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….

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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.

Life in the Time of COVID-19: Reaching the 200,000-Deaths Milestone, or ‘What We Have Here, is a Failure of Leadership’

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Sometime soon – perhaps by the end of this weekend in September of 2020 – the official COVID-19 death toll in the United States of America will reach and surpass the 200,000 mark.

Think about that a minute. 200,000 or more men, women, and children have died in the U.S.  as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic that has engulfed the entire world since the first outbreak was reported late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE)

Here are the latest COVID-19 statistics from Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), as of 3:23 PM Eastern on September 19:

  • Global Cases: 30,602,281
  • Global Deaths: 953,591
  • U.S. Cases: 6,751,119
  • U.S. Deaths: 198,969

198,969.

Let me say it again. 198,969 men, women, and children of every race, gender, citizenship status, religious group, or political party have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in America, the country that often describes itself as “the greatest country on Earth.” And we’re only 1,031 lost lives away from the cold, hard, and undeniable landmark number of 200,000.

To put that in perspective, consider this:

If you add up the number of Americans killed in World War I, Korea, and Vietnam, the total tally is 261,000.

 If something is not done to change the attitudes of large segments of the population, starting with the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, and many of his supporters, we are likely to surpass the 261,000 deaths figure by Halloween 2020, if not sooner.

How did “the greatest country in the world,” allegedly home to the best health care system on Earth, get to this sorry state?

According to the cover story in the Sept.21/28 double issue of Time magazine, America’s piss-poor response to the COVID-19 crisis is a result of separate factors that have combined to create a perfect storm.

At this point, we can start to see why the U.S. foundered: a failure of leadership at many levels and across parties; a distrust of scientists, the media and expertise in general; and deeply ingrained cultural attitudes about individuality and how we value human lives have all combined to result in a horrifically inadequate pandemic response. COVID-19 has weakened the U.S. and exposed the systemic fractures in the country, and the gulf between what this nation promises its citizens and what it actually delivers.

Alex Fitzpatrick and Elijah Wolfson, COVID-19 Has Killed Nearly 200,000 Americans. How Many More Lives Will Be Lost Before the U.S. Gets It Right?

Per the article COVID-19 Has Killed Nearly 200,000 Americans. How Many More Lives Will Be Lost Before the U.S. Gets It Right?, Time writers Alex Fitzpatrick and Elijah Wolfson explain:

At this point, we can start to see why the U.S. foundered: a failure of leadership at many levels and across parties; a distrust of scientists, the media and expertise in general; and deeply ingrained cultural attitudes about individuality and how we value human lives have all combined to result in a horrifically inadequate pandemic response. COVID-19 has weakened the U.S. and exposed the systemic fractures in the country, and the gulf between what this nation promises its citizens and what it actually delivers.

Although America’s problems were widespread, they start at the top. A complete catalog of President Donald Trump’s failures to address the pandemic will be fodder for history books. There were weeks wasted early on stubbornly clinging to a fantastical belief that the virus would simply “disappear”; testing and contact tracing programs were inadequate; states were encouraged to reopen ahead of his own Administration’s guidelines; and statistics were repeatedly cherry-picked to make the U.S. situation look far better than it was, while undermining scientists who said otherwise. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told the journalist Bob Woodward on March 19 in a newly revealed conversation. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Common-sense solutions like face masks were undercut or ignored. Research shows that wearing a facial covering significantly reduces the spread of COVID-19, and a pre-existing culture of mask wearing in East Asia is often cited as one reason countries in that region were able to control their outbreaks. In the U.S., Trump did not wear a mask in public until July 11, more than three months after the CDC recommended facial coverings, transforming what ought to have been a scientific issue into a partisan one. A Pew Research Center survey published on June 25 found that 63% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said masks should always be worn in public, compared with 29% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.

Oh, the humanity.

Photo by Carlos Herrero on Pexels.com

Partisan differences, exacerbated by many Americans’ inability to accept that science and religion can coexist harmoniously, as well as a dangerous tendency to distrust traditional news media, have been a huge factor in the U.S. failure to cope as well with COVID-19 as other countries – such as New Zealand, South Korea, and Vietnam have done.

Consider this highly partisan comment from a Trump supporter on a Facebook post from CBS News about a child who died from complications caused by the novel coronavirus:

Trump Supporting Woman: So that CBS reports about this deadly virus, and just think, as soon as Biden is elected it just goes away! People with poor health can die from it. Certainly a baby that young has no resistance from anything including a cold. What protection did the parents allow the child? Public integration , shame on them. Don’t take your baby out in high populated areas! Family contact possibly? Keep that family separation parents! Whatever they did for that baby to get infected is on them, not Trump! Stop being stupid and protect your loved ones. Trump can’t be everywhere to prevent you from getting the Chinese virus. Come on people.

Trump Supporting Woman #2, (responding to another Facebook member who took umbrage at the above comment):  true but pretty sure Pelosi also called it a distraction in the beginning and Biden called him xenophobic for shutting down travel to China. I wouldn’t personally go to a rally but that’s each persons choice. I wouldn’t go to protests either during this time but hey my choice. The death toll in New York was high because of choices the Governor made to send those sick back to nursing homes. Each state I’m sure has reasons as to why that is so. I believe 94% of those who passed had an underlying issue too so that’s a big contributing factor. I think for sure he could have done a lot different not sure if that would have a made a difference.

Trump Supporting Woman #3 (in support of TS#1):  this baby did not die from Covid and the parents are very upset that this is being said. I read a post from the mom ( which Facebook has taken down) yesterday. Her child had a bowel obstruction that caused complications one being an infection. Baby died from this and parents wanted everyone to know that this was false news. They are angered that the media did this and of course Facebook takes her post down. Shame on all those involved in bringing this family and their child into the covid news. This is their time to grieve and they do not want to be apart of fake news!

Anti-Trump Woman (responding to the above comment about the baby and the “removed post” on Facebook) That was another child. There are two children that just died. Check your facts before you are another one spewing Trump drivel.

There are several points of interest in this exchange, of which I only quote a handful of comments, including the assertion that the COVID-19 pandemic is a politically-motivated hoax, Trump supporters’ repeated use of the mantra “fake news,” and the toxic tone of the overall conversation. There’s no civility, no willingness to politely exchange ideas, but there is a lot of mutual animosity between supporters of the President and his opponents.

Again, the onus of all this falls on a certain Donald John Trump, who sets the tone and thrives on the negative energy he stirs up whenever he speaks in public, be it at one of his countless rallies or on national television.

Again, I refer to the article in the current issue of Time:

By far the government’s most glaring failure was a lack of adequate testing infrastructure from the beginning. Testing is key to a pandemic response—the more data officials have about an outbreak, the better equipped they are to respond. Rather than call for more testing, Trump has instead suggested that maybe the U.S. should be testing less. He has repeatedly, and incorrectly, blamed increases in new cases on more testing. “If we didn’t do testing, we’d have no cases,” the President said in June, later suggesting he was being sarcastic. But less testing only means fewer cases are detected, not that they don’t exist. In the U.S. the percentage of tests coming back positive increased from about 4.5% in mid-June to about 5.7% as of early September, evidence the virus was spreading regardless of whether we tested for it. (By comparison, Germany’s overall daily positivity rate is under 3% and in Italy it’s about 2%.)

This should not have happened, but the schism between conservatives and liberals in the U.S. (and in the West in general) has grown wider and deeper. And with a President who is unable or unwilling to lead responsibly, Americans are left basically to fend for themselves.

I’ll let Time writers Fitzpatrick and Wolfson have the last word:

Absent adequate leadership, it’s been up to everyday Americans to band together in the fight against COVID-19. To some extent, that’s been happening—doctors, nurses, bus drivers and other essential workers have been rightfully celebrated as heroes, and many have paid a price for their bravery. But at least some Americans still refuse to take such a simple step as wearing a mask.

Why? Because we’re also in the midst of an epistemic crisis. Republicans and Democrats today don’t just disagree on issues; they disagree on the basic truths that structure their respective realities. Half the country gets its news from places that parrot whatever the Administration says, true or not; half does not. This politicization manifests in myriad ways, but the most vital is this: in early June (at which point more than 100,000 Americans had already died of COVID-19), fewer than half of Republican voters polled said the outbreak was a major threat to the health of the U.S. population as a whole. Throughout July and August, the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force was sending private messages to states about the severity of the outbreak, while President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence publicly stated that everything was under control.

Books and Stories: or, How I’m Doing with My September TBR List

Photo Illustration: Pixabay

Well, it’s noontime here in my small corner of Florida, and it’s yet another hot-as-hell late summer day on this Saturday, September 19, 2020. Outside, it’s 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) under sunny skies, but with 73% humidity and a 5 MPH breeze blowing from the east-northeast, it feels like 94 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). That’s an improvement from “feels-like” temperatures in the low 100s, but still hellishly hot for my taste.

(It has been said many times that if Benjamin Franklin, Michael Faraday, John Gorrie, and Willis H. Carrier had not – over a period that spanned 144 years, from 1758 to 1902 – studied the scientific and technical concepts behind modern air conditioning, most of the American South, including Florida, would still be uninhabitable to most Americans today.)

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

I didn’t sleep at all last night. I am going through a bad patch in my personal life, and while I will not talk about it here, my current situation is stressing me out and triggering bouts of insomnia and melancholia. I still have an appetite, so I had a modest breakfast earlier. Obviously, sleep deprivation makes me tired and irritable, so I think that I’ll spend most of my Saturday lying on a couch and reading from one of the many books on my To Be Read (TBR) Pile.

(C) 2020 W.W. Norton & Company

As you know, I’ve been reading Ian W. Toll’s Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 over the past week and a half; I am now in the chapter in which Toll writes about the “endgame” in the Pacific War: The U.S., now led by a new President, Harry Truman, has secured the island of Okinawa and is preparing a twin-track approach to finish the war against Japan. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur is making plans to invade Japan using conventional Army, Navy, and Marine Corps forces, supported by the combined fleets of the U.S., British, Australian, and New Zealand navies and land- and sea-based air power.

Under orders from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, MacArthur and Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s staffs have devised a plan called Operation DOWNFALL, which consists of two separate amphibious landings: Operation OLYMPIC, the invasion of the southernmost of the Japanese Home Islands, Kyushu, with X-Day tentatively scheduled for November 1, 1945.

If Japan still continued to resist after OLYMPIC was completed, the Americans would then carry out Operation CORONET, an invasion that would be larger than the famous D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Scheduled for a Y-Day of March 1, 1946, CORONET, which was to land on the Boso Peninsula east of Tokyo and fight the “decisive battle” against the Japanese defenders on the Kanto Plain, was so large that it would have required the redeployment of the U.S. First Army and the Eighth Air Force from Europe to the Pacific Theater.

The vainglorious MacArthur preferred this option, as it would seal his place in military history as one of World War II’s great battle captains. However, planners in the Pentagon and President Truman were not as enthusiastic; basing their calculations on Japanese and American casualties in the 1944-1945 Pacific campaigns, including Okinawa, DOWNFALL might have caused over a million casualties (dead, wounded, captured, or missing) on the Americans. Japanese military and civilian losses were projected to reach the 30 million figure.

The American leadership clearly did not like that option, especially since most foreign policy and military experts realized that not only would DOWNFALL be a horrific bloodbath for both sides, but the nascent Cold War with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union was causing Washington, DC to re-evaluate Japan’s postwar role in the new and unwelcome struggle between Communism and democracy. It was far better to rebuild Japan and its economy so that a new, pro-Western and democratic nation would rise, phoenix-like, out of the ashes of the militaristic Japanese Empire.

This is where I am in Twilight of the Gods, and I am fascinated by Toll’s clear and incisive look at a topic that has been badly misrepresented by many people with political agendas: the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan.

As you can see, my TBR list includes two books by former British Army officer and current military historian Peter Caddick-Adams: Sand & Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France (Oxford University Press, 2019) and Snow & Steel: The Battle of the Bulge (Oxford University Press, 2014).

I have been focusing on Toll’s Twilight of the Gods, so I have only skimmed through Snow & Steel and read 25% of Sand & Steel (I’m a D-Day buff!). Once I am done with the book set in the Pacific, I will turn my attention to the battlefields of Europe again.

I also need to finish Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945. This is not a new book to me; I bought it in hardcover back in 2012 and read it during my mother’s final years. However, ever since I moved to my new digs here, I have been re-reading Atkinson’s monumental Liberation Trilogy, which includes An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 and The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944. I do put this trilogy aside so I can tackle new books, of course, but I’m determined to finish The Guns at Last Light before my 58th birthday, which is next year.

(C) 2013 Bolinda Publishing Pty. Ltd. Original novel (C) 1986 Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd. and Larry Bond

On the fiction side of things, I am listening, in an on-and-off basis, to the audiobook version of Tom Clancy’s 1986 World War III novel, Red Storm Rising. I honestly have not made much progress there; I’m more used to reading books than to listening to them. I have two formats of the audio; an Australian-produced 2-CD (MP-3) edition, and a digital download version from Audible.

Because Red Storm Rising is, apparently, an old favorite, I’ve listened to four chapters so far. But I need to really push myself to set aside some time and listen to the whole thing, Not in one sitting, mind, but at least finish the darned thing!

Books and Stories: A Quick Overview of Ian W. Toll’s ‘The Pacific War’ Trilogy

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

In his afterword to Twilight of the Gods: The War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945, naval historian Ian W. Toll tells readers that his original concept when he started working on a new history of the Pacific War (1941-1945) was for a one-volume history of the 44-month-long conflict that began with the Japanese “blitz” against the U.S., Great Britain and the British Empire, and the Dutch in Southeast Asia in early December 1941 and the Central Pacific and ended in September 2, 1945, when representatives of the defeated Japanese Empire signed the instrument of surrender aboard the Iowa-class battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

However, when Toll realized that he had reached the 800-page mark in his manuscript and had only covered the first six months of the war (from Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway), he nervously contacted the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, an independent company wholly owned by its employees.

Toll was rightly worried that he would not meet the deadline in his contract with Norton, so he explained the situation to the editors in New York. He knew a 2,400-page one-volume history was not what he had contracted for, and few readers would be interested in such a voluminous tome. What should he do?

Well, Norton’s representative said, why don’t you abandon the one-volume idea and write the story of the war in the Pacific in three volumes?

I’m paraphrasing Toll’s story and doing it little justice, but it is in the Afterword section of Twilight of the Gods if you are inclined to read the author’s version. I mention it because the resulting Pacific War Trilogy (2011-2020) is probably going to be one of the two classic multi-volume histories of Japan’s war against the American-dominated Allied coalition in the Pacific War written in the 21st Century. (The other is Richard B. Frank’s three-book cycle that started earlier this year with Tower of Skulls: A History of the Asia-Pacific War, Volume I: July 1937-May 1942)

Tower of Skulls. (C) 2020 W.W. Norton & Company
Photo of Ian W. Toll by Dan Deitch.

Toll, who won several awards for his 2006 book Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy, including the Samuel Eliot Morison Award, spent over 12 years working on this trilogy, which began with the 2011 publication of Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942:

From the Publisher

These summaries are from the publisher’s website and not my own text.

Pacific Crucible

On the first Sunday in December 1941, an armada of Japanese warplanes appeared suddenly over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and devastated the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Six months later, in a sea fight north of the tiny atoll of Midway, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sent into the abyss, a blow that destroyed the offensive power of their fleet. Pacific Crucible—through a dramatic narrative relying predominantly on primary sources and eyewitness accounts of heroism and sacrifice from both navies—tells the epic tale of these first searing months of the Pacific war, when the U.S. Navy shook off the worst defeat in American military history to seize the strategic initiative.

The Conquering Tide


This masterful history encompasses the heart of the Pacific War—the period between mid-1942 and mid-1944—when parallel Allied counteroffensives north and south of the equator washed over Japan’s far-flung island empire like a “conquering tide,” concluding with Japan’s irreversible strategic defeat in the Marianas. It was the largest, bloodiest, most costly, most technically innovative and logistically complicated amphibious war in history, and it fostered bitter interservice rivalries, leaving wounds that even victory could not heal.

Often overlooked, these are the years and fights that decided the Pacific War. Ian W. Toll’s battle scenes—in the air, at sea, and in the jungles—are simply riveting. He also takes the reader into the wartime councils in Washington and Tokyo where politics and strategy often collided, and into the struggle to mobilize wartime production, which was the secret of Allied victory. Brilliantly researched, the narrative is propelled and colored by firsthand accounts—letters, diaries, debriefings, and memoirs—that are the raw material of the telling details, shrewd judgment, and penetrating insight of this magisterial history.

This volume—continuing the “marvelously readable dramatic narrative” (San Francisco Chronicle) of Pacific Crucible—marks the second installment of the Pacific War Trilogy, which will stand as the first history of the entire Pacific War to be published in at least twenty-five years.

Twilight of the Gods

In June 1944, the United States launched a crushing assault on the Japanese navy in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The capture of the Mariana Islands and the accompanying ruin of Japanese carrier airpower marked a pivotal moment in the Pacific War. No tactical masterstroke or blunder could reverse the increasingly lopsided balance of power between the two combatants. The War in the Pacific had entered its endgame.

Beginning with the Honolulu Conference, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with his Pacific theater commanders to plan the last phase of the campaign against Japan, Twilight of the Gods brings to life the harrowing last year of World War II in the Pacific, when the U.S. Navy won the largest naval battle in history; Douglas MacArthur made good his pledge to return to the Philippines; waves of kamikazes attacked the Allied fleets; the Japanese fought to the last man on one island after another; B-29 bombers burned down Japanese cities; and Hiroshima and Nagasaki were vaporized in atomic blasts.

Ian W. Toll’s narratives of combat in the air, at sea, and on the beaches are as gripping as ever, but he also reconstructs the Japanese and American home fronts and takes the reader into the halls of power in Washington and Tokyo, where the great questions of strategy and diplomacy were decided.

Drawing from a wealth of rich archival sources and new material, Twilight of the Gods casts a penetrating light on the battles, grand strategic decisions and naval logistics that enabled the Allied victory in the Pacific. An authoritative and riveting account of the final phase of the War in the Pacific, Twilight of the Gods brings Toll’s masterful trilogy to a thrilling conclusion. This prize-winning and best-selling trilogy will stand as the first complete history of the Pacific War in more than twenty-five years, and the first multivolume history of the Pacific naval war since Samuel Eliot Morison’s series was published in the 1950s.

My Take

If you were to ever visit me in Florida and look at the bookshelves in my study, you’d notice that even though I have several one-volume histories of the entire war and a handful of books about individual events in the Pacific War, most of my World War II books are focused on the war in Europe. I have at least seven books about D-Day or Normandy, two about Market-Garden, and four about the Battle of the Bulge, as well as Rick Atkinson’s The Liberation Trilogy.

I don’t think I am alone in this “Europe First” focus; many Pacific War veterans used to write letters to the late Stephen E. Ambrose, the author of such popular books as Band of Brothers and D-Day: June 6, 1944, The Climactic Battle of World War II asking him, “When are you going to tell our story?” According to Ambrose’s son Hugh, who was also a historian until his untimely death (at the age of 48!) of cancer in 2015, the respected history professor and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s official biographer was about to start working on a project about the Pacific War when he died in 2002 at the age of 66.

To many World War II buffs, the center ring of the conflict was the war in Europe. Most of Hollywood’s best-known war films are set there, and Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich attract more attention than Italy’s Benito Mussolini or the Japanese militarists bent on conquering Asia in the name of Pan-Asian “liberation” from white colonialism.

I believe that if one is to understand the events that we are living through now in the third decade of the 21st Century, one needs to know about the great Global War that began in August of 1914 and ended, somewhat, with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. World War II was just a six-year slice of this upheaval, although it was the greatest and bloodiest clash of arms in the history of humanity.

Thus, to understand World War II, a reader must read about all of its theaters, as the consequences of the various outcomes continue to shape our present, whether we are aware of it or not.

‘The best way for a new reader to get a grip on the Pacific War, in my view, is to read Ian W. Toll’s Pacific War Trilogy before going on to read any book about individual battles, campaigns, memoirs, or biographies of commanders (great and not-so-great) on both sides of the battlefield. Each book in the trilogy is a fascinating blend of in-depth accounts of naval, air, and land combat, political intrigue, personality profiles, and a fine balance between Big Picture glances at grand strategy and the everyday experiences of the average airman, soldier, marine, sailor, and even civilian caught in the maelstrom of World War II in the Pacific.

Is the trilogy perfect? Perhaps not. It probably doesn’t focus a heck of a lot on the British experience in the Pacific, or on the Australian contributions to victory over Japan. The Allies’ main forces were deployed in North Africa and the various battlefronts in Western Europe, facing off against Japan’s nominal “ally,” Nazi Germany, and though Toll does cover British Commonwealth contributions to some extent, the main narrative concerns itself with the U.S.-Japan war.

“A Water Buffalo, loaded with Marines, churns through the sea bound for beaches of Tinian Island near Guam.” July 1944 (National Archives via U.S. Navy)

And since mistakes do creep in when one is writing such a huge and complex story, I would not be surprised if sharp-eyed readers might catch the occasional goof or so. And I’m not talking about typos here, but actual errors of fact. I noticed one recently while reading the prologue to Twilight of the Gods (Toll misidentifies the small Japanese carrier sunk by the U.S. Navy at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May of 1942; I’ll have to re-read Pacific Crucible soon to see if he did that there as well.)

Overall, though, the Pacific War Trilogy is well-written, extremely informative, and highly enjoyable. Out of a possible five stars, I give Toll’s three-volume series four and a half and an enthusiastic recommendation.

‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Jedi Training) (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) Deluxe 2-Figure Set

Image Credit: Hasbro, Inc. (C) 2020 Hasbro & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

“You must unlearn what you have learned!”

LUKE SKYWALKER AND YODA (JEDI TRAINING): At the urging of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda agreed to instruct Luke Skywalker, developing his Jedi abilities. – Hasbro promotional blurb

On Tuesday, September 1, Hasbro released a deluxe two-figures set of Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Jedi Training) as part of its Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary sub-collection from the popular Star Wars The Black Series line. This two-pack consists of two iconic characters from the original 1977-1983 Star Wars trilogy: Luke Skywalker, the 22-year-old Rebel pilot/Jedi-in-training and the nearly 900-year-old Grand Jedi Master Yoda and a set of accessories for the two six-inch scale action figures.

 Like another deluxe figure in Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary collection – Imperial Probe Droid– this new two-figure set comes in an oversized version of a standard Star Wars The Black Series red-and-black box with a logo similar to the one used by Kenner, the original toy manufacturer that introduced Star Wars figures in 1978, in its 1980-1982 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection.  

You will go to the Dagobah system. There you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi Master who instructed me. – Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi to Luke Skywalker, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

In director Irvin Kershner’s 1980 smash film Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, a young ex-farmboy from the desert planet Tatooine, Luke Skywalker, is prompted by the Force spirit of his late Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi to go the remote planet of Dagobah. On that boggy planet – Luke initially calls it a “slimy mudhole” – lives the exiled Jedi Master Yoda, the only surviving member of the Jedi Council and one of Obi-Wan’s Jedi teachers back in the days of the Old Republic.

Image Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.“―Yoda, to Luke Skywalker

Lawrence Kasdan, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

A long-lived member of an unnamed species, the diminutive Yoda was 899 years old when Luke, the son of Anakin Skywalker, arrived on his cloud-shrouded and swampy refuge seeking the ancient Jedi Master’s help in order to become a Jedi Knight. Yoda had witnessed not only the fall of the Republic he had served faithfully for centuries, but also the tragic transformation of Luke’s father from a kind but troubled slave boy to a skilled, cocky, but overly ambitious Jedi Padawan and Knight, and from there to an angry and vengeful young Sith Lord renamed Darth Vader. Fearing that Luke’s impatience, recklessness, and anger might lead the boy down the same path as his father, Yoda was reluctant to train him in the ways of the Force.

Nevertheless, Obi-Wan – now at one with the Force after sacrificing himself on the Empire’s planet-killing Death Star battle station shortly before the Battle of Yavin – convinces Yoda to train Luke as a Jedi, telling the diminutive Jedi Master, “That boy is our only hope.” 

For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.“―Yoda, to Luke Skywalker

Star Wars The Black Series: Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Jedi Training) Deluxe 2-Figure Set (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary)

 What’s in the Box?

The oversized Star Wars The Black Series red-and-black box bears some of the elements present in Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary packaging, including the Kenner-style red-and-silver Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back logo and the 2020 “40th Anniversary” graphic that depicts silhouettes of Luke Skywalker dueling Darth Vader inside a stylized silver rectangle. This variant of the packaging also bears the number D4 (I’m guessing it stands for Deluxe Set #4) and the product name, Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Jedi Training) near the top edge of the left side panel on the red and black box.

MOVIE-BASED CHARACTER-INSPIRED ACCESSORIES: This Star Wars The Black Series action figure set comes with 4 Luke Skywalker and Yoda (Jedi Training)-inspired accessories that make great additions to any Star Wars collection. Hasbro promotional blurb

As is the case with “regular” Star Wars The Black Series boxes, the front panel of the package is dominated by a clear plastic window through which we see the contents, including two figures and their accessories.

Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Jedi Training) comes with the following items:

  • Luke Skywalker figure
  • Yoda figure
  • The Skywalker Lightsaber
  • Backpack
  • BlasTech DL-44 Blaster Pistol
  • Yoda’s Gimer Stick Cane
Image Credit: Hasbro, Inc. (C) 2020 Hasbro & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The variant of Luke Skywalker in this deluxe figure set is not one that I have owned in any of my Kenner/Hasbro Star Wars collections. I had a long hiatus from buying Star Wars collectibles while I was taking care of my ailing mother from 2010 to 2015, and until 2017 I never considered resuming my habit of buying figures. As a result, I don’t know if Hasbro ever released a sleeveless undershirt-clad “Dagobah Luke” depicting the young Jedi-in-training in the sequence in which he carries Yoda in a blue-denim backpack whilst swinging, Tarzan-like, from vines or running and jumping on the boggy terrain of the planet Dagobah.[1]

I admit that I have not looked online for every Luke Skywalker figure variant in existence, so for all I know there is a 3.75-inch “sleeveless top” Luke-in-Dagobah” action figure out there. All I can say, honestly, is that I have not seen one, so this version is new to me.

Luke Skywalker comes with three scene-specific accessories: the Skywalker lightsaber, the blue backpack, and a DL-44 blaster similar to the one wielded by his friend Han Solo.

The Yoda figure in this deluxe set is probably a repackaged version of the one in the “Kenner” cardback released in an earlier wave of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary figures this spring. The figure looks identical – the character only wears one costume in the film – and comes with his gimer stick cane and the blissl flute that hangs from a strap on Yoda’s neck. The Yoda in this set does not include a snake or a lightsaber, though.

“Pose may require support.” Um…yes. This certainly looks like you need some kind of super adhesive or Photoshop trickery to replicate the “Luke does a one-hand stand” pose seen here. Image Credit: Hasbro, Inc. (C) 2020 Hasbro & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

My Take

Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things. ― Yoda

 My current domestic situation precludes my ownership of a complete Star Wars The Black Series collection; I have been graciously given one room in the house where I live where I can have a desk, an office chair, IKEA shelves and multimedia storage towers, a TV (with a soundbar and Blu-ray player), books, and some collectibles out for display. In addition, I have to pay the house owner a modicum of rent – an amount far lower than the average rent in this part of Florida. As I have said in previous Star Wars Collectibles & Toys reviews, I don’t have the space or the money to even attempt being a completist.

I wasn’t going to buy Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Jedi Training) when I saw it as a “coming soon” release in Amazon’s Star Wars store. I had just spent over $100 on a Star Wars The Black Series’ The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Snowspeeder with Dak Ralter, and I was soon going to plunk down another $20 on a Luke Skywalker (Snowspeeder) figure. I asked myself, Do I really want to spend $40 on yet another Star Wars collectible.

Obviously, I changed my mind – I think the coronavirus pandemic and other stress-inducing events are eating away at my emotional well-being – and I ended up ordering this deluxe set of Star Wars The Black Series figures.

PREMIUM ARTICULATION AND DETAILING: Star Wars fans and collectors can display these highly poseable (Luke Skywalker figure has 4 fully articulated limbs) figures, featuring premium deco, in their action figure and vehicle collection. Hasbro promotional blurb

Yoda tells Luke, “your weapons. You will not need them.” Luke doesn’t think so, and learns a lesson he won’t forget in a Dark Side cave. Image Credit: Hasbro, Inc. (C) 2020 Hasbro & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Although I am not fond of the visual effect caused by the various points of articulation  (POAs) in the Luke Skywalker figure, I have to remind myself that this is not one of those “toys for adults” that are made to look 100% lifelike. For one thing, the scale of the figures is six inches (I believe that Yoda is two inches in height here), and while I suppose it Is theoretically possible to make a more life-like figure in that size, it probably would have fewer POAs or, more likely, come in a permanent pose reminiscent of a Hallmark Christmas tree ornament that my half-sister Vicky gave me nearly 15 years ago.

Hasbro clearly knows that its customer base consists mainly of adult collectors between the ages of 21 and 60, but it makes these mass-market figures as playable toys rather than purpose-built “displayable collectibles.”  The lower age limit is “4 years and up,” so as exquisitely detailed as the Star Wars The Black Series figures are, they are toys and they look like toys.

That having been said, I am over the moons of Yavin – so to speak – about how cool this set of figures looks, even though they are  still in their original package and, for the foreseeable future, will probably remain there unless I can buy my own place and can devote more space for IKEA shelves or cabinets for my collection.

 I especially like how Hasbro’s designers eschew the original Kenner figure’s “pristine” costume look and add “grime” and “sweat stains” to Luke’s clothing and footgear. If you are going to create an authentic-looking diorama based on a Jedi-training scene from The Empire Strikes Back, these are the best figures to get.

Image Credit: Hasbro, Inc. (C) 2020 Hasbro & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Seriously. A Luke Skywalker in this outfit without “dirt” or “sweat stains” on his Rebel-issue fatigues outfit simply doesn’t look authentic, so it is so cool to see that this figure looks as though it has been to hell and back on the swampy “mudhole” of Dagobah.

As I said earlier, the Yoda figure in this deluxe set is identical to the “Kenner” cardback single-figure released in May, so I’ll refer you to this review I wrote on May 30.

Image Credit: Hasbro, Inc. (C) 2020 Hasbro & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
Image Credit: Hasbro, Inc. (C) 2020 Hasbro & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

All in all, this Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Jedi Training) deluxe set is definitely a winner in my opinion as a Star Wars fan and long-time collector. It might not be perfect – see my comments regarding POAs – but Luke is highly poseable, and the sculpt is good enough to make the figure’s face and body resemble Mark Hamill, the actor who portrays the character in six of the Skywalker Saga films.

I enjoyed writing this review of the latest addition to my Star Wars The Black Series collection, and I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading it. And with that, Dear Reader, I humbly beg your leave. Until next time, I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things, and remember: the Force will be with you, always.


[1] The closest previous Hasbro product that I have seen in my research for this review is a 2008 Star Wars: The Legacy Collection five-figure “Battle Pack’ called JEDI TRAINING ON DAGOBAH, which features 3.75-inch scale figures of Luke Skywalker, Yoda, R2-D2, the apparition of Darth Vader, and the “Force Ghost” of Obi-Wan Kenobi. R2-D2 is “mud-stained,” and because this set is based on several sequences after the one in which the characters from Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Jedi Training) are seen, Luke is wearing his Rebel-issue long-sleeve jacket, as in his Luke Skywalker (Bespin) variant.

Musings & Thoughts for September 17, 2020: Of ‘Market-Garden,’ Waiting for Packages, and Other Bits of My Mind

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

Hello, there, Dear Reader (Constant and otherwise). It’s early afternoon on Thursday, September 17, 2020, and it’s a hot late summer day in my corner of Florida, Because the owner of the house where I live is off from work and is away running errands, I’m enjoying some rare weekday online time and writing this “live” on WordPress. Currently, the temperature is 89 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) under partly sunny skies, but with humidity at 69% and a breeze blowing from the southwest at 14 MPH the heat index is 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius).

I’m glad that I live in a house where the owner keeps the air conditioner in the low 70s and that the AC unit is in good shape and doesn’t have the issues that the one in my former home had. I remember that in one of the last summers of my late mother’s life, the AC had a massive failure with the part of the unit that was outside (the compressor, was it?) on a day very much like today. Not only were we without electricity for the rest of the day, but we also had a hard time keeping Mom cool and comfortable in a room that had a large westward-facing window.

That AC failure didn’t occur this late in the summer; if memory serves, this event took place in late August. Mom’s mental acuity was declining then, sadly, but not so much that she wasn’t able to say, “I know it gets hot in Miami at this time of year, but I don’t remember it getting this hot until a few years ago.” My mom was a lot of things, both good and bad, but a climate change denier she was not.

(C) 1974 Simon & Schuster

Today is the 76th Anniversary of the start of Operation Market-Garden, the ambitious but unsuccessful Allied airborne mission to capture a series of bridges in German-occupied Holland. Conceived by Britain’s Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery as a bid to gain a bridgehead over the Lower Rhine River and outflank the Germans’ formidable Westwall defensive line, with the ultimate goal of seizing Germany’s industrial heartland, the Ruhr Valley – and end the war in Europe by Christmas of 1944.

Montgomery’s scheme involved two separate elements. Operation Market consisted of a parachute-and-glider airdrop by three and one-third divisions: the American 82nd and 101st Airborne – both veterans of the Normandy invasion – and the untried British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Airborne Brigade.

Operation Garden consisted of a three-corps attack by elements of the British Second Army that was intended to link up armor and regular infantry units with the paratroopers dropped near three Dutch cities along a single highway and creating a corridor on which Montgomery’s 21st Army Group could drive across the Rhine, into the North German Plain, and possibly all the way to Berlin.

I’ve already discussed the general points of Market-Garden elsewhere, but as a history-minded person, I always pause at some moment on September 17 to commemorate, if only for myself, the bravery and sacrifice of all who fought and suffered during the nine-day battle, especially the British and Poles who strove to capture the Lower Rhine highway bridge at Arnhem, only to be defeated by an unsound plan, a shortage of transport planes, fierce and skilled defensive operations by the Germans, and the whims of late summer weather in Northwest Europe.

Market-Garden was little noted in most American books about the war until the late Cornelius Ryan decided to follow up 1966’s The Last Battle with a book about the operation (which was only really well-known by members of the U.S. airborne community but not by the general public) that he provisionally titled The Big Jump. Sometime between starting the first draft of the manuscript to submitting it to Simon & Schuster, Ryan changed his mind and renamed what turned out to be his final work of military history to A Bridge Too Far.

Ryan’s 1974 bestselling book and the 1977 film adaptation popularized the title, and “a bridge too far” has entered the English language as an idiomatic expression.

Per Wiktionary:

Noun:

a bridge too far

(idiomatic) A step or action that is too ambitious; an act of overreaching.

Photo Credit and (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

If you are a regular reader of this space, you probably recall that I ordered a Star Wars The Black Series two-figure set of Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Jedi Training) from Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary line of six-inch scale figures back in late August.

The set, which comes in a red-and-black Star Wars The Black Series box with Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and 40th Anniversary indicia includes a Luke Skywalker figure clad in his “Jedi training” garb and another one of Jedi Master Yoda (which is probably a reissue of the figure I bought earlier this summer, minus the snake accessory).

Originally, Amazon had said I’d get my stuff on September 3, and the online store even told me on September 1 that my order was being prepped for shipping. It wasn’t until I checked my email on September 2 (or maybe even September 3!) that I was told, “Sorry, but your order has been delayed and probably won’t be delivered till October 11.”

I never was told why, but I suspect that the delay might have been a consequence of the novel coronavirus COVID0-19 pandemic. Star Wars figures and other toys are manufactured in China, so I think that Hasbro’s supply chain has been affected by the cumulative effects of COVID-19 in that country.

Anyway, this morning I received an email from UPS, the shipper that is handling this delivery. It informed me that my package had shipped yesterday and that I could follow its progress in real-time at UPS My Choice, where I have an account.

Hi Alex, you have a package coming today.

Select Follow My Delivery to view its progress on a live map.

UPS My Choice, September 17, 2020

I just checked Follow My Delivery (probably for the 10th time since this morning) and now I see that the package is on our doorstep.

It’s perhaps a bit silly, I suppose, to be excited about the delivery of yet another Star Wars collectible, but I really don’t have too much joy in my life at the moment. My personal life, while not 100% sucky, is not at its best lately, and the combination of a global pandemic, a Presidential election which promises to be one of the hardest-fought and divisive political campaigns in U.S. history, amidst what many are calling a “cold civil war”….it’s all getting to me these days.

Well, almost 90 minutes have passed since I started writing and this seems like a good place to stop, so I’ll close for now. So, until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

Old Gamers Never Die: Surviving the Battle of the Svalbard Islands in ‘Cold Waters’

A Soviet transport sinks in the Battle of the Svalbard Islands. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Old Gamers Never Die: The Battle of the Svalbard Islands, 5 March 1984

Death of a Russian warship! (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Today I woke up on the Florida room couch at 3:37 AM after falling asleep watching A Nation of Drunkards, the third part of Prohibition: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. I briefly considered going to bed, but instead I ended up reading a chapter from Ian W. Toll’s Twilight of the Gods: The War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945. After that, I wrote a post for my blog, then wasted time on Facebook until it was time for breakfast (or what passes for breakfast here on weekday mornings, anyway).

I flirted with the notion of taking a nap; I usually don’t feel creative when I’m tired, so I thought if I could lie down on one of the two couches here I could catch at least a couple of hours’ worth of sleep. However, I’ve never been able to sleep in the daytime – I’ve only done it a handful of times, and then only because I’m drained from exhaustion. (The most memorable occasion: August 1992, when I slept for 18 straight hours, starting on the night after Hurricane Andrew made its destructive passage across South Florida.)  Otherwise, as long as it’s daytime and the room that I am in has even a scintilla of daylight coming in from behind curtains or a set of venetian blinds, I can’t sleep.

So I did what I usually do when I know that writing will not come easily or can’t watch TV for any of a thousand good reasons: I played a session of Cold Waters.

Cold Waters – if you are new to A Certain Point of View, Too and have never read any of my posts  – is a 2017 computer game by Australia’s Killerfish Games studio. It is a nuclear fast attack sub sim inspired (according to the designers) on MicroProse Software’s 1988 classic game Red Storm Rising. Though it is not an update of that game – which itself is based on elements from the late Tom Clancy’s eponymous 1986 novel – Cold Waters takes the “Cold War turns hot” idea and runs with it by creating three alternative history scenarios:

  • 1968: During the waning days of Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency, tensions between East and West – already strained over the Vietnam War – rise in August of 1968 when the Soviet Union, already mobilized for the real-life invasion of its “ally” Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact, invades West Germany
  • 1984: In a year marked by a Presidential election and more East-West friction caused by Ronald Reagan’s anti-Communist rhetoric and the Soviets’ cold-blooded shootdown of Korean Airlines Flight 007 near Sakhalin Island in September 1983, war erupts between the two superpowers
  • 2000: Another Presidential election year – note that Cold Waters’ three campaigns take place in years of Presidential transitions – in a world where the Soviet Union still exists but is reduced to being a near vassal of the People’s Republic of China. In this alternate version of 2000, the Hong Kong handover of 1997 never took place, and an aggressive Beijing is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea, assisted by elements of the Soviet Navy

I didn’t play any of the game’s “canned” Single Battles or Campaigns. I am too tired to be sharp enough to beat, much less survive, one of those professionally-made games. Instead, I played a Quick Mission that allows me to create, more or less, my own sandbox game session.

Today, for instance, I created a mission that takes place somewhere above the Arctic Circle – or close to it – near Norway’s Svalbard Islands. In the scenario I invented, I pit my Los Angeles-class fast attack boat USS Dallas (SSN-700) – yes, the boat from The Hunt for Red October  – against a Soviet amphibious group escorted by the tactical aviation cruiser Kiev, the 1950s-era all-gun light cruiser Sverdlov, two modern destroyers, and several landing ships of the Ropucha class. To make things a bit more interesting, I added a Ka-27 Helix ASW helicopter; it adds an aerial threat to the mix.  

I chose the date and location of the battle, but I let the game randomize the time of day, weather, sea state, and other environmental variables. I ended up having to fight in the wee (and still dark) hours of the morning, with rough seas and rainy conditions.

The Kiev attempts to evade a Mk.48 torpedo. She is cruising along at 26 knots and maneuvering radically, but the sea is rough and she has already been hit once below the waterline. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

I’m too tired to write a complete, fully detailed account of the resulting Battle of the Svalbard Islands. Suffice it to say, though, that since I knew there was a Helix flying (or trying to) in that miserable weather, my best bet was to attack the convoy with torpedoes only at first.

I patiently stalked the enemy task force until the sonar crew had identified at least some of the enemy vessels. To my surprise, the ‘phibs were the first targets that I had good firing solutions for, so I let fly with four Mk.48 torpedoes – one at the Sverdlov, three at the Ropuchas. The three fish fired at the landing ships hit home, but the faster Sverdlov – alerted to my presence by the sudden death of a Ropucha – changed course and sped away from my torpedo at 32 knots.

The Kiev tried to get within weapons-firing range of Dallas, but the sea state was too rough and the Russian sonar was affected by the noise of the stormy seas, so she never got a whiff of my location. The helo, for its part, struggled to remain airborne in the inclement weather, and its dipping sonar never heard Dallas, not even when I accidentally “sprinted” at 15 knots at 150 feet and caused a brief burst of cavitation.

I ambushed Kiev with a Mk.48 torpedo and tried to slow the tactical aviation cruiser (sort of like a baby aircraft carrier) with UGM-84 Harpoon missiles to make sure the torpedo had a good chance of hitting. Unfortunately, luck was with the Soviets – at least in that regard – and all eight missiles were shot down or deflected by the ship’s use of “chaff.” However, my torpedo  eventually acquired Kiev and opened a nasty gash close to her engine room.

Sverdlov kept on running away from the torpedo kill zone. The two Sovremenny-class destroyers stuck around, though, so I decided to hunt them down before finishing off the injured Kiev.

One Sovremenny died without getting off a shot of her own, but the other “tin can” had enough time to launch a homing torpedo at me even as my Mk.48 ADCAP torpedo was heading her way. The destroyer tried to evade my shot, but I think the sea state was too rough and she could not maneuver fast enough to avoid destruction. So…Ka-Boom.

I wanted to kill the Kiev and end the battle – the Sverdlov was already 40,000 yards away and I had no Harpoons left, so I decided to ignore the light cruiser and go for the already crippled aviation ship instead. But first I had to evade that pesky Russian torpedo.

Using every trick in the book, including noisemakers to deflect the torpedo’s homing sonar and changing course and depth, I successfully avoided being hit by the Soviet fish. It almost nailed me on several occasions, I must admit, but eventually It ran out of fuel and self-destructed.

Finally, I set a course so that Dallas would be bow-on to the slowed-but-still dangerous Kiev. At a range of less than 4,000 yards, I fired one torpedo, changed course, and watched my weapon as it made its way toward the target.

Ka-Boom. Without firing a torpedo or RBU (anti-submarine rocket), Kiev was hit at the stern and exploded in a ball of flame. Sverdlov was still In the area, but she was too far away  for a stern chase, and I had no missiles, so back to Murmansk she sailed.