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.