Category Archives: Reviews

Know Her Name

I readily confess that on multiple occasions reading Chanel Miller’s memoir, Know My Name, I alternated between fury and choking up. It is not an easy read, but a story that needed telling. Miller tells it brilliantly. While there are passages that I thought were a bit overwritten, it is not hard to understand why her way of expressing her pain, and resilience in the face of so much power stacked against her, was necessary to get the whole story out. Not just the story of what happened to her, which was hard enough to take, but the story of the struggle to escape the emotional binding that the sexual assault, the rape, imposed on her and her family. Spoiler Alert: I am going to tell you some key things about the plot, but you should read on. The eventual outcome has been widely reported. Miller leaves everything in the open, so proceed with empathy and compassion.

This is a book that every young male should read. Word for painful word. The world we live in has many and diverse perils, especially for young women. The source of many of those perils, though surely not all of them (see, e.g., Weinstein, Epstein, Nassar, etc. etc.), are young men.

As Miller so compellingly writes, the young man who raped her while she was unconscious should have known better. Everything about his privileged life, except perhaps the core privilege itself, should have made clear to him that what he was doing was wrong. There can be no argument about this, no way of seeing this otherwise.

But, of course, there was an argument. Faced with the consequences of conduct that he apparently had not thought about, the perpetrator, with the help/prodding/direction of his well-to-do parents, decided to fight Miller’s claim that she had not consented to his assault. He was ultimately convicted on all three felony counts and ultimately his appeal was denied. Her statement to the court, directed at the perpetrator, quickly went viral, bringing unprecedented attention to her case. The judge whose minimal sentence of six months plus three years’ probation for the rapist (he was released three months early) led to his eventual recall, the loss of his job as directed by the voters, by the community expressing its collective rejection of victim-blaming and of unbalanced visions of who was responsible for what behavior. I don’t have words for what was wrong with the sentence, but Miller does.

As I said, this was a hard read. It’s hard even to write this brief recommendation that you read the book. Not hard in any way comparable or equivalent to what Miller went through. Her book provides a deep and passionate picture of the toll that sexual assault takes of its victim and of the victim’s friends and family. It makes clear there is only one victim. The perpetrator is not a victim of anything but his own self-regard and indifference to the physical and emotional integrity of others. Miller shows remarkable, almost super-human capacity for empathy toward her attacker, but in the end, he denies her even the comfort of knowing that she reached him, that he finally understood what he had done to her.

Read this book. Everyone, man, woman, young, old, can learn from it.

Murdering “Cats”

The critics have apparently done it again. Sneering snidely, they have likely sunk any chance of success for the movie Cats, the film version of the long-running Broadway musical. Having seen and enjoyed the musical a few times, we decided to ignore the critics and went to the movies. After battling our way through throngs of people there for the twenty-third running of the Star Wars quintology (not a real word but it fits), also slammed by some critics, we sat in a nearly empty theater as the opening scene appeared.

To be clear, the movie version of Cats has some serious flaws; I about to tell you what they are. But to say that the movie is a “disaster,” etc. as some critics have exclaimed, is, I think ridiculous.

First, one must recognize that the Cats story is a fantasy intended to entertain. It is not a serious thing, except perhaps in one way I’ll come to. It was, after all, a musical based on some poems about cats. If you want to taste the kind of over-analyzed attempts to give some profound meaning to the story, you have many choices but a good one is https://screenrant.com/cats-movie-ending-explained-grizabella-heaviside-layer/ It’s a spoiler in many ways, however, so you may want to avoid it and the others if you’re considering watching the movie (it likely will be “free” on some Internet service soon since it’s being massacred at the box office). I am, frankly, tired of critics condemning works of art because they don’t fit some pre-conceived narrative of what “should” have been done.

Second, the musical is recognized even by the critics (however grudgingly) as much-loved by audiences. According to Wikipedia, the “London production ran for 21 years and 8,949 performances, while the Broadway production ran for 18 years and 7,485 performances, making Cats the longest-running musical in both theatre districts for a number of years.” That doesn’t count the many other performances (like Washington DC where I first saw it). Not bad for a fluffy piece of fiction with a somewhat puzzling story line and no dialogue.

Third, all that notwithstanding, the movie version has some serious flaws. They detract from the heft of the music and special effects, sometimes in major ways. First, and most serious for me, is the modern practice of having the camera viewpoint constantly shifting from one vantage point to another every few seconds. Rather than letting you see a dance scene as a whole, the director, or whomever, has the camera viewpoint constantly changing.

One moment it’s on the lead dancer, Victoria, played by the stunning Francesca Hayward, who in real life is a principal dancer in the Royal Ballet at London’s Covent Garden. Then it shifts to a group of cats dancing, then back to Victoria, then to another cat doing something different, then to the entire scene from a different vantage than the first one, and so on and so on. Why, I have to ask, when you have a talent as beautiful and skilled as Francesca Hayward as a main character do you not just show her dancing as the center of attention in the larger frame? If you were watching a live ballet you likely would focus most of your attention on her. But, no, the director, or whoever makes these decisions, wants us to see everything from a constantly changing viewpoint.

This practice is commonplace in music videos I have seen (rarely to completion) but I suggest it does not belong in the staging of a musical as movie.

Fourth, there are several “episodes” in the movie version that occupy an inordinate amount of space/time seemingly to accommodate the actors chosen for the roles. These include James Corden, Rebel Wilson and Jason Derulo. I was struck that at the end of the movie, when the credits roll, Corden was given top billing. I lack the imagination to understand how that could be warranted by anything related to the movie.

Fifth, the most iconic music from the stage version is, of course, Memory. It is sung by the aged and defeated Grizabella, played in the movie by the powerful Jennifer Hudson. Unfortunately, her rendition is an over-wrought downer, over-acted and overwhelmed. I don’t fault Hudson. This had to be the director’s choice and it was a bad one.

Finally, the handling of Macavity, played, inexplicably, by Idris Elba, was a major error. In the story he is a malevolent creature with magical powers and the presentation seems discordant with the rest of the story, albeit that it contains many fantasy elements throughout.

Well, then, with all those flaws, how did the critics go wrong? The answer, I think, is in condemning the whole because of a few defects, unhappy ones, to be sure, but hardly fatal to the overall concept. In the end the story is about redemption, goodwill and generosity triumphing over evil and selfishness. It is a fantasy, a divertissement that should not be taken seriously. It is intended to amuse you and, in the end, lift you up. I thought that, flaws notwithstanding, it did that. It’s a movie, after all, not a major philosophical dissertation.

I suspect it’s too late for a “market correction” that might save this movie from the dust heap where severe criticism tends to push productions that the true critics don’t like. Too bad. Many people who would enjoy the spectacle will now miss it because self-important and self-appointed “experts” have decided that the movie is a “debacle.” Debacles do happen in Hollywood as elsewhere, but I don’t think this Cats is fairly condemned.

P.S. — I had a similar response to the critics’ treatment of Bohemian Rhapsody [see https://autumninnewyork.net/2018/11/04/bohemian-rhapsody-ignore-critics/] that, according to Wikipedia, grossed over $903 million worldwide on a production budget of about $50 million, making it the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2018 worldwide and setting the all-time box office records for the biopic and drama genres. The film earned 4 Oscars and was Best Motion Picture – Drama at the 76th Golden Globe Awards, among other awards and nominations. Just saying. Since the Bohemian Rhapsody post was in the AutumnInNewYork.net blog, I am simultaneously posting the Cats piece in both blogs.

Game of Thrones – Realpolitik

This post may not sit well with the folks who think the final episodes of Game of Thrones were a matter of great public importance, enough to warrant a million-signature petition for a final season redo. If you are one of those people, you probably should stop reading now.

For a brief recap, the show ends with:

… the Queen’s Hand has committed a blatant act of treason out of some familial loyalty to his brother who has been sleeping with his sister and has been imprisoned, pending his inevitable execution …

… the putative heroine has turned into a mass murderer, destroyer of all she surveys, women and children included;

… the Hand, assessing his difficult situation, importunes the Queen’s incestuous lover, and the true heir to the Iron Throne, to undo the Queen because, well, you know, she’s not who we thought she was …

… the Queen’s newly discovered relative, rote repeater of “she’s my Queen, she’s my Queen” right up to the point where he drives some Valerian steel into her heart, is so now “not my Queen;”

… a “council” of somebodies sits down in the shade to decide who will replace the dearly departed and one of them suggests, to much amusement, a plebiscite of “everyone” to decide who should rule the Seven Kingdoms, to which one “nobleman” in best form, suggests they let his horse vote, ahhahahaha, but …

… when it’s clear Sansa isn’t going to be chosen, she reduces the “Seven Kingdoms” to six by simply saying “not the North” and please sit down, Samwell Tarly, you idiot … and he does; thus does democracy die in the Six Kingdoms …

… and so they pick Bran whose leadership skills are … not self-evident … but perhaps he means well, though one must wonder about his first big decision to make the Queen’s former Hand his Hand so the Hand can “correct his many mistakes” in the future, a fate apparently deemed worse than death in those parts …

… and that’s a wrap … except

… the murderer of the Queen is banished back to the Black Watch and the Wall, which no longer has a purpose now that the White Walkers have been destroyed, and accepts his fate without so much as a quarrel about the inequity of it all, and …

… the one person who could upend the entire scheme is the brown-skinned guy, the slaughter-in-chief, Grey Worm, leader of the Unsullied and recently decorated as head of the Queen’s Army or something like that, due to his valor and fantastic killing skills, except there’s no Queen now and the “council” is letting the murderer off easy…

… and so Grey Worm effectively dictates the punishment, short of death, of the Queen’s murderer…

There are probably more “morals of the story” in Game of Thrones than in the typical fairy tale but for me the two principal lessons are clear:

  • power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and
  • the absence of checks and balances in a government will inevitably lead to dangerous outcomes.

The first is too obvious to need much elaboration. Daenerys Targaryen still has one full-grown dragon near the end, plus the loyalty of the miraculously surviving and bloodthirsty Dothraki and Unsullied armies. It’s hard to load more power in one person than that and Daenerys obviously relishes her position – total victory — and, as she “explains” to no one’s great surprise, there are many more battles yet to be fought as she reconstructs the “world” in the image she has in her mind. Daenerys Targaryen thus ends up as the comic book heroine and villain.

The second moral point is more important because less obvious. This principle is what makes Game of Thrones relevant to the world we live in now. In the end, with the “city” of Kings Landing in ruins, the Queen is unbounded. She is defeated only by a final act of hubris, in which she believes that Jon Snow (whom she loves at least as long as he doesn’t challenge her “right” to the Iron Throne) will not harm her, misapprehending completely the mental state of a man who has already been dead once and to all outward appearances seems dazed and uncomprehending of how things have devolved to this sorry state. Love is blind, as the saying goes.

Now the fate of the “world,” as defined by the Seven Kingdoms, is left in the hands of the “council.” The only real power in the scene is Grey Worm who, with a nod of his head, could bring the “military” to terminate the council in a heartbeat. Yet, he resists the direct and deadly use of his power, insisting, however, that Jon Snow be properly punished for his crime against the Queen.

So, ultimately, peace seems to prevail, only because the parties have inadvertently stumbled into a place where the most powerful player, the commander of force, turns out to be sensible and not interested in leveraging his position beyond seeing some form of justice done as to Jon Snow. Grey Worm turns out, then, to be perhaps the best of the men in the entire story. He stays his hand in the interest of peace when he could easily just take control.

There is no mistaking that Grey Worm is the key power player in the end. It was that “check and balance” that operated to “solve” the problem of Jon Snow and to give the “politicians” space in which to negotiate their peace with each other. As improbable as that final outcome may have been, and I’ll leave that to others to debate, the point in the end was that absent Grey Worm’s steady hand, there is no telling what could have happened as the others jockeyed for position. At the same time, we can see that if the only obstacle to the politicians dividing up the world, is the one with “force” at his command, the potential for continued instability is high. You upset Grey Worm at your peril.

That principle – checks and balances – was set up in a three-part scheme by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution. The 3-way regime has served the country pretty well until 2016 when 2/3 of the checks fell into the hands of one party, and a criminal was placed in charge of the executive branch.  The balance was somewhat restored in 2018 but the Trump administration continues to undermine the Judicial Branch by nominating and approving, through its control of the Senate, judges who are ideologues and, in some cases, plainly lacking relevant experience and demonstrated judicial temperament.

We are, therefore, at a precipice, not unlike the one that the “council” in Game of Thrones faced. The sitting president has already begun to suggest that he may not respect the outcome of the 2020 election, so we may yet be looking to the leaders of the “force” component of government to decide whether we will continue to be democracy or something else. The result may turn on a Grey Worm yet again. Our fate will then depend on his being as sensible as the “real” Grey Worm.

Journalism and Democracy

I have just finished Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now by Alan Rusbridger.

Based on the title, you might think this book is all about Donald Trump and his attempt to sell the idea that the press is the “enemy of the people.” While the Trump menace to freedom of the press is mentioned, the book is not mainly about that. It’s about the process by which The Guardian, one of the UK’s most storied newspapers, has navigated, with varying success, the rocky path from the traditional ways of journalism to the world brought about by the internet and the digital globalization of information.

Rusbridger is not a household name in the United States like, perhaps, Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post. Rusbridger was editor-in-chief of The Guardian from 1995 to 2015, the seminal period during which the digital challenge to top-down journalism manifested and ran roughshod over traditional ways of delivering the “news.” He is, among other things, a hell of a great writer and a compelling storyteller who confesses throughout that he was usually at a loss to know what to do to save The Guardian from financial destruction and from loss of its moral compass.

Rusbridger’s book is a remarkable explanation of the transition from a news operation funded by a trust, but still dependent upon advertising revenues for survival, to a multi-element news machine adapting to the digital age. Some of the financial details may challenge your interest, but the overall story line is as powerful as anything in great fiction. But, of course, it’s not fiction, not fake news, but truth.

Along the way, Rusbridger explores the meaning of “news” in a digital world, how news is discovered, vetted for importance and interest, and delivered to a global audience still interested in “truth” mediated by trusted investigators, writers, editors and publishers. He narrates the stories of Wikileaks (Julian Assange) and Edward Snowden and the issues their pilfered documents raised about what was responsible to publish, how governments attempted to prevent publication and much else. Readers from my generation will, of course, remember Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, the New York Times and the ultimate victory in court that enabled the world to understand how the United States government had misled the people about the Vietnam War. Even then, the Nixon administration tried to imprison Neal Sheehan under the Espionage Act for his journalism in breaking the story.

The struggle over the Snowden documents was no less dramatic with the special twist – something I did not know – that the United Kingdom has no equivalent to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press. In the UK publishers, editors and even individual journalists are subject to lawsuits by “offended” parties, including giant corporations, who object to unfavorable news being published about them. Even members of Parliament and the British government itself were ominously threatening to punish difficult publish/don’t publish decisions about matters to which they took serious umbrage. Editors could go to jail for publishing the “wrong stories.”

Early in the book, Rusbridger discusses the period during which UK competitors of The Guardian began to dumb down their news to attract eyes, with considerable success and adverse effects on more traditional news organization that continued to publish in the old style. The conflict is described as “an ongoing concern for complexity, facts and nuance versus a drift towards impact, opinion and simplicity.” [Breaking News at 91] In ruminating about the divergent paths before them, Rusbridger raises question to which no ready answers existed at the time or even now [Id. at 92-93]

“What … should a news organization do, faced with legions of apathetic readers?

Did we have any kind of responsibility to tell our readers things they might not think they wanted to know?

Would a move to less complexity end up reinforcing a pattern of ignorance, or carelessness about things that ultimately do matter to us all? … Most of public life was not faithfully representable in either black or white. Somebody – surely – had the duty to paint in the greys.

Fast-forwarding to the second decade of this century, Rusbridger observes that “an ever-more polarized public – favouring either black or white answers to complicated problems – had lost either interest or trust in a world of greys.”

Another interesting observation lies in the discussion of the “long tail” of news. In traditional newspaper journalism, the story was developed during the day, published late and delivered for morning consumption. The story was effectively “over” until at least the next day’s paper was distributed. In the digital world of social media, however, “a story had a life independent of the news organization which created it.” Breaking News at 157. The story “was now a living thing – being shared, critiqued, rubbished, celebrated, clarified, responded to, rendered irrelevant, added to, challenged – maybe all of the above – while [the reporter] was trying to take a well-earned break.”

The battle that ensued after The Guardian published some of Snowden’s documents led many UK papers to line up against The Guardian. Rusbridger listed a series of legal challenges over the years to newspapers’ publication of controversial material, almost always sustained by the courts. Rusbridger:

“Journalists may often make wrong  decisions – but the assumption has to be that newspapers are free to make those wrong decisions and, if necessary, be held responsible afterwards. It was so strange to see writers and editors in 2013 willing to concede this principle when judges had, in general, been so much more robust in their defence of the press.” [Breaking News 321]

The attacks on The Guardian will look familiar to anyone paying attention to the rhetoric of Donald Trump who, in his paranoid desperation to deflect criticism, has labeled the press the “enemy of the people.” Rusbridger discusses that and the issue of “fake news” at length in the Epilogue to the book. Of course, his views will be of no interest to people who have forfeited their ability to think in favor of abject adoration of everything Trump. For the rest, though, whom I still believe to be the majority, the centrality of a free press to the survival of democracy will resonate. The current challenge to genuine journalism is deadly serious, one among many such threats that now arise from the kleptocracy that Trump and his family, with full support of the Republican Party, seeks to establish in the United States.

The story of The Guardian is our story as well and should be read by everyone who cares about the survival of democracy and personal freedom in America.

Best of Enemies – See It

We saw the movie, Best of Enemies, last night. The theater was only about half full, which was too bad for the people who missed a really engaging story, based on a true story. The acting by Taraji P. Hensen and Sam Rockwell was Oscar-level with a nicely nuanced minor-role performance by Anne Heche as the wife of Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis.

Without giving away anything, the basic story is that, by 1971, Durham NC had desegregated most of its public facilities but not the schools. You will recall that the seminal Supreme Court school-desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education was handed down in 1954.

The elementary school attended by black activist Ann Atwater’s daughter is all but destroyed in a massive fire. There are hints that the Klan caused the fire but that line is never explored. No one messes with the Klan in 1971 Durham …. except Ann Atwater. Like some modern-day resisters, she takes plenty of grief but gives some back through sheer grit and determination.

The central drama centers around a “charrette” led by a black man. The Oxford English dictionary defines “charrette” as “A public meeting or workshop devoted to a concerted effort to solve a problem or plan the design of something.” In the movie it is the equivalent of a mediation involving the entire community with blacks and whites in the same room but largely sitting on opposite sides of the center aisle.  The goal is to address the issue of what to do with the black kids that must attend school somewhere to finish their academic year while their school is repaired. The logical choice, of course, is to move them to the closest “white school.”

I must say that we both thought there was considerable sugar-coating of the interactions in the charrette, given the level of racial hostility and general mistrust, not to mention endemic ignorance among most members of the white community. But there is drama enough.

What I found most interesting was the role of the Klan in the town. They had completely corrupted the power structure and were cruel and efficient in the methods they used to suppress dissent from their “white power” creed. Recalling my own upbringing in a large (for the times) southern city, I never saw the overt presence of the Klan but its “philosophy” was ever present in the mentality of most white adults and the children in whom they inculcated their deeply racist view of the world. I grew up in a town where there were still “whites only” and “colored only” water fountains side by side in the local Sears store.

In 1971 Durham, the ability of the Klan to function more or less in the open and unchallenged rested to a significant degree on the isolation of its victims. No digital communications network existed that could instantly transmit information or alarms to summon help. An individual person, particularly a woman, living alone was especially vulnerable. And if the Klan was good at nothing else, it knew very well how to exploit that isolation to instill terror without fear of reprisal.

If you see this excellent movie, and you should, observe the Klan at work and think about what made it possible, even in the presence of many right-thinking white people, to press its “whites are superior” message on everyone in the community. The movie will almost certainly lead you to think about the contemporary parallels in the racist tropes spread by the current president and the Republican Party as well as the emergence from the shadows of the Klan or Klan-like acolytes who have been in hiding all these years, waiting for their Grand Dragon to call them out again.

When Companies Get Too Big …. Amazon & Fire Extinguishers

The following letter is self-explanatory. I am posting it here as an example of what happens when companies get so large they can stop paying attention to legitimate concerns from customers about the products they sell. Before reading the letter, note that it was sent to the address on amazon.com where its “Conditions of Use” are set out. The letter was returned to me with stickers stating “Wrong Address” and “Unable to Forward.”  The address is still shown on the amazon.com website. today.

Here is the letter:

Gentlemen:

In early January 2018 I purchased from Amazon.com a pair of Kidde fire extinguishers. They arrived in good order, with the date “2018” stamped into the bottom. Since these items have had issues related to the expiration of their useful life, I inquired of Kidde through its website about the precise meaning of the year stamp. Despite automated assurances, Kidde did not respond. I asked a second time and a third time.

I then filed the following review on Amazon.com to inform other potential customer of the issue and Kidde’s lack of response:

from Paul M. Ruden on February 3, 2018

 

Kidde failure to respond re expiration date

 

I don’t know whether this thing will work or not. Bought in early Jan. 2018. “2018” is embossed into the bottom. Have written Kidde thru its website 3 times to ask exactly what that means. Unlikely it means manufactured in 2018 since I bought it so early and received it quickly. If it is an expiration date, I am due a refund. Automated response to one message, then nothing. Unacceptable to ignore my question.

 

Amazon.com rejected the review by email with the following statement:

Your review could not be posted to the website in its current form. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines:
http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines

We encourage you to revise your review and submit it again. A few common issues to keep in mind:

 

•          Your review should focus on specific features of the product and your experience with it. Feedback on the seller or your shipment experience should be provided at www.amazon.com/feedback.

•          We do not allow profane or obscene content. This applies to adult products too.

•          Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively are considered spam.

•          Please do not include URLs external to Amazon or personally identifiable content in your review.

The Amazon “guidelines” appear at  http://amzn.to/2dpw6DK and are 1,584 words in length. Amazon’s response does not specify in what particular respect my review violated those guidelines. I am left to guess, rewrite, refile and wait for perhaps another rejection.

Your treatment of this issue, which could affect the performance of a vital safety-related product, is no different in substance from the non-response of Kidde. It is equally unacceptable.

As a long-standing Amazon customer who buys many products every year, I expected better treatment. I am therefore asking, one last time, that either you promptly answer the question I put to Kidde and identify in which specific respect my review violated your review policy, and, failing that, provide for an immediate free-return-shipment of the products.

I await your prompt response.”

Caveat emptor.

 

Miss Saigon — All Are Punished

Over the years I have seen most of the major “contemporary” (for their time) plays/musicals/dramas of the live theater. This may be an exaggeration but the current staging of Miss Saigon at the Broadway Theater in New York City is likely the best I have ever seen.

This was my third viewing, the last one being over a decade ago. No matter, it was all like new. In the event, I recalled few details of the story and little of the music. The presentation was, however, almost unbearably extraordinary in every way. A live orchestra added to the drama of the acting. The integration of the music and the play was so perfect that you were not really aware of the role the music was playing until it stopped. Even if you knew the story and what was about to happen next, the presentation was so effective that the suspense, pain, horror and resolution came each time as a surprise and a shock. The suffering of the participants in the inescapable conflicts felt completely genuine.

Jon Jon Briones played the Engineer, a maître d’-like character who brings to mind Joel Grey’s masterwork as the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret. You love to hate him even as you are forced to admire his handiwork. But most stunning, in my view, was the performance of Eva Noblezada as Kim, the love object of an American soldier about to depart Vietnam as the tragic American intervention came to its horrific close. In addition to completely convincing acting, her voice was transcendent. Her duet with John (Nicholas Christopher) entitled Too Much for One Heart says it all.

Overall, the play evokes Romeo & Juliet in that good people are trapped in a situation not of their making and there is no way out.  For those who lived through the period, and likely more so for those who served there, the complete personal and national tragedy of the American participation in the Vietnam War is fully captured in this emotional juggernaut of a play. Even if you have seen it before, this is a presentation you should see again. If you’ve never seen it, get thee to New York and do yourself a favor by witnessing this compelling spectacle.

And bring tissues.

A Patch of Common Ground – Taking Chance

We are living in highly polarized times that are remindful of the conflicts of the 1960s over the war in Vietnam and the role of nuclear weapons in America’s foreign policy. I have, however, had occasion to reflect recently on one area in which everyone should be able to have a common vision of what is right and a sense of both pride and sorrow. The inspiration for these thoughts was seeing the movie, Taking Chance, starring Kevin Bacon. This movie was “made for television” and since I don’t watch much TV, it got by me in 2009 without even being noticed, despite Bacon having won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television.

It’s a straight-ahead story, though unusual, I suspect, for a TV movie in that there is relatively little dialogue. Part of the magic is that the film relies on visual imagery rather than a lot of dialogue. The story line is that Gulf War-decorated Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl volunteered to escort to the family in Wyoming the remains of 19-year old PFC Chance Phelps, who was killed, with severe wounds, in combat in Iraq. In the film, based on a true story, Strobl has been deeply conflicted by his decision to remain with his family and perform desk duties rather than return to combat in Iraq when others did. His volunteering as escort for Phelps is motivated by a need for some kind of redemption for that decision. He receives detailed instructions on exactly how the personal effects and the casket are to be treated at every step of the long journey home to a family divided by divorce and overwhelmed with grief.

The story spends some time on the intimate, painful work to prepare the body for burial in full dress uniform in every immaculate detail. The caring and respect of the people doing this work is palpable. I had never before considered this aspect of the return of dead soldiers to their homeland and was deeply moved by it. It is presented with great dignity.

On the journey, Lt. Col. Strobl renders honors at every movement of the casket, often in the presence of overwhelmed airline personnel who have witnessed this many times. Strobl stands at attention and salutes the casket as it slowly moves from the cargo hold of the plane carrying the body. These scenes and others throughout the film will, I predict, break your heart.

I will provide no other spoilers – just a warning to have tissues handy. The film will change you, with insights into an aspect of war that everyone should absorb, as they are sitting in the comfort and safety of their homes. I came away with a profoundly deeper sense of respect for the military men and women who defend our country and our way of life every day. See for yourself. Please.