Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paranormal State: 1 , Bulldog Tours: 0
FULL DISCLOSURE: This is the first episode of A & E's Paranormal State I have ever watched. I am also an eighth generation native South Carolinian. I have been a Charleston tour guide for ten years and the author of four books about Charleston and South Carolina history. Until 2006 I worked for John Laverne and Bulldog Tours and regularly gave the tour in the Old City Jail. One of the main reasons I left Bulldog Tours was Mr. Laverne's business model and philosophy - quantity over quality, more tours & more people versus less tours & higher standards.

The cast of the A&E TV show PARANORMAL STATE was in Charleston during August 2010 to film an episode titled "Spirits in the Slave Dungeon." If this is an indication of a typical episode, then I am perplexed with the show's popularity. It was filled with historical inaccuracies and the entire show was built upon several of those inaccuracies. During my research before watching the episode (yes, I research things beforehand ... it's called being prepared, maybe the PS guys should try it) I came across dozens of stories that called into question the ethical standards of the show. Claims of staged scenes, and faked paranormal effects seem to be a common theme. So, I watched ...

First Impressions: I almost never watch TV; I do not have cable or a satellite dish at home so I watched the episode on YouTube. I am also always skeptical of the accuracy of anything done on TV for entertainment. My first clue that this show was going to be bad was the title of the episode, "Spirits in the Slave Dungeon."

First of all, the Old City Jail was not a "dungeon" and was not the location for the imprisonment of slaves, despite what Dr. Powers later says on camera. The slave "Sugar House" location was next door to the jail - more about that later.

Second clue that this show was going to stretch credibility: Michelle Belanger is part of the show's cast - the self-proclaimed so-called psychic vampire, hermaphrodite, goth vocalist, erotic novelist and attention whore. My confidence level was not leaping into the stratosphere.

I was first struck by how staged the entire show was. As the group is walking up the stairs into the jail one of the cast members asks: "Why did you bring us here?" Ryan answers: "We're here to investigate this place," and they all look surprised.

Hello! Aren't you guys doing a television show about paranormal activity? Don't you see the cameras filming you? Don't you travel across America and do this EVERY week? At that moment I knew the entire show was going to be very bad. I wasn't disappointed.

Unfortunately, no one can go to the jail without hearing some version of the story of Lavinia Fisher. Yes, she and her husband were imprisoned in the Charleston city jail, and they may have been guilty of murder (probably 3 victims, not 15) and she was executed in Charleston, but not in her wedding dress. However, she was never held in that small jail cell they showed on camera, mainly because that cell didn't exist until two years ago. So I'm not sure how a disembodied arm covered in lace can appear in a cell that was built as a tour effect.

However, I did love the fact that Ryan asks Bulldog Tour owner, John Laverne, about the ethical and moral dilemma of using the jail for entertainment purposes. Hey Ryan! What are you doing? You do a TV show that uses haunted locations for entertainment purposes. It's like Keith Olbermann asking Joy Behar, "How does it feel to be a pompous blowhard?"

However, Mr. Laverne's answer is the most illuminating, and factually accurate part of the show. In response to being asked if he thinks about the ethics of his company using the building for entertainment he answers, "Not so much. Honestly, I'm not a sensitive person when it comes to the spirit world ... if I've ticked off the ghosts in this building, I apologize," and he laughs.

Ryan then asks Laverne that if all ghosts of this building were able to be freed, how would Laverne feel about that. Laverne answers: "That's right up there with we're going to instill peace on Earth and we're all going to get along. If the ghosts don't want to be here, sure, let them move on, and we'll go to the next haunted location in town."

Good to know what Laverne's priorities are for his company ... not accuracy, not heritage, not respect for a historic location. Money.

The PS team then sits in the courtyard of the restaurant 82 Queen to discuss the first night's investigation. And they immediately begin to complain that the tour guide only talked about white prisoners. They didn't talk about the slaves. Michelle Belanger, so-called psychic, claims she got an image of a black man being whipped and screaming "I'm innocent!" At this point it became clear that they had decided focus on the slave history of the jail, even though they had yet to hear any evidence that there is slave history in the building.

Hey guys, maybe the tour guide didn't talk about slave history at the jail because there isn't very much of it documented. Not at that location. That's the pesky thing about history. Most slaves could never read or write, but whites could and most whites of the 18th and 19th century wrote very little about slaves.

Michelle Belanger then goes to interview Dr. Bernard Powers of the College of Charleston history department. That's like sending Lady GaGa to interview George Gershwin. Dr. Powers then says: "that jail was sometimes referred to as the Sugar House, where slaves were sent to be punished to sweeten them up."

Dr. Powers, let me correct your statement. The jail sat at 21 Magazine Street and the Slave Workhouse was located at 15 Magazine (according to the "1739 Iconography.") The Work House was a converted sugar warehouse. It was a common expression for a white slave owner to threaten a slave by saying, "Don't make me send you to Charleston for a little sugar."

Two slaves, Dolly and Liverpoole, were "burnt on the Work-house Greene" in 1769 for "poisoning an infant." In 1826, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach described the Work House as "having 40 inmates of both sexes." The Work House was torn down after extensive damage from the 1886 Charleston earthquake.

Then Michelle tells the group that she thinks the history of the jail has been "whitewashed." You think, Michelle? Of course it's whitewashed. Bulldog doesn't give history tours in the jail, they give ghost tours. The public doesn't want a history tour, they want a haunted house atmosphere, and Mr. Laverne is more than happy to provide it. Why do you think the jail tour schedule runs every half hour, every night? So 200 people per night can be pushed through that building @ $18 per person, seven nights a week. Most tourists will not purchase a ticket for the Historic Jail Tour, but the Haunted Jail Tour is always an easy sell. As Mr. Laverne said, "I'm not sensitive to the spirit world." If he could no longer market the jail to the public he would happily "go to the next haunted location in town." And this is a man who operates that somehow was voted the BEST TOUR COMPANY IN CHARLESTON in 2010, even though they have the worst reviews of any Charleston tour company.

Given Michelle's concern over the use of this building for entertainment, I wonder how she would feel about Laverne's annual spring party he throws for the hospitality industry of Charleston at the jail - complete with strippers, food, booze, fire-eaters and other entertainment on this "hallowed" ground.

However, at this point in the show, the decision had obviously been made to focus exclusively on the slave history in the jail. And then we have the odd, wacky appearance of Dr. O. (Cultural Anthropologist) who claims that he woke up and the spirits told him to come to the jail.

What no one mentions is - Dr. O hangs around the jail often. It's not some mystical event when he shows up. He probably saw the TV cameras the day before. But Dr. O goes on to school the PS folks on how to cleanse the site from the slave spirits by leaving fruit and lighting candles. That is all well and good but again ... and this is beginning to sound like a broken record ... do it next door at the site of the Work House!

After Dr. O leaves, a thunder storm arrives! Amazing, a thunderstorm in the south on a hot summer August night! That can't be coincidence, right? After all, Charleston never has pop-up thunderstorms during the summer that last 30-40 minutes and suddenly go away, right? (Sarcasm) So, the team sets out the candles and fruit and after the offering, the storm subsides! Will miracles never cease? I guess the spirits were soothed so the storm suddenly ended.

The last segment features John Laverne and Dr. O in a strained meeting facilitated by Ryan, discussing Bulldog's use of the location for entertainment versus respecting the history and legacy of the site. Laverne claims that he wants to be a good "steward of the building." And Bill Clinton did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky, either. Being a good steward means more than just paying tens of thousands of dollars to have access to a location to give tours on the site.

According to the information presented during the credits scroll, we learn that Dr. O has been offered a "consulting position with Bulldog Tours."

Conclusion: Paranormal State is a very lame show, filled with sketchy information and wild leaps of logic. One of the main investigators has a proven track record of deception and the show itself has been accused of unethical behavior. If this is an indication of the quality of the glut of paranormal reality shows on TV, then I certainly haven't missed a single thing by never watching them.

Did anyone on the show do any research to validate Dr. O's claims? Did anyone on the show do any advance research of the jail before they arrived? If so, they would have known the difference between the jail and the Work House. There are at least 200 Charleston tour guides who could have told them the difference.

It's ironic that even though PARANORMAL STATE made little attempt at getting to the truth of City Jail, it did manage to illuminate the reality of Charleston's largest walking tour company - MONEY TRUMPS EVERYTHING.

So, all-in-all. Grade D.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


  1. WHO ARE YOU? The Who
  3. WHAT IS LIFE? George Harrison
  4. WHY CAN'T HE BE YOU? Patsy Cline
  5. WHY WALK WHEN YOU CAN FLY? Mary Chapin Carpenter
  6. ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? Jimi Hendrix
  7. WHAT'S GOING ON? Marvin Gaye
  8. DO YOU FEEL LIKE WE DO? Peter Frampton

Thanks for the offer, Elton, I'll decline.
If not now, it will soon be.

BABY, WON'T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? Louis Prima (and dozens of other singers)
No, I've found a better place. Ever heard of San Jose?

Absolutely! As long as I don't have to see you.
CAN'T YOU SEE? Marshall Tucker Band
Ironic ... since the band's name was taken from a blind piano tuner in Spartanburg, SC.

DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE? Huey Lewis and the News
DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? The Lovin' Spoonful
DO YOU LOVE ME? The Contours and The Dave Clark Five
Probably not.
Yes, I do. Here's the driving directions.
DO YOU WANNA DANCE? Bobby Freeman, The Beach Boys, Del Shannon, The Ramones, Dave Edmunds Yes. Let's do The Horizontal Bop or The Charleston.
If you're from West Virginia, the mother is probably out with the daughter.

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THE RAIN? Credence Clearwater Revival
Yes, and it's clear water!
Deep enough to produce an echo.
By going to San Jose.
By getting some deep love.
One of the greatest protest songs that the 60s Civil Rights movement never embraced. Thousands of black American soldiers fought in Europe and returned to an America that was still rife with Jim Crow laws. After being treated like soldiers and human beings in France, they were in no mood to remain second class citizens in their own country. Listen to it!

IF I SAID YOU HAD A BEAUTIFUL BODY WOULD YOU HOLD IT AGAINST ME? The Bellamy Brothers These guys should get an award for having the guts to actually write a song with this title.
IS THIS LOVE? Bob Marley
Yes, but it's not that deep.
Absolutely! Have you seen her body?
Depends on how deep your love is. Mainly, I vote "go."

They end up being South Carolina Gamecock football fans.
I believe it's in San Jose.
San Jose, to look for our love.
Looking for love in all the wrong places, including San Jose.

Absolutely nothing if you do it wrong. Everything if you do it right.
Are you kidding me? All three are hilarious. If you don't agree, then you're too uptight.
WHO WILL THE NEXT FOOL BE? The Amazing Rhythm Aces
I think I know who it is.
WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN? Credence Clearwater Revival
Al Gore.

WHO'S CRYING NOW? Journey & The Amazing Rhythm Aces (different songs)
Al Gore.
Lady GaGa and Justin Beider.
WHO'S SORRY NOW? Connie Francis
Probably you ... for reading this far.

Because you thought I was serious with the Lady GaGa and Justin Beider suggestion.
It's dangerous and there's probably a dead skunk in the middle.
WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE? Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers
While looking for something deep in all the wrong places in San Jose it seemed like the thing to do.

WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN? Nitty Gritty Dirt Band ( and 100+ other artists)
I'm afraid it already has.
Depends on how shallow your love is.

Twenty years ago Tanya, YES!. But now ... not gonna happen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

AVATAR: A Review


Was there some other movie last year called Avatar? I remember everyone raving about this fabulous movie that was going to redefine cinema. Surely, this is not the same Avatar I just watched. The one that takes place on some planet called Pandora.

First of all, it stole the plot line from a 2nd rate animated movie from the 1990s, FernGully. Every character was as shallow a belly-button swimming pool. You got the gung-ho military guy who only wants to kill and blow stuff up. You also have the corporate CEO, who only cares about profits ... so if you have to kill and blow things up, fine with him. You have the researchers, who are compassionate human beings and self-righteous. And then, you have this indigenous population called Na'vi, whose so-called culture is nothing more than recycled Native American ("Injuns," they used to be called in Hollywood, when they were played by dark-skinned Jews or Italian actors) traditions.

For a movie billed as so inventive, how did I know the entire plot within 10 minutes. How could I recite the dialogue before the characters even uttered the words? This is a 45-minute film stretched to almost 3 hours.

Stay away from this piece of excrement, and someone please direct me to that other Avatar movie everyone was talking about.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


1845. Andrew Jackson, seventh president, dies

Jackson is linked in history to Charleston, SC for two reasons.

ONE: His mother, Elizabeth, volunteered as a Revolutionary War nurse in Charleston. During an outbreak of cholera on-board a medical ship in Charleston harbor, Jackson succumbed to the disease and was buried in Charleston in an unmarked grave. (Subsequently discovered to on the campus of the College of Charleston.)

TWO: The Petticoat Affair.

Margaret "Peggy" O'Neale was the daughter of William O'Neale, who owned a Washington, D.C. boarding-house called the Franklin House. It was a social center of politicians. He and his wife ensured Margaret was well-educated, and was well known for her ability to play the piano. In 1816 she married her first husband John B. Timberlake, a purser in the U.S. Navy. She was 17, and he was 39. He had been heavily in debt for years. Peggy was renowned for having a "vivacious" temperament. They had three children together, with one dying in infancy.

Margaret Timberlake and her husband, John, had been friends with Senator John Henry Eaton since they met in 1818, when Eaton was a 28-year-old widower and newly elected US Senator. After Timberlake told him about her financial problems, Eaton tried to get the Senate to pass a petition to pay debts accrued while Timberlake was in the Navy, but was unsuccessful.

With the encouragement of President Andrew Jackson, who liked them both, Peggy Timberlake and Eaton married shortly after her husband's death, although according to the social mores of the day, it would have been more proper for them to wait a longer time. Their action scandalized respectable people of the capital, especially many women. Second Lady Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun led a phalanx of other Cabinet wives in an "anti-Peggy" coalition. Prominent women snubbed Margaret Eaton.

Martin Van Buren, a widower and the only unmarried member of the Cabinet, allied himself with the Eatons. Jackson was sympathetic to the Eatons, in part, perhaps, because his own beloved late wife, Rachel Robards, had been the subject of innuendo. Jackson believed such rumors were the cause of her heart attack and death December 22, 1828, several weeks after his election. (Her first marriage had not yet been legally ended at the time of her wedding to Jackson.) Even Rachel's niece Emily Donelson, whom Jackson called on as his "First Lady," sided with the Calhoun faction.

Jackson appointed Eaton as his Secretary of War, hoping to limit the rumors, but the scandal intensified. Jackson felt political opponents, especially those around Calhoun, were feeding the controversy. The controversy finally resulted in the resignation of almost all members of the Cabinet over a period of weeks in the spring of 1831. Postmaster William T. Barry would be the lone member to stay.

Jackson elevated Van Buren as his favorite and replaced Calhoun as vice presidential running mate in his re-election campaign. Van Buren thus became the de facto heir to the Democratic Party. Although Emily Donelson had supported Floride Calhoun, Jackson kept his niece as his official hostess.

John Calhoun and his wife returned to South Carolina. In 1832 he won a seat in the U.S. Senate. He advocated states' rights, slavery, and economic issues affecting the South, eventually including secession from the Union.

Monday, June 7, 2010


On this day in 1692, a massive earthquake devastates the infamous town of Port Royal in Jamaica, killing thousands. The strong tremors, soil liquefaction and a tsunami brought on by the earthquake combined to destroy the entire town.

Port Royal was built on a small island off the coast of Jamaica in the harbor across from present-day Kingston. Many of the buildings where the 6,500 residents lived and worked were constructed right over the water. In the 17th century, Port Royal was known throughout the New World as a headquarters for piracy, smuggling and debauchery. It was described as "most wicked and sinful city in the world" and "one of the lewdest in the Christian world."

Earthquakes in the area were not uncommon, but were usually rather small. In 1688, a tremor had toppled three homes. But four years later, late in the morning on June 7, three powerful quakes struck Jamaica. A large tsunami hit soon after, putting half of Port Royal under 40 feet of water. The HMS Swan was carried from the harbor and deposited on top of a building on the island. It turned out to be a refuge for survivors.

Residents also soon discovered that the island of Port Royal was not made of bedrock. The relatively loosely packed soil turned almost to liquid during the quake. Many buildings literally sank into the ground. In the aftermath, virtually every building in the city was uninhabitable, including two forts. Corpses from the cemetery floated in the harbor alongside recent victims of the disaster.

On the main island, Spanish Town was also demolished. Even the north side of the island experienced great tragedy. Fifty people were killed in a landslide. In all, about 3,000 people lost their lives on June 7. There was little respite in the aftermath--widespread looting began that evening and thousands more died in the following weeks due to sickness and injury. Aftershocks discouraged the survivors from rebuilding Port Royal. Instead, the city of Kingston was built and remains to this day the largest city in Jamaica.

Sunday, June 6, 2010



Although the term D-Day is used routinely as military lingo for the day an operation or event will take place, for many it is also synonymous with June 6, 1944, the day the Allied powers crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, beginning the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control during World War II. Within three months, the northern part of France would be freed and the invasion force would be preparing to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet forces moving in from the east.

With Hitler's armies in control of most of mainland Europe, the Allies knew that a successful invasion of the continent was central to winning the war. Hitler knew this too, and was expecting an assault on northwestern Europe in the spring of 1944. He hoped to repel the Allies from the coast with a strong counterattack that would delay future invasion attempts, giving him time to throw the majority of his forces into defeating the Soviet Union in the east. Once that was accomplished, he believed an all-out victory would soon be his.

On the morning of June 5, 1944, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious military operation in history. On his orders, 6,000 landing craft, ships and other vessels carrying 176,000 troops began to leave England for the trip to France. That night, 822 aircraft filled with parachutists headed for drop zones in Normandy. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion.

By dawn on June 6, 18,000 parachutists were already on the ground; the land invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches; so did the Americans at Utah. The task was much tougher at Omaha beach, however, where 2,000 troops were lost and it was only through the tenacity and quick-wittedness of troops on the ground that the objective was achieved. By day's end, 155,000 Allied troops--Americans, British and Canadians--had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.

For their part, the Germans suffered from confusion in the ranks and the absence of celebrated commander Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was away on leave. At first, Hitler, believing that the invasion was a feint designed to distract the Germans from a coming attack north of the Seine River, refused to release nearby divisions to join the counterattack and reinforcements had to be called from further afield, causing delays. He also hesitated in calling for armored divisions to help in the defense. In addition, the Germans were hampered by effective Allied air support, which took out many key bridges and forced the Germans to take long detours, as well as efficient Allied naval support, which helped protect advancing Allied troops.

Though it did not go off exactly as planned, as later claimed by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery--for example, the Allies were able to land only fractions of the supplies and vehicles they had intended in France--D-Day was a decided success. By the end of June, the Allies had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy and were poised to continue their march across Europe.

The heroism and bravery displayed by troops from the Allied countries on D-Day has served as inspiration for several films, most famously The Longest Day (1962) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). It was also depicted in the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers (2001).

Friday, June 4, 2010


You've heard of "the day the music died." How about "the day music was rejuvenated?"

Millions of people claim to have been at Woodstock when only 500,000 or so were really there, but in proportion, the Sex Pistols’ appearance at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England, on June 4, 1976 was attended by less than 50 people, but had almost as great as impact as the overly-revered hippie love fest.

The Sex Pistols had been playing together under that name for only seven months, and though their look, their sound and their nihilistic attitude were already in place, they and the entire British punk scene were still a few months away from truly breaking out. They had drawn just enough attention in the British music press, though, to inspire two young men from Manchester named Howard DeVoto and Pete Shelley to go down and see them play in London in February. From this experience, two things happened: DeVoto and Shelley arranged for the Sex Pistols to come up north and play the Lesser Free Trade Hall; and then they formed their own new band, called the Buzzcocks. News of the June 4 gig in Manchester spread mostly by word of mouth, such that on the night of the show, perhaps as few as 40 people showed up in a room that could hold hundreds. In that small crowd, however, were some names that would help shape the course of pop music over the next decade:

Howard DeVoto and Pete Shelley: Their band, the Buzzcocks, would go on to enjoy enormous popularity and influence in the UK both during and after the punk era.

Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook: The very next day, Hook would buy his first guitar, and the three young Mancunians would become a band. That band—originally called the Stiff Kittens and later Warsaw—was Joy Division, one of the best-known and most influential of all the early New Wave bands

Mark E. Smith: Following the Sex Pistols gig, he started The Fall, a post-punk band that never had a true hit record but influenced generations of followers from Nirvana to Franz Ferdinand

Steven Patrick Morrissey: The last of these notables to make a name for himself, but one of the most successful, both as leader of the Smiths in the mid-1980s and as a solo artist thereafter

Tony Wilson: Manchester TV news presenter who would be inspired to start the record label Factory Records, which would help create the thriving Manchester scene of the 1980s and early-90s

Just a few days after the Sex Pistols stormed Manchester on this day in 1976, they returned to London for gigs on July 4 and 6 that featured two brand-new bands as opening acts: The Clash and The Damned. Three weeks after that, their return gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall (featuring opening act the Buzzcocks) drew hundreds, as the punk era unofficially opened.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

TODAY IN HISTORY, 1985: Serial Killer Couple Arrested

Leonard Lake is arrested near San Francisco, California, ending one of the rare cases of serial killers working together. Lake and Charles Ng were responsible for a series of particularly brutal crimes against young women in California and the Pacific Northwest during the mid-1980s.

Lake was a former Marine who had served time in Vietnam. Ng, born in Hong Kong, was educated in England, and attended college in California briefly before being caught with automatic weapons that he had stolen from a military base in Hawaii and sent to Leavenworth federal prison. After his release, Ng hooked up with Lake in California and the two began a series of murders.

Ng and Lake shared a love of John Fowles' The Collector, a book in which the protagonist kidnaps a woman solely to keep her in his possession, like the butterfiles he collects as a hobby. Creating "Operation Miranda," named after a character in the book, Ng and Lake began kidnapping young women and bringing them to a cinderblock bunker in a secluded area south of San Francisco. There, they tried to brainwash the women into becoming their willing sex slaves. They also kidnapped a young couple and their infant son in San Francisco while at their home pretending to be interested in some audiovisual equipment the couple was selling and later killed them.

Lake, who had been arrested in 1985 for his connection to a burglary committed by Ng, ingested a cyanide capsule while in custody, and killed himself. Ng escaped to Canada, where he successfully avoided extradition for almost six years. When he was finally returned to California for trial, he utilized other delaying tactics. By the time he was finally convicted, he had gone through multiple attorneys and judges. It was one of the longest homicide prosecutions in state history and one of the costliest, at approximately $11 million dollars.

The trial itself was unorthodox. Ng persuaded the judge to let him testify in his own defense, against his attorney's advice. He told the jury that he was Lake's subservient partner, and denied killing anyone. The prosecution used his testimony to introduce new evidence, including cartoons drawn by Ng depicting babies being smashed, drowned, fried in a wok, and put in a microwave oven. Ng said the cartoons were meant to be funny. After a four-month trial, the jury convicted Ng and he was sentenced to death in 1999.

Monday, May 31, 2010


A list of war movies to watch for Memorial Day.


FULL METAL JACKET (1987) Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey. Stanley Kubrick's intense film follows a group from boot camp to Vietnam. INTENSE!

GLORY (1989) Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes. Best Civil War movie ever made.

THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland. A major in America’s OSS trains a group of doomed convicts into an elite special missions force tasked with raiding a fortified Nazi chateau full of vacationing officers. VERY FUN!

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Paul Giamatti, Ed Burns. When a World War II private’s three brothers are all killed in action, a platoon is dispatched to retrieve him and send him home amid the European Theater’s last major offensive.

PLATOON (1986) Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Forest Whitaker, Keith David. Oliver Stone’s autobiographical account of his experiences in Vietnam charts the change in disposition of its characters in the face of the war’s shockingly commonplace atrocities.

STALAG 17 (1953) William Holden, Otto Preminger, Peter Graves. An unscrupulous U.S. POW is suspected by fellow inmates to be spying on behalf of their German captors.

THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough. A mostly-true story of the Nazi's plan to isolate the most escape-prone POWs in one "escape proof" facility.

M*A*S*H (1970) Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Robert Duvall. Dark, funny and harrowing.

SHENANDOAH (1965) James Stewart, Doug McClure, Denver Pyle, Patrick Wayne, Katherine Ross. A Virginia farmer's determination not involve his family in the Civil War falls apart when his youngest son is mistaken as a Rebel and taken into Union custody.

THE CAINE MUTINY (1954) Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Lee Marvin. The new captain of the U.S. S. Caine, a mine sweeper, drives the crew to the brink of mutiny.

A MIDNIGHT CLEAR (1992) Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Ethan Hawk. A German platoon surrenders to an American unit during a temporary truce in the final days of WWII. Over the Christmas holidays the two sides bond, but are then forced to fight when the truce is rescended.

GALLIPOLI (1981) Mel Gibson, Mark Lee. A couple of Australian sprinters face the brutalities of war when they are sent to the front lines.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Saw the new Robin Hood film this week and unfortunately, Hollywood has still yet to make a great (or accurate) Robin Hood flick.

1. R
OBIN AND MARIAN (1976) Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn., Robert Shaw and Richard Harris. This is the best cast of any Robin Hood movie. This is actually an "after-the-legend" story. Robin is approaching fifty years old, and he is a captain in the army of King Richard the Lion-Heart. After the King's death, Robin and Little John return to Sherwood Forest to discover that Marian had joined a convent.

I cannot spoil the story by telling you the rest of the plot. Rest assured the story is NOT swashbuckling, it is about the enduring love between two opposite, middle-aged people. Marian's speech to Robin at the end is one of the greatest "I love you" moments in cinema. Robin and Marian is one of the most romantic movies of the 1970s, and very few people have seen it.

2. ROBIN HOOD (1973) Disney's animated version. Despite the fact that all the characters are portrayed by humanoid animals (some with hick Southern accents and others with proper English accents) this is actually one of more accurate portrayals of the Robin Hood legend.

3. WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN (1975) Okay technically, this is not a film, it was an ABC-TV series that ran for 13 episodes, and is still one of my all time favorite shows. Created and Produced by Mel Brooks, this was his warm-up for 1993's Robin Hood: Men In Tights

The production was run by the same team responsible for the hit Get Smart! The idea was: Robin Hood and his merry men were all idiots! One of the running plotlines was King John's attempts to establish a monopoly of the olive oil market. "Anyone who wants to make a salad will have to come to me!" Still one of the funniest sitcoms of all time!

4. ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (1993) Pale theatrical version of aforementioned When Things Were Rotten.

5. ROBIN HOOD (2010) Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt and Max Von Sydow. Gladiator in Sherwood Forest! If you don't care about a logical plot, or care about the Robin Hood legend, you will love this movie. Lots of fighting, treachery and derring-do! Even though it makes no sense. The main complaint though: it's a prequel! The movie ends at the point it should actually begin!

6. THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. The first big Hollywood treatment set the standard (and storyline) for the next 50 years. But these days it comes across as silly and amateurish.

HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991) Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christian Slater. Awful. Boring. Depressing. Costner uses an English accent with certain words, but the rest of the time doesn't bother. What a disaster!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

TODAY IN HISTORY: Tarleton Gives "Quarter: & Fremont Heads West

On this day in 1780, the treatment of Patriot prisoners by British Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his Loyalist troops leads to the coining of a phrase that comes to define British brutality for the rest of the War for Independence: "Tarleton's Quarter."

After the surrender of Charleston on May 12, the 3rd Virginia, commanded by Colonel Abraham Buford, was virtually the only organized Patriot formation remaining in South Carolina; British Colonel Banastre Tarleton had been given the mission to destroy any colonial resistance in the state. At Waxhaws on the North Carolina border, a cavalry charge by Tarleton's men broke the 350 remaining Patriots under Buford. Tarleton and his Tories proceeded to shoot at the Patriots after their surrender, a move that spawned the term "Tarleton's Quarter," which in the eyes of the Patriots meant a brutal death at the hands of a cowardly foe. The Continentals lost 113 killed and 203 captured in the Battle of Waxhaws; British losses totaled 19 men and 31 horses killed or wounded. Although they were routed, the loss became a propaganda victory for the Continentals: wavering Carolina civilians terrified of Tarleton and their Loyalist neighbors were now prepared to rally to the Patriot cause.

Under the leadership of Thomas Sumter, the Patriot militia quickly returned the terror in kind with their own brutal raids on Carolina loyalists. Carolinians went on to fight a bloody civil war in which they killed their own with far greater efficacy than any outsider sent to assist them.


John C. Fremont again departs from St. Louis to explore the West, having only recently returned from his first western expedition.

The son of a French father and American mother, Fremont had an unstable and nomadic childhood, and money troubles often plagued his family. He was kicked out of the College of Charleston for "consorting with a mulatto wench." As a young man, he showed an aptitude for mathematics and surveying, and in 1838, he won a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers. In 1842, he received an assignment to make a survey of the Platte River, and set out with 24 companions, including the famous guide Kit Carson. During five months of travel, Fremont crossed the South Pass in central Wyoming and explored the Wind River Mountains.

Scarcely before he had time to recover from his first expedition, Fremont was preparing to depart on his second. On this day in 1843, Fremont left St. Louis on a much more ambitious journey to explore the Oregon country. In Colorado the party met up with Carson, who had again agreed to serve as a guide. On September 6, the Fremont caught site of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, "stretching in still and solitary grandeur far beyond the limits of our vision." By early November, they arrived at Fort Vancouver, across the Columbia River from the present-day site of Portland.

Having surveyed the Oregon country, Fremont's orders were to return east via the Oregon Trail. Fremont, however, apparently decided this would be an inadequately grand approach, and decided instead to head south and cross the Sierra Nevada in the middle of the winter. The journey was awful and nearly disastrous. Fremont and his men struggled with the deep snow and bitter cold; they often got lost and ate their horses to survive. Thanks to the skill of Carson and amazing good luck with the weather, the expedition eventually emerged from the mountains and limped into Sutter's Fort on March 6, 1844. After resting for three weeks, they returned east by a route that took them through the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains of Utah.

With the help of his wife, Jessie, Fremont wrote a detailed account of his western adventures. The report made some notable errors. Fremont foolishly identified the country around the Great Salt Lake as fertile-a mistake that contributed to the Mormons decision to migrate to the area. However, Fremont's account did provide the first comprehensive scientific survey of vast areas of the West.

Fremont went on to lead two other successful expeditions to the West. His reports of these and his earlier journeys made him a national hero and he later went into politics. He lived into his early 70s, but the four western journeys he made before he was 40 remained his greatest achievements.

Friday, April 23, 2010


The first non-military shot of the Civil War was fired in Charleston at the Democratic Convention, April 23,1860. The Democrats were split between two factions – abolitionists, and pro-slavery - and the choice of Charleston as the location to host the convention was, at best, inept. Robert W. Johannsen, in his book Politics and the Crisis of 1860 wrote:

No American political convention has ever held so much meaning for party and union as that . . . which gathered in Charleston . . . Upon the decision at Charleston rested not only the future of the Democratic Party but also the continued existence of the Union.

The choice of Charleston as the site of the convention was truly inept. The Democratic Party that met in 1860 was deeply divided by one issue - slavery. Stephen Dougl

as was the clear favorite of Northern Democrats, while the Southerners demanded that the Party come out with a platform in clear defense of slavery. The decision to hold the convention in Charleston, the largest slave port in the United States and the most ardent defender of the "peculiar institution," has to rank at one of the worst decisions in American political history. It may have sounded like a good idea to hold the convention in a Southern state. The hope was that this symbolic act of "healing" would help win the region in the election and solidify the Union behind the Democratic Party. They were wrong. The 1968 Chicago Convention was a love fest in comparison.

Democratic Convention, 1860, Hibernian Hall (Harper's Weekly, April 1860)

The convention convened on April 23 and the Southern Democratic delegations began to press their long-rumored plan to walk out unless a plank that called for passage of a federal slave code was included in the party platform. Then, there were the "fire-eaters”, a group of Southern Democrats who actually wanted the Republican candidate to win the election, thus hastening the secession of the slave states.

The weather during that last week of April 1860 was not unusual for the low country - hot and muggy with daytime temperatures hovering in the mid-90s and nighttime temperatures remaining in the 80s. The heat inflamed an already edgy population, and was an irritant to the visitors already in a bad mood.

Charleston was not a large city and had never hosted a national party convention before. The city was not centrally located and physically could not support such a large gathering. Hotel accommodations were limited and hotel owners had colluded to fix higher prices during the convention. Transportation problems were monumental. A passenger had to change trains six times between Washington and Charleston. Franklin Pierce, former U.S. President and delegate to the convention wrote, “I have never been taught to believe in eternal damnation, but if it exists, the journey to Charleston has given me the only sample I shall ever need.”

Fifteen hundred Douglas delegates took over the Mills House Hotel, at five to six people per room. They also rented Hibernian Hall and set up 132 cots in the main room. The Charleston Hotel housed the more radical secessionist delegates.

What followed was the longest and most divisive political convention in Untied States history.The two factions of delegates were so badly divided that fistfights broke out on the Hall. The violence spilled out into the streets and local taverns. Gunshots were fired into the ceiling and knives were pulled by passionate delegates during heated debates on the Convention floor.

The delegates from New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts arrived in Charleston on luxury steamship liners and stayed on board in their staterooms. The New York delegation, knowing the reputation of Charleston, arrived with thirty barrels of whiskey and "forty women of questionable character." The Pennsylvania delegation arrive with 200 cases of ale and "thirty-two amiable females." The Massachusetts delegations - the Puritans! - arrived with no alcohol and no women. Some things never change.

After a riotous week, the convention went through 54 ballots but Douglas failed to achieve the needed 2/3 of the votes. Forty-five delegates from nine southern states walked out. The convention adjourned without a Presidential nominee. They reconvened in June in Baltimore where Douglas was nominated. As in Charleston however, the Baltimore convention was disrupted by a delegate walkout. This time, the walk-out delegates decided to meet separately and nominate their own presidential candidate-Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. Breckinridge ran as a Southern Democrat and won 18 percent of the vote and carried eleven states. Douglas won 29 percent of the vote but carried only one state. Abraham Lincoln, the Republican, was elected - setting the stage for the formation of the Confederate States of America.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


The earth is getting hotter!! The earth is getting colder!! Thousands of plants and animal species become extinct every year!! Cigarette smoke is a prime cause of global warming. Climate change is increasing the rise of super storms and dramatic weather. Massive hurricanes, colder winters, hotter summers, and tornados. Lions, and tigers, and bears - OH MY!

Most of the media agree with those statements. Most political liberals also agree. Most Hollywood celebrities agree, and Al Gore is their guru on the environment.

I read Al Gore's book Earth In the Balance. It's an interesting book because Gore relied on fear and shame to make his point. This may work if you’re Catholic, Baptist or just a typical American voter who gets his news in 5 minute bytes on TV or radio at the top of the hour, but never reads anything more challenging than the back of a cereal box. However, it's not difficult to see the flaws in Gore's logic, or as he calls it “An Inconvenient Truth."

Gore claims that scientists report the hottest years on record all happened in the 1990s, but it doesn't tell you that two British scientists say the planet has been cooling since 1998. Gore also claims that scientists are almost unanimous in their support of the notion that humans are responsible for global warming. Gore would like for you to forget that he was challenged by several of the VERY scientists he cited as agreeing with him when he presented a speech at the Kyoto Summit in the 90s. Seems Gore didn’t quite tell the whole truth because the scientists who came out actually said they were unsure if mankind was causing global warming.

Gore has also proposed a pollution tax. "Penalizing pollution instead of penalizing employment will work to reduce that pollution," Gore said in a speech at New York University School of Law. The pollution tax would replace all payroll taxes, including those for Social Security and unemployment compensation, Gore said. He said the overall level of taxation, would remain the same. And last week at the United Nations, Gore claimed that cigarette smoking was a leading cause of global warming.
"Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your
life." - Brooke Shields, an Al Gore supporter.

Many of the things that Gorenventalists claim as fact actually have an inconvenient truth attached to them - they are theories, not facts. But the truth has never been inconvenient for crusaders. It's easier to forgive when those lies benign - like Al Gore invented the internet! and I smoked but didn't inhale! - but it's not so easy when those lies have been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. Environmental liberal do-gooders and militant socialists are responsible for one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century, on par with the Jewish holocaust and Stalin's mass murder of the Russian people by execution and starvation.

DDT was banned by President Richard Nixon's Environmental Protection Agency in the early 1970s, after Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, claimed to show that DDT threatened human health as well as bird populations. Rachel Carson was listed by Time magazine as one of 100 Most Important People of the Century. Also listed are
  • Mao Zedong (responsible for 49 million deaths)
  • Adolph Hitler (12 million deaths)
  • Ho Chi Minh (10 million deaths)
  • V.I. Lenin (5 million deaths)
According to all the figures, Rachel Carson (pictured left) ranks third on the list of 100 Most Important People of the Century for deaths attributed to the actions and leadership of one person. She helped create a lot of silence in Africa.

Does this woman look like a mass murderer?

Huge amounts of DDT were sprayed in America. People used to run toward the truck spraying clouds of DDT -- as if it was an ice-cream truck -- they were so happy to have mosquitoes repelled. Tons of DDT were sprayed on food and people. Despite this overuse, there was no surge in cancer or any other human injury. Nevertheless, the environmental hysteria led to DDT's suppression in Africa, where its use had been responsible for a dramatic reduction in deaths. American foreign aid could be used to finance ineffective alternative anti-malaria methods, but DDT could not.

Within a short time, the mosquitoes and malaria reappeared, and deaths skyrocketed. Tens of millions of people have died in that time. The rich white sanctimonious environmental militants slept each night in air conditioned homes while millions of poor African children died.

Last month, the World Health Organization announced that it supports indoor spraying of DDT. "The scientific and programmatic evidence clearly supports this reassessment," said Dr. Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, WHO assistant director-general for HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. "DDT presents no health risk when used properly." Some environmental groups have also changed their anti-DDT tune, including Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club.

Last year, Greenpeace spokesman Rick Hind told the New York Times, "If there's nothing else and it's going to save lives, we're all for it. Nobody's dogmatic about it."

Easy to say now, Rick. But what about the mass murder of Africans who died when groups like Greenpeace (who are almost always rich, liberal whites) refused to budge on the ban? Might an apology be in order? Might a class action law suit be a possibility against Rachel Carson, the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club for actively keeping DDT banned for these decades?And now, these are the same people and the same groups that are pushing the global-warming scare. If so many 'experts' could be so wrong about DDT, why should we trust them now?



"We have about five more years at the outside to do something."

- Kenneth Watt, ecologist

"Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind." - George Wald, Harvard Biologist

"We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation."
- Barry Commoner, Washington University biologist

"Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction." - New York Times editorial, the day after the first Earth Day

"Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years."
- Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

"By...[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s."- Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

"It is already too late to avoid mass starvation." -Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day

"Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions....By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine."
-Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University

"Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support...the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...."
- Life Magazine, January 1970

"At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it's only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable."
- Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

"Air certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone." -Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

"We are prospecting for the very last of our resources and using up the nonrenewable things many times faster than we are finding new ones."
- Martin Litton, Sierra Club director

"By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate...that there won't be any more crude oil. You'll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill 'er up, buddy,' and he'll say, `I am very sorry, there isn't any.'"
- Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

"Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct."- Sen. Gaylord Nelson

"The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age."- Kenneth Watt, Ecologist


I rest my case.