Monthly Archives: November 2018

When Cars Were Beautiful and Had Giant Fins

When I was a boy, cars were beautiful pieces of rolling sculpture, with giant fins, gleaming chrome and massive engines. Even the wheels were works of art. Huge whitewall tires framed bright metallic hubcaps, that were intricate wire spokes, tiny wings or other imaginative designs.

Mustang Sally

Mustang Sally

Cars were not just machines enabling people to get around. They were expressions of who people were. Americans loved their cars and even wrote songs about them. Songs like Little GTO, Mustang Sally, Hot Rod Lincoln, Hey Little Cobra and Little Deuce Coupe. Even songs that did not have car names in the titles, revolved around cars. The Beach Boys, Fun Fun Fun is a song most people remember for the lyrics (Till her Daddy Takes the T-Bird Away).

1956 Ford Thunderbird

1956 Ford Thunderbird

Of course, these cars were death traps. Despite the incredibly powerful engines, there were no air bags, no padded dashboards, and for a long time not even any seat belts. When seat belts did become standard equipment, they were simple lap belts and most people did not buckle them.

No one is ever going to write a song about a Toyota Prius.

No one is ever going to write a song about a Toyota Prius.

Cars today are much safer, but along the way have lost all sense or personality and individuality. No one is ever going to write a song about a Ford Focus or a Toyota Prius. And for the most part, colors have disappeared. Today 57% of all cars in America are either White, Black or Grey.

Classic Pink Cadillac

Classic Pink Cadillac

People need to get back their sense of adventure and style. Don’t be afraid to show some color and individuality and get that muscle car you know you actually want.  If you are of a “certain age”, maybe you think people will be saying you are having a mid-life crisis.  Don’t worry about what those boring folks say. You won’t be able to hear them anyway over the roar of your engine.

Is Catheter Ablation Surgery right for you? My personal story may help you decide

I had Catheter Ablation Surgery about 9 months ago on Valentine’s Day. (That’s right, a heart operation on Valentine’s Day). It worked for me and stopped my chronic AFib episodes.  I am very nervous about saying that, since I don’t want to jinx anything by actually proclaiming victory. Statistics show that only about 50% of people have their AFib cured with one Catheter Ablation Surgery, and there is an 80% cure rate for those who undergo 2 surgeries. Here are some facts and pointers from the patient’s point of view that may help you decide whether or not to have Catheter Ablation Surgery. I am NOT a doctor, so what I am giving you is a personal view from my side of the operating table. If you are having AFib issues make sure to get medical advice from a real doctor.

Detail of Catheter Ablation surgery.

Detail of Catheter Ablation surgery.

Having chronic AFIB does not mean you did anything wrong. Like many people with AFib I was annoyed that my heart had decided to betray me. After all, I had given my heart everything it could desire. I have never smoked, I don’t drink alcohol, I am thin and I exercise regularly. I even gave up caffeine and everything with high sodium. Still, my heart would periodically go into prolonged AFib. If you have ever had one of these episodes, you know how frightening they are. It feels like you are dying from a heart attack.

The catheter is inserted in the groin and sent through the veins into the heart

The catheter is inserted in the groin and sent through the veins into the heart

The older you get the more frequent AFib becomes. I never had a problem until I was about 50. Then I had my first AFib episode. It only lasted about a minute but it scared the Hell out of me. As I continued to age, the episodes became more frequent and longer.

There are many excellent medications that can control AFib but the success rate varies tremendously between people. For some people the medications work just fine and they never even have to consider Cather Ablation Surgery. For me, the medications worked for a few years and then became less and less effective as I got older. Eventually they did not work at all.

Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute, Morristown New Jersey

Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute, Morristown New Jersey

AFib often happens when you are just relaxing or even sleeping. The times your heart goes into AFIb seems counter-intuitive. Most people assume that heart problems will occur when the heart is under stress. For people with chronic AFIB it is often just the opposite. I would run 6 miles and feel great. Then I might be relaxing watching T.V. and my heart would suddenly start going crazy, by speeding up and beating irregularly. It is sort of like a car with a bad transmission. The worst AFib episodes would happen when my body was trying to “change gears” from regular mode to relaxed or sleeping mode.  I finally decided to have Catheter Ablation Surgery when it became impossible for me to sleep. I got to the point where just lying flat would send my heart into AFib. I would have to walk around the house or watch T.V. until my heart went back to normal rhythm. Then I would try to go to sleep sitting upright in a chair. Over the months, I got to know exactly what television shows were on at 3AM.

Chronic AFib is caused by bad electric signals coming from the wrong part of the heart. For reasons unknown, some people have hearts that have a tendency to develop spots that send out these errant signals. If you have this condition, as you get older your heart develops more and more of these areas.  Exercise, diet or even meditation is not going to stop this from happening.

Because it is a physical condition, you can’t “think” AFib away. If you have chronic AFib, then you have probably also encountered numerous well-meaning friends giving you all sorts of advice on how to relax. They think this will cure you. Friends never seem to understand that it is precisely when chronic AFib suffers are the most relaxed that the  heart is most likely to go into one of its crazy episodes.

Doctor Timothy Mahoney

Doctor Timothy Mahoney

In Catheter Ablation Surgery the Electrophysiologist locates and burns the spots causing the bad electrical signals. Once these burns scar over,  the errant  signals stop. The first time I heard that it petrified me. “Scarring my heart to make it better?” It sounded to me like when brain surgeons of the last century  thought a lobotomy was the solution to help the mentally disturbed. This is why I would not even consider Catheter Ablation Surgery for many years. However, as I read more and more about the operation and the success rates I began to have more trust.

You still have to eat healthy after Catheter Ablation surgery

You still have to eat healthy after Catheter Ablation surgery

With chronic AFib, you need  to face your own lack of knowledge. I am NOT a doctor and I had an excellent Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist telling me that Catheter Ablation Surgery was the best possibility for fixing my condition. I looked at their years of education, training, surgical experience and skills and had to admit that they knew many, many things that I did not. I finally realized that I could do no more on my own. I decided it was time to trust these experts to put me to sleep and go into my heart.

Choosing the right surgeon and hospital for Cather Ablation Surgery is very important. You want a doctor and an institute that specializes in the field.  I was lucky enough to get Doctor Timothy Mahoney (Cardiology, Electrophysiology) at the Morristown New Jersey Medical Center Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute. He performs 2 Catheter Ablation Surgeries per day. The Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute itself is amazing. It is brand new and the lobby looks like a luxury hotel. It has the best equipment, technicians and surgeons.  Wherever you live, make sure that you choose a surgeon and a hospital that does a lot of Catheter Ablation Surgeries.

You will have to go through many tests and procedures in the weeks BEFORE your Catheter Ablation surgery. This is to make sure that you are healthy enough for surgery and that there are no other issues with your heart which will cause problems. When I went for tests, there was one patient who unfortunately was told that his heart muscles were so weak that he could not possibly  be the candidate for any type of heart surgery.

Surgeons call Catheter Ablation surgery “non-invasive”, but that’s not how it feels from the patient’s point of view. If this is “non-invasive”, then all I can say is that I feel sorry for people who have actual invasive surgery.  The surgeon  makes 2 incisions in the groin, and feeds catheters all the way from your groin into your heart. Of course, you are asleep for all of this, so it is not as scary as it sounds.

Catheter Ablation Surgery takes between 3 to 5 hours. It is a long surgery but you have no sense of time when it happens. The anesthesia is injected into a vein and you are asleep withing 15 seconds. The next thing I remembered was someone saying “take a deep breath” when it was time to wake up.

A final pre-op test leaves some “burping” side effects. The heart is hidden behind the stomach, so one of the last tests is to insert a tube down your esophagus into the stomach. Then an ultrasound device is inserted into the stomach to get a final real time picture of the heart. (You are also put asleep for this procedure.)  This test is to make sure there are not any unforeseen problems that would complicate surgery. This procedure can have a lot of side effects that last many months. Some people experience a sore throat (I did not). Most people find that their stomach may be sore for a few weeks. To help the stomach heal you will be given stomach medicine for a few weeks. Many people find that they burp a lot more than they used to, even months after this procedure. Even 9 months after the procedure I still get these burps once and a while. Patients feel embarrassed to mention this to a doctor, since they think it is somehow their own fault. These burps are a perfectly normal side effect and very common.

Bring someone with you to the hospital! Don’t try to do it on your own. You need someone you can count on to stay with you the whole day. Bring a spouse, partner, friend or grown child. In my case, my wife Susan was with me all day. You need your special someone to help you navigate through the system and to listed to what the doctors and nurses say. You will be too groggy, distracted or upset to completely understand all the instructions being given to you.

You are in for a Long, Long day. Before the actual surgery, there is paperwork, pre-op tests,  and preparation. You will be wheeled from place to place, have tubes and needles stuck into you and spend most of your time in a cold hospital gown. All this happens before the actual Catheter Ablation Surgery. In my case, I got to the hospital at 7am and my surgery began at 4PM. I was done about 7PM.

You are only in the hospital for 1 night. In my case, the hospital was so full that there were no rooms, so I spent the night in the recovery ward. I was not actually sleepy. After all, I had been sleeping for many hours as part of the surgery. It is interesting the things you hear in a hospital recovery ward overnight.  The nurses try to speak quietly, but I was so bored I eavesdropped on every conversation. They spent a lot of time gossiping about another nurse, who they claimed always walks around trying to look busy, but who does not actually help anyone.

You will need help getting home. Don’t kid yourself, they may call it non-invasive, but someone was just inside your heart. You are going to be exhausted. Too weak to drive yourself home, or even Uber by yourself.

You should rest at home for 1 week before going back to work.  You will be very tired. This is perfectly normal and does not mean that anything is wrong with you.

You may be very sore from just lying on the operating room table. My right shoulder was very sore and weak and I had trouble lifting it for a day or two. This is a normal side effect and you may experience body aches and pains from having been immobile for so long.

Do not lift more than 10 pounds for a month after Catheter Ablation Surgery

Do not lift more than 10 pounds for a month after Catheter Ablation Surgery

Do not lift anything heavier then 10 pounds for a month. This is so that you do not rip open the wounds where the surgeon made incisions in your groin. This instruction is very hard to follow. It is amazing how many things weigh more than 10 pounds.  Don’t rip open your wounds by doing something stupid like lifting a heavy bag of groceries, a Thanksgiving turkey or a full garbage can. It does not matter if you are an Olympic weightlifter and can normally lift hundreds of pounds with ease. You have to give these wounds time to heal.

Do not run for at least 1 month after Catheter Ablation Surgery.

Do not run for at least 1 month after Catheter Ablation Surgery.

Do not Run for a full month. This is also to keep the groin wounds from ripping open. Running and even standing for long periods of time put a lit of strain on this area.

Ask your doctor about the type of adhesive used in the bandages. Some people are allergic to the type of adhesive used in the bandages that cover the groin incisions. I happened to be one of them. This allergic reaction can leave you with very painful blisters. Find out ahead of time if there are any alternative adhesives available.

You will have AFib for a few months after your surgery. Sometimes this will be even worse than the AFib you experienced before. This is also perfectly normal but is very hard to accept. The AFib episodes do not go away until the parts of the heart burned by the surgeon have scarred over. Even though you know ahead of time that this is going to happen it is psychologically very stressful.  You will be asking yourself “what was the point of all that pain and effort if the AFib is still there?” With successful surgery, these episodes will gradually disappear, and in many cases go away forever. Part of the process is that your heart has to re-train itself not to go into AFib.

Catheter Ablation Surgery does not fix any other cardio problems. For example, if you had high blood pressure or high cholesterol before the surgery, the surgery does nothing to change that. Just because your heart now no longer goes into AFib does not mean you can go wild and load up on cream fill doughnuts every morning. You still have to take care of yourself, eat heart-healthy and exercise.

A happy heart

A happy heart

So, that’s my patient’s-view story of Catheter Ablation Surgery. I hope it gives you some useful information.  Remember always that if you have heart problems there are lots of people who care and who can help you. Be well and be happy.

Russian Subway Dogs – Beautiful & Clever

In Russia, it is common to see dogs riding the subways on their own. Russians love these canines and never throw them off. Riding the subways is the reward Russian dogs earned for their great sacrifices during World War II. During the War, Russian dogs were used to destroy German tanks. The dogs had magnetic bombs strapped to their bodies and were trained to run at full speed at a German tank. When the dog got close to the tank, the magnetic bomb automatically detonated, killing the dog and destroying the tank.  Dogs were also used for tracking, search and rescue. In desperate situations dogs were killed and the dog meat used to feed starving Russians.

Russian Commuters are used to some of the fellow commuters being dogs.

Russian Commuters are used to some of the fellow commuters being dogs.

Modern people in American and Western Europe are horrified when they hear of this World War II cruelly towards Russian dogs. However, it is impossible for these modern  people to even imagine what World War II was like for the Russians. Approximately 15% of the entire Russian population died in the War, when the death toll was counted not in thousands but in millions.

Russian dog sleeps in the subway.

Russian dog sleeps in the subway.

Russians had always loved dogs, and they vowed that after the war they would repay all Russian dogs with absolute freedom. Hence the rise of the Russian subway dogs.  These clever canines have learned to navigate the complex systems. They use them to avoid the cold and even to commute from the suburbs to the cities.

Soviet Soldier in World War II preparing a bomb dog

Soviet Soldier in World War II preparing a bomb dog

When the dog commuters get  to the city  the use clever tricks to get food. Dogs have learned to work in teams when they see a person get food from a street vendor. One dog will sneak up behind the person and bark loudly just as the person gets the food. The startled person usually jumps and drops the food. Then a second dog waiting in front of the person grabs the food from the street and runs off with it. The barking dog then follows the dog in front and the two meet up to share the food. If only humans could work with such precision teamwork.

Soviet combat soldier in World War II with his dog.

Soviet combat soldier in World War II with his dog.

So if you are ever in a Moscow subway, don’t be surprised if a dog climbs up onto the seat next to you like it owns the place. Remember that Russian dogs shed blood to earn their seats on the subway. The Russian people have not forgotten.

Russians used dogs to attack German tanks in World War II

Russians used dogs to attack German tanks in World War II

Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) – The Dutch Racist Christmas Tradition

This time of year, white Dutch men in blackface parade around the streets of The Netherlands in a Christmas tradition that the Dutch insist is not racist. The men are portraying Zwarte Piet, who is the loyal servant of Sinterklaas, the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus. These parades have existed for more than 150 years and the Dutch are very proud of them.

Sinterklaas & men dressed as Zwarte Piet

Sinterklaas & men dressed as Zwarte Piet

Tradition has it that Zwarte Piet was a valued and well-paid servant (not a slave) of Sinterklaas. In fact, Zwarte Piet is often portrayed as being far more intelligent than the absent minded Sinterklaas. Zwarte Piet was a Moor, which is why the Dutch wear blackface. Zwarte Piet is not considered an object of ridicule but a hero. In legend, he once gave gold coins to poor young women so that they would not have to sell themselves as prostitutes to survive. Zwarte Piet is also the enforcer for Sinterklaas. He gives good children candy and presents, but hits the bad ones with a broom. This is why in some parades, Zwarte Piet is seen carrying a broom.

Young Dutch women protesting Zwarte Piet

Young Dutch women protesting Zwarte Piet

The problem is that the Dutch simply don’t understand how racist it looks to the rest of the world to have white men dancing around the streets in blackface. The Dutch are a very logical society and their rationale is that Black Pete cannot possibly be racist since the Dutch did not intend for him to be a racist symbol. The Dutch will further explain that Zwarte Piet is in fact a hero, and the men in blackface are actually praising this ancient Moor.

Some Dutch have begun reducing the amount of blackface on Zwarte Piet

Some Dutch have begun reducing the amount of blackface on Zwarte Piet

However, as the economy has become more global, many people of African ancestry have moved to The Netherlands due to its welcoming business climate. People of African ancestry are shocked and offended by Zwarte Piet, and are frustrated that the white Dutch people just don’t understand the problem. The fact that Zwarte Piet appears dressed as a clown makes him seem even more of an object of ridicule. In  fact, Zwarte Piet is actually dressed in the traditional outfit of a servant to a wealthy noble.

Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer in 1927" Jolson never considered himself racist.

Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer” in 1927. Jolson never considered himself racist.

Protests have erupted in The Netherlands this year over Zwarte Piet. However, over 90% of the Dutch do not consider Zwarte Piet a racist symbol and do not see what all the fuss is about. In some parades, Zwarte Piet performers have tried to reduce the tension by wearing less blackface makeup. They somehow feel that a Brown Pete might be less offensive than a Black Pete. However, this was like throwing gasoline on  a fire.

White Americans in modern day using blackface to post a mock lynching on-line

White Americans in modern day using blackface to post a mock lynching on-line

The Zwarte Piet controversy in The Netherlands is a perfect example of two groups talking past each other instead of with each other. For an outsider, the solution to the problem seems very simple. Have Zwarte Piet played by someone of African ancestry. If no one is available for the parade, then have a white actor play Piet, without blackface. The protesters are not objecting to the legend of Zwarte Piet. What they are objecting to is modern-day White Men wearing blackface.

The use of blackface in America has such horrible historic connotations that blackface anywhere in the world is considered an open declaration of racist intent. The Dutch argue that this is not fair for them to have to change their tradition due to American racism.

As protesters have said “Racisme is Niet Gezelligheid” Roughly translated this means “Racism is not harmony”. Gezelligheid (harmony or coziness) is the highest goal of the people of the Netherlands. It is what every Dutch family, company and the society as a whole strive for. If the Dutch want to acheive true Gezelligheid then it is time to put the blackface makeup away forever.

Annoying Women Who Harm The Careers of All Women

 There are certain types of women who hurt the career-advancement chances for all the other women. Let’s face it, women have enough challenges at work without being sabotaged from within their own ranks.  Here is a list of the worst offenders

The Crier – also known as the Damsel in Distress This is the woman who breaks down and cries hysterically at work when under pressure. We are not talking about someone who has had  an actual breakdown. No, this is the woman who deliberately turns on the fake waterworks as a tactic to avoid doing any difficult assignments. This tactic is much less common than it used to be since it only works if the woman’s boss is a man. Usually a man that finds her physically attractive and who can’t resist rushing in to save the “damsel in distress” by doing her work for her. A female boss, on the other hand, will not put up with a crier, and the crier may soon find herself as an unemployed damsel in distress.

The Damsel in Distress at work.

The Damsel in Distress at work.

The “Crier” hurts all working women since (even though it is totally unfair) her actions reflect badly on all the other women in the office. When The Crier turns on the tears there is always some male joker who quips “that’s why women don’t belong here”, or quotes Tom Hanks by saying “There’s no crying in baseball!”  When a male worker does something idiotic, no one ever says, “that’s why we shouldn’t hire men”.  Male workers are judged on their individual attributes. However, all the female workers are blamed for the bad behavior of any one female employee.

Men can't resist rescuing a Damsel in Distress

Men can’t resist rescuing a Damsel in Distress

The Woman Hater – This type of woman is very hard to understand, but unfortunately also very common on the workplace. She is friendly and helpful to all the men in the office, but for some unknown reason goes out of her way to sabotage the careers of any other woman she works with. She offers no help to the other women, spreads vicious rumors about them and never misses an opportunity to talk down the accomplishments of the women she works with. Somehow she considers all other women as threats that need to be eliminated in order for her to thrive.  There is probably some deep-seated Freudian reason why she does this, but we have yet to figure that out.

Some women spread lies about other women in the office. Why do they do that?

Some women spread lies about other women in the office. Why do they do that?

The World’s Only Mother – This is the first- time mother who suddenly acts like she is the only working woman in the world ever to have a baby. She wants to get special privileges, time off and working conditions that are totally beyond the company’s standard policies or legal requirements. By the way, she showed absolutely zero interest in the company’s maternity policies when other women in the office were pregnant. No, she wants special rules just for her. The most well know and outrageous example of this was Marissa Mayer.  She was a new mother when she became head of Yahoo, and had a special nursery room built next to her executive office so that she could bring her baby to work every day. Marissa Mayer did that at the same time she banned all Yahoo employees from doing any work remotely.

Marissa Mayer bringing her baby to work at Yahoo.

Marissa Mayer bringing her baby to work at Yahoo.

This new policy was a slap in the face to all the low and mid-level working mothers who relied on sometimes working remotely so that they could take care of a sick child.  Working remotely had allowed Yahoo employees to  work if a baby sitter did not show up or if the day care center unexpectedly closed. Those lower lever Yahoo women did not get private nurseries next to their cubicles. They had to choose between taking care of their kids, or missing a day’s pay.

Marissa Mayer's private nursery.

Marissa Mayer’s private nursery.

Yahoo was acquired by Verizon in 2017.  Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was ousted, but got a severance package of approximately $260 million. And all the other working moms who used to work for Yahoo? We are sure that Marissa will share her severance pay with them any day now. Any day.  Of course, the issue of top executives getting golden parachutes while the lower ranks get no severance is not unique to women.  However, the burden of childcare does still fall disproportionately on working women.  It only makes matters worse when the women who achieve the  top ranks ignore the child-care needs of the women who work below them.

The Glass Ceiling still exists in America.

The Glass Ceiling still exists in America.

There has been a huge amount of reporting about how most women have still not broken through the “glass ceiling”. For that ceiling to be shattered forever is going to take a group effort, and the realization that certain types of selfish behavior by some women  hurt all women.

Invisible Murder – a fascinating Danish Crime Novel

Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis is a novel of crime, terrorism and racism in modern Denmark.  Most people do not think of Denmark as a hotbed of crime. However, beneath the surface of safe and polite Danish society are the problems of mass immigration, right-wing nationalists, and terrorist infiltrators.

Invisible Murder, a Danish crime novel.

Invisible Murder, a Danish crime novel.

The  plot begins in Hungary, where Sandor, a young Roma (Gypsy) man is working hard at his studies to become a lawyer. Despite doing brilliantly on his oral exam, his professor fails him. The professor makes it quite clear that the Roma are not welcome in Hungary in any profession.  Sandor is forced to leave law school and return to the Roma slum he came from, only to discover that his younger brother Tamas has stupidly gotten involved with Roma mobsters while Sandor was in law school.

Roma people protesting against discrimination

Roma people protesting against discrimination

The mobsters had sent Tamas to Denmark on an illegal assignment and have not heard from him since. The mobsters tell Sandor that he must go to Denmark to finish the mission, or else the mob will take revenge on Sandor’s mother and sister. The more Sandor learns, the more he suspects that his brother’s “mission” is to sell terrorists a powerful weapon to use in Denmark.

Agnete Friis & Lene Kaaberbol, authors of "Invisible Murder"

Agnete Friis & Lene Kaaberbol, authors of “Invisible Murder”

Lene Kaaberbol and Agnente Friis are masterful story tellers. You don’t need any pre-knowledge of Denmark’s society or political events to follow the plot and enjoy the action. Invisible Murder shows what happens when a little country finds itself unwillingly at the crossroads of opposing and sometimes violent ideologies. The Danish police are professional, efficient and need to be multilingual just to keep up with the various groups they must monitor and protect.

Beautiful Denmark, the location of "Invisible Murder".

Beautiful Denmark, the location of “Invisible Murder”.

In the middle of all this are the Roma people, who for centuries have been outcasts throughout Europe as they travel on the outskirts of society. Sandor finds himself very much in the middle. Police are always suspicious of him because he is Roma. At the same time, because of his education and way of speaking he is not trusted as a “real Roma” by his own people.  He wants to save his brother, but at the same time prevent mass destruction in Denmark. This is an almost impossible task.

Tiny Denmark surrounded by more powerful neighbors

Tiny Denmark surrounded by more powerful neighbors

Invisible Murder is an exciting read. A modern mystery novel with an international twist.

Alone in Berlin – 2 Old Germans Who Stood Up To Hitler

Alone in Berlin is the true story of middle-aged couple Anna (Emma Thompson) and Otto (Brendan Gleeson) who tried to oppose Adolf Hitler. In was an incredible act of bravery in Nazi Germany, but Anna and Otto felt they had nothing left  to lose, since their only son had already been killed in combat.

Brendan Gleeson & Emma Thompson in "Alone in Berlin"

Brendan Gleeson & Emma Thompson in “Alone in Berlin”

It is hard for us in the modern era to understand how difficult it was to oppose Hitler within Germany. There was no free press, no cellphones and no internet on which to post anonymous comments against the government. The couple hand-wrote postcards critical of Hitler and the government and secretly left them in public buildings where people could find and read them.

Adolf Hitler at the height of his power.

Adolf Hitler at the height of his power.

When the postcards began to show up, Germans who found them were petrified. They knew it was dangerous even to read something like this. People who found the cards were afraid that the police had placed the cards as a trap to test German’s loyalty. Distributing anything critical of Hitler was considered treason and was a death penalty offense.

Daniel Bruhl in "Alone in Berlin".

Daniel Bruhl in “Alone in Berlin”.

However, Otto and Anna were relentless and soon had placed more than 100 cards throughout Berlin. When people began turning the cards into the police, the SS Officers and high ranking Police officials were furious. They needed to catch the anti-Hitler writers and punish them as an example to other dissenters.

Postcard placed by Otto & Elise Hampel

Postcard placed by Otto & Elise Hampel

Police Inspector Escherich (Daniel Bruhl) thinks it will be easy to catch these traitors, but they are far cleverer than he imagines. There are no fingerprints on the postcards, no witnesses, and no clear pattern of where they are distributed. What he does not know is that Anna and Otto are hiding in plain sight. No one really pays attention to an ordinary looking middle-aged couple. The Police and SS did not have  that profile in mind when they think of a resistance fighter.

Otto & Elise Hampel - true German Heros

Otto & Elise Hampel – true German Heroes

Anna and Otto know their small gesture cannot stop Hitler. However, Otto is a master machinist and he likens their post cards to putting sand in the German war machine. He says that a little sand will not destroy the gears of a machine. However, if the movement catches on, more and more people will throw sand in the gears, and perhaps the terror of the Nazis will grind to a halt.

Hans Fallada - author of the book Alone in Berlin

Hans Fallada – author of the book Alone in Berlin

The Film Alone in Berlin is from the novel by Hans Fallada. The real people were named Otto and Elise Hampel, and they actually did place cards around Berlin just as in the movie.

Berlin at the end of World War II

Berlin at the end of World War II

Of course, we all know that Hitler was not stopped by resistance from within.  However, the bravery of the Hampels can still be admired all these decades later. We also know from history that there were many thousands of Germans who hated Hitler but who were simply too afraid to say anything, much less take any action. Alone in Berlin is the story of two  old people who showed true bravery in the face of absolute evil.

My Dinner With Herve – The last interview with Herve Villechaize

The HBO Original movie My Dinner With Herve, stars Peter Dinklage as Herve Villechaize, the French actor best know for his role as Tattoo on Fantasy Island. The dinner takes place shortly before Herve’s suicide, as Herve attempts to reveal the truth about of his life.

Jamie Dornan & Peter Dinklage in "My Dinner With Herve"

Jamie Dornan & Peter Dinklage in “My Dinner With Herve”

Herve is being interviewed by Danny Tate, (Jamie Dornan), an Irish journalist who was told to write a short funny piece basically ridiculing Herve Villechaize. However, Herve is having none of that. Herve knows the world treats him as a joke. Herve decides to take control of the interview himself and give the journalist the story of a lifetime.

My Dinner With Herve takes us on a wild ride through the sad and tumultuous life of Herve Villechaize. Throughout the movie, we are never quite sure exactly what parts of the story are true and which are myths created by Herve himself. The movie is based on the actual wild evening Herve spent with Sacha Gervasi, who wrote and directed  My Dinner With Herve.

Herve Villechaize & Sacha Gervasi on a wild night out

Herve Villechaize & Sacha Gervasi on a wild night out

Herve decides to open up to this particular journalist since he recognizes a kindred spirit. Danny Tate is a recovering alcoholic who is at a low point in his own personal life and career. The only reason he was assigned to interview Herve is because none of the other reporters wanted to waste their time with such as has-been.

Herve Villechaize as Nick Nack in The Man With The Golden Gun

Herve Villechaize as Nick Nack in The Man With The Golden Gun

Herve Villechaize came from a wealthy French family.  His mother always was ashamed that Herve was a dwarf, and never showed any kind of love.  Herve’s father was a doctor, who kept trying to cure Herve’s dwarfism. While Herve just wanted to spend time and play with his dad, the father was constantly subjecting Herve to experimental and painful quack medical treatments.

Peter Dinklage & Andy Garcia in "My Dinner With Herve"

Peter Dinklage & Andy Garcia in “My Dinner With Herve”

How exactly Herve became a star is still a mystery. In My Dinner With Herve, he simply shows up in Hollywood, threatens talent agent Marty Rothstein (David Strathaim) with a knife, and thereby gets himself a top agent. Of course, this is a myth made up by Herve himself.

Herve Villechaize’s rise and fall was chronicled in the tabloids. Herve was cast as Nick Nack in the James Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun, and overnight he became world-famous. However, the money did not last long. His whole life, Herve was a womanizer and spent money like water. He was down t his last penny when he was cast on Fantasy Island, at a salary of $35,000 per week. Unfortunately, Herve’s own self destructive behavior ruined it all.  Drinking, wild parties, a marriage and a divorce, and temper tantrums on the set. Like many other Hollywood stars before and since, Herve Villechaize threw it all away.

My Dinner With Herve, takes place many years after Herve’s tabloid heyday, yet he is still trying to come to grips with the mistakes of his past. The acting and casting in My Dinner With Herve are wonderful. Every part is played to perfection.  Jamie Dornan brings a wonderful complexity to the role of Danny Tate.  Danny comes to realize how hypocritical it is for him to criticize celebrities in his articles, while his own personal life is such a complete mess. Andy Garcia becomes Ricardo Montalban in looks an mannerisms to the point where it seems like Ricardo Montalban was somehow reincarnated for the movie.

Of course , New Jersey native Peter Dinklage is perfect has Herve. We had the pleasure of seeing Peter Dinklage in person in Basking Ridge New Jersey when he helped his mother and brother raise money for the Somerset Hills Chorus. Peter Dinklage brings a powerful presence to any role he is in. My Dinner with Herve is one of his best performances.

When Men Wore Business Suits to Cut the Grass

When I was a boy in Stamford Connecticut, it was common to see old men mowing their lawns and doing other outdoor work, while wearing tattered business suits, white dress shirts and black wing-tipped business shoes. These men had grown up during the Great Depression, and to them wasting anything was considered an actual sin.

Adults wore old suits and white shirts to work in the yard. Kids could be more casual

Adults wore old suits and white shirts to work in the yard. Kids could be more casual

People dressed very formally to go to work. There was no such thing as “business casual”; not even the occasional “casual Friday.” When people’s formal business clothing got too worn and frayed to wear to work, the suits did not get thrown out. These old suits, shirts, and dress shoes, became the outfits men would wear while working in the yard, painting their house or fixing the gutters.

Even the Three Stooges wore suits and ties while working as plumbers

Even the Three Stooges wore suits and ties while working as plumbers

As children, we used to secretly laugh at these old guys toiling in the Summer Sun wearing white dress shirts, black socks and black wing tips. If it got too hot, some of the old guys would doff an old formal business hat, the kind you see in Humphrey Bogart movies.

Of course, we kids could not even imagine what the pain and hunger of the Great Depression had been like. The idea of not have enough food in America was beyond our  comprehension.

People who lived through the Great Depression never forgot the hardships

People who lived through the Great Depression never forgot the hardships

All of the old men had come out of poverty many decades before and the United States was prospering as never before. The old guys all could have afforded to simply throw out the old suits. They could afford to hire other people to mow the laws, paint houses or rake the leaves, but they did not. It was a matter of pride for people of that generation to never pay someone else to do something you could do yourself.

leftover rice became rice pudding

leftover rice became rice pudding

The women who grew up in the Great Depression had the same mindset. My Grandmother was a fantastic cook, yet she never threw anything out.  If she made rice one day, the extra rice never went in the garbage. It became rice stuffing or part of chicken and rice soup, or even rice pudding. Not a single grain was wasted.

Before the days of Business Casual"

Before the days of Business Casual”

Almost all of the Great Depression generation is gone now. Frugality has given away to conspicuous consumption. In my Grandparents day, people were taught to never show off how much money they had. In fact, to the people of that generation one of the rudest things someone could do was to ask someone else how much money they made. If you did that, the immediate response would be, “none of your business.”

As a kid, I made fun of these old folks. Now, looking back, I realize that their way of life had real value. Never wasting anything and never buying more than you need might be a happier way to live. The 2008 housing crash and subsequent financial crisis would not have happened if people had not bought homes that were many times more than they could actually afford. People of my Grandparents generation would never have done that. There is also real value in never showing off how much money you have and never asking anyone else about their financial situation. Living like that you learn to view people based on their core values, not their relative wealth.

The company where I work went to business casual long ago, and yet I still have a closet full of suits. Some are good enough to wear out to dinner or parties. Quite a few are rather worn and tattered but I have never gotten around to throwing them out.  I just can’t put the old suits in the garbage without thinking about how upset that would have made my Grandparents. This time of year, my yard is full of sticks and leaves that need raking. It seems to me that one of my old suits would be the perfect outfit for that. Perhaps with a pair of worn-out black leather shoes.

Kidding – if Mister Rogers was on the edge of insanity.

In Showtime’s Kidding, Jim Carrey plays “Mr. Pickles”, who is exactly like Mister Rogers except that Mister Pickles is on the verge of a complete mental breakdown. Kidding is a wonderful series, and explores what it is like to try to be a truly good person in a violent and unfair world.

Danny Trejo & Jim Carrey in "KIdding"

Danny Trejo & Jim Carrey in “KIdding”

For a long time life was perfect for Jeff Piccirillo (Mr. Pickles). He had a children’s show loved by the world. He and his beautiful wife Jill (Judy Greer) had twin sons. Then the unthinkable happens. A stoplight malfunctions. His wife and children are in a horrific car accident and one of the boys is killed.

Catherine Keener & Frank Langella in "Kidding"

Catherine Keener & Frank Langella in “Kidding”

How does a family recover from that? In the real world, many families never recover. Jeff and his wife separate, and the remaining child, William (Cole Allen), begins acting out in school and hanging around with older troublemakers.

Judy Greer, Jim Carrey & Catherine Keener at the premier of "Kidding"

Judy Greer, Jim Carrey & Catherine Keener at the premier of “Kidding”

While all this is going on, Jeff must still be the happy Mr. Pickles to the world. He has to show up to work every day and sing happy songs to adoring children and parents who love him. And the truth of it all is that Jeff (Jim Carrey) actually is a good person who believes the world can be a wonderful place.

Ginger Gonzaga plays Jim Carrey's cancer-patient girlfriend in "Kidding"

Ginger Gonzaga plays Jim Carrey’s cancer-patient girlfriend in “Kidding”

Jeff wants to use his own tragedy as a learning experience for children. He does a wonderful, gentle episode talking to kids about death, but the production company won’t allow that episode on the air. The production company is controlled by Jeff’s father Sebastian (Frank Langella). Unlike the gentle Jeff, Sebastian is a nasty son of a bitch who is more interested in the money than the message.

Bernard White & Cole Allen on the set of Kidding

Bernard White & Cole Allen on the set of Kidding

Instead of trying to help his son, Sebastian wants to replace him with an animated Mr. Pickles. A cartoon character would never get depressed or try to introduce messages that would make the sponsors uncomfortable. The real Fred Rogers made sure to never commercialize Mister Rogers. Unfortunately Sebastian has turned Mr. Pickles into a money making machine, with advertisers and product tie-ins to toys and kids food.

The cast in Kidding is terrific. Judy Greer is wonderful as the wife who can no longer take being married to “America’s saint.” She no longer wants to try to be forgiving and happy all the time. She hates the driver who smashed into her car, and thinks it is not natural that Jeff tries to find “meaning” in every event.

Catherine Keener is Jeff’s sister Deirdre. She loves Jeff, but still agrees with her father that Jeff needs to be replaced. It does not help that her own personal life is a mess, with her husband Scott (Bernard White) leading a double life.

Cole Allen (William) is perfect as the troubled surviving twin son. Most shows do not know how to properly portray kids just entering their teens. Most shows either have the parts played by people in their 30s, or else the lines are like nothing a real kid would say. Kids and teenagers don’t handle tragedies the same way adults do. They tend to shut down, act out or both. Cole Allen has remarkable acting skills even at his early age.

Ginger Gonzaga is Vivian, a beautiful cancer patient who Jeff befriends while he is touring a hospital as Mr. Pickles. The two quickly become passionate lovers, but others question if the relationship is healthy. Has Jeff really fallen in love or has he purposely chosen a woman who he knows will not be on this Earth for very long? Is Jeff so afraid of losing another loved one that he went out of his way to pick someone who he knew ahead of time he is going to lose?  Vivian herself is aware of this situation and questions the relationship. However, she and Jeff are kindred spirits who can show each other their deepest fears and emotions.

Kidding is a wonderful show. It is a dark comedy without ever getting too dark or too silly. Jim Carrey plays Jeff as complex and conflicted individual who we want good things to happen to.

  • We give Kidding 4 Stars **** The only reason we did not give it our highest rating of 5 stars is that it has a couple of raunchy sex scenes that the series would be better off without. Some of the gay sex jokes are a little much and don’t really fit with the tone of the rest of the show.
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4 Movies Trump Needs to See To Make him a Better Person

There are 4 movies that Donald Trump needs to watch, in order to make him a more knowledgeable and compassionate human being.

Lincoln – This film stars Danial Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, and chronicles Lincoln’s  fight to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in The United States. Lincoln’s great fear was that even after the Civil War ended slavery would continue in the Southern States and that former slaves who had escaped to the North would have to be returned to slavery. Three years after Lincoln’s assassination, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, which made all people born in the United States citizens. This was required so that former slaves would not exist in a netherworld where they were called “free”but did not have the rights of citizens.  It is this Fourteenth Amendment that Trump erroneously believes he can eliminate with the stroke of a pen. Trump still does not understand The Constitution and seems to think he was elected King rather than President.

Abraham Lincoln was afraid slavery would continue even after the Civil War

Abraham Lincoln was afraid slavery would continue even after the Civil War

The movie Lincoln shows that it was the Republican Party which pushed for the freedom of slaves and the rights for dignity of all people. It is sad and painful that this compassionate Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln has now degenerated into a grotesque mob of haters that welcomes gun-toting, bomb throwing Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists.

Russell Crowe & Jennifer Connelly in "A Beautiful Mind"

Russell Crowe & Jennifer Connelly in “A Beautiful Mind”

A Beautiful Mind stars Russell Crowe as John Nash, Princeton’s mathematical genius.  Nash proved mathematically  that the best solutions to conflicts are ones where all sides do what is best for the group as a whole. This solution also ends up being the best solution for each individual participant. Trump continues to approach every negotiation with the long-ago reputed Zero Sum Theory. Trump believes that the only way the United States can get anything worthwhile is to take it from someone else. This has led to the disastrous policy of ever increasing tariffs, which simply raises prices and destroys wealth in The United States and throughout the world.

Larry Hagman & Henry Fonda in "Fail Safe"

Larry Hagman & Henry Fonda in “Fail Safe”

Fail Safe –is a film about nuclear war starring Henry Fonda and Larry Hagman. Donald Trump has often threatened to launch nuclear weapons, completely ignoring the hundreds of thousands of people who would die as a result. Trump also seems to think there would be zero risk to Americans if he were to attack another country with nuclear weapons. In Fail Safe, a glitch in a computer circuit erroneously sends a coded message to American B52 bombers telling them to drop nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union. There is a desperate scramble to try to prevent the attack. The Soviet Union vows immediate retaliatory strikes. Mr. Trump should learn from Fail Safe that there no such thing as playing with nuclear weapons. A nuclear strike is not a lawsuit against a business rival (for which Donald Trump is famous). Killing hundreds of thousands with the most destructive weapons ever devised is not a game. Once the nuclear bombs begin there is no way to predict when they will stop.

Max von Sydow in "Voyage of the Damned"

Max von Sydow in “Voyage of the Damned”

Voyage of the Dammed is based on the 1939 voyage of the MS St. Louis ocean liner which was taking Jews out of Nazi Germany. When the world was criticizing the Nazi treatment of Jews in Germany, Hitler played a clever political game. Hitler authorized 937 Jews to leave Germany on the MS St. Louis. The problem was that other countries did not want these refugees. The ocean liner went to Cuba but was denied entry. The ship  then turned to the United States hoping for sanctuary. Instead of helping the fleeing Jews,  America sent out destroyers to meet the ship and threatened to sink the MS St. Louis if it tried to enter American waters. Hitler loved this. It validated the Nazi view that Jews were a “problem people” that no one wanted. The MS St. Louis had to wander around the Atlantic until finally The United Kingdom, Belgium and France agreed to each take a portion of the Jewish refugees. About 400 ended up in The United Kingdom. Of the remaining 537 who went to France, Belgium and The Netherlands, most were rounded up and sent to concentration camps when Germany later invaded those countries. Many of the people died in the camps. All would have survived if The United States had welcomed these pour souls instead of chasing them away with destroyers. Today Donald Trump is sending armed troops to chase away desperate people fleeing persecution in Guatemala and other countries. These woman and children will be no match for U.S. soldier’s guns. But when they are turned back is it really a proud day for America? Are we proud the United States sent the Jews of the MS St. Louis back to concentration camps?

Maybe if Donald Trump watches these it will give him a little historical perspective on how Presidential power should be used.  We don’t think so, but in these desperate times, anything is worth a try.