and Overlord’s designated targets. Those who disembarked on Juno confronted a world apart from those scaling the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc or clawing their way up the sands of Omaha.  The operation to gain a foothold in Europe depended on a complex and shifting array of contingencies: disposition of German troops and their degree of preparation behind uneven defenses; the movement of tides; the weather.

Peter Caddick-Adams has walked every inch of the Cotentin Peninsula and spent years interviewing veterans and eyewitnesses. Sand and Steel is an account in full of D-Day, one whose terrible velocity builds with every minute. Beginning in the months of preparation and its momentous impact on the island nation, he portrays a Britain steeling itself for an invasion it had put off as long as possible. He depicts a France bracing for impact. He gives a thorough and clear-eyed assessment of German preparedness behind the Atlantikwall.

At the heart of this magisterial, immersive, and deeply humane book are the beaches and landing zones and those whose fate it was either to take or defend them. Capturing the full extent of D-Day is beyond the reach of one account, but Sand and Steel comes closer than anything to this point. Sand and Steel does what justice can be done for June 6, 1944, that day like no other. – Publisher’s dust jacket blurb, Sand and Steel

The Book

Sand and Steel, as I said before, is a massive doorstop of a history book. It is divided into two parts, Preparation, and Invasion, which are in turn divided into 35 chapters: 21 for Part One, and 14 for Part Two. In addition, Sand and Steel includes a handy glossary of military terms used by the Allies and Germans in 1944, as well as an order of battle for both sides, a postscript about Operation Fortitude (the complex suite of deception plans conceived to deceive the Germans about where the invasion was to take place), a bibliography, and more.   

As the publisher’s dust jacket blurb points out, Sand and Steel is in the same category of Normandy-themed books as The Longest Day and D-Day: June 6,1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. That is to say, despite its subtitle (The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France), Sand and Steel doesn’t cover the entire Normandy campaign from the initial landings to the liberation of Paris.  To put it simply, the author gives us a larger, expanded panoramic view of D-Day, following the format of the late Stephen Ambrose’s 1994 D-Day but with far more detail about the preparations for Operation Neptune and Overlord – and the effect of the influx of three million U.S. soldiers, airmen, sailors, and coast  guardsmen starting in the spring of 1942 on the war-battered British Isles – from the Allied, French and German perspectives.

Sand and Steel covers a wide array of topics, some of which were not covered by Cornelius Ryan in The Longest Day and touched on only lightly in Ambrose’s 50th Anniversary account, such as the initial unease felt by both Americans and British when large contingents of U.S. military personnel, war correspondents, and others first arrived in Great Britain. Despite sharing a common language and a historical relationship that stretched far back to the seventeenth century – Britain being America’s “Mother Country,” after all – there were cultural clashes and misunderstandings. Caddick-Adams explores some of these, including the different attitudes that Britons and Americans (especially whites from the South) held about African-American service personnel; the former did not practice segregation (official or otherwise), while the latter insisted on imposing the same strict rules of racial separation and unequal treatment of “Negro” GIs, most of whom were assigned to what amounted to menial labor in the Services of Supply branch of the Army.

Other sources of tension included a mutual cultural misunderstanding between the two English-speaking superpowers, the United States and the British Empire and its Commonwealth, which at the time also included the self-governed Dominion of Canada. The Brits – or Limeys – thought Americans would all be like the cowboys and gangsters they saw in the “cinema,” arrogant, uncouth, and too willing to bed British women whose men were away fighting the Axis in the Mediterranean and in Southeast Asia, while the “Yanks” thought their host country would be full of pretentious upper-class Colonel Blimp types who went around saying, “My dear chap, how good it is to see you, sir.”

(The part about brash Americans bedding British women – married or otherwise – was partly true, much to the resentment of the poorly paid British Tommies and Canadians who were training for D-Day. The British half-joking line about the big-spending GIs was, “You Americans are overpaid, oversexed, and over here.” The Americans’ comeback was, “You Brits are underpaid, undersexed, and under Eisenhower.” But for the most part, the Anglo-American alliance endured throughout World War II, and endures today as the “special relationship” between London and Washington.)

Sand and Steel also covers the tense years of preparation for a cross-Channel attack, which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill tried to postpone or make unnecessary by coming up with campaigns in other battlefields far from Western Europe. American senior commanders, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower, resisted Churchill’s insistence in pursuing a peripheral strategy and launching invasions in North Africa (November 1942), Sicily (July 1943) and mainland Italy (September 1943). They believed that to defeat Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and liberate Western Europe, the surest and fastest route went from Northern France, across the Low Countries, and into the Reich itself.

(C) 2019 Oxford University Press

Churchill and his generals, Caddick-Adams reminds the reader, thought that an invasion of France in 1942 or 1943 was madness. The United States had only entered the war in December of 1941, and even though it was building the largest armed hosts in its history (18 million men and women would eventually serve in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard between Pearl Harbor and V-J Day), the well-paid and magnificently equipped GIs and flyboys were not battle-seasoned veterans ready to take on Hitler’s Wehrmacht in November of 1942. And even though the campaign in North Africa ended victoriously, the performance of the U.S. forces there proved Churchill’s point. Enthusiasm and material superiority weren’t substitutes for actual battle experience.

The book examines how the Allies finally reached a point in their military prowess and numerical superiority that made Operation Overlord inevitable. It covers such topics as the various training exercises to get the American, British, and Canadians ready for their visit to the far shore of the English Channel. Exercise TIGER, best known as the “Slapton Sands Incident,” is mentioned, of course. But so is Exercise FABIUS, and others like it, which historians often overlook because no tragedies occurred that required a coverup by Gen. Eisenhower and his British colleagues.

The stories of the occupied French, including the collaborators, the Resistance, and the ordinary Jean and Michelle who just wanted to get from day to day,  are in Sand and Steel, as well as the tales of the German forces waiting tensely behind Hitler’s vaunted Atlantikwall to repel the invasion everyone knew was inevitable. Caddick-Adams includes anecdotes from both the occupied and occupiers to remind the reader that not every French citizen was a resister, and that not every “Kraut” was a murderous Nazi. History, after all, is more complex and nuanced than the myths created not just by Hollywood and its British counterpart in countless films and even pre-1974 books about D-Day, but by the French themselves to assuage their collective conscience over their defeat and subsequent occupation by Germany in 1940.  

Of course, Sand and Steel covers much ground that is familiar to readers of World War II history: the role played by Lt. Gen. Frederick Morgan in drafting the first version of Overlord is retold here, as is the story of the role played by weather and 1944 meteorology in the postponement of D-Day from Monday, June 5 to Tuesday, June 6. Other familiar tales abound here, too, such as Churchill’s insistence on being present aboard a Royal Navy ship to see the “big show” on D-Day – and how King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II’s father, convinced him not to.

Some familiar names will appear in the pages of Sand and Steel, too. Eisenhower, Marshall, Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt,  Bernard L. Montgomery, Arthur Tedder, Bertram Ramsey, Trevor Leigh-Mallory, Omar N. Bradley, Ted Roosevelt, Jr., Hitler, Erwin Rommel, Gerd von Rundstedt, and other D-Day dramatis personae are here, as are Norman D. Cota, Hans Speidel, Alfred Jodl, James Gavin, Richard Gale, Maxwell D. Taylor, and Matthew Ridgway. So are some soldiers who are best remembered for their civilian careers as actors, including Briton Richard Todd, who in 1962 played Major John Howard of the British 6th Airborne in The Longest Day, and a Canadian junior officer named James Montgomery Doohan, who is better known to TV and film fans as Star Trek’s beloved chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise, Montgomery Scott.

As the publisher’s blurb freely admits, Sand and Steel is about a complete look at June 6, 1944 as a one-volume book can get. Obviously, even with 897 pages of narrative – including the Postscript and Acknowledgments sections – Sand and Steel can’t tell every story about this momentous invasion of northern France, not can it leave every stone unturned or every bullet, shell, or bomb accounted for in its prose.

Nevertheless, former British Army officer Peter Caddick-Adams does a great job of delving deep into the almost minute-by-minute account of D-Day and the long months of hard work and preparation – on both sides of the Channel – undertaken by the men who had to carry out the landings…and the ones who had to attempt to repel them. Caddick-Adams has long been fascinated by World War II – his father served in the British Army during the war, so for him it’s not just an academic interest or vocational choice; it’s a matter of family tradition, as the Caddick-Adams line has a long history of military service.

Caddick-Adams has written several notable books about military history, including a 2014 book to which Sand and Steel is a prequel of sorts: Snow and Steel: The Battle of the Bulge, 1944-1945. He is the kind of military historian who not only knows about armies, soldiers, and battles first-hand, but does his homework, gets many veterans to speak to him on the record, and examines every possible source of material, from older works on the topic – in this case, D-Day – as well as diaries, correspondence of the famous and the not-so-famous, contemporary news articles, and official documents found in the national archives and military history departments of the various belligerent countries, including France and Germany.

If you have not read any book about D-Day because you were born in the late 20th century or the early 2000s and are new to the subject of World War II, Sand and Steel is a good one to start with. It doesn’t have the limitations imposed on pre-1974 authors like David Howarth or Cornelius Ryan, nor does it have the U.S.-centric tone of the otherwise excellent D-Day by Stephen E. Ambrose. Those books and authors are worth reading, and their writing style might be more amenable to casual WWII buffs, but they do have the issues I mentioned.

For D-Day grognards like me, well…what can I say? I am enjoying Sand and Steel so much that after I browsed through the first pages, I ordered Snow and Steel, too.

Books and Stories: Tackling the TBR Pile One Title at a Time

(C) 2015 Oxford University Press

It’s early afternoon here in my small corner of Florida on this last day of Summer 2020. My blinds and curtains are closed, so my study is perhaps darker than it ought to be. Even so, the weather here is still “summery,” as it’s partly sunny and humid (66%) outside. Per my PC’s weather app, the temperature beyond the walls is 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius), but with the amount of moisture in the air and a stiff lake wind effect breeze blowing from the east-northeast at 20 MPH/33 KPH, it feels like it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). I can feel occasional ripples of heat wafting across the floor, so even though we have the air conditioning on, some of that hot air still seeps into the house.

I did a little bit of reading earlier to get my mind off things. Not much; just a few pages from Peter Caddick-Adams’ Snow & Steel: The Battle of the Bulge, 1944-1945,a massive 928 hardcover tome about Adolf Hitler’s “last gamble” counteroffensive in the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg. This was the largest battle in the history of the U.S. Army, with over 600,000 GIs involved by the time it ended in January 1945 and is remembered 76 years later as the “Battle of the Bulge” due to the shape of the salient formed by the German attack on battle situation report maps.

I’ve only read part of a chapter I chose at random; I usually do this with newer books to see if I’m going to like it or not. I have three other books on the same battle, so reading a chapter at random wouldn’t have “spoiled Snow & Steel for me.

I still have to finish the epilogue to Ian W. Toll’s Twilight of the Gods. If I can just get my mind to chill for a bit, I might do that in a bit.

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

That’s about all I have done today as far as reading is concerned; I’ve been busy writing and trying to figure out how in the world I am going to keep sane over the next few months. I weary of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m sick of the political divisiveness in the country and the world, and I’m just sad and disillusioned by people in general.

Hopefully I’ll snap out of this state of mind and get back into the swing of things, at least as far as writing fiction and new scripts for my friends Juan and Adria in NYC. In the meantime, I’ll just put on some classical music on my Amazon Music app and listen to Mozart, Brahms, Rodrigo, or Barber.

And if that doesn’t help, I’ll just wander to the living room and read for a while on the couch.

Speaking of scripts, if you haven’t seen Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss yet, here it is in all of its low-budget, shot-in-NYC-before-the-pandemic glory. I can’t take credit for all of the elements that make it an enjoyable “film about today,” but I did come up with the original concept and I wrote several drafts of the screenplay.

Enjoy!

Musings for September 21, 2020: Last Day of Summer, or, All Good Things….

Photo by Fabian Wiktor on Pexels.com

It is mid-morning here in my tiny corner of Florida on this last day of Summer 2020. Right now the temperature is 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) under mostly cloudy skies. The forecast for my area says it will remain cloudy and humid, with a high temperature of 83 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius). No rain is expected. Definitely not quite a glorious end to the season, but it is fitting for this year of divisiveness, fear, uncertainty, and tragedy.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Today is the 32nd Anniversary of my arrival in Sevilla (Seville), Spain as part of a 42-student contingent of participants in the College Consortium for International Studies (CCIS) Semester in Spain program for the Fall Term of the 1988-89 academic year. Along with two other students (Sandra Langlois and Wendy Page), I represented what was then called Miami-Dade Community College’s South Campus (now the Kendall Campus of Miami-Dade College). The rest of the group was from all over the United States: my friend Bob Holtzweiss was from St. Bonaventure University in Peekskill, New York; my fellow journalist Michelle Kirby hailed from Cape Cod Community College in Massachusetts; my best friend in Seville, Ingrid Gottlieb, attended Broward Community College, one county away from me in South Florida.

I’m not quite sure why I went to Spain in the autumn of 1988. Until late in 1987 I had never thought about visiting my ancestral homeland in the Iberian peninsula, and at the time I didn’t have any relatives who lived there. Now I do; my second cousin Juanita Cajiao lives and works in Valencia, and has been a Colombian ex-pat there for many years. But back then, I knew no one in Spain.

Maybe I went to Seville because I suspected that if I didn’t go then, I might never have an opportunity later. I was far more optimistic then than I am now about my future – especially when it concerned my writing career – but I had a feeling that I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Europe when I was still young (I was 25 then) and in relatively good shape to juggle academics, the challenges of living semi-independently 3,000 miles away from home, and sending stories about my experiences in Seville back to my campus’ weekly student newspaper.

That last bit…about reporting for the school paper as its first foreign correspondent….was also a big factor in my decision to participate in the Semester in Spain program in Seville.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

As I wrote in an article I wrote for Catalyst, the old South Campus student paper:

From the December 13, 1989 issue of Catalyst, Miami-Dade Community College (South Campus)

Study-abroad program gave me learning text never could
Alex Diaz-Granados

Managing Editor

One of the most interesting aspects of taking a foreign language course is the opportunity to participate in one of the various study-abroad programs offered by the Foreign Language Department’s Overseas Study Program.

I know because last year I participated in the Miami-Dade Community College/College Consortium for International Studies’ Semester in Spain program.

For three months in the fall of 1988, 42 students (including me) from colleges and universities all over the United States lived and studied in Seville, one of Spain’s largest and most beautiful cities.

And, for many of us, it was a learning experience unlike any other.

Not only did we learn more about the Spanish language, but we also came back with insights about Spain’s culture, history and people that aren’t available in any textbook.

We went to classes (ranging from the required language courses to classes dealing with Spain’s history, political system and artistic heritage) Mondays through Thursdays — either at the CCIS Center or the main campus of the University of Seville — while most Fridays we went on cultural visits to places of interest in and around Seville.

There were also day trips to such places as Jerez de la Frontera, La Rabida and Cordoba.

We also went on an overnight trip to the city of Granada, the city whose architecture inspired George Merrick when he founded Coral Gables back in the ’20s.

Of course, there were other benefits as well.

We learned how to live in a vastly different cultural environment on our own. (Even though one could make an argument that transferring to an out-of-state institution is a similar experience, it’s like comparing cats and dogs.)

We not only had to learn a foreign language and take a 15-credit course load, we had to adapt to the average Spaniard’s lifestyle (especially mealtimes), difficult as that may have been to us Americans.

My fellow CCISer Wendy Page, sophomore, said, “My experiences in Seville have helped me become a stronger person with broader horizons in both heart and mind.”

My own horizons were expanded by my three-month stay in Spain. I learned a great deal about how other people live, and how those people perceive the United States, mainly through living and arguing with two Spanish roommates, Demetrio and Juan Carlos.

The cost of my trip to Seville, including hotels, tour buses, tuition (for 15 credits), and airfare was approximately $3,500. Rent and extra food was another $1,500.

This may sound like a lot of money, but you can get guaranteed student loans from Financial Aid. Also, Pell Grants will cover cost of tuition at Miami-Dade prices ($76.80 for a three-credit class).

Photo by Avonne Stalling on Pexels.com

(In today’s dollars, my sojourn in Seville cost my mom and me approximately $10,985.55. A Pell Grant covered my tuition, which at the time was $76.80 for a three-credit class. In 2020, tuition at Miami-Dade costs $129.89 per credit hour, or $389.67 for one three-credit class. In 1988 I took four courses: History of Spain, Spanish Government, and two Spanish Language courses rolled into one, so I went as – per the requirement – a full-time student.)

I feel overwhelmed by sadness today. Not just because my personal life is in turmoil presently, although that is a big factor, but because the world as a whole is in a dark place. There is so much hate, divisiveness, and political turmoil out there, not just in Donald Trump’s United States of America, but everywhere else. Authoritarianism and religious fanaticism have always been around, but it seems that ever since the Cold War ended and took the tense but predictable old word order of superpower rivalry along with it to the grave, things got unimaginably worse, not better.

Today’s COVID-19 numbers are in, and despite Trump supporters’ claims to the contrary, things are not getting better.

Per the  Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), at 10:23 AM Eastern, the coronavirus pandemic has claimed the lives of 961,459 human beings, 199,531 in the U.S. alone.

Mind you, these numbers are almost certainly on the low side. The Trump Administration and many governors in Republican-controlled states are doing all they can to “spin” the narrative so that their partisan faithful don’t turn on them on Election Day this November. They might not be able to stop scientists and data crunchers from getting information, but they can slow the process or muddy the waters by putting out false storylines on social media, especially in comments sections of mainstream media news stories posted on Facebook, the biggest social network of all.

For instance, in the comments section of NBC News’ September 19 story Covid-19 death toll in the US surpasses 200,000 people, a Trump supporter named Amber commented:

Amber: Not true!! Covid deaths were revised by CDC and everyone knows it!! Why continue perpetuating fear!!

When another Facebook member called her out on her comment and asked, “Well, how many Americans have died from COVID-19?” Amber claimed the figure was far lower than 200,000.

Amber:  If you actually look at “science” the cdc revised the number to less than 10,000 dead of COVID!! 75+ and all had 3 major underlying health conditions meaning they were already dying and just so happened to have Covid but was not the cause of death! Get your head out of the sand!!

Amber is not a medical professional. She is not a scientist. From what I see on her profile on Facebook, she is a former model and has been bouncing from job to job since she left that profession. And, like many Trump supporters, she is obsessed with sex trafficking and pedophiles; she has a lot of posts about how Trump needs to be re-elected in 2020 because he is the only political leader fighting pedophiles and sex traffickers. So trust me when I say that she is not qualified to make any claims about COVID-19, underlying medical conditions, and the co-morbidity factors involved when listing cause of death on a death certificate.

It is Amber, and others who think like her, who need to get their collective heads out of the sand.

Photo by Matthias Groeneveld on Pexels.com

As for what I plan to do for the rest of this last day of the long, hot, and sad Summer of 2020. Currently, I am not working on any big project, although I should be trying to prepare for this year’s NaNoWriMo in November. In happier days – late 2019 – I got it into my head that this year I would attempt writing a 10,000 novel in 30 days for NaNoWriMo. It sounded like fun, and maybe something worth reading would result.

I even had an idea – which I still like and don’t want to jinx by revealing it here or on social media – for a story. I bought a few books on the topic(s) the story is about, and even started a rough draft on my WriteWay Professional book-writing app.

But my situation here has gone south for reasons I can’t and won’t discuss here, and my writer’s mojo only suffices for my two A Certain Point of View blogs (the Blogger original and this one on WordPress), and maybe the occasional co-writing gig for Popcorn Sky Productions. As a result, every time I say to myself, Shouldn’t you be working on the novel for NaNoWriMo 2020? I always find something else to do.

Anyway. Yeah. Summer’s over. Tomorrow, fall begins.

Life in the Time of COVID-19: U.S, Inches Ever Closer to the 200,000-Deaths Mark

199, 418 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. since February. ,Graphic Credit: Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE).

200,000 Americans have died of COVID because we have a president who cares about no one except himself. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-CT, September 19, 2020

As the third week of September 2020 begins and summer starts its inevitable march into the past, giving way to autumn, Americans are seeing banner headlines on social media, TV, and print media marking the latest uptick in COVID-19 deaths in the United States: since Friday, many coronavirus databases in the U.S, and elsewhere are saying that 200,000 Americans – men, women, and children – have died as a result of infection from the novel COVID-19 coronavirus since the first recorded fatality in February.

Some of these COVID-19 sites, such as Worldometers’ COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC page, state that the United States has not only reached the 200,000-mark already, but has passed it.

Worldometers’ Coronavirus Pandemic chart puts the U.S. death count from COVID-19 at 204,009 as of September 2020. Graphic Worldometers’ COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

If you can’t make out the numbers on the graphic, I’ll write the statistic here:

  1. USA: Total Cases: 6,987,484. New Cases: 20,081. Total Deaths: 204,009.

The more methodical Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University tends to err on the side of caution in its COVID-19 reporting, so its figures are slightly lower than Worldometers’ numbers.

Per the CSSE’s COVID-19 Dashboard says that as of 2:22 PM today, the U.S. tally of cases looks like this:

Total Cases (U.S.): 6,784,688

Total Deaths (U.S.): 199,418

Whether one prefers one figure over the other, it matters not a whit. The cold, stark reality is that seven months into the novel coronavirus pandemic that so far has affected every country on Earth (including North Korea, even though Kim Jong Un’s hermetic government claims that the Stalinist nation is totally free from the ravages of COVID-19). As I write this, the global tally looks like this:

Global Cases: 30,867,731

Global Deaths: 958,356

Keeping in mind that these are the most carefully recorded statistics, let those numbers sink in.

Global Deaths: 958,356

Total Deaths (U.S.): 199,418

Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

The tragedy in all of this is that the U.S. numbers, in both cases and deaths, might have been lower if:

  • The Trump Administration had not shut down the United States National Security Council’s pandemic response team in 2018
  • President Donald Trump had not deliberately downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on people
  • President Trump had had a coherent and scientifically sound response to the outbreak
  • President Trump had immediately closed all international travel routes into the United States, not just the ones from China
  • President Trump had not expressed such beliefs as “Only 15 people will get it and it will go away,” “It’s a Democrat hoax,” or the ever-popular “Liberate Michigan!” (That last was his oh-so-Presidential response to the state’s social distancing and economic lockdown)
  • President Trump had not told his followers that the virus would go away by Easter Sunday
  • President Trump had not been opposed to masks and social distancing
  • President Trump had not insisted on opening up the economy prematurely
  • President Trump had not forbidden the U.S. Post Office to send free masks to all American households in April

Unfortunately, Trump, backed by millions of Americans who prefer to put their faith in religion and the feel-good claims by COVID-19 naysayers who claim that the global pandemic was man-made or was somehow created to embarrass “their” President, decided to pass the buck to state governors and legislatures, leaving the 300 million Americans he professes to lead to fend for ourselves.

And in a situation when there is a vacuum in leadership, willful ignorance, political fanaticism, and plain ol’ stupidity rise to the top.

Here’s how a Trump supporter reacted to a news story about the U.S. death toll reaching the 200,000 mark that was posted on NBC News’ Facebook page.

In U.S. Covid 19 death toll surpasses 200,000, I saw the following comments:

Female Trump Supporter:

Not true!! Covid deaths were revised by CDC and everyone knows it!! Why continue perpetuating fear!!

The same woman also said:

Female Trump Supporter:

4 extremely important facts.

1. Only 6% of deaths were truly from Covid.

2. Of those deaths, 40% were in nursing homes.

3. Of those deaths, 90% were of advanced age (84 or over)

4. 23 countries each purchased hundreds of thousands-millions of Covid 19 testing kits in 2018

And in response to a comment about wearing masks, the same Trump supporter said:

[I] never wear a mask because I am healthy.

And she wrote those bon mots and outright lies (COVID-19 wasn’t even a thing in 2018. It emerged and was identified in late 2019, hence its COVID-19 moniker) seven months into the pandemic.

As for Donald J. Trump, who his followers tout as “the BEST President in U.S. history” and has “balls,” how does he stand on the issue of responsibility for the 200,000 lost lives, especially when it comes to problems with testing?

Back in March of 2020, after it was made public that his Administration had disbanded the White House’s pandemic unit and fumbled the COVID-19 testing process, Trump refused to take any of the blame and pointed an accusatory finger at the previous Administration.

Per the March 13, 2020 article in Politico, ‘I don’t take responsibility at all’: Trump deflects blame for coronavirus testing fumble :

President Donald Trump on Friday deflected blame for his administration’s lagging ability to test Americans for the coronavirus outbreak, insisting instead — without offering evidence — that fault lies with his predecessor, Barack Obama.

“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump said defiantly, pointing to an unspecified “set of circumstances” and “rules, regulations and specifications from a different time.

Of course, we know now that Trump knew the COVID-19 virus was far more serious than he was letting the public know back then. According to journalist and writer Bob Woodward in his book Rage, Trump admitted that the pandemic was deadly and posed a serious public health risk, but he deliberately downplayed it.

In a National Public Radio (NPR) article about the flak Woodward has received for not revealing what Trump told him in several telephone interviews in March, the legendary Washington Post reporter and editor defended his decision not to reveal what Trump said at the time:

In the September 14 NPR article Woodward Addresses Criticism That He Should’ve Detailed Trump Interviews Earlier by NPR reporter Barbara Sprunt, one of journalism’s legendary figures responded to the criticisms:

Famed journalist Bob Woodward is addressing criticism he has received for not promptly sharing with the public what the president told him about the coronavirus and the government’s response in a series of interviews earlier this year.

Woodward’s new book, Rage, which details the interviews, is set for release Tuesday.

Further down in the article, Sprunt writes:

In a March interview, Trump admitted to Woodward that he had been playing down the virus’s severity.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Trump has since defended his decision to mislead the public about the severity of the coronavirus, saying he wanted to project “strength.”

“What I went out and said is very simple: I want to show a level of confidence, and I want to show strength as a leader, and I want to show our country is going to be fine one way or another,” Trump said at a news conference on Thursday.

More than 190,000 Americans have now died from the coronavirus.

Now it’s 200,000, and climbing.

Let that sink in, and remember it when you cast your vote for President.

‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Star Wars The Black Series Death Star Trooper

Photo Credit: Hasbro (C) 2018 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd.

On April 13, 2018, Rhode Island-based Hasbro released the 60th figure in the long-running Star Wars The Black Series 6-inch scale action figures based on characters from the Star Wars multimedia franchise. Called Death Star Trooper, this black-clad and helmeted Imperial Navy member is a reissued version of 2017’s Star Wars The Black Series Death Squad Commander, which was itself a more cinematically-accurate reboot of the original 1978 Kenner figure from the first 12-figure wave.

The 2017 Death Squad Commander figure in its 40th Anniversary “Kenner” packaging. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Death Star Troopers were the elite of the Imperial Navy who were stationed aboard the first and second Death Star. They were responsible for piloting the super-structure to its destinations and firing the superlaser on the orders of those in command of the station. They wore black uniforms and flared, reflective helmets.Hasbro product description, Death Star Trooper

Based on the black-garbed Imperial personnel assigned to serve aboard the Death Stars seen in 1977’s Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) and 1983’s Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Death Star Trooper was one-sixth of a The Black Series wave that included Jawa, Han Solo, Grand Moff Tarkin, Range Trooper, and Lando Calrissian. 

You can see a Death Star Trooper in the center of this screen shot from Star Wars: A New Hope.

What’s in the Package?

The red-and-black Star Wars The Black Series box – with a convenient transparent “window” on the front panel through which you can see the 6-inch scale figure and its accessories – contains one Death Star Trooper and two accessories: a removable helmet, and a DH-17 service blaster pistol.

Photo Credit: Hasbro (C) 2018 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd.

My Take

This 6-inch-scale Death Star Trooper figure inspired by Star Wars: A New Hope includes 2 character-inspired accessories, so kids and collectors can imagine recreating amazing Star Wars cinematic action. Figure features premium detail and 9 points of articulation.Hasbro product description, Death Star Trooper

Photo Credit: Hasbro (C) 2018 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd

Though Death Star Trooper is based on one of many similarly attired Imperial military background characters, the figure is just as nicely done as any of the other figures based on leading and supporting characters from the Star Wars films and TV shows. The sculpt and paint job are excellent; Hasbro’s modern manufacturing tools and methods do give Death Star Trooper a reasonable amount of accurate detailing and verisimilitude that Kenner could only dream of in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Unlike the original Kenner Death Squad Commander, which in my eyes was a hybrid between a high-ranking Imperial officer and the basic Imperial Navy fleet trooper, Death Star Trooper is shown wearing a movie-accurate black uniform with a silver-toned belt at the waist.

I like the fact that the figure comes with a functional – as opposed to merely decorative – holster in which the DH-17 blaster can be tucked for non-action poses. It’s realistic, for one thing; soldiers do not go around with their firearms in hand in non-combat situations, and even in the movies, we see Imperial Navy troopers walking along corridors or standing at guard posts with holstered blasters. So props to Hasbro for that.

A rare – for this blog – photo of my personal Star Wars The Black Series figures. You can see my 2017 Death Squad Commander (of which Death Star Trooper is a reboot) on the Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Display Stand. He is standing between the partially-obscured Tusken Raider and the Chewbacca figures, just behind the See-Threepio (C-3PO) in the front row. Author’s Photo.

And unlike his 1978 Death Squad Commander ancestor, which only had five basic points of articulation (POAs), Death Star Trooper has nine POAs. This allows imaginative kids or adult collectors to pose the figure in more realistic and lifelike stances, including two-handed firing grips or “Let me see your ID” poses.

Photo Credit: Hasbro (C) 2018 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd

All in all, this 2018 figure based on a background character is a nice addition to any collection of Star Wars toys and collectors’ items. I have both variants – the 2017 Star Wars 40th Anniversary Death Squad Commander and this 2018 – and I actually opened one to place it on my Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Display Stand earlier this summer. It looks cool, in the box as well as on my study’s Ikea floating shelf, and I don’t regret having duplicates.

Well, Dear Reader, this wraps up another Star Wars Collectibles & Toys Review here in A Certain Point of View, Too. I hope you enjoy reading these write-ups of my Star Wars The Black Series collectibles as much as I enjoy writing them. In these sad and challenging times, you have to squeeze every bit of joy you can, no matter how fleeting, or if you derive that joy from something as seemingly mundane as a Star Wars figure. Until next time, I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things, and remember: the Force will be with you…always.