The finest World War II film is They Were Expendable, shot in early 1945 while the war was still on. This John Ford film, focused on the then untried PT boats, tells some of the true story of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, sacrificed to buy time against vastly superior Japanese forces. Here the Americans in the Philippines learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and experience their first attack.
** UPDATE: NORTH KOREAN NUCLEAR TEST MUCH SMALLER THAN SUPPOSED. North Korea’s underground test Monday of a nuclear device – which had President Barack Obama releasing a statement of condemnation in the middle of the night – now looks to have been much smaller than supposed. The CTBTO, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna, Austria, has collected data from 39 seismic stations around the world and concluded that today’s detonation was only slightly larger than the last such exercise in 2006.
The nuclear device detonated by North Korea in 2006 had a yield of one kiloton, equivalent to one thousand pounds of TNT. The latest is judged to be perhaps one or two kilotons more than that. It had initially been supposed to have been a 20-kiloton device, the same size as the atomic bomb dropped by America on Hiroshima, Japan in August 1945. Current weapons held by the US and Russia are vastly more powerful than that device which, coupled with a similar bomb dropped three days later on Nagasaki, at last ended World War II.
Clearly, North Korea, by carrying out this exercise on Memorial Day, is again seeking attention. But troubling as any nuclear detonation is, their aims are even more baffling. If North Korea hasn’t made a significant advance in the past three years, what is the point of the exercise? Whatever it is, it won’t be figured out here on Memorial Day.
** ABOUT THEY WERE EXPENDABLE. A few early scenes from this great 1945 film, based upon the best-selling book of the same name, about the American defeat in the Philippines at the beginning of World War II can be seen above. While highly regarded, with top stars and arguably the premiere director of the era, it was only a moderate hit when it was released. The story is essentially downbeat, though there is some uplift to be found in an ending which hints at the future.
Unlike other films of the era, most of the principals involved in making They Were Expendable were veterans of the war. When it was made, the war’s outcome was likely though not yet secured. Europe had been invaded on D-Day some seven months before principal photography began. And the Philippines were being taken back from the Japanese, though heavy fighting was still underway on several islands.
Director John Ford, who directed The Grapes of Wrath the year before the war began, was a captain in the Navy, having made several documentary films, including some amazing work on the island of Midway where he was wounded during the Japanese attack in the turning point 1942 battle in the Pacific. (Ford was also on Omaha Beach on D-Day, directing filming during the second wave of the amphibious assault. That footage has not been released, as it shows too much carnage.) Star Robert Montgomery, little remembered today, played the lead character, who went on to become one of the most highly-decorated Navy officers of World War II and fellow PT boat officer JFK’s pick to command Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But Montgomery knew both the character he portrayed and Kennedy from his own service as a highly-decorated PT boat skipper in the Pacific, and commanded a destroyer during the invasion of Normandy. He actually directed the action sequences in the movie and went on to become a powerful producer in the new medium of television. Montgomery also later served as media advisor to President Dwight Eisenhower, but did not help Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard Nixon, when he ran against fellow PT boat skipper John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Second lead John Wayne, still rated as one of America’s most popular all-time movie stars, gives a good, restrained performance here. Ironically, he did not serve during World War II, and his longtime director Ford reportedly gave him a lot of gas about that during the making of this film.
** OBAMA TODAY – SUNDAY. President Barack Obama is back in Washington.
Early this morning, he had breakfast in the State Dining Room of the White House with Gold Star families, survivors of Americans killed in combat.
At 8 AM Pacific, Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
At 8:15 AM Pacific, he delivers remarks at the Memorial Amphitheater in Washington.
In the middle of last night, Obama issued a statement condemning an underground nuclear test conducted by North Korea.
While the North Koreans have a habit of making unfounded claims (their recent attempt to place a satellite in orbit failed, contrary to their claims) and frequently do things to get attention (conducting such an exercise on Memorial Day falls into the pattern), this is being taken very seriously by leaders around the world.
China and Japan and European leaders have condemned the North Korean move.
Russia is convening an emergency meeting of the United Nationsl Security Council on the matter.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi began a week-long visit to China on Sunday. The Californian, who’s ignored right-wing Republican calls for her resignation in the wake of her criticism of the CIA, is leading a congressional delegation. On Tuesday, Pelosi, long a critic of China’s human rights record, takes part in an alternative energy conference.
** OBAMA TODAY – SUNDAY. President Barack Obama continues his Memorial Day weekend at Camp David, the rustic Maryland presidential retreat, with First Lady Michelle Obama and daughtes Malia and Sasha.
Obama is focusing in on his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. The appointment is expected in the next two weeks.
While he is enmeshed in this appointment, Obama is monitoring the ongoing offensive of the Pakistani Army against the Taliban.
He is also working on a major speech to the Muslim world which he will give in early June in Cairo, Egypt.
Obama yesterday appointed retired Marine Major General Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, as the new head of NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Bolden, who won the Distinguished Flying Cross in the Vietnam War, is the first African American to head American’s space agency. He’s a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a master’s in engineering from the University of Southern California.
Although Obama’s made this historic pick and is clearly interested in space – the longtime Trekkie screened the new Star Trek, the biggest movie hit of the year so far, at the White House – budget considerations make the future of America’s space program unclear.
The space shuttle Atlantis landed this morning in California after the successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Obama watched the successful return of the space shutttle Atlantis this morning. The Atlantis was dispatched to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. But bad weather prevented its normal return to Florida for the past two days, so the spacecraft was redirected to a landing this morning in California’s high desert at Edwards Air Force Base, the original home of test piloting and the nascent space program of the 1950s.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … TERMINATING THE DARKNESS?
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE – SUNDAY.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has no public events today.
In a column slated for later in the day on Monday, on a much broader topic, I will explain how his cameo appearance in the new film Terminator Salvation was accomplished without him providing a new live-action performance.
In his Memorial Day weekend video/radio address, President Barack Obama pays tribute to America’s fallen as well as the surviving veterans and currently serving members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
** OBAMA TODAY – SATURDAY. President Barack Obama, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Sasha and Malia, is off to the presidential retreat at Camp David for the weekend.
Obama has no scheduled public events this weekend.
The president will be zeroing in on his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
He will also be monitoring the continuing offensive, which he urged, against the Taliban by the Pakistani Army.
** F1 SUNDAY. The globe-spanning Formula One racing season continues this weekend, with the action having moved from the Pacific Basin and Middle East to Europe, as the exotic race cars duel on the picturesque streets of Monte Carlo in the Monaco Grand Prix. You can watch the race live at 5 AM Sunday on Speed TV.
It’s a season of paradox, with the perennial power teams – Italy’s Ferrari and Britain’s McLaren – reduced to also ran status after the first five races of the season. A brand new team, Brawn GP, is running away with the season so far, led by British driver Jenson Button, who has won four of the five grand prixs to date. Button just secured the pole position again at Monaco.
With the sharp global economic downturn, budgets have been cut and that, along with a thoroughly redesigned race car, has enabled new players to break through. Brawn GP is so new that the team didn’t even have a sponsor for the first race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix. Then entrepreneur Richard Branson, of Virgin Air and Music fame, stepped forward at the last minute as the team went on to a surprise win. Since then the new leaders have picked up more sponsorship, including from the Terminator movie franchise.
“See you at the party, Richter!” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Ironside – seen here in Total Recall – both appear in the new hit film, Terminator Salvation. Ironside plays the pre-John Connor leader of the human resistance against the Skynet artificial intelligence while Schwarzenegger appears in a key cameo.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE – SATURDAY.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has no scheduled public events this weekend.
** OBAMA’S NEW CALIFORNIA-BASED CLIMATE POLICY: SIX KEY THINGS TO KNOW. When President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday that he is making California’s standard for vehicle fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions the new national standard, he accomplished a number of things. …
** 24 AND THE TORTUOUS POLITICS OF TORTURE. The longtime hit TV series 24 has just wrapped a tumultuous seventh season in the midst of national debate about the past national policy of interrogation by torture of terror suspects. And, while 24 returned to past form as a crackling thriller, it’s done it in the midst of presenting a running debate about torture, mostly coming down on the side of torture.
Which, in its way, is appalling. There’s one thing, though. Torture may be more popular than many of us would like to think. …
** ANGELS AND DEMONS AND RELIGIOUS POLITICS. The sequel to one of the most controversial movies in recent memory is opening this weekend. And the collective response is a mild “hmm.” … From my May 15th column.
** WHAT DOES OBAMA’S AFGHAN COMMAND CHANGE MEAN? For the first such change in wartime since Harry Truman replaced General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War in 1951, Barack Obama is replacing General David McKiernan in Afghanistan. Obama is moving both to change a stalemated war in Afghanistan and to scale back expectations there.
In the process, the Obama Administration is signaling that there will be no massive military surge preferred by General David Petraeus, as well as, seemingly, an end to nation-building fantasies and a preference for more special operations while searching for compromise.
McKiernan, the commander of conventional ground forces for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is being replaced by a rather controversial special operations expert, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. As head of Joint Special Operations Command, McChrystal oversaw the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. … From my May 13th column.
** THE HYPE FLU’S BIG FADE. Remember that big, dangerous swine flu threat that the cable culture was going on about round the clock, still scaring the sweat out of people a week ago? Why, it’s going to … er, never mind.
It was all very breathless and alarming. … From my May 11th column.
** STAR TREK‘S NEW COMING-OF-AGE SAGA FOR GENERATION O. Let’s get the straight-up politics out of the way up front. Barack Obama, as he says himself, grew up on Star Trek. And both the new Spock, young Heroes TV star Zachary Quinto, and the classic Spock, Leonard Nimoy, each of whom star in the new movie, backed him for president, with Quinto campaigning around the country.
Obama even flashed the Vulcan hand sign — not so easy to do the first few times you try — at Nimoy at an Obama fundraiser in, for those of you who were johnnies-come-lately, January 2007.
Now for the part that’s not quite so obvious. This Star Trek hinges on the original captain of the Enterprise. But not the one you’re thinking of.
In rebooting the saga, the new stewards of Star Trek have neatly set up a classic coming-of-age journey for a new generation, the Obama generation. … From my May 8th column.
** OBAMA’S TROUBLED AFPAK SUMMIT. … From my May 6th column.
** OBAMA’S CRISIS MANAGEMENT: OF FLU AND AFPAK. … From my May 4th column.
** THIS X DOESN’T MARK THE SPOT. WOLVERINE MISSES THE SERIES’ DEEPER THEMES. … From my May 2nd column.
** OBAMA’S DEEPENING AFPAK CRISIS. … From my April 30th column.
** OBAMA’S CALIFORNIA: ANGST AND IRONY FOR WINNING DEMOCRATS. … From my April 28th column.
** OBAMA’S EARTH DAY ENERGY DECLARATION: CALIFORNIA MAY BE THE NATIONAL MODEL HE SAYS, BUT IT’S NOT ENOUGH. … From my April 23rd column.
** OBAMA: RIDING WITH HISTORY. (NOTE: As Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, this column was the featured column on the top of the front page of the Huffington Post.) … From my January 19th Huffington Post column.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer, bringing you English-language, jargon-free, fast-paced coverage of global and Russian news from the new Russia Today channel. You probably already know about CNN International, BBC World, and Al Jazeera. Russia Today, which also features culture, entertainment, and sports, is based in Moscow and is owned and operated by the TV Novosti division of Russia’s state news agency, RIA Novosti. While it’s quite foolish to expect to see, say, criticism of Vladimir Putin on Russia Today, which I know as a former DemRussia advisor, the channel is very interesting nonetheless. With U.S. cable news chattering away as it does, this sort of respite can be informative. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in two wars in the region, it’s valuable to keep up with news and perspectives from the leading Middle Eastern-based TV news network. Based in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, Al Jazeera is very influential and more than a bit controversial. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer. The NWN live link to AJ does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** SCHWARZENEGGER’S CALIFORNIA. Here is my series of five columns on the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger for the Los Angeles Times in debate last fall, prior to the global economic meltdown, with Pulitzer Prize-winning former Times reporter/editor Bill Boyarsky, whose columns are also included. Among them is what I’m sure is the first piece examining Schwarzenegger’s legacy as governor of California. Since he will actually be governor of California until 2011. No technology known to be disruptive to the space/time continuum was used in its preparation.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND NATIONAL ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Having crashed over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, crude oil closed on Friday at $61.67 per barrel, a nine-month high. Energy markets are closed on the weekend.
This is up about $28 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, due in part to some positive economic signs and in part to geopolitical jitters over Pakistan.
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