Monthly Archives: September 2015

Armed Struggle The History of The IRA -book review

Armed Struggle The History Of The IRA by Richard English is a well written and extensively documented study. Depending upon your point of view, the Irish Republican Army is either a heroic revolutionary movement, or a terrorist organization. Richard English is able to present the social and historical complexities of the IRA, without taking a political side.

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Without a doubt, the IRA is one of the most successful guerrilla armies in history. With a small group of lightly armed people, it was able to successfully fight the British army to a standstill. The United Kingdom was forced to grant independence to most of Ireland on January 21, 1919.

It is that most part which lead to the split of Northern Ireland from the rest of the Island, and caused a split in the IRA itself.  This lead directly to what the Irish refer to as “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

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Most Americans, even those of Irish heritage, have very little idea of the issues in Northern Ireland other than some sort of vague notion of it being some sort of religious war.  This book is fascinating, since it shows that while religion is one of the issues is is not at all the most important.

How did the IRA rebels allow Northern Ireland to be split off in the first place? Why fight a war of independence and then settle for a partial victory? The answer is that most Irish always considered the Northern Irish to be something different.

IRA leader Michael Collins himself stated that the Northern Irish were different. He considered them part Irish, part English  – not really fitting in anywhere. That was because most of Ireland was a rural nation, with Dublin being a city of professionals. Belfast, on the other hand, has always been a working class factory city. The people there seemed more like people from Manchester England than those from Southern Ireland.

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It is this attitude that left Northern Ireland out of the independence agreement signed with the UK. The Northern Irish Catholics felt betrayed and became an unwanted minority in their own homes, since the majority of those in Northern Ireland are Protestant.

Armed Struggle The History Of The IRA covers in detail all The Troubles. There was Bloody Sunday on January 30, 1972 where peaceful Catholic protesters were  massacred. There was the formation of the PIRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army). There were prison hunger strikes and deaths, and ongoing bombings in Ireland and the UK.

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For an outsider is it difficult to follow exactly what happened during that time period. Armed Struggle The History Of The IRA explains and makes sense of these times.

Perhaps the most amazing part is that peace actually did come to Norther Ireland. On April 10, 1988 the Good Friday Agreement was reached which allowed for a sort of power sharing arrangement in Northern  Ireland.  For the most part it ended the violence. Of course, it is still a very uneasy peace. All sides are unhappy with the agreement, and all sides do not trust each other. However,  somehow the Good Friday Agreement has held together.

Most Americans do not realize that President Bill Clinton was one of the major reasons that the Good Friday Agreement happened.  Clinton was a driving force bringing peace to Northern Ireland. However, Americans were much more interested in his sexual escapades to pay attention to this achievement.

What will happen next in Northern Ireland? This is hard to tell. The PIRA still exists as to the Ulster Unionists. The sister of the IRA hero Bobby Sands (who died in a prison hunger strike) has said many times that this is not what her brother died for.

Perhaps the best way to describe Northern Ireland is to use a quote from the American novelist William Faulkner, who once said:

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

 

 

 

Kill The Messenger – movie review

Kill The Messenger tells the story of an American hero most people have never heard of. Gary Webb was a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News when in 1996 he wrote a story that would shock Washington D.C.  He showed that the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, which the Regan administration had been supporting, were making millions of dollars smuggling  cocaine into the United States.  The story went on to report that the Central Intelligence Agency had been aware that the Contras were shipping drugs to the U.S. and did nothing to try to stop it. In some cases, the CIA actually protected drug smugglers when they got caught.

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Gary Webb

This was the biggest story since Woodward and Bernstein reported on the Watergate scandal. However, the San Jose Mercury News was not the Washington Post. When the story broke the CIA and Washington insiders began putting tremendous pressure on the paper to retract the story. They delved into the personal background of Webb and released every embarrassing detail they could find.

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The worst part is that the San Jose Mercury News did not stand by its man. The paper distanced itself from Gary Webb and let this already high strung individual take all the heat personally.

This is a great movie with excellent acting. Jeremy Renner is perfect as Gary Webb. He shows the conflicted emotions of a man trying to do the right thing, but at the same time protect his reputation and his family. Rosemarie DeWitt plays Susan Webb, who loves her husband, but sees the pressure from the story tearing the family apart.

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead is Anna Simons, Gary Webb’s young editor. She wants to be a good editor and protect her reporter, but at the same time she knows that this small newspaper does not have the resources to fight the U.S. Government.

We highly recommend this film. It shows how true courage often goes unappreciated and unnoticed.

Foxcatcher – movie review

Steve Carell deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance in the film Foxcatcher.

Foxcatcher is the story of the relationship between billionaire John du Pont (played by Carell) and Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (played by Channing Tatum). It is based on true events, although there is some dispute about the accuracy of some plot points.

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Mark Schultz won a gold medal in wrestling in the 1984 Olympics, but despite this has almost no self confidence. He lives in the shadow of his older brother David, who also won a gold medal for wrestling in the 1984 Olympics. David has more personality and is happily married with a beautiful wife and wonderful kids. The athletic  community knows David, but thinks of Mark as just “the other Schultz brother.”

 

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Mark’s life suddenly changes when he is invited to the estate (Foxcatcher Farms) of John du Pont. At the time, the du Ponts were the wealthiest family in the United States. John du Pont has built a state of the art training facility on Foxcatcher Farms, and is coaching wrestlers to compete at the next Olympics.

du Pont offers Mark everything Mark has ever dreamed of. Mark is offered a chance to train with and help coach the best wrestlers in the country, and to do it all without his older brother.  Mark can’t resist and soon moves onto Foxcatcher Farms.

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However, there is always something very strange about John du Pont. We are never quite sure if he is an eccentric billionaire, or just plain crazy.  He collects weapons of all kinds, including an armored personnel carrier, complete with 0.50 caliber machine gun. Although in late middle age he is still striving for praise fro his mother, which he never receives.

Despite his odd manners, du Pont becomes a mentor and father figure for Mark Schultz. He takes Mark to lavish parties in New York, and introduces him to famous and wealthy people.  Most of all he praises Mark continually and tells Mark that he is far superior to his older brother David.

Fox 2Steve Carell shown next to the real John du Pont

This is a brilliantly done film, and all of the actors in it are excellent. Mark Ruffalo is perfect as David Schultz and the interactions between Steve Carell and Channing Tatum are riveting to watch.  The movie has a slow building tension that explodes at the end of the film in a dramatic and unexpected way.

We Rate this movie 5 Stars *****

Be sure to read all our movie reviews.

 

 

9/11 and Christie Whitman’s Big Lie

We should never forget  all of those who needlessly died after the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. They died because of the Big Lie told by Christie Whitman, who was then head of the EPA. Within days of the attack Christie Whitman went on national T.V. and stated that the air at the World Trade Center site and in lower Manhattan  was safe.

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Because of this statement from the Environmental Protection Agency,  the construction workers, police,  and search teams all worked at Ground Zero for many months without adequate protective gear. Years later these people were dying of cancer, emphysema, and many other diseases caused by breathing in the toxic air at Ground Zero.

One of the saddest parts of this whole episode is that these deaths were totally unnecessary. Proper equipment was available for people to work safely at Ground Zero after 9/11.  Chemical factories, steel mills, automobile paint shops, all had specialized breathing and safety equipment they  wanted to donate to help the workers at Ground Zero. However, these companies were told that their donations were not needed.

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All of these companies had the equipment, and the trained workers with the skills to be able to safely work at Ground Zero, if only they had been asked.

The question  is why did Christie Whitman and the EPA lie about the safety of the air at Ground Zero? The reason seems to be that there was real pressure from top government officials to get the country “back to normal”. The top people also did not want to scare the general public.  The worry was that the general public would panic if for many months T.V. news showed all the people in lower Manhattan wearing protective gear like they were in outer space. That would look like the terrorists had won.

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This government view is insulting to the American public. People are are not stupid. Everyone knew that the country had been attacked and that the attack was a success. What mattered is that people responded with dignity and courage after the attacks. No one would have been frightened seeing workers in protective suits. No one would have panicked. The really frightening part is that Christie Whitman and the EPA chose to lie to the public they are supposed to work for.

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You may wonder why a web site that usually has short stories,  book and movie reviews chose to cover this topic. It is because  we have always been very  proud  of the way the people from this area responded to 9/11.  The little town of Basking Ridge New Jersey, which is the home of this website,  had 17 people die on 9/11. There is only one person from New Jersey who we are not proud of. That is Christie Whitman, the former Governor of New Jersey who was head of the EPA on 9/11 and told the Big Lie.

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A lot of people died after 9/11 who did not have to. With the right safety equipment these people would be alive today to watch movies, read books and spend time with their kids. At a time when it mattered  most they deserved the truth from their government. It is a shame they did not get it.

Misunderstood Bunnies – 3 Common Misconceptions

Domestic Rabbits are probably the most misunderstood creatures on the planet.  Here is a list of common misconceptions about these gentle souls:

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1. Bunnies are an easy pet to take care of. Nothing could be further from the truth. Domestic rabbits have a very delicate digestive system and take a lot of specialized feeding and care. Many people make the mistake of giving a rabbit to a small child thinking it will be an easy pet. Bunnies make much better pets for adults, who have the patience and understanding to care for them.

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2. Bunnies like to be alone. This is also wrong.  Domestic Rabbits are very affectionate and love to be petted. They will even play games with you once they trust you. It takes a very special person to earn the trust of a bunny. After all, they cannot protect themselves from cruel humans the way dogs or cats can. They love to be near you and enjoy hearing the sound of a gentle voice.

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3. They won’t mingle with your other pets. The truth is that  Rabbits can live in a house with a cat or even a dog. if the two pets are introduces to each other slowly. They can even become friends. Here is a picture of Sunshine the bunny playing with a Ragdoll cat that is twice the size and three times the weight of the bunny.

So enjoy your new friend, and your love will be returned many times over.

5 “Great Movies” We Hate

There are certain movies that everyone says are Great, but which we think are awful.  Here is our list of so called “Great” movies which we hate.

Citizen Kane – All film students have drilled into them that the Orson Wells movie Citizen Kane is “the greatest movie ever made.” It is considered a courageous movie since the evil main character is obviously supposed to be William Randolf Hearst. He was the media mogul, was so right wing he would make Rupert Murdoch look like a Socialist. Hearst hated the movie so much that he made sure none of his newspapers ever printed a review of the film.

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However, people are confusing the politics and drama surrounding the making of  Citizen Kane with  the movie itself.  Citizen Kane is badly filmed, the lighting is awful and the so called “mystery” of Rosebud is not at all interesting.  For real political drama, we would like to see a film student with the courage to tell the Professor that Citizen Kane is just a dull over-rated film

Gone With The Wind is terrible since it perpetuates the myth that the pre-Civil War South was actually a wonderful place where slaves were well treated and happy. This is a lie that many people still cling to today. In reality, slavery was horrible and cruel, and given the chance, slaves ran away by the thousands.

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There is one scene where Charlotte meets a group of slaves that the Southerns have armed so that they could fight the “invading Yankees”. In real life slaves were never allowed to have guns.  Any slave with a gun would be killed immediately. Southern slave owners were much more afraid of a slave revolt than they ever were of the Yankees. It was illegal for slaves to have a gun. It was also illegal to teach a slave how to read and even illegal to give a slave a map. If slaves knew how to read and write they could communicate to plan a revolt. If they had maps they could plan their escape. The only place slaves loved their masters was in the fantasy world of Gone With The Wind.

Mister Smith Goes to Washington is a very silly movie starring Jimmy Stewart who gets appointed as a United States Senator. He is supposed to do nothing, in the job, but instead stands up to the evil business interests in his state. The bad guys in the film try everything to get Jimmy Stewart out of the Senate, but they just can’t beat him.

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The problem with the movie is that Jimmy Stewart is just too “over the top” with his performance. This leads to a major plot flaw in the movie. On his first day as Senator, Jimmy Stewart punches a news reporter in front of a room full of other reporters, just because he thinks the reporter asked a rude question.

In the real Washington D.C. punching a man in the nose  would get  you thrown in jail. The political groups against Jimmy Stewart would not have to do any tricks to get rid of him. He never would have even made it to the Senate the first day.

Still, to this day, we have politicians quote Mister Smith Goes To Washington as if  this movie is an accurate portrayal of how the government works.

The English Patient is a movie that most people love, but some (like us) really hate.  There is a famous Seinfeld episode in which Elaine is in a theater  watching The English Patient. She hates the movie so much that  she keeps making loud comments and the rest of the audience is very angry with her. We agree with Elaine. The English Patient is too long, too sappy and too depressing.  You know from the very beginning he is going to die, yet The English Patient drags on for 2 hours and 42 minutes.  We agree with Elaine when she says “just die already!”

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Titanic-The song Titanic (“My Heart Will Go On”)  is beautiful as is Kate Winslet. The issue we have with the movie is the fact that it chose to overlay a completely unnecessary fictitious plot on an actual dramatic event. The film focuses on fictitious Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson. Why was it necessary to make up these characters, when the real people on the Titanic were so much more interesting?

For example, there was a real J. Dawson who died when the Titanic sank. His first name was not Jack but James, and he was a 23 year old who’s job was to shovel coal  far below decks in the steaming hot engine room.  Granta Magazine ran a fascinating article about James Dawson a few years ago.  His life was incredibly hard and  his death must have been awful.

The gap between the First Class passengers and the coal men  like James Dawson was enormous. The price of a single First Class ticket on the Titanic was more than an engine room worker would make in his entire life.

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It is a shame that the movie Titanic decided to create a fictitious character instead of remembering the real James Dawson.  The real James Dawson wanted to be remembered. When his body was found, he had all his identification and papers in his pockets. These are things you would never keep on you while you were shoveling coal.

James Dawson knew he was going to die and purposely  went to the bag where he had his personal items and put all his identifications in his pockets. He wanted us to remember his name. With drama like that, who needs Hollywood to make up fake love stories?