Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscar Travesties

Another Oscar Travesty

In 1942 How Green Was my Valley beat out Citizen Caine to win the Oscar for best picture.

In 1979 Woody Allen's Manhattan lost out to Kramer versus Kramer for best picture.

In 1994 Shawshank Redemption lost out to the annoying, sentimental Forest Gump for best picture.

Peter O'Toole has been nominated for best actor eight times and never won.  Though he clearly deserved to have for won for his role as Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, the best actor nod went instead to Gregory Peck for his role in To Kill a Mockingbird (see earlier post, Lawrence of Arabia, 12/27/12).

At the 2013 Oscar awards the best picture made in 2012 was not even nominated for Best Picture.  I enjoyed Argo (See earlier posts Argo, Art and the need for Camouflage, 12/3/12 Antonio Mendez' Argo and Iran today, 12/9/12) and and have great respect for Tony Mendez, but Argo was not the best picture of 2012.

Nor did the historically sloppy Lincoln (see my post Spielberg's Lincoln 2/6/13) deserve to take the best picture honors.

Commander Kelly declares the best picture of 2012...Skyfall (See earlier post Skyfall, 10/27/12).  In fifty years, no Bond film has ever been been nominated for best picture.  Adele did win this year for best original song and Skyfall also won a technical Oscar for best sound editing which doubled James Bond's Oscar total from 2 to 4 after fifty years of making Bond films (!  Skyfall was clearly punished for being excessively popular -- it was the first Bond film to generate over $1billion at the global box office.  I would argue that while Argo represents a more balanced view of intelligence work than Skyfall (most intelligence workers are engaged in translation, technical work, satellite and cell phone monitoring, disguise and documentation like Tony Mendez and not "wet work" like Bond); nevertheless, Skyfall was by far the better film.  Argo was a good film, a taut film, an interesting film, but it can't hold a candle to Skyfall!

Was Christopher Waltz, who won best supporting actor for his role in Django Unchained, really better than Javier Bardem in Skyfall who was not even nominated for best supporting actor?

In 1963, for example, From Russia With Love with Sean Connery was not nominated for Best Picture which was awarded to Tom Jones.  Which is the more memorable and significant picture?

Did 2006's Casino Royale not deserve any consideration for best picture along with that year's winner, The Departed?

Could it be that Bond being punished by the Academy Awards for being to the right of most Hollywood productions (see earlier post Commander Bond's London, 2/23/12)?

You can order Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

Friday, February 22, 2013

Conquering Mount Obama!

Commander K. on the trail
Mount Obama (Boggy Peak), Antigua
What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees,
Up, up it goes,
And yet never grows?

Gollum's Riddle from The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

Last week Commander Kelly had an opportunity to climb the highest peak on the island on Antigua -- Mount Obama (!  Mount Obama was formerly known as 'Boggy Peak' and is the highest point on the Island / Nation of Antigua.  The elevation is 1,314 feet or 402 meters, a mere pimple in the world of mountaineering.

Sugar Mill, Jumby Island, Antigua
The population of the island was 80,161 in 2011.  About 91 percent of Antiguans are of African descent.  Antigua formed part of the "Triangular Trade" of sugar, rum, slaves and manufactured goods that flowed between the West Indies, the American Colonies and Africa.  Sugar was the main export of Antigua from the 17th century until sugar production closed down in the 1980's, due to cheaper Asian competition.  For years the back-breaking labor of sugar cane production was furnished by slaves imported from Africa.  You can still find old sugar mills all over Antigua today (see photo above).

Shortly after Nelson's decisive victory at Trafalgar in 1805, the Royal Navy had unquestioned dominance of the high seas -- Britain truly ruled the waves.  In 1807 Britain abolished the slave trade and it was the power of the Royal Navy operating out of bases such as Antigua that was able to enforce this edict (see earlier posts, Horatio Nelson: Champion of Liberty 1/15/12, Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua 2/21/13).

Vorn on the trail
I hired an excellent local climbing guide, Vorn Johnstone.  Vorn was quite unimpressed with the name change of the mountain to Mount Obama.  I asked if there had been any increase in tourism since the name change which followed President Obama's election in 2009.  He laughed and replied, "No".

It is impossible to get lost on the track to the summit.  There is a badly paved road that leads all the way to the summit of Boggy Peak.  A four by four could make the trip quite easily.

Purists will be disappointed to learn that the summit is on private property owned by Cable and Wireless.  You will find communication towers, seismic monitoring equipment and a chain link fence at the summit of Mount Obama....

The top of Mount Obama
I am a slow climber and it took us about 2 1/2 hours to make the round trip journey to the summit and back.  Global warming believers will be heartened to note that there was not a trace of snow on the summit of Mount Obama!  Here is the view from the summit...

View from the Summit of Mount Obama
Antigua's primary industry is tourism.  Very little is produced in Antigua.  There is, for example, not even a local dairy on the island.  Antigua does have some modest agriculture and we saw banana and mango crops growing on the route to the top.

Local kid with lamb
On the way down we ran into some adorable native children who generously brought us a basket of local fruit.  The bananas and mangoes were delicious.  The Antiguans are a kind-hearted welcoming people.

On the way up and down Mount Obama, dear reader, you may be astonished to know that I felt compelled to reflect on the more positive aspects of President Obama!  Perhaps the easy ascent and tropical climate mellowed my curmudgeonly attitudes?  I may have "conquered" Mount Obama, but perhaps the mountain affected me as well; mountains have a way of doing that.

Commander Kelly subscribes to the un-original notion that American Presidents have a dual job description, one Symbolic and the other Substantive.  An American President must be a symbol of the nation's unity, celebrating our collective triumphs and mourning our losses.  Our President also has a Substantive role as the leader of the Executive branch of government.  This dual leadership role is explicitly clear in the UK where the Monarchy clearly handles the symbolism while the Prime Minister handles the substance of Executive decision-making.

Some US Presidents have been much better as symbolic leaders than substantive leaders and vice versa.  President Nixon, for example was a disaster as a symbolic leader, though he had significant substantive achievements (opening China, ending the draft,  clean air and water legislation, etc.).  JFK, on the other hand, was a symbolic superstar, but had too little time to achieve much of substance during his tragically truncated term of office.

It must be conceded by even his harshest critics that President Obama has been a symbolically successful President for the United States.  His election represented the closing of a long chapter of tortured race relations in North America.  His elevation to the highest office represented a history-making development that inspired hope among millions throughout the world.  A nation that was founded in large part by slave-owning plantation farmers from Virginia now has a black President.

Girl with lamb
President Obama is a good husband and father and these qualities should never be underestimated.  He can certainly be an inspirational speaker.  He is the twice-elected, legitimate President of the United States who was born in Hawaii.  He is unquestionably a role model for millions of people of all races.  He provided cathartic justice for a nation with the mission that targeted Osama Bin Laden.  He also makes beer in the White House which is either awesome...or a crass bid for the alcoholic vote to contrast with the tee-totalling Romney (!  I heartily acknowledge that he is an intelligent man of good will with whom I would be happy to drink a beer -- provided that he is paying!

Commander Kelly does not "hate" Obama by any means.  I have great respect for him and even more for the office which he holds.

It is on mere issues of Substance that I sometimes disagree with our 44th President (lack of leadership on Syria, Sequestration debacle, Presidential kill list, drone foreign policy, gun control demagoguery, spiralling national debt, etc.).  Commander Kelly must ask, "When the rhetoric of hope and change fade from the scene will Obama someday be re-named President Boggy Peak?"

After conquering Mount Obama, without use of oxygen, Commander Kelly naturally had to celebrate with a locally-made Antiguan product...Wadadli beer.  "Ale to the chief!"

Wadadli Beer
Special Thanks to Vorn Johnstone who can be reached at to book your own Antigua peak experience.  Thanks also to Altrec for the best climbing equipment (  Keep Exploring!

Vorn on the Summit

"Once you vote for Barack
You're Never Going Back"

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua

Commander K. at Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua
On the beautiful island of Antigua (there is no "wa" in Antigua, by the way) you will find Nelson's Dockyard -- the only functioning Georgian Dockyard in the world and a National Park.  This was an outpost of the Royal Navy until 1889.  Horatio Nelson (see earlier post Horatio Nelson: Champion of Liberty, 1/15/12) served here in the Royal Navy from 1784 to 1787 as Captain of the frigate HMS Boreas when he was enforcing unpopular British navigation laws in the colonies.  Horatio Nelson met his wife Fanny Nisbet (1761 - 1831) on Nevis which is only 53 miles from Antigua.

English Harbor, View from Shirley Heights, Antigua
It is easy to see why the site of Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbor on the island of Antigua was so popular with sailors.  The hurricane season runs from June through September in this part of the Caribbean; Nelson's Dockyard is situated in a natural shelter from hurricanes.  To this day, ships are brought here to ride out approaching hurricanes.

Shirley Heights affords the best view of English Harbor.  You will also find an old guardhouse that has been converted into a bar here...

Old Guardhouse / New Rum House
You can find old cannon that once guarded the approach to English Harbor...

At Nelson's Dockyard you will find more cannon and a Dockyard museum...

Reminders of Nelson are easy to find...

Explore the Dockyard museum for more images and recollections of Horatio Nelson...

Bust of Lord Nelson, Antigua

You will find a Flag representation of Nelson's famous order to his fleet just prior to the Battle of  Trafalgar...

"England Expects that every man will do his duty!"

There are many reminders of the faded glory of the Royal Navy...

After fully exploring Nelson's Dockyard,  Commander Kelly suggests beating a tactical retreat to a pleasant watering hole such as the Admiral's Inn (, where one can discover the healing powers of rum and reflect on the faded glory of the past...
View from the Admiral Inn, Nelson's Dockyard

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lincoln, Churchill and Syria

1864, America Re-Elects Lincoln


In the fall of 1864, during the height of the US Civil War, the United States held an election (  This was the first election held during wartime since the War of 1812.  Abraham Lincoln, denounced by many revisionist historians as a tyrant (see earlier post Lincoln in London, Revisionist History and the Ron Paul Campaign 3/17/12), upheld the constitution by NOT declaring martial law and foregoing an election.  This act, ignored by Spielberg's Lincoln film (see earlier post Spielberg's Lincoln, 2/6/13), set the best precedent for subsequent crises that the nation would face.

Lincoln was opposed by Democrat George McClellan.  General McClellan ran as a "peace candidate" though he did not personally accept his party's platform position on the war.  There were many "Copperhead" Democrats who supported an immediate cessation of hostilities.  Had the Democratic party prevailed, the Confederacy and then institution of slavery would likely have survived;  the 13th amendment would have been doomed in a McClellan administration.

Instead, the American electorate chose Lincoln by a 55 to 45 per cent margin over McClellan.  The American people, therefore, chose to see the war through to its victorious conclusion -- the preservation of the Union and the elimination of the scourge of slavery.

The prosecution of the war to its bitter end was the humanitarian choice and the wise choice of the American people.

Churchill steps out

Queen's House, Tower of London
Hess spent four days here in 1941
In May of 1941 Rudolph Hess, the Deputy Fuhrer of the Nazi Reich, flew a BF 110 to Scotland in a bid to negotiate a peace between Germany and the British Empire (see earlier posts, Rudolph Hess 1/7/13 and Rudolph Hess: Peace-monger 1/13/13).  At that point in the war, prior to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa commences 6/22/41), the Nazis had known only victory and the British had tasted only defeat.  Churchill, however, responded by clapping Hess into the Tower of London.  He would not accept a negotiated peace with the fascists.  The war would be fought on to its conclusion regardless of its murkiness at that time.

Commander K. and his "Special Relationship" buddies, London
When Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany the President of the United States, FDR, wanted desperately to support Britain in every way he could short of war.  FDR approved the 'Destroyers for bases' deal ( by Executive order; this weakened the US Navy but strengthened the Royal Navy against the U-boat menace.  Isolationists warned at this time that these ships might be used against the United States if Britain were to be successfully invaded by the Nazis.

FDR also cultivated a relationship with King George VI (see earlier post, Hyde Park on the Hudson, 1/19/13) even before the war broke out.

Churchill's refusal to parlay with Hitler and FDR's support for Churchill were the best and most prudent   choices to be made at the time.  Continuation of the war was the only humanitarian and principled choice.

Obama says: "Not today"

As I write today, over 60,000 people have been killed in Syria by the ruthless dictator Bashar al-Assad (See earlier posts Syria Burning 10/12/12, Are Syrian Babies not as Cute as British Babies? 11/18/12).  Over 400,000 refugees have been driven into neighbouring countries.  Assad's forces have lobbed mortar shells into Turkey killing civilians in a NATO ally.  Assad is the greatest regional ally of the Mullahs in Iran, where the centrifuges continue to spin as they labor to develop nuclear weapons.  US inaction on Syria sends precisely the wrong message to Iran.

Understandably, after years of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, neither Presidential candidate was eager last year to speak out in favour of supporting the Syrian Rebels.  The focus group testing, no doubt, proved that humanitarian intervention in Syria was a losing gambit with the American electorate.  After the election, however, many expected things to change.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton supported the concept of sending arms and aid to the Syrian rebels on humanitarian grounds.   So did Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta.  So did General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  So did former CIA Director David Petraeus -- remember him?

It has been President Obama himself who has refused to support the Syrian revolution  Those who oppose arming the rebels have suggested that weapons could be turned against Western interests -- exactly the same argument that FDR and Congress rejected in the 'Destroyers for bases' deal with Britain in 1940  (

Needless to say, principled intervention in Syria need not require direct US military involvement or deployment.  Simply providing arms to the rebels should be sufficient to topple the Assad regime.

Syria continues to burn and President Obama continues to dither.  Obama professes great admiration for Lincoln, but he refuses to follow his principled humanitarian example.  Nor does he emulate either Churchill or FDR.

Last fall American voters chose between Obama and Romney.  On the question of Syria, however, it seems that the wackiest policy programs of Ron Paul seem to have prevailed in the Obama White House.

Senator John McCain asked, "How many more have to die before you recommend military action?"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Amazon...Family Values?

Amazon entered the American political arena this past fall with CEO Jeff Bezos making a $2.5 million contribution to support a Gay marriage initiative in Washington state (  The initiative was passed by Washington state voters in November by a 52 to 48 percent margin.

One might assume that Amazon's corporate culture, based in liberal King County (Seattle), is Progressive or, perhaps, Libertarian.

Rudolph Hess: The New Face of Amazon?
Kindling different Fires...?
Many Americans might, therefore, be shocked to learn that in Germany Amazon hired a security company called Hensel European Security System or HESS.   Rudolph Hess was Hitler's deputy Fuhrer prior to his surprise defection in May of 1941 (see earlier posts, Rudolph Hess 1/7/13 and Rudolph Hess: Peacemonger 1/13/13).  Hess allegedly used neo-Nazi employees and engaged in intimidating practices with Amazon's immigrant employees.  Just this week, facing criticism after a documentary aired on German television, Amazon severed its ties with Hess this week (

Jeff Bezos has, of course, every right to support whatever candidate or issue that he pleases.  That is his Constitutional right as an American.  His company can also hire anyone it likes regardless of their political affiliation.  We live in a world of consumer options and the informed consumer, however, also has the right to take her trade wherever she likes as well.

Commander Kelly says, "What astonishes me here, aside from Amazon's apparent naiveté, is the fact that Hess, who died in 1987, still has the power to shock our sensibilities in 2013.  History is all around us and it still has the power to burn the unwary."

Monday, February 18, 2013

If By Sea

Birth of the US Navy

George Daughan's book If By Sea: the Forging of the American Navy from the Revolution to the War of 1812 (2008, Basic Books, tells the history of the troubled birth of the US Navy.  During the revolution, the American rebels has to contend with the Royal Navy -- the greatest navy in the world.  The thirteen American colonies faced the greatest Empire in world history which boasted overwhelming numerical superiority, strong leadership and secure naval bases around the globe. They did so largely with a mass of privateers -- merchant vessels that acted as for-profit commerce raiders against British shipping.

John Paul Jones, by Houdon
 Metropolitian Museum, NYC
John Paul Jones, born in Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, was the greatest naval hero of the American Revolution.  He brought the American revolution home to British shores by raiding the town of Whitehaven where he stole the local Lord's silverware and burnt a coal ship.  This attack on the English coastline was loudly denounced as terrorism by the contemporary British press.  On September 23, 1779, as captain of the Bonhomme Richard Jones fought and captured the Royal Navy Serapis.  Harvard historian Daughen comments, "This battle had no strategic effect on the outcome of the war, but it had a huge political impact in France, America and England.  The Admiralty revived more hysterical letters over its inability to deal with Jones than it had for any other matter in British history."  If By Sea: the Forging of the American Navy from the Revolution to the War of 1812 (2008, Basic Books,

It was French naval power that helped tip the scales in the American Revolution.  The British surrender at Yorktown would not have been possible without a French navy, led by the Comte de Grasse, cutting off the seaborne escape rout of Lord Cornwallis' troops.

After the war, the vessels for the Continental navy were sold.  Only gradually did the Washington and Adams administration succeed in authorizing the development of a small but effective US Navy.  In May box 1794 War Secretary Knox appointed Philadelphian Joshua Humphreys "Constructor of the Navy off the United States."  Humphreys was a gifted naval architect who designed the 44-gun (which could in fact carry over 50 guns) frigates such as the USS Constitution ( that were faster and more powerful than their European counterparts -- a typical British frigate had 32 to 36 guns.

British Canon, Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua
Daugahn points out that American sailors were far better treated tan their Royal Navy counterparts.  First off American sailors were volunteers and not "impressed" sailors who had been forcibly conscripted.  The American sailors were better fed and housed than the British tars.  In spite of the fact that the Royal Navy outnumbered the US Navy by a fact of about 1,000 ships versus twenty at the start of the conflict, the fledgling US Navy responded surprisingly well to the challenge of facing the Royal Navy superpower in the War of 1812 (see earlier post .

USS Constitution vs. Guerriere
On August 2nd, 1812 Captain Isaac Hull led the USS Constitution  against the British frigate Guerriere about 700 miles east of Boston.  In hist report Hull wrote, "In less that thirty minutes from the time we got alongside the enemy (on e of their finest frigates) she was left without a spar standing , and the hull cut to pieces, in such a manner as to make it difficult to keep her above water."    The Guerriere was the first British frigate to strike her colds to and American ship.  Daughan writes, The Guerrriere was such a ruin that after Hull had removed her men and everything of use to him, he set her on fire."  If By Sea: the Forging of the American Navy from the Revolution to the War of 1812 (2008, Basic Books,

Napoleon's disastrous campaign in Russia was bad news for the Americans in the war of 1812 (see earlier post James Madison's USA and Hideki Tojo's Japan, 7/9/12).  The British could now afford to turn their battle-hardened veteran troops from the Peninsular war and their dominate navy against Madison's America.  Critical American naval victories by Oliver Hazard Perry at Lake Erie and Macdonough at Plattsburg helped to secure the United States from a possible invasion by British veterans from Canada.  Andrew Jackson led the Americans to victory in the Battle of New Orleans that was fought after the peace of Ghent had already been signed.

President John Adams was a strong supporter of an American blue water navy.  Daughan writes, "Adams was a firm believer in Edmund Burke's dictum, 'A great be secure...must be respected.'"  It was evident to Federalists like Washington and Adams that a nation that lacks a navy cannot be respected.

English Harbor, Antigua
The Royal Navy had secure bases throughout the world 
Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans, on the other hand, were opposed funding a blue water navy.  Instead, Jefferson advocated the production of gunboats which could only be used for coastal defence;  these later proved almost entirely useless during the War of 1812.  One, or even several, slow under-armed gunboats were no match for even a 20-gun sloop of war; this was the naval equivalent of bring a knife to a gun fight.  Jefferson hoped to buy defence on the cheap.

Prior to the War of 1812, President Madison, a protege of Jefferson, believed in strictly limited spending on the military.  These policies meant that The Unites States, was, in fact, hopelessly unprepared for the War of 1812.  Repeated American invasions of Canada (New York state militiamen refused to even cross the border into Canada) faltered and the White House and the Capitol in Washington DC were burnt to the ground by the marauding British.  At the war's conclusion, a chastened President Madison, in recommending Congressional approval of the treaty of Ghent that would end the War of 1812 spoke as follows...

James Madison, POTUS IV
"The demands of a peace establishment will doubtless engage the immediate attention of Congress.  There are, however, important considerations which forbid a  sudden and general revocation of the measures that have been produced by the war.  Experience has taught us that neither the pacific dispositions of the American people nor the pacific character of their political institutions can altogether exempt them from the strife which appears beyond the ordinary lot of nations to be incident to the actual period of the world, and the same faithful monitor denominates  that a certain degree of preparation for war is not only indispensable to avert disasters at the onset, but affords also the best security for the continuance of peace.  The wisdom of Congress will therefore, I am confident, provide for the maintenance of an adequate regular force; for the gradual advancement of the naval establishment; for improving all the means of harbor defence; for adding discipline to the distinguished bravery of the militia, and for captivating the military art in its essential branch, under the liberal patronage of the government."  If By Sea: the Forging of the American Navy from the Revolution to the War of 1812 (2008, Basic Books,

That was nearly 200 years ago.  How is the US Navy faring now in the age of Obama?  Has Madison's hard-fought wisdom been remembered today by our President or the current crop of Solons in our Congress?

After Seal Team 6 did its job in getting Osama Bin Laden in 2011, one might suppose that the US Navy would be the Obama administration's favorite branch of the military.  The heroics of ST6 have been celebrated in films such as Act of Valor (see earlier post Act of Valor, 6/17/12) and Zero Dark Thirty.  According to a recent Esquire interview with the man who allegedly got Osama Bin Laden, however,  "the shooter" is 'screwed' -- receiving no pension, no protection and minimal health care benefits for his family  (

USS Abraham Lincoln

Spielberg's Lincoln (See earlier post Spielberg's Lincoln, 2/6/13) was recently screened in the White House by President Obama and his guests.  The film is said to have influenced the content of Obama's second inaugural address.  One might presume that anything associated with Lincoln, another lawyer from Illinois who was elected Senator and then President, might have a special cachet with this administration; one would be sadly mistaken.  

Consider the sad fate of the USS Abraham Lincoln.  The Washington Post writes, "The Navy said Friday that it is postponing the overhaul of one of its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers because of budget concerns.  I happened to see this proud ship in May of 2011 in Pearl Harbor where she was about to leave for a "tiger cruise" to San Diego with crew family members invited.  Today, due to the governments inability to function properly, the ship lies languishing without the necessary funding to get it refurbished and modernised.
Representative Bobby Scott, VA
Representative Bobby Scott (, A Democrat from Virginia's 3rd district who opposed the Iraq war, said, "Even weeks before it is to take effect, we are already seeing the harm sequestration will have on the Hampton Roads economy and the readiness of our Navy with the delay of the overhaul of the USS Abraham Lincoln. It is beyond absurd that we were able to find $3.9 trillion to permanently extend most of the Bush-era tax cuts in the fiscal cliff deal without also finding $1 trillion to turn off the sequester. The men and women who serve our nation in uniform deserve better than this. The men and women at Newport News Shipbuilding who build, repair, and maintain the most advanced naval fleet in the world deserve better than this." (

From the same article, "Frank Kendall, deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, called the across-the-board defense spending cuts set to kick in March 1 and the possibility of the government operating under a continuing resolution instead of a budget for the rest of the year a "nightmare scenario" for the Defense Department.
"It's people not flying. It's ships not steaming. It's maintenance not being done. ... It's units not being trained to go to war," Kendall said.
"I think it's utterly unconscionable to put our people who are so dedicated out there into that kind of position," he said during a speech Friday in the Cowen Aerospace and Defense Conference in Washington, DC."

In order to meet our nation's security needs, basic work such as the reconditioning of aircraft carriers must take place.  Let's not forget that it was President Obama who introduced the idea of sequestration in 2011.  "Woodward’s reporting shows clearly that defense sequestration was an idea that came out of Obama’s White House."  ( It is President Obama and his allies in Congress (including strange bedfellows such as Republican Rand Paul, KY) who would, like Jefferson, rather try to purchase peace on the cheap.  (

Commander K. at Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua
Commander Kelly says, "Remember the timeless words of President Madison -- preparation for war is not only indispensable to avert disasters at the onset, but affords also the best security for the continuance of peace.  Obama's idea of 'sequestration' amounts to Sea-Castration for the US Navy."

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Spielberg's Lincoln

Spielberg's Lincoln

Commander Kelly is a qualified Spielberg fan.  The first half hour of Saving Private Ryan is one of the most harrowing and honest depictions of war ever produced in film history; the remainder of the movie is pedestrian.  Spielberg has directed great "entertainments" such as Raiders of the Lost Ark.  He is frequently guilty of a kind of maudlin sentimentality that has worked wonders at the box office (see earlier post, Snorehorse and the Ron Paul campaign, 1/19/12).  He also produced Band of Brothers -- one of the finest history-based television programs ever made.

I approached his Lincoln, therefore, with a mixture of hope and suspicion.

Abraham Lincoln has a place in the great pantheon of Conservative heroes, along with Washington and Churchill that have championed liberty in the hours of her greatest peril.  I have railed against the Lincoln-loathing revisionist historians (see earlier posts Lincoln in London, Ron Paul and Revisionist History, 3/17/12) and enjoy the rich complexity of the US Civil War.  How would Spielberg attempt to portray Lincoln and re-package him for consumption by modern audiences?

The vast majority of Americans have a shocking disregard for history (see earlier post Western Civilization, 2/1/13).  A majority of American fourth grades do not know, for example, why Abraham Lincoln was an important historical figure  I am, therefore, grateful to see Spielberg shine a light on Lincoln in a way that makes him appealing and familiar to a new generation.

It is widely known that Spielberg delayed the release of Lincoln until after the US election of 2012 was over.  Why did he do so?  After Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes interviewed him she declared, "Spielberg decided to hold off releasing the movie until after the November election, because he didn't want the film to become a tug of war about party politics."  (  The truth is that, even today, Lincoln is political dynamite.  Spielberg is a Hollywood Democrat who was making a film about the founder of the Republican party.  One of the central political myths of our time is that the Democratic party is the party of racial equality.  The example of Lincoln shreds this concept and turns it on its head.  The Democratic party was the party of plantation slavery in the South and the Northern "Copperheads" who were complacent about the institution of slavery.*

Thaddeus Stevens
Lincoln tells the tale of how Lincoln shepherded the 13th amendment, which ended slavery in the USA, through passage in the US House of Representatives.  Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, magnificently portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, was far ahead of his time or, indeed, Lincoln in terms of racial equality.  Stevens, who never married, lived with a quadroon widow, Lydia Hamilton Smith; she was his "housekeeper with benefits".  On his death in 1868, Stevens' will stipulated that his corpse would be buried in an unsegregated cemetery -- an unusual request for the time.  The inscription on his headstone reads, "I repose in this quiet and secluded spot, not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited as to race, by charter rules, I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life, equality of man before his Creator."

Lincoln in London, Parliament Square
Photo courtesy of James Hooper
Lincoln, played by Academy-award nominated Daniel Day Lewis, was a masterful storyteller.  In one of the film's highlights, Lincoln tells the hilarious tale of Ethan Hale and the effect of George Washington's picture in a British water closet.  Astonishingly, this is historically accurate in regard to Lincoln, Hale and Washington.  This one scene is worth the price of admission!

Just as the best lines in Patton were spoken or written by George Patton himself (Coppola won the Oscar for best screenplay though), the best lines in this movie were written by Abraham Lincoln.

I worried that Spielberg would apply a bit too much Vaseline to the camera in his scenes with Lincoln.  His use of sepia tones in imitation of Matthew Brady photographs set Lincoln up as as an icon.**  The fact was that Lincoln was neither a saint nor a liberal Chardonnay-sipping 21st century college professor.  He must be understood as within the context and circumstances of his time.  He did violate Habeus Corpus and strained the limits of the constitution nearly to the breaking point.  Lincoln did flirt with the hare-brained idea of deporting ex slaves back to Africa on the war's conclusion.  He also authorized Sherman's march to the sea which brutally set Atlanta ablaze and resulted in many civilian deaths.  The draft riots in New York city were the equivalent of a Confederate battlefield victory.  The extenuating circumstance was that the very existence of the Union was in jeopardy and extreme measures were needed to preserve it.  Lincoln said famously, "The constitution is not a suicide pact."  Habeus Corpus was restored in the USA at the war's conclusion.

The early and brief combat scenes in this movie are truly disappointing, especially from Spielberg who was masterful in Saving Private Ryan.  The major technological innovation in warfare between the Napoleonic era and the US Civil war was the widespread introduction of rifled weapons.  These put much greater range and accuracy in the hands of the infantry.  The kind of hand-to-hand combat represented in this movie was extremely rare during the Civil war.

Spielberg's Lincoln has some historical flaws.  Connecticut, a staunch Union state, DID vote to ratify the 13th
amendment (  Thaddeus Stevens did not use the original copy of the 13th amendment as an aphrodisiac.  Tad Lincoln did not learn of his father's assassination in a crowded theatre.

Most significantly, Lincoln DID NOT strike his son Robert as portrayed in this movie (  This misrepresentation is disturbing as Lincoln was essentially a gentle soul who detested violence and was scrupulous in his personal conduct.

One of the great ironies of American history was that Lincoln, a non-violent pacifist, was Commander in Chief during the bloodiest conflict in American history (About 750,000 American deaths according to revised estimates that came out in 2012  Congressman Lincoln had adamantly opposed the highly popular Mexican-American war (1846 -1848) that gained vast territory (from Texas to California) and cost relatively few American lives (about 13,000 total US casualties).  He was by training a lawyer with no previous military background. Lincoln checked out books on military strategy from the library of Congress to learn more about the art of war.

Consider a bit of counter factual history.  Had the Southern states not seceded and fired on fort Sumter the US Civil war could have been avoided.  President Lincoln would have presided over a period of peace and he would be chiefly remembered for having initiated the transcontinental railway; that is to say, he would be forgotten.  The scope of the crisis brought out the greatness of Lincoln -- our nation's greatest politician and its most humane man.

It is interesting to consider some of the great "ifs" of history.  Had Lincoln been endowed with the military genius of Napoleon, the US Civil war (given the North's many strategic advantages, population, industry, railroads, navy, etc.) might have been brought to a swift close after the first Battle of Bull Run in 1861, saving countless lives.  Early in the war, Lincoln was overly tolerant of a series of incompetent Union commanders.  The great tragedy of the US Civil war was that, due to Lincoln's weakness as Commander-in-Chief and the superiority of Southern generalship, a war that could and should have been won by the North in four months, required four dreadful years.  On the other hand, had Lincoln been like Napoleon...he would not have been Lincoln.

* The first African-Americans elected to the US Senate were Republicans in the reconstruction South.  The vast majority of Black voters supported Republican candidates from 1865 until the 1930's.  The KKK was for many years the "militant wing" of the Democratic party.  DW Griffith's Birth of a Nation, a KKK recruiting film, was the first film ever screened in the White House.  On viewing it Democratic President Woodrow Wilson exclaimed, "It's like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all terribly true."  FDR and particularly Eleanor worked to gain the support of Black Americans, but FDR was the Commander in Chief of a strictly segregated military during World War II.  It was a Republican President (Eisenhower) who integrated the US armed forces and send in the national guard at Little Rock.  A higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the landmark Civil Rights act of 1964.  Ronald Reagan made Colin Powell his National Security Advisor, George HW Bush appointed him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff and George W. Bush made him the first Black Secretary of State.  Bush also appointed Condolezza Rice the first black female Secretary of State.

**  We can be certain that the US Civil War, viewed from the perspective of the combatants, did not resemble a Matthew Brady print or a Ken Burns film; it was fought in living, bleeding color.

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Niall Ferguson's latest

Niall Ferguson's book Civilization: The West and the Rest (2011, Penguin Books argues that Western Civilization may be defined by six "killer apps" that have been the key to its undoubted success.  Ferguson writes,

"What distinguishes the West from the Rest -- the mainsprings of global power -- were six identifiably novel complexes of institutions and associated ideas and behaviours.  For the sake of simplicity, I summarise them under six headings:

1. Competition
2. Science
3. Property Rights
4. Medicine
5. The consumer society
6. The work ethic

To use the language of today's computerised, synchronised world, these were the six killer applications - the killer apps that allowed a minority of mankind originating on the western edge of Eurasia to dominate the world for the better part of 500 years...

1. Competition -- a decentralisation of both political and economic life, which created the launch pad for both nation-states and capitalism

2. Science -- a way of studying, understanding and ultimately changing the natural world, which gave the West (among other things) a major military advantage over the Rest

3. Property rights -- the rule of law as a means of protecting private owners and peacefully resolving disputes between them, which formed the basis for the most stable form of representative government

4. Medicine -- a branch of science that allowed a major improvement in health and life expectancy, beginning in Western societies, but also in their colonies

5. The consumer society -- a mode of material living in which the production and purchase of clothing and other consumer goods play a central economic role, and without which the Industrial Revolution would have been unsustainable

6. The work ethic -- a moral framework and mode of activity derivable from (among other sources) Protestant Christianity, which provides the glue for the dynamic and potentially unstable society created by apps 1 to 5

Ferguson does an excellent job of providing documentation for this stated thesis.  I found his discussion of the consumer society particularly insightful.

It was not military strength or superior espionage that won the Cold war for the West.  Ferguson points out, "If the Cold War had ever become hot, the Soviet Union would very likely have won it.  With a political system far better able to absorb heavy war losses (the Second World War death rate as percentage of the pre-war population had been fifty times higher than that for the United States), the Soviet Union also had an economic system that was ideally suited to the mass production of sophisticated weaponry.  Indeed, by 1974 the Soviets had a substantially larger arsenal of strategic bombers and ballistic missiles.  Scientifically, they lagged only a little way behind  They were also armed with an ideology that was a great deal more appealing than the American alternative in post-colonial societies all over what became known as the Third World, where poor peasantries contemplated a life of drudgery under the corrupt elites who owned all the land and controlled the armed forces...Yet the Cold War turned out to be about butter more than guns, ballgames more than bombs."
The Jeans that helped win the Cold War
I have previously argued that Corporations that cater to the consumer played a decisive role in winning the Cold War (See earlier post The Corporations that Won the Cold War, 8/19/12 ). I cited the San Franciso-based company Levi Jeans and Co. as one of these key companies.  I wrote, "Levi's jeans also suggest the unmistakable appeal of the old West that one could find in cowboy movies (e.g. Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns), TV series such as Gunsmoke and Bonanza and country and western music.  The cowboys were the "good guys," they were rugged individualists and they wore Levi's jeans.  Levi's jeans were the perfect synthesis of democratic egalitarian principles and the libertarian aspirations of the old west, expressed in denim and brass.  They were worn with pride by Joni Mitchell and Ronald Reagan.  A generation of American youth rebelled against parental authority and stifling all wearing the exact same jeans!"

Ferguson writes, "Like young people all over the world, teenagers in the Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe were crying out of jeans.  So it really is bizarre that the United State's principle rival in the post-war world failed to replicate these supremely straightforward items of apparel...It might have been thought that the Western craze for denim had made life easier for the Soviets.  After all, the Soviet Union was supposed to be the proletarian paradise and jeans are a lot easier to make than, say, Sta-Prest toruses (another Levi Strauss invention, introduced in 1964).  Yet somehow the communist bloc failed to understand the appeal of a garment that could equally well have symbolised the virtues of the hardworking Soviet worker.  Instead, blue jeans, and the pop music with which they were soon inextricably linked, became true quintessential symbols of Western superiority...If you were a student living behind the Iron Curtain in the Sixties -- in East Berlin, for example -- you did not want to dress in the sub-Boy Scout uniform of the Young Pioneer.  You wanted to dress like all the young dudes in the West."

Ferguson is preoccupied with the importance of fashion.  The freedom of movement epitomized by jet travel (Boeing was another of the Corporations that won the Cold War, 8/19/12.) was also a major consumer advantage of the West over the Soviet Union.  Consider how dated the phrase "jet set" sounds to our contemporary ears!  Modern jet travel may be many things, but it hardly smacks of elitism as any consumer of commercial aviation can tell you.  Modern air travel has opened up travel options for nearly everyone in the West even as the on board food has deteriorated.


It was not James Bond (or his real life counterparts) that won the Cold War for the West, but it was the James Bond lifestyle!

"Decentralisation", "Property Rights and the rule of law", "Science over superstition", "Medicine that prolongs and values human life", "A consumer society" and a "Moral framework and work ethic"  what do all these killer apps have in common?  It seems quite lear to me that these are all deeply Conservative principles.  The progress of Civilization in the West and throughout the world has been led by Conservative principles.

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tale of 2 Superbowl Ads

Who wins the Superbowl advertising medal in 2013?

For yesterday's Superbowl between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, Jeep produced this ad paying tribute to our American military families.  Oprah Winfrey supplied the narration.

Jeep has proud military heritage having produced over 600,000 vehicles during World War II.  See my earlier post Corporations that Won World War II, see post 7/20/12.

Pistachios, on the other hand, ran with this ad from PSY in the Superbowl...

What's the big deal?  PSY is incredibly popular.  He is cuddly Mr. K-Pop.  He is also the artist who said in his 2004 son Dear American...

"Kill those Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully"

In 2002 Psy smashed an American tank on stage.

Of course, he later apologized.  So that earned him a White House ticket this December and makes everything OK...?  Why did it take eight years and a White House invitation for Psy to realise that he had something to apologise about...?

Psy grew up in South Korea.  36,940 Americans and 1,078 Brits were killed during the Korean war that was launched by the Stalinist North Korea and fought from 1950 - 1953.  My own father served in the US Army during the Korean war.  In the more than sixty years since that time, millions of American families have had their lives disrupted by tours of duty spent keeping the peace in South Korea.  The military support of the US government has helped South Korea to become a free and prosperous nation.  World class companies such as Hyundai and Samsung are headquartered in the Republic of Korea; these companies also advertised in the Superbowl this past Sunday.  These companies cater to the demands of the American consumer while Psy spouts the Anti-American rhetoric of the extreme Left.

It is interesting to note that Iran is the largest Pistachio producer in the world today.

As Gerneral McAuliffe of Bastogne might have said,  "Nuts to you, Psy and Pistachios!"

The First amendment assures that the Pistachio farmers, of course, have every right to employ Psy as their spokesman.  You, dear reader, have a choice.  You can join me in supporting the USO...