I’m Closing Gitmo!

It seemed that the White House doors had barely closed behind him, before Obama was claiming that Gitmo would be shut down, and the military tribunals halted.  There was an immediacy to the reporting that had me questioning, “What are we going to do with the detainees?”  I firmly believe that most, and probably all, of the prisoners there have been put there for a good reason, and that they would be trying to harm the U.S. and its citizens if they were not sitting in Gitmo.

It took one day before I saw another story that said (and I paraphrase), “Gitmo was definitely going to be closed…, by the end of the year.”  Nice, business as usual.

I see a good strategy in this for the Obama camp.  Throw a bone to your supporters claiming to be following up quickly on promises, and then begin to stall the process.  It’s a win-win.  You get to have your supporters actually believe that you are doing what you said you would do, while at the same time not doing it  And in this case you are able to continue to keep America safe from bad guys.  I don’t think we even need to speculate about what would happen to Obama politically if one of the detainees were released, and then was later confirmed to be involved in an attack on the U.S. or its citizens.

The ‘throw them a hollow bone’ ploy seems pretty sound as a political strategy.  It’s hard to find any holes in it.  A year from now when Gitmo is still open, Obama can sympathetically say that he too “does not want this horrible place to stay open”, and that they are shutting it down as quickly as possible.  Then he will say how unfortunate it is that it has to remain open for the time being, and by doing so, will by himself another year.

This idea works for almost anything.  Try this one.  Day one: “I have ordered the removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.”  Day two:  “A schedule is now in place for the removal of all U.S. troops from the Iraqi theatre.  The joint chiefs have now been tasked to come up with a feasible removal plan for all U.S. troops in Iraq.  This, of course, will be gradual and will be accelerated or slowed down as we monitor the stability within the region.”  Wow.  This stuff sounds great.  Why, I think Obama could even increase the size of the force while appeasing his supporters.  Try this one.  Day one: “I have ordered the removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.”  Day two:  “In order to facilitate the orderly withdrawal of our troops from the Iraqi theatre, and to promote the continued stability of the democratically elected Iraqi government, we will be committing 60,000 additional support personnel to the region for the next twelve months to augment the withdrawal efforts.”  This stuff almost writes itself!

I’m depressed now.

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Top 5 Worst Presidents in U.S. History

1. Jimmy Carter– He is hands-down, the greatest embarrassment to the office in the history of the Presidency.  He was an abysmal failure while in office, who could not even pass legislation with a sympathetic Congress.  His economic policies led the U.S. into one of the greatest recessions in its history, and his foreign policies led to events such as the storming of the U.S. embassy in Teheran.  At least, he did his constituency the service of hiding out in the rose garden during most of his presidency and refusing to be the leader that he was elected to be.

Today, he spends much of his time violating two centuries of Presidential decorum by decrying the work of the men who have succeeded him, and sticking his nose into affairs in which it does not belong, such as working with terrorist organizations like Hamas.  Giving him the Nobel Peace Prize cheapened it, and it has become the sad political tool that it is today.  No amount of house building can make up for the awful way he has dragged the most prestigious office on Earth through the mud.

2. Warren Harding– I tried not to hold the fact that a president died in office against him.  Presidents like William Henry Harrison or James Garfield get an incomplete from me.  They are obviously near the bottom, but as a result of their untimely deaths, did not have the opportunity to do anything truly bad to the office.  However, the Harding administration, though only two years in length was simply packed with Presidential embarrassments.  His administration is generally viewed as the single most corrupt in the history of the U.S., and that includes the Grant administration.  Harding was barely by his own party.  He did poorly in the primaries, was part of a split vote at the RNC, and after a deal was struck for his candidacy in the predawn of a hotel room, it still took ten ballots for him to receive the nomination. 

He won the general election by a landslide, and then had to pay back those to whom promises were made.  This led to the appointment of several corrupt individuals to his administration.  Many of his appointees were personal friends who were completely unqualified for the posts to which they were named.  His nominee to head the Veteran’s Bureau robbed its coffers of $200,000,000 and fled the country.  The Justice Department was accused of taking bribes.  The Attorney General was proven to have illegally profited from allowing alcohol to be taken from government supplies during the middle of prohibition, and corruption was discovered in the office of the Alien Property Custodian.

The most egregious example of corruption in his administration was the Teapot Dome Scandal in which the Secretary of the Interior received $400,000 in bribe from oil companies after leasing oil-rich land to them without any competitive bidding.

This was all bad enough, but Harding’s personal problems were also prominent.  He was married, but he carried on several affairs while he was president.  These eventually came to light adding to the cloud that surrounded his presidency.  Today, there are some theories that he was actually poisoned by his own wife.  In any case, he was dead after serving only two years.

3. Andrew Johnson– He was impeached but not convicted on two occasions.  Most historians agree that he did not deserve to be convicted, but his track record in office showed that he did not agree with his party or Lincoln in regards to the position of former slaves in post-Civil War America.  He repeatedly vetoed legislation that was meant to protect the former slaves and allow them to be absorbed into normal American society.  His appointments and policies promoted the establishment of so called ‘black codes’ that allowed southern blacks to be kept in some sort of servitude as second-class persons.  He was instrumental in defeating the 14th Amendment which eventually made the former slaves actual citizens.  Lincoln was a practical man who would do what it took to eventually get the outcome that he wanted, but his appointment of Johnson was easily his biggest mistake, and one, that with his death, could not be undone.  Johnson’s apparent racism which undermined many of the victories that so much blood was shed for during the Civil War put him high on the list.

4. Ulysses S. Grant– Grant’s two terms as president of the U.S. were notable for their corruption and failed domestic policies.  Waffling on the issue of ‘greenbacks’ and allowing unrestrained speculation in the gold market by Jay Gould and James Fisk led to Black Friday in which the Stock Market shut down.  The Grant administration failed to react by releasing gold early.  This caused the ruin of many investors, and when the administration finally did release its gold reserves, it caused a crash in the gold market that led to more ruin.

Though he was never personally accused of corruption, his administration was involved in several famous instances of corruption.  The most famous of these were the Credit Mobilier swindle and the Whiskey Ring.

Grant may have been a great general, but he was not a great president.  His two terms and his military legacy keep him off the bottom of the list.

5. Richard Nixon– Nixon is an anomaly.  His foreign policy achievements could easily have put him into the top 20 presidents of all time.  The problem was that his own paranoia and character flaws led him to use abuse his power as president and to eventually sanction crimes committed at the expense of his political opposition.  Of all the people on the list, his actions as president were probably the worst, but his extremely effective foreign policy keep him off the bottom of the list.

6. James Buchanan– I added a sixth because he is really the only other bad president.  For the most part, America’s presidents have been good and able men who led the country to the best of their ability.  Some may have been less effective than others, and some served short terms, but the true bottom-dwellers are a short list.  Buchanan’s lack of any attempt to keep the U.S. from devolving into Civil War puts him near the bottom of the list.  He and Nero could have played a duet.

Top 20 United States Presidents

A few years ago I ranked the top 20 presidents in the history of the U.S.  I went back recently, and looked at the list again.  I decided that it just did not look right, so I opened a spreadsheet, and began to rank the presidents on several criteria.  These included: Popularity, Character, Number of Terms, the Issues that they had to deal with, their Legacy, the Legislation that they pushed through, their Effectiveness, and their Leadership, and their Negatives.  I gave more weight to: Issues, Legacy, Legislation and Effectiveness.

In the end, my list looked mostly as it had before, but some things looked much better.  Enjoy.

  1. Abraham Lincoln– He had it all: the biggest issue (the Civil War), the best rhetoric, an impeccable character, and was unafraid to take the wheel if it was needed.   He died in office before making any large mistakes.  He tried to choose Lee.  He fired incompetent generals at will, and chose Grant in the end.  He delivered the Gettysburg Address.  He signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  He preferred an easy peace with the South at the end of the war.  On the downside, he did suspend habeas corpus during the war.
  2. George Washington– The first.  He was extremely popular.  He was very careful to set proper precedents for the office.  He had been General of the armies during revolution.  He showed his character by refusing to be king.
  3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt– He had the big events: WWII, the Great Depression.  He is and will be the only four “termer.”  He overcame Polio, and he was an excellent orator.
  4. Thomas Jefferson– He was the author of Declaration of Independence.  He was a Founding Father, and he made the Louisiana Purchase.  However, he did disband the National Bank, and was a somewhat divisive figure.
  5. Theodore Roosevelt II– TR, a true man’s man.  He was a sportsman, and one of the first true American naturalists.  He established many of the National Parks that we have today.  He led the charge up San Juan Hill.  He is a symbol of American Imperialism (“Speak softly and carry a big stick).
  6. Ronald Wilson Reagan– He brought America out of a recession.  He proved the greatness of conservative fiscal and social ideals.  He proved the greatness of capitalism using its principals to economically bring down the greatest threat to America in its history.  He is still known as the Great Communicator.  He won 49 0f 50 states.
  7. James Monroe– Probably the most popular President ever while in office.  His presidency is still known as “the Era of Good Feelings.”  He instituted the Monroe Doctrine which established the attitude that the U.S. did not support European involvement in the Americas.
  8. James Madison– He was president during the war of 1812.  He was a Founding Father, and he was the designer and author of the Constitution.
  9. Harry S. Truman– Two termer.  He had the big event (WWII).  He made what may have been the hardest decision ever made by a president, and it was the right one (the atomic bomb).
  10. Andrew Jackson– He is a two termer.  He was a war hero.  He stood up to the Supreme Court.  He was very popular.
  11. Thomas Woodrow Wilson– He was a two termer who led the U.S. during WWI and started the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.
  12. William Jefferson Clinton– He was very popular.  He was a two termer.  He served during a time of economic growth.  He was fiscally conservative, and was able to get his economic policies passed even though he did not have a sympathetic Congress.  His positives will probably outweigh the negatives caused by his personal problems and impeachment.
  13. George Walker Bush   He has the big events: 911 and the war.  His 911 speech will go down as one of the greatest of any president.  He had a sympathetic congress, and pretty much passes any legislation that he liked during his first two years.  He effectively prosecuted a war against an enemy that could not be easily seen.  He did hot do enough to get his message out there, and as a result, his second term was a failure highlighted by the loss of the Congress, and eventually the Presidency for his party.
  14. Dwight David Eisenhower– He was general of the allied armies during WWII.  He was a two termer who served during a very happy time for America, the 50s.
  15. James Knox Polk  He expanded America more than any president except Jefferson.  Took in the Oregon Territory, and the California Territory.  He annexed Texas (this should get him a couple of more points).  He signed The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  He ran on the slogan of 54-40 or Fight.  His policies stalled the Civil War for a few years.  He did not want to be President, and only served because he was asked to.
  16. John Adams– One of the most important of the Founding Fathers, he stood on his principles and kept America out of an unnecessary war even though it hurt him politically and probably cost him reelection.  He was disliked politically and arrogant.  Also, he signed the Alien and Sedition Acts which were alter declared unconstitutional.  These things pushed him down the list.
  17. John Fitzgerald Kennedy– He was extremely popular.  He faced down the Soviets.  He pushed the Space Program.  He was a good orator.  He was a war hero.  On the downside, there was the Bay of Pigs, the War in Vietnam, and his social life.  Also, his Presidency was cut short. 
  18. William McKinley– He was President during the Spanish American War.  He acquired, Guam, The Philippines and Puerto Rico from Spain.  He also advocated annexation of Hawaii.
  19. George Herbert Walker Bush– He presided over the fall of Communism and Desert Storm.  He was a war hero.  He was the former head of the CIA and former Ambassador to the UN.  On the downside, “No new Taxes” and only one term.
  20. Lyndon B. Johnson– His social policies were largely responsible for the success of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.  However, his welfare state was a big issue.  He got America further involved in Vietnam, and he bowed-out after only one term.

The Prank to End All Pranks…, Literally

I love a good prank, and have been a party to some good ones in my life.  Physical pranks can be funny, but the mental prank that leads a person to believe something that is not true for a certain amount of time is better.  There are several elements that go into making a prank great:

1. Intricacy– For the most part, the more complicated the prank is, the better it is.

2. Difficulty– You definitely receive points for difficulty.

3. Effectiveness– If no one believes the prank, it is not very good.  So, the greatness of the prank is often measured in terms of how much the ‘prank-ee’ believes the premise of the prank.

4. Dismount– Style points are awarded for how artfully the ‘prank-ee’ is allowed off the hook.

5. Effect– This aspect is a little more tricky.  If you fool someone into wearing a tuxedo to an informal dinner, the effect is funny, and it is a great prank.  However, if the greatness of your prank ends up with someone losing their job or heaven forbid, someone ends up dead, then your prank may not be that great.

This all being said, I was perplexed when I read about what arguably may have been the greatest prank in history.  Last week, during the horrible attacks on the Indian province of Mumbai, a person called the president of Pakistan in Islamabad, and purported himself to be the foreign minister from India.  He then proceeded to verbally berate the president of Pakistan which resulted in him putting his air force on alert against a possible attack by India.

This prank was so effective that no one knew it had actually occurred until Secretary Rice confronted the Indian Foreign Minister and asked in why he had done such a thing.  Genius.

As far as rating the prank goes, he scores great in the intricacy and difficulty areas of the prank.  Also, the effectiveness of the prank is off-the-charts (anytime you have the president of a country scrambling his air force, I’d say that’s pretty effective).  He loses points in the area of dismount, because he never really let them off the hook, and if he had admitted what he did, they probably would shoot him (assuming they will not find him and shoot him anyway).

Finally, he loses major points in the area of ‘effect.’  First, the extreme tastelessness which goes along with combining a prank with a terrorist attack is simply bad (to the point of evil).  Second, it is probably a little irresponsible to play around in such a manner with two governments that legendarily hate each other, but at the same time have nuclear weapons.  I think it’s safe to say that if it starts a war (especially a nuclear war) it is no longer a prank.

In the end, I have to say that this is not a good prank, and no one should attempt to repeat anything like it in the future.

Top 50 War Movies (criteria)

When I decided recently to rank my favorite war movies, I went on the internet to see what was out there.  I found lots of lists of movies, but most of them were bad.  They were either done by an outfit looking to get people to purchase the movies from them, or they were done by people who do not know what a war movie is.

Almost every list I looked at included many movies that simply are not war movies.  Gone With the Wind, Schindler’s List, Hotel Rawanda, The African Queen, Forrest Gump, and Casablanca may be movies that took place in a time of war, and whose plots were heavily influenced by war, but they are simply not war movies.  And, I am not intending to take anything away from the greatness of these movies.  I also realize that I am splitting hairs including some movies and not including others, but I have to draw the line somewhere. 

Note: Even though they are some of my favorite movies, Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings are not war movies, and any list of war movies that includes them should be disregarded.  I also did not include Ken Burn’s two masterpieces The Civil War and The War because they are simply not movies in the same sense that the other films included in this list are.

One regret that I discovered as I compiled this list is the amount of history changing wars and events that have never been addresses in film.  I loved Gladiator, but it is sad when this movie is the best historical depiction of a Roman Legion on film.  Where is a great film that deals with the Indian Wars?  And the amount of material covering Napoleon and the American Revolution is shamefully light.

I have to make an admission.  I have not seen every war movie ever made, and I do not intend to do so.  There are also several war movies that I have seen, but cannot remember well enough to comment upon.  In both cases, these movies were not included in my list.

That all being said, I took it upon myself to come up with my list of great war movies.  I tried to make it a top 50 list, but only came up with 45.  You can supply you own additional five to the list if you would like as long as it does not include Pearl Harbor, 300 or Alexander (I just threw up in my mouth).

I attempted to be objective as I compiled the list and came up with a grading system which I found useful.  The ten criteria that I used to judge these films were:

1) Acting and Script– A good movie of any genre has a good script and good acting.

2) Effects and battle scenes– I was forgiving when it came to this category due to the time in which the film was made.  There was a point where the best effect available was a toy boat in a pool of water.  I understand that, but I do expect the maker of the film to at least attempt to recreate the battle scenes.  Movies with large battle sequences and graphically accurate depictions of warfare tended to score high in this category.  I thought that POW camps could be considered an essential part of war, so I included these movies in this list, but movies like Stalag 17 and The Great Escape suffered in the effects/battle scenes category.

3) Importance– In this category, the film was judged on the importance of the subject matter.  Patton, for instance scored very high because he was a seminal figure in the European theatre.  Tora! Tora! Tora! also scored well because it told the story of one of the most important battles in World War II

4) Message– I find that many good war movies have a message in them.  The Bridge on the Rivier Kwai, Gallipoli, and Braveheart are good examples of this.

5) Accuracy– Accuracy is a must in a good war movie.  Nothing hurts my brain more than a director who sacrifices accuracy in order to tell the story the way they want to. Saving Private Ryan lost a couple of points here simply because it is a fiction.  It, however, still scored well because it depicted the war well in general and the battles that the central figures were supposed to be in so accurately.  The Last of the Mohicans, however, did not do as well because even though the battle scenes were done well, the director unnecessarily changed the story up so much from the book, that it was hardly even recognizable any more even though in the end it was a compelling film.  Anachronisms are always a problem.  Fortunately, most of these films do not suffer greatly from this.

6) Epic Quality– I love a good epic, and no genre lends itself more to the epic than war movies.

7) Score– One of the most unobserved but pleasingly essential aspects of a great war movie is a great score.  I’ll have to be honest, I could not remember the scores of some of these movies.  If I could not, I gave them a five in order to be fair, but I thought the fact that I could not remember it, said something.  I definitely remember great scores such as those in Gettysburg, Glory, Braveheart, The Great Escape and Master and Commander among others.

8 ) Scope– Was the subject covered well enough?  Being a complete work of fiction, including the battle itself hurt a movie like the Guns of Navarone in this category.  The Longest Day, on the other hand, covered the subject of D-Day so well, that it would be hard to outdo it.

9) Star Quality– A good war movie usually has great actors in it.  Some movies did well because they had a superstar in the lead role.  Others did well because of the ensemble in the film.

10) Patriotism– I think a good war movie usually leaves the viewer with patriotic feelings.  Movies that depict the military as evil, stupid or apathetic to the plight of soldiers suffered in this category.  These included Gallipoli, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Full Metal Jacket.

I hope you enjoy the list, and feel free to comment and disagree (tastefully) with anything I say.  Also, if there are any egregious omissions, please feel free to remind me.  Enjoy.

I also want to say that I like almost all of these movies, and am somewhat splitting hairs with this list.  If there was no redeeming quality in the movie (Pearl Harbor, for example), it would not be in the list in the first place.  I think it is fair to say that every movie in the top 25 of this list is a great movie.

Top 50 War Movies Criteria

Top 50 War Movies 10-1

Top 50 War Movies 20-11

Top 50 War Movies 30-21

Top 50 War Movies 40-31

Top 50 War Movies 45-41

Lists

Top 50 War Movies #45-41

45) The Guns Of Navarone– (Score 46/100)-  I like the movie, as a movie, but there are no real ‘battle’ scenes in it.  It is also a complete work of fiction, and the effects are poor even for the time that it was made.

44) Kelly’s Heroes– (49/100)- I almost left 44 and 45 off the list because they are fictions and contain so little historical truths.  The Dirty Dozen was not included in the list, but it belongs right here with 44 and 45 for the same reasons.  There are also several anachronisms in this particular film.

43) Letters From Iwo Jima (57/100)-  The main problem with this movie as a war movie is its main point.  I know that Eastwood was showing the Japanese point of view with the movie, but that is really the problem that I have with it.  It is simply too different from what I expect in a war movie.

42) The Wild Geese– (57/100)-  This film is generally underrated as a war film.  Its unique depiction of 20th century European imperialism and mercenary attitudes in post WWII Africa is good, and the battle depictions and acting are not terrible.

41) The Battle of the River Plate – (58/100)-  This movie recounts the events that led to the scuttling of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee.  This is one instance in which the actual historical events surrounding the plot help propel a movie that does not have great effects or acting to the point where it is at least watchable.

Top 50 War Movies Criteria

Top 50 War Movies 10-1

Top 50 War Movies 20-11

Top 50 War Movies 30-21

Top 50 War Movies 40-31

Top 50 War Movies 45-41

Lists

 

Top 50 War Movies #40-31

40) Full Metal Jacket– (58/100)- This is not one of my favorite war movies, but on most of the lists I saw, it scored consistently in the top 10.  I honestly thought that I would have it higher, but here it is at number 40.  The movie suffers from what I call “Stripes Syndrome.”  It is almost as if it is two complete movies: one about basic training, and another about Vietnam.  The first part of the movie is gold, but this is not a list about great basic training movies, or An Office and a Gentleman would be on it.  By the time you get to the second half of the movie, all of the compelling stuff has already happened, and you just want it to end.

39) Stalag 17– (59/100)- This is a good movie with a compelling plot and some good acting, but it takes place in a POW camp, and therefore suffers from a lack of battles in the ‘war movie’ department.

38) Where Eagles Dare– (60/100)-  This is another good movie with good acting, but it suffers from the fact that it is a complete work of fiction.  It is, however, considered to be the one of the best of the fictional war movies.

37) Andersonville– (62/100)-  This was a made for TNT depiction of life at the most brutal prison camp in the South during the civil war.  It suffers from many of the same problems that Stalag 17 does, but it is shows a little more of the actual brutality that often accompanied prisoner of war camps.

36) The Bridge on the River Kwai– (63/100)-  This is really more of a character study than an actual depiction of life in a POW camp run by the Japanese during WWII.  It suffers on this list from the same things that hurt Stalag 17 and Andersonville.  Though it has a great cast, there is some pretty bad acting at times in the film.  It is also a fictional work.  It however deserves some respect because of the mold that it broke when it was made and the fact that it won seven Academy Awards.

35)  The Green Berets– (65/100)- I’m not saying that it is a great movie, but what kind of war movie list would this be if it did not have a few John Wayne movies on it.  At least there are a few good battle scenes in it.

34)  Memphis Belle– (65/100)- It is hard to think of Sean Astin as a war hero, but this is really not a bad movie.  It attempts to encapsulate the trials and tribulations of the average bomber crew in the European theatre during WWII.

33) Sink the Bismarck (67-100)- This movie is on par with The Battle of the River Plate as far as the way it was made.  The ships still have that ‘toy’ quality about them.  The reason it scores higher, it the Bismarck was simply an icon and the Graf Spee was not.

32) The Desert Fox– (70/100)- This biography of Rommell is a very good.  It is not big on battles, and suffers here for it.

31) The Charge of the Light Brigade– (70/100)- The subject is one of the greatest military debacles in history.  The cavalry charges are some of the best to be found on film, but the plot, complete with social commentary tend to make the film tiresome.

Top 50 War Movies Criteria

Top 50 War Movies 10-1

Top 50 War Movies 20-11

Top 50 War Movies 30-21

Top 50 War Movies 40-31

Top 50 War Movies 45-41

Lists