WarGames (1983): Forgotten Classic of the Cold War Era

Jul 14, 2020 by Thor Hogan

I absolutely love this film. It’s one of my favorites of the decade, particularly because it so thoroughly captured some of the key emotions of this period in American history – the terror of the Cold War and the wonder of the digital age. The film opens grippingly with an Air Force officer (portrayed by John Spencer, a shout out to fellow West Wing fans) refusing to launch a nuclear missile strike, which leads to humans being replaced in missile silos by a supercomputer known as WOPR. For me, however, the following scene is genuinely timeless. It features the film’s protagonist David Lightman, acted brilliantly by Mathew Broderick, playing my favorite arcade game, Galaga, while Video Fever by The Beepers plays in the background. The lyrics were amazingly prophetic: “Was it just the other day? / You were an achiever, such a busy beaver / Now we hear you've gone astray / And you're living in the shade of a video arcade / And it's just a little to the left / And it's just a little to the right / And it's just unreal how alive you feel / Vaporizing everything in sight.” How well this captured the impact that gaming would have on our culture, and for entire generations of young people.

Blade Runner: Still Boring After All These Years (1983)

Jul 03, 2020 by Thor Hogan

I fully recognize that there are many “true” science fiction fans who rate Blade Runner as a masterpiece. For nearly four decades, I’ve wanted to share this opinion. But, unfortunately, I still find myself in the camp of the public that largely rejected it back in 1983 – it was only later that it became a cult classic.

Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and the Joys of Overacting (1982)

Jun 20, 2020 by Thor Hogan

I am a big, but not fanatical, Star Trek fan. I love the films, and greatly enjoyed the Next Generation television series. Although I think the reboot movies are probably better, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remains one of this franchise’s great films. It was critical due to the horribleness of the first feature film three years earlier. This sequel was badly needed to regain the fanbase. Without it, Star Trek would only be remembered nostalgically as television show from the late-1960s that provided a vision for where humanity might be headed in space.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The Importance of Curiosity and Compassion (1982)

Jun 14, 2020 by Thor Hogan

The nostalgic sensation of watching E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is nearly overpowering. The film is filled with so many scenes that evoke memories of my childhood, starting with the magic of Michael and his friends sitting around a table playing Dungeon’s & Dragons. Elliott’s room is fantastic, with Space Shuttle and Star Wars models hanging from the ceiling and various figurines strewn about haphazardly. Finally, every BMX scene brings back my longing to own such a bike.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Jun 11, 2020 by Thor Hogan

Just finished watching Chariots of Fire (1981). I love me a period piece, and this remains one of the greats – which explains its Academy Award for Best Picture. While the movie itself is fantastic, the score by Vangelis is pure genius. I have memories of listening to it as a kid while participating in a skate-a-thon and feeling like a god! The film’s opening scene, which portrays the 1924 British Olympic team running in the surf on the Kentish coast, remains magical even though I’ve probably seen it a dozen times. The enchantment continues during the first half of the film as Harold Abrahams, Aubrey Montague, and Lord Lindsay study at and run for Cambridge. This storyline focuses on the legendary Abrahams, who was Jewish, as he struggles to overcome anti-Semitism while training to win Olympic gold in the 100-meters.



Trump, Hitler & Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Jun 04, 2020 by Thor Hogan

I’m a university-trained historian and an avid traveler. As such, it’s hard not to be wooed by the pure genius of this film. The opening scene in the Amazon, which introduces us to the roguish but brilliant Indiana Jones, pulls you instantly into the film. As soon as the score by the brilliant John Williams begins playing, you are fully hooked. The next two hours fly by as the audience is expertly transported back in time.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980) [available on Disney+]

May 31, 2020 by Thor Hogan

In 1977, Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw in the theater. Three years later, I went to see The Empire Strikes Backwith my dad and older brother. I have a vivid memory of it because we arrived late and grabbed the last available tickets. But we couldn’t find seats together, so had to sit separately. I was only nine and was petrified in the huge and packed auditorium. Mid-film I left my seat in a panic and wandered around trying to find my dad. It was pretty nightmarish.

The Politics of 1980s Movies

May 31, 2020 by Thor Hogan

Our current Covid-19 world is a terrible place in innumerable ways. As I write this, more than 350,000 people worldwide have lost their lives (over 100,000 in America) and many more have survived an extremely painful disease. For those of us lucky enough to remain healthy at this point, we are struggling with disorienting social isolation and economic anxiety. Each of us is dealing with this in different ways. For me, I’ve been coping mostly by not working on the book that I’m supposed to be writing! While I initially had the excuse that big chunks of my days were being spent homeschooling my son Sam, his schoolyear is now complete. And yet, the book still lays dormant. I did write an op-ed about Bundesliga football and soft power; despite the likelihood no one will even publish it. Smart.

Could Franklin Roosevelt’s Playbook Work for Joe Biden?

May 29, 2020 by Thor Hogan

Mark Zuckerberg may have solved a major problem for Joe Biden. This week, a Wall Street Journal report revealed that Facebook has largely failed to act on internal research suggesting that its algorithms are helping to drive people apart. One Facebook researcher, Monica Lee, even found that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools.”

And then, in an interview that aired on Fox News on Thursday, Zuckerberg criticized Twitter for fact-checking one of President Trump’s tweets, remarkingthat “Facebook shouldn't be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.”

Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout will probably shape the presidential campaign. But while Biden has criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic, he has struggled to reach Americans with his vision for the country.

The 1932 campaign of Franklin Roosevelt, which took place amid the Great Depression, might offer Biden a playbook for navigating a presidential race in a time of crisis. Indeed, he might be able to use Zuckerberg’s controversial management of Facebook to rectify this problem. The then-New York governor chose not to attack President Herbert Hoover directly and almost never referred to him by name. Roosevelt instead let the administration’s slow response to the economic crisis speak for itself, while relying on emotional messages condemning the overarching unfairness of the United States’ existing economic structure. But he knew that he still needed a boogeyman to make his campaign effective.

Is Donald Trump Following in the Ruinous Footsteps of Calvin Coolidge?

Oct 03, 2019 by Thor Hogan
There has been a growing number of signs in recent weeks that the U.S. is lurching toward recession. Interest rates on short-term bonds are currently higher than on long-term bonds, an inverted yield curve that has presaged every recession since the 1950s. Meanwhile, manufacturing growth has slowed to the lowest rate in more than a decade, resulting in worrying layoffs. And rates of residential investment, one of the key distress signals before the Great Recession, have been falling since the beginning of last year.
Yet rather than rolling up his sleeves and working to strengthen the economy, Donald Trump seems more interested in attacking Fed Chair Jerome Powell — whom he appointed — and pursuing a trade war that is hurting far more than it’s helping. If nothing else, self-interest should motivate Trump to try; the president needs the economy to stay strong to have any hope of winning reelection next year. But despite that, he seems incapable of focusing his attention on a proactive agenda to ensure this outcome.

His inactivity has a historical parallel, one that should concern all Americans: Calvin Coolidge and the tumultuous, ultimately disastrous economy of the 1920s.

Could bicycles help save the planet and improve our cities?

Sep 01, 2019 by Thor Hogan
As Europeans strive to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, cities across the continent are promoting cycling like never before. Yet, most American cities lag far behind. Why is that? It’s not simply that Americans love their cars more and need them to navigate a large nation. Bicycles were once the future of urban transportation, before motor vehicles of all kinds disastrously supplanted them. If properly incentivized by building bike-friendly infrastructure and increasing the costs of driving, we might feel that way about bicycles once again. 

Joe Biden’s Biggest Flaw: We Need Big Constitutional Reforms.

Jan 01, 2019 by Thor Hogan

Joe Biden spent most of last night’s debate swatting aside attacks on his positions from years past. But none of these attacks touched on one of his most troubling beliefs: his insistence that our constitutional system can be our salvation, helping us forge consensus and check the abuse of power so rampant under President Trump. This belief puts him out of step with his party and the times.


Other top Democratic contenders, particularly Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, have disagreed, forcefully backing constitutional reform. Shortly after announcing his candidacy, Buttigieg said, “I think the first thing you have to do is move on democratic reform….We are living in a time when we’ve got to fix the engine of our democracy,” suggesting structural reforms that included replacing the Electoral College and eliminating the Senate filibuster.


Warren and Buttigieg are right to call for these reforms. After all, the Constitution was the result of numerous compromises designed to ensure that all 13 colonies, slave and free, small and large, would acquiesce to the governing system. The resulting structure, never particularly equitable or democratic, has been exposed as fatally flawed. Agreed upon more than two centuries ago, it has allowed deep political polarization to flourish as huge ideological disparities grow between white, predominately rural voters and those in more diverse suburban and urban areas.