It’s a memorable line from the classic western, “Ride The High Country”. The 1962 MGM film was released with little fanfare. Hard to figure because it starred two long-time movie cowboy heroes, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea and was directed by the maverick, Sam Peckinpah.

“High Country” also introduced the spunky Mariette Hartley. The supporting cast reads like a who’s who of top-notch character actors: James Drury, Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones, John Anderson, John Davis Chandler, Edgar Buchanan and R.G. Armstrong (no, not a relation).

Another classic western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was released the same year and overshadowed “Ride The High Country.”

“All I want to do is..enter my house justified” is Joel McCrea’s summation of his very ethical lawman who’s grown old and, with little money to show for his estimable career, but refuses to abandon his ethics for a grab of the money he’s transporting from a mining town to the bank that hired him  based on his reputation.McCrea is sharing his belief in honesty with longtime pal, Randolph Scott who temporarily has been seduced by greed and plans to steal the money. It’s against typecasting to have Randolph Scott as the former lawman on the verge of becoming a thief — at the expense of his life-long and honorable friend, Joel McCrea.  When I saw the film in ’62, I found it hard to grasp Randolph Scott as a bad guy.

He does a very believable job as the ambivalent villain wannabe. Scott’s old and jaded gunfighter is exasperated by a lifetime of upholding the law with very little money to show for all the bullets he’s taken. It’s the old west take on “show me the money.”

Joel McCrea’s insistence on honesty and taking the high road despite many obstacles is a parable for our current political world where ethics and honesty have become a sham and a bad joke leveled at people blinded by our P.T. Barnum Commander-In-Chief.

Can you imagine a Presidential tweet saying, “All I want to do is enter my house justified”?  The unfolding impeachment proceedings mock any pretense at ethics and honesty in the Oval Office. The McCrea line also flies in the face of all the Gordon Gekkos in our public arena where “greed is good” is the unofficial mantra.

Think of the high-profile celebrity parents facing the music and jail time for trying to buy a college diploma for their kids.  You don’t enter your house justified with that as your moral code. Our political and moral swamp is spilling over instead of being drained.

Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea

It’s taken a while for me to see “Ride The High Country” as more than just an excellent western.  Its underlying message about moral codes is clear to me now.  The same can be said for “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the movie that gave us the iconic (yes iconic) line:

“This is the west, Sir. When fact catches up with myth,
you print the legend.”

There’s a lot of legend printing going on these days. Come to think of it, there are a lot of Liberty Valance wannabes trying to muck with our Constitution and standards set by the men who wrote it. To be fair, some of those guys liked to print the legend too. But, that’s another story.

Randolph Scott sees the light in a memorable shoot out, teaming up with Joel McCrea, to take down execrable killers at the end of “Ride The High Country.” Spoiler alert?

Marriage parade in a mining camp

Nah. Would you expect anything less from Randolph Scott?

We could use Scott and McCrea right now to run the current gang of miscreants out of town and out of the country — with some jail time thrown in.

They will never enter their house justified.


Weekly Word Prompt – Fairness

No one promised me that life would be fair. Quite the opposite. My mother was a total cynic. Born in 1910, her earliest memories were of living through World War I which she always referred to as “The Great War,” and then living through World War II, which was simply “The Holocaust.”

She didn’t believe in God because how could any God allow such atrocities to occur to his people. She didn’t trust government because even when they sometimes did honorable things, behind locked doors they made dishonorable deals. She was convinced that they intentionally failed to blow up the Nazi concentration camp crematorium and gas chambers because they were good old rich white men and were happy that Hitler was getting rid of those annoying Jews.

She remembered how in the middle of the depression when there was more food than could be sold because people were desperately poor, the government put surplus food in empty lots and poured poison on it so no one could eat it. I heard this was a rumor, but she said it was true. She had seen it.

She knew that the U.S. had refused to let Jews desperate to escape from Germany enter the United States and many of them had died in ships that sank in the Atlantic, in view of the Statue of Liberty. She remembered the jailing of Japanese American citizens during the war and the destruction of Native Americans.

She despised the Catholic church because, she said, they were a bunch of pedophiles, something that proved true eventually.

Lady Justice – Old Bailey, London

She wanted me to get a nose job so I wouldn’t look “so Jewish.” She never trusted the government, always expected it to turn on us. I think she always had a bag packed in case she had to run.

So I never thought the world would be fair. But I also didn’t think it would be this ugly. I thought if we tried really hard we could make it better. That we could fix some of the broken pieces. That I could fix some of the broken pieces myself.

I was wrong but I tried.

Maybe someday we will succeed. May my granddaughter’s children — should she have any — will make things better.

No one told me to expect life would be fair. I always knew rich people would get the best “stuff” and the rest of us would get whatever was left over. It never crossed my mind that we were all genuinely “equal.”

We are all equal. Just some of us are more equal than others.

Those few times when life has gone well and things have seemed fair and evenhanded, it has been a huge surprise. It would be nice if there were more surprises to come, but I’m not holding my breath.

JUDGMENT GOES TO POWER – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Judgment

Of all the Biblical comments on judging, this one spoke to me:

Proverbs 31:9 NIV – Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

There’s a lot of Biblical stuff about judgment and mainly, it’s about not judging others because you too can be judged and not necessarily how you would prefer. But that’s not the whole story.

There is also a lot of stuff about defending the poor and needy. Taking care of the poor and the helpless. Feeding the hungry. And for failing in this obligation, you can definitely be judged by God and by man and by pretty much anyone. Because these things are part of what makes us human and neglecting them makes us beasts. Actually, I think most beasts are rather nicer than the most of the “men” who rule (?) us.

Nonetheless, there are terrible people in powerful positions in our society. Although I don’t personally judge individuals — friends and family, for example — I figure that those who seek power and especially those who seek power by vote gathering or other less worthy means, deserve to be judged. They asked for it. They strove for it. Now it is our turn. You asked us to give you power, you must be judged on the basis of how you use it.

They have set themselves up as standard-bearers for others, so how can they pretend they haven’t earned the right to be judged?

If you seek power and get it, you will be judged. Power demands judgment. That’s the deal, your covenant with your world. You can’t claim power but also claim freedom from the judgment of others.


We pledged allegiance. We thought it meant something.

Obviously, the pledge of allegiance springs instantly to mind. As it should.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the Republic, for which is stands. One nation, indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.”

We all had to stand up and say it every morning.

Photo: Garry Armstong

Do our representative pledge allegiance? Do they promise liberty and justice for all? Do they laugh as they say it? Because somehow, this very fundamental pledge which all American kids said apparently no longer holds any meaning for what we humorously call “our leaders.”

Just saying.


Best Moment Award

A new award for me … and one I’ve never heard of that shall require some thoughtful contemplation. Meanwhile, congratulations to Mike and my co recipients!


Mikes Film Talk


I owe a heartfelt thank you to Sandra over at quirkybooks who nominated me based on my blog post – 50,000 Plus! Thanks Guys. This is the first time I’ve received this award and I am, to put it plainly, chuffed to bits (in American English that means damned happy). So  again, Sandra, thanks!

I also owe a gesture of gratitude to the kind folks over at Moment Matters who started this whole thing in the first place. They’ve even made up an award logo for the recipients to paste on their wall. It is the one at the top of this post and it is very impressive looking.

The words and music that accompany this award are below:

Awarding the people who live in the moment,
The noble who write and capture the best in life,
The bold who reminded us what really mattered –
Savoring the…

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So my cousin Roberta, who, as is common with cousins, is my oldest and best friend, although we haven’t actually seen one another in years because the older we get, the longer that drive from Silver Spring, MD to Uxbridge, MA looms … commented that I had always been braver than she is. The context was a picture I posted of Garry and I riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. They have (or had, anyhow) a camera rigged at that first terrifying drop and it’s hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and friend or mate screaming in abject terror as you go down that nearly vertical drop on an 80-year old wooden roller coaster. It wasn’t like I had volunteered for a dangerous mission to rescue people from danger. I paid my money and delighted in the finest adrenaline rush money can buy.

On the Cyclone with Garry - July 2007

Some people think I’m brave because I’ve survived some pretty awful stuff. As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip the terror and stress and lead a pleasantly uneventful life. For excitement, there’s always the Cyclone at Coney Island (since now it has been declared an official National Historical Site and unlikely to be torn down anytime soon).

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship more or less intact. I don’t deserve a medal for this.  In an emergency, instinct takes over. I usually don’t remember what was going through my head at the time or what I actually did. Really. I don’t remember much of anything. My brain switches to survival mode and runs on automatic. I save my own life and sometimes I help other folks at the same time, but I am just staying alive.

My definition of bravery or valor requires a conscious, willing decision to take a significant risk in the service of others. Taking risks for the fun of it, to make a killing in the stock market, or because your only other option is death or disaster isn’t courageous.

When it’s fun, I call it entertainment. I love roller coasters. I probably would have liked sky diving had my bad back not precluded it. That’s nothing but a personal passion for something that offers an illusion of danger without real peril.

Taking a risk for profit? Shrewd, yes. Possibly enviable too … but brave?

Saving your own life? Finding a way by hook or crook to keep a roof over your head and food on your table?That’s survival. All living creatures try to survive. Those that don’t … don’t.

I’ve never done anything that I define as courageous. I’ve done stuff that was exciting, entertaining, and fascinating, and some of these adventures were disastrous for me, financially and emotionally. I’ve been occasionally selfless in helping others if I had the wherewithal. But I never put myself in harm’s way. I’ve taken emotional risks and been seriously inconvenienced. I’ve lost money helping others when I could barely help myself, but I don’t think this entitles me to a medal. Doing the right thing is part of being a decent human being. It’s a no-brainer.

I’ve done a lot of reckless things too, but that’s closer to stupidity than valor!

Another thing puzzles me.

“Proud to be an American” is something of a Mantra these days. I don’t get it. Why would one be proud of parentage or country of birth? It’s not as if you chose where you were born, picked your parents or ethnicity. Those were accidents. You made no choice. You just got lucky.

Loving and even admiring ones parents is normal. You’re supposed to love and honor your parents (see the Ten Commandments, Article 4). I’m glad I’m a U.S. citizen and not living in Sarajevo or Somalia … but gratitude and pride are very different. In the past, but not much recently, I’ve been proud of things this country has done and what it stands for and I think our Constitution is a brilliant — albeit hypocritical  — document. Proud to BE American? Grateful for sure. Proud seems a bit much.

Noble sentiments and a fondness for adrenaline rushes don’t count. Unless you have made a choice, a conscious decision to take a risk for the sake of another, it’s not brave. It may be fun, shrewd, smart, instinctive, reckless — or seriously dumb — but it isn’t brave.

Anyway, that’s what I think.

Happy Mother’s Day!