Author: Jeff Hicks

Being a Second in a First-Rate Series

“Wild” Hammer Work

Ten years ago, Beau Stephenson invited me to work on-set as a paid second for the Discovery Channel documentary series, Gold Fever. The documentary was a look at the historic California gold rush and some of the people involved. It was a rough-and-tumble time in U.S. history. I had never worked on a movie set, so everything was new and intriguing. It didn’t take long, however, to figure out how things worked, who was in charge, and how to get into scenes. And it didn’t take long to decide I really liked being in front of the camera.

I was cast as a hard-case, stinkweed dam builder. My job was to look mean, worn-out, and hungry for gold. I was to pound nails on a huge wooden dam, carry lumber, dig for gold, run a sluice, fight in a small army, and look tough. It wasn’t that hard; not much different than growing up in Idaho digging post holes, fixing fence, picking rocks, milking cows, fighting with my brother, bucking hay bales, and anything else dad told me to do, or else! Being in the movies is fun business. Here’s how it went for me.

After taking care of all the HR preliminaries, I went into the dressing area, got into my ‘work clothes,’ then went over to make-up – another first sitting in the chair and getting – well, made-up! I walked out of there looking like a grime-ridden 1800’s western laborer who needed a bath. I grabbed a bite to eat in the food tent, then boarded a bus and rode out to the set along with all the other rough-looking characters cast for the show.

The set was located along a river, west of Brigham City, Utah, USA, out in the middle of nowhere. It looked typical to me, with a few campers dotting the landscape, a big wooden dam in the distance, some old camping tents, and a bunch of props. The huge cameras set up nearby looked completely out of place. I asked a question I’m sure some others were wondering. “Can I pull out my phone and take pictures?” The guy in charge said, “Sure! I don’t care, as long as it’s not on camera!”

“Cool!” I mumbled under my breath.

My first scene was to hoist a couple boards on my shoulder and walk them over to the dam and hand them up to a worker at the top. On the signal, I did what I was told and tried to act natural as I made my way along, trying not to trip, stumble, or fall. Once the scene was over, I thought, “Hmmm, not bad. I think I can do this ‘acting’ stuff.

The director said, “Good job, man. You looked good! Just don’t talk! You’re not getting paid to talk!”

“Okay,” I thought. I’ll be a mute dam builder.

It doesn’t take long to figure out how things are done on the set to make scenes look, sound, and feel authentic and real. For our purposes, there were smoke machines and filters to make everything the camera saw look old. I also took note of the angles, background, foreground, and all other elements present. It was fun and easy. The small talk and camaraderie of the rest of the actors in the cast was fun and a bit entertaining. There was a lot of downtime between scenes when we ate, relaxed, snoozed, and joked around with each other.

One time, an assistant director came over and asked if I and some other guys would be in some B-reel he was shooting. “Absolutely, man!” We walked out and waited for him to instruct us where to be and what to do. This AD was kind of a smart-aleck who had pissed me off earlier when he got lippy over something somebody said or did. I could tell he was trying to impress his boss – bullying his way up the company ladder. It was in my blood to even the score – I could hear my ancient Hicks ancestors who fought oppression hundreds of years before calling for me to act!

I got my assignment, which was to swing a hammer and pound nails into the dam. I got a few nails started. Then when the camera began to roll, I swung my hammer as hard as I could, then let up just as the hammer head hit the nail. I figured the herky-jerky movement of my arm swinging wildly would cause the AD to blow a head fuse. I could passively get even with him for being a jerk earlier. He did go a bit nuts over what I was doing, but he didn’t re-shoot! Funny thing was, the film editor put a full shot of me being an idiot in the movie, and it actually looked awesome on screen!

The few days I worked on that set were fun and memorable. For sure, the most satisfying part of working on a movie is seeing the final product. Being on TV is cool and a bit surprising. It’s interesting to view the scenes, remember the exact moment when the camera was rolling, and then observe what the camera saw.

If you’re sitting around wondering what to do, go on Amazon and buy the movie, Gold Fever. It’s a good flick, is well-done, entertaining, and covers an interesting if not dangerous part of U.S. history. Check it out.  

The Art of Life: Take Me Back to Salmon

Good Times (Salmon, Idaho)

As a writer, I think in terms of words, phrases, and scripts. I love dialogue – the sharing of words between people. A lot can be learned from what is said or not said. I’ve always argued that a well-written scene is better than any photo. Arguably, however, a well-written scene and an accompanying photo will always hit a home-run in the literary sense.

I’ve done a lot of writing over the years. My first story was a four-page third-person narrative about an Indian boy named Two Wolves. I wrote it in Mrs. Hoffman’s fourth-grade class for a journaling assignment. The story, in my mind, was worthy of awards. None came – only recess. But my foray into storytelling had begun, and I couldn’t stop the flow of ideas and words.

I suppose like most writers, I carry four or five – sometimes more – plot lines around in my mind. As often as possible, I scribble a few notes about the plot so I can easily recall them later. Most of these plots involve protagonists doing heroic things – saving people, looking out for the underdogs, winning the hearts of their true loves. Some are even revenge stories where the good guy wins, either with fists or wit or both.  

But sometimes the plots involve people similar to the way I existentially view myself – just ordinary people doing ordinary things, but with passion! What I call the “art of life.” These simple but profound plots include basking in sunsets, walking beaches, story times with kids, contemplating the future, exploring abandoned places, and being in love – real, true love.

I also love nostalgia. I like all things ‘old.’ Old mines, old cabins, old houses sitting on a hill, old, gnarly trees, old people with a story to tell. I love sitting around telling stories about the good ol’ days. Of course, the good ol’ days are different for everyone. But I think every person thinks their version of those days are the greatest in some way. I grew up in the 1960s and 70s. I left home in 1982 after graduating from high school and never looked back – only in memories. And those memories are special.

About twenty years ago, I was visiting my hometown, Salmon, Idaho. It was a family outing with my kids. We jumped off the bridge into the river after rafting and tubing our favorite section – from the Shoup Bridge to the Island Park. Like every visit, my kids tried their best to talk me into moving the family to Salmon. I guess they wanted what I had growing up. It’s really what every kid deserves.

During that visit, I had some words pop into mind. After a few minutes of playing with and arranging those words, I came up with this simple, five-stanza poem about the Salmon River. It speaks to what I was feeling at that moment and perhaps since. Perhaps we will all eventually return to our roots and reclaim in some intrinsic way what was once ours.

Mother River

Peering out from my vantage on the shore,
The cool breeze cradled my nostalgic soul.
Inner weeping for buried memories of before,
Resulted in remembrance of my youthful goals.

That ole meandering, rolling, raging flow,
Traveling onward – flowing onward to the sea,
Cloaked at times ‘midst the fog’s heavy glow,
Keeps rhythm, a cadence to Nature’s simplicity.

Fertile banks guide those anxious currents.
Adorned lush in spring, barren in fall,
She’s mothered her hungry brood with opulence,
Nurturing Nature’s balance, her greatest call.

‘Twas my river, my home, I dwelt here long ago!
Sharing claim with others, our sentiments the same,
We tread her banks as children. Running to and fro,
All basked in her beauty and wild torrents of fame.

Gone are those moments of mirth and swank regaling,
Of each new day – loving life near my river’s banks.
But the memories! The gist of nostalgia’s lonely hailing,
Cause my soul to weep with joy and give God thanks.  

Goodbye to Shopping Malls

“It was all the way back in 2000 that the website deadmalls.com began documenting moribund shopping centers throughout the United States, and the crisis in retail has only intensified since. Credit Suisse estimates that by 2022, one in four of the nation’s remaining malls will have closed. Some will be repurposed — as housing, satellite college campuses, medical centers, megachurches. Others will simply fall into glorious ruin.

Images of abandoned spaces are hugely popular on the internet – a Reddit forum called Abandoned Porn has more than 640,000 followers – but it’s the dead-mall tour that, in my opinion, represents the apogee of the genre. No other category offers the spectacle of modern ruin at such horrifying scale: the scars of familiar logos on storefronts, the desiccated planters, the sheer volume of emptiness and waste. No other building displays the capriciousness of human desire with such brutal rigor – a once-beloved edifice that, in the span of a few years, has become so worthless no one even cares enough to tear it down. (New York Times Magazine)

Analysis: In 1978, I worked at the University Mall, a sprawling edifice full of pricey stores, restaurants, and trendy kiosks. The mall was a hangout; it was a place to meet friends, window shop, and just walk around. Most teens in those days wore their best selves to the mall – a flashy image was paramount. College students, young parents, and the middle-aged all had a reason to be there, too, and it wasn’t always to buy stuff.

More than forty years later, the culture has changed. Malls have lost their allure. The internet and ‘influencers’ have stepped in. Amazon has everything those ‘mall groupies’ used to buy. And Amazon doesn’t require its shoppers to dress up and hang-out downtown! And whatever you buy from Amazon is sitting on your doorstep the next day. Times have changed and with those changes have come a new paradigm in socializing and buying. Who wants to take the time to walk the mall anymore? Nobody.

A brick-and-mortar retail outlet has a defined amount of space to display its wares. Each square foot of floor space in a store must produce x-number of dollars to stay in business. Talk to any store owner or manager and they can likely tell you exactly how much each section of their store produces in sales. If the store sells clothing, you can bet that each section is specifically structured to maximize sales – marketers and merchandizers will make sure of it. If a section is not producing enough sales, it will be restructured or moved out and replaced with one that will.

Malls, in their heyday, capitalized on that perfect mix of being an attractive social hub and stocking an abundance of overpriced merchandise. The schtick was the location and its social significance. “Where did you buy that dress? It’s so nice!”

“Oh, I got it at Macy’s – AT THE MALL. I was hanging out with Gloria!”

Those ancient conversations have been replaced with, “Cool pants! Where did you get em?”

“Oh yeah; check out all the new stuff on Mariano’s Instagram. Better hurry up; they’re selling fast…!”

The one thing that is and always has been consistent in our human lives is change. People are faddish. Malls are nothing more than a fad. Once popular and the place to be with your friends – a place to buy stuff and brag about where you got it – malls are finished. We’re moving on, folks.     

Said-It: People Lifting People Becomes Perpetual Motion

Business Woman Media

The cheerleading squad at Shoreline Junior High took two official team portraits this year. The first photo included Morgyn Arnold, a 14-year-old student with Down syndrome who’d been working as the cheer team manager and knew all the routines by heart. The second photo included all the other girls, but was taken without Arnold, who was noticeably missing from her spot in the front row.

And it was that second picture without her that the school used on social media and in the yearbook. Jordyn Poll, Arnold’s older sister, said Arnold was heartbroken when she flipped through the pages and saw she wasn’t included with the rest of her teammates. Her name wasn’t even mentioned. Poll believes the decision was made because of Arnold’s disability. The Salt Lake Tribune (Courtney Tanner)

Last Saturday, Assistant Attorney General Steven A. Wuthric said he was woken up from a nap by City Council member Darin Mano, who was knocking on doors in a neighborhood as part of his campaign to be elected to the Salt Lake City Council.

Wuthrich then sent an email to Mano filled with expletives and hateful language. Wuthrich issued a statement apologizing on Tuesday for the email sent to Mano… ABC4 News (Craig Proffer)

Analysis: The last week or so has been a difficult time for some people in the state of Utah (USA) to present their best selves. I’ve always been fascinated, if not saddened, by the extent some humans stretch to do horrible things with which they are ashamed of later. And I’ll include myself in that group. Certainly, if given the proper environment and circumstances and say, maybe the ability to think things through to their logical conclusion, most people would likely choose not to do those mean, vengeful, hateful things. I’m thinking this would especially be the case if they knew their behavior was going to be published in the news.

Invariably, people get it wrong in so many instances. Life really does get in the way and perfect storms are created – the results of which can be horribly agonizing – and to others, hurtful. Lack of sleep, hunger, anger and frustration, worry, and stress all contribute to people being ornery to other people. What would cause someone to decide to intentionally leave out a ‘special needs’ girl – a member of the team – in a yearbook team picture? Why would a prominent leader in a community intentionally send an excoriating, vulgar email to another prominent member of the community?

But good can and often does result from these types of situations. People changing – individuals transforming, with a renewal of goodness within themselves – is miraculous. These two situations that happened in Utah should be a wake-up call to all of us. We can all learn something from these reports. A little kindness, a little understanding, a little compassion, a little love goes a long way in our relationships with others. The essence of our existence lies in our relationships with our fellow humans. Let’s not screw it up. But when we do have lapses in judgement, perhaps we can quickly and sincerely apologize and make it right. People lifting people becomes perpetual motion.      

When the American Dream is Unattainable

The United States averted the most dire predictions about what the pandemic would do to the housing market. An eviction wave never materialized. The share of people behind on mortgages, after falling steadily for months, recently hit its pre-pandemic level.

But a comprehensive report on housing conditions over the past year makes clear that while one crisis is passing, another is growing much worse.

Like the broader economy, the housing market is split on divergent tracks, according to the annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report released on Wednesday by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. While one group of households is rushing to buy homes with savings built during the pandemic, another is being locked out of ownership as prices march upward — and those who bore the brunt of pandemic job losses remain saddled with debt and in danger of losing their homes. The New York Times (By Conor Dougherty and Glenn Thrush)

Analysis: So, what happens when you work two jobs and still can’t afford to own or even rent a home? That seems to be the problem right now in the U.S. housing market. Some people are simply priced right out of the market. And that’s a problem. How can the “American Dream” take shape in people’s lives if they can’t even have a place of their own? Or was the American Dream an illusion all along?

Problem is, in a recession, things turn upside down and prices on normal, everyday things get weird. A recession was predicted; we knew it was coming. You can’t send people home and shut down factories, shops, and businesses without some fallout. Even with the government subsidies to hold things in place, we’re seeing the results of economic shutdown and subsequent start-up. Supply and demand usually keep things balanced, but it takes time for the system to work. If supply is short and demand is high, prices will invariably shoot up.

Problem is wages and salaries have not kept pace with the pricing index on goods and services. Inflation wreaks havoc on people’s bank accounts. And a suitable place to live in a suitable price range is simply not possible for some people – a lot of people – when that happens. That’s where we’re at right now in the United States; it’s the same problem in other developed nations, too. Look for the problem to get worse, much worse, before it gets better.

Biden and Putin to Meet

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have arrived on Wednesday at the lush lakeside Swiss mansion for their highly anticipated summit, a moment of consequential diplomacy at a time when both leaders agree that relations between their countries are at an all-time low.

The two leaders shook hands while appearing briefly before cameras with Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to Switzerland, and then entered the mansion for what is expected to be four or five hours of talks.

For months, they have traded sharp rhetoric. Biden has repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on U.S. interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Russia’s foremost opposition leader, and interference in American elections.

Putin, for his part, has reacted with whatabout-isms and obfuscations — pointing to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to argue that the United States has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government hasn’t been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite U.S. intelligence showing otherwise. AP News (By Aamer Madhani, Jonathan Lemire and Vladimir Isachenkov

Analysis: Joe and Vladimir have a lot to talk about. Not much will be resolved in this four-to-five hour chat session, but the ice will be broken and the two world leaders, as far as anyone knows, will have talked things over and addressed the issues. And that’s a big deal when it comes to mediating national differences. I can tell you, in all my graduate-level studies in conflict resolution, one thing was clear, the initial hurdle in mediation is getting the combatants to the table.

The January 6 insurrection in the United States erased over 220 years of its democratic superiority on the global stage. We knocked ourselves off the pedestal and with it, the ability to lead by example. Now we’re just like everyone else and people know it! So, Putin is right, the United States has no business lecturing anyone about democratic norms.

Games of semantics take place in these discussions. Putin has been saying for months that his government is not involved in cyberattacks or election interference. He’s right; the cyberattacks and interference were orchestrated by an outside group chosen and supported by the Russian government, but not the government itself. Gotta maintain that level of deniability! It’s the first thing they teach you in ‘global leadership’ classes!

Nothing will be resolved in this summit discussion. But it’s good to see some face-to-face action by the two leaders. Despite losing its position on the democratic highroad, the United States’ influence regarding freedom and democracy on the world stage is still pervasive. Joe Biden is doing a decent job restoring what was lost with the last guy. Putin knows there’s a new sheriff in town.

Meet the New Boss; NOT Same as the Old Boss!

Naftali Bennett (LA Times)

A day after they gained the confidence of the Knesset and were sworn into office, Monday saw the ministers of the newly confirmed government take up their roles at various ministries, where some were treated to handover ceremonies by their predecessors and others were not.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who the night before was ousted from power after 12 years in office by the incoming coalition, gave his replacement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, less than an hour — according to some reports, just half an hour — for their handover, before publicly declaring that he would swiftly bring down the new government.

The formal transfer of power ended without the traditional ceremony and public good wishes, without a handshake and with no photo-op, an indication of the animus Netanyahu harbors toward Bennett, his own one-time chief of staff. Addressing the heads of the parties, Netanyahu demanded discipline and cohesion in order to make life harder on the coalition and “rescue the people and State of Israel.” The Times of Israel

Analysis: One of the indicators of a leader’s character is the way he/she bows out when defeated. For twelve years, I’ve admired Benjamin Netanyahu for his ‘stand-up’ leadership style. He’s ran a good race; perhaps it’s time for him to move on. Unfortunately, now that he is out of office, he may be facing a trial for corruption soon. Maybe that’s one reason he seems adamant in clinging to power.

The incoming coalition will have its hands full and will need to hit the road running. With the Syrian war a continual problem next door, in addition to the problems in Gaza with Hamas and the continual situation up north dealing with Iranian-supported Hezbollah, astute leadership will be needed.

There will be compromise on some level coming in the Middle East. Iran wants and expects U.S. sanctions loosened in exchange for transparency on its nuclear programs. The resultant agreements through the Abraham Accords will be continuing. Like I’ve maintained, a major portion of that agreement turned out to be nothing more than an ‘arms-for-peace’ deal, with the F-35s thrown in to sweeten the pot. If anyone suggests there will suddenly be peace in the region because of the accords, they have more hope in the system than I do.

The age-old, two-state solution debate between Israel and the Palestinians will continue. The Palestinians will likely never agree to what’s offered by Israel; there are too many deep-rooted differences regarding Jerusalem and the West Bank. And with Bennett in control, I doubt any compromises will take place any time soon.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Sunday [Associated Press] that the Palestinian position remains “adherence to international legitimacy and the two-state solution by establishing an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.” According to the coalition, discussions regarding this issue will be tabled for the time being.      

Thank the Lord for the Press!

(Journalism)

As the Justice Department investigated who was behind leaks of classified information early in the Trump administration, it took a highly unusual step: Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides, and family members. One was a minor.

All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had been subpoenaed.

Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.

But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations. The New York Times (By Katie Benner, Nicholas Fandos, Michael S. Schmidt, and Adam Goldman)

Analysis: Government leaks are as common as snow melting in springtime. Information is power. And some things just need to see the light of day. Remember “Deep Throat?” Remember Watergate?

News papers in general and journalists specifically have a duty to sniff out a story and make sure truth gets published. The news keeps government honest, and to the point, it keeps politicians beholden to their oath to protect and defend the Constitution and represent their constituencies honorably.

Historically, authoritarians hate the press, especially a press protected by a Bill of Rights. Rights of the masses invariably hinder in one way or another an authoritarian’s hunger for more power. Every time I hear a hard-nosed journalist asking tough questions, especially to a politician, I thank the lord I live in a land that constitutionally values and protects the free press and all the privileges associated with it. On the flip side, I shudder when I hear politicians, especially the president of the United States, excoriate the press.

But things get dicey when investigations get underway. The Department of Justice has an obligation to investigate unlawful acts. Leaking classified information could compromise national security, and under the Espionage Act, if found guilty, a person who is found in violation can be sent to prison where they belong.

But what about a citizen’s rights to privacy? At what point do government investigators, given carte blanche authority to subpoena and view private records, overstep their lawful bounds? It’s a fair question to ask, “At what point do the investigators of lawbreaking actually become lawbreakers themselves?”   

And back to the issue of Watergate, where would we be if FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, (Deep Throat) would’ve held back on disclosing information to journalist Bob Woodward?

The constant engagement of citizens living in a free land to hold their government representatives accountable is absolutely necessary as a means to protect against tyranny. Leaking information related to malfeasance is a necessary part of the process in some cases. Otherwise, government officials would only declare their unlawful actions as “top secret” to cover their tracks and bury their misdeeds. The U.S. Federal government and its workers will always be beholden to the people. It’s critical to the continued existence and freedoms of the United States of America that it remains so.    

Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?

ProPublica

ProPublica has obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years. The data provides an unprecedented look inside the financial lives of America’s titans, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and Mark Zuckerberg. It shows not just their income and taxes, but also their investments, stock trades, gambling winnings, and even the results of audits.

Taken together, it demolishes the cornerstone myth of the American tax system: that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most. The IRS records show that the wealthiest can — perfectly legally — pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, their fortunes grow each year. ProPublica (Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen and Paul Kiel)

Analysis: ProPublica’s revelation report cast more clouds over some of the U.S. wealthy. We are all used to the financial class (caste) system – the haves and the have-nots. I suppose we should include another level in that stratum and call it the ‘in-betweeners.’ That’s the middle class. I’m middle class; I have just enough to keep me going from paycheck to paycheck, a vacation once in a while, a couple cars, and a house in a decent part of town. And I pay over 35 percent of my income to taxes of one kind or another.    

In the above quote from the ProPublica article, the emphasis should be put on “the wealthiest can – perfectly legally – pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction…” It appears the system is tilted in favor of the rich. There should be no gasps of surprise there. The system has always been tilted in favor of the rich. Perhaps you’ve heard this variation of the ‘Golden Rule, “He who has the most gold makes the rules.”

Many middle- and working-class Americans have suspicioned for years that they pay more in income taxes than many of the extremely wealthy in the country. That was confirmed when it was revealed just how much Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed billionaire, paid in Federal income taxes compared to those workers.

The point always comes down to fairness and the equity associated with everyone paying their share for the benefits received through taxation. Frankly, I get tired of being nickel and dimed to death on taxes, from income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and all the usage fees and dues, which are actually taxes. So, if I had the opportunity to take advantage of the tax-avoidance schemes (legal) that the rich use, I would likely do it without hesitation.

What I am in favor of is a tax system that does not benefit or favor any one class. How about a flat tax system? If you make this much money, you send the U.S. Government 5 percent – no loopholes, tricks, or surprises. That goes for all individuals and incorporeal entities.   

Said-It News: Bitcoin Becomes Legal Tender

(Medium)

El Salvador makes bitcoin legal tender

El Salvador has become the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender after Congress approved President Nayib Bukele’s proposal to embrace the cryptocurrency.

Bukele has touted the use of bitcoin for its potential to help Salvadorans living abroad to send remittances back home, while saying the U.S. dollar will also continue as legal tender.

The use of bitcoin will be optional for individuals and would not bring risks to users, Bukele said. The government will guarantee convertibility to dollars at the time of transaction through a trust created at the country’s development bank BANDESAL. Reuters (Tom Wilson)

Analysis: Bitcoin seems to be the wave of the economic future. The move will provide secure ‘buy and sell’ transactions for El Salvadorans who choose to participate. This will also be a boon to El Salvadorans who work abroad and send their wages home in the form of remittances. The issue could prove to be problematic, however, as bitcoin is more prone to market and other economic fluctuations. Look to other countries to jump on this alternative currency bandwagon.

Africa desperately short of COVID vaccine

In the global race to vaccinate people against COVID-19, Africa is tragically at the back of the pack. In fact, it has barely gotten out of the starting blocks.

The World Health Organization says the continent of 1.3 billion people is facing a severe shortage of vaccine at the same time a new wave of infections is rising across Africa. Vaccine shipments into Africa have ground to a “near halt,” WHO said last week.

“It is extremely concerning and at times frustrating,” said Africa CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong, a Cameroonian virologist who is trying to ensure some of the world’s poorest nations get a fair share of vaccines in a marketplace where they can’t possibly compete. AP News (Gerald Imray)

Analysis: Vaccines are like most other commodities on the open market; unfortunately, many nations with small economies cannot compete and secure vaccines for their populations. Despite the efforts of rich countries to offer vaccines to poorer nations, the numbers are dismal. African nations face the same fate as India, where COVID spiked resulting in a total of nearly 600,000 deaths, unless a vaccine program is administered quickly.

Nicaraguan government launches mass arrests

President Daniel Ortega’s government has carried out sweeping arrests of his top challengers in the November elections, in a sharp escalation of political repression in Nicaragua.

Two of the presidential hopefuls were arrested on Tuesday — Félix Maradiaga, an academic and political activist, and Juan Sebastián Chamorro, an economist. During the past week, two others, Arturo Cruz and Cristiana Chamorro, were also detained. The Washington Post (Ismael López Ocampo and Mary Beth Sheridan)

Analysis: Daniel Ortega will do what it takes to stay in power. One of the oldest political strategies in the book to maintain power in a democratic government is to remove all competition at the polls. Arresting the opposition is one way to do so. This action is a challenge to the U.S. Biden administration, as Vice President Harris is in the region promoting good governance. Ortega is seeking a fourth consecutive term in November; polls show his popularity has dropped to its lowest point ever.

One Day, God Rode the Brooklyn Subway

(Sunnyside Post)

Some stories need no introduction. But if there was one, I would say this particular tale restored my faith in humanity.

Marcel Sternberger was a methodical man of nearly 50, with bushy white hair, guileless brown eyes, and the bouncing enthusiasm of a czardas dancer of his native Hungary. He always took the 9:09 Long Island Railroad train from his suburban home to Woodside, N.Y.., where he caught a subway into the city.

On the morning of January 10, 1948, Sternberger boarded the 9:09 as usual. En route, he suddenly decided to visit Laszlo Victor, a Hungarian friend who lived in Brooklyn and was ill.

Accordingly, at Ozone Park, Sternberger changed to the subway for Brooklyn, went to his friend’s house, and stayed until midafternoon. He then boarded a Manhattan-bound subway for his Fifth Avenue office. Here is Marcel’s incredible story:

The car was crowded, and there seemed to be no chance of a seat. But just as I entered, a man sitting by the door suddenly jumped up to leave, and I slipped into the empty place. I’ve been living in New York long enough not to start conversations with strangers. But being a photographer, I have the peculiar habit of analyzing people’s faces, and I was struck by the features of the passenger on my left. He was probably in his late 30s, and when he glanced up, his eyes seemed to have a hurt expression in them. He was reading a Hungarian-language newspaper, and something prompted me to say in Hungarian, “I hope you don’t mind if I glance at your paper.”

The man seemed surprised to be addressed in his native language. But he answered politely, “You may read it now. I’ll have time later on.”

During the half-hour ride to town, we had quite a conversation. He said his name was Bela Paskin. A law student when World War II started, he had been put into a German labor battalion and sent to the Ukraine. Later he was captured by the Russians and put to work burying the German dead. After the war, he covered hundreds of miles on foot until he reached his home in Debrecen, a large city in eastern Hungary.

I myself knew Debrecen quite well, and we talked about it for a while. Then he told me the rest of his story. When he went to the apartment once occupied by his father, mother, brothers and sisters, he found strangers living there. Then he went upstairs to the apartment that he and his wife once had. It also was occupied by strangers. None of them had ever heard of his family.

As he was leaving, full of sadness, a boy ran after him, calling “Paskin bacsi! Paskin bacsi!” That means “Uncle Paskin.” The child was the son of some old neighbors of his. He went to the boy’s home and talked to his parents. “Your whole family is dead,” they told him. “The Nazis took them and your wife to Auschwitz.”

Auschwitz was one of the worst Nazi concentration camps. Paskin gave up all hope. A few days later, too heartsick to remain any longer in Hungary, he set out again on foot, stealing across border after border until he reached Paris. He managed to immigrate to the United States in October 1947, just three months before I met him.

All the time he had been talking, I kept thinking that somehow his story seemed familiar. A young woman whom I had met recently at the home of friends had also been from Debrecen; she had been sent to Auschwitz; from there she had been transferred to work in a German munitions factory. Her relatives had been killed in the gas chambers. Later she was liberated by the Americans and was brought here in the first boatload of displaced persons in 1946.

Her story had moved me so much that I had written down her address and phone number, intending to invite her to meet my family and thus help relieve the terrible emptiness in her life.

It seemed impossible that there could be any connection between these two people, but as I neared my station, I fumbled anxiously in my address book. I asked in what I hoped was a casual voice, “Was your wife’s name Marya?”

He turned pale. “Yes!” he answered. “How did you know?”

He looked as if he were about to faint.

I said, “Let’s get off the train.” I took him by the arm at the next station and led him to a phone booth. He stood there like a man in a trance while I dialed her phone number.

It seemed hours before Marya Paskin answered. (Later I learned her room was alongside the telephone, but she was in the habit of never answering it because she had so few friends and the calls were always for someone else. This time, however, there was no one else at home and, after letting it ring for a while, she responded.)

When I heard her voice at last, I told her who I was and asked her to describe her husband. She seemed surprised at the question, but gave me a description. Then I asked her where she had lived in Debrecen, and she told me the address.

Asking her to hold the line, I turned to Paskin and said, “Did you and your wife live on such-and-such a street?”

“Yes!” Bela exclaimed. He was white as a sheet and trembling.

“Try to be calm,” I urged him. “Something miraculous is about to happen to you. Here, take this telephone and talk to your wife!”

He nodded his head in mute bewilderment, his eyes bright with tears. He took the receiver, listened a moment to his wife’s voice, then suddenly cried, “This is Bela! This is Bela!” and he began to mumble hysterically. Seeing that the poor fellow was so excited he couldn’t talk coherently, I took the receiver from his shaking hands.

“Stay where you are,” I told Marya, who also sounded hysterical. “I am sending your husband to you. We will be there in a few minutes.”

Bela was crying like a baby and saying over and over again. “It is my wife. I go to my wife!”

At first I thought I had better accompany Paskin, lest the man should faint from excitement, but I decided that this was a moment in which no strangers should intrude. Putting Paskin into a taxicab, I directed the driver to take him to Marya’s address, paid the fare, and said goodbye.

Bela Paskin’s reunion with his wife was a moment so poignant, so electric with suddenly released emotion, that afterward neither he nor Marya could recall much about it.

“I remember only that when I left the phone, I walked to the mirror like in a dream to see if maybe my hair had turned gray,” she said later. “The next thing I know, a taxi stops in front of the house, and it is my husband who comes toward me. Details I cannot remember; only this I know—that I was happy for the first time in many years.”

“Even now it is difficult to believe that it happened. We have both suffered so much; I have almost lost the capability to not be afraid. Each time my husband goes from the house, I say to myself, Will anything happen to take him from me again?”

Her husband is confident that no horrible misfortune will ever again befall the two of them. “Providence has brought us together,” he says simply. “It was meant to be.”

Skeptical persons will no doubt attribute the events of that memorable afternoon to mere chance. But was it chance that made Marcel Sternberger suddenly decide to visit his sick friend and hence take a subway line that he had never ridden before? Was it chance that caused the man sitting by the door of the car to rush out just as Sternberger came in? Was it chance that caused Bela Paskin to be sitting beside Sternberger, reading a Hungarian newspaper?

Was it chance—or did God ride the Brooklyn subway that afternoon?

Paul Deutschman, Great Stories Remembered, edited and compiled by Joe L. Wheeler